I slump last week in the big leather chair in the living room, at the end of a long day of art-related agony. Beverage in hand I pontificate, reminding my grandsons of the fact their existence is fortuitous, not to be taken for granted and wasted.
“You know, boys, if a specific guy had ejaculated prematurely five thousand years ago, or a certain woman said ‘No, I have a headache’ two hundred years ago, you wouldn’t be here now. The fact that you exist is incredible, with no Bronze Age religious bullshit needed as an explanation. To sum up: a door is open, step through — anything you dream of accomplishing is within your reach. Dream big, lads. Go for it!”
Indeed. But, probably not true when it comes to the dreams, the going for them, and the getting. That kind of success in the sorry-ass world we inhabit most often depends on hanging around with halfwit, diapered Republicans and other greedhogs, and on your daddy leaving you a couple million bucks as seed money for your real estate empire or an overseas oil business. It’s the American way, in an America flushed, and well on its way to the sewage lagoon.
Today, my youngest grandson, 5-year-old Bodhi Valhalla, is pursuing his dream. Bo’s dreamscape has a shallow horizon line, so he’s quickly satisfied, rollicking in the yard back of the house, barefoot and stripped down to his Spiderman underwear. He can manage this without a sizable inheritance.
Bo had the garden hose spray head set to Super Jet, and managed to blow the petals and leaves off most of his grandmother’s flowers. He will later tell her he witnessed a scurry of chipmunks doing the damage. “I tried to scare them off. They were mean.”
He’s since filled a large plastic bucket with water, and is armed with a tubular device, refilled in the bucket, which shoots streams of water twenty or more feet.
I am seated in what I call my “study,” trying to write, since I fancy myself a writer. The window is opened part way in an attempt to cool the cramped, dusty space. We writers require ventilation and moderate humidity, whenever possible.
Every few minutes, I hear Bodhi yell, “Fire in the hole!” and he follows the alert with an abbreviated rendition of a tune from the musical Annie. As he sings, water sprays through the opened window.
“Fire in the hole! … The sun’ll come out, tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow…”
It’s nearly two in the afternoon, as far as I can tell. Have I sipped a cocktail or two? Participated in any psychotropic adventures? Perhaps. This means it’s nearly two, even three.
What I know for certain is I’m old and tired. I’m trying to motivate myself to continue a search for a gullible literary agent who’ll shepherd an ill-assembled collection of essay-like materials to print, and there is a waterlogged madman rampaging beyond my window. My fortuitous life is complicated.
I should make a sandwich and feed Bodhi his afternoon snack. If I don’t, the lad’s blood sugar level will plummet off the chart; he’ll strip off his Spiderman underwear, run to the neighbors’ house, pee on their manicured low junipers, and claim he’s been abandoned by his grandfather, left vulnerable to the perverse whims of vagabonds who roam the neighborhood offering low-cost roof and driveway repairs to dementia-struck senior citizens.
For sure, when Bo finishes the sandwich (“the white cheese, with mayo, lots and lots of mayo”) he’ll ask for a second, as well as a second “cocktail” — the sparkling water, lime and grape juice combo with ice that I provide, shaken not stirred, in a large cup with a lid and straw. Bo and I share many traits. I wish I could live to see him reach adulthood. I love him with all I’ve got, and we would have a ripping good time once he reaches legal age.
“Fire in the hole! … It’s the hard knock life for us, it’s the hard knock life for us…”
I’ve squandered several hours sitting at the keyboard, mousing my way from one literary agency website to another. Most of the sites feature snappy headshots of the associates, lists of their many accomplishments, and cleverly composed blurbs emphasizing ambitions, interests, and quirks (the kids are college grads, craven opportunists, and lovers of literature, after all). Some feature a paragraph or two detailing an agent’s love of needlepoint, cryptography, or the like; one relays an expression of deep concern about the survival of a rare breed of Mongolian dog. Very rarely does an agent mention a consuming passion for intoxication of all sorts, the paintings of Soutine, cooking, experimentation with DMT and Ketamine, and outstanding experiences at the trough — a sure indication the majority of these coddled dweebs are self-consumed, useless, and would make for dull company. Most of the young bucks and buckettes are seeking “YA fiction and thrillers” — whatever the hell those are — or are anxious to receive submissions dealing with “LQBTQ themes and issues.” I’m out of the mix on all counts, since I’m ancient, boring, and merely curious.
