the glowing ebb and flow of serpentine shoreline caresses, lightly lapping sparkling sand as deliquescent sunlight blissfully touches the blushing horizon with a shimmering kiss, your auriferous, flickering, slithering tongue stretching across the ocean's expanse. Rusty Taylor February 2017
I could feel the ancient spirit of my irrevocably Catholic grandmother’s glare penetrating through my devastated consciousness with the fury of the Inquisition—my father’s nurturing mother, a widow for half a century who never remarried after a drunk driver sent my grandfather to his untimely death, my religiously and patriotically fervent, wizened, matriarchal grandmother whose eat-all-your-peas passion was more than strong enough to guarantee to even the worst skeptic that the goodness of the Holy Spirit will invariably defeat Evil every single time, my eternal-hugging yet stern-disciplining grandmother, from beyond her grave, gave me that crushed mothering look of bitter disappointment that shattered my soul into supernumerary shards of foreboding shame. I had just bitterly shred her heart into illimitable pieces at the complete irreversible understanding that I, her very first grandchild, had casually squandered away my eternal salvation.
A silent tear rolled down her cheek, condemning my soul, and as she slowly evanesced into the misty horizon, I called out.
“But I didn’t do it. He did! I wasn’t even there!”
I knew, however, deep within the most inaccessible regions of my viscera that, although he was on the verge of doing something unconscionable and potentially fatal long before I had met up with him that fateful dusty afternoon, I had more than helped him to leap over the line that separates good decisions from those that morph reckless and chaotic impulses into aggressively questionable actions from which there is no return. His lifeless body hung motionlessly from a rafter in the ceiling, a macabre human piñata filled with volatile visceral chemicals, a motionless, slightly bloated corpse with wide bulging eyes, looking as if it were eager to explode into a sinewy sebaceous, chaotically connected network of web-like filaments at the slightest prick of a sewing needle, the darkened bluish-gray, gravity-defying ashen mortal coil dangling from a hempen cord through dancing dust-laden, pallid morning sun-rays, and I knew that in some post-modern, Faulknerian, unregenerate Southern way, I was responsible for his suicide.
At the novelty store, I hand the clerk a shot glass, and he runs off to the back.
“He’s going to have someone etch the year on it. Won’t take long. Gonna give it to Andy.”
“You might wanna change the year,” Jasmine muses. “It ain’t like y’all just started drinking this year. Y’all been at it for a while.”
“It’s for graduation.”
She smiles wanly.
“You sure look great,” I say.
Again she smiles a soft smile, sincerely, but something’s on her mind. I become hopeful as we stroll the aisles chatting, looking at the various items for sale, trying hard not to show my excitement. The clerk returns with the shot glass. After I pay him, Jasmine tells me, “We gotta talk.”
Unintentionally, I quicken my pace. It seems like an eternity as I sit and excitedly wait for her on a bench just outside the store in a small courtyard, but I can still smell her lingering perfume playfully wrecking pleasant havoc on my sensibilities. I take the shot glass out of its bag and look at it admiringly as she shuffles toward me.
“My friend hasn’t come this month,” she whispers.
I abandon the shot glass to the wooden ledge of a planter next to us, and I look at her, my eyes earnestly imploring for help. Noticing my complete befuddlement, she says more sharply, still trying to whisper, “My period!”
Suddenly surreal, everything around me slowly melts, a deliquescent shifting of my perception and sensibilities, the entire mall thumping rhythmically into the visual vicissitude of Capitalistic images in varying shapes and sizes and colors all mocking my pain. I see her at the prom in that beautiful red gown, radiating with the ecstasy of Midas at the initial understanding of his gift, that exuberant giddiness that precedes the realization that happiness is fleeting, that total immersion into a self-absorption that seems to belie reality for an eternity, that anticipatory signing over the soul to Satan to learn what the blues really mean. I lucidly recall when she had told me that she was going to the prom with Warren and my heart’s sudden destruction as when the two-mile wide meteor slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula. I stared at her numbly as her voice shot through me into the outer reaches of the universe. I didn’t even take a date to the prom, just hung out with my best friend Andy and an amber bottle containing a sweet splash of liquor that kicked me like a mule until I puked on a chaperon and was unconsciously escorted home to face the wrath of my father and a purgatory of accusations I could in no way deny. It was so clear. How could I have not seen it? A few months later it was obvious how far she let him penetrate her pudendal bastion. He had planted his seed into her fecund field, never considering the possibility of fruition. Then left her.
I had been wistfully dreaming about hopping a freight train to nowhere since first grade, more of a whim really, a romantic adolescent fantasy churning in my crayola-infused imagination as I listened in my bed at twilight to the coupling of boxcars slamming together in preparation for epic journeys out, away from my house through the most remote places on the planet that harbored magical kingdoms and fire-breathing adventures. Trains regularly wove through the tapestry of my hometown Columbus, Georgia. Wearily laid tracks sinuously slithered down the center of 9th Street towards Phenix City, Alabama, heading west towards every sunset, crawling over the Chattahoochee River that, itself, sinuously slithers endlessly, southerly, towards Apalachicola, Florida then into the Gulf of Mexico. I knew that one day I’d hop that train just to discover its pulsing potential. Even as I hopped inside a slowly moving boxcar, it felt like a childhood dream.
I had been in the boxcar for a few days or so, passing time any way I could: hitting my pipe of weed, humming, whistling, dreaming, dangling my legs from the opened portal during star-sated nights that obligingly reached for infinity from my solitary space in the universe, listening to the almost incessant clickety-clack of the track’s humming rhythm along the rickety tracks, feeling the landscape jostle my bones.
I doggedly climbed into another brooding freight car after the train I had previously boarded came to rest in a small hissing train-yard somewhere in the continental United States; we had been traveling mostly northwest, so I figured I was in America’s heartland, somewhere in beef country. Slowly, rhythmically, the landscape morphed from small town urban chaos into a more bucolic serenity, and I stared at the far wall of the acrid boxcar I had indifferently chosen, an amorphous amalgamation of refuse I couldn’t quite make out but vaguely resembled varying cardboard boxes strewn alongside distant hills of burlap, old clothes, driftwood, dust and ashes, the likely remnants of vagabond survival, but as I stared at the darkened mountainous silhouette, it seemed to quicken, breathing a steady rhythmic ebb and flow as if it were a mass of heavy energy, darkly foreboding, startled into an impending puissance, roiled into an existence created exclusively for my destruction. A heavy-hanging, billowy cloud drifted from under the sun suddenly releasing a steady stream of sun-rays that blasted into the littered boxcar and revealed two mendicants, desperate, ashamed, and angry that I had violated their personal asylum.
They took all my money (which wasn’t that much), my shoes, and my sweater; they left my shirt and jeans and a ragged sock, the only articles of clothing I was allowed to keep. After pummeling me to semi-consciousness, they threw me out of the boxcar. That’s all I remember. When I awoke, I was in a bright room, silver and stainless steel flashing at me monitored by a sterilized person wrapped in white cotton strips of cloth that covered everything save a pair of intense, dark eyes. Another set of eyes popped before me followed by a dark oxygen mask coming toward my face at incomprehensible reality. Everything went black.
Instantly back, I heard the various whirs and bleeps of electronics, and I knew I was in a hospital’s intensive care unit, where I think I spent the next few days. Since I had no insurance, I was released almost immediately, roaming the streets of Gallows, Montana. The pain killers were quickly wearing off, and I needed an anodyne immediately when I saw a sign that slightly brightened my spirit: Longbranch Saloon, just like back home, but as I passed through the door, I was roughly bumped into by a patron who was leaving. With an audible grunt, I went down on one knee, the thud rocking the foundation of the Rockies, sending crashing waves throughout my body then out my wrenched shoulders, tears flowing like mountain waters, which caused a fairly sizable ruckus for the half-dozen people who invisibly sat scattered around me.
