All the sad men, roaming free

She sat there, munching somewhat sloppily on her burger, occasionally spitting forth bits of it as she yelped out to no one in particular. And I sat there and stared. And I felt bad. I felt bad that I was staring, but I wasn’t doing so out of rudeness. No, it was more envy that I felt than superiority. It was more a case of “what if” than of “thank God not.” And here’s why.

Whenever I stumble across one who is severely mentally handicapped, I become somewhat immersed in what I imagine is their imprisonment. Their imprisonment in a world who wishes they just weren’t around. Or at least, not quite so visible. But at the same time, I find that I am jealous of their freedom. Freedom from a world that regrets them so.
A world, mind you, that is far more handicapped at times then they will ever be. A world filled with folk who care more about little dollar bills than we do each other. A world that places much more emphasis on the cut of the cloth than on the content of the character. A world that hopes for a cure to all disease, mental retardation included, but only partially for the benefit of those who suffer from it. And only at the turn of a profit.

In my very humble opinion, this world isn’t nearly good enough for people such as her. Or us, for that matter. This world is a damned and empty shadow of what it could be, and I feel that we’ve all worked pretty hard to make it so. Or at the very least, sat back and simply let it happen.

So what of that poor girl-woman that suffered my “not intentionally rude, but extremely rude nonetheless” stares? Why do I sometimes feel jealousy towards people of her kind? How could I be so mean as to even make mention of the concept? Well, imprisoned as she appears, I would love to see the world through her eyes, just once. Just once to see if what I think to be true, actually is. You see, I’m of the belief that her vision is much clearer than mine. I’m quite sure, in fact, that mine is muddled beyond the point of ever recognizing the Truth. A Truth that I believe she most likely sees naturally on a daily basis. A Truth that she may even long to share with the rest of us, if only we weren’t so ignorant to the language.

She sees the Truth, and I see only what I choose to see. And yet she is locked in the wheeled chair, while I roam free…

I suppose I should step back for a moment and let you know where my meanderings and ideas on the subject come from. I have no personal experience in my own family, but when I was a young boy, I was forced (yes, I mean the word – or at least did at the time) to volunteer at an institution that cared for people with severe mental and physical retardation. My parents, as teachers our church to those who were preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation, felt it was important to teach the children about stewardship (oddly, a belief of theirs that has all but vanished in their later years. A possible topic for a different time). Part of their education to this end included a trip to a local long-term care center that managed the severest cases. As parents who also trusted not another living being on the planet, my brothers and I toddled along as well, even though we were not yet in the Confirmation program. As a young and unappreciative pisser, I recall hating the place when we first arrived. The stark white walls did nothing to conceal the smell of piss and medicine. The painted-over drop ceiling served more to rebound, than muffle, the occasional non-sensical shout or yelp. The halls were clogged with wheel chairs, and in each, sat an alien life form. A being so far removed from my little pisser knowledge of the world as to be almost comical, if it (again, word usage intentional) didn’t frighten me so. Being young, and being a pisser, and being there against my will, I decided that hatred would be my best response. Hatred towards these creatures. Hatred towards their needing my assistance. Hatred towards their being around at all. I did as I was told, but only just. How dare they make me? How dare they be here? How dare they exist?

And then, as happens so often in life, something happened. And that something was this. One of them began wailing. And not just a whimper or a sob, but an honest-to-Jesus moon-raising moan. One that would make you think they weren’t just seeing a ghost, but the never-welcome Mr. Beez L. Bub himself. And for all I know, maybe they were seeing exactly that. The wailing only made me feel uncomfortable. Scared. But to another, it provoked a different reaction. I can’t recall if it was an employee, a volunteer, a random passer-by or even maybe an angel in disguise. But I do remember one soul, walking deliberately up to the young wheelchair entrapped wailer, and hugging them. Simply hugging them. The wails continued, but so did the hug. And eventually both were quietly put to rest. Both the hugger and the wailer were at peace. I stood there dumbfounded as the blinds were torn from my eyes, my little stupid pisser attitude backhanded to the floor.

