Hobbes

Ruth was an animal freak. The first time she was gonna sleep at my place she asked if she could bring her dog. Dog dander wasn’t as bad for my allergies as cat dander, but it wasn’t good. I had had a tableau in mind for a couple of years by then, though, and I already had the glass vase and the black sheets. I just needed Ruth. God, I LOVE antihistamines.

Being around cats was way worse—my eyes teared and itched, my nose sneezed and ran, and everything wheezed. Once my body recognized a cat house I had to decide if my discomfort outweighed my imagined payoff, which would have to be sex or a really good drug to warrant consideration.

Ruth found some expensive potion said to eliminate the allergic effects of animal dander and rubbed it on her cat and dog to good effect. It got me through the night and helped me add to my trove of pleasant memories, which now can make all the difference.

I’ve never had anything against cats themselves, and some of the ones I’ve run across actually sought me out. I’m a little catlike myself, though not graceful or dignified.

A few weeks ago my son got a kitten from some guy at the Farmers’ Market, and I figured it was fate. After our dog Spock died, Janice and I had talked sporadically about getting a pet, but neither of us wanted anything else to do. I thought of the kitten as therapeutic, and that was enough.

I was right, too. Hobbes has indeed been therapeutic as all get-out and as cute as required. He’s friendly and affectionate and not a bit standoffish, just what was needed.

He also took to his litter box right away. That may be run-of-the-mill behavior for a cat, but I’ve never lived with a cat, and I was impressed and reassured by Hobbes’s grasp of things.

Then there’s the dark side. A woman was the first to succumb to talking baby talk, and then there was no containing its insidious spread to her grandson, though little more than a baby himself, and then to her daughter and everybody around.

I’ve so far resisted talking baby talk to Hobbes, and I should say here that I didn’t talk baby talk to my own babies. To be virtually driven to talk drivel by another species is alarming, let me tell you.

I am not a babbler yet, neither a blatherer nor a ditherer, for which I’m not so much proud as grateful, because I don’t know that we have a choice in such matters. Some do this, some that. I can’t deny my own fall from grace, though, and I freely admit my current state. Recently basking in the satisfaction of not babbling to Hobbes, I noticed my voice sounding remarkably like Miss Moreland’s, my kindergarten teacher, when she read to us. I still don’t babble, but I do coo.

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Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist

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Back again

At the end of April when I wrote about my son’s mental illness he had been in and out of the Butte County Psychiatric Health Facility (The Puff) four times since October. Make that five times.

In June he was at home and had been steadily improving for three weeks or so. The long-acting drug he finally consented to seemed to be helping. He was a lot more present and responsive to his surroundings, including people. I started to think he might win his conservatorship trial at the end of July and get to stay out of the county’s custody.

He refused to get his next monthly injection or talk to anyone from Butte County, though, even when they came to him, and so the bureaucracy stumbled into action. What I thought would be a meeting with his Public Guardian turned out to be an ambush with four or five people from the county and four Chico police.

That he had been behaving reasonably and said he felt better didn’t mean squat. Because he’s technically an adult, I have no clout. For Butte County, the prescribed drug was the mandatory minimum— take it voluntarily or they’ll make you take it.

The county people arrived sporadically and milled around in the street and our front yard until the straggler showed up. Meanwhile the police and people from Butte County tried to persuade him to accept the injection. So did I. The nurse was right there with the stuff. He could do it and all those other people would go away, and he could stay at home, but he wasn’t having any of it.

Since he wouldn’t agree to be injected, my son was eventually handcuffed and taken away, restrained, and given Invega Sustenna, a popular monthly injectable.

He’s back at home now, and because I’m willing to provide him with the necessities of life, as long as he stays on his drug he can stay out of custody, and Butte County is dropping its conservatorship effort. Whew, maybe.

At the July meeting of the Butte County Behavioral Health Advisory Board several people, including Board members, spoke out against renewing the contract of the California Forensic Medical Group, the corporation paid to deal with mental health issues at the Butte County Jail. A mentally and physically ill inmate died recently in flaky circumstances, and I look forward to hearing CFMG’s story.

