Gilfoyle’s Prognosis

Perhaps you read recently about my little asshole dog’s time wearing a heart monitor. Welp, the data is back and it’s on the better-news side of the spectrum. There was one “event” that aligned with “squirrel” in his diary. There were other minor irregularities, but none that require immediate intervention.

For now, it’s all good, but the little guy has a bum ticker. There’s a real chance that eventually medical intervention will be required.

“I don’t want it to be about money,” the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas said. And I agree. We are responsible for the well-being of our pack members who don’t have thumbs. All they give in return is unconditional love, companionship, humor, and a thumpy feeling in my heart.

It’s only right Official Sweetie and me look out for the health of the pack.

But.

I vow now not to prolong the suffering of creatures who depend on me so I can feel that thumpy feeling a little longer. I promise Byng, and Gilfoyle, and any others in my care, that they will not suffer simply because I don’t want to say goodbye.

That applies to the humans I love as well.

3

Speaking of Vernal and Fracking and Dead Babies…

Some of you may recall that last month I became an involuntary expert on the town of Vernal, Utah. My car broke down Saturday afternoon and I landed there until a mechanic could look at it on Monday. The people were nice enough; the town showed plenty of new construction, and while small, Vernal was obviously the center of a very large rural community, sprawled over a vast basin.

So when Rolling Stone published this article about a spike in infant mortality in Vernal, it caught my eye.

Note, please, in the interest of rational debate, that the horrific toxicity of fracking and the sudden surge in infant mortality and deformation in Vernal have not been causally linked. Random numbers have a way of clumping sometimes, so when you look over an entire nation you get odd concentrations of disease just by random chance. Or there might be another root cause. Rolling Stone doesn’t mention that — they presume a cause and work backwards, which makes them just as bad at science as the anti-vaccers.

But let’s not kid ourselves; this horror coming at the same time fracking went full-speed would be a hell of a coincidence. Next time you fill up at the pump and reflect happily on the current price of gasoline, remember the babies of Vernal.

The Last Thing You Do

A few years ago, a friend of mine was at a funeral. There’s a part of the ritual in which you sit in climate-controlled comfort and gaze upon the corpse, then there’s a procession from that place to the plot where those remains will be interred. Well, slippery roads, a steep hill, an idiot in an SUV, etc., led to the hearse getting t-boned in dramatic fashion. Before the procession could proceed, a new corpse-buggy had to be called for.

It arrived, and that’s when the powers that be discovered that the coffin itself had also been damaged. The seals had been broken. The body had to be taken back to the mortuary to be reboxed. Why? Because the mortal remains of a fine person had been converted to toxic waste, so people could look at the dead person before those remains went into the ground. Really.

What an insult to the soil. It angers me to think that my body may not in its own turn nourish the planet that sustained it. I want to be fertilizer. I should be fertilizer. Run me through a wood chipper, dump me out over the roots of an apple tree, and I promise you I will do my best to make those apples taste better than any others.

Cremation is less of an insult to our planet, I suppose, but it’s hardly carbon-neutral.

I was mighty happy the other day when after a high-fiber meal I had more time for Facebook than usual and I came across a link to this: What to do When You’re Dead: Science Edition. Here’s your chance to make the last thing you do something constructive. Apparently liquid nitrogen is better than a wood chipper. While less dramatic, I’m good with that choice. Note that launching yourself into space is not terribly environmentally sensitive, either, what with the rocket exhaust injected directly into the ozone layer. But it would be cool to be a meteor. With the proper preparation, your friends could watch you streak across the sky and vanish into nothingness. That would be a hell of a way to leave the building.

But whether you choose any of those alternatives or come up with one of your own, think about it: What do you want that last thing you do to say about you?

2

My Last Thought

photo
I think this is what I want my headstone to say as well.

1

The Coroner Rides a Motorcycle

Riding the bus to work, top deck at the front. King of all I survey, which, from up there, is a lot. Ahead, brake lights. Even the carpool lane slows to a stop.

As we inch along, the driver moves the bus well over when motorcycles roll past in their unofficial lane between the carpool lane and the next lane over. Many bike drivers hold out their left hands in a horizontal peace sign as they roll by.

Another bike, much like the others, except the driver has CORONER written in yellow letters across the back of his dark-blue jacket. He weaves through traffic, rectangular white storage compartments flanking his rear wheel. Coroner stuff, no doubt.

This makes sense, I realize. Cars tangle, metal twists, bones break and people die. You can’t clear traffic lanes until the coroner gets there. That’s going to happen a lot sooner if the coroner rides a motorcycle. It’s efficient.