I look, I read, my attention wanders. I fancy myself a writer, with ADD and cancer, so I drift.
As my attention departs the screen, I remember a nearly transparent slice of Jamon Iberico I ate at a small shop in Madrid, the flesh carved by a beautiful young woman, apprenticed for several years to the ancient, aromatic maestro plopped in a plastic chair at the rear of the store space, his oxygen generator running at peak RPM, a small, dark stain at the crotch of his pants. A slight breeze blew in the city that day; the woman winked, and advised me to eat the melty marvel outside the shop. Before I ate, I held the flesh up in order to view the sky through the fat — something not possible with the preservative-saturated pig parts sliced on a machine at the supermarket deli by a surly divorcee two months in arrears on her mobile home mortgage, and consumed by hatred for her meth-head ex-husband.
Reverie complete, abandoning the agent quest and unable to begin anything new, I try to work on some unpolished older pieces, but fail to make any headway. I stagger to the upper floor of the house. There are quite a few large windows there, and I read that sunlight mitigates depression. I try to make the ascent at least twice each day.
Kathy is at the piano, practicing cowboy songs for an upcoming gig at a rural volunteer fire department fundraiser in northern New Mexico. The performance promises wild applause from summer residents who fancy themselves westerners, the reward of a few bucks and a free meal. I’ve been told that members of the department auxiliary will prepare and serve braised brisket with green chile, and homemade tortillas, so I plan to attend. These cooks live a few miles off the highway past Chama, not quite to Tierra Amarilla, and could easily make a trip to Romero’s, north of Espanola, to pick up a couple pounds of superb ground red. It would be a fine addition to the brisket mix. I would make the drive, for the added depth of flavor and the basso rumble of the red’s heat.
I interrupt Kathy in the middle of a rousing version of Tumbling Tumbleweeds.
I troll for sympathy, summarizing my plight. I remind her: I am a writer, an artiste, and I am currently stymied. I have limited time left in which to complete my missions at keyboard and easel, and the hitches in my giddyup distress and frustrate me. I’m sensitive: a sensitive writer and painter, with ADD, suffering a case of cancer with no cure. And, since the dog died and our youngest daughter left home, I have no one to turn to but you, my beloved mate.
It is a simpleton’s plea, worthy of disdain.
Kathy reminds me in her muscular manner that I am a bum, a burden, dead weight toted on her back as she negotiates the economic obstacle course. I am a distraction to her as she labors in her role as primary provider, an open artery through which spurts far too much of our life’s blood.
The house in which the woman was raised sat dead center between Denver’s slaughterhouses, the serum plant, and the Rocky Mountain West’s biggest pet food factory. She chucked bricks at pursuers to make it home alive from school, and had razors held to her throat when she was in junior high. Kathy is not one to commiserate with an old, fat guy who whimpers and moans as he reviews his art problems.
“Go away,” she snaps. “Leave me alone. For god’s sake, finish something and make some money! I’ve got a medley of Gene Autry favorites to practice, then I have to go online and purchase an affordable, replica Dale Evans shirt. With fringe.”
Given an opportunity to tangle with my wife, a question should be asked before joining the fray: Is it wise to toss a Peekapoo into the rabid pit bull’s cage?
So, this is an occasion that calls for silence, and a vodka tonic – double vodka, minimum tonic, lots of lime.
Answer and beverage secured, I retreat to the dark of the basement as Kathy launches into a spirited rendition of Back in the Saddle Again.