I was elected to the Board at the July meeting. I know I’ve said more than once that I’m through with boards and had even arranged for a buddy of mine to stage an intervention if I start making any Board noises, but this is important.
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The Mental Illness Happy Hour with Maria Bamford

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Madness

Six months or so after Janice found out she had breast cancer, my youngest boy began complaining of headaches and later other ailments. We did many tests and treatments including diet, conventional medicine, chiropractic, massage, and various kinds of energy work.

The next year he gradually stopped going to school and passed the California High School Proficiency Examination halfway through his sophomore year, getting out of high school at fifteen. For two years he holed up in his room playing video games while his mother died slowly down the hall.

Janice had been dead about a year last fall when my son told me that he was aware of channels that were giving him information as sentences and images. He believed that the channels came from people he knew and that they told the truth. Since the channels always promised him torture and doom, he was always fearful. That was his life.

At the end of October, to feel safe he signed himself into a Butte County facility for assessment and got out three days later with a prescription for Abilify, which also provided the intake worker’s clipboard. My son was just as fearful when he got out, just calmer.

He stopped taking the prescribed drug after a couple of weeks, and in a few days became convinced that he had a brain aneurysm, eventually persuading a neighbor to take him to an emergency room. By the time I found out and got to Enloe someone from Butte County Behavioral Health had claimed him under a 5150, the law that allows such an action when a mental patient is thought to be a danger to himself or others.

He soon got arrested for shoplifting and then alarmed some people in the neighborhood by standing around in their yards, and ended up back at the Puff. That time at the Psychiatric Health Facility (“the Puff”) he didn’t get out after the initial 72-hour period and stayed another fortnight until he was discharged with three prescriptions on New Year’s Day and directed to the Shalom Clinic for follow-up. God bless the Shalom Clinic.

He stayed on drugs a couple of weeks and then quit because he thought they hurt his brain, which could easily be the case.

He got out for a while and now my baby boy—born in the bed where I sleep and where his mother died—is again at the Puff. God bless the Puff, too.

I’d like to say my contact with the mental health system was satisfactory, but there is no mental health system. There are services here and there, but nothing that deserves to be called a system. More on this later.

Meanwhile my son sleeps in a hallway under 24-hour fluorescent lights, a type of sensory bombardment sometimes used as torture.

And God bless NAMI, the National Association for Mental Illness.

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Corpse in the street

The last time I wrote about a cat, a reader was upset because she felt I showed insufficient respect because the cat was dead. I admit speculating about the possibility of my being able to swing it around in my front yard, which is smaller than many living rooms, “room enough to swing a dead cat” being a unit of volume I seem to remember from the works of Mark Twain, the specifics of which I had often wondered about.

This time I was in my room about to go out front to wait for a ride to see Sorin at 1078 Gallery when I heard a cat scream, a fairly common occurrence in my neighborhood. Sometimes they fight just outside my bedroom window, and I didn’t pay much attention to the yowl.

When I went out on the porch, I could see that my ride wasn’t there yet and that in the street directly in front of me was dark mass with a small, blurry white something slightly waving to and fro. It was a rather large cat, and one of its white paws was still moving. I say still moving because by the time I’d gotten a flashlight and went out to it, the only movement was its fur blowing in the breeze.

I could see all the blood around its head and that its essence had moved on and left a bloody corpse in front of my house. Damn. My ride was due any minute, and I wanted just to leave it, but there was no way it wasn’t gonna be run over soon and make a much bigger mess than it was already, and my ride would be aiming for just that spot. It was one of those times when I wished I had a husband to do the dirty work.

So I found the right shovel and while I was struggling to scrape, shove, and lug it out of the way yet visible to passersby, a fresh corpse being remarkably limp and pliable and hard to deal with—dead weight—a cyclist rode slowly by. He noticed what was going on and continued on his way.

While I was standing in my driveway leaning on the shovel, the cyclist came back and asked me if I was all right. Maybe he thought it had been my cat, maybe not, but that a stranger, probably not even a perfect one, had enough compassion and kindness to find out whether I was managing to handle an ex-cat touched me, and I thanked him.

