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From Jackson, Tennessee to Rockford, Illinois by way of St. Louis, Missouri. Delaying the return home and the mantle of responsibility.
From McMillan Towers (where I made pretense of finding Margaret and found James) to State Street (where I make pretense of going home and find an extra day's solace).
The contrast is obvious. Vertical project warehousing verses upscale suburban sprawl. Low income subsidized idling verses high end conspicuous consumption.
Though I hear things change "once you cross the river."
Things always change. Meanwhile I've got my copy of "The Golem's Mighty Swing", $12.95 at Barnes Noble.
If I were a bit more maudlin and self-involved I'd wax all weepy and poetic for the soul of America. I have seen dispensers offering the "Rough and Rugged" the "Hugger" and the "Aromatic" condom in three separate states.
And it appears (sadly) that the gloss has not worn off the practice of "modifying" bathroom hand dryers. You know the one, "Push butt" and so forth...hilarity ensues.
I choose instead to grin at the kitsch of it. It's a tight grin approaching the neighborhood of a grimace, but still a grin.
Yes, even despite the ubiquitous "Nigger" graffiti.
"The only thing they found was a small hernia I've had since you were born," says my mother after a particularly involved physical. "Nothing to be concerned about."
She's had a hernia for over forty years and considers it a minor inconvenience.
By today's standards - when no tooth is left un-straightened no cellulite is left un-sucked - a feat of Herculean proportions.
She could be on Oprah, battering me with guilt to raucous applause.
Instead when asked if she'll have it repaired, "No, if it doesn't bother me, I won't bother it."
I'm sending a get well card regardless.
I don’t care for autumn anymore. Because of the responsibilities associated with it. Pool to be closed (late this year). Leaves to rake soon.
Can the roof survive another winter? Coats to buy for the baby. She’s outgrown last year’s, naturally. Arrive in the dark, drive home, in the dark.
Privy to a conversation once, the general consensus being that winters are currently more severe than times past. I offered that perhaps the responsibilities (shoveling, driving, gas bills) made it seem so. Withering stares abounded. I took the hint.
Understand, I don’t hate the harsher seasons. Can’t hate the inevitable.
My grandmother was a hypochondriac. To let her tell it she’d had cancer, a brain, tumor, and several ulcers. Every cold was pneumonia, every cough, black lung.
She died at 89.
The family allowed it… to a point. My mother told me how when my grandmother was a child she was brutally mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters. A real Cinderella Story. When my great-grandfather discovered it, he divorced the woman who eventually begged his forgiveness on her deathbed. I wonder if he did?
Whenever anyone really got sick, Grandma would get up from her “death bed” to nurse them.
Google search result for “One is One”:
"A medieval English boy, considered a coward as a youngster and consigned to a monastery, escapes and sets out to prove himself a knight as brave and skilled as his brothers."
God, I love Google.
Read this book in elementary school. It left quite an impression. First book I ever finished and immediately began again. Turned me on to reading and ultimately, writing. It’s actually haunted me for years, right on the edge of my awareness.
Quite an impression and I’m not sure why.
Perhaps it was the ending. I didn’t expect it.
He flailed wildly at the mosquito whining at his ear. It was too hot to keep the protective covers over his head for any length of time. He’d melt. Too hot to keep any covers on at all actually, but he was afraid of monsters. He was only 8 after all.
He wished he could make a deal, “Bite me and be done with it, just don’t whine in my ear anymore.”
Closing the window was out of the question, besides the damage was done. The enemy was already in the room.
He finally settled on sleeping in the closet.
No rest for the wicked. No end in sight. I keep waiting for things to return to “normal” when I realize that this is it. And so I had best grow accustomed.
It always comes to this at October when the long days end and darkness closes in too early. It’s cooler and my skin begins to dry and flake; even, it seems, to crackle.
There is still the same number of hours in the day, but it doesn’t seem that way. I’m in a sudden panic due to the lack light.
At least I get my hour back soon.
Captain Rocket hurled through the outer darkness at breakneck speed. He longed hear his beloved play a love song upon her guitar. He thought of her sad eyes and her flowing burka and his eyes misted over.
Abruptly, a squadron of space tigers swooped in out of the sun, blasters screaming. Rocket barely had time to react. Putting thoughts of Althea aside, he dispatched the cowardly scourges.
It took little time; less effort.
Soon he was gliding in on his beloved Detroit, home in sight.
Crossing the threshold he found his love nest deserted. Bills piled high on a table.
My grandfather once nicknamed a man “Sleeping Jesus.” The man had spent some time in the Army, under combat conditions I assume, and came home a narcoleptic.
He could go to sleep anywhere. He once fell asleep standing in the middle of the road.
If memory serves, he drove a cab for a while and once drove my grandfather and me home from town in a snowstorm. I think my grandfather’s car had broken down.
A narcoleptic cab driver named Sleeping Jesus, driving an old man and a child through a blinding snowstorm.
There’s a story there somewhere
Amy worked for Al behind the counter of the dry cleaners for it seems like forever. She was with him before I started shaving. In all those years Amy never seemed to age a day.
