While I Was Out

Holly returned from six weeks in the Far East and the Pacific Northwest. In my excitement over her return and subsequent digital photo slideshow, I drank three martinis on an empty stomach and confirmed once and for all that my body’s ability to process alcohol is not what it used to be. We were talking about the dramas of middle-school aged girls, and we realized all heterosexual women live in exile, refugees from our own personal islands of Lesbos where for the period of years before we become interested in boys all of our dramas and passions are played out in the realm of other women. That was the last thing I thought and said before, “I’m think I’m going to be sick.”

While Holly was in town, we saw the perfect show. The set list was perfect. The lighting was perfect. The songs sounded even better live. Neko Case’s voice sounded even better live. Neko Case was dressed like Stevie Nicks, who Holly loves. Not only was Neko Case dressed like Stevie Nicks, but as a joke the band spontaneously played an entire Fleetwood Mac song and Neko Case sang it, waving the lemon-yellow wings of her chiffon dress in the air.

The amount of people in the crowd and their management of personal space was perfect. I was warm and surrounded but not crushed. People danced and bounced but didn’t push and shove. They were nice people, fine-looking people, good people. They seemed neither more nor less angry or depressed than anyone else. They had an ease about them. They were interesting as individuals and complemented each other well as a group defined not by any common goal or subculture but simply by their not-at-all coincidental presence at the New Pornographers show this rainy evening. They were not hostile to the band performing and only one of them drunkenly yelled “Freebird” when the band offered to take requests.

Even retrieving my coat from the coat check was perfect. The line was long and snaked around the basement and up the stairs of Webster Hall. It seemed like a line you could wait in for a very long time, but I struck up a converstion with my neighbor. He was the perfect neighbor in a long coat-check line in which it seemed like you could wait for a very long time. He, too, thought the show was perfect. He was cherubic and foreign. It turned out he was an El Salvadoran pediatrician. Moving to New York on his own had been hard at first, but now he loved it. Being a pediatrician had been hard at first, and yes, he had been sick continuously the first winter, but now he seemed to have built up some immunity and he loved his job at a clinic in the South Bronx. Wasn’t it sad and outrageous how entwined health and wealth are? Wasn’t it a relief to hear about other countries where the terrible farce of American politics held no sway and everyone agreed that the Moron Puppet of Evil was a murderous lunatic and United States was not a nation concerned with spreading democracy but rather a global capitalist empire?

It really was.

Holly went to Peru, where her boyfriend is digging up the remains of another empire that was vanquished by yet another empire. At home at the center of our empire, I feared death within the week by suicide bomb on the subway. I feared death within the decade by the avian flu.

At home at the center of our empire, I feared death.

I read Joan Didion’s beautiful new book and feared the death of a spouse I might one day have. I read the review of her beautiful new book and feared the death of a child I might one day have.

I realized that in my systematic watching of every episode of M*A*S*H in broadcast order, I was nearing the episode where Colonel Blake is killed on his way home from Korea.

I feared the death of Colonel Blake.

It rained for nine straight days and I feared extreme weather due to climate change and the havoc that it has wrought and might still wreak. I feared depression, dull, gray, sluggish, sludgy, damp, stale, mildewed depression.

I rode the bus and as it came into New York late Sunday night I peered into all the windows, so many neighborhoods in rapid succession. My glimpses into the mansions on Fifth Avenue, of wood paneling so dark and chandeliers so large, reminded me of perversions and alcoholism. The bus slowed but didn’t quite stop outside a parking garage, and in the cramped, cinderblock office on the second level of the building there was a black suit still in its dry-cleaner plastic, hanging on the wall next to a girlie calendar. The parking garage attendant who worked in the office wasn’t there, and yet anyone who looked in the window could see two essential things about him, could know him better perhaps than someone who actually met him and spoke to him. Or maybe that was just the delusion of a bored person on a bus.

My computer ceased to make sounds. My printer ceased to print black or blue. The screen on my cell phone ceased to function entirely and with horror, I began answering phone calls with no idea who was on the other end. I nearly broke my toe. Or rather, I broke it, but many times in many tiny places all over the bone instead of just one place in a particular part of the bone. I broke the bone at the cellular level, explained the lanky orthopedist who came in to read the X-ray. It might hurt for a while, but in this case, he said, I shouldn’t worry about masking the pain with Advil. It didn’t much matter if I rested it or exerted it, the toe would heal and there was nothing I could really do to affect it either way.

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