REPORT A PROBLEM
The young couple I was standing behind at the Redbox movie machine asked about the movie I was returning, “District 9.” I found myself giving it a “thumbs down.” It’s a handy-cam sort of thing meant to come off as a documentary gone bad, or maybe it is meant to come off as the shavings of a documentary found on the floor after someone decided the documentary really should not be made. Ok, the aliens are coming. They land in South Africa? The movie has a BBC feel to it, and I’m not saying that kindly. One bloody thumb up.
Seven degrees last night as I found the barely lit T-boner’s parking lot for dinner. The lighting is more glow, a lunar reflection. Half the time I miss it, deciding to eat elsewhere. The parking lot is impossible to find, but usually full. Inside the walls are lined with large TV’s, most of them being ignored. T-boner’s has been transplanted from some other time, some other county where the population is sparse. The diners have always come here. They are ghosts and they will always be here, as long as you can make out the dim glow off the highway.
I was going to get Dallas some smaller rawhide bones, but tonight, watching television, I heard a cracking and looking down I saw him ripping a piece off his monster bone. He had cracked the darn thing. It had taken him two weeks, but he had broken it. Maybe he was saving it because it was such a prize and didn’t want to eat it. He finally couldn’t bear it anymore and accidentally bit a piece off. Or did he work at it relentlessly for two weeks until he finally wore it down? I don’t think I’ll ever really know.
Deer are feeding on the hill behind the house this morning. I have seen them there before, but they are getting bolder. There are two fawns, a doe, and a young buck who hides in the brambles with his rack barely visible above the twisted locust limbs. I try to take pictures, but deer pictures are difficult at best. I remember my father’s hunting trips from which he always returned with hundreds of picures of woods. “There,” he would point. “That blur, that’s the deer.”
There has been a lot of talk about making movies in Michigan lately. I have even had friends quit normal jobs to go make movies. While I have not seen too many Michigan movies, the budding industry has taken its toll on the citizens of the state. This morning I got a phone call from my friend Elizabeth. “Help, I’m in trouble,” She said. “What’s the problem?” I asked. “I went to a cat show in Livonia last night and got drunk and woke up this morning in bed with Brad Pitt.” “Are you sure?” “Yeah, I checked the wallet.”
The problem with Michigan people is they don’t understand that movie people are just people who work in movies. So when Elizabeth wakes up with Brad Pitt, she doesn’t know what to do. “Where are you now?” I ask. “In the bathroom,” she says. “No, are you at home or at the hotel?” “Oh, I’m at the hotel.” “Is he still asleep?” “He won’t wake up. He snores.” She sounds surprised. “Do what you would normally do.” “What? You mean sneak out and act like it never happened?” “Well take a picture on your phone first if you want to.”
Dallas left quickly. I got up at 5 am to shower, dress, and fetch Amanda at the airport. We stopped at my place on our way to Lansing to get Dallas. He was happy to see her. In Lansing, he was happy to be home. I didn’t think much about it until I got up the next morning to feed the dog, to let the dog out, and later thought to walk the dog. I looked over at the entry to see the pile of dog hair and bones, but he wasn’t there. I think I am missing the dog.
The dishwasher comes into the dining area madly thumbing the keyboard on his phone and grinning loudly. He takes a far corner booth where everyone can see him, bandanna on his head, phone to his ear, and slumps wearing his permagrin. He sits there, his ear glued to the phone for twenty minutes and says nothing and never changes his expression. He doesn’t even blink. I begin to think of scenarios. He has sat too close to a black hole and time has slowed for him. He is sleeping behind a rubber mask. He is talking on a rubber phone.
It is warming up today. The outside faucet thawed out. It was tethered to the ground by a thick icicle, but when I turned the knob, water trickled out of it. I let it trickle a little more before kicking the icicle aside so I could hook the hose up to it and not have to run it from the basement to put water in the pond. The waterfall ices over and pumps water out of the pond in hard weather, so I need to put water back in about once a week. Something I need to fix this summer.
The driveway is a thick sheet of ice: the layer of snow I didn’t remove, the layer of snow I let get trampled down by the car tires into a dense base. It is a downhill drive, so as I walk to the mailbox this morning, I walk on the side, in the snow, because it is the only way to maintain my footing. My options here are not many. I can salt it, with little effect. I can trust to modern cars with traction control. I can be realistic and think that few cars actually come up that driveway.