Al retired while I was in college. Amy feared working for the Koreans who were consolidating control of neighboring cleaning businesses. They tended to hire family at the expense of seniority. She found a backer willing to help her purchase.
Amy was overjoyed. She had an opportunity at buying her own business.
Abruptly her partner sold to the Koreans.
I haven’t seen her in months.
For a time during my childhood, I believed I could fly. It became my sole purpose in life. I was determined to get airborne under my own power.
I would spend hours running about the yard trying to reach escape velocity. I remember standing in one place, jumping into the air repeatedly, outside when I could, inside when I had to.
When asked about what I was doing I would be completely honest about it. I was not self-conscious about my belief and mission in the least bit.
Eventually I gave up. I’m not sure why.
I wish I hadn’t.
They say that my great-grandmother, Mame, was not at all interested in housework. She preferred working outside with her garden and animals.
One day as she was tending to her chickens, she caught a snake in the chicken coop. The snake had swallowed a couple of eggs and had wrapped himself around a post intent on crushing them.
Mame, with her hoe in hand, killed the serpent, chopped off his head, and got her eggs back.
She gazes at me now from a copy of old photo on my bookshelf.
She looks as if she could rule the world.
Strife and rumors of strife abound. Ignoring the global case for the moment, since it’s way over my head.
It’s the local variety that concerns me presently. We have become prickly and self-important and puerile.
Compromise is viewed as weakness, kindness as stupidity. I blame Oprah’s grandfather, Phil Donahue.
And Calvin Kline Jeans.
The former made us believe that all our little hurts and embarrassments were worth airing. The latter, that we could buy style and thereby stature.
Most of our little problems really don’t matter much. Most of us really are relatively unimportant. Clothes really don’t make the man.
Stop and go traffic, the final great equalizer. Subaru and Lincoln, Mini Van and eighteen wheeler.
All sharing the same noxious fumes. All wasting valuable time. Lemmings to the slaughter.
Someone once did a calculation of the time an average commuter wastes in traffic. It was some staggeringly soul-draining figure.
For a time I despaired over books left unread, novels left unwritten in service to “The March of the Dispirited Lemmings.” Briefly I considered a lifestyle change.
But there are bills to pay and bellies to fill.
Besides I’d probably just waste my extra time in front the television set.
Today is my wife’s birthday. We celebrated like old married couples do I guess. I took the day off. Cynthia personalized a card “To Mommy” by drawing a portrait “with eyelashes.” Not a half bad job.
Where once we came up with lavish schemes and budget stretching accessories we now are content to spend the day together, sans rug rat, for a bit. We’ve outgrown our need for frequent (though not entirely eliminated) lavishness and the budget is not as pliant as it once was.
There was cake and ice cream of course. There must always be cake and cream.
Mrs. Weber hated Communism because it was “a scourge on humanity.” She believed that one day I would see flying cars and that the computer would be as common as any other appliance. Mrs. Weber was my 3rd grade teacher.
Daddy said that The Mob fixed JFK’s election. That he was kept on life support on a remote island after being shot. Daddy hated Nixon because he was a crook.
Daddy died in 1975. Mrs. Weber is likely dead. I wish I could ask them about the stock market and the November elections.
They were right most of the time.
The god of the octopus looked down upon his subjects and smiled. They were consistently timely with tribute. Five bushels of fish every fortnight no matter the size of the catch or whether there were rough seas or calm.
They kept his edicts whether they understood them or not; better than the dinosaurs ever had (he gloried in his decision to allow them into extinction).
The god of the octopus bragged to the god of the clams that the adoration of his subjects was a reflection of his godliness.
The god of the clams thought better of arguing with fools.
There isn’t much of anything that I can do to help of late. Nothing constructive anyway. Too many avenues. Little clear choice. Muddy waters.
I didn’t see it coming. Perhaps I was too preoccupied with other matters. But I do not want to get caught up in trying to avoid making the wrong decisions. That way lies scandal and indecision. Worse, stagnation.
“Do something even it’s the wrong thing,” is what my grandmother used to say. Move and then take a bearing. Just end up somewhere, anywhere.
Or I could be wrong. It could be just my time to wait.
“Three boys were playing in the pool today.”
“Doc there’s a sub zero wind chill and three feet of snow out there. That’s crazy.”
“Yeah that’s what I told them.” He was past 80 and caring if I believed him.
So convincing I checked for footprints. After an hour arguing I gave in, assured he wouldn’t go outside if they returned. “What are you,
?” he asked.
Besides, I’ve seen things. Saw a tractor drive through my grandmother’s house once.
it. I was old enough to know the difference between real and make believe.
No one believed me either.
So dinner is ready and I have about two minutes before I’m in real trouble but I wanted to get this done before I was full and fat and before it got too late.
We’re having burgers tonight and I came home making noises like I was really hungry and picking through the fridge like some scavenger barbarian off the steppes. So my better half made all haste to get dinner done and the burgers like I like them and I’m probably in trouble.
Just got my second warning, which means I’m definitely in trouble.
