Thursday, January 31, 2013

Visitor's Log...

I was driving home from the gym this afternoon, when this unfolded.

As I was trying to decide which route to take -- whether I wanted my usual post-gym cup of coffee, or to go directly to Home Despot -- I was also thinking, of course, of the ultimate destination: home.  Home -- such a profoundly simple, human commonality, and yet what a complex concept it is for me.

It may be that, basically, I don't really believe in the classic sense of 'home', at least for myself.  I remember, years ago, when the older of my two half-sisters was getting married, and I was back in McKeesport for the event -- I stood in the kitchen of the house my sister grew up in, and looked at the back door, and thought of the thousands of times she'd come in and gone out of that door, during her growing up, without giving that doorway a thought.  But I can't help believing that somehow, there was a kind of mutual impact, of the hasty living being, and the placid, inert passageway, that had left neither one quite the same, as if those many entrances and exits had never taken place.

And of course, I thought of my own doorways -- how many there had been, in places I'm not sure I can even remember.  We lived in so many towns and states -- two in Alabama, another in Texas, four in Illinois, and five more in Pennsylvania, before I was seventeen and enlisted in the Air Force.  How can I tell what impact this mobility had on me, since it was the only normality I knew?  I joke now, that I learned to make friends quickly, but that after eighteen months or so, I don't know how to relate to these people, because usually I would have moved by then.  I think there must have been some bit of sadness, though -- even now (and much to the chagrin of some of my fellow humans) the sight of a really clean and neat house sends me into a bit of a panic attack -- I think the only time my 'homes' were that clean was when we were about to leave one place, or had just arrived at another.

So, impermanence was already laced into my basic expectations when the orphanage experience took place -- and this was a home I was only too glad to leave behind me.  And because I was only ten when this happened, I think the shock of the abandonment sank far deeper, far more quickly, than it might have done, had I been a little older.  And this terrible transition really wasn't that much of a surprise, though I only realize now just how much I'd known ahead of time, without really understanding what those bits of foreshadowing knowledge really meant.  My father, for instance, taking me into the bathroom in the last house we lived in, in Illinois, and looking at me sternly and telling me, "You kids will never live in an orphanage."  Hadn't I learned by then that when I heard the word 'never', I should replace it with 'inevitably'?        

There was one relatively care-free year, when I was in sixth grade, during which I think I did feel an unusual degree of security.  My father and stepmother had found a little one-bedroom apartment in Elizabeth PA.  It was the second story of a building used mainly as a garage for our landlord; he parked downstairs, and we lived upstairs.  I slept on a bed in the living room.  I gained weight.  I think I was dizzy with relief, not to be under the care of Mrs. Hunter any more; I felt guilty that, when my dad and stepmother went to visit my brothers, who were still in that terrible place, I begged them not to make me go along.  I was frightened that I would be left there.  And I continue to be surprised, all these years later, that they let me stay at my Aunt Marie's house until it was time to make the drive from Butler, back to McKeesport.

It was after this year's respite that the real attack upon my concept of 'home' began.  I've talked, already, about the toxic home life my brothers and I endured, and how debilitating it was, to know, every day, that I was unwanted and resented -- that the very mouthfuls of food I swallowed were begrudged, and that, at any moment, I might be jettisoned -- as my brothers had been, over and over again -- and left to sleep and eat and dress and bathe in yet another building.  Would it ever be home?

So I learned to keep up my guard -- to be braced for the inevitable uprooting, to be ready to start gathering things and putting them in bags and boxes.  I learned to expect that any communication from a landlord would be an eviction notice.  And, because some of these expectations were the result of actual events in my life, they seemed perfectly natural, if uncomfortable, and I suppose I acclimated myself to them, the way one might, if one had a stone in one's shoe, and was not permitted to take it out.  You make allowances.  You change your gait.  You get by.

Now, of course, my name is on the deed of a house.  And has been on that deed, for over ten years now -- the longest time I've ever lived in one building in my entire life.  But this doesn't at all mean that I haven't been holding my breath, in a sense, since the day we began to shift boxes and bags from the big apartment in Jersey City, and I decided that the way to make this building my own, was to go around, taking down all the curtain rods, and smearing wood putty into all the various holes I found in the otherwise immaculate chestnut trim -- putty which, I'm embarrassed to admit, is still in place, unsanded and unstained.  Maybe the house was just too nice for someone like me?

I also expect, I think, that I'll have to leave -- that I'll commit some horrible crime, or finally bring in the back-breaking straw that will prompt John to order me out.  I also think that one reason I collect and disperse so much -- I think it's called crap in polite company -- is to lodge myself more firmly in place -- to stake a visible, tangible claim to a stability I don't believe I'll actually enjoy -- to make it that much more difficult to get rid of me.

Home.  I'm on my way home.  That's what I caught myself thinking today.  (Incidentally, I opted for both the coffee and the Home Despot visit -- a triumph of ambition, for me)  And, now that death is so very much on my mind, it seems that something else, something inescapable, with which there is no reasoning, is sliding a new thin wedge of insecurity between the unfaithful physical frame I inhabit, and a true sense of comfort and belonging, of security and assurance, that I'm not sure I'll ever be able to allow myself to enjoy.

©   2013         Walter Zimmerman       

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Adventures in Medicine. Or Not...

A day with doctors.  What fun...

First, I had to see the cardiac surgeon who installed my pacemaker just over a year ago.  Just for an overall checkup of the instrument.  That's all.

Of course, this little procedure was supposed to have been done on Monday, but the administrative assistant in the cardiologist's office hadn't called the pacemaker technician, who brings his big, bloated lap-top-like instrument and takes readings from what's going on in my chest.  So, in spite of the fact that I'd showed up 45 minutes early (traffic to Jersey City can be so treacherous, and who wouldn't rather be early than late?  Especially since I expected to wait an hour anyway...), my visit was rendered somewhat superfluous.  Except that I got my blood pressure taken three times.  Which I could have done at home. 

But the cardiologist -- really a nice guy, with the best taste in clothes -- called the surgeon, and set up this 'real' visit, in just two days' time -- so I made the perilous trek across Rtes 280, 7 and Truck 1 & 9, up onto Kennedy Blvd, and into the doctor's parking lot.  Where I found two other patients standing outside the office door.  And another patient sitting in a car.  And the doctor himself, on the phone with his lab assistants.  Who, it seemed, were the only ones with the keys.  We all chatted amicably for a few minutes, then I got bored and went back to the van, turned on the laptop, and listened to my audition music for a while.  Worried about how this adventure in modern medicine was going to turn out.

And worried about being kept there too long -- because I'd had to make yet another emergency appointment, for 1:30, to see my primary care physician, about the searing, endless, torturous pain that had kept me awake last night, and which was so severe at one point that I thought I was going to pass out, or eructate.  (You could look it up)  They said they could squeeze me in, and I would see a medical assistant.  Fine by me, I thought -- as long as I never experience that level of pain again in my conscious life. 

So I was less than charmed by the keylessness, and the waiting in the parking lot, and time dribbling by -- one can only sing one's audition songs, sotto voce, in the front seat of the van, so many times before the efforts become counter-productive.  (Have I been using too many dashes?  As in 'counter-productive'?)  The keys arrived, from Clifton, and I was treated first, after a fashion.   I got my blood pressure taken yet again.  I was weighed yet again (couldn't there be a central data bank for such mundane medical information?  Like Facebook, only for nurses' aides?).  I got an EKG or something, with wires connected to tabs on my chest and legs, and my heartbeats showing on a monitor.  The doctor came in and said that the same technician who hadn't been called for the Monday appointment couldn't be there for today's appointment.  If I were more sensitive, I would think that Mike (aka Mr. Shock) doesn't like me.   But luckily, there was a backup method of diagnosing how my instrument was doing -- whether the wires are still in place, how much I'm actually using the pacemaker, and other things -- so at least this trip wasn't a total waste of time.  Plus, because we early bird patients were kept waiting in the parking lot, like a cleaning crew, we weren't charged a co-pay for the visit.
And best of all, when I was leaving the parking lot, instead of having to turn right and go north for half a mile, to find a legal place to turn around, I was able to make a left-hand turn and go the direction I wanted to take.  It's the little things.

And I was just a bit early for my emergency visit, to deal with what I'd decided, with the help of Dr.  Google, was a kidney stone.  I described all my symptoms, trying not to sound too much like the Wikipedia diagnosis.  The medical tech asked some questions, and expressed doubt that kidney stones were the problem.  She said she thought it was possibly a muscle injury, and said to keep my back warm, and do some stretching, and avoid leg exercises at the gym (there goes my mandatory tightened Full Monty butt!), and take some anti-inflammatory meds.  She called the prescription in to the pharmacy in South Orange, saving me a trip.  She took some fluid samples to be tested, and I was sent next door for a set of X-rays of my lower back, and then it was time to go home.  Not entirely convinced that, at, say, about 9:35 this evening, I'd start to feel that searing burning pain again.  As indeed seems to be the case.  I so don't want to have to go back again tomorrow...

(The TV is on, with the sound down, and did you know you can make glow sticks using Mountain Dew?  Or, you could drink it.  Your call)

 I thought I'd save a trip, by going right to the drug store on the way home, and maybe do some shopping for dinner makings.  The prescription wasn't ready, so I bought salmon and broccoli and coffee and the New York Post (which I swear I only get for the puzzles and the horoscope, which always says I'm going to have a fabulous break in my luck, any... day... now...), and went back to pick up the anti-inflammatory, only to learn that the delay had been caused by the pharmacist noticing that the new meds I'd just been prescribed were going to have a terrible reaction with the many many many pills I already take on what seems to be an hourly basis.  So he had to come up with a suitable alternative.  Which resulted in two more pills a day, for a little while.  But who's counting? 