Bodhi is outside, smashing a partially inflated soccer ball with a plastic baseball bat.
“Fire in the hole! … Maybe far away, or maybe real nearby…”
I need inspiration. I search, and find it — where else? — in my e-mail in-box.
I discover there that I’ve embraced the wrong idea about this artist thing for more than fifty years. The seed of romanticism fell on fertile virgin soil (my soil) when I was in my teens, and grew into a weed that would poison me for more than five decades. That unchecked weed choked my garden, denied space to flowers and vegetables.
I discover the promise of vegetables in my e-mail folder.
Turns out, had I not been an addled moron (drugs, alcohol, pussy, concussions, drugs, rock and roll music, alcohol, pussy, ADD), I could have been a successful copywriter and, according to Mandy McMorte, the author of the e-mail and president of the Worldwide Successful Writer’s Association, I could have been a millionaire many times over, churning out corporate advertising drivel, working a maximum two hours per day at a desk in my villa in Tuscany, while the dollars poured into my bank account like flood water into a deep catch basin.
But, no: I dreamed of being an artiste. The weed won.
I read on.
Mandy delivers a stern admonition: tragedy results from pissing away one’s talents on fiction and the hope of a bestseller, and from accepting as valid a bohemian way of life including, but not limited to, succumbing to tuberculosis in an unheated, fifth-floor walkup at age 24 with unpublished masterpiece clutched in a cold hand, a gambling addiction, drug use, playing rock and roll music, alcoholism, chasing pussy, etc.
She then emits a ray of hope: “It’s never too late,” she writes. “Make the change now, and you’ll earn a six-figure income by the time the next quarterly tax cycle begins.”
I had no idea there was a tax cycle, but six figures is tantalizing. I contemplate my situation and the possibility of a course correction. Mandy seems to know her business. This could be the ticket for me!
I pause, and consider some of what my impending success might entail.
- New pants.
- A tab at Denise’s liquor store.
- Subscriptions to magazines, should any still be published.
- Crustaceans, of my choosing, in any amount.
- Unlimited pintxos at Euskal Etxea Taberna, in Barcelona, the waiters remembering me by name, a stool reserved for me at the end of the bar, a nightly miscalculation of the number of toothpicks, in my favor.
- New tires for my 1993 Chevy pickup.
- A pool boy-handsome studio assistant named Chip who works shirtless while he stretches my canvasses, and who is eager to satisfy my curiosity.
- A studio, and canvas.
- Weekly injections of stem cells tapped from Bolivian orphans, the treatments guaranteed to cure my cancer and to obliterate the flab I carry at my midsection and under my chin(s).
- Direct, secure phone lines to Cher and Melania Trump, my new best friends.
And what will Pseudo Dale Evans think when I flash a fistful of crisp fifties and tell her we’re flying first class to St. Louis? I ask myself, Who’ll be the burden then?
What happens, I wonder, when I pull an American Express Centurion black card from my new wallet, fashioned from the hide of a baby snow leopard, in order to pay my tab at The French Laundry? And give the waitperson (“I’m Kendra, I’ll be taking care of you this evening”) a 100-percent tip? With that card, I’ll satisfy the bill, Pseudo Dale, and Kendra as well. I’ll purchase as many cowgirl shirts as Kathy needs, and set Kendra up in a condo in Napa, where she can snack on heart healthy chips and watch reruns of The Bachelor as she applies lotions and antibiotic creams, and readies herself to “take care” of the newly slim me. An American Express Centurion black card makes even the most grotesque, old-but-trim man seem attractive for a moment or two.
“Fondle this plastic, sweetheart,” I’ll tell Kathy, “and tell me who’s toting whom through the obstacle course?” The plastic fringe on Pseudo Dales’ fucking western shirt will melt!
This is the life for me.