“Oh my God! Isaiah? Is that you?
There was no mistaken it. I had come to loathe that voice. It was Warren, son of Colonel Daniel Hardsock. The weasel that left the only woman I would ever love, crying endlessly eternal. The soambitch who got her pregnant. Then left like a coward in the night. But I was in too much pain to lash out at him.
“You look horrible. What happened?”
He could tell even before he started to speak that I could not effectively communicate.
“Here. Let me get you a drink.”
I couldn’t count how many shots it took, but after an eternity of the most unforgiving pain I had ever experienced, I started to slowly crawl out of the cave lined with broken glass and rusted barbed wire into a soothing relief from the pain’s violent sharpness. Warren’s emotions then flowed like pyroclastic effluvium from Vesuvius as I slowly misplaced the anguish of my contorting agony.
“I can’t believe it’s you… you…”
He went on and on ad nauseam as my lips anxiously reached for more relief from an empty shot glass, my tongue desperately searching for the magic of more anesthesia, my desire to kill the pain by which I was embraced matched only by my desire to choke Warren until his eyes burst out of his fucking head, to kill him deader than any other man had ever died. After a while, his hysteria decreased, and he slowed down, tears still falling, voice still quivering, body still rapidly shaking.
“Is she all right?”
At that instant, I saw my revenge. He still cared for her. I almost yelled with delight, yet somehow I maintained control. Complete, wicked, control.
“She killed herself.”
His anguish was delicious, the totally defeated moan of an invincible warrior who realizes with his last breath that everything he had ever held sacred was irrevocably wrong. His soul cried out to my utter delight.
A lonesome train’s whistle slowly surges west, its moaning echo in low tones throughout the bar like a weeping willow’s humming the blues of Billie Holiday. I’ve been sittin’ at the Longbranch Saloon back in my hometown since eight o’clock, steadily nursing shot after shot with my head down, slumping over alcohol stained wood, fingering the lip of the glass that Joe keeps refilling, both of us silent, absorbed by the thick air that hovers over Georgian red clay like the breath of an ancient dragon awaiting its final suspiration.
Ten o’clock in the morning, and it’s already hot and humid enough to make the sun itself dream of Arctic coolness as the rusted door to the darkened bar opens wide, aggressively flashing intense light in rectangular brightness that overwhelms her silhouette until she steps further in, banishing the aggressive rays outside. As the door to the dilapidated lounge closes, my eyes adjust, and she slowly steps into focus, an illuminated angel appearing before rural simplicity as my pursed lips reach for assurance from an empty shot glass.
“Morning, Joe,” she says to the portly bartender.
“Jasmine,” he returns. “Want anything?”
“No, just stopped in to… Isaac? Is that you?” She shifts her 18-month child to her other hip. “Excuse me a sec, Joe; it’s my… Isaac!” she says as she turns to address me with an enthusiastic passion that makes my soul bleed.
“My Lord, son. Where’ve you been? Does your mother know you’re home? Where have you been? What have you been doing?”
She walks over to sit at a table adjacent to the bar, adjusting her child on her lap, talking a mile a minute, which seems like the incessant chugging of the locomotive heading to Elysium, an all too familiar eternal drone languidly begging me to stay, helplessly imploring me to go. I sidle to an awaiting chair and plop down.
“What’s the matter Isaac?” she asks, looking at her gurgling child, “You look kinda down. You thinkin’ ‘bout something serious. Is that Southern Comfort?”
I pause. An infinity of silence before I almost whisper, “I found him.”
She’s speechless. I see her eyes dazzle briefly, but in that same instance, just before I continue, her understanding becomes complete.
Russell (Rusty) Allen Taylor
It hit him suddenly and with such unnerving force that its veracity shined as undeniably as the August sun, intensely, irrevocably. It was in no way malicious, but its effects were shattering. He sat there quietly, but a violent squall was unleashed deep within his emotional theater, and although he continued to speak without showing any signs of his revelation, it was irrefutable: his complete solitude. Other than family, he had absolutely no one in his life who really cared for him. He would never have a partner with whom to share his life intimately.
When he was twenty-two years old, he was involved in a single-car accident that left him a quadriplegic, a complete spinal cord injury at the fourth and fifth vertebrae. He was paralyzed from the chest down; he couldn’t even feel his hands. Everything just below his nipples became a vacuum of sensation and utility, offering no other value than as objects of visual curiosity, and his youthful body quickly metamorphosed from a comparably Olympian paradigm to a collection of body parts that were useless, empty, soulless, repugnant. But he still had his youth and its undying accompanying optimism.
In retrospect, he believed that he would’ve been much better off had he never met her, but Kharmela became his primary nurse-angel when, two weeks after he had broken his neck, he was transferred to Shepherd Spinal Center, where he would rehab for four months. She had just finalized her divorce from a man she described as violent, and when she talked to her paralyzed patient, she looked so sincere and vulnerable that he fell for her almost immediately and with such passion that the aftermath was a combined emotionally nefarious Hiroshima and Vesuvius. For four months a friendship had kindled, and this conflagrant relationship was fanned by his innocence; he was very sure at that time that he could never again be attractive to the more gentle gender, but this was because all of his previous relationships had quickened primarily because of his aesthetics, and this kind of reward conditioning led him to falsely believe that he had nothing left of quality for any woman.
When he left Shepherd Spinal Center, Kharmela told him that she’d like to come visit him. He agreed and was happy that she was so kind to him, but he couldn’t bring himself to believe it. She lived in Atlanta, and he lived one hundred miles south in Macon; she was beautiful, and he was hardly worthy. He sincerely believed that his only contact with Kharmela would be an annual Christmas card, and he would cherish each “Love, Kharmela” that would end each card; however, she called the very next week, and he went to visit her the following month.
He never thought it would happen, but he made love to her, and even though he had no sensation and was as immobile as Stone Mountain, it was such an overwhelming expression of love that he cried. For a year they carried on their love, despite the miles that separated them. He would’ve gladly spent the rest of his life with her, but she became restless. She was so beautiful and spirited, a Leo, and he realized that she had merely misinterpreted her respect for him as love; besides, she was just coming off of a second failed marriage, so she was riding a volatile emotional roller coaster herself.
They remained friends, a friendship that ultimately evanesced in time… and distance. For the next five years, he worked hard and finally graduated from Mercer University with a BA in English and a minor in Computer Science. The following January he landed a job as a computer programmer in Columbus, Georgia, the town where he grew up. The most exciting aspect of the employment opportunity was that he’d be on his own as much as possible, but he had plenty of family to help him, and he moved into a house that was right next door to a high school buddy.
Of course, he needed help with even the most rudimentary acts of daily living, so he placed an ad in the paper for a live-in attendant. Maria answered. A Pisces, intense, passionate. Ultimately, he and she formed relationship number two, but she was the innocent lover in this affair. Again, the relationship lasted about a year, then she went back home to the small town of Talbotton to live with her mother.
He was still only in his late twenties, and he felt really good about life in general; after all, he was a professional, making more money than he’d ever dreamed of, and he was as independent as he could be under the circumstances; he felt like he was just like every other guy in the world, except for the fact that he couldn’t walk. He couldn’t use his hands either, but he never considered that; he used a mouthstick to type, and he used a wrist-splint to ineffectively feed himself and brush his teeth. That was pretty much the extent of his physical prowess. He needed help getting in and out of bed, dressing, washing and combing his hair, bathing, urinating, shitting; hell, he needed help with everything, but he had overcome so many things in his life that he felt he could do anything, even fall in love.
He had a spinster aunt who was ten years his senior, and he felt sorry for her because he knew that she was never going to find her life-mate; she stayed at home with her aging mother and had nearly no opportunity to get out and meet anyone; she even worked from her home. But he worked for a company with thousands of employees, and there were many women with whom he worked, women who were intelligent and very attractive; one was bound to discover that he had many positive qualities and characteristics that would overcome his physical inadequacies.