I wonder if squat-thrusts are considered leg exercises?  I wonder if I even remember how to do a squat-thrust, and whether I'd survive a set of five.  They're supposed to be good for the butt.  What a trivial person I am.

Now, I'm propped against the heating pad, and wondering if I should turn it up to high, as the pain is starting to resurrect itself, and I don't want to spend another night slowing and gingerly rotating in a prone position, unable to find a comfortable pose in which to sleep.  I have more medicines to take shortly.  I find it wonderful, in a not particularly wonderful way, that at the age of 64, I was taking exactly one pill every day -- an antidepressant that wasn't really doing anything.  Within months of turning 65, I had been invaded by a pacemaker, and was taking five different medications every day, with the dosages requiring me to swallow nine pills daily.  While I'm grateful for these miracles of modern technology and pharmacology, I'm somewhat dismayed at what seems to be a precipitous decline into medical dependency.  A new friend, who sings with me in a choir in New Brunswick, and who has reached the ripe age of 84, confided in me, at a party the other day, that everything starts to collapse at 70.  Giving me four more goodish years. 

I know, I just wrote this the other day.  It's just a shock, that's all.  And I currently have such a horror of suddenly finding myself in the role of the lurching old man with the cane, who can't seem to get across the street before the light changes back to red again.  Or the person locked to a wheeled walker, and fumbling with pocket change to pay for his two potatoes and a can of tuna.  My impatience is my favorite flaw, and my self-worth seems based largely on both physical independence, and on my ability to get out of the way of other people.  Maybe I'll just stay home, even more than I already do.  Who can tell?

Well, time to swallow more pills...   



Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Velcro Factor, Plus Public Nudity, Equals...

Mentally meandering, as usual.

Did I mention, in yesterday's entry, that the amount a person would need to spend every day, in order to go through one billion dollars in a seventy year life span?  It's $39,108.   I think it bears repeating.

Also, yesterday, I made one of my usual snarky comments on Facebook, about my (then) upcoming doctor's appointment, about my pacemaker.  To my great surprise, there was what I feel was a spate of supportive comments -- I was completely taken aback by the expressions of caring and warmth.  There's apparently some dissonance between my self-image, and how others see me.  Not that this is the first time I've encountered this disparity -- I've often thought that, when it comes to absorbing positive input, it's as though I'm missing one half of the velcro system that would allow these things to stick.

Now, for the current obsession -- my upcoming audition for (drum roll, please) 'The Full Monty'!
Yes, a newish theater company here in town is going for broke, I guess, and producing this titillating bit of fluff for a suburban audience, and in spite of the fact that I suspect that, among other counter indicators, I'm too old for even the oldest character, I've scheduled myself for the earliest possible audition slot, on Wednesday evening, next week I think.

So, the audition will consist of cold readings from the script, and then singing a ballad and an upbeat number.   (Or maybe the other way around)  The cold readings are actually the part I enjoy -- dropping into someone else's life, and in this guise, relating to another character.  It's the singing that concerns me, I think.  The ballad has a high note that makes me nervous, and I'm afraid that, doing the upbeat number, I'll look ridiculous.  Plus I've convinced myself that the director -- with whom I worked on 'The Crucible' last October -- doesn't really like me, and won't cast me, regardless of how well -- or how poorly -- I do.  (Does this sound familiar?  Is this more of the velcro phenomenon?)

But I do want to be cast, because the role I'd like to play resonates so well with my own life (a man who's recently lost a job he thought he'd have forever), and because it will be a chance to humiliate myself totally, in front of my own community.  I mean, if taking off all one's clothing, in public, on stage, under full lighting, isn't the ultimate debasement, I'm not sure what is.  Plus all the shaking of parts hither and yon.

Now, to confuse the matter even further, because I've lost a significant amount of weight, and because I've been taking myself to the gym with (considering my struggles with depression) amazing regularity, I think I'm actually in better physical shape than I have been in a long time.  And it would really amuse me if (should I be cast in this show, in spite of what I fear is a sagging butt, and the remnants of a fall, that gave me a lump of fat on one thigh), as the oldest character in the group, I were in better shape than the audience will be expecting.

Does this confuse anyone else as much as it does me?  How do I manage to mesh vanity and self-devaluation?  Why am I working so hard to succeed at something I predict will embarrass me?    
(I wonder if this is another case of my giving away too much information, as way to undercut my self esteem...)

Well, of course, there are other things going on -- life should be so simple as an upcoming audition for a raunchy play.  There's the driveway drama, with things still lying about where they shouldn't be, and the added stressor of the fact that my next-door neighbor is putting his house on the market, and he's listing it with the same realtor who helped us buy our house -- and in addition to being scared to death of her, I can't abide the thought that my neurotic messiness (however it's connected to making 'art') might have a negative impact on the value or saleability of the house next door.  To say nothing of her commission.  Of course, I don't really have to remedy everything -- I just have to make our back yard look civilized to people taking a quick little tour around a house they might buy.  I've even thought of putting up a faked-out plastic fence, to give myself a way to hide the stuff I can't either move or discard before -- gasp -- Friday? 

I'm so tired of myself.

So.  Tomorrow, the real examination of my year-old pacemaker.  Plus a trip to Home Despot, to pick up some brown tarps, for wrapping the back yard.  Maybe for the drive to Jersey City and the doctor's office, I'll bring along my computer, and rehearse my audition pieces, while I weave in and out of traffic on Route 7.  And if the drawbridge, over whatever river that is, is up, so much the better.

Well, I may be tired of myself, but I do know that, compared with the rest of the human race currently struggling to survive on the planet, I live like royalty.  True, it's royalty without the retinue, but one does so appreciate one's privacy, doesn't one?  Or should I say... we?

©   2013           Walter Zimmerman    



Monday, January 28, 2013

It Just Ticks Me Off...

I have a doctor's appointment this afternoon. 

I hate having appointments -- they always seem to collapse the time around them (especially the time ahead of them), so I end up not getting anything useful accomplished, because I'm keeping an eye on the clock, so I'll start getting ready, and still be able to get to the office in time to wait, usually, for about an hour.  Which should make me crazy, but somehow doesn't, because my job is over, and I can legitimately spend that time day-dreaming. 

My one true skill, day-dreaming.  Of course, it made me immensely unpopular in my household of origin -- I think they could sense, with some hidden palps or something, the times that I wasn't doing homework, or scrubbing the floors, but was instead miles and centuries away, and not at all eager to come back.  Recently, in what seems to be a re-examination of my life that's typical of guys in their mid-sixties (I can't afford a distracting red MGTD), I've realized that I would have been happiest, probably, as a long-distance truck driver.  While physically engaged in something at least nominally profitable, my mind would be at leisure to spin itself off into any number of lingering constructions, to be refined and revisited whenever the mood suited me.  Plus I'm generally fond of driving.  Whether my lower back would have survived is another matter altogether.

One of the things I'll probably be daydreaming about, waiting in the cardiologist's office (I just know they're going to decide that I wasn't really supposed to have a pacemaker after all -- that it was meant for Wayne Zimmerman, and they'll want to take it back immediately) (which is, in itself, another daydream.  I may be done with it already, though), will be time.  Amounts of time.  Specifically, the amount of time I might have, to be warm and pliant and moist, alert and somewhat cogent and breathing.

At the open house I attended last night, I had a snippet of conversation with one of the other men in John's 'Canticum Novum' choir.  He'd just had cataract surgery on both his eyes, and hadn't been to rehearsal for a few weeks, and I wanted to catch up, and hear about his adventures.  In the process of describing the anaesthesia, and the after-effects, and the change in his color perception, he mentioned that he thought he was doing pretty well for a guy facing his 83rd birthday.  With which observation I certainly had to agree.  Then he leaned over to me and said, 'Well, you know, everything goes along fine, from a physical point of view, until you hit 70.  That's when problems start to crop up, and systems begin to break down.'

I probably would have chuckled much more loudly if I were ten years younger.  But I'll be 'celebrating' (?) my 70th birthday in just four years, and it seems chillingly surreal to me -- what am I going to see happen, in such a brief period of time?  Will I begin, suddenly, to shrivel and shrink?  Will my back refuse to stay straight, and my sure stride ratchet down to a nervous shuffle?  I feel as though there's a bomb planted in the house, and even if I find it, it can't be removed, and is set to go off, no matter what. 

Unless, of course, I move out early.  There is always that.

Decades ago, when I lived in Rhode Island, and had a night job as a computer operator, I once got the idea of trying to put into concrete, meaningfully relevant terms, what it would be like for one person to have a billion dollars.  I'd just read something along those lines, but the examples given by the article's author struck me as truly stupid.  Who cares how many times a billion one-dollar bills will wrap themselves around the Earth's equator?  Or how high a stack they would make, and how close that would get you to the moon?  Why would I want to know how big a room I'd need, if I wanted to store that billion dollars all in one place?  These are not things I generally think about, when dealing with money.  I think about spending it.

So I decided to figure out what spending a billion dollars would entail.  And the only grounded premise I could come up with was this: a child is born, and there is, in an untouchable fund, one billion dollars, all of which must be spent by the time this child turns the Biblical three-score and ten -- 70 years old.  I was giving this person no days off, nor needing any interest from this capital.  Just, every day, a set sum of money would have to be spent, to reach the goal of $.00, in DOB+70.