I could physically feel myself growing up a little bit that day. One of the first of many times I’ve had the experience.

A little while later I was pushing along one of the more talkative residents who would speak and speak and speak, and occasionally even say something. At one point he looked me dead in the eye, and with no prompt or reason whatsoever, he told me very confidentially the exact day it would start snowing and the exact amount – in quarter inches – that we would receive. I’m sure you already know by now that I’m going to tell you he was exactly correct on both counts. EXACTLY. Dumb luck? Could’ve been. Dumb luck does seem to have a way of getting around. But me being me, I’d like to think that there’s something more to it. In fact, I’d like to think that maybe – just maybe – there are certain people who are so spiritually in-tuned, so close to God, that they’re incapable of dealing with our little shambles of a “reality.” They’re exalted over the angels, but trapped on this mortal plain, and they simply can’t function at such a junior level. They need our help in this world, but only because we’ll need theirs in the next. We just don’t know it yet. They’re not “retarded”, we are. They are advanced to a higher prominence, and we sit smugly by and laugh at their superiority.

I know, it sounds a little too “pie in the sky” to be true. And that, in part, is one of the reasons I wanted to jump into my lunch mate’s head. Just once I really would like to see if I’m right. Or if I’m an idiot. Or both. It’ll never happen of course. For one thing, we don’t live in a Disney movie, and swaps of this nature just aren’t possible. But even if they were, I don’t feel the trade would be a very fair one. For her, that is.

•••

I feel it’s important to note, I’m using this song today not in jest, but rather, in praise.  I too, long for the day when all of us “sane men” are locked away, and we allow the “mad” ones to finally be free.

Cuts me up

At a certain point, while waiting for the Rueben that would end up being sanitized of flavor and eaten alone, I opened my portfolio and started scribbling the following:

Sitting alone, I rage at this world for no reason in particular. This world, that does nothing to shake me off, but yet embraces me not either.

I often wonder, is it me who is “wrong”, or is it this mortal coil who is in error?

And why do I feel such a deep and gaping disconnect? Why can’t I just drink the Kool-Aid everyone else here has seemed to indulge so greedily in? Why can’t I put on the mask of contentment and believe it to be true?

Why in the fuck am I sitting alone in an over-the-top Vegas cafe on the verge of tears?

Again?

From moijoie (click on image for more)

Now I must tell you, while I would very much like to edit a great deal of the above, I’m leaving it intact for the purpose of this post. A purpose I’m still unclear of, actually. I’m leaving it like it is, because while it may not be a very good read, the words came with immediacy and with intent. The words needed to come out before the tears did. Those damned tears.

What’s with them any way? For years, I bemoaned the fact that I found it literally impossible to shed even one, but as of late, it’s all I can do to keep them in. And this time it wasn’t because of C, or dad, or my suckass job (OK fine, not “suckass” per say, but not at all where I really want to be). No, this time, it was because of the people that surrounded me. The good and gentle folk, patiently waiting for their flavor-sanitized food. Affecting smiles through their clown makeup. Attracting attention through their jangling jewelry and their cackle calls. Thoroughly enjoying themselves in a world that is only real if you ignore the fact that it is not. I felt bad for these people. I know, it’s stupid. Here they are, having a grand old time in their plastic kingdom, and here’s little sackcloth t, pitying them in their joy. But I suppose that’s just it – there was no “joy” present, just en-joy-ment. The air was full of whatever it is they normally pump into the Vegas resorts, that magical stuff that never allows you a sleepy nod. But joy? Joy was not in the air. Joy wasn’t even in the room.

“Wow t, thanks for coming back, only to totally harsh my mellow, dude!” No, wait – let me explain first. C.S. Lewis is my “go-to” guy when discussing joy, so we’ll be seeking his opinion momentarily. For me, joy is much more than the orgasm. For me, joy is knowing that the orgasm will come. OK, I suppose that Mr. Lewis would most likely never endorse an analogy like that, but he might have said something like this instead:

“In a sense, the central story of my life is about nothing else ….. it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic; and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally be called unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then, joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”

Or a bit more succinctly:

“The very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting.” 