For ten years he worked as a computer programmer, a decade of learning about himself, work, the world, and he was well liked; he had an almost magical ability to make people very comfortable with his paralysis. He smiled most of the time, sang aloud, was pleasant to almost everyone, and he was intelligent, or, at very least, he could communicate very effectively so that many of his cohorts thought he was intelligent. When the subject of relationships came up in conversation, he would casually state that he was an eternal bachelor, too wild to tame, too free to be controlled by one woman, the usual banter from one who had no relationship and no future prospects, but just under the surface he inaudibly screamed his desire to find whomever it was with whom he was to share eternity.
He asked a few women out, and they graciously rejected his advancements, but he justified each rejection. He had lived long enough to realize that many people ended up in broken relationships because they were afraid of being left all alone at the end of their lives, but he was now in his late thirties, and he enjoyed his solitude. He knew all too well that a relationship undeniably involved compromise, and he had no desire to give up the freedoms he enjoyed just because he didn’t want to be alone. He would only make that sacrifice for an intelligent, internally beautiful woman, and she’d grow old with him, maturing in wisdom until the winter of their content where, as octogenarians, they’d sit together on the front porch of their house, holding each other’s withered hand and dreaming of the future. He still felt that his destined woman existed somewhere in the vast world and would be drawn to him through some celestial power, so he was patient, realizing that each rejection only advanced his spirit closer to ultimate happiness.
He rarely got sick, maybe a bad cold would keep him homebound for a few days once a winter, but for the most part, he was healthy. His wheelchair, however, would occasionally break down, and he’d have to miss work on these occasions. It was during his tenth year of employment when the major power source of his electric wheelchair went out. The wheelchair vendor was in Atlanta and his wheelchair maintenance worker was in Columbus, so what he initially thought would be a three-day work absence wound up being two full workweeks. It was during this time that he realized why he went to work. He was, in effect, under house arrest, and he sat all day in one spot watching television; there was nothing else to do and nothing on television during the day worth watching—six million channels of infomercials or banal daytime programming. Occasionally there’d be a good movie on the classic movie network, but when there wasn’t, he had to choose the least offensive of programming. He could really take only so much of the home and garden network; although, he did get excellent advise on how to fertilize his azalea bushes.
On the Monday of his return to work, he saw a friend of his, a young, attractive woman, and he asked rather spiritedly “Anita, did you miss me while I was gone?”
She smiled brightly, beaming like aurora borealis as she coyly replied, “I most certainly did; I cried every day! I missed you terribly!”
“You missed me so much that you cried, huh? And yet you didn’t even come to see me while I was home… alone! I was crying, too, as I was staring out my window, unable to move, watching every car that slowly passed in front of my house, wondering where they were going, envying their freedom.”
He meant it as a joke, and it was funny, but she quickly turned and faced him with an astonished look and said as she put her hands over her gaping mouth, “You are so right! Oh my God! I am so busted! I didn’t even think about coming to see you…”
It was at that moment when he realized that his joke turned out to be a dramatic overstating of the obvious. She hadn’t come to see him.
No one did.
By Rusty Taylor
Thereʼa an intense, irritating bright light shining from the ceiling, and I can barely move… my head, yes… my shoulders and my arms, limited but yes… the rest of my body doesnʼt seem to want to move… doesnʼt want to respond to my kinetic intentions, and I canʼt speak because thereʼs a tube in my neck restricting my vocal cords… I think. Iʼm strapped to a hospital bed, supine, but Iʼm in no pain; in fact, I feel really great, light and foggy, more comforting than disconcerting by any stretch of my imagination, a roiling contentment ameliorating all anxiety and encouraging total mental and corporeal serenity.
I have no idea where I am, but Iʼm not alone… Iʼve been in this, this medical unit… (I guess itʼs medical unit)… longer than I can remember… and certain images and patterns keep repeating in my mind… my dreams… my thoughts… images like the unalterable pellucid light that continually shines from directly above me, hovering incessantly like an over-doting parent… my guardian… or guard… both calming and unnerving in its ubiquity, a single, bright, wide beam streaming straight down from an intense round bulb in a sterile room filled with chrome, white linen, and hypoallergenic instruments. Soft voices from sterile white jackets endlessly flit by in what seems like a steady stream of amicability, each dulcet affirmation reassuring in its encouragement but ominous in its lack of detail. I seem to be continually taking pills and IVs, a fastidious pharmaceutical regiment that dictates the verity of my mindʼs embracing only a few anachronistic images.
What happened to me?
Something is terribly wrong with my left leg. Itʼs swollen to twice its normal size; the outer skin blistered as if burned, and a high fever runs through it, consumes it, colors it a deep burgundy. It is so swollen, my toes look like miniature balloons filled with volatile poisons ready to burst through the taut skin. I fall in and out of consciousness… easily… dreaming an endless series of eerily similar dreams, each new dream begins with my swollen, blistered leg raised and a doctor wearing what appears to be immaculate white, plastic, aeronautic or underwater diving gear—hermetic, impersonal, impenetrable, antiseptic, which I assume is for the doctorʼs safety. Clearly, something very serious is happening. I must be highly contagious; the entire room is a bright white alter to sterility. Everything is clean, shiny, technologically sophisticated. The array of monitors is confusing, but their frenetic flashing and brilliant colors are convincing… and comforting; I must be receiving the very best of care… but why? Iʼm not rich… or worthy. Through the clear mask of the doctorʼs helmet I see her comforting, intense, passionate green eyes, and I hear unmistakable embryonic compassion in her dulcet voice.
Iʼve lost total track of time and am so affected by these goddam pharmaceuticals that I really donʼt care… about time. I just want all this shit to be over with. I miss Angela. I desperately want to heal… get better… get out of this place. It seems like Iʼm doing the exact same thing I had just done, thinking the same thoughts, living the very same moment… some… time… ago.
I am suddenly very cold… zero to the bone, violent chills painfully sprint across my immobile torso then through my extremities. White flitting nurses fly to me, covering me with warm, flocculent blankets…
I finally feel a tiny semblance of heat deep within the most distant recesses of my visceral being; the modicum of heat slowly spreads… I feel its incipient warmth encroaching radially through my torso and beyond, like a celestial chord that whistles through summer trees.
I fall asleep.
Suddenly wide awake, I rashly gasp volumes of air, intense heat expelling from my lungs as if from Vulcanʼs billows, a heavy, whistling metal-strengthening heat used by the smithy of the gods to create mythological weaponry. Again, white flitting nurses fly to my side, removing the blankets and bringing me drinks that are refreshingly cool. The heat slowly evanesces and I am reasonably comfortable; I fall asleep… again… and dream.
An old, console television set turns off. The tiny white spec in the middle of the screen slowly dissipates until it finally, almost imperceptibly, disappears, leaving behind a subtle fog that turns into a silvery, dusty moth, fluttering in slow motion within another more pallid light; this misty illumination slowly morphs into the sterile lamp that floats above my supine body.
The pharmaceutical schedule I maintain doesnʼt seem to be helping my leg at all, but it does cradle my consciousness in a satin pillowcase that makes dreaming a premium recreation. Even so, the repetitive series of dreams remind me of my youth and a similar theme of benign, looping iteration.
I am with high school buddies Andy Perry and Tom Robinson, in Tomʼs apartment doing hits of nitrous oxide. Andy and Tom sit across from me and are staring, ready to observe how the gas will affect me. Suddenly, I shoot out of my body like a bullet. The deliquescent room slides into an amorphous stream of fuzzy images, streaking vertically, but Tom and Andy remain in focus as the smeared walls speedily pass by, aging in time, frenetically slipping by like a blurred photograph taken at high speeds. I am journeying to the very zenith of our terrestrial boundary, and as I thrust ever higher, Tom and Andy smile ever increasingly at me. My path is true.
