Heartache . . .

aheartache7Heartache . . .

That mysteriously deep thawing of hope; that dank, on-going, torrential rain; that ache which hasn’t surfaced in almost 40 years; that ache of loneliness, of silence, of early dusks and late dawns; that aching pain of your soul being wrung like a dishrag; bookends of despair and pain on either side of sleep; the torture of sobbing in a diner.

Heartache . . .

That frightening moment which descends like a parachute upon throwing the deadbolt; ascending the stairs and sensing a household hollowness; this isn’t my home yet I’m its caretaker; he isn’t a parent, he’s my brother.  But my role has changed dramatically: his transference of authority known as power of attorney (durable and healthcare) has eliminated any aheartache2mourning I may have expressed.  I’m his representative and to an ignorant outside world he hasn’t really disappeared behind the safety of managed care, but has grown taller by five inches.

Heartache . . .

This designation has robbed me of mourning.  Instead I’ve got to be as sharp as a tack, thoroughly abreast of medical and financial details, composed at all hours in anticipation of that dreadfully somber tone of the caller. I’ve got to nurture relationships at the bank, his current residential facility, his physicians, his pharmacists, his auto mechanic.  My sleepless burden, borrowing a term from football, a handoff. He’s handed me his life like a principal to a ripe substitute teacher mumbling, “Good luck being Mrs. Brown: they loved her and will see you as an interloper.”  Imagine being someone else, especially someone that enjoyed a circle of friends, someone that will be surely missed.  Imagine filling those shoes.

Heartache . . .

This was my description of Rick’s working life to a social agency: “As a route/sales driver he was on the road early enough to arrive at his first customer by 7:00 AM.  Most customers were dry cleaners and upon arrival he singlehandedly unloaded an unpredictable variety of items: aheartachecarpets and rugs averaging 100 pounds apiece; fur and leather coats (five in each hand).  All items shifted while en route so he had to crawl inside a sweltering cargo bay.  Several customers were located upstairs or downstairs, so he would carry these awkward and cumbersome loads up and down stairs. Rick made as many as 100 stops in a single day in all types of weather. Carpets were by far the heaviest single item of significant proportion. Hauling carpets required him to stoop, hoist the carpet onto his shoulder and carry it into the customers store.  Most items for pick up were thrown haphazardly on the floor.Rick was required to crouch down, grab heavy carpets or garments, and under their added weight stand, and “sling”them onto his shoulder. He carried them to his van good-naturedly through deep snow or light snow concealing ice; against heavy traffic in urban areas, and in the dark during the short days of winter.”

Heartache . . .aheartache6

My admiration for Rick has never diminished; for seventeen years he worked a “hard labor job” which often kept him on the road for eighteen hours. He performed his job with integrity, commitment, and an unwavering pride. He did something I could never do: for seventeen years, day in and day out, in blizzards, hailstorms, and black ice; in unrelenting heat, cloud bursts, and flooding; and one wild turkey flapping its way into Rick’s van, he never quit. Ever. That’s called honor.

Rick’s been transferred to a sub-acute rehab facility.  Here’s where you can send him your “Get Well” card:

Mr. Richard Didrickson
Mitchell Manor West Allis
Senior Living Community
5301 W. Lincoln Avenue
West Allis WI  53219
(414) 615-7200

 

Oh, To Be A British Alpine Goat (my anecdotal apology for disappearance)

To the stakeholders (followers), curiously cautious pundits of search engines (visitors), and serendipitous Internet bumblebee’s (alighting upon blossoming websites) please accept my apology for my absence from this blog and, consequently, the lack of freshly baked posts.

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I know that my apology may be a bit unusual and absolutely unnecessary; however, I favor civility and honest contrition when one, quite benignly, overlooks a deadline for regrets.  Dignity and grace insist that a personal note (posted that day) asking for benevolence regarding the delinquency of my response; I regretfully decline their gracious invitation to which they respond (for themselves and the blogosphere-at-large) their disappointment and a standing invitation to return to the blogosphere lest I find myself hopelessly self-sequestered from the rest of the world.

As a rule rarely discussed, Writer’s digest life like British Alpine goats level a pasture.  But goats aren’t expected to till and reseed the pasture they’d recently leveled.  Goats have no relation to the past.  It’s “full speed ahead!” As they mow their way about the emerald green pastures of the lowlands!  Goats are enlightened as they don’t drag hundreds of yesterdays when they move from pasture to pasture.  Contented goats just chew and chew and chew.agrazinggoat2

Writers, on the other hand, focus on the recollection of their past, harvest the past of others, or imagine the past of a fictional character whose past is a combination of the amalgamation of the writers past, the “blood draw” of recalled confessing invitees to dinner parties or the stealthy concern of other’s problems.  Writers live in the past because it is a plump menagerie of recollection; an account from which to draw and deposit; a cistern which never falls beneath the water line of suffering.  To hell with future!  The suffered past of unaware donors is where the writer lives.  Suffering attracts readers like moths to a light.

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Finally Understanding Life As Mani A.

