Tragic Flaw

Seven ten.

I just read that my friend from church was admitted to the hospital yesterday with possible pneumonia and is being tested for the virus. Not a good start to my day. This is the day when restrictions are being relaxed a bit. Karen will reopen for business officially today. I am really sick of Pastor’s emails every morning. Maybe I’ll unsubscribe. Since last summer I’ve been thinking about leaving the church. I just don’t know what I can replace it with… It’s mostly cloudy with a ray of sunshine. I awoke a little grumpy and this news about my friend made me even grumpier. I realize something however about me. It is that skepticism can be harmful. I never took it on faith that alcoholism would kill me. I had to be inches from death to be convinced to quit drinking. Therefore, skepticism in other areas can be toxic as well. Better safe than sorry, and an ounce of prevention… But I doubt if this flaw in my character will change.

Remembering

Four fifty five. Sometimes I think about Karen and the girls from the salon. It kind of astonishes me that they liked having an old bum like me around. As if they saw something in me that I don’t. I particularly miss seeing Angela; but they’re all great. Lisa was going through a tough time, the last I heard. The salon was hit with several little catastrophes before the lockdown. Maybe the respite is needed, and then they can come back refreshed. Darlene’s passing was very difficult, for she was my reason to hang out with them. Now I know it would be hard to work as a caregiver to seniors, because they tend to die… Karen was great on the day of the funeral. As usual, I didn’t look like much. I just brought myself, take it or leave it. I was impressed with Janet’s family; her husband and young son seemed very upright and honorable. She had done well, as she deserved. She gave a speech about her mother and family. Janet was still a little in shock from having lost her brother thirty years ago. The music selections were new country, which was fine for them. I was kind of glad to get out of there, though. People were saying that now Darlene is reunited with Lewis in the afterlife, and it was a good thought. I can see the way he used to ride his bicycle home from work every late afternoon. The family always liked me okay up until I was ten years old. Then I had a falling out with their son on the way home from school. Afterward, I still saw Darlene delivering the local newspaper for many years. And she still came over to visit with my mom, often while I was away at school. Mom would tell me about it later. It was only me who kept my distance, and it became a little awkward. Kind of like what happened with my nephews and me as we were run through the chute of the education system. Our fates got sorted far apart from each other, on different paths. It was nobody’s fault, though it’s hard not to regret what happened…

After the Altar

Quarter after five. I was being silly. The past is past. What happened 17 years ago can’t be repeated. And the vintage basses I owned are long lost. So hold on to what I have now.

Six o’clock. I ordered some 9V batteries from Amazon for my Aria bass. Then I was curious about these boxes of my stuff that I never opened. I found a couple of mouses and a pair of headphones, plus a lot of junk that belonged to my mom. Poor Mom. She was not happy, yet she didn’t try to reach out to anybody. She could never let go of the past. Couldn’t get over the loss of her parents and others in her family. Couldn’t accept that now is now, and life goes on. She refused to move on. Who knows what she thought about inside of her head? She bought herself this Baldwin spinet piano made in the 1930s to play and remember her mother— then realized she couldn’t stand the pain. Why didn’t she just release herself from the past if it brought her pain? Or journal it out of her system? She was so lonely, yet she devoted her mind to the dead. Henry James wrote a great story about that, called “The Altar of the Dead.” It’s very ironic. The man and the woman meet and grieve their losses together, never seizing the opportunity to build on their relationship. The two of them are, after all, alive… The temperature inside got up to 74 degrees, so I opened the back door and the bathroom window. Aesop is here and now, so I’m glad for that.

Nevil Shute

I see the images of my parents in my head. I remember how they sort of retired from living when they were only 50 years old. They started hibernating, especially Mom, and marking time until it was time to die. They claimed that they had seen it all and done it all, which was just a rationale to do nothing now. I saw a headline today that said the pandemic is an opportunity for humanity to revolutionize our quality of life. Amen. I believe that people could learn something from a novel by Nevil Shute titled On the Beach. It’s about what a group of friends decide to do with their lives when they know they are doomed. Nuclear winter has happened, and the fallout is heading for their home in Australia. They do the things they had always dreamed of doing but never had before. They even break a rule or two, but their actions are justified. The friends learn what in life is truly important, and they do it with no chimeras, no self delusions. Maybe we should take a lesson from On the Beach. Another great book is Dubliners by James Joyce. We ought to really think hard about not what is right, but what is good and true.