Just before I reach the zenith of our sublunary existence, my body aggressively ricochets straight down with the same intensity and speed. Iʼm rapidly falling back toward reality. Andy and Tom, still in focus, slowly lose their smiles as I flash past the point of origin. I am now streaking towards the nadir of terrestrial existence, and as I sink further into oblivion, my anxieties increase.
Despair tightly grips my chest and I plangently cry out in emotional pain, but just as suddenly, I rebound back upwards, reliving the previous journey towards the zenith, only this time I journey just a bit higher, and the smiles of my friends become more intense, as if in recognition that I am about to break on through to the other side and discover reality. Iʼm ecstatically laughing, screeching in delight. This is incredible. My stomach has left my body and I am riotously chaotic. Spent. I will soon understand the Universe… the vast… Universe.
I suddenly stop then shoot back down toward the nadir of existence, again, crashing back into the darkness of ignorance and superstition, coming closer to the end just as I had come so close to what, in retrospect, must have been the beginning. Again, I shoot back upward, the room still a blur and my friends still in focus. I come even closer to the riotous zenith. Back down I plummet, and the yo-yo effect continues, each time getting closer to the zenith as to the nadir, reliving the dichotomous gamut of emotions with each directional change. When I reach the highest point, the point at which I am about to enter into the realm of reality, I see my two friends frown at the realization that I am denied entrance into whatever reality I errantly thought I was destined to discover by unknowable forces beyond our understanding. I see a dingy subtle misty cloud slowly metamorphose into a silvery, dusty moth that instantly flies away. Suddenly, I shoot back downward. Each journey from the zenith to the nadir becomes shorter and less intense until the yo-yo journey finally returns me to my original state. When I come back to myself, at the original point of departure, I look at Tom and Andy who are smiling radiantly at me. They donʼt know the details of the journey I had just taken, but they can tell that I had just concluded a powerful trip.
The dream series continues as I lay in the rigid hospital bed, but semi-lucid thoughts from my past are now commingling with images of my dream series: the wretched leg, flitting white jackets, chrome, and visual monitors with kaleidoscopic symbols convulsing on myriad screen monitors. I think about my youth: Right after I graduated from high school I got a job at a nursing home as an assistant to the men in the Maintenance Department. Mr. Thackery was the head maintenance man; Sonny and Jack worked under him. Mr. Thackery and Sonny were Vietnam vets, and where Mr. Thackery was a no nonsense kind of worker, Sonny was never without a joke. Jack was older, a veteran of WWII, retired from the U.S. Navy. Jack was also an alcoholic. Although everyone knew it, no one mentioned it because Jack was relatively harmless. All he did was fix the wheelchairs for the residents in a closet that was just big enough for him and the chair he was working on. Jack stayed in the closet-room until the end of the day, mostly incapacitated in a ever-expanding, wan fog, drinking liquor and fixing wheelchairs.
The images of Jack slowly evanesce into a wavering dream journey, and I melt once again into flocculent somnolence… to dream the eternal nightmare that Hamlet dreads and King Lear curses.
Gently, I am awake… from the dream, again, the television setʼs being turned off. Pellucid light from the angry lamp above shines down steadily, intensely onto my red swollen, blistered, peeling leg. The frenetic monitors flash meaningless symbols, benevolent in their color, and white coats flit like colorless butterflies around the equipment. The doctor looks at me with her intense, compassionate eyes. She puts her finger over the hole in my trachea, and I realize that I can now speak.
“Whatʼs up?” I whisper.
“Well, weʼre about to try another antibiotic. Hopefully, this one will work.”
“This infection seems to be a humdinger.”
“Yes, weʼve never seen anything like it before.”
“Really? Have you consulted any other doctors?”
I suddenly notice the CDC on her lapel.”
“Iʼm sorry, son. Weʼre your final appeal.”
“How long have I been here?”
“Shhh. I need to run this final test.”
The word final floats above my mindʼs eye like the words spoken to Alice from the hookah-toking caterpillar in Wonderland; the pharmaceutical effects help the word dance to the beat of my heart. I know that the doctor is doing her best, but what if she isnʼt good enough. If this is the final test, I will either awaken with my leg propped up and the curing process in its initial stages, or I will dream of the television setʼs being turned off for one final time.
More mind-mending medicine easily eases the anxiety that has been fluttering through me like a mindless butterfly. I think of Jack… fixinʼ wheelchairs… bibulously sippinʼ lethean amnesia. Jack spent the latter part of his adult life incognizant of the world around him. Drunk. Unaware that Death was silently waiting. A dusty moth summons me back to my dream, but before I let myself slip into the journey, I think once more about Jack… and envy his drunken ignorance.
By Rusty Taylor © 2005
You Wouldn᾿t Believe the Day I᾿ve Had
Had you not been their father, these white flakes
did challenge pity of them. Was this a face
to be oppos’d against the warring winds?
to stand against the deep dread-bolted thunder?
in the most terrible and nimble stroke
of quick cross lightning? to watch—poor perdu!—
with this thin helm? Mine enemy’s dog,
though he had bit me, should have stood that night
against my fire, and wast thou fain, poor father,
to hovel thee with swine and rogues forlorn
in short and musty straw? Alack, alack,
’tis wonder that thy life and wits at once
had not concluded all.
One fact about being a spinal cord injury that I still have trouble with, even after three decades, is that I need help moving my bowels and cleaning up afterwards. It is, literally, a shitty job, and I am beyond grateful to the many who have helped me throughout the years and who have treated me with dignity. Occasionally, as with every other person I᾿
I᾿ve ever met, my bowels become inconveniently soft. My family and I call the really embarrassing mishap an involuntary, but you call it what you want: diarrhea, Montezuma᾿s revenge, the Hershey squirts, liquid draino, a mess! the connotations are the same; it is humiliating on the most primordial level, especially when it happens at work. Imagine a 220+ pound man as his stomach starts to rumble, creating enough noise to make him start voluntarily coughing, uttering barbaric guttural sounds in an attempt to conceal the involuntary churning of his visceral discontent, then hearing the unmistakable sounds of liquid fecal matter effusively exiting with the grace of a pubescent acne-ridden ballerina—not pleasing auricularly, ocularly, or aromatically.
I was at work when the incident so wonderfully described in the previous paragraph happened to me. It was just after lunch and the skin around my stomach was so tight that if anyone would᾿ve thumped my abdominal dome it would have sounded like the singular chirp of a baby chick, so maybe it was my gorging that caused the mishap. At that time, I had had innumerable problems with our city᾿s para-transit division (the people within the Transportation Department involved with transporting patrons who are wheelchair bound), so I knew that I wouldn᾿t be able to count on this service to carry me home. (The head of Metra’s para-transit department (Dail-A-Ride) ungracefully strutted around on her two incongruously large feet in full possession of an infinitesimally small IQ and an inversely proportional gargantuan self-esteem that tended to inflate for no other reason than to take up more gaseous space in her otherwise vacuous skull… but I digress.)
I asked a friend of mine at work to assist me out the door so that I could ride my electric wheelchair back home. My parents had just moved out to Hamilton, a hamlet about thirty minutes north of Columbus, the Fountain City, and they didn᾿t have a phone yet; my uncle and aunt, who worked at a local high school, weren᾿t available; another aunt had just changed jobs and I didn᾿t have her new number; I only had my attendant᾿s number at my house, not at work; it was a cool spring day, and I figured I could make it to my grandmother᾿s house (she lived right behind me) and she could open the door at my house so that I could call my attendant who would help me change my soiled attire. It was a good plan, a plan I had used before, but this time pernicious powers prevailed.