I decide to weed my garden, lay down a hefty load of 75/25 THC-to-CBD fertilizer, plant some legit seed, and prepare to harvest money and prestige I can enjoy quickly as the sun sets on an utterly disgusting and abusive corporate-capitalist era, and opportunities for overindulgence disappear.
I sign up to receive e-mail tips from Mandy and her cohorts, and I consider switching my voter registration to Republican so I can blend in with that dwindling crew of reprehensible dimwits once I’m toting a load of moolah. We privileged few must stick together, and prepare during lunches at the club, and at local Central Committee meetings, for the wave of torch- and pitchfork-bearing unemployed proles, feminists, African-Americans, and illegal immigrants who will soon storm our ramparts.
While I dream, and wait for instructions, I consider dinner. Any time I’m excited, I come up with a menu, and write out a list to take to the supermarket. Bo is staying for dinner, so I call out to him and inquire as to his preferences. He’s too busy to answer. I hear glass break.
“Fire in the hole! … You’re never fully dressed without a smile.”
I decide to prepare red curry prawns, with short grain rice, and a hefty salad, dressed with a dark miso-based concoction. Perhaps some whole young carrots, steamed, then caramelized in butter, enhanced with a flutter of garam masala.
I write “prawns” on a notepad, and make the trip to the market. I forget to take the note, so I purchase chicken thighs, shallots, mushrooms, lemons, a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano, a small carton of cream, and a pack of fettuccine. Anything else I need is available in my kitchen, including chicken stock, garlic, basil, parsley, and a dribble of white wine I neglected to finish the night before that will deglaze a pan in fine fashion. The prawns will have to wait.
Once back home, provisions stashed on counter and in fridge, I splash together another vodka tonic, and ingest a full dropper of my friend Joe’s special elixir before I get to the e-mails that now arrive from Mandy every few minutes. The woman has launched a digital panzer attack! She is committed to my transformation and, as Joe’s elixir kicks in, I am transported by her enthusiasm.
My transport is short-lived.
Each e-mail begins with a one or two line lure, followed by a “read more” link. I rise to the bait, and open one of the messages.
Mandy informs me that all I need is wise counsel (hers, with addenda supplied by her equally successful compatriots), a computer with a word processing program, and my e-mail account. Mandy assures me that my career as a successful writer will begin soon. Prepare to suffer luxury, she writes.
She informs me wise counsel is worth $25.
I don’t have it.
I scroll to one after another of the e-mails.
“From agent rejections, to pink slips, to a mansion,” writes Mandy’s partner, Peter, “I know the secret.” He does not reveal the secret. The secret involves a $15 transaction.
I am a burden and I am broke, so I shout out the opened window to Bodhi. “Hey, Bo, got any money you can lend grandpa for a while? If you can spare some of your stash, I’ll take you to Wal Mart, and you can look at stuff in the auto parts section.”
“Fire in the hole! … You don’t get there by playing from the rule book.”
I can barely hear the lad. He’s down the hill, playing in the street.
I read another e-mail
“Reel in the big jobs, once you do this…”, writes Cassandra, another of Mandy’s pals. No mention of what to do, without receipt of $50.
My e-mail inbox is overflowing with missives from these geeks. I feel like a rural Ohio voting machine under assault by teenaged Russian hackers, the emaciated dorks kept working at a frantic pace by cruel SVR handlers while living and laboring in a drab Stalinist era government building in downtown Krasnoznamensk.
“Make a fortune from a $35 lawn tractor…with words!,” writes Claudine. There’s nothing about the lawnmower, nor does Claudine reveal any of the words. Not absent my credit card number. I’m at a loss: Kathy confiscated my card last winter, and I have no number.
“I sent you a message the other day about my blissful existence as a writer.”
I’m a big fan of bliss. Tell me more.
“Ever wanted a second chance in life?”
I’m not sure I got the first chance. Dad didn’t give me a couple million dollars.
“After tonight, this deal will cease to exist, and you’ll be shut out of the low competition writers’ market.”