So of course, the first thing I had to do was to figure out how many days of regular spending one would face, to accomplish this expenditure.  Adding extra days for in leap-years, the number came to
(apologies for possibly bad math) 25,568, plus or minus a day for fractions of hours over 70 years.

25, 568 days, in a 70-year life-span.  I pretty much stopped my calculations right there.  Although I'd wanted to show, I guess, how obscene it is for any single person to be able to claim to have $1,000,000,000 in ready cash -- by showing how quickly even an infant could accrue -- with someone acting as an agent, of course - the wherewithal for a lavish house, all the food necessary for the near future, educational costs, ownership of a luxury car (even though the owner would not, at that point, have mastered properly timed elimination, let along qualifying for a driver's license... -- I just got completely stuck -- mesmerized, I guess -- by that paltry number of days, in 70 years.  At that point, I was already closing in on the halfway point, and was jarred at how much of my allotment I'd already heedlessly ripped through.  I did some more very depressing math, which I will keep to myself.  You are probably already doing your own, perhaps. 

And now, I'm exponentially closer to that Biblically-endorsed cut-off date, and it's really difficult to figure out how to proceed.  I could, of course, pretend not to know, but I think it's too late for that.  Am I profligate?  Do I stint?  Suddenly, my blithe comment, yesterday, about taking two years to finish my Combat Paper book, seems more weighty -- am I willing to invest that much... time?  I find that so much of my life has been lived in terms of what's going to happen someday, and now I see that, for me at least, there's little likelihood that any of the days ahead will be that different from the ones I've already lived, and that 'someday' is another of those daydreams I would have spun out for myself, driving through dark Wyoming with a load of canned goods in the back. 

Mostly, right now at least, I find myself wandering through my life, as though I'm visiting a theater set after the production has had its run, and I'm confronted with how shoddily-built a lot of the set actually was -- how ill-kempt and unnecessarily littered.  I'm especially ashamed of having put John through such an ordeal.  None of these emotions, however, seems to provide the spark necessary to actually do something -- to start clearing away the detritus, so some other actor can have access to the theater. 

I really could know what day this is, in the count-down.  But even beginning to do the simple arithmetic makes my heart freeze.  Is it denial if you know you're fooling yourself?  For some reason, I have an urge to grab my coat, set the house alarm, and dash out the door, running.  In any direction.  As fast as I can, as long as I can.  And then walking.  Maybe even crawling.  But moving, to get away.  Even though I know full well that, over my head, is an invisible stop-watch, tick, tick, tick...

©   2013               Walter Zimmerman

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Our Little Secret...

Where to start?  What to say?

Yesterday, I was sure I would be spending all of today curled up on the sofa, wrapped in all the polar fleece blankets we own, and sleeping as much as possible, in order to escape myself.  Even this morning, I wasn't sure that my prediction wouldn't turn out to be true.  The sofa was so close, the blue blanket was available...

But somehow, for reasons unknown to me, I decided to try to spend some time out in Branchburg, with the Combat Paper group -- even though I was prepared to turn around and leave moments after arriving, because the emotions connected with my friend's death would be too overwhelming for me to be out in public.  Going through the motions of preparing myself -- showering, shaving, bagging up the afternoon medications -- I still felt foggy and unfocused.

As sometimes happens, even pretending to do something can have unexpected results.  While I had expected to embarrass myself yet again, by bursting into tears in the company of (mostly) men, because an old lover of mine had died, instead I felt a kind of comfort, being in that room with this group of individuals who recognize me when I walk in the door.  I was even able to tell one of the other Vietnam-era vets a bit about my loss, and he responded with reserved sympathy, and some understanding comments about the wave nature of grief.  As might be expected from someone who has had losses of his own.

A few minutes later, as I was taking some materials out to the van, I was asked not to go too far, as there was a surprise brewing.  One of our group, Jan, had just turned 70 the day before, and there was a cake for him, and we sang Happy Birthday in a variety of keys.  He blew out the single candle with one hefty puff, but said that, even though he'd just made a wish, he didn't remember what it was.   

And then there was work to do.  David, one of the co-leaders of the group, said it was time for me to make some of the pink paper I'll need for my book.  We talked a while about what size the pages needed to be, and where the printed illustrations would fit, and how the text would be added.  Then, while two other vets worked at their own paper-pulling stations, we set up another couple of big flat basins, and filled one with the loose pulp and water mixture which I would be transforming into double-thick sheets.  There were a few amused observations about the striking pink with which I would be working -- such a contrast to the severe dark greens and neutral greys the other guys were using.  But everyone there has met John, so there weren't any of the snide 'fag' comments I would have expected, maybe a year ago, when I was brand-new to this adventure.

Now, I'm just another vet, working on his particular project, which just happens to involve making what may turn out to be over a hundred sheets of pink paper.  With God only knows how many block print illustrations, and a tangle of text.  I think this is the first art project I've ever begun, that I estimate may take me two years to finish.  This from the man with zero patience, and no interest in cultivating any.

So, I was busy.  It was messy.  I slopped water everywhere.  Some of the sheets were too thin, and I had to rinse them off the frame and start again.  I got pink pulp all over myself.  The other vets were working too -- it was a little beehive of arcane activity.  It was great.  And when it was time to clean up, we all assigned ourselves a task, and worked with and around each other, like a smooth mechanical construction, in constant motion.  It was very gratifying. 

I even remembered to take my afternoon medications. 

And then it was time to go -- but instead of heading home, I was driving to New Brunswick, to attend an open house, hosted by one of the men in John's choir at Christ Church.  This is a young man who has been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, and in the short time I've known him, he has progressively lost use of more and more of his upper body muscles.  And he's hosting a big bash for maybe 40 people, in his immaculate home, with not one, not two, but three Christmas trees, each bristling with ornaments he can tell you about.  He had some assigned helpers, but he also bustled about, as first appetizers, then main courses, and finally desserts, were spread out for his guests.   I can barely manage to invite someone over for a cup of coffee.

Usually, at events like this, I become somewhat withdrawn, even though I'm supposed to be more or less extroverted.  I always want to leave at the earliest opportunity.  I hate to eat in public.  I can't think of anything to talk about -- all the news I currently have to share being so dour.

But this, too, turned out to be more... healing? Is that what I want to say?  Plus the food was great.  And John was already in his overcoat, preparing to go home, before I was.  

So.  A day of gentle surprises, I guess I'd have to say.  For which I am grateful.  I may have no patience with patience, and I do prefer to take refuge in a more or less cynical world view, but at my core, I'm a pretty big fan of gratitude.

Please don't tell anyone.

©  2013                Walter Zimmerman  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Delayed Response...

As denial finally fails, and reality sets in.

Last week, I got word that a dear friend, someone I'd known and loved for over 40 years, died of throat cancer, after a two-year struggle with the disease. 

I last saw him in November, when John and I took him out to dinner in Philadelphia, at a restaurant convenient to my friend's apartment.  He was in the midst of chemotherapy, and his voice sounded terrible, though he said it wasn't painful for him to talk.  We all chatted and laughed, and he took half of his dinner -- shrimp, I think it was -- home with him.

I didn't call.  I didn't schedule another visit.  I think, now, that this was my sad way of trying to pretend that he wasn't as sick as he appeared to be -- if I didn't make a fuss, or acknowledge how little time might be left, maybe everything would be okay after all.  We would have years of dinners together, with plenty of shrimp left over, whenever we wanted.

And so, when the not-unexpected news came, I had to sit down for a while.  I waited for some great emotional upheaval, but all I felt, lying back on the couch, was a kind of stupid numbness.  As though what I'd just been told was really something sad but hypothetical, regrettable but only a statistic, or perhaps simply something that had happened half a world away, to someone I'd never even seen.

Today, though, there was an email in my in-box, about the upcoming memorial service, at an Episcopal church in Philadelphia, followed by a reception at one of my friend's favorite restaurants.  I've barely been able to stop crying since.  I feel as though there's a cold, heavy hatchet lodged, deep and immovable, smack in the middle of my chest.

Because they don't have memorials for people who are still alive, do they?  And somehow, this sliver of news has transformed what I heard last week from something remote and impersonal, into a most intimate truth, a dizzying grief.  The parts of my life in which this dear friend was intimately involved -- and there were many -- keep drifting up out of memory, lacerating as they coalesce and then disappear.  I'm pretty sure they'll be back.

This is all I can manage for now.  I'm just going to sit for a while, and ache.        

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Year, Already?

Just a few random observations, I think.

As I sit here at the kitchen table, with the laptop plugged in to recharge its frail battery, and my cell phone plugged in for its only occasional refill of electricity, I realize that it's just two days pas the first anniversary of the installation of my pacemaker -- the little electric ravioli-like device wired into the upper and lower right ventricles of my wayward, built-in blood pump. 

Every night now, before going to bed, I make sure to strip to the waist and look at myself in the bathroom mirror, to remind myself of this recent addition to my physiognomy.  At first, I wanted to make sure that the incision site was healing correctly -- it's odd, really, that this life-altering instrument should have needed so small a portal for its entrance --it looks as though I have a little off-center marsupial pouch, faintly demarkated by a slightly shiny pink line in my flesh.  My original plan to get a big, bold, declarative tattoo, right on top of the visitor -- an idea I think I knew even then was probably a cliched reaction from men my age, to such an medical invasion I'll bet -- but the mere mention of such a step prompted a startled response from both surgeon and technician.  No other electrical devices anywhere near this little life-saver, they said.  No tattoos at all, on the left pectoral muscle, they said.  Spoil sports. 