Back at work, I told my friend Jeff the plan and asked him to inform those he thought needed to know about my special dilemma. I started off from work feeling confident as the cool breeze reminded me how lucky I was that it was not later in the season when I᾿d be suffering from the asphyxiating heat. As I passed what used to be Ballastini᾿s Cleaners on the corner of Fifth avenue and Eleventh street, I remembered an earlier incident when I was making the same trip from work to my house, but on this particular occasion, my wheelchair had stopped on that very corner, and I didn᾿t know what had happened. I had been sitting there for about five minutes when a policeman drove up to the stop sign across the street. I flagged him down; actually, I flailed my arms like a hyperactive epileptic, and the officer noticed, so he pulled up beside me. As I was explaining my situation to him, a maintenance man from TSYS, where I worked at the time, pulled up behind the police car, got out, and approached me. He took a look at the situation and said he could easily fix it. I᾿d like to be more detailed in describing the mechanical failure, but I don’t know nothin’ ’bout no ‘chinery! All I can honestly tell you is that I thanked the officer, and David, the maintenance man who (along with the rest of the guys in maintenance who helped me more times than you can shake a stick at) made my chair work when it wasn᾿t working just moments before. Needless to say, but I᾿ll say it anyway, on that particular excursion, I made it safely home after David fixed my chair; however, this trip would be more adventurous.
Jeff opened the security doors for me to leave my work place, and the sun was shining brightly as the breeze played a lovely serenade through the leaves of the trees while branches waved bon voyage. Since my accident, I really don᾿t get much time by myself, so I enjoyed the quasi-voluntary solitude; however, just after I passed Weracobra Park, aka Lake Bottom, I realized that my wheelchair was slowing and that it probably wouldn᾿t complete the trip. I was wheeling through one of the more affluent neighborhoods, so my chief concern was that my chair was going to die and the citizens of that particular section of town would be so involved with their lives that I᾿d go unnoticed until the stench of my carrion would cause enough communal concern to warrant an investigation into the effluvium caused by a week-old dead man with shitty drawers.
I altered my course to head down one of the busier streets of the Fountain City. Hilton Avenue has many costly architecturally impressive homes that stand a good 200 feet from the road, but it is widely traveled and it was my hope that if my wheelchair stopped, a policeman might come to my aid after a phone call from someone worrying that I might be casing the joint for a future burglary. I knew that on the corner of Hilton and Warm Springs Road was a Chevron gas station, and it was my hope, nay, my determined ambition, to pamper the wheelchair to that location and see if the petrol guardians would hook me up to a battery charger and thereby enable me and my trusty chair to complete the journey home. It was about 1:30 p.m., and I was a little concerned that I wasn᾿t even going to make my newly chosen destination.
Luckily, when I got on Hilton at the Country Club Drive junction, there was only a small grade hill that inched its practically straight course upward for about a hundred yards, then it indiscernibly sloped downward towards its intersection with Edgewood Drive, an intersection that looks infinitely more perilous when viewed from an electric wheelchair that was now making a top speed even slower than a pregnant ant or constipated turtle.
I know next to nothing about batteries, be they the small batteries that fit in one᾿s portable cassette player, the nine volt rectangular batteries that fit so easily in the palm of one᾿s hand that facilitates the action of throwing it a hefty distance, or the two twelve-volt deep cycle batteries that power my wheelchair. To me they᾿re all just tangible examples of magic. Things work just because batteries are used; however, in the thirty years I᾿ve placed my fat butt into one of these battery powered wheelchairs, I have noticed something for which I can give no explanation: if the batteries from my wheelchair completely die, and I turn off the power and wait for about five minutes, then turn the power back on, I will go forward for a good six to twelve inches! It also works similarly if my batteries are just about dead, crawling ever so painfully along until I turn off the power, and when I turn the power supply back on, I can race forward at a blinding centimeter per hour! I think I shall call this phenomenon the Rigor Mortis Interruptus!
When I reached the nefarious Edgewood intersection, I was indeed crawling with the celerity of an octogenarian snail with arthritis. So, I turned off my machine (to employ the thaumaturgical syndrome Rigor Mortis Interruptus) and watched the occupants of the various automobiles that went by as they looked at me curiously, debating the immediacy of my situation in a nanosecond and determining that I needed no assistance without looking in the rear-view mirror for verification. I let the light change about five times before I decided to turn my machine back on and chance crossing the thirty feet of asphalt. I pushed the control lever forward and felt the surge of power that almost made a wisp of my hair jerk back from the force, and I inched across the intersection wondering how many drivers I was seriously angering because I may have held up their progress for the paltry fifteen seconds that must have seemed a lifetime to them. I did make it to the other side and kept the throttle determinedly forward because I was going down a slightly steeper hill and I was cruising twice as fast; that᾿s right! I was traveling two centimeters per hour!
I had enough power to cross the railroad tracks, barely, but I was still a good football field length away from the gas station that was my destination, and it was on the other side of a four-lane road. I could see it before me, the chevron pointing to the exact point for which I was heading, but the road leveled as I approached the tri-colored traffic signal that taunted me, gaily swinging like a pendulum of a clock, reminding me that my time was almost up, and the gravitational momentum that I was experiencing just seconds beforehand slowed to a more rusty gait. Again, at the intersection of Warm Springs and Hilton, I clicked off my machine and waited, anxious to test once again the powers held within Rigor Mortis Interruptus.
It took about twenty seconds to cross Warm Springs then twenty more to cross over Hilton, which seemed an eternity as glaring eyes darted ominously from tinted car windows masking Corinthian leather seats that supported the well-fed bulk of a driver intensely striving to save every possible second used in operating his automobile so that the actual time he accumulated through his frugal saving᾿s plan could be used in a more pragmatic pleasure, like watching television; but I made it! Not even pausing to savor the victory, I ever so slowly pulled into the garage, and to my delight, the petrol guardian had a battery charger to which I was quickly hooked. As I sat there, with my trousers full of waste and a dead battery, the owner of the car on the rack beside me approached. He was 83 years old, about five-eleven, one hundred and seventy pounds, and his short cropped gray hair was covered with a hat that had on its front the logo of a local bank.
“You wouldn᾿t believe the day I’ve had,” he softly said walking so spryly towards my defunct wheelchair.
He was an affable man with marble gray eyes that sort of sparkled as he explained his rough day, shaking his head every now and then in disbelief at his seeming lack of luck. He had pulled out of his driveway, apparently one of the palatial architectural structures that line Hilton Avenue or populate the surrounding suburbs, when his car had a flat. He had to use his car phone to call the wrecker to tow his Lincoln Townscar to the service station we both now employed, a few blocks from his abode. Then he had to wait an excruciating thirty minutes until the serviceman returned from a warehouse with the size and style of tire he needed. That was it! That was his rough day!
He asked me if I were waiting on someone to which I solemnly nodded; I had no desire to explain my situation, which made his rough day seem as intolerable as having sex while using a condom. After a few minutes, his car was ready, and with the agility of a teenager on his first date, he swept into his ride, rolled down his tinted window, and called back to the mechanics, “Next time I need tires, I᾿m coming here.” He put the car in drive, waved amiably at his new friends, and said, “Thanks!” as he drove out of the station.
The rest of the time I spent at the garage was relatively uneventful. I perused the calendars that adorned much of the available wall space, eyeing a particular treasure who seductively smiled, a voluptuous brunette with large, inviting… uh, eyes! yes, eyes… and dressed in a bikini that covered very minimally the parts of her divine body that people who are morally annoying or grossly overweight find offensive, and I was wondering if men bought tools from the company whose name was written in bold type above the smiling minx just because she was endorsing products from which they earn their living or if they actually purchased tools because of their usefulness and quality. Logic makes me assume that people who earn their living by using tools buy the best tools for their trade, but if this is so, what pragmatic reason would the company have for exploiting this really attractive woman᾿s body? Not that it bothers me in the least, mind you; it᾿s just that I think it would make more business sense if the company spent its earnings promoting its own merchandise instead of furthering stereotypes.