The next day I learned that my immediate neighbors’ cats were all accounted for, and that night when I took the bins out to the street I laid the stiffened corpse on top of our trash headed for the Neal Road landfill, my cat cemetery of choice. I hope it wasn’t your cat.

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Acting

In keeping with my intention to do what I’ve so far avoided for no good reason, I’m taking an acting class. Far fucking out.

I like the theater, I’ve been a theater critic, and Janice’s family is thoroughly theatrical in a professional kind of way.

Acting is very difficult and very far from anything I’ve done. I knew that. My producer once sent me out to do a walk-and-talk commentary on Lake Street in South Minneapolis. I only had to walk about 30 yards and say maybe a hundred words, which I had written. Walking and talking ain’t easy, I found.

Try talking to somebody you hardly know about gut issues using the words of somebody you’ve never even seen and moving around doing stuff at the same time. And you have to memorize all of the words and say them with all the pauses and emphases that the writer put in like you just thought them on the spot because you’re involved with this other person onstage with you, and you don’t know from moment to moment what she’s gonna do, except you damn well better know. Or he.

I’m also doing it because I’m old enough not to care about looking like a ninny. At this point it doesn’t matter what kind of fool I look like, or what kind of fool I am, for that matter, which is quite pleasant. I didn’t realize how much energy I used up trying not to look silly until I stopped, which works out pretty good because I need all the energy I can scare up. I’m gonna practice my lines now.

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Sid Lewis

It’s too bad about Sid Lewis. No matter how things shake out with the corporal injury and assault charges from 2013, this silly reckless-masturbation charge is likely to do him in professionally.

Lewis is apparently a great music teacher, and a lot of people really like him, although I expect that’ll change, because some people are obsessive about sex of any kind, especially if it has anything to do with children and even if it’s imaginary. I think laws about sex, including age restrictions, are automatically unnatural and give too much influence to the most neurotic and fearful among us. The goddamned Puritans are everywhere.

I can see how a 17-year-old girl would be alarmed at finding her employer looking at her while he masturbated, and one source says her reaction was to look away. Smooth move. She looked again, of course, and she says he was still at it. Sid apparently takes masturbation seriously, which I respect.

Actually, I don’t know if any of this is true. I read a couple of articles online, and one said that when the girl saw him she “walked away.” The Enterprise-Record site says she “looked away,” so who the hell knows the details? Not me.

There’s something wrong with a society where a man can’t jack off in his own home. Whether the girl walked away or looked away doesn’t matter. She was free to go. There’s no good reason for Butte County to be involved.

Lewis apparently has his full complement of demons, and now he’s looking at hard time. I feel for him. He and the girl have known each other for years. He surely knew the risk, and yet he trusted her enough to rub one out in front of her. I suspect he’s made other bone-headed decisions.

I also feel for the girl, and I’m glad she needn’t be damaged by all this. The damage has been done to conventional wisdom over many years by punk-assed, fear-mongering legislators. A heterosexual man who isn’t attracted to 17-year-old girls is unusual.

Rather than laughing at Lewis, which he totally deserved, or rolling her eyes and finishing her work, or asking her family to take care of it, or storming out in a huff, or any other way she could respond, these days it makes some kind of sense for a young woman in that situation to call in the government.

I’ve read that he didn’t touch her or try to coerce her, and her psychic burden is whatever she makes it out to be. She’s still in charge of her experience, and that’s good for her; for Lewis, not so much. We could just make him go to therapy and a shaman and maybe do some Reiki. It’d be cheaper than prison and might actually help him.

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Censorship

The Chico News & Review has refused to print From the Edge twice in two months. Do you think they’re trying to tell me something?

The first time an editor rejected my work was in late ’97. Minnesota Law & Politics had recently published a piece about cops, but when I submitted an article about parent’s rights the editor decided it was way more than the lawyerly community could stand. The magazine has since gone out of business.

I started writing From the Edge in 1998, and when we moved to California I’d phone them in to KFAI radio. My producer refused to broadcast one because I had absent-mindedly used one of the words the Federal Communications Commission bans. My bad.

