Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I will not eat all the eggs


My wife has left me, at least for a few days.

I figure she's coming back, because the two year old is still here, and she seems to genuinely care for him, so I can't imagine she'd just leave him sitting around like this.

She conveniently skipped town right during a week when I have two social functions to attend.
 

This is why you have to work out resentments early on in your marriage, otherwise they stew for years and come out in the form of horrific betrayals. She knows I can't handle socializing anymore; she knows how much I need her as a kind of big rock to place between me and people who might approach me. She's my rock, and now she's gone.

In her stead is this weird little creature of questionable provenance. Don't get me wrong, he's cute as these things go, but I don't see myself in him the way I would in a mirror or driveway puddle.

Where I am dark, he is fair; my eyes are many colors mixed together unwisely and into a sludgy brown; his are blue and flinty, like a judgmental Nazi. I am big and have hair in my bathing suit areas; he is in the 3rd percentile for height and weight and frequently points out my hairiness when given an opportunity, sometimes just staring at it, and shouting No! as if it goes against his understanding of reality.

Since we are confined to close quarters for the week, I decided to make him useful by practicing my social skills on him.

Sometimes, when I first start small-talking again, I picture those old cartoons, where a guy cracks open his wallet and little moths fly out.

Initially, I got too worked up and took it for real. Even though he was just sitting on the couch in his pajamas and eating a banana, I really psyched myself out, and felt like I was stuck in an elevator with the President.

I stumbled into the kitchen to regroup. We keep a bottle of white wine vinegar in the cupboard, and a little voice inside me said, what if that was real wine-would you drink it? Another voice said yeah, drink it all would you like on a salad and I told that voice to shut up because I didn't appreciate its syntax.

This is stupid, he's just a two year old kid. I can talk to him. I'll talk to him right now. I'll do it.

I just need a topic.

My wife often calls me 'Poop Guy', but not in an affectionate way; in fact, her voice is quite distant when she says it. It's because she feels like I frequently discuss excrement or things to do with the excretion process, but that's not really accurate. I feel like I don't discuss those things any more often then society as a whole does, and I point to such scatological works as The Canterbury Tales and the Fart Scrolls of Edo's Floating period as evidence of my good and cultured company.

Not that I feel the need to justify myself, but that being said, it is perfectly fine and above reproach that I chose "poop" as the topic of chit-chat with my son, and he, in his turn, said "poop" back to me with his usual degree of enthusiasm for the subject.

This is when the flaw in my plan to use him as a socialization rehearsal subject appeared.

He's only two; he speaks in the manner and of the interests of a two-year old. Once I broke the ice with him, it was like shooting talky fish in a party barrel. I feel just sick writing that line right there, the one right before this one. Just a godawful simile. It's like I'm writing the flavor text for an Applebees menu. Dammit, stop! Get back to how important it is that you utilize a two-year old for your social betterment!

Anyways, I decided it would be an interesting thought experiment to not hear him as he is, a two year old boy, but to hear him speaking as if he were a man, expressing the same needs and wants, but with the conversational toolset of a adult. I could therefore work through my difficulties in relating to other people from within a scenario where it was "safe to fail". 


This is not entirely unlike the premise of the hilarious Look Who's Talking trilogy, so I am standing with confidence on the shoulders of giants.

 

To sum up, it went poorly.

His inherent absurdity undermined any inroads into small talk that I could have made.

I won't bore you with the play by play, but a few highlights should suffice:

Me: Do you want chicken for dinner?

Child-as-Man: No. Yes. Yes, with ketchup please. No.

Keep in mind, what the child really said was, "No, yeah! Yeah! Chup! No," but for our purposes, I will not translate each line. Just know that he speaks as a typical two year old boy: grunts, single words often poorly enunciated, sometimes no responses at all, as if deaf or choking.

Me: Here's your chicken.

C-M: No. Yes, that's right. I did want chicken. And I wanted ketchup as well. I will eat it with a fork-no wait, with a spoon. No, I have thrown my spoon to the floor and would like a fork again. No, not that one, that one has already been handed to me once already. Yes, one there from the dishwasher, yes thanks. Oh, you left the dishwasher open, here just let me get down and shut it for you. Drat, when I got down, I clumsily dropped my new fork. Well, it's no good to me now. Let me just grab all the forks left in the dishwasher and keep them by my side, that should prevent things from going wrong again. What? Oh no! It appears that I had ketchup all over my hands and did not know it. Now each of these forks are tainted. Perhaps it will be a spoon for me after all.