I had been eyeing the clock rather anxiously because my mother was supposed to go to where I work to help me at around three p.m., which was quickly approaching, but sit and wait was all I could do; having no other options made the choice that much easier. After about forty-five minutes, my battery was re-charged.
I drove through the Rosemont Shopping Center onto Rosemont Drive, which is actually the street on which I live but on the other side of Manchester Expressway, an eight-lane road that, oddly enough, takes one to the city of Manchester, but it has a grassy medium down its middle that is as inaccessible to me and my wheelchair as the eyebrow of Teddy Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore. Once I got to Manchester Expressway, it was my plan to turn right (heading east) until I reached Armour Road, cross at the light, head back down Manchester Expressway (heading west) and cruise the rest of the way to my beautiful front door and wait for my mother, who I knew would have come from my work place after finding out from Jeff my dilemma. But, oh how even the third revision of a master plan can still have hidden areas of foreboding.
I was now out of sight of the petrol distribution area when my wheelchair, once again, began to slow. The nigh elation I felt as I burst from the garage quickly metamorphosed into that area of concern one feels as a child at the realization that the Easter Bunny is just a symbolic rodent used to commercialize a religious celebration. My mind began, once again, to reel: Could this be happening again? Maybe that yokel attendant with the rag flaccidly dangling from his back pocket didn᾿t know what he was doing. Were those sparks I heard as he was applying the charger to the nodes? It᾿s a wonder he didn᾿t blow me up. How many brain cells does it take? I᾿m going back there and bleed all over his knuckles… or… maybe my batteries are truly dead. They are over three years old. How stupid can I be? Maybe I should᾿ve called someone!
I made it to the Manchester Expressway intersection, using Rigor Mortis Interruptus four more times. Automobiles, trucks, step vans, conversion vans, even a bus slowly pulled around me, yielding at the red triangular sign that silently commanded every one of the drivers to YIELD, to slow down and observe their immediate surroundings. I then watched the myriad vehicles as they sped past me, engulfing me oftentimes in the waste of their effluvial exhaust. I saw rosaries dangling from mirrors, the star of David, Vishnu, Brahma, Siva, bumper stickers that praised Jesus, another that designated that the driver was a clergyman, yet another that exalted a gospel singing group, but no one assisted me—an immobile wheelchair occupant just off the road, not even on the sidewalk, didn᾿t connote to anyone that something might be askew. Then, across the street, maybe 400 yards down Rosemont Drive on the other side of the bustling eight lanes of vehicular chaos, I saw my mother᾿s white van pull into my driveway. I whistled as loudly as I could, almost hyperventilating from the effort, but there was no way possible for her to hear me from that distance and all the accompanying traffic noise.
I concluded that my only course of action was to remain where I was and hope that when my mother left my house, she᾿d come towards me instead of turning a block from my pad to head toward Armour Road where she wouldn᾿t see me. Of course, my decision was based on conclusions derived from the extensive analytical thought process using logic and reasoning to arrive at the most efficient and pragmatic plan of action: I could do nothing else but sit and hope; however, not long after I had accepted the plan, a deep burgundy Accra pulled up beside me and the large woman driver asked me if I needed assistance. She was driving five others of various ages, and I assumed it was her family. I excitedly tried to point to the white van and explain that I wanted her to drive down Manchester and hang a U-turn at the Armour Road intersection, take a right on Rosemont, which was on the other side of the grassy medium straight in front of me, drive to the white van that was as obvious as a pimple on a teenage model, and tell my mother where I was. I must have done a halfway decent job of explaining myself because she did exactly as I had planned it in my head, regardless of how inadequately I actually expressed it.
I watched the benevolent woman drive her burgundy life-saving chariot back towards me, and I waved at her as she turned right. About ten minutes later, I saw my parents walking towards me. My father obviously accompanied my mother to my work, and they were both coming to help out their poor, innocent crippled boy. You may find this hard to believe, but the closer that my parents got, the bigger they got! and as they approached I couldn᾿t help but ruminate upon the words of the amiable octogenarian I had met earlier at the service station: You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had!
Today is a momentous day of celebration—my thirtieth anniversary!—the thirtieth anniversary of the automobile accident that left me a quadriplegic unable to perform even the most rudimentary acts of daily living. I was twenty-two years old at the time, a young buck, strong, gregarious, undisciplined, eager for fun, trillions of hormones electrifying undeniable impulses as encouragement to explore my immediate surroundings at the cost of almost everything, trying almost without effort to inspire coquettish distaff responses from anyone to whom I was attracted, and I was attracted to everything beautiful… not pulchritudinous but beautiful with emphasis on innocence and sincerity. Yes, my head was in the clouds, dreaming of peace and trying my best not to conform to conformity mostly by observing the mundane from different angles of a prism’s refracting kaleidoscopic rainbows that had been reborn from pellucid light.
Then an automobile accident took away my physicality and stored its latent energy in an immobile body, sedentary, a gelatinous lump of organic matter, a still life portrait of unrequited potential. Still and all, today is a very special, positive celebration.
Yes, it has affected me… my paralysis. Let’s face it; my young adulthood was nourished by the late seventies and early eighties. Led Zeppelin rocked and disco sucked even though I secretly marveled at the harmonies of the Bee Gees. I was introduced to the weed, and everything was groovy as we cruised down the highway listening to our favorite tunes on FM radio. Being young and healthy was sexy; television corroborated; so did the cinema, the music industry, even the most kitsch bric-a-brac emphasized an unbounded suspension in any realization to the temporal nature of youth, attraction, life.
My life’s transition from an athletic, constantly mobile, seemingly tireless energy into one of a stationary observer, a tacit poet, a stoic comic… was relatively easy. I surrendered myself to the nearly immediate acceptance of my permanent paralysis—hell, I couldn’t feel my genitals! It was very obvious that walking, for me, was never going to be a reality. It was too easy to perceive that I was destined to live the life of bachelor for the remainder of my terrestrial existence, and this compliance was based on the fact that I was no longer a healthy male specimen. I was young… immature. I not only believed but I tightly embraced as divine Truth the fact that I was now a human blemish that deserved not only ignoring but ridicule by all women. My soi-disant physical repugnance unofficially decreed intentional lack of attention from the kind of woman that mostly attracted me: women for whom physical activity was a major part of their existence. Why would a woman who enjoyed camping, hiking, fishing, swimming, or participating in team sports, why would she want to enjoy these activities without me? Why should she? I had convinced myself that I could never have fallen in love with anyone with whom I couldn’t share these same activities?
It was easy to convince myself that I couldn’t… that I wouldn’t allow myself to fall in love with anyone who was as crippled as I. I know… it’s sad, but one must consider my youth, my inexperience in Life. During the incipience of my life of paralysis, I was just barely an adult. My expectations of romance was still marred by expectations of perfection, a perfection wrapped in enchantment, made more dazzling with the acceptance of fairy tale expectations, a perfect mate forming a perfect union within a perfect kingdom, yet as I lay crying on the cold, calloused, sterile hospital bed, supine, staring desperately at the ceiling from which I could not shield my eyes, my neck secured with screws drilled into my skull making it impossible to turn my head and further damage the spinal cord around my fourth vertebrae, I realized all too well that I would never tempt a lover. Subconsciously, I took steps to ensure a lifetime of solitude.
To my support group, the acceptance of my paralysis seemed quick and decisive, and it was. For all intents and purposes, I appeared to have accepted my paralysis with certain aplomb. And I did come to the realization fairly quickly. I had not gotten very many visits from friends of whom I thought I had many. I then got a call from a girl acquaintance of mine from Americus, Georgia, a girl who attended Georgia Southwestern University and with whom I had shared intimacy… when she called me at the rehabilitation clinic and told me that she loved me, I heard the hollowness of the words she spoke, and I new immediately that I would never see her again. I softly replied, “I love you, too,” and hung up the phone.