And I had such a neat design idea, I thought.  Something like one of those traffic direction signs, at an intersection where one road doesn't continue through, and drivers must choose left or right (or go ahead and plow into that oak tree, why don't you?); the double-headed black arrow on a school-bus yellow field, only the arrow is tied in a simple overhand know, with a red zig-zag running down the middle of the knotted arrow stem.  I could draw it out for the guy with the gun.  Which would mark me as the rank amateur he could already tell I was, the moment I walked through the door of his second-floor establishment on the corner of Something and Something Else, in downtown Newark.

Then, declamatory frontal tattoo eliminated as an option, I thought briefly of a cool piercing -- a non-corroding zipper tag, stuck at one end of the pink line, indicating just how easy it should be, the next time I have to be slit open, for a battery charge.  I'm still mulling that over -- it appeals because, as with an ear piercing, it can be reversed pretty easily.  I've also been thinking, just in the last few weeks, of a tattoo on my back, directly opposite from my ''Lil Intruder', as I sometimes think of it, and depicting something like a set of nasty-looking talons clawing their way out through a freshly-created wound...  The only disadvantage being its visual inaccessibility to yours truly.  Still mulling this one over. 

But most of the time, I don't even think of the pacemaker at all.  I joined an on-line 'Pacemaker's Club', of all things, to see if anyone else had the same kinds of questions that had popped into my worried little head -- for instance, solar flares and me?  In addition to the gruff 'oh, why don't you just man up' responses, I got a few that actually helped, and then I forgot about the Pacemaker's Club too.  Only recently, when I started carrying my cell phone in my left breast shirt pocket (bad idea, it occurs to me?), did I have what I thought was some sort of irregularity.  But it only turned out to be an incoming call to a phone I'd set to vibrate.

So.  Happy Anniversary, me.  Maybe I'll hold a cupcake in front of the scar, and then eat is, as proxy for the indifferent little collection of circuits and wiring that keeps my right lower ventricle pumping my blood to places where it's supposed to go.

©    Walter Zimmerman

Thursday, January 24, 2013

No Story

Feeling very peculiar.

It started, I think, last night -- or at least, that's when I noticed it first, as I was coming down the stairs.  Suddenly, I wasn't how I've always thought of myself -- a person, going through more or less meaningful activities in a more or less meaningful way.  Suddenly, as though my inner viewpoint had shifted sharply to one side, I looked and felt like... a thing.  Just an item in space and time, no more interesting or significant that the banister, or the scatter rug, or a new accumulation of cat hair that means the stairs need to be swept again. 

Today, this unfamiliar sensation continues.  It seems to come with an ache, high up in my middle, beneath my sternum.  I can do things, but there seems to be an ambivalence about both the intent, and the activity -- I guess it's a kind of detachment with which I'm unfamiliar. 

During one of my more recent attempts at finding some sort of mental discipline or point of view, that might help me navigate through what appears to be a stubborn insistence on existing, I came across a line in either a book or a magazine article -- it had a Buddhist slant to it, whatever it was -- that went something like this:  There is no story.  Even looking at the words on the computer screen now, I feel that sense of dislocation -- of being jarred out of what I guess I've always assumed was how people lived, and... out into some sort of completely dispassionate place, operating more or less by the same physical rules I've been used to - gravity, time, hunger, the accumulation of cat hair -- but not so firmly embedded in that physical world.  There is no story.

And, frankly, I don't know if I should try to shake myself out of this feeling of floating around like a big piece of meat wrapped in cloth, or if I even have the power to knit myself back into the sort of existential hypnogogic state in which I seem to have been living, without really knowing it.  My skin prickles just a little, and I'm very much aware of my heartbeat -- as though I might physically disintegrate, like a pinata at the hands of invisible children at an invisible birthday party.  Little flecks left behind, for a damp cloth to gather.

I don't know why (though I suspect its my stubborn insistence on high drama where no drama at all is needed) but I'm thinking of someone scheduled to be executed in, say, two hours.  I seem to identify with that kind of existence in time and space -- where the familiar becomes distorted because it's about to forget the fact that I was ever even here; when I myself seem shrunk up inside myself, seeing even my own body as a separate, fallible vehicle for whatever is observing it.  I must go through the motions, I suppose; I seem to know the proper responses, and can even guess what's coming next.  But it's almost as though I'm already remembering what hasn't happened yet.  As though I'm already looking back on what shred of future I have left, before... the flight of energy that will mark the ending of this particular point of view.

So there's definitely a background sensation, like a movie's musical score.  And this one seems to portend nothing cheerful or radiant.  This one seems more mechanical than that, like a less-than-successful minimalist exercise, calling to mind a factory assembly line, or the unenthusiastic marching cadence of an army pressed into service.  I'll continue, now, to go about the day, unsure whether I'm in it, or beside it, or seeing it from a shelf.  Trying to do the right thing, within a context that feels outside the purview of correctness and mistake.  Feeling on the verge of being overwhelmed, or at the point of collapsing inward, because I've been psychically undermined.  And with nothing onto which to grasp, because steadying myself is in itself an easily-skewed illusion. 

There being no story.

©   2013       Walter Zimmerman     

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Out of the Frying Pan...

Sitting here, waiting for the earth to spin in space, so I can get in the car and drive someplace and do something...  So I thought I'd write today's entry a bit early, while I've still got a bit of energy.

One:  I'm telling myself that I come across, here, as incredibly whiny and self-absorbed and disconnected from reality.  Unable to appreciate the tremendous advantages I have, in so many ways.  If there's any truth to this self-generated apprehension, I remind myself of William Styron's book 'Darkness Visible', about his struggles with depression.  He remarked, late in the work, about being in Paris to receive a writing award, and wanting to throw himself into the Seine.  Depression, I remind myself, is not subject to logic or reason.  If it were, no one on earth would be depressed, ever.  Just as, if the flu were sensitive to a good talking-to, no one would ever suffer from that malady again.  However, these 'if only's aren't true.  Too bad, I guess.

Two: While I was sitting here, thinking about... what I could so easily make, given my relative good health, unencumbered daily schedule, adequately generous budget, and great wealth of materials, and I stumbled on this basic question:  Okay, so you've made this (fill in the blank.  I'm day-dreaming, for example of a series of masks), and they're all done, and reinforced inside so they're light and won't warp.  Then.... where are you going to put them?  Where will they go, either in terms of an exhibition opportunity, or in terms more pertinent and painful to me, in terms of long-term storage? 

And once again, I found myself turning back to the sad inevitability of needing to rid myself of at least the lion's share of what I've accumulated, supposedly as material for my work -- whatever that is.  I thought, specifically, of the storage space in Newark, and a pile of weird plastic stuff -- runoff and errors from a little business in the same building.  They make knobs and switches and parts for toys, and sometimes there are dribbles or mistakes, which they toss in the little dumpster in the parking lot.  Which little dumpster I sometimes use for disposal of yet another thing that's been ruined by the water that wells up regularly in the storage space, and while I' stuffing another soggy cardboard box in, I often take out, say, a box of 'on' switches, or a big plastic bag filled with the mystery drips.  Which would look great on or in... something.  Like, for instance, those masks I've been thinking about lately. 

Which leads me to a kind of round-about explanation for my tendency to pick up the various ill-defined metal or plastic oddments I find in my pathway much of the time.  It goes something like this:

When I was in graduate school, and preparing for my thesis exhibit, one of my advisors broke his typical silence, and told me of a hi-tech business in Rochester that was going out of business.  So I took myself over to the failing enterprise, and wandered about, wondering at the big stone tables, perfectly leveled for the optics that were used in whatever these people weren't going to make anymore.  Other multi-thousand dollar gizmos and gadgets, enchanting to look at, but more expensive than all the cars I'd ever owned, combined.  Maybe more than all the rent I'd ever paid, as my cars have been cheap.

But in a wastebasket, I found what looked like the plastic head of an industrial vacuum or carpet cleaner, and on its off-white side was written, in red grease pencil, what I took to be '600 D'.  I was instantly drawn to the no-nonsense severity of the thing, it's twin flattened triangular intake/output chambers opening onto an equally flattened, grim looking mouth.  I could have it for $.50.  Sold.  Along with some miscellaneous wires and other stuff.  I don't know who got the granite table.

When I got back to the studio, and as usual tossed the vacuum cleaner head onto the heap of other things I'd gathered, I had what seemed, then, to be an amusing realization.  That red scrawl on the side wasn't '600 D'; it was someone's longhand notation of 'Good'.  But because this object had already been consigned to the trash, I instantly read its plainly-written label as something else entirely.

This piqued my interest enough to prompt me to press this object into more or less immediate use, and it indeed served as the objective motivation for the first piece of thesis work I finished, titled of course, '600 D'.  The piece has been exhibited several times, and in 1977, three years after the thesis show for which it was built, '600 D' was purchased by Dale Chihuly.  Two years after that, Mr. Chihuly donated the work to the Renwick Gallery of Art, to be part of their permanent collection (where I see it in the basement, shoved off into some corner, out of any curator's way...); it was featured in 'Glass, Glorious Glass', an overview of works in that material, put together by Kenneth Trapp.

A piece of plastic, found in the trash.  Picked up, and seen as misnamed.  Pressed into useless use.  And then, by some miracle, rescued (at least on paper) from oblivion, and assured of a nice warm dry home, until the Renwick does its own internal purge, or the Eastern Seaboard goes under, in some apocalyptic shift of the earth's crust...