 

Me: Would you like to listen to some music while we drive?

C-M: Yes. How about that Wiggles CD I am so fond of?

In case you are unfamiliar with Australia's The Wiggles, know that they are exactly the kind of children's music you would expect to slither up from the tackiest, and most poisonous, country on earth.

Me: Well, okay. Do you have a song preference?

C-M: Yes, the first one. I believe it is called "Wiggly Party". song plays Ahh yes, that's the tune.

The song in question bludgeons you with enthusiasm for almost four minutes; it has the power to rupture the blood vessels of the eye, not unlike attempting a pull-up after many years of only sitting down.

Me: So that one's done, and-

C-M: Hold on there. Might I have that one again? It's my favorite after all.

Me: Again? Sigh. OK. song plays

C-M: Seemed shorter that time. How about another go?

Me: Really?

C-M: Yes. That would be fantastic.

Me: This is the last time, though, all right? All right? song plays

C-M: No. No I don't believe that should actually be the last time. I still would very much like to hear Wiggly Party again. song plays

Me: How about "Even My Butthole Has A Wiggle" now?

C-M: No, let's stick with Wiggly Party. I think we have a good thing going with it, and I wouldn't want to jinx it. song plays

Me: I'm getting kind of tired of-

C-M: I'm not. Wiggly Party, please. song plays

C-M: That's La Cucaracha. I am neither deaf nor an idiot. Please play Wiggly Party again or I will make this trip very uncomfortable for you. And please roll up your window, it's playing hell with the acoustics in here. song plays

 

Me: It is time for you to take a bath.

C-M: No. Yes. That's right, I forgot that I enjoy baths. Just let me take off all my clothes, starting with the tape of my diaper and working outwards to my pants. Oh geez, that's not good.

Me: What??

C-M: Well you see, had I known my diaper was full of unusually loose stool, I would have waited to take it off until after the rest of my clothes had been removed, and then most likely asked for your assistance in preventing a mess. But now....

Me: Just....just don't move.....

C-M: Should I sit?

Me: No, don't!

C-M: Kneel?

Me: No, nothing! Stay still so I can rip a diaper wipe from this impossibly narrow gap at the top of the package.

C-M: Sit?

Me: Would you just stand there?? You're getting poop all over.

C-M: Kneel?

Me: For the love of God! Would one wipe just come out of this thing, just one stupid wipe?!?

C-M: You seem like you are having a hard day. Sit?

 

Me: Sigh. Okay, time to get out of the bath.

C-M: No, I don't think so. No, don't touch the controlling lever for the water. Do you know how loud a human scream sounds, in a tiny, cheaply tiled bathroom like this? What about forty of those screams in a row?

Me: You need to get out.

C-M: Fine, not only will I turn the water back on, but I will push it all the way to scalding, and give myself more reason to scream and cry. Should I do this?

Me: No.

C-M: Ah ah ah,  look at my hand....it's very close to the lever...

Me: Stop it.

C-M: Look at what my hand is doing, I have a pretty funny thing going on here. My hand is turning the water back on.

Me: Stop looking back at me to see if I am going to stop you.

C-M: But my haaaand.....

 

Me: Ok, buddy, pick your last bedtime story.

C-M: Give me a minute, I'm looking for one with either a frog or a monkey. This book has none of those things, so I will throw it at my father. Should I? Kidding. Should I?

Me: Don't throw books.

C-M: Yes, yes, I know. Don't throw books. Throw the book at my father? Kidding. Throw it?

Me: Just pick one.

C-M: Okay, I will choose this Picture Bible given to me by my grandmother. Let me hold the book and keep it at an angle that makes it very hard for you to read it. On second thought, I am only interested in this page here, with the three camels walking past some rabbits. Please do not try to turn it to any other pages, and please let me stare at it for as long as I need to. No, that wasn't long enough. I think I need you to sit a few feet back from me.

Me: Are you going poop? I just put that diaper on you.

C-M: No. I am not going poop. I just need you go over there where I am pointing. Just quiet for a second....I'm not pooping....I'm not....

