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David the ex-monk says the right choice will be made when the time is right.
It’s not even 8:30 a.m and I have mound, like a termite hill, of what-should-I-dos.
This is not a casual simile. It arose thanks to the insects that of late have been finding my monitor fascinating. I suspect they are termites hatched by warm weather.
If so, what took them so long to find this shack? Should I call the landlord? Would he have the shack fumigated? Yuck. With a legal pad I smush the less dodgy insects. Am I a bad Buddhist? There are more, always more flying around. I have many opportunities to transcend.
My right gum is slightly swollen. A slight infection in the bothersome tooth.
It’s happened before. My dentist will prescribe antibiotics over the phone. Do I want to take antibiotics? No. Should I anyway?
Should I have a second cup of coffee, as is my habit? Since I want to change my life, why do I refuse to change my habits?
Why should I change my life when I have it so good? I should change my attitude, not listen to the voices of dissatisfaction. But what if they’re telling me something I need to hear?
My accordion teacher is having a student recital. I need to let her know if I’ll participate. I should participate, it would be good practice, but I don’t really want to.
Is it because I am afraid to take risks? Of course it is. But sometimes I do. I participated in the Christmas recital and here’s a shock, it was fun and I did fine. I played Joy to the World and This Little Light of Mine. Fascinating choices for a depressive. If I decide to participate, I will have to choose two pieces and practice them until my fingers divorce my mind. Get as confident as possible. La Martiniana could be one. The words, When I am dead, don’t shed your tears at my tomb (my translation) are ideal for a tragic romantic (Enneagram 4). I’m already half-decent playing it, but Jennifer will ask me to sing the words. In Spanish. Adding two more avenues to crash in. The recital is in ten days.
Last week Mimi gave me cash for plants I bought for her. Eleven twenties. I counted them, a bit ashamed to do so. Shouldn’t there have been twelve, since the bill was $235 plus change. Did I miscount? I put them in my wallet, and spent some. No chance of a recount. Should I call her ask for the remainder? Am I being a pest? Fretting over $15? When you grow up in a large family with a small income, do you ever stop letting pennies pinch you?
I volunteered at the celebrated Venetian Room for a cabaret performance. One of the attendees had a flowery number on the starboard side of her head, a felt rosette with three green feathers. “It’s a fascinator,” Karr whispered. I said, “Maybe she has a hole in her head,” and immediately regretted saying it. Maybe she does have a hole in her head. It happens. Should I keep my mouth shut simply because dumb things come out of it?
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Je t’aime, XqbAUh03
Je suis nous. XqbAUh03 et moi. That is the name of my/our Duolingo avatar, christened when I was a cis-singular and made the decision to refresh my never-all-that-fluent French. We are on Lesson dix-huit. We are in competition, also a surprise, with faceless others on the site, most of whom have earthly names like Beatrice and Farley, for some unspecified glory. We are currently in 17th place which, as much as Duolingo slavers on positive feedback, (“10 in a row!” “You’re crushing it!”) is not overwhelmingly impressive. We don’t know which one of us is holding us back but we promettons faire l’effort to buckle down and climb the ladder.
I was about to get up from behind my desk to help the old man manage the stubborn front door when a young man, perhaps his grandson, a head taller, thrust an arm against the frame and held it open so the old man could wrestle his walker over the threshold. Dangling from the walker were three white plastic shopping bags. He, like almost everyone but sharks smelling blood, came to my store to sell, not buy. He pushed the walker fitfully across the uneven linoleum. The young man hovered alongside, ready to help. I could see the resemblance, protruding jawlines and large noses, as if modeled on Easter Island statues. The old man’s longish, flyaway white hair was thin but silken, testament to a former, not so distant, handsomeness.
He stood before me, leaning against the walker, working up his spiel. After a vigorous clearing of his throat, he asked. “Are you interested in looking at some collectible pens?”
I was always interested in looking. Was I interested in purchasing a collection of collectible pens? No. Like him, I was at a stage when dispersal was the order of the day. Twenty years ago there were five thriving antique stores this end of Broadway. Mine is the last standing, leaking cash the last five years, at a rate accelerating alarmingly. I know I’m expected to move online but I consider starving a better option. Inertia spreads like mold. I have just enough incentive to postpone and procrastinate. I own the building, but there are back taxes. The crux of the matter is this: what in holy God’s name am I going to do with all this stuff, the bounty and the booty, the rewards of heroic quests, the grails, the spoils of wars of obsession. Look around you, young man. In the next room you will find a playbill from Ford’s theater, featuring John Wilkes Booth. A lariat from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. A genuine Tiffany lamp. The young man is staring at his phone.