Sorry -- got side-tracked there.  This piece of plastic has undergone what I really hope to provide for each and every sliver of worn fiberglass, or twisted car part I nearly step on -- a sort of ennoblement and rebirth, a redemption of a very real sort -- the lifting of the unacceptable and unnamed, into the light of one of the holiest places I can think of -- an art museum.  What a wonder!  What a miracle!  That work, '600 D' really should turn crimson with confused embarrassment, should it ever be shown again, so unlikely is it that this concatenation of materials occupies such a place.

So I'm telling you this, to explain (most likely to myself, right?) why, in part, I experience such pain, just at the thought of discarding -- really, discarding again -- this combined burden/treasure trove.  These things will have been re-abandoned.  I will have failed, again, to meet the silent pledge I didn't even know I was making.

Of course, like the prolific volunteer maple tree overhanging our driveway, and showering literally countless potential new maple trees, in the form of tender chartreuse winged seeds each spring, these mounds of bits and pieces (along with the larger things), can't expect to be housed in artwork.  I would need the State of Delaware, as I'm fond of saying, and a healthy life span of at least 700 years, as I'm also fond of joking, to redeem and house all these castoffs.  These orphans.  These bits that nobody but me could see as having had any kind of future.

Too bad, any reasonable person would say.  Tough.  What were you thinking in the first place, my horrid grandmother would surely sneer.  I'm talking, it seems, about the death of hoping -- I could make those masks, but...  And I still think, as I try to gird myself for the task of finding someone I can afford to have come and help me eviscerate myself, that it would have been a wonderful thing, if I'd been able to leave a huge heaping stinking mound of confusing artwork behind -- how terrific it would be, I think, to hear (they say that hearing is the last sense to go) someone mutter -- Jesus Christ -- look at all this.  This is ridiculous.  This is just too much art.'

Too much art.  I wonder what it would be like, if that were a front-page headline for once?

©   2013               Walter Zimmerman   


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Another Day...

Just a bit encumbered at the present moment.  Buster, our red tiger-striped cat, has loadged himself on my crossed legs, for his evening visit.  And as I'm so flattered when the cats show any interest in me, I'm willing to type with one hand, while he purrs gently and makes my thighs warmer then usual.

Today, I've kept myself busy.  I think it's a form of denial.  I made many semi-unnecessary trips here and there -- all the way to Jersey City to get a flu shot; over to Union to pick up some embroidery floss (who knew?) and then to do some grocery shopping; into downtown South Orange to hit up the bank account for a little cash to have on hand.  In case I leave the house again in the foreseeable future... 

And when all this to-ing and fro-ing was done, I busied myself in the den, working through the remaining steps necessary, in my opinion, to finish the vibrant polar-fleece scarf I'm making for the lady at the reception desk at the Summit YMCA.  She's the one who exclaimed over the original scarf (made for me by the then-thirteen-year-old Sadie Dame as a Christmas gift some years ago), and quipped tht she believed she would even commit murder for a scarf like mine.  Well, at our age, incarceration isn't a pretty thing, so I thought I'd spare her a life of crime (am I repeating myself here?  I've got that 'haven't I written this before?' feeling...), and give her a replica.  I'm not sure my version is as good as Sadie's, but it's made with the same hot-colored fleece, and I think that's what makes the difference.  It turns out, though, that I can't sew things in a straight line, it seems.  Maybe, if she keeps moving, no one will notice?

But all this doing is really a socially sanctioned diversion from the hollowness I'm really feeling, in response to the recent deaths of friends.  At the odd occasional moment, the ache will make itself felt, and then I see myself laying out a layer of newspaper just ahead of me, as I go about these elective chores, so I'll have something to walk on -- because just beneath this thinnest and flimsiest of surfaces, there's a great void, howling with its own emptiness.  I feel as though chunks of my life have been nullified -- as though, without the other players, the dramedy retroactively disappears.  To all appearances, I'm the same person I was two or three weeks ago.  While in fact, from the inside, I seem to be a kind of hologramatic projection -- the 'real me' standing off to one side, stunned and incapable of making a movement, or saying a word.  I think I can feel, behind my sternum, the welling-up of something awful, like a kind of psychic grief-laden vomit, but for the moment, I seem able to keep it down.  How long this avoidance or repression will continue, I have no idea.

I do find it interesting that I've been going on about my needing to 'be dead', as a kind of... spiritual discipline?  Is that what I mean?  Or is it more a matter of being pragmatic and distinctly non-spiritual?  Whichever is the case, I can't be blind to these two examples, jumping out at me from what I usually think of as my stubbornly unremarkable, event-free life, of how real-life dead people impact their survivors and their estates.  i keep thinking that I want to erase myself before death shows up; it may already very be too late.

For now, I think I'll spread that metaphoric path of newsprint ahead of me, through the kitchen and up the stairs, into the bathroom, where I'll take my evening medications, and then across the hall and into the bedroom, where I'll make a little newspaper coverlet, lie down on it, and then try my best to resist falling into the helplessness of sleep.  Within which there's nothing at all to keep me from rolling too far, one way or the other, off the edge of my little paper shell, to fall into the waiting, indifferent, implacable abyss.     
Tomorrow being, as someone once said, another day...

Monday, January 21, 2013

If You Live Long Enough...

Thinking of last week's sudden death of a new friend, I had planned to write about euphemisms for death, and the aptness of the term 'loss'.  But now I've just learned of yet another death in my life -- this time, a friend of long standing, who I met when I was just 19, and he was a robust, tanned 26.  And I fell stupid in love with him, some forty years ago.  In countless ways, he changed the course of my life.

Now I feel a bit dizzy, and mostly as though all the bones have been removed from my body.  Running through my head, a pungent quote from some half-read self-help book I bought a while ago, during yet another brief spate of hopefulness, and the re-emergence of a seemingly evergreen determination to set my life, now, on a newer, even better course.  'If you live long enough,' the author told me, 'you'll lose everything.'  Which notion more or less vaporized my motivation for self-improvement.

If you live long enough, you'll lose everything.  

I think this is all I'll write for today.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tide Management and You

More somber thoughts, I'm afraid. 

Wasn't it a beautiful day, here in northern New Jersey?  Sunday is Combat Paper day for me, and I made the trip in good time (no police officers offering to punish me for doing 80 at times, in the 65 mph zone, thank you), with my customary stop at the neighborhood Starbux, for a couple cups of communal coffee for the folks at the Print Center.  I'd brought a nice little Pink Lady apple with me, and ate it as I drove the last few miles, on Rattlesnake Bridge Road.  It was crisp and tart.

The Print Center was bustling, and we had an informal meeting, to look over the Combat Paper-related events coming up between now and April.  Busy, busy, busy.  I have some writing to do, for an upcoming event in Teaneck.  (Me?) (Bizarre)  After soaking up all this data, I turned my attention to signing my three editions, earmarked for the Combat Paper archives.  I'm really pleased with the way the St. Margaret's Dragon prints turned out -- the ink is lush, but not to the point of obscuring the image.  Maybe I should do more dragons?

Then I helped with some of the more devilish details of deconstructing a defunct uniform.  The seams are especially troublesome, so of course I like tackling them.  Talk around the table, as threads were being severed and strips of cloth were being clipped into smaller pieces, turned to Agent Orange, and similar military toxins that continue to leave their marks, long after the skirmish in question has been declared over.  Buried landmines.  Unexploded ordinance.  Depleted uranium.  That sort of thing.

And as we were talking, the customary pizza lunch arrived, and we all took a break, to savor some cheese and/or pepperoni.  I ate two slices, realizing that, aside from that crisp apple, these were my breakfast.  Whatever. 

But through all this, I felt like an actor who was only vaguely familiar with the play he was in.  I felt a kind of low-grade deadness inside, as though I'd swallowed something I thought was innocuous, but which has turned into a lurching, heavy, twisting thing writhing around in my chest cavity.  Grief, I think, is what it is.

And through all this camaraderie, I was unwillingly replaying Friday's weirdly clinical, furtive events, as the contents of a musician's life were hastily boxed up and carted away.  The tide comes in, the tide goes out.  I think I was so busy at the time, pawing through hastily-gathered papers and scores and CDs, that it didn't really register that these were a human being's possessions, only last week seemingly secure on their shelves, in their drawers.  The tide comes in, the tide goes out.  In this case, the ebbing took maybe an hour and a half, or two at most, and then the apartment was stripped bare.

No internecine squabbling -- perhaps because the police officer was waiting for all the 'funeral necessities' to be removed, perhaps because of the brutally cold wind.  Perhaps because everyone was in a kind of activated shock -- how can you think about what you want, when you don't want to be wanting any of it?  (Well, I did 'adopt' a little volume of short stories by Franz Kafka -- it seemed appropriate)  The back hatch area of our Prius was packed solid with cardboard boxes filled with scores and hymnals.  The U-Haul van, that had left South Jersey at 5 am that morning, heading for what must have been, for the driver, the worst driving adventure on earth, had barely enough materials to fill the rubber floor mats from side to side.  The life of an anchorite of sorts. 

What struck me, not much later, was the rapidity and finality with which this last cleansing had taken place.  (And there weren't even that many hands involved)  Of course, I had to make the inevitable comparison, with my own imponderable accumulation of everything from the blue plastic bags that wrap my daily NYTimes, to tools and art supplies and lavish picture books and...  It continues to horrify me, thinking of the mess I'm liable to leave behind me.

And then I thought, not for the first time, of the notion of living, now, as though I've already died -- the notion of treating my possessions as though I were the stranger in the room, dispassionately tossing this into this bag, that into another, and most of everything else into those heavy-duty black trash sacks, to be hauled away by someone with a nice little pickup truck.