My Friend

Four thirty.

I just listened to part of The Wall by Pink Floyd. It was on my mind when I woke up, but the stimulus behind it was the memory of my old friend Ken from when I was in high school. I was very sick with mononucleosis for my junior year, and to cheer me up, Ken made me a cassette copy of the album by Pink Floyd. He was a big fan of Roger Waters, the mastermind of the band during the 70s. Looking back on my emotions when I was 17, there was a lot that I didn’t understand. I still don’t, but I know that my bond with Ken was the strongest of my youth. We listened to music together down in my room, and my parents were always glad to see him come over. There was nothing not to like about Ken; he was loved by everybody. I happened to get to know him very deeply. He had a depressive side to him that he didn’t show to most people. Hence his admiration for Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. I had no idea myself that I would later be diagnosed with schizophrenia. Nobody knew. When the illness came, my friend grew more distant emotionally. He was disappointed in me, because in his opinion I had a great deal of musical talent. He couldn’t accept the loss of the person I had been. So now, I often think about my junior year in high school when I was so sick. It was a kind of harbinger of the bigger illness to come in college. Ken hung around, but never with the same love and trust as before. Instead of music, he took up golfing and microbrews and became still more aloof. His politics got conservative and narrow minded. And then one summer day in 1999, his black Dodge Ram hit a tree and he was killed. It was a senseless death. Quite a multitude came to his memorial service. But the person they remembered was not the same one that I knew, the one who shared The Wall with me when I was sick.

Lent

Eleven thirty. The caffeine must be quite toxic to my system. I stopped it today and did a lot of sleeping. To my waking mind, the dreams I had don’t make much sense. A ways back, there was one about a person who had died, leaving a record like a headstone outside of a building like a library. It was night. My brother heard about the death and was agitated, while I received it more philosophically. The dream may refer to the death of my mother’s sister, who had an illness at less than a year old. In reality one day, my brother drove us up to Pioneer Cemetery to locate our grandmother’s plot. The graveyard happens to be adjacent to the Knight Library on Campus, but it was broad daylight when we visited. It seemed sudden the way my brother took an interest in family history. Hitherto he’d never cared, while Mom had always been enthused about the past. He didn’t take her word for anything, however. I don’t know how I feel about it. When the house fire happened, I let a lot of history go. Old photographs of family were lost, and my attitude was good riddance. I considered the fire to be a cleansing or purging thing. It didn’t occur to me that my own existence was equally forgettable in the greater scheme. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…

Friday Noon

Quarter after eleven.

I saw a woman wearing a face mask at the market. But I also perceived a lot of signs of life. Lisa’s friend passed away last night. Yet the birds in the trees are irrepressible, singing out their joy. A couple of neighbors outside of their houses said hi to me. Springtime is official, and the weather is perfect. I saw a guy on a motorized scooter head west on Fremont. The ambiguity of life and death is everywhere around, as in a Melville book. Each is part of the other. I gazed at my huge red oak and listened to the call of a bird. I tried but couldn’t locate him in the branches. The song was very musical and lyrical. When I entered the store, “Barracuda” was on the radio. It took me a minute to pick my day’s groceries. And again I had to confirm for myself that this was real, and there I was out in public. I find my indecisiveness bothersome sometimes. I brought home a two liter of Coca-Cola, a burrito, and cottage cheese. Lately I’ve questioned why I raise my voice to my dog. It’s like the way my parents treated me. When I think of it, I’d like to fine tune Aesop’s vocabulary and try relating to him more rationally. Over and above his innate instincts, Aesop has a logical faculty that responds to me. He has a conscience, but also an intellect, unlike some dogs. Poodles and cattle dogs are both very intelligent… I anticipate seeing my magnolia in bloom this year. Soon I have to check the filter on the furnace. It’s probably time to replace it anyway. Everything is made of parts, and the parts wear out. However, some say that the whole is greater…

A Trick of Sunlight

Nine o’clock.