The sky is pink or orange or lavender. The sun has already gone down leaving shovel-full’s of show tossed against darkness in clever angles. Tonight I was to go have dinner with my daughter in Lansing, but I called and begged off. I was tired. It has been a long day, starting at 1 a.m. with phone calls that made no sense and that did not begin to resolve themselves until after 9 this morning. I knew someone was in jail. The county jail phone system is the only one I know of that can harass you quite like that.
I didn’t know what to do tonight. I began writing for some reason, perhaps for no reason, perhaps to see if I could. Perhaps it was the colors bleeding one into another in the sky, or the threat of another really bad movie. Last night’s bad movie was The Devil’s Tomb. I think that was the name. It was with Cuba Gooding Jr. As Kent rented it to me, he tried to warn me about it. “Cuba Gooding has been going downhill lately with his films,” he commented. I didn’t pick up on the thread. The movie was truly awful.
I got one of those emails yesterday asking for help getting money into the country. This one was exceptionally well-done. I was tempted to write back complimenting the sender on their work. I got sucked in once when selling a pair of speakers. Someone wanted to send me $3000 for a one-thousand-dollar pair of speakers. I was to send the change to his aunt. I called a banker friend who suggested I call the FBI. I asked for Agent Sully, and then Agent Muldaur. I asked for Agent Booth. I got someone else, who thanked me and took my information.
Out my window, I see a light, but I cannot make out how far away it is. It is not accompanied by any reference information. It is very dark out and I’m tired. It reminds me of a light across the road from my boyhood home, a light hung on a post out over a manufactured home, one of the early ones of tin bolted together over a basement. The road was banked on either side, and I imagine the grass a slick green instead of snow covered. I wonder how much I am there just now instead of here.
It is Wet and foggy in the streets this morning. It is foggy from the sudden rise in temperature. The snow is melting, but there is so much of it that a foot and a half still covers everything. Still a rush of melting is running in the streets and into the sewers. It has broken loose and you can hear it. Cars are stuck in lots where ten-inch pot holes have suddenly appeared in the ice. Large red and blue snow balloons carefully bounce down the street in the fog while children in bulky snow suits chase after them.
It is January 16 and time for the annual comb race in this tiny town of Brighton Michigan. The streets have been cleared and barricaded. Vendors have set up around town and can smell the sausages, dogs, and pizza cooking across the mill pond. Last year when there three injuries, two when Antonio Venjanzensa’s Chinese made chrome-plated plastic comb lost traction on an icy curve, breaking three teeth and exploding through a barricade into the crowd. Town officials say they do what they can to make this international sport safe, but that it is by its nature a dangerous undertaking.
Yes, I passed out in the bathroom floor the first time I tried to shave, my father standing over me passing back and forth alternate plates of concern and disgust. I passed out the first time I put in contact lens, and after many years of wearing them gave them up as a bad idea. I finally have gotten to the point where I can do a blood draw, three or four tubes while sitting down without passing out. But that was after about a decade of torture when I was taking a medicine that required monthly four-tube blood draws.
I got up early this morning. I couldn’t stand sleeping any longer. I was still sleepy, and maybe it was just lying in the bed I couldn’t do any more. Maybe I just needed to move. Perhaps I needed a change of venue so the blood would pool in a different place, in a different shape, so my sinuses would drain in a different direction. I don’t know. I came downstairs and found my keyboard and coffee, and I am thinking of collapsing my environment to three rooms in this house. I can close off the other ten or twelve.
I think it was Saturday they arrested MJ and girlfriend Tyler drunk and disorderly at Mt. Brighton. I missed the initial phone calls, and didn’t connect with them until the next day. I got the $300 I was told I would need to get my son and drove to the county jail. It wasn’t enough money. I was told to come back at 12:30 with $500. I drove to the hole in the wall for more cash and returned. This time MJ couldn’t be bailed out because he was already on probation. He asked if I could bail Tyler instead.
When MJ asked me to bail out Ty, I wasn’t surprised. “Her family didn’t come through?” I asked. “No,” he said. I thought about it. I thought about the dog in their apartment barking and crapping. I thought about the fierce family unit they had that was going to need continuing support, someone working. I thought about my son needing a place to come home to when he did get out, probably sometime after the holiday. I don’t think there was anyone more surprised than Tyler though to walk out into the sunshine and find me waiting in the car.