“Let me take a look at them,” I said, a formality, since the old man had already placed three cigar boxes on my desk. “These are the fancy ones,” he said opening the first box. The pens in that box, maybe twenty or thirty, were mainly the bulky, finely-made instruments of the 1920’s and 1930’s that signified a certain level of class or aspiration, green, brown, black and tortoiseshell. “These are very valuable,” the old man said, trying to convince either or both of us. And he was partially right, they were worth something, at least two were, a Parker, and a Montblanc, maybe a hundred bucks each. If putative buyer had a customer for said pen who would pay a hundred bucks. “What about the other boxes?”
He picked up the middle box. “These are the novelties.” He gave me a preview, opening the lid for brief look which featured a Smurf pen, a Pinocchio with a broken nose and a kazoo pen. Kitsch. But the cigar box. It had to be a Shakespeare Colorado. I glimpsed the bard’s face on the cover’s underside. The box appeared to be in pristine condition. Amazing condition.
Observing my disinterest in the novelties, he turned to the third box. “These are the special ones, the floaters.” The box itself was a disappointment, a common Dutch Masters product. The old man extracted a scuffed plastic pen, red below, ivory above. In the upper section there was a tiny, oblong porthole with view of a minuscule babe in a bikini floating back and forth relative to the tilt of the pen, her hands behind her head, her boobs upthrust. The old man winked. “If you run her back and forth a few times she gets naked.”
The young man, who was only half paying attention to his phone, blushed. The world is a fine place if youth are still embarrassed by their elders. I was enjoying pawing through the floaters, seeing what was encased in those miniature worlds. A battleship. A monkey on a raft. The Statue of Liberty, sideways. Inside one pen there was just a froth like spit, its captive having escaped.
“They come as a set. I’m not selling them individual. What will you give me for them?”
I gave him a price. He just about spat. “The floaters by themselves are worth twice that.”
I picked up the box of novelties, as if my interest in them had grown. The box was in such immaculate condition I wondered if it was a knock-off.
I doubled my offer; he doubled his scorn. He was about to pack it in, when reality entered the scene, ushered in by the good sense of the young man. “Take it Grandpa, it sounds like a fair price.”
You could see him struggling, unwilling to give up the illusion of the pot of gold at rainbow’s end, again like yours truly. “I’m keeping this one,” he said pocketing the floating babe, but before he did, he showed it to me and damn, the babe was naked.
The cigar box is the real thing, worth way more than I thought. Does that mean I’ve sold it? No, it’s in a locked case in back. Somebody’s going to come in that door and do a jig of discovery. But not today. This morning I sold some newspapers from the 1930’s Dust Bowl days. Nobody has come in all afternoon. Idle, I pull out the box of floaters and watch what slides into view.
Sunday, March 12, 5:30pm
Mirabel Writer’s Group Reading: Picnic, Lightning
The title refers to how Vladimir Nabokov’s recounts his “very photogenic” mother’s demise, as well as the klieg-light effect of sudden, radical changes in the contemporary world.
The Group is David Jefferies, Cynthia Kreuz-Uhr, Joe Metzler, Sari Kossowsky, William Torphy, and Richard Schwarzenberger
Venue: Green Arcade Bookstore, 1680 Market, San Francisco
1. How many quarters equals $3.25? .
2. The coin machine is on the fritz and you have already put clothes and detergent into the machine. You have five quarters in your pocket. How many quarters are you short?
3. Since the corner grocery won’t give that kind of change even if you buy one of their expensive apples, how many steps is it to shuck the laundry back home for another day?
4. What are the chances your luck will improve today?
5. As Mom said, God helps those who help themselves. Today, a brand new day, you take, count them twice, how many quarters to the laundromat? A hint: plenty.
6. Not so plenty. Enough for two loads plus five. Will that leave you enough for the dryers?
7. What do you notice once the two washers are full?
8.They might be too full. Nothing will get clean. What is to be done?
9. You have 2 five-dollar bills. The coin machine is working. This is your lucky day.
10. Not just lucky, miraculous since with the first fiver you get two extra quarters. How many do you have in your pocket now? Has that ever happened in human history?
11. Do you need to insert the other five-dollar bill to have enough quarters for a third machine factoring in another $1.50 needed for detergent, since you brought enough detergent for two, not three, machines?
12. How many quarters did you feed the third machine before you noticed the light was out, and it was inoperative?
13. What happened to the other five-dollar bill?
14. Calm down.You have enough quarters to get three machines going, divvying the detergent among the three. What is the fraction of a quarter cup each each machine gets?
15. Will that be enough detergent to get your clothes clean?
16. Should you spring for the little box of Tide in the vending machine? $1.50?
17. Is there a reason you have an irrational distrust of that vending machine?
18. How many times does the vending machine spit out the quarter you add to the dollar already inserted? Hint: as many times as you repeat the action.
