Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Quiet Little Wars"

I've been wanting to blog something as of late besides my usual serialized stories. I found this. I believe I've posted it before. Perhaps not?


"Quiet Little Wars"

I woke up this morning and tried to keep quiet to let Johannah sleep. Outside my door people were yelling at each other, not mad but madly, trying to figure out which truck to use to go retrieve which other truck and whether or not some paperwork had come in on still another truck. It was all so very stupid. It gave me a headache. I lay there in bed quietly clicking over the channels on the television, my ears straining to hear the level 8 out of fifty levels of volume.

Outside, as the clock showed eight-oh-one in the morning, a neighbor started up his riding lawn mower. Gas and BRRRRRMMMMMM floated in through the window.

Hunger hit. I got up and went to the kitchen and got a quick glass of milk. A quick glass of milk keeps me from saying “Mornin’” to anyone. I walked back to my bedroom, sat on the edge of the bed and drank the hunger away, my ears still straining to hear that level eight volume. Fresh cut grass now mixed with the gas coming in through the window. I coughed and coughed, tying to keep it in. I gulped the milk, took it to the kitchen, put water in the glass and headed down the hall for the bathroom. After pissing, I went back to sit on the edge of the bed and watched TV, still straining to hear level eight.

Television got boring quickly, so I lie back down and read some. I wasn’t really reading, I was passing the time and pretending to read. While my eyes flashed over the words on the printed page I was thinking other things. “I have that paperwork to fill out and send to the doctor. I have that paperwork to fill out and send to Sallie Mae. I have those manuscripts to stamp and send off. I wonder if the library is open today, I wish it was closer so I could walk there. I wonder what my bank account balance is. I’d like to play a war game right now. What happened to Where’s Waldo? Are they still publishing those damned things?”

Three pages and fourteen minutes later, I hadn’t a clue what I’d just read.

“I’m hungry,” I said aloud, though not loud.

I walked back to the kitchen and found the little dishtowel on the handle of the oven door completely disheveled. I hate that. It takes all of 3 seconds to properly put a dishtowel away. It’s not supposed to be stuffed or thrown on; it should hang nicely, squarely. I squared it off with the funny leaves and flowerpots looking out and brightening the kitchen with unseen smiles. A tag hung off the towel to one side. I hate that, too. I reached out and tore it off. Perfection.

I got another glass of milk and returned to sit on the edge of the bed. More yelling, more mowing. People seem to need to make noise to validate their existence. There is no validation. Just noise. Just life. Then death. In between there is only noise. My ears strained to hear that level eight. Golden Girls. I hate the show, yet I’m fascinated by the fantasy it offers, like any other fantasy, but packaged neatly, tightly, quickly into twenty-two minutes and followed more regularly than anything Tolkein or Mallory ever wrote. They weren’t masters of fantasy. Golden Girls is.

Commercials. Commercials remind me that even the sitcom writers aren’t masters of fantasy. Advertising in a flash-bang-pop. Buy this and you’ll be the hero. Sitcoms allow you to watch regular heroes. Commercials entice you to become one. False heroes, maybe. I guess that’s arguable. But heroes just the same. And isn’t King Arthur a fake, after all? Perhaps based in reality. Perhaps. But a fake nonetheless. An elaborated, exaggerated fantasy man. A hero. A commercial.

With every new commercial that snaps on my mind feels, tastes the attention it is given by my eyes. The same happens when the commercial break is over. Reruns. Reruns of reruns. Watching dead men and women talking in a life-like fantasyland. Miami, Chicago, L.A., Detroit, New York. Give it a real place and suddenly it’s all so real. False realism. Just lie to me.

Johannah wakes up and moans her morning “I hate mornings” moan. She’s hungry. I’m hungry. I can’t write. She’s hungry, too. I can leave the house without showering. She can’t. So I turn the television up to volume level twenty-two, trying to drown out the yelling and the mowing, and I lay on the bed watching reruns tell jokes timely for the late ‘80s. Her shower’s done. We leave.

Outside the sky is dark to the north. Winds blow from the same direction. There’s moisture in the air. I can smell that wet natural smell, I can feel it land on my skin and expand my flesh. Rehydration through osmosis.

An army of dandelions is slowly choking out the green of the grass. The neighbor is mowing down his lawn, spraying yellow and green into the air. It makes me cough and clog up.

The window on the back of the truck has been opened. I dunno who does it, but every day it’s open and if I leave it open the next day it’s open just a little more. I close it. In the cab of the truck, Johannah’s readjusting the rearview mirror. I get in and pop on the stereo.

There’s this little place about two blocks from us called Khio’s. It’s an old building that looks like a small barn and if you didn’t pay attention as you drove past I’m sure it would mix in with the landscape very well. But one day I noticed it and a half dozen cars parked out front. That’s when we realized it was a restaurant. At Khio’s we can get a huge meal for half the price that fast-food joints charge us for a coupla sandwiches. We eat in silence. Someone in the restaurant lights a cigarette. Smoking is still allowed in restaurants here. My coughing causes us to eat faster.