Me: Sigh. Is it a big poop?

C-M: It's tiny, really. It's a tiny one. We could just leave it....I don't really want a diaper change at the moment...oh fine....Hmmm...I'm done with this book now, should I put it on my bottom while you change me? No? We don't put books on our bottom, do we? Not right now, anyways. What about now? Can I put it on my bottom now? Hmmm....doesn't seem as intriguing of a thing to do now, seeing as that business is packed away into my pajamas. Should I throw the book at my father?

Me: No.

C-M: I threw the book at my father.

 

You see? He's your classic American social failure, only on about himself and his needs, never giving you breathing room for a little banter or change of conversational tone.

That exercise was futile, and I have now resigned myself to a week on Social Death Row.

If I chance to meet the aspect of the human spirit that insists on having get-togethers of any kind, I will not bother to greet it, or even speak at all. I will simply slip a homemade knife from my pocket, and shank that bastard as he walks smiling across the yard.

Friday, July 25, 2014

I Stella, in search of groove

Hi everyone.
I have not posted in awhile because my writing was just getting so amazing that I felt like I could not possibly be any better than I already am. I was worried that my talent was on the verge of scorching the virtual earth.
So I took a break to antagonize my wife and stare vacantly out my sliding kitchen door for a few weeks.
This is what artists do; it's called 'sabbatical'.
When a sabbatical is finished, the sabbaticalee comes back twice as much of a genius.
That is how I was able to produce this:

I know at first glance it resembles much of my other work, but notice how I used white space to not draw anything.

To give you a better idea of how far I've come, I am including my conceptual drawings for this piece.
From early sketches to finished picture, it was about four minutes.

The pace of my work was fevered.

I am in the thick of summer school right now, which means I am away from the clutches of Baba Pam Yaga.

This in and of itself is amazing and exhilarating, so any complaining I proceed to do in this post should be regarded with great contempt and 'geez there's no pleasing this guy' harrumphings.

The student pictured above is new to me this summer. I will call him Curdy for no reason.
 

Curdy's current caretaker, Bill, has been told to train me on all the ins and outs of the kid, but Bill seems more interested in his Ipad interactive video games and his motorized bubble gun.
In the mornings, before any students have even arrived, Bill walks about, whimsically blowing bubbles into the air.

On the first day that he did this, we all jumped around popping them and taking part in the magic of it, but now just one person lights up when the bubbles start floating into everyones peripheral vision. That person is Bill.

Sometimes a bubble will pop on the skin of my bald head, at which point for some reason I feel compelled to give Bill a smile. I tell myself that this time I won't smile, I won't, but I always do, because it seems terribly awkward to not acknowledge his bubbles at all. Its one thing if they are just loose in the air, but if they touch me, well then....what is a man to do? He and I both know what has passed between us. I'd be a fool to pretend it wasn't happening.


Anything you could possibly say, Bill compares unfavorably to his two tours of duty in Okinawa. After awhile, you say nothing and wish in your heart that you had been an Army guy so you could talk about distances in terms of "humping klicks" too, or discuss a wide variety of rations.

As well as bubbles and their battery powered dispensaries, Bill enjoys having thick slices of habanero cheese for breakfast. He often tries to get me to eat some while I sip my morning coffee.

I tried telling him it was too early in the day to eat spicy cheese, but he did not seem to understand, so now when I hear the crinkling of the package or the retrieval of a knife from the kitchen drawer, I hide in the bathroom for ten minutes and wait for him to look about, shrug, and take for himself the portion meant for me.

"You gotta put it on crackers," he said, on the only morning I was willing to try the cheese. He pulled some individually wrapped saltines from his tight jean pocket.

The crackers were warm, and blended nicely with the fire of the habanero and the briny green olive bits hiding within the cool, soft flesh of the cheese.

Bill's idea of training me is to wait until I do something and then tell me not to do it.




This style of learning people things probably has a fancy name like "education through negatory exclusion" or "learn by not doing after already doing", but to me, it's just annoying to have Bill on me like a tut-tutting fairy godmother. 





Curdy suffers from intense, terrible intrusive thinking coupled with echolalia. 

A simple phrase said to him like "close the door now" will build up in his mind until he lashes out and starts yelling.




He always screams "Curdy has to take a shit" or variations on that theme. I don't know why. It seems as good an expression of unmanageable frustration as any other, I suppose.