A while back whoever was my editor then—I’m on my eighth—refused to print a column I’d written about clemency for Roman Polanski. The editor said the whole staff agreed with him.

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece about my recent experiences with mental illness and the way mentally ill people are treated in Butte County, one person in particular. That time CNR staff decided that what I’d written might get the paper sued, and they refused to print it. Fine. Wussy, but fine.

This last refusal takes the cake. I wrote about the Sid Lewis mess, based entirely on published accounts on web sites of the Chico Enterprise-Record and KRCR television, and I referenced nothing that wasn’t available around the world. I didn’t think privacy would be an issue, and it wasn’t.

I’m usually way behind the news cycle, but Lewis had only recently been arrested for masturbating in front of a 17-year-old girl, and I had something to say about both him and the girl. I didn’t know anything about Lewis’s arrest last year on charges of assault with a firearm and corporal injury to a spouse until I read about it in the CNR. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for being up to date when actually I wasn’t so much current as too soon. Unbeknownst to me, there’s apparently a limit on these things.

Here’s what my editor said, in part, “It’s a brand new case and there is way too little information available to be putting out opinions in the paper as to what’s going on with either Sid or especially the girl who made the allegation.”

I’m not a reporter, and I feel no obligation to be fair or balanced. I never thought anybody would expect me to toe the CNR’s editorial line in any way out here on the edge, because I haven’t and I don’t. I guess that’s the problem.

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Dating

A couple of months after I graduated to widowerhood, a friend of mine in Minneapolis sent me a link to a dating web site. I have good friends who have been together for many years and who met that way. I can understand how it could work just fine. I tried a personal ad once in Chicago in the early eighties and once in the Twin Cities, with poor results, and I know that’s not much of a sample.

I’m not looking. I was curious, though, so I signed up, and let me tell you, there are a lot of women on the hunt between Sacramento and Redding, which is where most of my candidates live. Every day I get an email with nine little profile pictures of women, usually of her though sometimes obscuring her face, which I don’t quite get. One woman’s picture was of only the top half of her face. Why would she do that? Maybe she has a beard.

Most of the images are slapdash snapshots and don’t do their subjects any favors, which is good. Give me the truth right away. With each picture is the woman’s screen name, home city, and age. So far they’ve been mostly in their 50s and 60s, which makes sense, now and then a 40- or 70-something, and once a lost 38. Now and then there’s a picture of an obviously younger woman that’s apparently how she still thinks of herself. I don’t want to fool anybody, though, and I think I’d use the ugliest photo of me I could manage, so if we picked each other maybe she’d be pleasantly surprised.

For the compatibility questions, I was to answer for myself and also say what I’d want my date to pick. So I could value appearance and want my date to value personality. Some criteria, like smoking or drinking, could be reasonable starting points for winnowing the crop. Others might easily be irrelevant. I’ve been involved with women with children and, believe me, whether a relationship would be hindered by having children at home depends entirely on the children in question.

All that’s academic, because I’m not ready to take an online plunge like that. I don’t know that I’ll ever be. So far the whole process feels too strange and removed to be engaging, but I’m not ruling it out. I love women and enjoy their company. That’s been true forever and has nothing to do with my emotional state. Maybe I’ll put that in my profile, except I’m not looking.

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Guns

I do not favor gun control. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a free gun causing trouble. With the potential for fatal violence always there in a gun’s nature, it tends to sit in stillness, accepting all possibility, like a sharp rock. If guns were left alone to follow their natural bents, I’m sure guns wouldn’t hurt us.

I approve of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Since our system of evermore restriction seems to guarantee eventual revolt, we’re gonna need a way to discourage the goons when they come for us.

Actually, I don’t mean “we.” When the barricades, figurative or otherwise, go up, I’m not gonna be there. My barricade-manning days were long ago, and now I’d just get in the way. Since I want the revolution to succeed, I’d do us all a favor and stay the hell away—it’ll be my grandchildren at the barricades, not me.

I also favor the elimination of guns entirely. I can’t get with most no-gunners because I can’t think of anything sillier than restricting guns to government, and I’ve been trying. No guns, fine. Guns only for goons, no thank you.