Low competition? The ideal situation for me! Me: without the $100 needed to tap that market.
“Magical writer’s life discount extended one more day.”
Magic, at 30-percent under regular price? Just like tickets for the off-season, mid-week Chris Angel Mindfreak Live show at the Luxor.
“Dear Karl,” writes Mandy, “I’ll make this short and sweet… this is a do-or-die situation … time slips away like sand through the hourglass…”
It seems cliché is the successful copywriter’s preferred tool.
Wait a sec, I think, how does Mandy know my name?
Or is it Vladislov, and his ill-kept fellow digichurls in Krasnoznamensk?
“Dear Karl, I’ll get to the point quickly…Toady is the final day to sign up … “
Aha, “Toady!” It is the fucking Russians! I knew they were on the prowl, and now they’re on my tail.
These fucking Slavs are all over social media platforms these days, thanks to the El Supremo dipshit who stole the last presidential election. Rather than doing anything to tighten U.S. security, our twit of a reality TV president kicked the gates open for his Russian pals, encouraging them to take advantage of unhindered internet access to millions of low-IQ Americans whose idea of reading is to decipher Facebook emojis. And to fat, old writers with ADD and cancer whose economic prospects long ago shriveled, dried, and blew away.
The goof con artist from Queens who now shits in a White House bathroom goes to a 2012 meeting with a bunch of Russian oligarchs who are richer than anything the fool can imagine; he receives his indoctrination, swallows it whole and, after the Garks and their government help him get elected, his normally vacant skull filled with adolescent aspirations, his fat ass twitching with envy, and sensing the added pressure of undisclosed loans and a threatened release of videotapes of him aroused by young women urinating on each other, he gives the oil-mad crooks from the Steppes carte blanche to play Lets Bend The Bozos with the American public.
So, the kids in Krasnoznamensk fire up their keyboards and begin undermining our society. These corrupt little shits live on stale saltine crackers and Kvass, their career goals as defensemen for Metallurg Magnitogorsk undermined by their lack of mass and stick handling skills, and they need a target for their anger.
American society. And me.
The commissars who manage the sociopathic hackers realize there’s no need to do much work on President Pinhead’s supporters, since these frustrated old feebs, and the poor white folk who want jobs in coalmines, are already bent to the breaking point. The members of Make America Great Again mob crouch in their hovels for hours on end watching Fox News and listening to right-wing talk radio, repeating the Orwellian nonsense they hear, cheering when their Fuhrer denounces the free press, imprisons children, works to suppress the vote, and tells them that they’ll get their share of tax breaks given to corporations and the rich. Eventually. At a date yet to be determined. They truly believe the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson, and the Wall Street patriots cashing enormous yearly bonus checks will trickle some booty on them. They believe these titans care about them. Many also believe the earth is flat, that Jesus rode a dinosaur, and that Branson, Missouri, is the world’s primo vacation destination.
As I remind my grandsons: “Boys, fully a quarter of this country’s adult population is batshit crazy, illiterate, unacquainted with the concept of verifiable evidence, and incapable of critical thinking. They’ll believe anything that’s 1) frosted in religious goo by some closeted clown occupying the pulpit at The Happy Church; 2) that reinforces their sense of victimhood, since white folks constitute only 69 percent of the population; 3) that taps their fears concerning other colors of skin, and non-evangelical Christian religious faiths; and, 4) that confirms their conviction that anything rich people do, say, and receive is just fine since, some day (remember what I’ve said about dreams), once the coal mine reopens or the electricity at the shuttered wood pulp plant is switched on, they too will be rich and able to demonize the lowly parasites who partake of socialist schemes like Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, public schooling, and/or any other aspect of the social safety net (veteran’s benefits excluded).