I consider my own struggles with intrusive thinking to be fairly vanilla by comparison.

For instance, my brain has been stuck on the idea of nail scissors for several months now. Not owning nail scissors, or collecting many pairs of them or anything, just the idea of the sensation of them expertly clipping overdue nails off in perfect rectangles that clatter to the floor.

Unable to sleep the other night, I confessed my odd fixation to the pile of blankets and mumbles that was my wife.

"You know, we have a pair of nail scissors in our junk drawer."

"We do?!?"

I stood in the kitchen and turned the scissors over and over in my hand.

I thought of Curdy, needing to take a big shit.

There was no relief; the reality of the nail scissors seemed completely unrelated to the intrusive idea.

I put them away and went back to bed, feeling lost.

Why can't obsessive thoughts be directed towards something more useful?

If you had obsessive drive to direct towards anything at all, where would you point it?

I guess the easy answer is towards something like voter apathy or blood diamonds, but that all seems complex and out of reach.

I like passions and obsessions that are immediate. Say something like rock collecting.

This summer, I dabbled a bit in that heady world of geologic accumulation. Mostly, I stared at the picture of a gold nugget in my DK Let's Look at Rocks! field guide and sighed longingly.

Several things about rock collecting quickly became clear to me. Though I loved the feeling of being outside on an overcast day, letting the wind tug at my luxurious shoulder hair and uncurl my most restless thoughts, my neck started to hurt from always looking down, and I felt my fatty back hump begin to swell. It was also extremely frustrating that when they lay gravel down on our road, they don't liberally sprinkle it with little nuggets of gold as well.

I moved from rocks to panning for gold, but the sexual gyrations of the prospector in the Internet tutorial video as he sloshed water around in his pan made me uncomfortable.

I couldn't see myself standing in our local stream, perhaps wearing a homemade sleeveless tee, and passionately wiggling a dinner plate.

It's too bad people like Curdy and I could not direct our obsessiveness towards push-ups or other feats of physical fitness. We would have such beautifully cut shoulders and triceps by now.

Instead, he and I share thick, pasty bodies that sweat easily and prowl kitchens for unclaimed cookies. No one wise to the epic, all-consuming nature of our secret thoughts until we scream them out loud or whisper them to our pillows in the middle of the night.

I wonder how much money it would cost to get Bill to stand in my room at bedtime, shower me with bubbles, and assure me that I would be fine.

For a little extra, he'd produce the Harry Potter replica wand he proudly purchased from Walmart for forty dollars, wave its little white LED tip around, and say "Expelliarmus" in a voice as magical as it is commanding.

That echolalia is a curious thing.

I've worked with many students who have it, but another student I have this summer, Floyd, echoes me while I am speaking to him, so that I keep stopping my conversation to say things like "do you hear something?" His repeating undercurrent grows in volume and accuracy when he's able to predict the word I am going to say next, like someone doing their best to join in on a song that they do not really know.

Floyd's mother died recently from a sudden illness, leaving her boyfriend of many years to care for her son.

He often echoes things this man, Don, has said to him, using a gruff, Fat Albert voice that is completely unlike his own, high-pitched, almost babyish speaking tone.

Usually, it's just repeating commands, things like "Sit down, we'll take the bottles back later", "Get in there and wash again" or "Hey hey hey". Not that last one, I only wrote that there to emphasize the Fat Albert connection.   


Occasionally, though,  I'll get a glimpse into Don's awful private grief.

"Ah, ah," Floyd will grown,"Ah just miss her so much." He imitates deep sobbing and rakes his fingers over his face. "That's what Don says, mmm-hmm." He smiles at me.

I picture this Don: middle aged, rough around the edges and all leathery from his construction job, losing the love of his life only a few days after a hospital bedside wedding, and now living in the wake behind her, out in a rundown farmhouse with her twenty-year old autistic son to care for, and to hear his own turmoil echoed back to him in an unflattering Fat Albert voice, over and over again, while he thaws out Floyd's dinner or changes his soiled pull-up.


Summer school has now ended, just yesterday, and I have a few weeks here to write my way out of the damp, unfunny box I seem to be stuck in, but I most likely will waste it away.

Thanks to all of you who keep reading, I really appreciate it.