Four months of rehab went by quickly. Admittedly, after three months I had no desire to leave the rehab center, but after four I was really anxious to try my paralysis on the world… that’s when I was thrown my first curve: Jill.
She had been one of the terrestrial angels I met that summer, a goddess, my nurse in brilliant white too luminous to look at directly, a golden-haired princess from Disney’s studios who cared with too much intensity that I mistook for love. When I left rehab, I was certain that my relationship with Jill would be an occasional phone call and annual birthday wishes, but she made arrangements to visit me and, more amazingly, for me to visit her. I was blissfully absentminded for an entire year, blindly fantasizing that I had been the luckiest man to have ever been blessed with terrestrial opportunity… to breathe with the easiness of silent tranquility. Then, from nowhere… or everywhere… she cut me to the core, her arms draped over my shoulders as she leaned into my ear from behind… her confession of casual infidelity exculpated by the innocuous admission she hadn’t climaxed.
I actually felt a tiny rip in my heart. As far as physiological, it was an almost imperceptible tear, so small one might’ve only disclosed the actual cleavage of my heart’s muscle with powerful enough microscopic technology and enough interest to look for something so conspicuously insignificant. It was little more than a pinprick, but the pain was as intense as anything I have ever felt, an electrifying jolt of bone-shattering emptiness that instantly sated my soul with the frigid indifference of Satan’s most delicious malice.
“So we’ll live, and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh at gilded butterflies”
Before the glass she sits and brushes her long
yellow corn silk strands of perfumed hair,
searching for minute signs of time. She longs
for when she didn’t slave so hard to be so fair,
back to when her total worth was visual
and her thoughts accessorized what she seemed.
She reflects but tries not to notice that her nocturnal ritual
takes longer, a false fact that belies her fast-fading dream.
Safe within her cocoon, she prepares to cloud
her subconscious with empty promises of gold,
but her dream doesn’t so easily conceal the lie.
From her chrysalis, a gilded butterfly springs out,
exploding in vibrant colors. She’ll unfold,
shake off all loose gold dust and try to fly.
My anger was intense but brief… instantaneous, followed immediately by the fulgurous realization of my own unworthiness. I knew after she told me… almost just before she told me… her hands clasped on my chest, her breath in my ear, her tears on my shoulders, I knew that even though I may have a few positive qualities as a man, I didn’t have enough to ameliorate the cold hard fact that I need help with everything and that ultimately, in time, I would irritate anyone who was around me. I am as needy as an infant but have neither the umbilical connection nor the potential to be anything else but needy until I turn to dust… and, so far, I’ve been an exclusive “taker” of good intentions with negative zero reciprocation. It has been no mystery to me why I am a bachelor. I had a couple other relationships that were brief but ended as only they could; it has been apparent from the day I fully understood that I was paralyzed for life: I am not worthy of anybody’s intimacy. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
I think that the main reason for my life of relative solitude is that I have done everything in my power to assure it. From the beginning of my paralysis, I’ve focused my energies on making people forget my paralysis as much as possible, so I’ve given myself challenges. Graduating from college was an interesting challenge, and without it I wouldn’t be the dude I am now. It was at Mercer University that Dr. Stephen Bluestone taught me how to enjoy the writing of the Bard. From there my interest in writing gained momentum. Reading, too, but I still don’t make enough time for it; although, I am jonsin’ to reread “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Becoming employed was another challenge that distracted my focus, and on January 8, 1992, not quite six years after I broke my neck, I was working full-time as a computer programmer using Assembler for the IBM mainframe. This, obviously, was a challenge primarily because programming was just a job, not my vocation. I was also engulfed in the suffocating atmosphere of social ideologies that embraced individual privilege at the expense of communal support. I did meet a few people whom I consider friends and for whom I am grateful; granted, most everyone I met and with whom I became acquainted dug me and my intentions, and most everyone seemed to be trying her best to follow a path of life that was for the collective good of society, but her rhetoric sometimes belied her obvious support for the status quo. Hopefully, that egocentric philosophy is slowly dying out for a more progressive social nurturing, but humanity is fickle and this change will soon change as well.
Throughout my incarceration in the corporate world, I watched the flock of indifferent mechanized humanity as they performed sundry lives of expectation. The constant challenges of couples seemed, to me, unendurable: divorce, child rearing, mortgage paying, teenage tolerating, and spousal compromise belied incessant myths of experiencing a “wonderful family life.” Couple that with a company policy of following impossible guidelines of moral compass, and I knew that my paralysis was incompatible with this kind of social expectation. There is no way I could afford alimony and attendant care.
I was fired after sixteen years of corporate servitude; it was a mutual severance. I won’t make too much of it. The fact is that it was time for me to go, and I’m really glad for it. Corporate life was sucking me into a vortex of indifference. There is beauty in the fact that I did experience corporate life, and that is the few relationships I’ve maintained. If I hadn’t met coworker Jeff Smith, I might not have developed a love for jazz, and since my departure from the corporate anvil of Capitalistic Idolatry, I have been able to pursue performing jazz. In retrospect, it’s easy to see now that some of the choices I made in the past were more for other people than myself, but I am now pursuing jazz and its challenges, and I’m doing it for me… I really dig how it’s affecting me… positively. What makes my current passion possible is that I don’t have the responsibility of a family, no children’s college to worry about, no wife to disappoint, and that makes me happy.
I recently watched a movie wherein the protagonist was given the following advice about chasing a dream instead of being directed by responsibility: “It’s OK to think about what you want to do until it’s time to start thinking about what you are meant to do.” Seems to me that I have lived the reverse of this quote. I spent sixteen years doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing. A small-minded person in Human Resources encouraged my more liberal nature to discontinue the work relation with my corporate overlord. Fortunately, I met Jeff when I first started working, and he encouraged—tolerated—my slow learning and consequent dilatory development of jazz techniques and traditions. After I was sprung from indentured servitude, I was confident enough to take a bold step. I recorded a CD of jazz vocals with Jeff and a few other musician friends, and I am now doing what I wish I could’ve begun when I was much younger.
I now perform jazz when I can, and I have a small, loyal group of admirers who seem to root for my success. I figure I’ve got about ten years of decent voice left. I get a gig about every three or four months at The Loft in Columbus, and I participate in the weekly jazz jam in Opelika, Alabama at the Eighth and Rail and once a month at the Unified Jazz Jam in Columbus, Georgia. Although I’m fifty-two years old, I have a passion that seems to jive with an audience (or they pity me… time will tell and I’m not above using my paralysis for sympathy). I’ve been honing my skills since ’92, and I am motivated. Things for me are currently loaded with possibility, and I am more determined to make my singing a major success. “It’s OK to think about what you want to do until it’s time to start thinking about what you are meant to do.” It’s obvious to me, and I hope it becomes obvious to everyone else: I was meant to pursue jazz. I ain’t braggin’, but it’s been a wonderful thirty years; I wonder what successes the next three decades may disclose.
‘A did comply, sir, with his dug before ‘a
suck’d it. Thus has he, and many more of the same
breed that I know the drossy age dotes on, only got the
tune of the time, and out of an habit of encounter,
a kind of yesty collection, which carries them
through and through the most profound and winnow’d
opinions, and do but blow them to their trial, the bubbles are out.