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I first met Mani A. a few months after my father died when I was fifteen.  He appeared from around a blind corner where Wong-Su restaurant and Teddy’s Tavern meet like a knife’s edge.  He was a restless, sinewy, no-nonsense blond wearing his older-brother’s-hand-me-downs.  I apologized and excused myself immediately, but he roared to life like a freshly started chainsaw and lunged at me with a ferocious diatribe about a blokes right-of-way and his unalienable rights, to which I chimed in, “But you are an alien!”  He paused, his idling mind wafting the blue smoke of burning oil, when suddenly he hit the throttle baring his teeth and chortled that he wasn’t a bloody martian, see, so piss off with the alien bullocks; crikey, he has the right to use public property as a thoroughfare without being gobsmacked by some daft wanker! until, I think, he heard himself running-on about some kind of whack job hyper-speech at which time he slowed, eventually landing softly on a patch of green peckhamengland-1grass.  I sat next to Mani A. who opened up like a teenagers compact, and divulged his personal life in Peckham, England (just outside of London), which, by the way he described it, was a tortuous place; a hometown without a home, a chilling place that nobody admitted coming from, everybody just shows up one day, street-smart and dodgy, showed up-growed up because nobody ever had a childhood.  You were either born a teen-ager or plain old smeg.  Nobody was ever just a kid; and nobody ever saw a kid.  We were around the same age and dreamt of similar things, but whereas I knew mine were silly fantasies, Mani A. was certain that whatever he wanted he could have.  No kidding.  Without the slightest doubt or reservation, whatever Mani A. wanted, Mani A. could get.  Period.  Mani A. had balls.  Whether Peckham beat them into him or he developed that confidence on his own, the strength of his conviction, no matter the degree of unlikelihood, you had to think, hey, it just might happen.  I’ve never met anyone in my entire life that expressed the depth of fortitude that Mani A. did.  I said my life must seem like a cartoon compared to yours: I was two-steps west of being white trash, and while our home lives seemed oddly similar, I never learned how to survive; I just wait.  For what, he asked leaning his elbow onto the grass.  For anything.  Anything besides this shit hole I can’t get myself out from.  At which Mani A. leapt to his feet, extended his hand and said, come on mate, I’ll show you the dog’s dinner that’ll make your life now look like a wee bit of the hard lines.  Your going to get a crash course in Peckham Survival Know-How.  First, you learn about being borne:  In Peckham you didn’t cut your teeth; you growled and snapped!  We learn to bite before there’s anything to bite.  Being ahead, that’s tickety-boo; getting ahead never happens, especially in Peckham.  And so started six months of juvenile delinquency including assault (knife-school-teacher), battery (brother), truancy, and one stern lecture from a juvenile judge away from living in a home for dangerous boys.

It wasn’t until Mani A. left town did I get my head screwed back on tight.  I toed the line, straightened out school, became popular, played sports each season, acted, sang, even led student government.  Counselor’s referred to me as the idyllic example of reform.  But in the back of my head I could still hear Mani and all the things he said and showed and prompted me to do.  Being “ways” by choice, not by reaction.  Mani didn’t show me how to live,chubbyseniorportrait Mani showed me how to survive.  Mani and I have maintained our friendship for over forty years.  One of the things I admired about Mani was his bond of friendship.  Or should I say degree of bond of friendship.  Whenever he helped take care of something cagey, I’d ask him why he’d get involved?  His answer has always been the same: friendship.  He said all other relationships have their own bloody baggage and demands and expectations, and ways to screw you in the end.  But friends are simply friends.  Easy, like looking in the mirror.  I see a wee bit of my bloody self in you.

Mani continued to visit at irregular intervals, all of which were concurrent with troubling, impossible, or unavoidable circumstances.  For example, he swung into town when my junior year in high school devolved into adolescent chaos: ducking senior hazing, sidestepping discussions highlighting my grim blue-collared, unionized, married and fatherly fate; derailing any parochial collision between varsity lettermen and my shadowy shine for Mitchell, an underclassman; and my obesity targeted by jeering and loathsome bullies.  He arrived shortly after Stokowski and I went to Union Drop Forge hoping to snag summer work which leads to full time after graduation.  Our bus drove through the “Blue Mile,” a one mile corridor of heavy, eye-reddening, cough-inducing, toxin-saturated manufacturing exhaust.  We nicknamed that part of oldermani2town the “Blue Mile” because of that solar eclipsing blue haze belched from fifty-foot smoke stacks every minute of every day.  I took my application home where it still remains blank.  I wanted my future to be unexpected.  To be a lifetime removed from the cadence of the dead-end-man: a union job, a wife, a stuffy upper flat, kids we can’t afford, dependence on two incomes, kids dumped with objecting in-laws, hate and regret pitched at the other, and some place my hope tumbled out of my greasy coveralls pocket while reaching for my lighter which I never missed until I reached for it, right after she left with the kids flanked by her objectionable parents.  That tableau was the only life option offered to kids like me.  It was expected, and you were expected to follow the guy ahead of you.  But I dreamt of the unexpected, the unpredictable chaos of life beyond the “Blue Mile.”  College required good grades, but demanded money.  The costs were way beyond my family’s reach; so far afield that going to college became a family gag.  And then, when my avenues and alleyways around the tuition hurdle went bust Mani stopped by on his way back to Peckham.  His first words were, You look like a sorry sod, chum!  causing me to expunge my year of hopelessness and depression.  He waited until I stopped crying before he said, Sometimes you’ve got to be bonkers, your mates marching to a paycheck will call you a mug, but remember life is horses for courses!  And you’ve got to be bold!  You’ve got to be; because being bold and senseless and relentless are the only way out.  Back in Peckham if you’re pegged a nesh or are sussed acting naff the rest of life in Peckham is going to be piss poor.  You and your chums go about blagging tough, and sometimes it goes fist-to-cuffs.  In Peckham it ain’t about violence because violence there is like your factory here.  In Peckham it’s about surviving life, about tomorrow.