I wished I could be writing this morning. I wished I were dead. I wished cancer would come and consume that smoker like a ravenous patron devouring runny eggs. I wondered what was on TV.

We left. $11 plus a two-dollar tip, thirteen bucks total for more food than we can usually eat.

“I have some stuff to mail out,” she tells me.

“Shit,” I say. “I had manuscripts.” I should be sending out more things to more mags. I’ve only got three things out right now. I need money. We need money. I should buy some stamps and send out those manuscripts. Goddamn this world. What does a guy do when the world he lives in is made of liquid money? I can’t swim! I just want a rocking chair. I can’t even afford a goddamned rocking chair. A rocking chair would let me sit and enjoy life, relax a bit, maybe even take that daytime nap I’ve been trying to take for the last three days. But a man can’t even afford a cheap luxury if he doesn’t know how to swim. Like any of this really matters. None of this matters in the course of human history, but I don’t give a fuck about the course of human history. The way I figure it, every little thing out there is out to get you, out to fuck up what you’ve got. The people, the mowers, the politicians, the smokers, the dandelions, the grass, the reruns, the commercials, the whole damned world is out there and they’ve each quietly declared their own little wars on you. They’ve drawn their lines in the sand and the only thing you can do is ease the distractions.

“Wanna go home and get them?”

“Nah, I’ll do it later.”

We went to the post office. We went to the store.

“Hey, Gunner’s got me hungry for Pop Tarts.” Gunner’s a friend of mine in Cali. “Can I get some Pop Tarts?”

Johannah gives me a suspicious look. She knows I don’t eat sugar. I’m convinced all the corporations involved with food use the addictive qualities of the sweetness of sugar to fish hook people into buying all their foods. Why does juice need corn syrup?

“Sure,” she says. I grab some. The box says they taste like banana split sundaes. I’m not a big ice cream guy, but if you’re gonna eat sugar you might as well go for broke.

We head for home. I eat a single, lonely Pop Tart. I don’t really wanna eat its twin, but somehow I feel wrong, bad even, for eating just the one. But I had such a huge breakfast! I give in, damage my teeth some more and eat the second Pop Tart, washing it down with my third glass of milk for the day. From here on I’ll only drink water.

The Yellers are gone, as is their truck. I can only assume they’re in the truck yelling at each other on the way to get the other truck. The Mower was still mowing, but he was almost done. Now I’m sitting and writing all of this and feeling my teeth ache under the sticky film of sugar. I need a shower. And I need to brush my teeth. I wonder if Burt Reynolds ever went without brushing his teeth. Or any of the presidents. I guess Washington did.

I wonder if wrestling will be interesting tonight. It rarely is. Most of the time wrestling is just the same shit, different day. But a few times each year there’s that one thing, that one act or event that really blows your mind. History-making stuff. Maybe not in the overall course of human history, but in the history of the business. But you still watch it, three hundred sixty-five days a year. Wrestling is about entertainment, sure, but that’s a very minor part of it. In a more sweeping generalization, wrestling is about escapism. It’s my time to tell the whole world to go fuck itself and leave me alone. While I’m writing, it can be interrupted by the need to do laundry. While I’m doing laundry, it can be interrupted by a phone call. But don’t even think about calling me during wrestling unless, of course, you’re watching wrestling and wanna talk about wrestling. And that brings me to the second reason I watch wrestling: ritual. We all need our rituals to make us feel in control. Something to do, consistently, even mindlessly, at very specific intervals in the course of our lives, be it daily, weekly or semi-annually. Wrestling is, more than anything, about ritual and history. It provides a real-life language of numbers, numbers that you can track and control in your head and guess what’s going to happen and freak out excitedly when some new number is thrown into the formula. Bukowski had his horses, which he cared for more as a way to contact humanity and play with the numbers at the betting window. Hem had his bullfights, which is completely about ritual and doing things by the numbers. If the matador doesn’t do things by the numbers, he risks getting hurt. And then there’s that one freak occurrence when the matador missteps and POW gets GORED. I get the same from wrestling

I also get the same from war gaming. I’ve loved war-gaming since I was a kid. Chess, Go, Conflict, Risk, what have you. H.G. Wells liked war games, too. Currently I’m playing a turn-based strategy video game called Dai Senryaku VII. I enjoy turn-based more than real-time, though I like real-time, too. But war games are all about the management of numbers for fuel, for ammo, for movement, and deployment, for shape of attacks and planning. It’s all numbers. It brings a sense of control and exercises part of the brain that needs to flex under the logic of numbers. Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. Math truly is everywhere cuz part of the human brain is geared for such thinking. We made up numbers, so we look for them and use them and see them everywhere. I dunno if it’s because Hem and Buk and Wells and I and others are creative types and we need to balance things out with some less creative, more logical processes. That idea works for me. But who knows?

I like my drivel. It is comfortable, true, and the rituals give you a strange sense of belonging. I can’t swallow humanity most days, but I have to. If I want to eat, I gotta go to the market. If I want to go somewhere, even to get away from it all, I have to at least go to a gas station. Humanity is everywhere. And dealing with humanity most days is like getting fucked in the eye. Fuck humanity right back. Hey you! Asshole listening to his music at the gas station on EXTREMELY LOUD, go find a way to bend your dick around and shove it up your own ass!

