REPORT A PROBLEM
It would be easiest to say I don’t remember February 1. It was yesterday. I didn’t do a 100-words entry. I had one of those days where your brain melts like candle wax and hardens on your clothes, holding you upright, so that people don’t notice that there is anything wrong, but there is, and if someone looks at you they inevitably ask, “What’s wrong?” It took me years to realize I was not unique, to learn to see others with the lumps of artificially stiffened clothing that suddenly softened and slumped to the floor when I uttered those words.
I was supposed to go bowling with daughter Amanda today. It had been my idea. We always eat. Everything we do is food-centered and my jaws are just tired of chewing, so I suggested an alternative activity. But she lives college town, and bowling means alcohol and drunken spewing, which she does not like. We compromised on a 1 p.m. bowl time. I couldn’t sleep last night. The morning was difficult. I didn’t get my coffee until noon. I phoned her and begged off. I was not going to get dressed and make the one-hour drive to Lansing in time.
I didn’t notice the mailbox right away. I thought that the package was why the delivery person had brought the mail to the house, and I may have been right. But some time the next day I realized that my mailbox post had been broken off and strewn across my neighbor’s yard. The bracing and box had been stomped into the snow. There were no tire tracks. My neighbor Phil and I surveyed the damage. Phil looked down the street. I was the only one so honored. “Somebody mad at you?” he asked. “Not that I know of,” I said.
The mailbox wasn’t the only problem. I had been left with a new curb cart. I already had two. I didn’t need three. Phil’s first thought was that it was his, but his was in his driveway. So was everyone else’s we could see. I had a curb cart that belonged to one of my neighbors, and someone was cursing me for stealing their curb cart. This was going to weigh heavily on my conscience. It was another problem to be sorted out. I loaded my mailbox pieces into the orphan curb cart and left it parked by the road.
The pain in my side was worse. I decided to see a doctor during the week rather than wait for the weekend. I called, and the nurse said my doctor was not available, but that someone else in the practice could see me that morning. I was used to that. I was ambivalent about my doctor anyway. Actually, I was beginning to have second thoughts about my pharmacist, my favorite restaurant, my hairdresser and my video rental store. The world has become too complicated, and everyone in it is clearly too preoccupied by their own problems to worry about me.
The doctor wanted me to have a CT scan. They faxed an authorization and told me to call and make an appointment. I waited a day to make sure the fax had cleared and called, waiting on hold for seventeen minutes to be told that they did not have the fax yet. “You should call your doctor and ask if they have faxed the authorization,” they assured me. I looked at the authorization in my hand with the notation in the corner “Faxed 2-4.” I explained that I had watched the clerk perform the fax. “You should call back Monday.”
I went shopping for a new mailbox Saturday. I knew the ground was hopelessly frozen. I might end up with a mailbox in a bucket of rocks. They had one of those kits with a metal stake you drive in the ground. All you need is a five-pound hammer. It might work, I thought. The kit was thirty-five dollars and made in China. I looked around and found the Made-in-USA version for twenty-nine dollars and dragged it home. I was sure that nobody would have made off with my five-pound hammer. What use could anyone have for a five-pound hammer?
I had to go back to the store for the five-pound hammer. Of course they did not have a five pound hammer. Closest they had was a four and one-half pound hammer. I stood there holding the hammer, confused. Five pounds? Would four and one-half pounds be enough? Would it be too much? Would I go running through the aisles bopping customers at random with my shiny new four and one-half pound hammer? Had I taken my meds? It was twenty dollars. My new mailbox was up to about seventy-five dollars and was still in pieces in the garage floor.
The pain in my side got much worse. By 6 pm Monday it had gone from a radiating slow burn to a tidy focused stab that came out of nowhere, taking my breath away. I rang up the doctor on call, fetching Doctor #2, who listened to my story. She told me to come in and see her first thing Tuesday morning. Tuesday morning I saw Doctor #3, who was excited to see me because he had been doing a lot of reading on Bi-polar disease. He poked my side telling me about all the great artists who were BiP’s.