When we are judged as a people in the unimaginable future, I imagine folks will say of us, “Well, they got things done; gotta hand them that. They got things done.”

1

A Long Ramble

Note: When you spend a long time driving, you have a lot of time to think of stuff. I pulled a few paragraphs out of this episode and put them in one of their own, but this is still one hell of a muddled ramble. Even without the Theology and sociology, we’ve got us some philosophy, a (somewhat disguised) treatise on storytelling, thoughts on agricultural practices, lovely, curvaceous roads, and lunch. Not in that order.

I slept rather late this morning, in a awkward position it would seem as my entire left arm was numb when I finally stirred. I lifted it and flexed it, enjoying the curious feeling while it lasted. How nice it is to be easily amused.

Awake, showered, ponytailed and behatted, coated liberally with PABA, I got the hell out of Dodge. One more life ambition checked off. I headed in the direction of Garden City. All around me food was being made. Big round fields of it stretched across the landscape, the radius of the circles defined by the length of the irrigation pipe. I heard the grumbling engines working to draw the water from the depths and pump it out to the thirsty plants. Sometimes I passed other factories dedicated to turning the vegetable food into meat food. The only exception to the single-minded devotion to food production was an occasional oil well. One way or another, it was all about energy.

I was well past Garden City when I started to wonder if that was the way I really should be going. Not so much, it turns out. At Lakin I made a course correction, crossing the Arkansas River and heading due south on Sunflower 25. The Arkansas was bone dry. As I went south the land became more sere, the spaces between the verdant circles greater and the uncultivated areas scrubbier. It occurred to me that, like the oil, the water would run out some day as well.

The highway was not crowded, and I was gradually catching up to an SUV. I thought I smelled burning rubber, and soon after a cloud of blue smoke came from the left side of the SUV. Only after a few more seconds did the driver hit his brakes and begin to move to the side of the road, the smoke getting thicker all the while. At first it was difficult to tell in the mirage of the hot pavement, but it seemed like something was separating from the truck. The something resolved itself into a tire, or at least the tread of a tire, a big rubber donut bounding across the road and into the ditch on the other side. The SUV pulled over, its naked, shiny chrome rim shooting sparks as it dragged across the pavement. The truck had super-low-profile tires on expensive wheels, and one of the tires had lost its sidewalls and gone off on its own. Important note to people who buy fancy tires like that: Check the pressure often. Those tiny sidewalls don’t give you any room for error.

Hugoton is an attractive little farm town, and I decided it would be a good place to break my fast. I stopped at Dominoes, which was doing a fair lunch business when I walked in. It may surprise you to learn that I was the only long-haired male in the place wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sandals. As any Czech will tell you, however, a friendly hello to the people in charge will almost always be returned in kind, and I found I had stumbled into a very friendly place. By Czech standards. The men in their blue jeans and shirts with snaps discussed offshore drilling and the price of oil (down nine cents), along with farm topics, and the waitress spent her time trying to drown me with iced tea. Ah, America! When I paid, she asked, “do you want some ice tea to go?”

I joined highway 56 in its dogged pursuit of WSW, across the Oklahoma panhandle. It’s the sort of road that people joke isn’t 100 miles but the same mile 100 times. One mile was different, however. At the side of the road was a cross, elaborately decorated. Someone had died there, presumably as the result of an automobile accident. I had to wonder, why there? Sometimes when you see a roadside memorial you can piece together what happened. A sudden curve or the end of a passing lane. You can see the threat the driver faced and understand it. Other times, like this time, there are no such clues, no such reason. It could have been any place along that road. But it happened there, at that mile, and that is where the story ends (or begins?), and that mile is forever changed.

I imagine there were people who asked, why him? after the accident. Perhaps there were clues, the driver’s own personal dangerous curves — drugs or alcohol or fatigue or cell phone. Perhaps not. Perhaps, just like that unlikely mile, there was nothing to mark that person for death. Someone else ran him off the road. He had a blowout. In that case, why him is just as meaningless as why there. There’s really now answer at all, no reason it might not be me next time.

Fuel in Clayton, and a decision to take the Cimarron-Taos scenic route. Not a difficult choice, really. I found myself on the sort of road small sports cars are made for, on the sort of day that convertibles are made for. (Note to drivers of big-ass pickup trucks creeping along at twenty miles per hour: If you see a bunch of cars behind you, just pull over for a moment. It’s obvious you’re not in a hurry anyway.)

How is it that Taos, NM, has near-perpetual traffic problems?