If that means now and then a bunch of cute little children get murdered at school, too bad. We could’ve at least harvested their organs. The same governments that collude in sending drones to kill random strangers require that our children be sent to learn the approved world view all together at the same time, which is why they’re sitting ducks. If kids were with their families or off learning something they wanted to know, it wouldn’t be nearly so easy to take them out en masse, like Newtown and Virginia Tech and the rest.

Fear is popular, usually masquerading as security. Since the people afraid of being shot down on the street haven’t actually been shot down, although I guess a former victim might turn crusader, the fear, as usual, is of something that’s never happened.

I have a rather astonished love for us people and our capacity for creation, inevitably including virtually boundless stupidity. If government were perfect, it wouldn’t need guns. Since government clearly isn’t perfect, people should have guns, too. Maybe not crazy people.

I got this far with chasing the thoughts about guns stumbling around in my head when I was inspired. I left my computer and lay on my bed in the sun, where I soon remembered that all I have to do about the gun issue is keep an open heart, the only thing I have to do about anything. You, too.

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Bill Burr

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Useful

I was having one of those days. I’m tempted to say a “bad” day. I won’t, though, because the day was fine, as always. It’s just that I kept getting this lump in my throat and my eyes would tear up and there I’d be, weepy and useless.

I’ve come not to mind weepy. It feels completely natural, not to mention overwhelming anyway, and I don’t resist it when it shows up. I can’t help thinking that I have to be useful, though, even that I ought to be more useful than ever. I have children and responsibilities that go along with them, even if they’re taller than I am. Their hunting and gathering skills are coming along nicely, and meanwhile I’m still vomiting into their mouths so they don’t starve to death.

I found a good distraction, something that would occupy my mind and maybe give me an idea for From the Edge. It’s a quotation I’ve had in my collection for years about “the Negroes,” allegedly from William Faulkner’s The Bear, that attempts to explain the narrator’s perceptions and judgments about them. That’s the ticket—I could verify the quote.

I don’t know where I found the quotation, and although I have a lot of faith in the anarchy of the online world, I’d feel better if I could see the actual words or a reliable attribution on paper in a real book.

I could go to the corporate bookstore in town, except it’s not so much a bookstore as a game-gadget-coffee shop-book store, and since Faulkner hasn’t been on anybody’s bestseller list this century and when he was it wasn’t for The Bear, I feel I’m unlikely to find what I’m looking for there.

I love Lyon Books, on 5th Street across from the plaza, a terrific bookstore for its size, and there’s a chance I could score there, but you could get every book in the building on one wall of The Bookstore in downtown Chico, and that’ll be my first stop.

Like a lot of us, The Bookstore is in money trouble, and the thought that soon it might not be there doesn’t bear thinking about. The Bookstore an intellectual compost pile and recycling at its best. I seldom favor one business over another, and generally I oppose public money aiding and abetting anybody’s capitalist venture, but this time I think we should fire the cop with the most citizen complaints and give the money to The Bookstore. Crime’s down—no problem. Help The Bookstore by giving them money, in person at 118 Main Street or via www.indiegogo/ilovebooks. By the way, they had what I was looking for.

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Goods

I’m having a good day. First, The New Yorkers came. I get two copies every week because my wife and I had our own subscriptions.

When we were first married, I would sometimes look for my New Yorker and find it on her nightstand and sometimes not find it at all until she showed up to tell me where it was. We had reached one of those stages in a marriage when, unbeknownst to the parties involved, something big was about to happen. Actually, it was unbeknownst to Janice and knownst to me.

I was an only child, and once an only child, always an only child. It doesn’t seem to be something I’ll outgrow, like an allergy. Although I don’t usually mind sharing my toys, and I can too play well with others, I want my New Yorker when I want it and wherever I put it last. I’ll share money and food and most other things, but leave my magazine alone, except for Janice.

At that point in our relationship and my life I wasn’t gonna tell my mate to keep her mitts off my mag. I was 45 or -6 and still not mature enough to tell her no. Like diamonds, retardation is forever, as are mates, so I bought my wife her own subscription.