The fine new hammer did not help. The ground was frozen, probably to a depth of about 30 inches. When I hit the metal stake, it merely bounced. Thinking I was on a rock, I moved it and hit it again. It bounced again. I thought about attaching a hose to the stake and forcing water into the ground to thaw it as I drove the stake in more slowly. I thought about wrapping the stake with a coil to heat it and thaw the ground. I thought about setting the new mailbox ingloriously in a bucket full of rocks.
I went for the CT scan. We had a foot of fresh snow the night before, so I got up early, cleared the driveway, and showed up at 9:20 a.m. I was to spend the first two hours drinking what I assumed was radioactive iodine. Then during the actual scan they ran another 100 cc into me IV. I pretty much had the place to myself because of the weather. There were three other men there, the four of us milling around, avoiding one another the way some men do. I have seen thirty people there on good weather days.
Consider the cognizant grave
near the road.
The lump of dirt, polite
The Easter cross, so white.
The sun beats down.
The dew falls
through a thousand blades of grass
root, stem, bulb, and pluck.
In the distance, a car is born.
Growing along the road
It sucks air and tar as it rolls
burly tires wrap, whap, and whine.
Watch iron and rust grovel and growl
Feel the pant and weave.
While the hardened steel pistons
flail and howl.
Lift the throttle and glide.
Bear the burden and it is gone.
The sun beats down.
What do you see?
I was stumbling around in the snow near my storage shed thinking about mailbox in a bucket of rocks when I noticed the concrete block behind the shed. I pried several of them out of the snow bank with a pickaxe and hauled them out to the road in a wheelbarrow with the mailbox post, propping it up with a suitable arrangement of blocks stuffed into the snow. It was still wobbly no matter how I arranged the blocks. I added a nylon tie-down strap, wrapped around the top layer, cinching it tight. It worked. I had temporary mail box.
Valentine is standing on the corner. It is cold and the wind is cutting through his jacket. He is clutching a cardboard heart-shaped box. Presumably filled with chocolate, it is covered with red and pink satin bows. He has been caught out late on a Sunday night. It is getting dark. The storefronts have closed and he is not sure where he is. There is no traffic. He sits on the corner, his back against a cold iron lamppost, the box on the walk next to him, arms hugging each other for warmth. He suspects he has done something wrong.
The CT scan showed nothing wrong with me. I did have an allergic reaction to one of the antibiotics mid-way through the week, so things got worse for a while. By the time the CT scan was read I was feeling a little better and Doctor #4 said I could discontinue the antibiotics. This made me feel even better. One of the doctors said something about a possible pinched nerve. I have another appointment very early tomorrow morning. Doctors #1 and #2 are still arguing about next steps, while I consider transferring to doctor #3 who has a nice smile.
A man is walking Woodward Avenue south approaching Martin Luther King. It is cold outside, and the sun is slipping away. Steam huffs up from the sidewalk. This man has to be careful. The world is as he imagines is. He knows that he could make Detroit warm by just thinking it to be so, but he is afraid of unanticipated consequences the cannot begin to imagine. He hears a man call down the street, “You cannot remember where you are.” This is what he thinks he hears. He does not hear well. He looks around, wondering where he is.
It is ash Wednesday, a day of repentance. I find myself thinking of ashes as I read the letter from my insurance agent. They have increased my insurance policy to $350,000 on my house, along with three hundred thousand for contents. I could use a good house fire at that rate. The total is going to cost me a grand a year for homeowner’s insurance. My agent and I are going to have a talk. I know he will speak to me in priestly tones about home replacement values. I will reply in clear tones about quotes from his competitors.
The ATT fellah’s ATT have been digging by the road for three days now. They have cut several trees and a lot of berry briars. I see a hardhat sticking out of the hole. I wander over and ask what the hell they are doing. Looking at the hole, I say, “I didn’t know ATT had anything that big.” They explain they have to dig a six by six by six-foot hole to install new equipment to support Window’s Seven. I look at the half-inch pipe they have uncovered five feet down and wonder about Microsoft’s latest cure for windows.