He might have said that. Had he ever written about it. In books possibly titled something like “Surprised By Joy” or “Letters To Malcolm.” And if he had, what I believe he would have meant is this – Joy comes in the anticipation. The wanting. The Longing. Much like the giddy hand-clapping that goes on while trying not to, but trying to, fall asleep on Christmas Eve, joy isn’t the present you’ll receive the next day, it’s the – well – the Joy you feel in the waiting for it. It’s almost better – scratch that, it is better – than the actual gift altogether. What I saw in Vegas were people who were not feeling joy. What I saw in Vegas were people who only kept telling themselves they were. The smiles never really lasted long enough. The nervous twitches never totally settled. The voices still rose, and tempers still flared while waiting in line. Or for a cab. Or waiting for food. Or for a drink. Or waiting for, well, you get it. There’s a shit-ton of waiting to be done in Vegas. And while they were waiting, the thin veneer of “joy” could be seen running down sweaty necks and off of twitching palms. They had drank the Kool-Aid, but it had no affect, so they simply pretended to be stoned instead.

And I felt bad for them.

It was at that unforeseen moment that the tears began to well, and I had all I could do to keep myself together. Not only did I feel bad that they were tricking themselves into their joy, I began feeling deep throbbing pangs of my own, wishing that I could be back with my Joy at that very moment. Back where I’m accepted, even without the clown makeup or the jangling jewelry. I longed so badly to be there. To be safe. And in that longing, my Joy increased. And my strength along with it. And I used these to muster the wherewithal to tighten the belt of my big boy pants, before soldiering on with the rest of my little trip. One that will go down in the history of the human race as an absolute and utter yawn.

Unless the videos surface, I suppose.

I’m back home now, away from the lights, the noise, the airborne stuff that never allows you to sleep. And I’m happy. Just before I sat down here, I was ironing my Korporate Amerika trousers, once again forming a new crease mere millimeters away from the intended one, all while dancing about pretending to be Peter Murphy. And as I did, I thought again about those poor people. And I wondered if they too were “back to life” by now. I wondered if they too were ironing and singing and screwing up their trousers in the process. And I wondered if they too were happy. More importantly, I wondered if they had finally found their Joy.

I hope that they are. And I hope that they did. For again, as C.S. Lewis might have said at some point in time that “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” If so, we’d best get cracking.

A mother’s love…

It’s happening again. As I’m getting ready to get on a big plane and fly far far away, the little mother in the back of my head is literally screaming.

“What if it crashes? What if you die? Is this how you want to go out? Do you want that last post to be your swan song? Really? You do know it wasn’t your best work, right? And did you get all the stuff no one is ever supposed to know about buried and out of sight? How about those “Dear Santa” letters in your drawers? Didn’t you dispose of them yet? Did you tell the kids how much you love them? Did they listen? Are you going to leave C like this? Aren’t you/couldn’t you/shouldn’t you do something – well – “special” for her? Isn’t it about time that you did? Even though she’ll be livid if you do? Did you get straight with God? Did you ask forgiveness for all the things you’ve done, felt and thought? How about all those things you didn’t? I mean, just in case the plane crashes? Just in case you die? It does happen all the time, you know. That’s why I simply refuse to board one. They’re flying death traps, pure and simple.”

If you hadn’t guessed, that little mother in the back of my head is a direct inheritance from my (only slightly larger) real-life mother. Given to me on the day of my birth, and fed slowly but steadily over the years since then.  I’m none to sure why she’s still around, as I’ve been spending the better part of my later years trying to kill her off. The little one in the back of my head, that is. My real-life mother is far too accomplished a cook to ever knock her off. Now don’t get me wrong, while helpful at times, overall she’s been much more of a hinderance than not.  I fear as if her fear has kept me back from quite a number of things accomplished and adventures to be had. And I worry she’s only gaining in strength, with the more I try to eliminate her. Or the older I become. Or maybe as a result of a little bit of each.