The New Yorker’s arrival makes for a good day because I know I’ll find something good to read—quite possibly something to laugh at, at least the cartoons—and I’m reminded of other useful things I did with and for Janice, which suggests that her life with me maybe wasn’t unending misery and I just didn’t know the difference.

A good thing about winter in our house is that the walnut tree is bare and the sun is low enough to get under the roof overhang, so the back rooms get direct sun, which doesn’t happen in other seasons except for a few minutes just after daybreak. I can actually lie on my bed in full sun and about 10 ayem that’s what I’ll be doing.

Meanwhile I’ve got a jalapeño-cheddar bialy waiting for me, and the little chocolate things Jeannie sent from Minneapolis are killer, melt in your mouth and caress it on the way out. Outside it’s rainy, windy, and Chico-cold, a perfect time to be inside.

I’m grateful for all this comfort—no fear to speak of and not a figurative cloud in sight. I have pleasant memories, positive expectations, and warmth on command. I’m even grateful for PG&E.

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Quotations, 2013

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves.   Carl G. Jung (1875–1961)

Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.   Annie Dillard (1945– )

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.   Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948)

Men are men, but Man is a woman.   Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874–1936)

If others seem deceitful to you, it is because you deceive yourself, and then project this outward upon others.   Seth

Life is a handful of short stories, pretending to be a novel.   Anonymous

A beauty is a woman you notice, a charmer is a one who notices you.   Adlai Ewing Stevenson (1900–1965)

Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.   Wayne W. Dyer (1940– )

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.   Neale Donald Walsch (1943– )

If you can learn to make the mind still, it will be the greatest help to the world.   Ajahn Chah (1918–1992)

The function of prayer is not to influence God but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.   Sǿren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813–1855)

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.   Yiddish proverb

The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you.   David Foster Wallace (1962–2008)

The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.   Carlos Castaneda (1925–1998)

Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.   Seng-Ts’an ( ? –606)

He will always be a slave who does not know how to live upon a little.   Horace (65–8 BCE)

We can’t plan life. All we can do is be available for it.   Lauryn Hill (1975– )

Think enough and you won’t know anything.   Kenneth Patchen (1911–1972)

When you can look at yourself the same way you do a sunset, or a puppy, you are seeing clearly.   Seth

What most of us think of as fear is primarily a mental process of imagining situations that do not exist in the moment.   Cheri Huber (1944– )

Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on, and we are left with a feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end, because it is.   Mark Nepo (1951– )

There comes a time in every man’s life, and it usually does.   Yogi Berra (1925– )

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American prisons: Slavery by the back door

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Jon Gomm

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Maybe the last about Janice

I was talking to a friend recently about grief. His girlfriend committed suicide several years ago, and he’s still dealing with it. I suppose suicide colors everything, though I have no clue how, and even if I knew I wouldn’t know what that meant to the people affected, each of us being unique and all.

His lover died quickly and unexpectedly; my wife died slowly and predictably—way different experiences for all concerned, and still the ragged holes left by their exits are remarkably similar. The world seems incomplete.

Of course, the world is always complete and changing continuously. It’s just that right in through here my world includes an unpredictable feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop, like anticipating something that’s already over.

Several times a day I’ll read something or think of something that I want to tell Janice or show her or ask her about, and I can’t. I remember right away that I can’t ever see or touch her again, and that can take some time. If I’m thinking about something else—or, better yet, not thinking at all—I’m not remembering and feeling sad about her pegging out. I guess if my memory were better I wouldn’t forget that she’s not here and then have to remember it over and over and be suddenly sad over and over.

I know that Janice is fine, that her essence is ebullient and joyful. We shared that certainty, and that thought, no matter how certain, is nothing like having a real human right here for a long time and then gone. Her stuff is all over the place and there’s nobody to ask what ought to happen to it. I pick up a likely pile of apparently random papers and folders and want to ask Janice what to do with it and then all over again I have to remember she’s dead.

I’ve nearly finished with the paperwork of dying, toting around the death certificate or faxing it somewhere and signing here and initialing there and, “I’m sorry for your loss.” “Me too.”

