“Millions of people long for eternal life when they don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
This morning Sam (is a dog) and I went for a long walk. Well, not that long really, a couple miles under a moist grey sky, ending up having coffee with Pete and Muffin (is a dog) at their house beside the river. Although Sam (is a dog) and I have only been living in the Tiny White Box for a week and a half, I think my indoor eyesight has already adjusted to not needing to focus on anything farther than four feet away from my face. At least when Pete invited us into his living room, I felt like I was being set down in Kansas and proclaimed, “Sam, there’s enough room in here to swing a cat.” Luckily, Pete chuckled rather than ejecting me from his home. Who, in God’s name, measures the size of a room by whether a cat can be held by the tail and spun around?
Pete is a Vietnam vet, with strong feelings on Jane Fonda, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton (or is it Hilary?)—not having the internet at my fingertips, these questions get under my skin. Could it be the reason Secretary Clinton lost the election is the populace couldn’t bear the thought of not knowing how to spell its president’s name? Donald. Trump. Easy, normal spellings. George. W. Bush. Again, easy. Barack. Hussein. Obama. Simple.
(The close of the above paragraph is what’s known as irony, folks. I’m well aware that Barack can also be spelled Barak, Barrack or Antichrist, depending on one’s ethno-religious background.)
What madness is this, to have veered so far off the path already? Having introduced Pete, a Vietnam vet, I’ve pinwheeled off to talk of the antichrist. THIS is what eternity will look like for me: spinning gibberish forever.
I can tell I’ve started wrong, so please let me begin again.
Pete is a Vietnam vet, 68, though he looks a decade younger, and awriter who’s willing to give the plots of his stories away in conversation. Since most of my fiction is like a Charlie-Brown Christmas tree festooned with a Douglas fir’s worth of ornamentation—if one can imagine a cartoon tree as representing a plot and three-dimensional angels, Santas, glitter and bows as characterization—I admire Pete’s willingness to explain his writing. Although my coffee had hardly reached my brain, I believe one of his stories involves a leech/leach field in a starring role, although I’m still not clear whether those are sewer or sucking leech/leaches. Pete is going to print out the story for me, and I expect that will be made clear.
(Story idea: an entire story where the author withholds the identity of leech/leaches, so the potential victim is never clear whether he is to end up covered with feces or open wounds. Or, shudder, both. The challenge to this story, of course, is that the spelling choice of “leech” or “leach” would tip one’s hand. Solution: Based on false linguistic scholarship, the author declares at the outset that Nigerians have a word that means both. Say the word . . . obama.)
Focus, dammit! Focus!
And how dreadful would life be if one could truly focus on one thing after another after another? While I’d love to quiet occasionally the caterwauling chorus of monkeys in my head, with their constant and interesting chatter about whatever I’m not supposed to be thinking about, I’m terrified at the thought of a silent brain, focused on, for instance, getting out the oatmeal, boiling the milk, finding a spoon, mixing the ingredients, etc. Without the voices in my head, I’d be lonely indeed, although does an air conditioner feel lonely as it cycles through its activities?
Alcoholics Anonymous, the Big Book and primary text of the fellowship, has a number of lines that always make me laugh, one of which is “we are not saints,” as if anyone who’s attended an open meeting of AA and heard the stories told there could fear she’d walked into a gathering of the sanctified. Likewise, my concern that if I mastered focus I’d end up like an air conditioner, an automaton trapped in its mechanistic universe. Imagine the horrible solitude of staying true to one thought long enough to reach a conclusion! Bring out the smelling salts for I believe I’ve the vapors.
Ah, yes. Focus.
The subject was Pete. He’s a Vietnam vet. He has a dog named Muffin. He has apparently never swung a cat by the tail in his dining room, which does beg the question of exactly where one holds a cat to use it as a measuring device. While one could lift it by the head, that seems the locus of most danger—both for the lifted and the lifter. Cat teeth seem sharp and pointed (one of the more obvious thoughts I’ve had today), yet their mouths, noses and ears seems susceptible to accidental damage. Likewise swinging a cat by the foot seems to invite serious orthopedic injury, and lord knows cats are already treated with too much respect as it is, without needing to give them handicapped parking spots all over the damn place. Grabbing them by the tail seems best for all involved, probably with one’s hand forming a fist at the end. Any readers who have experience with cats as tools are invited to share their experiences with me.
Before I return to the subject that had been at hand, Pete, the Vietnam vet, I’d like to award myself graciousness points for avoiding the gratuitous use of the word “pussy” in the previous paragraph. That, after all, would have been like shooting fish in a barrel, which raises the question of what kind of fish are we discussing and how did they get in the barrel in the first place. Those are questions for another day, and right now we’re talking about Pete.
Pete is a Vietnam veteran with a dog named Muffin. Sam (is a dog) and I had coffee with them this morning, or at least I did. Sam (is a dog) avoids caffeine. It makes him jumpy and unable to focus.