Wrestling gives me a safe connection with humanity. While there is escapism to it all, there is also a good reflection of the real world in wrestling. I can watch it all in a comical way, clown-like and superhero like and galactic arch-nemesis-like. Like science fiction. Some have said science fiction lets us deal with real world issues and ideals from an objective point of view. I disagree. I don’t think it’s objective at all. Most science fiction is quite judgmental. But science fiction proposes an alternate reality to our own, but the alien nature of the whole mess makes it okay to look at things without feeling completely uncomfortable. True, some science fiction is disturbing, but it’s never as disturbing as reality. Never. The distance between us and the odd worlds of science fiction gives a false notion of viewing a separate universe and we can thus keep saying to ourselves, “It’s only a book.” Just like some people who watch horror flicks keep having to tell themselves, “It’s only a movie.” We can deal with reality via science fiction or horror or all the other ‘sub-genres’, which is why these sub-genres are never really fully en vogue, yet their popularity never truly diminishes either.

Wrestling, in a sense, does that for me. Everywhere around the world people are gathering in halls and backyards and stadiums and college campuses to watch a local or global promotion go crazy in the squared circle for a few hours. It feeds us. Millions and millions and legions of fans are we. That creates a certain brotherhood, or it can. I’m not into the idea of becoming a member of any brotherhood. I’m not your brother, asshole, so don’t come up to me at any event I may happen to be at and say hi like you're somebody to me. I may be friendly and nice, just to be cordial, but it’ll be meaningless and fake. I’ll be uncomfortable and suspicious and hateful mostly towards you. And if you’re truly an ass about it: I’ve no inhibitions on kicking your ass and making your girl hold my jacket while I do it. So stay the fuck away.

But watching wrestling on TV or following it online or reading about it in mags keeps me in touch with humanity. Sometimes with my own humanity. Ritual and repetition makes a person sane. That’s why we’re all drowning in our own mediocrity and complaining about lost loves or failed fortunes to make the mediocrity of daily life seem worthwhile, ambitious, and valid. We’d rather take the ritual than the chance.

So much of my life is chaotic, hateful, filled with spit and gushing with ugliness that’s far too out of my control that I’ve turned to wrestling for my sanity and my rituals and my begrudgingly admitted need for connection with humanity. I watch wrestling to spy on others and for the repetition.

I’ve changed this story from narrative to exposition, this thing of words becoming more a personal essay. I wouldn’t be surprised if I turn back to the narrative at some point. This should throw some of my readers off. You expect certain things, consciously and conditioned, from what you read. I honestly don’t owe you a fucken goddamned thing. I owe myself only the ritual of writing, for writing, too, keeps me from tasting blue steel and hot lead once again. Wow. Blue Steel and Hot Lead. Sounds like a good title for a story.

In any case, for my wordy wanderings I apologize. Not that I am truly sorry for the meanderings. What I write will go where it will and I defend the right of my mind and my words to do so. But you will need that apology anyways. So I give you an apology simply to keep you reading. Bitch afterwards. I’ll be sure to ignore it.

I sit on the edge of my bed rocking back and forth with restless boredom. The television is still on, quietly draining me of concentration. I think about playing a war game. Johannah’s getting ready for work, banging about the kitchen. She’s been called in. Somebody’s sick. She has to cover. More voices join in and the yelling picks up outside, some of them are kids on their way home from school. I should be writing, but I’m not.

I go into the kitchen. The towel on the stove is crooked again. I fix it. An ice cube has fallen onto the floor. I pick it up and throw it into the sink. My cat sits in the middle of the kitchen, getting under foot. I pick her up and take her into the bedroom, laying her on the bed. I pet her. Someone on television paraphrases Robert Frost. I have to recite the poem in my head in full before I can move on with my life. My stomach rumbles. I gotta take a shit, but I wanna see Johannah off to work. I leave the cat on the bed and return to the kitchen.

“Okay,” Johannah says, “I’m off to work.” She kisses my cheek. I tell her the routine “Have a good day, call me if you need nuthin’.” She leaves. The house is quiet. The world outside is roaring, raging. I need to write. I need to shit. I do both with a notebook balanced on my knee. The shits make drain me of water.

Out of the bathroom I sit on the edge of the bed again. My body rocks back and forth. I’m dehydrating. Television is so fucken boring. I decide a game’s the answer to my distraction needs. I’m bored at the opening screen. I snap it off. I snap the television off. I need water. I drink some from the kitchen tap. Then I go to bed and wait for Johannah and sleep to come join me. Please come join me. I need sleep. I need rest. I’m in my own bed and I want to go home.

The cat jumps off the bed and leaves the room.

Johannah won’t be home for hours. I won’t sleep until then. Then I can yawn and stretch and wander off to sleep for a few hours before the dawn and the yelling wakes me up again. But maybe tomorrow will be different.

Outside, voices yell and a neighbor starts his electric saw.

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