19. You have no more bills smaller than twenty. What do you do to keep calm?
20. How long does a wash cycle last? Hint: there is more than one answer.
21. In the park the bees are in some confusion. What preferred plant has been cut by the mowers?
22. When you get back to the laundromat, you notice the middle washer, one of your three, is half full of water. What does that mean?
23. When you open the middle washer, a vesuvius of foam gushes forth, a humongously fat worm of foam slithering toward the entrance. What have you done?
24. How many of the cameras are capturing your reaction?
25. Is it the best strategy to wipe up the foam with the washed and spun laundry nestled in the other two washers? The clean laundry?
26. Should you have asked this before you did it? Hint: yes. You have three loads of wet laundry you just wiped the floor with weighing a ton. What is your best option, Einstein?
27. Once you have dried the dirty wet laundry, how many steps is it to shuck it home and put it in the laundry backet. Hint: same as yesterday.
Squabs are due
On an upper branch of the weeping cedar, right in the midst of prickly little rosettes, there the dove sat. She had made her choice. Her mate flies back from some other garden with an eight-inch piece of something in his beak, lands in the loquat, self-congratulatory perhaps, before fluttering over to the female. Whatever it is he carries doesn’t look like useful nesting material given the location but what do I know. The female takes it in her beak and sets it aside. I am making assumptions about sex roles. I repeat, what do I know? All I know are doves are strangely geműtlich, avatars of peace and calm and good fortune, I say strangely because the pigeon, so similar in form and far more colorful, is often perceived as no better than a winged rat. The melodic cooing of doves is a soundtrack for nostalgia itself, sending me back to cool mornings in May in Kansas infused with the smell of lilacs.
The nest-maker (female?) wrestles the stiff twig into some nest-like position. She might be thinking of the male, what the hell, why’d he bring me this lousy twig, but no, she is all acceptance. That’s one of the things that makes dove so attractive; their absolute calm. Doves. Do they cry? Do they mourn?
There she sits, day after day. Her tawny yellow-ish neck and her always open black eyes. The nest is close to my front door. She doesn’t get ruffled by my coming and going. One day I forgot she was there and started pruning the apple tree above her with my long pole pruners and she flew off. Oh, sorry. It gave me a chance to peer down from the staircase into the nest. Two eggs.
It has been ten days or so. I have learned something. The male sits on the nest by day, the female at night. They relay each other. Isn’t that sweet? And the gestation period is two weeks. So, any day now, squabs.
Like most life-changing events, the condition came into being so incrementally that I hardly noticed it happening. That’s not quite true; I noticed but I thought it was progressing more gradually than it was. I misapprehended its sudden overwhelming onset as just another distortion that occurs normally at a certain age, the certain age I am at now, unfortunately. I hoped it would prove to be similar to progressive, benign, forgetfulness. I suspected it was triggered by my sleep patterns, or rather, lack of them. I get out bed at all hours. I nap whenever the urge arises, which is often, on the recliner. Like the song goes, “It might be one o’clock and it might be three, I don’t care cause time means nothing to me.”
This is the seed bed in which the condition germinated. Here are its particulars.
I wake up with the unhappy realization that I have not done my oral hygienic, brush, floss, gargle, etc. I have a dentist who is a borderline OCD, who has given me all kinds of instruction regarding dental hygiene. Fluoride versus non, electric toothbrushes, WaterPiks. Her hyper-vigilance has made me hyper-anxious. I think my teeth will fall out because I am not one hundred per cent perfect in the present and I have a very spotty past. Sometimes I fear my jaws are disintegrating because of all her x-rays. So there I am waking up and remembering I have to brush my teeth and floss. (If I had a WaterPik I wouldn’t have to floss but I’m sure I would resent it just as much. I have an aversion to machines.That’s a story you’re sick of hearing.)
Here is the part of the condition that threatens to be agonizing, if I let it be: the temporal interval between the brushing, flossing and gargling and waking up on the recliner realizing guiltily that I haven’t done the dental routine has shrunken to almost nothing. My whole conscious life seems to be spent waking to that realization and then reluctantly doing the dental ablutions. I broke down and bought an electric toothbrush thinking that would make the chore less onerous, or at least neutral. It is programmed to run for a two-minute span of vigorous brushing. Sometimes the electric toothbrush has its own proclivities regarding the duration. Sometimes, when it has gotten absentminded and forgotten to respect the limits of its settings, I think it might be a tool for black magic whose ultimate aim is conspiracy-related. It’s the kind of thought Marjorie Taylor Greene has built a career on. Certainly it’s not salubrious when the brush is pummeling molars. When the frenzy subsides, after the putative two minutes, one thing I can’t dispute is that my gums and teeth feel tinglingly alive. I always entertain the thought that, given the springtime freshness, this one time I could skip the floss business. But I soldier on, I always do, upper and lower. Like San Francisco, my mouth has two major bridges.
