Last Thursday was the day the scheme of things pulled a shocker on me. It was fairly alarming when I stop and think about it. That's not even to say I was alarmed when it happened, but it did hit me as being an unexpected twist, and it's kinda stayed with me. I have to applaud the powers-that-be, whatever and wherever they are...they took me by surprise and I thought I was above that kind of susceptibility.
The path of my life was as systematic as any and I found it an amusing one. I'll admit that early on I was a victim of The Collective Ignorance (which may be the greatest running joke of all time); I was a little man hammering away in the workings of the big machine, as guilty as anyone else of thinking there was more to it. I was just part of the ruse and it was only a year ago I recognized the truth of things.
Still, regularity was the rule. Sure, I'd found my way around to seeing the humor in it, but at the same time it seemed neither proper nor necessary to change anything. Even as a player who saw the strings being yanked, I didn't think it gave me license to interject my own ideas into the plot. After all, why gum up a plan that's been successful for millennia, right?
Anyway, like I said, last Thursday was a real shocker.
It kicked off the same way as always, fairly indistinguishable from any other weekday morning in recent memory. The alarm clock blasted in my ear, like always. As usual, I hit the SNOOZE button, a good, reliable running gag, and found my way out of bed ten minutes later. Give or take.
I followed The Eternal Script religiously, shambling off to the bathroom for the essential dash of cold water but holding off on the shower and the shave. That's heavy activity and I can't scare up that kind of enthusiasm without a trip to the Espresso-Matic.
Diane was bustling about the kitchen in her own cantankerous, late-running frenzy---my wife, the morning caricature. On that eventful Thursday her motivation was the glasses. She couldn't find her glasses and that was the special impetus to her ranting.
She was blaming Britney, although Britney insisted that she hadn't even seen them. Diane was inclined more often than not to give the kids the benefit of the doubt, but she must have (like me) remembered Britney's latest schtick.
The latest gag that had wormed its way into Brit's lexicon was wanting to “wear glasses the way Mommy does when she reads.” Whenever Diane doffs the bifocals, Britney is sure to pick them up and throw them on.
I know, right? It's hilarious.
Diane acted upset when Brit added this attribute to her repertoire. She tried to reason with Brit, saying that the glasses were to correct her impaired vision, they weren't for a little girl whose eyesight was perfect, and, oh, Britney, you can damage your eyesight if you wear your Mommy's glasses!
Which led Brit to the logical progression of asking, “if I damage my eyesight, will I be able to wear glasses?” Diane became furious at this point, which was a silly (albeit predictable) way to be. What did she expect her to say? But sadly, I suppose, that's the flaw, and ultimately the purpose in Diane's personality; She's the quintessential foil----she doesn't expect the expected.
So off she went on that strange Thursday morning, all a-grumble, the course charted for her morning warpath. As I made my coffee and sat down at the kitchen table, I knew this scenario would end with Diane owing Brit an apology. The glasses would inevitably turn up in her coat pocket or something. It was a foreseeable conclusion, or at least I thought so, but it was ironclad, dependable, a classic-in-the-making....and dammit, the classics never die.
Brit and Brandon were sitting, mesmerized, eating their bowlfuls of the latest sugar-ball concoction, staring at their reflections, their four-color symbiotes, in the television. It was a DVD or some streaming cartoon show, I'm not sure which. Like everything else, it all begins to overlap and appear the same. It doesn't matter, though----either one is a passable sedative.
It was hard, though, as it sometimes is, to differentiate from the onscreen and offscreen action. The cartoons and the puppets squeak and yell and bounce and so do the kids watching them. They seem interchangeable much of the time. On this day, Brandon stuck out amid the TV room antics by complaining too much and letting his face drip.
“Daddeeeeee,” he whined, and I didn't answer. I figured it was fair, and in keeping with our routine, to give him several rounds of apathy.
“Daddy,” Brit chimed in.
“Daddy, Brandon's crying! Daddy...”
“What's the matter, Brandon?”