The Russians for the most part ignore the MAGA mob, knowing its members are morons, already well regulated by the pimps on Fox and Friends, and those loudmouthed freaks Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones. Instead, they go after 75-percent of what remains, namely the “middle-of-the-road” Americans who believe that if they read or watch something, and understand it, it must be true.
The Russian brutes run wild in our fact-free environment, where truth has become just another five-letter word, where science is a conspiracy, and puppets jump and jerk as the strings of opinion, prejudice, fear, and “feelings” are yanked by unseen, cynical overseers. It happens in trailer parks, in suburbia, it happens on college campuses. It is America.
And, the little fuckers are now messing with old, fat writers with cancer cells flitting through the body in search of a place to nest and prepare for the final push.
Why bother with me?
I don’t know. But, like the T-shirt and ball cap-wearing members of the MAGA crowd, I realize I am a victim. A victim of my dreams. These Slavic jerkoffs are toying with my fantasies. I make a note to watch that maudlin buffoon Sean Hannity on Fox — he’ll confirm these suspicions. He’s got an inside track on all things Russian. Hannity’s head is so far up our microcephalic president’s ass, the soulless goof sees daylight coming from above.
“Fire in the hole!… Easy street, easy street, where you sleep till noon.”
I remember that I have a bottle of excellent malbec from Cahors resting in the unheated storage room for paintings I call my “wine cellar.” The wine is not inexpensive, but is within the price range that allows me to extract the cork in the afternoon without remorse, and drain the contents of the bottle before the cocktail hour, which begins at 4 p.m., on the dot. I drink the dark, red wine from a juice glass. It’s lovely. I pursue the juice with determination.
After seven glasses, I decide on a course of action.
I compose an e-mail entreaty I am certain will kick-start a cooperative process, the end result of which will be my ability to buy any French wines I want, in any quantity, at any time, as well as allow me to sign up for the highest-tier Direct TV package, guilt free. If my ploy plays out, I will have prime veal shanks and Danish Limfyorden oysters delivered to my door by UPS, there will cases of top-grade gin stored alongside the wine, and every high-end cheese monger in North America will want to be my friend, begging to supply me with any illegal, unpasteurized delight I desire.
Well, Mandy, I write, your many offers are terribly exciting, and I can use the big income you say is a sure bet once I mend my ways. I’m qualified for the work, since I’m a whiz with words; I own an up-to-date dictionary of synonyms and antonyms (I know what these terms mean) and I have been known to knock off some readable sentences now and then. Problem is, Mandy, I don’t have any money. That’s the primary reason I want to become a rich writer, with your help, of course. You understand my situation, right? Surely you’ve made a few lane changes during your journey to enduring security and rock-solid self-esteem.
The roadblock: the “guidance” you and your fellows offer me comes with a price tag. I asked my wife to loan me twenty-five bucks, since she will be paid this weekend for playing cowboy music for old people in northern New Mexico, but she told me to shove my request up my ass. She has her eye on a new water purifier pitcher, and it seems nothing, not even love, will deny her that hunk of wellness culture plastic. My youngest grandson refused to make a loan, though he’s a wonderful guy. I’m certain you’d have a swell time with him at Wal Mart — he’s crazy about valve cleaner.
So, “Mandy,” I think I make my predicament clear, and I request a positive response, ASAP.
I ask you: Can you start a tab for me? Toady?
As soon as I make my first hundred grand, which you promise will happen within a month or two, I will clear the bill, and toss in an extra ten grand for the favor (we Wall Street-whipped Americans call it “interest”). I can be exceedingly charitable once cash is in hand. Just ask Kendra.
I have included some scintillating copy promoting the purchase of a $35 lawnmower. I am sure you’ll agree that it’s the best ever written, and could prompt a phenomenal number of sales to the dimwits sitting out front of their doublewides, waiting for minimum wage jobs with no benefits to arrive, and for prosperity to dribble down from above, like piss from a broken pipe.
I fire off the e-mail
To date: no response from Krasnoznamensk.
While I wait, I continue to dream.