I was incarcerated within the voluntary prison of corporate America for sixteen years, a computer programmer with a B.A. In English, although I did have a minor in Computer Science. Not surprisingly, many a programmer where I was employed had a college degree, but few were in Computer Science. I have, however, learned through many experiences that a college degree does not necessarily connote erudition nor does it always distinguish one intellectually from others who may have no degree at all. I am acquainted with too many who daily demonstrate their lack of mental acuity even though they somehow hoodwinked their way towards a piece of sheepskin bearing an impressive collegiate insignia that would have been better used wiping canine excrement from the bottom of their shoes. Grant it, I’m not all that bright myself (even though my father calls me son); I have no answers to questions that will ultimately guide me to my most worthy post-terrestrial destination.
I do dabble a bit in poetry, but I realize that I’ve too far to go before I can even consider myself a great poet, but it is great fun and mentally therapeutic. Be that as it may, I have met some people who regard themselves word-smithies on the same literary level as Shakespeare yet who haven’t graduated from what I call pubescent poetry–the kind of rhyming poesy that wreaks of teenaged angst, self-pity, self-love, and banal couplets. At the time of the occasion of which I’m now to disclose, I had been writing sonnets in an effort to better learn the craft and so that I’d have a set of guidelines to keep me from writing ad nauseam, which I still tend to do. Anyway, I hung one of my sonnets on my bulletin board at work, a rough draft of a poem on which I was working. One of my fellow employees read it and said with the sincerity of a kindergartner’s descanting about the Easter Bunny’s altruism, “That’s pretty good, but your first line is too long.”
As a computer programmer I met more sycophants to Capitalism than I can count. (Keep in mind that my maximum number in countin’ is ten unless I am barefooted; I can then count to nineteen ‘cause one o’ my toes is missin’.) Sadly, the luxury-driven corporate-embracing zombies I witnessed are more than likely continuing to dream of a ludicrously fabulous retirement to the exclusion of living their current lives to the fullest, but they’re not the only ilk of corporate citizen. I am also familiar with the hygiene-impaired computer geek who dreams of marrying a supermodel after dazzling her with his binary prowess; the late thirty-year-old ex-high school athlete who refuses to acquiesce to the insidious pains that accompany decades of life; the once paragon of plastic distaff perfection—-a blonde-coiffed, green-eyed seductress with an infuriating lack of wit and vestigial traces of what had once been a drop-dead-gorgeous body but who has failed to notice or even acknowledge her transmogrification into a deliquescent puffy carbon-based water balloon; the fifty-year-old player who still chases, and occasionally catches, recreational pubescent coitus; egocentric dilettantes; lascivious divorcees; autumn-winter romances; winter-spring romances; and sophistic pedagogy. (All this coming from me, a writer of bombastic superfluity.)
There was a young woman employee where I worked who adored thinking that she had the answer to everything. Her name will remain unknown because I just don’t want to have to deal with either mitigation or an upset human being who, other than being daft, is hardly threatening. Anyway, she was born in the self-proclaimed academic citadel of Pennsylvania then raised in the fantasy driven utopia of Texas. Through her superior education (that was spearheaded in her youth by transcendent geographic indigenity, the myopic fantasy that one who was reared north of Mason and Dixon’s line understands everything congenitally more effectively than we who were reared in Southern climes, even though she cannot explain why or how this phenomena exists), she has come to believe that the South is filled with unacceptable atavistic barbarism not only surviving but proliferating because of its general lack of respect or knowledge of Aristocratic European Civilization that she and others of her ilk, somehow, innately understand. She, of course, has since moved from Georgia and the asphyxiating effluvium of illiteracy spawned by its intrinsic deleterious geographic condition.
I have no qualms with claiming a heritage from the South. My paternal grandparents were Hoosiers, whatever that is, but my maternal grandparents came from South Carolina and my mother’s maternal grandparents were Cherokee Indians. This is the tradition that I firmly grasp. Both my parents graduated from Baker High School in Columbus, Georgia and I would’ve been born in Columbus if my father had not joined the Air Force and married my mom right after they graduated. Of course, this was during the Vietnam conflict (call it what you will) and chances are that my father would’ve have been drafted into the Army had he not joined the Air Force, so Fate had her alabaster hand controlling the Wheel of Fortune by which it was foreordained that I be born in Wurtzburg, Germany. I have nothing against the foreign country, but I can’t recall a single event involving my birth, and it’s by my parents’ word, and a tattered birth certificate, that I must accept that I was even there. All my memories of life seem to begin around 1972, when I was eight, two years after my father was discharged from the military and my family moved back to Columbus, the land with which I share a special affinity-—as if I’m a mere gossamer on the web that is the South, gaining strength from it as well as making it stronger. I am a Southern boy.
One day in late November, the aforementioned dilettante came to me in a rush and asked me, rather anxiously, if I was from the South. I, of course, replied with an affirmative.
“Do you know what a toboggan is?” she asked.
I replied, rather eloquently, “It’s a long flat sled without runners that seats about four or five people with a front that curves up like elves’ shoes.”
She looked at me as if I had somehow grasped the secrets of quantum mechanics and with lugubrious relief almost cried, “Thank you. Thank you very much.” It seemed as if she wanted to pat my head and give me a dog biscuit. “Everyone else I’ve talked to who is from the South seems to think it’s some kind of a hat!”
It didn’t bother me in the least that she might’ve errantly thought for an instant that I was more astute than Sherlock Holmes, but the respect she feigned toward my perspicacity was but a fulgurous lapse into a more liberal and sympathetic understanding of the human condition with which she was totally uncomfortable. A nanosecond later she, once again, considered me a mal-educated product of Georgia’s Educational System that encourages teenagers to have babies out of wedlock, spit like Roberto Alamar, support the KKK and televangelists with equanimity, idolize Confederate poetry of specious spinsters elucidating unregenerate even destructive memories of the Southern antebellum paradise that never existed, obfuscate justice, suppress and oppress non-compliance, drink beer and belch loudly as we ask our barefoot and pregnant wives to retrieve another long neck bottle of Lethean amber intoxicative liquid while we smoke marijuana stogies and profane the government.
What I didn’t tell her was that not two weeks before she had asked me the all-important toboggan-defining question, I was having lunch with a friend of mine who was a denizen of our fair state but was originally from Michigan. She told me of her plans to return to her home state for the upcoming holidays and take her nephew on a toboggan ride. I was confused at the time because I was silently wondering what all this had to do with a knitted hat, so I asked her what a toboggan was; her eyes sparkled as she described the sled and how much fun she envisioned, her face an enchantingly brilliant expression of pure joy with pleasant remembrances from her past. I, of course, missed all the connotations involved with her exciting story because I have never felt of wind stinging my face as I plummet at seemingly unbearable speeds past blurred trees on a flat sled without runners until I finally stop in complete and exhilarating exhaustion at the bottom of a laughing hill of ice.
Another cohort of mine (who is also from north of the Mason-Dixon line but who, although really intelligent, lacks the critical eagerness to overstate the obvious or to become too amorous with superfluous minutia) later said that toboggan is what people from New York do when they want to haggle over a price.
Winters in west-central Georgia are rarely harsh. That’s why every city in the state, including Atlanta, shuts down at the first sign of snow; it isn’t economically feasible to spend a lot of money preparing for something that rarely occurs and that even when it does, it only produces limited financial damage, too insignificant to justify acquisition of expensive snow-managing equipment. The snow doesn’t stay on the ground more than three days before the temperatures climb back into the 70s… at least until the next ice age. I, obviously, will never ride a toboggan, but I hope that I don’t react so incredulously when a group of people are ignorant about a fact that couldn’t possibly be any less interesting to them—not something that is uninteresting, mind you, but something for which they, under no circumstances, could care less.
Peace Through Music
toboggan – “long, flat-bottomed sled,” 1829, from Canadian Fr. tabagane, from Algonquian (probably Micmac) tobakun “a sled.” The verb is recorded from 1846. As American-English colloquial for a type of long woolen cap, it is recorded from 1929 (earlier toboggan cap, 1928), presumably because one wore such a cap while tobogganing.