So. I’m going to get on that damned plane, without first squirreling my secret things deeper away. I’m going to get on that plane despite her booming voice, echoing in the (surprisingly otherwise empty) cavern of my skull. And I’m going to do so, simply to spite her. To make her shut up. Hopefully, once and for all. Of course, I’m also going to get on that damned plane simply to get to the destination I need to be at. But as goals go, that hardly sounds lofty at all, so we’ll just skip that part.

My real-life mother, of course, will once again be asking for both my flight number and the times of departure and landing. Both ways. She doesn’t need this info, as she will neither be flying on, piloting or controlling the landing of my plane. But she requests it anyway, so she can frantically track the flight’s progress, minute by minute, hour by hour. And as you may recall, since Satan’s personal sex-filled low-slung Camero – the internet – is not allowed in their house, she does this all by phone. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that this played at least a part in the advent of prerecorded messages. I asked her at one point why she needed the departure time, as even she had to admit, very few crashes occurred at this juncture of the journey. To this she simply replied “well, I need to know when to start praying, don’t I?”

That indeed she does.

Did I then ask her why, if she normally says to “put it all in God’s hands”, she then has to meticulously track each and every flight that her boys venture on, even after she’s dropped J.C. a line? Hell. To. The. No. With mom, it’s best not to ask questions that help to highlight that even God himself will never be fully trusted. So she will pray. And she will check. And she will get upset when I land, and don’t even have the decency to call C and herself to let them know that I’m safe. And then she’ll become more irritated still when she tries to commiserate with C, only to hear a response of “if he dies, I’m pretty sure someone will call me. If no one calls, I’m pretty sure things went just fine and proper.” OK, C would never actually use the “and proper” bit, but I sometimes like to pretend she’s British as well. Because the Brits have the coolest accents, and they really do know how to layer.

Anywho, back to mom. Both the slightly larger real-life version and the little one, currently reading over my shoulder and sulking in the back of my head. As I believe we’ve already established my feelings on the latter, I feel I should also mention that I truly love the former. She has always made sure that I was OK. And even if she slipped on occasion, causing more damage than good, I know it was done from love, not malice. And I do appreciate the fact that she worries about me. I just wish it didn’t manifest itself as being so – well – worrisome. I also wish she would actually be able to “put it all in God’s hands” one day. I know that’s what I plan on doing again when I get on that big plane, hopefully with a window seat assignment. See, the one thing I can never tell mom I do is this. I do pray. Just for a moment. Each and every time I hear the engines flair and the pilot announcing that we’ve been cleared. I would like to think I do so because I mean it. But honestly, it could be just another instance of my Roman Catholic Voodoo genetics kicking in. Regardless of the reason, I do make sure I’m straight with God before we hit the air. At some point in time, all my secrets will be laid bare any way, no matter how deeply I try to bury them now. They’re safe enough where they currently stay. But if I’m placing myself in a situation wherein there’s even an outside chance resulting in me meeting the Big Man, I think it wise to at least first make sure He’s cool with me, prior to our introduction. So I spend a moment asking Him to forgive me, and asking Him to take care of mine, should my plane be the one that’s going down this time. It does happen all the time, you know.

Oh! That reminds me – one more tradition I delight in sharing with my mom is this. Each and every time I leave she says “make sure to take God with you.” And each and every time I respond with “but ma, I only bought one ticket.”

I know, and still she loves me, right?

Here – please enjoy a little traveling music for our journey and I’ll look forward to seeing you all again the week of the 12th. If you don’t see a post by then, then you’ll know that mom finally nailed it…

Briefly…

Seeing as this is the only time that it’s likely we’ll see Bonnie Raitt appear on my blog’s wall, and seeing as how my work trip will force me to skip next week all together, I had to make this week’s entry a good one.

I’d like to think I came close. Here’s this weeks 100 Word Song. Jump on in Belle, the water’s fine…