There isn’t much to say about the virus. If it’s the end of the world, I think I’m ready for it. Will it be like the Mary Shelley novel, The Last Man? She envisioned the end to be caused by a pandemic. In reality, she called herself the last man. Her husband and Lord Byron and one of their good friends had all died. She returned to England from Italy with her one surviving son… So I just wonder who would be the last person to survive the virus. There is talk of church service being cancelled. Teacher Night at McDonald’s was called off already. A member of the assembly was placed in quarantine for protection. It still doesn’t seem real to me. I guess I’ll feed the dog now and head out to the pharmacy.

Quarter after eleven. Bi Mart had Aesop’s bacon strips on sale, so I bought one of those, and also his marrow bone treats. I thought about the corona virus for my entire walk there. At the pharmacy checkout, Jeanine was very nice. She has a son who is a senior in high school somewhere in Springfield.

Noon hour. Karen stopped me to say hi. She doesn’t have much to do because of the virus scare. She thinks it’s stupid. I tend to agree with her. Through all of this, the sun shines without a care for human things. It didn’t care on the day of Darlene’s funeral, and it is unconcerned about the corona virus pandemic. The sun is in a different world from people, and subject to different laws inscrutable to us. During the funeral service in the chapel, I observed the small windows set high in the walls, like skylights. Through one of them, the sun came in and lit up the hands of one of the mourners. She sat ahead and to the right of us. The odd thing was that I saw no beam, no shaft of light from any of the windows. The effect was that her hands moved in and out of the sunlight, but seemingly lighted inherently, as with their own light. This spontaneity fascinated me. I kept looking for which window it was that was the source and could not isolate it. Still the woman’s hands flashed, like a mystery or a trick. Finally I gave up and listened to “Amazing Grace.”

After the Funeral

Four o’clock.

The funeral is done. During the service, I had some intrusive thoughts about the credulity of the people in the chapel. Why did they believe what they were told just because people said it? The empirical evidence belies the idea of heaven up in the sky, but here were people believing it. But then, what makes me such a minority? Perhaps it is I who am deficient in something? For some reason, I keep meeting more and more Christians, and I seem to ask the same kind of questions they do. Also I picked up and fell to reading a short novel by Flannery O’Connor, which so far has a pro Christian bias. The plot is kind of interesting, the characters rather curious, peculiar. The concept of following the blind man who sees Jesus is a paradoxical symbolism, and the man’s charisma is magnetic for two of the characters… Today’s weather is beautiful, nor does it remind me of my drinking years. I daresay this is a new kind of day. After the funeral service, Karen and I stopped at Papa’s Pizza on W 11th and picked up her order. One small pizza was for me. Driving along on Highway 126, we watched as a motorcycle cop pulled over a speeder. Karen thought it was funny.

Quarter after five. I ambled off to the market for a Dr Pepper in the glorious sunshine. Said hi to Randy on the street corner, and I scooted aside when the street cleaner drove by me, kicking up dust. There was quite a lot of traffic on the road, but inside the store there weren’t many people. JR is working afternoons now. The ambience of the market has changed for me, and gradually, so is my backyard. Father and son neighbors were playing catch in their front yard. The dad sounded a bit grumpy. Jeff and a friend were getting ready to work on his boat. All four cars at Diana’s house were home. Now home myself, the light shadows on the sea green carpet are long fingers of sun, illuminating the room pale green like some ocean grotto. Aesop stretches himself on the floor, oblivious to my words, and the electric face clock purrs about a minute fast.

Alienated

Seven o’clock.

Today is the funeral. Perhaps the hardest part will be facing J– after many years of alienation. When we were in school, we went in different directions and hardly saw each other anymore. I went to college while she struggled to make a living. But it wasn’t my fault. We were exposed to totally different things. J– was not a good student at any point in her education. By the time we were in seventh grade, I just stopped paying attention to her. The same thing happened with my nephews and me. School was a place of elitism, one that separated the wheat from the chaff, the gold from the dross. Those who were bound for college were treated differently from the ones destined for blue collar jobs. Thinking about it now, I must be a symptom of how the system has failed. Either that, or I failed the system. Anyway, hopefully meeting with J– will be short. Maybe she will have forgotten the things I remember. I guess I needn’t feel threatened by people who were not such good students. I still tend to feel guilty for being intelligent, but what for? It’s a question that continues to baffle me.