The day before she died was the first time she was unresponsive to me. Her vitality had been diminishing for months, faster lately. She hadn’t said much for a couple of weeks, sometimes a word in my ear I could make out, no more.

Near the end I thought I could still tell what she wanted. She had no words and didn’t need them. Sometimes I think maybe I was fooling myself at the end, and she was miserable and a captive to my incompetence. I don’t think that often, which is just as well.

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A good turn

We didn’t have a car in the autumn of 2002. Janice had just gotten back from taking the boys on a tour of the northwest’s graduate schools, stopping in Chico last, and nobody was looking forward to a carless Minnesota winter.

Then at a reception for a group show Janice was in, a friend of ours said he might know of a car we could get for nothing. It belonged to a neighbor of his, and he thought there might not be much wrong with it. I had heard the not much wrong with it line before, and I still went to see the car’s family a couple of days later. The woman who owned the car and her husband turned out to be lawyers with their hearts in the right place, like Andy Holcombe. They signed the title over to me, gave me a fat folder of repair receipts, and wished me luck. She said she’d smelled gasoline in the passenger compartment, and that’s how she knew it was time to move on.

I didn’t want to drive a bomb, but if I could get it home and find a way to pay for the necessary repairs and insurance, we’d have a car. It had been sitting closed up for some days, and inside it reeked of gasoline. On the other hand, I had the title in my pocket, so I fired it up and drove home with the windows down in December in Minneapolis. It sat until I could drive it to a repair shop with any hope of paying at least for the diagnosis, and the fix was I think $82.00.

It was a good runner, and still is. While we were on a camping trip in our godawful Taurus wagon, the Civic even got itself stolen. A few days after we got back I saw it in a vacant lot a few blocks away, and the replacement ignition made it a two-key Honda ever after.

The godawful Taurus soon expired, and when we moved I drove the Civic from Minneapolis to Chico with all of us in it. Fortunately the boys were much smaller. So was I.

It’s taken us camping and retreating and to Chico Country Day and Bidwell Junior High and Pee Vee and Butte College and Los Angeles. I’ve never had a car nearly this long in my life, and now it’s got to go.

Since it was given to me, I’m giving it to KZFR—which can use the money—a good next step for a good old car.

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Relief

As Janice got sicker over the summer, I gradually stopped talking on my phone. It was always a crappy little thing and then it started dropping more calls than it completed and I couldn’t deal with its transmission delay that doesn’t allow normal conversation and having to say everything at least twice and go stand by the window and hope for the best.

I guy I know had been calling me frequently when he was in his cups, three-to-six sheets to the wind. He might bitch about a perceived slight or brag about the latest freelance job he’d gotten. Boisterous and given to hyperbole, he’s a decent guy and means no harm. We hardly ever agreed on anything, and I don’t think he ever noticed.

I know it was the stress of taking care of Janice that decreased my tolerance for technology, that and what callers usually wanted to talk about I didn’t want to discuss. I knew it then, and I didn’t care, so I told my friends that I might call them back, but I was through answering every call, and that email, being quiet and patient, was my preferred means of communication.

The fellow in question used to leave voicemails that said he only wanted to chat, which I’d guessed anyway. I sent him an email saying that I wasn’t chatting for the foreseeable future, and, if he had something important to convey to me, email was his best bet. I thought that was that.

At the end of one especially long day, with many people coming and going, I had finally gotten Janice settled for sleep and finished my chores and was lying on the bed. As I tried to gather what energy and wits I had left in order to read aloud to her, a gift she loved, my phone rang. Usually on vibrate, my phone had been set to ring so I wouldn’t have to carry it around with me, and it went off maybe a foot from my ear.

I tried to tell my stupid phone to ignore the call, thus sending the call straight to voicemail and ending the racket on my nightstand. Instead, by accident I answered the call. I broke the connection a couple of seconds later, hoping he wouldn’t notice, and then turned my phone off for the night.

The next morning I got an indignant email from him declaring his outrage and assuring me that I needn’t “worry ’bout me callin’ no damn more.” Yes, he actually wrote ’bout and callin’, and yes, I was relieved, like being unsubscribed.

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