“Daddy,” whimpering, his face running, “why do you and Mommy both have to go to work?”
That was an easy one. “So we can afford to give you nice things, son.”
“I don't want Mommy to work,” he cried, face like an open faucet. “I want Mommy to stay hooooommmme.”
“It's okay, Brandon,” being the consummate Daddy Character and trying to quell his noise. “When we pay off the mortgage, Mommy will quit her job.” Not that I expected my little five-year-old to understand the concept of a mortgage, nor even the absurdity that we might move before the mortgage was paid and have to start all over again, but it was a handy pacifier. The mortgage actually wouldn't be paid off for another ten years---by then Brandon would be old enough to stop caring. Solutions to long term problems come easy in this life.
It was then that Diane came through, owing Brit that apology. Beautiful. Like Clockwork. I marveled, as I often have, over the simplicity, the way everything just falls in its place that way.
I must, now, take my hat off to Diane. The imagination the bravery it must take to play the hand that she plays...the way she can come up with a new motivator for her routine every morning. It must take a lot of strain to maintain this kind of a daily character. I always had the easy role I the family. All I had to do was kick back, wear those elbow patches, play the model husband/father, smile and beam, patronize, pontificate and come up with the occasional piece of fortune cookie wisdom. Six months ago the elbow patches happened. I bought a Robert Young sweater. Diane doesn't even know who Robert Young was. It was a private joke, and one I really fancied. It was the ultimate symbol of my station in life and my chance to play it to the hilt. I figured if I could fake the part with half of Diane's conviction I'd be doing okay for myself.
After Diane apologized to Brit, she stomped around some more, no doubt having found some new, pressing detail to fret over. Brandon kept crying. I told him to get ready, as Brit was already doing. “Daddy's going to have you get off to school soon.”
“Noooo, Daddy, I don't want to gooooo!”
“Jesus, Bruce!” Religion, intruding upon my domestic bliss.
“What's the matter, hon?”
“Why don't you get moving?! How are the kids ever going to be prepared for the world out there the way you're setting examples?”
“Bruce, for crying out loud! It's no wonder this house is going to hell! Nothing gets done unless I do it, nobody's ready on time in the mornings, JESUS!” Again, with the religion. “Aren't you concerned? You have somewhere to go, too! You've been missing more and more work, you linger in the mornings forever before you get up and do anything...what kind of an example are you setting for these kids?”
I took another sip of coffee. Brandon's nose was running. None of the moppets capering around on the television screen were upset or crying. It seemed to me that Brandon had good examples all around him.
Diane was mad, though. She couldn't get out the door fast enough. “People who slack off don't make it in the world anymore,” seizing her briefcase, “it's getting harder and harder. I can feel that----why can't you? I wish you'd help convey that more to your children,” high heels clacking on the porch, door slamming.
I stretched my inert bones. “Up and at 'em, kids.” I polished off the coffee and hit the shower.
I made it into the office a little over an hour later after packing the kids up and depositing them at school. Cicely, the kids' keeper, expressed her concern over how late they were. I guess it was okay, though, as she was smiling the whole time. Smiley. That girl never quits smiling. A delightful stick figure of a woman, a grotesque grin that graces my brain on the run five minutes a day, five days a week.
The flourescently-lit hallways of my workplace twist and wind and they all look alike. When I got to work I was just just walking around, admiring the strangeness of it all. It's easy to get lost there; I'm reminded of a recurring dream I have----it's high school, I have my schedule of classes and I can't find any of them. I end up dividing my school day between the cafeteria and the library (it's easy to catch a few Zs there). Eventually I realize there are finals for classes I've never gone to and I panic----somewhere in my head I'm still trapped in that school-reality of childhood where such things seem to matter. Here in the present I wandered the halls and wasn't sure where I was going or had been before. Sporadically, colleagues would come around corners, exit rooms and enter other rooms. It reminded me of all the old “Scooby Doo” cartoons. I laughed at this----it was almost as if giant, unseen masterminds were lifting dividers in a maze, allowing roaches to scramble from one refuge to the next, never actually escaping, just scurrying in the shadows.