The notion releases an inner store of grief and anger, even though I can clearly see that this purging is absolutely necessary.  For the moment, I can't imagine an increment small enough to allow me to carry out this elimination without having another sobbing breakdown, like the one that overtook me when we were in the midst of our last basement flood of water and raw sewage.

Being dead is the key, I think.  The challenge reminds me of a meditative exercise I found in 'The Book of Secrets' (a surprisingly large and obvious hardbound volume, for something purporting to divulge arcana); the meditator (that would be me) imagines that he has no head.  I used to try this, as I drove back and forth between home and my teaching job in Philadelphia -- I found it hilarious, and it didn't impact my driving at all.  If I can imagine that I have no head, is it such a leap to imagine that I'm already deceased, but that I've been given some odd dispensation, to allow me to straighten things up a bit, before the rigor sets in?

In theory, of course, this sounds relatively easy.  In practice, I shouldn't be surprised to encounter considerable resistance.  If that which does not kill us makes us stronger, what if we're already dead?

©  2013    Walter Zimmerman    

Saturday, January 19, 2013

All Falling, All the Time...

Another day of 'do I really have to do this?'. 

Well, of course I'm still rattled by the unexpected, untimely death of someone who'd begun to be a close friend.  I feel a bit dizzy, and disinterested in just about everything. 

Is there any good at all to be gained from retailing the particulars?   The treacherous trap-doors that mere living can lay for the most industrious of us -- the backward imbalance of hard work and intense diligence being rewarded (if that's what you call it) with a sudden outburst of illness, a spate of misfortune, a precipitous fall into penury and ill health -- aren't these the cliches of daytime television and Victorian novels and any number of first-run films, where incredibly fortunate and beautiful people pretend to have really terrible lives?

I try to tell myself that I don't expect much of anything, but this has been a particularly grim wrench -- how long did the body lie there, in the spartan studio apartment, partly subsidized by tax payers -- some of whom, apparently, would have preferred that this less fortunate American be sent back out on the street again, to scrounge for food under a bridge someplace, because manic depression had raised its pitiless head?  I don't know where to unload the anger that is seeping up.  I don't know who to curse.  I'm just waiting for someone, meaning well as usual, casually observes that 'God never gives us more than we can handle.'  I strenuously beg to differ.  I beg to differ with flames coming out of my head.

And so, once again, I see corpses everywhere.  The cheery red-headed woman in the beige trench coat, laughing in the street outside the coffee shop where I'm sitting, stunned?  A corpse who just doesn't realize it yet.  I confess that I even try to make out the contours of the skull, when the identifying fleshy sheath has dropped away.  Nothing personal, ma'am.  Just my dreary vision today.

So, while I tell myself that, after all, death is inevitable for all of us, why should this statistical glitch -- crossing the threshhold into eternal coldness at age 52, say, instead of twenty years later -- surprise me?  But it's a profound shock.  I must still need the idea that there's some kind of script out there, and that I'm safe, as long as I'm responsible about playing my part.  Which of course is completely illusory.  Completely.  Illusory.

Can I live effectively, facing this basic truth without some cosmetic covering of myth or religion or life insurance actuarial tables draped over it?  (I'm still determined, by the way -- perhaps even more determined than ever, if it's not too soon to judge -- to reach out as best I can to those fellow humans with whom I come in contact every day.  Asking, 'how are you?'.  Finding something pleasant to say, even if it's to compliment the cashier on the three fingernails out of ten that she's lacquered turquoise. I feel almost ferocious in this need to see someone else smile at something I've said, however meaningless and trivial. 

Because, if we're all falling, all the time -- if the edge of the cliff I used to think I was living on is, in fact, miles above me, years behind me -- these tiniest of kindnesses are all that I know of, that make some sliver sense out of my biological insistence on continued respiration, ingestion, and all the other operations that keep flesh functional. 

These silly little thirty-second contacts protect no one.  They solve nothing.  They offer no delay.  But, pathetic as they undoubtedly are, they are what little I can do, in the face of the implacable, whimsically-timed ending in store for everyone.  I must be the stupidest person on the planet, that this most elemental fact of life seems poised to lift the level ground on which I think I live, and to slide me over into an inescapably deep mire of despair.

Signing off.

©   2013        Walter Zimmerman  (by the way, this copyright thing is John's idea)      

Friday, January 18, 2013

Quoting Proust. Or Not.

One day you're here; the next day, you're not. 

We learned about the death from a nephew, who learned of it from a brother, who heard about it from the police, who'd been called by someone in the building.  It was like being rammed in the gut by an offensive lineman who just wouldn't stop. 

Could we come to the apartment, we were asked, to help go through the effects?  There were things we'd want, the brother said.  All the music, for instance.  What would they do with it, he asked, all the way down there in South Jersey?  We're driving up tomorrow, he said.  Could you meet us there?

What else do dizzy people do, but say yes?  Yes, we'll drive up the turnpike, and across the George Washington Bridge, over a bit of Manhattan (disguised as a swath of concrete and tar, soot and painted lines, smudged fat with wear) and into the Bronx.  Left, right, right, left again.  Hoping for a parking space.  Hoping never to arrive.  Hoping to find that it's all been some terrible mistake, that it was some other body lying in the sparely-furnished studio.  Stunned by hoping, and by that stubborn ache in the belly.

We arrived.  We parked too close to a fire hydrant.  The brother called -- he and his sister had gone to the morgue, and then to the police station, and then to the court house, and then to the police station...  Who is ever prepared for how this ultimate thing is handled, in one place or another?  And how are these folks to fare, who've driven since 4 am, from a town where the tallest building has only four floors, into the dread, mythic home of muggings and all other evils, where their entire county's population, and all its infrastructure, could be swallowed up, and leave no evidence on the grid of one-way streets, avenues, blocks of apartments, subways, traffic snarls...

We would have to wait, for the brother and sister to arrive.  They didn't know when that would be.  They needed to touch many other pieces of paper, than the ones they'd already handled.  Then they needed a police escort, to open what had been the last place their relative had seen, and to see that these, the living relatives, wouldn't steal anything.

So we waited.  A beautiful, clear, picturesque day, with a biting wind and bright sun.  One of us needed to use the bathroom -- nature being unmindful of gentility.  We went in search of the most ordinary of things in New York City -- a diner, where for a cup of coffee and an order of toast, a call of nature could be answered.

But as it happened, we were out of our depth, or our reckoning.  Certainly out of our comfort zone.  Why didn't I bring my gloves?  Why couldn't I get the zipper on my jacket to work?  Why were all the businesses along the boulevard just little narrow, gated shops, where the proprietors keep themselves behind half-inch-thick plexiglass walls? 

We walked three bone-chilling blocks, seeking the possibility of dignity.  I stopped in one of the bodegas, operated by an sad-looking Arabic-speaking man.  I bought a cup of coffee, and asked, confidentially, if we might use their facility.  He stumbled in telling us that something was broken.  I paid him, and said thank you in Arabic.  He wished me peace.  But we still needed a bathroom.

I was going to throw myself on the mercy of the hairdressers, but John suggested the dentist's office instead.  They were quite cordial -- of course, please come in.  The euphemism is right down the hall.  I felt guilty, as though I should have a root canal, or an implant, if only to be polite.  Instead, I made small talk about the receptionist's tee-shirt, from an exercise palace.  People like to talk about their own lives.

When we got back to the car, the brother and sister had returned, and said that the police escort was on his way.  We didn't know what to say.  We moved our car to the other side of the street, away from the fire hydrant, but much closer to the burned-out vehicle lying in an open plot of grass.  A little police scooter, the kind meter maids usually use, came putting up the hill, and the officer got out.  'We're telling him we're just taking out the things we need for the funeral,' the brother said.  'You both wait here.  We'll see what happens.'

More waiting.  We both tried to remember when we'd last spoken with the one who was now beyond reach.  A recent Facebook exchange?  A phone call I hadn't picked up?  How brittle my own memory seemed to be, an unreliable surface on which to try to peg bits of time.  John didn't seem to be doing much better.

After a long time inside, during which I tried to remember which floor the apartment was on, and then remembered too well the slow, creaking elevator ride, with other tenants looming over me (and me standing 6'2"), that time we brought in the new chair from Ikea -- the one that was going to do wonders for backaches, the brother came back out, with a handtruck and some boxes.  "You look through these," he said, and took the rest of the 'funeral goods' to the rental van they'd driven in, from a much simpler place.

So we pawed through the box, and John and I both agreed, at the same time, that this felt more like the darker parts of 'A Christmas Carol', as though we were stripping the bedclothes and pulling off the nightgown.  We separated, the things for which we would be responsible, from the things the rest of the family should have.  More boxes arrived.  More pawing and sorting, in the raw chill wind.  Familiar faces popping up unexpectedly, as they'd looked in the past -- high school, college, early childhood.  Bronzed baby shoes.  Graduate school year books.  Things for them, things for us.  Gradually the trunk filled up.  I shifted the long boxes sideways, jiggled this and that.  I tried not to think about the policeman, up in the apartment, wondering how boxes of CDs and old hymnals would be useful at a funeral.

In a remarkably short period of time, the last boxes had emerged.  The last bit of sorting we did in the back of the rental truck.  "Now we've got to go to the courthouse again,' the brother said, "and we're not sure where that is from here."  "But the policeman said he can show us," the sister said, while we pushed the boxes around in the van this time.  We exchanged phone numbers.  She said she'd let us know when there'd be a service.  We all exchanged handshakes and condolences and weird, slippery smiles.  The policeman came downstairs again, and got in his little cart.  As John and I went back to our car, I tapped on the cart's window, and thanked the officer.  He nodded, and then they all queued up and drove up the street.  To go from one building to another, doing the hidden things about a death, that we never see on TV, or read about in novels -- the things that make an unbalancing reality just that much more dizzying and disorienting. 