In 2008 Mani broke all the rules.  Rather than subtle clues that he’s a stones throw away, he decided that my end game was near, so he ruptured my barrier of sanity, perforated my character, elbowed out reality, and declared chubyoldermaniautonomy.  Mani was finally emancipated; freed from the crushing compliance of decency and propriety, he ignored laws, took chilling risks, discovered a steady stream of opiates which he washed down with lethal liters of alcohol, ignored vows, ruined friendships, tossed out of jobs, denied benefits, and finally barricaded himself in the office of a psychiatrist who eventually evicted him, and reinstated my authority over the dominion of my life.

I’ve never faulted Mani for his insurgency.  He was simply providing the bravado to traverse the craggy cliffs of life, and of which I was ill-prepared to navigate.  But as Mani A. learned, freedom from consequence isn’t freedom at all.  It’s destruction, it’s disregard, it’s vengeful and dangerous and hateful and lethal   But Mani did have a knack for getting the job done which he introduced, tutored, and polished in me, providing the backbone for a career.  I think that’s how he survived: Mani and I got hired by gentlemen to take care of things quietly and cleanly.  Not that we ever broke the law, but we definitely broke the rules.  Mani recited many adages over the years, but the single-most poignant he shared with me was:  You can’t quit; every bloody cry-baby “says” they want “it,” but quit the second they’ve got to act like a chancer.  There are just two times you can quit: when you take the biscuit or hop the twig. 

 

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I Had a Car Like Me Once

QUESTION:
If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?

An old classic?
Something like the 1967 Aston Martin convertible?

Maybe the 1968 Mustang GT Fastback?

The car most resembling how I’ve been feeling recently happened to be our third car, the car like me.  We’d bought it used from some co-worker whose face (much less his name) has breached my mind’s curved horizon.  Used is a benevolent description: a couple of common idioms would aptly depict its constitution: . . .On its last legs or has one foot in the grave.  Desperation left little choice: I needed any car that worked to travel the 40 miles daily to a necessary yet useless and under paying job that freed me from beneath the spiked heel of a former employer who was a notoriously brutal, hateful, and infamously outspoken attorney that beguiled jurists to award her clients the largest financial settlements in state history.  Charm was never wasted on me, though.  Neither was persuasion.  She wasn’t the boss, she was the owner: I wasn’t her assistant, I was her indentured servant.  It was I who felt the eviscerating pressure from the pointy toe of her blah-blah collection of blah-blah-blah’s high-heeled shoe.  So I grabbed at the first job even though they’d lowball me and I’d need to buy any car.

The car, a foster child of sorts, had been purchased then passed on, then sold and sold and sold until the gravely agitated owner whispered the auto’s immediate availability for cash only.  And so I became the hastily orphaned auto’s benefactor.  Until that one day arrived (the last bead threaded onto the string), when, as no surprise, another function failed and the pertinent idioms came to mind like eerie messages in the Magic Eight Ball: Are you throwing good money after bad or Are you pouring money down the drain?  It all boiled down to a decision which I couldn’t face, so just like I did in the sixth grade when I was up to bat and had to face the gawky southpaw with a screaming heater which always caught the inside corner, or the lower back of a cowering batter, I fainted on my way to the plate.  I was removed from the game and poor Gerry Schmidt took a fastball in the kidneys. Procrastination is a conundrum best dealt with tomorrow.

But while I’m not a car, I’m spending more time in the shop and starting to string beads.  Unimaginable maladies have begun to appear (besides hum-drum mental illnesses): Edema of the lower extremities; rare forms of heart failure; pulmonary compromise; and rare to boot!  My conditions occur in less than one percent of patients!  Rare is a good thing, right?  Not in medicine.  Rare means few, few means no research, no research means no remedy.

I’ve been feeling lately like a mid-year 1983 Buick which runs, starts in the coldest Chicago winters, and does what a car should do.  Yet recently I’ve heard more pings, louder knocks, noticed oil spots on the garage floor, and the lighter no longer glows orange.  That’s why I’ve been posting less frequently: I’m fatigued, terribly sad witnessing this decline, and frightened.

But to end on a bright note, here’s the car I’d be: a 1965 Cadillac Eldorado!