Sunday, July 7, 2013

And Who Kills At The Finish Line?

By Martin Bemberg

The original hipster was called so for posture. He lay drugged somewhere last century and wore sunglasses. “An art form uniquely American,” he’d say of jazz. He’d smoke opium and it was his hip that bore the weight of his eyelids. I ponder her hip because it bears her. Postured here like this, she is the origin of hip.
It’s day two and day worst of her bout with ulcers of the mouth and throat. Hardly able to speak, she is a series of hummed sympathies. She winds like highways among the hills, which we call mountains. She’s a gorgeous slouch - languid, pitiful, and damned pretty but try telling her that. On Saturday, she asks whether The Enlightenment first caught fire in Denmark. I have the map in mind already, but the five-century timeline eludes me. I count backwards from Voltaire. Galileo to Erasmus, Luther, then Gutenberg.
         “Germany,” I reply. “The printing press set the whole thing ablaze.”
         Used to, I didn’t know to be flattered when she assumes I know everything.
         “Everyone in this film is so beautiful,” she says to me.
         She’s right – the Danes are beautiful. I haven’t watched any of the film yet, but the language is a thrill. I hear, probably from someone who heard as well, that they’re the happiest people on earth. If it’s true, I’d wager that the beauty of their mother tongue has something to do with it. If you’re like me, you’ve always wanted to hear English as an alien thing. Danish satisfied my curiosity. If you’re like me, - which I would not recommend - you ponder that we naked apes want to see ourselves as other naked apes do and hope to witness our own funeral. I used to wonder, how does the world behold my talents, my looks, my character. And then I married, and found that these traits are tolerable for at least a lifetime.
After chores and errands, I report back to her with this brief essay, which I penned for her on the backs of receipts I collected while emptying the car. I hoped it might quell her baby fever. For now, at least, we have no children and are each other’s.

What I Have Done Today

I have done some things today. The first thing that I did today was that I woke up. Next, I went to the drug store and to the grocery store. At the drug store I got medicine for my wife and at the grocery store I got food for my wife. I got split pea soup and I got ramen noodles. I got them for my wife because she is sick. I am sad that she is sick. But it is okay because Olive The Pug - cannonball bug, little black cub, bear you can hug - took care of her while I wrote an obituary for a magazine. It was for Owen Prater, who was a really great guy and a really great poet. I miss him a lot. A lot of other people miss him a lot too. I cannot wait to see what he wrote right before he died. After I got medicine and food for my wife, I cleaned the kitchen. It took a long time. Then I set aside all the clothes that we are going to sell. We are going to sell clothes so that we can buy more clothes. I need new clothes because I am getting bigger in my tummy. All in all I have had a really good day. I hope I get to have more days like this because I am happy. I like to be happy.
         I left out the part about swooshing her oral analgesic in my mouth. (I wanted to find out what smoking a cigarette outside a dentist’s office feels like. I was thoroughly underwhelmed.)
         Around 3:30 the Times sends me a breaking news alert e-mail. Two bombs have gone off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I balk at first, but end up watching the explosion on Russia Today. When I was a child, I venture to say that the notion of someone videoing such an event, and by coincidence, would be called a damned silly notion. How things have changed; if someone told me today, “information super highway,” or “Wash your hands after you touch your penis,” I’m not so sure I’d know what to say to them.
         I wonder whether we’ll look back on this and laugh. Of course, I can’t recite any jokes about September 11th, 2001 or April 20th, 2000. No one jokes about April 19th, 1995 – bombed a fucking daycare, the coward. And hardly anyone can remember December 7th, 1941 anymore. But here goes. ‘I finished the Boston Marathon and all I lost was this lousy leg.’ I don’t pretend to know what the doers deserve, but I personally would like to see a bounty hunter, or a clerk at the DMV, make the asshole run like hell. I hereby sentence you to death by wind sprints. Papa would have gone with ‘death by squats.’
         “Looked like a pretty wimpy explosion to me,” he answers.
         “No, I mean who do you think did it?”
         “Oh, some right-wing kooks,” he says.
         “Me too. It’s tax day.”
         “Taxachusetts, as they say.”
         “Marxachusetts, as they don’t. So far as I know,” I say.  
         I thank him for the money he’s sent us, and he tells me he is proud of me. He especially liked my homophobic, country & western anthem, “Straights Rights.” I borrowed the tune from “Sisters Of Mercy.”

Well the gays and the homos and queers ain’t afraid to be gross.
And the fact that they’re married and proud
Ain’t the only thing their shovin’ down my throat.
And now that they’re married,
My wife and I we’ve got it so tough.
How’re we supposed to make babies
When they’re doin’ their icky butt stuff?

Well, lovin’s just for procreatin’
Ain’t no such thing as lovin’ for fun
And while my wife, she’s got one in the oven,
These queers do something different with their buns
Well my mind’s an open one,
But I won’t close my mouth when they come.
No butts about it, we’ve hit rock bottom,
It’s a bummer, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Well where I come from browntown means
Colored folks are livin’ next door,
And where I come from, takin’ a poundin’
Means you’ve got more touchdowns to score.
But I left for the city, and what do you think that I found?
Huntin’ bears here means somethin’ different
Than it did in the woods outside my hometown.