Now I am at the folk’s house, windows open, the temperature comfortably cool, thinking that I’ve spent way too much time blogging tonight (as I’m sure many of you will agree), especially since I have a story I thought up out there on the road that I want to start working on. That’s the thing about the road — you just can’t stop thinking of stuff.

Life

Listen up kids. Life is not a toy. Life is not something you throw against a wall to see what happens. Life is not something you leave out in the rain. Life is a puppy. It’s crazy and spastic and will pee on you sometimes and poop in your shoes, but you have to take care of the puppy.

Seriously. Take care of the puppy. I’ve had enough bad news this week.

To sleep, perchance to dream

I got the text message on my phone this morning. It was from Soup Boy. “You remember Gretel?”

“Of course,” I typed back. I had met Gretel a few times here and there. We had been extras together once, but the first time I saw her she was asleep on my sofa. I imagined, now that Soup Boy has broken up with his girlfriend, that forthcoming would be an interesting story about the two of them.

It wasn’t long before the next message came in, short and to the point, the way phone text messages are. “She’s dead. She committed suicide yesterday.”

“Wholly crap,” I responded, and that’s it. A few hours later, it’s still about all I can come up with. That and questions. There’s a threshold, the line between life and death, and you can only cross it once. What was it about yesterday that made it her last? She was far from home; what was she hoping to find when she came to Prague? And, of course, the big one, the one only she could ever answer, and probably even then I wouldn’t understand: Why?

Now she’s gone. I have odd regrets. I wish I’d known when her heart beat for the last time, so I could put down whatever meaningless task I was performing and mark her passage. I wish I could have known before that and somehow brought her the happiness she ultimately despaired of ever finding. I wish I’d taken the time and had the courage to get to know her better. I wish she wasn’t dead.

We all have our private and public faces — some of us even have different personalities for different occasions. Gretel, the few times I talked to her, seemed chipper and upbeat, clever and conversational. Of course, that is what she wanted me to see of her. I’ve had some experience with people who are skilled at hiding their troubled thoughts. I was married to one. How many others do I know, among my happy and well-adjusted friends, who, when they are alone, face demons no one else knows about? How many sit in the darkness and wonder if it might be better not to be?

Do I even want to know the answer to that?

Don’t Die

The new-new bartender warmly greeted a bunch of her friends an hour ago — two women and one guy, and things seemed casual and friendly. Then the thin girl with the large breasts arrived. His attention shifted to her, and so did mine. Anorexic Boob-Job Girl, I dubbed her. I started composing an episode about her charms, but then I looked closer. Her upper arms are about the size of my wrists, and I have my mother’s wrists. What I started to write as a joke is in fact a horror, and while I admired her I was shoveling dirt on her grave.

She is anorexic boob-job girl. I’m looking at someone committing one of the most horrific slow suicides imaginable, and I haven’t the slightest idea what to do about it. It’s an American impulse, I suppose, thinking that there is a solution, and that I am the guy to apply it. I feel guilty, now, thinking “Dang! She’s hot!” when I first saw her, before I saw what wasn’t there.

I don’t know what to say to anyone reading this who is shooting for weight zero. Don’t? Stop? You’re beautiful now, just as you are, and no number on a scale will ever change that? There is nothing I can say that hasn’t been said before.

Except maybe don’t die. Don’t die. We need you on this side, sensitive and frightened, honest and hurt. In this big brutal world, we need you more than ever.

I need you. I need to believe that you exist. I need to hope that I can meet you someday, by chance, and you’ll never know that I was the guy who wrote this, and I’ll never know that this helped you, but we’ll bump someday, on the A train in New York or the tram in Prague, just by accident, a little embarrassing incident, something minor we’ll chuckle over for the rest of our time, and we will both discover happiness. Chances are it won’t be me you bump, but some other lonely soul. That doesn’t matter, but it won’t happen if you’re dead.

Words, words, words. Useless futile hopeless words. Sinuous vipers that twist themselves to the tune of the piper. In the end, they are nothing, but they are all I have. Words, and when a life is at stake I know just how useless words can be. There is nothing I can say, nothing I can write, that will stop the woman in front of me from killing herself. There’s nothing I can do to stop anyone from starving herself to death, except ask. Please, don’t. For me. I use the smoke as an excuse, but I can’t get away with crying in a crowded bar too often.

Bevins

It’s taken a few days for me to feel this. John Bevins was a friend of mine. I sat on the bar stool next to his, listening to his stories. I went to parties at his house, where he always put on a good spread. He was a nut, and occasionally a right bastard, but he was always a friend. He was the kind of man whose passing the world should mourn.

I don’t really know that many facts about him. Facts, perhaps, are not as important as understanding, but here are the facts I know:

But through a miracle of logistics, he would have died with all his friends when an artillery shell hit his tent, tearing the rest of the occupants to little tiny pieces.