Somewhere I picked up a quote, from Marcel Proust: 'Dying is easy -- people do it every day.  Thinking about dying is impossible.'  (Although, when I tried to research it, I couldn't find it.  Unless it was one of the ones in Russian, or Arabic)

But there we sat, in the Bronx, John and me, with the residue of an unexpectedly abbreviated life, in boxes behind us.  What else would we think about?

©    2013         Walter Zimmerman  



Thursday, January 17, 2013

What Keeps the Daffodils in a Bunch...

Thursday.  Thor's Day.  Hammering away.  I guess.

I went to the gym today.  Not because it was Thursday, but because it had been a week since the last time I was there, and what with a week of 'vacation' in California, I had some concern about... well, deterioration and things. 

The workout went surprisingly well.  Better than the last one, as a matter of fact.  How this could be, I'm not going to question.  I hope the trend continues. 

A trend I'm seeking to reverse, however, is the weight gain, which is hardly a surprise.  I've added four luscious pounds to my frame, most likely because all I did, out in the land of sunshine and oranges, was to stay indoors, more or less prone, either doing a crossword puzzle, or reading a murder mystery, or plinking away at this contraption, to keep my bloguing pledge.  Oh, and there was the eating.  And eating.  And eating.

I did take some walks, but it was freakin' cold out there!  All I had for outer wear was a tweed jacket I found in the Salvation Army a few weeks ago, while I was searching for men's pink shirts to turn into paper.  This jacket may have become my favorite garment, because the tweed is so uncannily beautiful -- a black/grey herringbone, with little flecks of every imaginable color scattered through the pattern.  Plus, it's exquisitely made, fully lined, and with operational sleeve buttons!  I think it cost all of $4, because there was some kind of special that day.

In any event, I'm sure everyone in Claremont CA got a good look at this jacket (if they weren't hiding at home themselves) because I wore it everywhere.  And there was ice on the sidewalks.  Not just little bits, but great yard-long swathes just made for slipping and breaking something.  Hence the time indoors.

Here at home, of course, it's quite clement, so there's no excuse for me to avoid going outdoors.  Except for sheer laziness, that is.  Of which I think I have a rather generous natural endowment.

So I plan little post-workout rewards for myself.  Little diversions in which I indulge on my way home.  A stop at a non-Starbux coffee shop in Milburn, where the brew is ferociously strong, and after I've bought ten cups, the eleventh one is free.  Don't tell them, but I'd still go there and buy their stuff even if the eleventh cup was twice the price.

I also stop, generally, at Trader Joe's, which requires a quick, deft left-hand turn against two lanes of rather intense west-bound vehicles, and then an immediate deceleration, to avoid running over the shoppers in the parking lot.  So far I've managed both maneuvers pretty well.

Today, the only reason I stopped there was to pick up some apples for John to take in his lunch -- the Honey Crisp are done for the year, and now we've got to content ourselves with the (much smaller) Pink Lady or Braeburn or Gala variety.  I bought some of each kind, as a kind of test.

I also bought some flowers.  It's pathetic, I know, and stupid, but ever since I had that odd realization about the yin/yang imbalance in our home, I've tried to inject some feminine elements that don't involve actually cleaning anything.  Flowers seem appropriate.

This time, the only ones that caught my attention were the daffodils.  I'm pretty much of a stickler about floral longevity, but I'm tired of looking at alstromeria for weeks on end.  We had some tulips recently, that were very nice -- they kept snaking around in the vase, seeming to grow even though they'd been cut.  And because I enjoy watching things go bad, I left them in the vase until they looked less like Renoir, and more like Egon Schiele.  Persephone beauty, someone once called it.  The enchantment of age and decay.

Daffodils.  I bought four bunches, picking the ones with mostly closed buds, and one or two opening flowers, with the rationale that, if the buds open, they'll last longer than the flowers that have already been showing off for no one in particular.

I was unpacking them -- each bunch was held together by two small, thin blue rubber bands, and then stuck into a plastic sleeve, which was itself held in place by a length of knotted elastic cord -- and cutting their ends afresh, when I looked a little more closely at those elastic cords.  Unlike the continuous rubber bands, these lengths of elastic was turned into a useful circle by a little overhand knot, made by doubling the cord and making sure that the knot sits about half an inch in from the ends.  I go to this length to mention this, because there's no machinery that can do this -- every knot looks to me as though it's been tied by hand. 

I have three of them on the table next to me now -- one untied, the other two intact.  (I don't know what happened to the fourth.  I hope it didn't go down the drain)  For some reason, I'm picturing some dark-complexioned men and women, sitting in a sea of cut flowers, hunched over as they count stems, bundle them with blue rubber bands, sheathe the bundles in plastic, and then quickly slip a knotted string around the bunch.  Which they pop into a different bucket, while they're reaching for the next bundle.  I wonder whether it makes any difference to them, what flowers they're wrapping?

I used to wonder what would be the most boring job in the world.  Once I thought it would be tucking those little paper slips 'Inspected by #16' into shirt pockets.  Then I thought about whoever it was who had to do quality control on the press operation that produced those little bits of numbered paper.  Where does it end?

And as for the flower wrappers, I feel as though I'm in something of a quandary.  Besides the yin/yang thing, of course.  If I keep buying flowers, am I dooming this unknown knot-tying piece worker to endless hours of repetitive, boring toil, at far less than minimum wage, with no health insurance, etc etc?  If I stop buying flowers, am I endangering the (comparatively) pathetic livelihood which seems to be the lot of this deft, unnamed individual?  And of course, the flowers are probably the least of my worries, ethics- and morality-wise.  So much of what comprises modern first-world living is, I suspect, tainted with far more distant woe than most of us can imagine -- but is taking the pittance from the hand of some Pakistani seamstress a better thing to do?  I don't mean these questions to sound flip or arch -- I really am puzzled, and have been for a long time.

What this makes me think of, improbably enough, is the way I imagine a coming-of-age ritual, in some non-industrialized culture.  I imagine a group of young boys teetering on the brink of manhood, following their male elders out into the hunting fields, where, as a group, they fan out, to lie in wait for their prey.  Perhaps it's an antelope, or an elk, or a whale.  Perhaps the hunt is swiftly successful; perhaps it''s a long wait before some creature falls to human wiles.

And then comes the wrenching payoff, as I see it.  We have a group of relatively ungainly, weak, flimsy bipeds, standing over a still-warm giant eland, and for a moment, before the slitting and the gutting and skinning begin, there's the inevitable comparison -- I am scrawny and slow, while you have a terrible beauty and strength about you.  And, with the help of others like me, I am going to cut you up and eat you.  Your life for mine.

Perhaps there's a prayer of thanksgiving before the necessary slaughter.  I would hope so.  But no one eats without being stained.  

Maybe this is, indirectly, what I'm hoping to avoid, somehow?   To live a life that rides on no sacrifice on the part of any sentient thing?  I suppose I could look into Jainism, but I'm not really in the market for a new religion at this point in my life.  And even broccoli has to be picked somehow.

The best thing I can hope for, in this regard, is that there's some kind of compensatory tidal effect, and that kindnesses done for no particular reason can have a way of seeping back through the web of human interconnectedness, and result in, perhaps, a larger serving of soup, or a nice neck massage, for that bundler of daffodils, tying lengths of elastic, over and over and over again.

©   2013       Walter Zimmerman   



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Who Needs Seven-League Boots?

Still in something of a post-airline mood.

Usually, I am not a happy traveler.  When people ask, I tell them that sure, I love to visit different places.  I just hate getting there and back.

But today was oddly different.  And not because of drugs or anything.  After a tiny sliver of sleep, and dragging myself off the guest bed at just after 5 am, I was actually fairly civil to those around me at the airport, as we waited in one line after another, the goal of each line seeming to be to shuttle us from the downstairs holding pen to the upstairs holding pen.  I got into a casual, brief conversation with the man in line in front of us, who confided that he hadn't been on a plane in fifteen years, and really didn't know he was soon going to be required to take off his shoes and various other pieces of clothing before he'd be flying anywhere.

And nowadays, because of my new implant, I always insist on the manual pat-down, instead of spread-eagling myself in whatever that contraption is that all of America simply accepts is as safe as, say, frakking and any other official toxicities currently on record.  And I prefer to have this presumption of guilt preformed in public.  It's interesting that the different boys assigned this task have such different techniques.  On the flight out, the boy with the blue gloves gave me only the most cursory of examinations.  In the Ontario airport, however, the big guy in uniform made sure to get his fists right up in my armpits.  So glad I'd forgotten to hide my fifteen pounds of C4 there.  After I'd passed muster, and could join the rest of the sheep who'd made their way through their mystery screenings, I asked Big Guy if he could tell me how many positive readings he got, yearly, on those blue gloves of his.  He said he couldn't officially say, but that it wasn't many.

What a surprise.

Oh, but in any event, John patiently waited for me to reassemble myself, and we had a bagel and coffee (and my legally-prescribed preflight Xanax) before the totally uneventful flight from California to Dallas.  We did get to see Mt. Palomar, off to our right.  And the Salton Sea.  And lots of desolation which will soon be the outskirts of the outskirts of LA.  The landing in Dallas was as normal and routine as one could wish. 