At last I am finished and turn off the light, savoring the refreshment of the dental environment, and in that relaxed state of mind, crawl into my bed and doze off. Immediately (a very slight exaggeration) I wake up and go, oh god, I have to brush my teeth. Sometimes I can make these intervals more expansive by procrastinating, buying time as it were. However the moments of procrastination are invariably insensible.
You think that I am exaggerating. You understandably point out that I have the time to compose this plea for help. You are right. You will forgive me, aware of the extremes we need to probe if we are to get our needs heard and met. What can you do to help? Tell me if you know of a website or an app, maybe sponsored by U.C. Med or some other reputable institution, that addresses the umwelt of dental hygiene. I’m not talking about Freudian claptrap. I want some real insights regarding the hi-jinks of time, which, as even my not-so-bright electric toothbrush knows, is unnervingly relative. How metaphysics sculpts the contours of the physical. If it sounds to you like a sterile exercise, please reconsider. It is my right and my intention to enjoy a life that is something other than waking to a realization I haven’t done the teeth thing and then doing the teeth thing. I want that time to shrink back into the tiny little cavity in which it belongs.
No there was no letter in the box (see prev. post) with my new temporary password. At Matthew’s over a cup of coffee he gives me a tutorial on how to deal with my sense of powerlessness regarding this technological muddle. Let your anger loose. I ask if I can hire him because his sample fulmination to an A.T.&T rep is word perfect and might get me through to some efficacious human being. I decide to wait until tomorrow to give it a go, rehearsing in the meantime. I will consider it practice, no matter how it goes. There is no telling how many calls I will have to make, each an opportunity to practice.
When I get home from Matthew’s I decide to do it right away. I dial (anachronism) A.T.& T. triggering the usual gate-keeping aggravaters.
If you are calling about internet access, say or press one.
I didn’t catch that. If you’re calling about internet access, say or press one. If you’re calling about password issues, say or press two.
I’m sorry I didn’t catch that. If you’re calling about…
These little gavottes do wonders to get a person into a useful fulminating framework.
“Hello, this is Teresa. Who am I talking to?”
Poor Teresa. My fulmination doesn’t achieve Matthew’s expert delivery, but remember, it’s practice. Everything takes practice. I throw in some fucks and goddams. My anger is righteous but I sound kinda whiny. She keeps her cool, suggests I take my phone to the A.T.&T. store and they might solve the problem. Not even I am dumb enough to believe that. She is gaslighting (anachronism). Matthew’s tutorial featured a demand to talk to a supervisor, so I put that into play. Teresa accedes, says she will hook me up with one right now. She tells me to hang up and he’ll call.
When will he call? I shout.
I give myself a fail for saying something so adolescent. He better. Did he? Of course not. I give Teresa credit, getting me off the line. Not everyone at A.T.&T. is incompetent.
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Passwords and Cusswords
I’m waiting for the mail, hoping to get a letter from A.T.& T. with a temporary password so I can restore access to my e-mail. I broke what Matthew calls the eleventh commandment: don’t change anything if your tech stuff is functioning. I changed phone service from one corp for another: A.T. & T. to T-Mobile. In the process I was cut off from my email account both on my phone and my computer, so if you’re wondering why I’m not responding to your emails…In the process I glammed up my life from a ratty android to an i-phone 12 which predictably, I loathe. A large part of the loathing is centered around learning to navigate it. The engineering is an unhappy combination of stubborn and sensitive. So am I, come to think of it. Over and over emojis appear on the screen until I finally realize the icon I am tapping is not Contacts. I hate emojis, like I hate leaf blowers. For a while I thought malicious imps had taken over, not only my phone but my whole life. Everyone knows about malicious imps.
I’m a little more rational now. I can admire the stunning craft, this little packet of ingenuity, and be grateful for what it has enabled (talking to you, for instance), and still think it is a black hole of human folly with its million options engulfing the five things it does that improve the moment. Or, in my case, doesn’t do. Yet, it might…I have talked to four different indifferent representatives from A.T.&T. They can’t text me this temporary password. It must come through the post. Is that meant to be irony? They do this for my own protection. Ha. Should I be surprised Jack, who seemed the nicest, didn’t call me back as promised? Should I be hurt?
Like I said, it’s been over a week. If I were on a two-week monastic retreat, which probably would be a good idea, this separation from email would cause barely a psychic ripple. Instead, having gone nowhere, I enlarge my vocabulary of curses. It bugs me, the dis-connectivity, like a mosquito buzzing in my head.
Of course, I would have let people know I was going to be on retreat. Probably.
Q. What is to prevent (has prevented) you from doing just that: making these days into a retreat, an opportunity to practice detachment, to investigate this addiction to connectivity?
A. The dot by the mail icon. Many times a day I look for it. I may disappear if it does not reappear.
I hear the snap of the mailbox lid.