He was a patriots fan.

He liked Amstel lite, from the bottle, in a chilled glass.

He smoked dope.

He loved his son.

When he needed space, you gave him space.

When you needed a good word, he gave you a good word.

He once chased a man half his age down Garnet Ave in Pacific Beach after the guy had hit a girl. Bevins looked out for his own, and he was generous to those who needed his help.

He is gone now, and the world is less for it. I will miss his passion, I will miss his quirks. Most of all, I will miss his friendship. And his boat. John Bevins, here’s to ya. You were a good egg. The rest of us, this weekend, let’s hoist an Amstel from the bottle, in a chilled glass, and henceforth September 2th shall be Bevins Day.

Patriot, drinker, fisherman, friend, he shall be missed.

I wrote a story once

It was an odd tale; it started as sleep-deprived ravings but grew on me. It was an odd world, an agrarian culture, but without horses. Giraffes were the beast of burden.

There was a man in the village who no one liked. He had a bad temper, and sprayed saliva when he talked. No one mentioned that to him. He was out working his fields one day when his giraffe had a heart attack. That must be common among the swift ones; the heart has to maintain enormous pressure to keep the head nourished, perched way up there.

The man’s giraffe died and he sat there, out in his field, next to his dead animal, for three days. Then he packed what he could carry and left the village forever. The story was not about him.

In this world of odd mammals and random blinding rainstorms, metaphors had a disquieting concreteness. Promises were trees, and lies were death. I was big on the truth back then. Wombats would pursue their victims relentlessly across the grassland, but neither hunter nor hunted would voluntarily enter the forest. I think they were wombats. They sound more dangerous than platypuses. The plainsmen raised them to be particularly nasty.

I’m thinking of that story now, wistfully hoping to recapture its unfettered randomness and heavy symbolism. Fifteen years later, I seem to recall some good prose as well. Tonight I have been sitting, groping for some of that silliness, my prose prosaic. There are only so many hours you can spend editing your own work before you turn into a pile of dependent clauses and dangling participles, with nary an idea in sight.

It’s time for action! It’s time to recapture that old-school mild schizophrenia. All nighter! Yeah! Rock on!

Ungraceful

Ungraceful

Today I watched an insect die
An ant, with wings
Must be that time of year.

It was tired, expired, done
but still it tried to fly
It had nothing else to do.

She was a writer, part 2

I was in a nostalgic mood the other day, thinking about the meaningless encounters in my life that, had things gone differently, would have meant something. I wrote about a woman in an airport bar in Cincinnati. I’ve thought of her off and on for more than three years; I even occasionally tried to dig up an email address for her through her publisher. I didn’t try very hard, I admit, but for me she was always out there, a person I had hit it off with but had not had time to alienate. Even as I wrote that bit I wondered if she would stumble across it.

She died in 2002.

You may have read John’s comment to the previous piece informing me of the case, and you may have read my reply. I’m embarrassed by my reaction; I tried to make light of it and ended up making her early death to be about me. I knew the moment I posted the comment I would want to delete it, but in the interest of honesty I will let it stand. You’ve all read it by now anyway. I have not seen any other replies, as I am in Slovakia and Al Gore hasn’t been here yet. (George Bush is in the capital right now, but I think he still expects someone to hand him a sandwich when he says ‘Bratislava’.)

During the drive down here I thought of her. I wonder what ended her life. I wonder if the cancer came back or if she lost her long struggle with her own self-image. Probably neither of those things. Perhaps it was a car crash. Maybe she was struck by lightning. She was thirty-nine, give or take. My memory, not the best, had munged the name of her book; for the record, her name was Lucy Grealy and the name of her book is Autobiography of a Face.

In the end it doesn’t matter. For a few hours I sat on a barstool next to a bright light. I checked out her ass. We had a nice chat. Did she already know she was dying? As we sat there was she facing her own mortality and chasing the inevitable with Chivas and Beer? Could I have made a difference? What if she died of loneliness, while I was thinking of her all along? Then again, for all I know she was happily married, and I was just some guy in a bar during a particularly tedious layover. I’ll never know what that encounter meant to her, and she’ll never know what it meant to me.

I wish now she could know I still think of her, but I have no way to tell her. Her striking eyes are dust, her figure is lost, even her deformed jaw is just a playground for the worms. And I still sit alone in airport bars.