It was Tuesday MJ called me to bond him out. Nobody else would give a dime. He was offering anything, his motorcycle (which I didn’t want), his first-born son (which I wasn’t sure about), or his Bob Marley CD collection (borrowed from me in the first place.) I mentally checked my cash and upcoming bills for the month. I had $550 surplus. He needed $500. I took it as a sign that I was to get my son out of jail and said the word, hanging up on his profuse thank-you’s. Would I now be disowned by my other children?
MJ and G/F dropped by today ostensibly to re-pay bail money. In jail, they had said their rent would have to be paid late, that my repayment would come first. I wondered how they would finesse this. Today, they said their rent was due and they only had $800. They asked if I would do their taxes and take what they owed me out of that. I knew the tax return would not be enough to cover what they owed. I asked if I could have fifty bucks for spending money. MJ gave me $32. We hugged and they left.
It’s dark already, too dark to try the water hose in the driveway trick, so I leave the pad of ice on the drive for another evening and hunker down with my computer, music, and books. Actually there is a seemingly endless supply of things to hunker down with on a cold January night. It is overwhelming. Discounting the home improvement projects, I have books I have never read and movies I have not watched. I have access to music I have never heard and my piano is pouting untouched in the corner. And this is without leaving my house.
I was wrong. I did taxes for MJ and Tyler this morning. Their refund was close to two thousand dollars. They can repay the bail money with a grand left over. I wonder if they were aware of this. I text a message to them letting them know that there is good news on the tax refund front and telling them they should change their deductions, explaining that they need their money just now and do not need to be letting the Fed saving it for them until the end of the year. They express confusion. Form W-4, I say.
I stop at the mailbox on the way back from my walk. There is mail for me, for my children, for my ex. I am overwhelmed with mail. I have to decide what goes and what stays, and mostly I put it in piles on the end table, on the kitchen table, and on the desk in the study. Sometimes I am able to put together small batches to forward to one of them. I am supposed to take out the junk mail, or the mail they don’t want or need. I don’t know how to know what that is.
It is cold again, cold with wind howling again and snow whisping everywhere reminding me of Ohio where in those flat corn fields it seemed to get colder than anywhere I can remember. I remember my father in the cellar, looking at the thermometer to make sure the canning would not freeze. It was thirty below that night. The cellar was fine as I remember. It did not feel cold that night. It was the days as a boy, out hunting with the men in winter that it got the coldest. That is the cold I remember as the worst.
My son Tom asks me to help him with his taxes. He wants to do them himself with me there to answer questions. I think that this is a good idea, and readily agree. We decide to do it at his place, and I agree to meet him there Wednesday night. I take my computer, packed with the software, and arrive at the designated time, around 7:15. He is booting his computer, having some trouble with the VPN software from his company. He is also cooking something. Tuna Helper, I think. It is awful. Even Tom thinks it is awful.
I am at my son Tom’s place to help him with his taxes. He is having trouble loading the tax software onto his compute. I watch him struggle with this while he mentions he had also promised to go out with someone else that evening. They are waiting outside in the car. “So you’re throwing me out?” “, I guess so,” he says. And then, “I feel like a schmuck.” “You are a schmuck I say.” We hug and exchange Iloveyous before I leave. We make plans for him to come to my house to finish the taxes this weekend.
A dark blue Ford is trying to climb the hill in front of my house. The road is almost a solid chunk of ice now, several inches thick. The Ford is an older model, rear-wheel drive, negative traction, with a big V-8 engine. It bellows as it runs at the hill, slows near the top and begins to vibrate. Then it slides back down again. It is about ten degrees this morning, with bright sun reflecting off the snow. I don’t see any chickadees in the pine outside my window. The dark blue Ford slides slowly back down the hill.
I have always had an agreement with the government. It may have been unwritten. It may have been one-sided, but I have always upheld my side. I paid my taxes, and I prepared them honestly. On their part, the government has never audited me. Now, the government is hiring additional auditors to increase the tax revenues. I agree. This is good business sense. The problem I have with this is that it increases my chances of being audited. Now, doing my taxes, I am looking over my shoulder. My agreement seems no longer to be valid. Global angst is rising.
I write to keep my eye
on the whisp of every word
carefully pinging each syllable
into the hollow of a painful, tender ear.
I exercise past my bedtime
pushing tired muscles into the dark,
worn wet neurons
past their tense
sleepwalking into the bright.
It is partner to refrain.
to return to the
absence of touch,
to not hear the tender
Or cousin to discipline,
to remain loose in unlived light,
to be a temporary weeping particle of dust
soon to be swallowed:
The standard price for admission
to the brightest star in the sky.
The Tip Jar