Well my boy sucks at manly stuff
Sometimes he can’t get ‘er done.
And my boy sucks at a lotta man things,
But another man’s thing ain’t gonna be one.
And this chip off the block,
My pride and joy, pretty boy son –
While he’s one the grass, he can’t catch a pass,
But he sure thinks the locker room’s fun.

While he’s on the grass, he can’t catch a pass,
But at least he thinks the locker room’s fun.

         “All right,” I say.
         “Okay, son. Bye. Love you. Okay. Bye.”
         I’d called him in 2008 when we elected a black president, I have to inform her, and called him when Cairo, of all places, seemed the most hopeful on earth, and I can’t believe I’ve never shared my first memory with her. Max and my father both know that it was the fall of the Soviet Union. Papa told me I’d always remember it. Really, he told me not to forget it. Think what could have happened had he not told me that. My first memory might be of Terry Pendleton’s sixth inning triple - the first time I saw a man hit for three bags, the hitter and I were in the same stadium. Maybe I’d remember snowflakes melting on black construction paper, or lima beans on a red plastic plate, scratched white by forks older than I. Her first memory is the birth of her brother. She remembers nothing of her childhood thereafter, save the Masonic rite she witnessed through a stained glass window. “There were men in dark robes,” she says, “and a child.”
         Hammered, enamored, I demand a child, but I cannot come. Alas, and where’s the beer? It’s in Springdale, because it’s Sunday. For all the jokes about slaughtering chickens and Mexicans – excuse me, despite what people south of the lake say about Mexicans and slaughtering chickens - at least they are savvy enough to accept money seven days a week. To reciprocate for this kindness, Sundays I drink and drive on their roads. Today it’s two tall boys, gone for good by the time I’m home and coaxing her into a picnic.
“Get your sundress, Beebs. We’re getting loaded in the park.”
         We ‘ran into’ one of her children not long after we arrive. In truth, she springs and sprints like Blitzen, the reindeer, in heat. When the little blonde creature - somewhat humanoid in its third year - and its mother appear some twenty yards away, I’ve been a naughty boy, chiefing on a very conspicuous spliff and necking cup after cheap plastic cup of bargain-bin pinot noir. “I’ll see you on Thursday, Nicholas!” she cooed. The mother and child ambled on. To my surprise, she informs me that the ‘running into’ was in fact a close call. I am becoming a liability and so we show the scene our backs. Stumbling, I offer to drive us home.
         I plumbum on out of the passenger’s side and into the house, where a vicious game of keep-away ensues. Papa’s turkey chili, of course, is the kept-away, and I, poor I, the hammered, hungry sap. Her arms may be half the length of mine, and her crown may be a full foot closer to the ground, but today it seems the God-given just won’t take. No motor skills, no recourse is I guess how it goes. We find ourselves sol-sodden on the back porch; whereto I likely have been wormholed by a universe that knows a hungry boy when it sees one. I reckon if we jostle, she and I, we do it like a couple of sissies, as my lunch and manhood are hostages both.
We reaching, tussling fools are nearing the stairs. I am about to discover what I already know – that this is not at all a clever place for the reclamation of snacks by force. Stairs – these at least - are made of wood, which is hard and hurts to fall on. These stairs descend into a yard-shaped, patch of weed and bramble. But who are we not to descend, together, into our yard-shaped patch of weed and bramble? At the bottom of the stairs, I’m already blaming her for pain not yet palpable. Youngest sibling syndrome coming now to the fore, she laughs something so hearty that I can feel the thick of that poor turkey chili. Its bowl, microwavable, is about three shards now, scattered, but in no comforting pattern. There is nothing linear about this trail of dead.
“Damn it, woman! The invincible bowl has been vinced! That piece of plastic was a testament to the fortitude of Chinese industry and now it’s just more shit for bare feet to avoid.” My heavens, the nude sting of a bramble-bed is naught compared to the painful notion that my drunk-by-mid-afternoon snack is nothing more than fodder for the lawn urchins. She lies there laughing with me in the milk thistle and the spiky gumball things, whatever they are. We’re looking for our lungs and our reasoning  atop the childproof gate, which our combined weight, hunger, and cruelty have collapsed onto the ground. The baby slammer, toddler trap, etc., had been a part of our porch longer even than it’s been ours. And yet, we only first question this structure when the (wholly worthless) collection of right angles has been so brutalized by my horrible balance and ardor for lunch.
She stands and helps husband to his feet. He sobers far too rapidly.
With each fresh eyeing of the havoc comes a new wave of giggles.
From the tree house, we take vista of all three downtown steeples. I see her gazing down now at the yard, where playthings are decaying and visible of a sudden. I cannot for the life of me tell you why we’d never noticed them before. And The Lord said let there be swing sets? Nor could I tell you, really, whether these ruins are anachronism, or ruins that foreshadow.
“What was it, slide of yellow plastic, that finally made you crack?” she asked.
“Once-orange basketball, rotting unto vintage pink: how are you really?”
“My dear, dangling fellow,” she wonders finally at the rope, “did you happen to catch the Hogs game last night?”
Atop this backyard fort, we are far enough from ground to be afraid, and yet the pain and the markings say that we are fallen still. But at first clang of twilight, no gashes in arms, nor pending bruises, nor snacks aborted in vain are audible
“Good thing you’re not packing heat.”
I give her belly one pat for each hour past noon, as another and another of the bells says to us that light is leaving. My twenty-dollar nautical watch beeps in weird harmony.
“When the time is right,” she says.
Her hand bloodied covers a smile.

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