I Love the Road

Long Road Ahead Somewhere between Hoover and Glen Canyon, on the stretch of road where I took this picture, it hit me. Not for the first time, not for the last. You know the feeling. You look at your lover/spouse/significant other over breakfast and the face you see just blows you away. “Wow!” you think to yourself. “I’m so damn in love!” It never gets old. Her face, his face, whoever’s face it is, strikes you as new and completely beautiful. It’s the first time you’ve ever really seen that face. There’s something about it that strikes your soul.

Yesterday I saw the face of the road again. I was blasting down a two-laner, sun baking the land, when I passed under a vulture catching a draft off the blacktop. I went directly under the raptor, and praised the sweet lord of the open skies for the ragtop as I looked up into the huge bird, its great wings aglow from the sun above. I shot past and nearly locked up my brakes for a doe and her fawn crossing the road. Sublime to rush. Love.

A couple hundred feet later I saw a deer dead at the side of the road. I think about death out there. Every rain-slicked curve at the edge of a cliff could be my last. Every time a semi hurtles past on a small highway, knocking my hat loose, I pass within feet of death. One sneeze, one seizure, and my tiny car is crushed beneath the juggernaut. A swift, unexpected way to go. That’s death on the highway. A matter of moments.

Out there, there are crosses by the road, marking places where people have died. I look at the contours of the road, trying to reconstruct the events that led to the tragedy. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times it’s a mystery. Some unholy and unfair convergence of the world, or just asleep at the wheel. I have passed my fair share of twisted metal, surrounded by flashing lights and solemn policemen, shattered coffins spilling blood onto the road. Move on, the officers say, waving emphatically. My presence can only compound the harm. I stare ahead and resolutely do not add to the slowdown, riding the bumper of the car in front of me.

But you can’t have death without life, and you can’t have life without love. The road is the perfect lover. There is the yellow stripe shooting down the middle of the asphalt, stretching out into the future, always there, varying but never ending. The road itself is constant, an uninterrupted ribbon connecting here with everywhere so well that there is no here and there anymore. The road itself is the only remaining place. To the sides of the road, above it and under it, is constant change. Even the same stretch is different every time. Seasons pass. Stripmalls appear. Towns wither and die. The road is still there.

Today I drove through the Chama Valley in all it’s autumn splendor. I chased rainbows on the plains. I got cold, I got wet, I shouted into the roaring wind. I was on the road.

Requiem For A Machine

Alert but lazy-headed, stretched out on the sofa, I hear the moan, the sound of a mule’s ghost, as Amy pulls out to go to work.

Just the day before I had watched Amy force her laundry basket through the glassless pukey window, and I thought about the coming winter. I thought about rain. In the coming months there would likely be some. “Normally, when it rains,” she explained to me, “I just carry a big towel with me and only half of my back or half of my ass gets wet. It’s OK. But what does suck is when the rain gets in the driver’s window and it just falls down all by itself. You keep having to push it back up. Just try smoking a cigarette like that.”

Moments after she leaves, my phone rings. “Amy Cell Calling” the readout says.

A 1995 Ford Escort (“Gee Tee” Amy reminds me, swinging her hips with the letters), Purple, the BarneyMobile, the Purple People Eater, the Purple Beast, but lately simply “bitch”. Only the AM radio works, the seatbelts don’t work, and “the airbags don’t work or they would have deployed a long time ago.” Arrayed across the window are countless parking stickers for colleges.

Car Shrine “My car just took a fucking dump on me,” Amy says over the phone, “I’m in the middle of Riviera and people are about to hit me.” She describes the symptoms. Transmission. Probably shot.

“Almost ten years,” she told me over coffee one day. “The longest relationship I’ve ever had. I drove up to New York in that car. I was with my boyfriend. At one point I was driving and I sniffed my armpit and said, ‘I need to shower.’ I found out later he had just farted.” It’s funny the stuff you think of when you’re saying goodbye. Something that was lost almost forever is suddenly right there, never gone. A laugh, a shared fart, a moment in life.

“I’ll be right there,” I say. I scrounge up fresh socks and schlump out to my wheels. The passenger seat is filled with travel debris and luggage, but I decide that time is important if the bitch (I’m referring to the car, of course) is in the middle of the road.

My own memories of the car don’t stretch back so far; tonight I have seen pictures of the car when it was new, and honestly it’s hard to connect the two. For me it will always be the pile of loosely-stacked metal with seats somewhere in the middle. Death Trap. Cop Bait. Moving Violation. It is no more. Tonight we pulled out all the miscellaneous crap that had built up over the years – lighters, CD’s, tapes (no tape player for the last five years), empty packs of smokes, kitty litter, and an endless list of odds and ends.

A shrine stands on her coffee table, heavy with the symbolism of her first true love.