In this configuration, what was I but one of the roaches who'd learned the trick? That was the amusing part, I think.
“Bruce?” It was Berrigan, calling me in for another chat. “You got a minute?”
“Sure!” I like Berrigan; He's the head roach. I've known him for years. He's a stationary figure in the maze, always there to greet you with his squinty eyes and constipated smile. He's as terrified as the other roaches when the dividers go up, always sending memos and calling meetings. He always talks friendly, whatever he has to tell you. It's an unbeatable shtick, because even if he happens to be dumping on you, it's impossible to hold it against him.
“Bruce,” taking his seat behind the desk, “I've got some bad news for you.”
I remember when I was young, my folks took me to see “Mary Poppins”. Mary sang a song in that movie, something about medicine going down. The song still holds true, I think, even if you aren't a tot. That hilarious, pained smile. Berrigan was sugar, even if he didn't know it.
“Things are getting tough for the company. Bruce, I've known you for a while, you've been with us forever, but you just haven't been pulling your weight like you used to, and these young guys, you know, they're just putting all the money on the books. It's a new world, my man.”
I let out a loud giggle. I just couldn't suppress it---this was rich. Berrigan looked askance at me, but he had a job to do and he wasn't about to let my good sense of humor stop him. “I told you this day might come,” he said, “ I encouraged you to watch your ass, but you didn't. You remember that?”
I just laughed.
“I told you the kinds of numbers you were going to have to pull in. You remember that? The top brass needs to trim the fat. You're the fat.”
I couldn't stop laughing. “The kids, “ I told him between guffaws, “their names are Britney and Brandon. They both start with a BR. It's like they're matching salt and pepper shakers! It's funny----you get it???” I laughed and then I cried. Then I laughed again.
“Bruce,” he said, “You need help. And maybe you should get help----but it's really not our problem anymore. You need to clean out your desk.”
He wasn't smiling anymore. I was still laughing, though. I got the joke---he didn't. I saw it coming, but even he didn't think I would. Insight. At that moment, I was the Head Roach.
To cut back on irrelevant details, Diane walked and she took the kids. Out the door she headed, Brandon and Brit each under one arm like two clumsy, flailing pieces of luggage. On her way out the door she harangued me about responsibility and tossed a few silly cliches around. I laughed and admired her guts, going through life with such narrowly-defined parameters.
I stayed home for a few days, ignored the phone and watched TV. The kids are gone, but there are other children in this house. I see them in the mornings, bouncing across the screen like rubber balls, singing jingles for some new, candy-striped toothpaste. They're my children, too, and I'm positive Diane and I spawned them right around the same time Brandon and Britney were conceived.
More and more, though, I spend less time at home. I spend more time at the park, watching everything fly by with technicolor vitality. Sometimes I don't stay home at all except to sleep and I know there's great danger in that. I know one day I'll head home and find my house gone, as if it had never been there.
I appreciate these latest developments----you could see it keeps me on my toes----but it's frustrating. Every day I sit in the park and the parade of life whirls and dances past me. But it pays me no mind----I'm a spectator, not a participant, it all passes me by and I can't touch it. It averts me, and I'm bothered by this. It know things will change, I just have to wait for the next step in the plot, the next funny wrinkle life throws my way. Hopefully it doesn't get here too late.
I'm getting impatient, though, and desperate. Yesterday I caught a pigeon and held it where I could stare into its eyes. Face to face. It was terrible, Even as it pecked, clawed, scratched and objected, its eyes were nothing but empty, black beads. It struggled, but it wouldn't show me anything, not an ounce of life on its face. I threatened it and beat it, but it held its ground, its eye-things remaining dull, black and inanimate. I grabbed its head in an angry last ditch to make it show me life, jerking it left, then right, front, then back, this way, then that. This way, then that.
Copyright 1991 C.F. Roberts, 2017 Molotov Editions
THIS WEEK'S PLAYLIST:
EYEHATEGOD-Story of the Eye