It is Friday and the men with the backhoe have filled the giant hole in my yard and have left. I have no internet now. I called ATT who eventually understood the problem and agreed to send someone out tomorrow to look at it. They were going to send me a confirmation by email. I didn’t bother to explain that I would not receive it. Actually, life without internet is noticeably different. It is quieter, somehow. The house is quieter. I still have local access to my music connection and files. It’s tempting to stay disconnected, to see what happens.
Saturday morning, 9 AM, and already someone has called me from ATT to say they are on their way to fix my problem. Is it a problem? Yesterday was a good day. I am wondering if the worldwide internet is too much of a distraction. Unplugged from it, I felt like I had been given back a large part of my brain. I went bowling with my daughter. I went dancing with my son and his girlfriend. I listened to my own music. I called the piano tuner. I read a book. I wrote letters. It was a wonderful day.
Sunday is sleepy. It doesn’t want to move. It is looking for a warm place to lie down. It is Saturday’s fault. Saturday had a bad time of it and crawled under a blanket on the couch and slept for five hours in the evening, waking up at 1 AM. It was all over with after that for Sunday. Sunday tried to start a normal day, but what is normal when you have a leave like that? Sunday tried to go to sleep right away. No go. Sunday went out for an early breakfast and coffee. Sunday yawns and staggers.
It was a heavy snow. It was the blanket grandmother made for you. It was not the fiber-fill blanket you bought at Penny’s. It came down dense and pre-packed. At eight inches, it could have been twenty had it been five degrees colder. It was almost too wet to make snowmen of. I was thinking of the snowman and snowwoman I made one year. But this was heart attack snow. It was snow blower killer snow, clogging them, causing wheels to slide sideways, and at least one to tip over completely. It was the whitest snow I’d seen all winter.
Hulu has been running a new ad that puts a kink in my brain. It features a hologram of John Lennon urging people to donate money to buy a laptop for every child in the world. The thing is outrageous. I don’t know who is making the killing selling all these laptops, or who the kids are going to connect to, or where they are going to plug them in, or for god’s sake who is going to show them how to use the contraptions. John Lennon? Come on. How about a cheese sandwich for every child in the world?
MJ calls to borrow fifty dollars. I agree. He hasn’t “borrowed” money for a month. He mumbles about not having a job and I consider asking why, but I know that in his mind he has an excellent reason for not having a job. He’s going to court in a month and might have to go to jail. He doesn’t want to start a job only to have to quit it if he goes to jail. I’m not going to try to point out the flaws in this thinking. It would just make him angry. Maybe I will ask him.
No, I tell my computer, remove these files. I have saved the files I need. To be sure, I am not sure I have saved the files I need, but need is a relative concept. I used to think it was an absolute, that it could not be bargained away, that once a thing was defined as a need there could be no negotiation but in the means to achieve the need. I was wrong. People can live without lungs and livers. Their hearts can explode inside their chests, and they can live on with the shards infecting their souls.
When the piano begins to speak, Max closes his eyes. His body relaxes. He can feel things draining out of him, bad things. He feels for a moment too heavy to support himself on the stool, on the chair or bench. For a moment, his arms are too heavy to lift to dig the fingers into the keys, but the moment passes so quickly into that small space between the notes when the piano wakes up and speaks and takes him in, drawing roots through his fingers and arms, and slipping up his spine to flower brightly behind his eyes.
I was not going to say what I might have said.
Lies on the floor
Like a broken child.
In silent, insurmountable eloquence
occupying the exact emotional center of the room
placed directly between you and me
and anywhere we might want to go
It can't be ignored.
It is becomming a notion that
has the heft
of a word I'm not allowed to use.
Turn it over
Finger its rough edges
in our silence it swells
like a drunken fungus
Shaggy and bellowing
And we can't hear a thing
but what we have left unsaid.
Out of the corner of my eye, the basket of laundry in the entryway becomes Dallas, sleeping in his favorite spot on the rug. This is his latest trick, and has become his favorite. When I turn to look, he transforms into a basket of laundry that I have not put away. I turn back to my writing, and he yawns, becoming dog again. When I returned him to Amanda after the holidays, he must have come back on his own. I have a problem now. I cannot put away the laundry. If I do, what will become of Dallas?
The Tip Jar