But at least I’m done.
The day my father died I wasn’t sure how to react. Admittedly I was initially relieved. He’d been sick a long time. He – and the family – were worn out.
Immediately thereafter I was saddened and I cried a bit.
And then became confused at the apparent party atmosphere that took hold. Food & drink in abundance. Plenty of talk & laughter.
I became sullen that out “guests” were not giving the proper respect to the occasion.
Why weren’t they keeping the proper mood? Why weren’t they comforting me – I mean – us?
My mother pulled me aside to say, “They are.”
I’ve had only two recurring dreams. One comprises skeletons that could wreck a possible run for the presidency. So it stays with me.
The other reflects my father’s death, which – I’m beginning to understand – was more of a seminal event than I’ve acknowledged.
I get a call at college that we’ve got to redo the funeral. Something about insurance.
At the church, everyone waits as if on a movie set. Extremely annoyed, I take my place. As the eulogy begins, Daddy sits up. Only I’m surprised.
Him (laughing): “So what do you think son?”
Me: “You son of a bitch.”
“That was a dirty word when I came along, now you’re singing it, “ said my mother. Ma must have lived a sheltered life and obviously discounted the mileage James Brown got out of the word. But no matter, I lived for the Funk.
I was its ardent devotee and George Clinton was my guru. Viscerally and intellectually appealing, Funk was truly “music to get your shit together by.”
Now the image and name are selling French fries – Oreida Funky (flavored) Fries. Once again The Market co-opts the fringe.
Who knows? One day I’ll be grousing about cinnamon flavored “motherfuckers.”
Tojo – named for the wrestler, not the general – trotted ahead on the trail. Gene claimed he was part wolf. I only half believed it.
Mac and I were hoping for better dinner fare at my house than his. His mother wasn’t fazed. There were four other mouths to feed.
Just before reaching my backyard we found Tojo barking at the blackest snake I’ve ever seen. Black like night. Thick as a cable. It reared up and towered over the dog.
It considered us for a moment and then – in no particular hurry – slithered off into the woods.
It took forever.
Old Scratch took a vacation once in a blue moon. Despite the forgone conclusion that his was a losing proposition, he rarely strayed off course.
“Anything worth doing and all that.”
But when he did, he preferred to wear the raiment that was most pleasing, the garment that had brought his greatest triumph.
He enjoyed hunting in it. He enjoyed the way it made him look, the way it made him feel.
He also enjoyed his solitude. The dog’s barking was an unwelcome intrusion.
Fortunately, the boys accompanying it kept it in check.
His exit was sufficiently dramatic.
Bernie knew that his estimation of his own worth was far and above reality. But what was he to do? He had to have something.
Besides, he figured he was pretty close to the norm. No one saw themselves as they truly were. Everyone lied to some degree. The question was to what magnitude?
What Bernie needed was an finalarbiter. He needed confirmation. A professional was out of the question. He was afraid of therapy. Friends and family were also out. He couldn’t stand the possibility of rejection.
Bernie decided on politics, the last best refuge of the neurotic.
Larry considered world domination a real possibility. Never mind that he was a dog.
But first he had to get the humans to recognize his true warrior name “Ruether, Squirrel Killer.” More menacing than “Fluffy.”
He hated “Fluffy.” Hated “Larry” too but his mother was a huge Larry Hagman fan. Never missed an episode of DALLAS.
First order of business was communication. Writing was out; no opposable thumbs. He would have to master human speech. He was up for it. Hadn’t he trained them in the proper way to serve dog food (dry naturally)?
He’d start right after his nap.
I notice the nurse is not in the least bit critical. She’s friendly and knowledgeable and non-judgmental. A real professional.
I wish she would yell at me or show a little scorn. I’m overweight and my blood pressure’s up and my cholesterol probably will be too when the blood work’s finished.
And it’s all preventable. I’m party to my own demise. I know what to do – even done it for short spurts – I just don’t maintain.
I sound like some kind of soft-core sadomasochist. “Punish me nurse.” I need a reality check and the number to the nearest Jenny Craig.
“You pronounced it right the first time!” She’d come running and given me a big kiss. She was still on my lap.
“Well, yeah but who’s ‘Nkrumah Johnson’?” I replied, thinking the mail had come to the wrong address.
“I am.” Seems I’d been dating her under the auspices of her middle name. “Daddy wanted a name that meant something. I was named for….”
“….Kwame Nkrumah,” I cut in. “Wasn’t he the first black leader of Nigeria?”
“Ghana,” she corrected, and gave me another kiss. A longer one this time.
“Keep that up and we won’t make it to dinner.”
She always smiles and says “hi.” I wonder how she can manage happiness every time she sees you. Every. Time. She is 100% “there” every time she engages in conversation.
She is not cloying. There is no hint of artifice or effort. I’m normally annoyed with the perennially cheerful, but not her. She is not particularly pretty – her smile does not “light up a room” – but she draws you in.
I’ve no idea what her name is nor do I know her job function. I don’t intend to find out either. It’s better this way.
She’s the office Zen master.
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