And there we were, where, in spite of only having 25 minutes to get lunch, we found a really nice bistro on the lower level of whichever Dallas terminal we were in, and we had what I thought was a really tasty, if harried lunch, with a delicious beer that I don't remember what it was.  And crispy fresh cole slaw made with a remoulade sauce, instead of mayonnaise.   Which I shoveled down like a starving escaped convict, and ran up the escalator, to the empty waiting area, where we were certain that the cabin door was already closed (damn that cole slaw!), only to discover that departure had been delayed for half an hour or so.  So I went to look for another bag for the candy we were bringing home for our house-sitters -- the paper sack it came in was disintegrating, and I didn't want to leave a trail of soft centers through terminal C.  Or B.  Or whichever.

I did get a nice bag, that held the candy boxes nicely, with only the drawback of having TEXAS printed all over it.  This, I figure, is what spray paint is for.  Or I could turn it inside out.  Or lose it, as with the fifteen hundred similar bags all over the house.

We were finally boarded, and all strapped in, and poised on the runway, when the captain said something about how we were waiting in Texas because the weather in Newark wasn't what they were hoping it would be.  Like it wasn't going to change by the time we got there?  At least the air conditioning was on, and I had plenty of impossible puzzles to do, and a murder mystery to read.  The last time I was held captive by people I'd paid to transport me like a human being, I was on the tarmac at La Guardia for some five and a half hours, on a hot afternoon, in the full sun, without air conditioning, and if the flight attendants had come down the aisle, sprinkling us all with itching powder, to compound our communal discomfort, I wouldn't have been surprised.

But today, we finally took off.  They always do.  The flight attendants came through with the beverage cart, and John got a double scotch on the house.  He kept trying to pay for it until I thought I was going to have to grab the credit card with my teeth (the 'fasten seat belt' sign being off at the time), but he finally calmed down, and had a big drink.  I had a cup of ice water.  I like to chew the cubes.

Coming down through the cloud cover over Newark was, as it often is at night, grimly magical -- the steady gleaming red stream of tail-lights along otherwise invisible arteries, the gridded streets and the reddish glow of the street lights.  The mute blank spaces that are water, but look like bottomless gulfs.  And tonight, there were torn trails of mist hanging in the air, and between the upper layer of translucent cloud cover, and a thinner one below us, was a stripe of black expanse.  It was like flying in a painting by Georgia O'Keeffee and Joan Miro and Hieronymous Bosch all at once.

And, obviously, I'm home again.  Clothes unpacked and stuffed into the hamper for tomorrow's marathon laund-o-rama.  Papers cleared from the kitchen table, and tossed into the recycling bin.  John made us a simple dinner of cheese omelets and cottage cheese -- I was so tired of eating in restaurants that, even if I have to wash the dishes myself, it's worth it.  And now, even though I should still be on a California-based circadian time table, I find myself yawning and yearning to sleep again in my own bed.  Even though the cats will get us up in three hours because they're cats and they have nothing better to do.

Tomorrow?  Who cares?  (And by the way, re: yesterday's post, where I went on and on about the buttons?  I counted wrong -- I didn't need eight of the colorful little things, but sixteen.  Which, as it happens, I now have, and have located the polar fleece, and could quite easily finish this project tomorrow, while the white clothes spin about in the basement.  Why am I doing this, for a compete stranger?  Maybe it'll help my karma?  Maybe I just find it amusing, and that's enough?)  Right now, I'm going to find that murder mystery, and re-immerse myself in its unlikely tale of mayhem and revenge.  After I take my night-time meds, of course.  And maybe dream of crossing other continents, in the metal equivalents of mythic magic carpets. 

After, of course, I've passed the screening.

©    2013         Walter Zimmerman

An entire continent, crossed in under seven hours, with my only physical contribution to the process being sitting on my butt and keeping my seat-belt fastened low and loose...  Bizarre.          

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Buttons, Eventually...

It's just amazing.  I can be walking around with my boiling over with ideas and inner monologues, but as soon as I sit down here and pull up a new blank file, by mind seems to mirror the empty white space immediately and flawlessly.  

In any event, John and will be going home tomorrow, at some nose-bleed early hour of the morning.  He's at his newly-inherited property now, making little improvements -- a new light switch here, a new window blind there.  I've stayed behind, wandering around the picturesque center of Claremont village.   Ate a late breakfast at the diner.  Overhead two men, conversing at the booth across from me, one of them telling the other about his cancer, and about how he's now getting all his ducks in a row, because the doctor doesn't give him much longer to live.  Then they started talking about sports. 

I was feeling conspicuous, which I often do, and felt that I was eating as though I hadn't had a meal in a month.  I wasn't all that hungry, but the bead store I wanted to visit hadn't opened yet, and the Starbux up the street didn't have any copies of the NYTimes, so I couldn't think of anything else to do.  And of course, as I ate, I couldn't help picturing myself in the almost-dead-man's place, and wondered how I would handle such a reality, such a prognosis.  Could I put on a sweat shirt with a football logo on it, and go have breakfast?  If this were an episode of the Twilight Zone, of course, there would be a terrible accident, just as the two men were leaving the diner, and the healthy one would be instantly killed, and the dead one would survive, improbably enough, for another twenty years. 

The bead store was open by the time I'd eaten my scrambled eggs and bacon (wondering all the while about what toxins I was shoveling into my mouth, death death death), and I felt kind of stupid, walking down the aisled holding a basket that looked like a child's version of one of those shallow conical hats that people wear when they're working in rice paddies.  I was sure there wasn't anything I could use for the stupid project I've given myself, but sure enough, here was one bead, and here was another, and a few more here, and couldn't I use these as well...  I was clearly a magpie in a former life -- I'm surprised I didn't fill the shallow basket, and go back for another one.

And then, because this is how things work, I got into a conversation with the owner of the store, who's had the place for over 20 years (really?  A bead store?  For twenty years?  Most remarkable), and when it came to her attention that I was from 'back East' as they say here, she wanted to know about my experience with the hurricane, and we ended up talking for twenty minutes, about robotics and unemployment and regional biases, and '60 Minutes'...  As I was leaving, she gave me her business card, and said that, in case there was a systemic, nation-wide breakdown, we could give each other shelter, depending on which coast was safest at the time.  It seemed like a funny idea at the time.

I thought I would try to find a nice, out-of-the-way table, outdoors, where I could sit and sift through the collection of buttons I had, and hope to use for this silly project I mentioned.  But such a surface was not readily apparent, and I was having one of my not-atypical feelings of uneasiness, and a need to get indoors, someplace where I could take off my shoes, so I'm back at Jamie and Nancy's house, in their living room, in the company of sleeping pets and a great ray of sunshine spilling in through their front window and across the honey-blond wood of the floor in front of their brick fireplace.  I feel like I'm an erroneous element in a  magazine layout for a high-end home furnishings catalog, and that either the art director will be shooing me away in a minute, or I'll be Photo-Shopped into oblivion.  I still haven't gone through the buttons.

So.  There's this scarf -- a colorful length of Polar Fleece, that the daughter of very close friends turned into a scarf for me, some years ago now.  Sadie cut the cloth into a kind of fringe at either end, and then punctuated the space where the fringe began, with a row of colorful buttons, four across on each side, and with a button on the other side of the fabric too.  Eight smart, bright buttons that catch the colors of the fleece.  She also ran a loose stitch, in orange embroidery thread, along the cut sides of the scarf.  I was thrilled with it when she gave it to me, and told her that she should think of starting her own clothing line 'Sadie Wear', but she was only in 7th or 8th grade, and she was already thinking of something else. 

This scarf never fails to attract admiring attention whenever I wear it, to an extent far greater than any other piece of clothing I've ever owned.  And last month, when I'd broken it out for the season, an older woman who volunteers at the Summit YMCA just crowed about how much she liked it, how exciting it was, and (this was the shocking part) that she thought she might be willing to kill someone to get a scarf like this. 

Well, this attracted my attention.  I considered, for maybe seven seconds, just giving her that very original Sadie Wear creation, but I just couldn't.  What I could do, I thought, was to use a length of the very same Polar Fleece I'd picked up somewhere, and make her a scarf almost exactly like it.  If only to save her from a life of crime.  Prison, at her age, wouldn't be pretty.

The challenge was those buttons.  Where on earth would someone like me find a variety of colorful buttons -- even eight seemed an improbable goal.  I thought of buying things at the Goodwill Store, and then taking off the buttons and throwing the actual garments away.  I thought of sneaking through the racks with a small pair of scissors, and stealing the buttons off womens' coats at my favorite Salvation Army store, but that seemed like bad karma.

Then, as I was looking for a book on perennials, that would explain why things I planted in John's mom's garden were now fifteen feet tall, when I'd expected them to be ground cover, I saw a tall, narrow, rectangular glass vase on the book shelf, and the vase was full of buttons.  It turns out that they came from his mom's house, and he didn't even know he had them.  So, if I wanted eight of them, I was certainly welcome to them.

I ended up pouring the whole lot out onto my air-mattress/bed, and picked through them as though they were jewels.  Which, I guess, in a way, they are.  I picked out far more than eight.  I put the rest back in the vase, and it really didn't look all that much emptier than before I'd emptied it.  (I also liked the oddly-shaped little gathering of buttons on the pale yellow sheets -- as though something had melted there, and these drops were all that was left)  I'll probably thin out my horde before we go home, although I can always mail the surplus back when I'm done saving this poor grey-haired YMCA volunteer from the Big House.  Or, as is more likely, in reference to the mailing of the extra buttons, not.

My heart is beating in time with the mahogany clock on the mantlepiece.

Well, now I guess I'll go do something else.  Though I have, for the life of me, no idea what.

©     2013               Walter Zimmerman