Yesterday my 89-year-old father went into the hospital. He suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and a heart no longer strong enough to keep his blood pressure up. Apparently yesterday he lost the ability, possibly only temporarily, to recognize my mother.
This is not a good time to lose my father. There is never a good time, but now my health is failing. I had to make deals with relatives to get someone to drive me up to Iowa for the annual visit to the family farm during the pandemic which is now spiraling out of control in Texas. My wife and I are both diabetics and at risk. If we accidentally take COVID 19 up to Iowa, I could wipe out all four of us. And I developed a cough and chest pain overnight. At least now I can make a case for getting a COVID test.
I know a post like this goes against the rules for a good blog post. It is entirely too personal and self-focused. But it is necessary sometimes to confess your fears before you confront them. I have had my father and mother in my life for the entirety of my 64 years. They have both lived good, long, and fruitful lives. And a time for passing comes to us all. I have been far luckier in holding back the night than the vast majority of people. But the only immortality we can ever hope to have is through passing on the small part of the universal story that belongs only to each of us individually. “I am a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars, I have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to me (And at this moment… it is not) the universe is unfolding… as it should” – a paraphrase from Desiderata.
Don’t panic. I’m okay. Or if you don’t like me at all, don’t get overly happy in anticipation. I actually know why my ears keep bleeding. It is the skin on the top and sides of my ears peeling off and bleeding because of moderate-plaque psoriasis. I just like the way that title sounds. All dripping with ill omens and horror-movie anxiety. I am not becoming a zombie or anything. I just look and feel like one.
I am feeling a little bit old and pointless, what with the pandemic worsening in Texas, my father’s health deteriorating in darkly concerning ways, and the upcoming decision about whether or not I get to return to Iowa this summer. It’s definitely in doubt this year. My parents are both octogenarians and there is the risk of carrying virus anywhere near them. Not to mention the risk of death the virus presents to me. And I am feeling ill. Not with Covid 19. I have no symptoms of that. But I have a stomach virus. My psoriasis is fierce. And I do not have the physical energy to drive myself all the way to Iowa. The prospect of not being able to go home again for another year is weighing heavily on my soul. That is why I have been busy with maudlin posts about dead movie stars like yesterday’s post.
There’s a certain minimum amount of time needed for re-connection with my roots, my childhood, the people and places that gave rise to me. The picture above is one of my Great Grandmother, Nellie Hinckley. She is one of the founders of my world. A Goddess responsible for giving life to my mother’s side of the family. She passed into the World of the Remembered in 1980, when I painted this picture. Soon my parents will be joining her and my grandparents from both sides of the family in that world where everything is summed up in old photographs. And I shall surely follow soon… if not proceed them. I wonder if anyone will lift a brush to Remember me?
And yet, no matter how it turns out, I have much to get on with. I am not done telling stories. I have had little success in selling my books so far. I can barely give them away. But the work of it gives my life just enough purpose and meaning to keep me alive longer than the insurance industry, my Texas teacher retirement plan, and the mortuary companies of the world would like me to. But, I promise to continue frustrating them further.
I did some house-cleaning today. The ceiling fan in the kitchen was filthy. It had grease from cooking on the nearby stove top all over the blades. And embedded in the grease was dirt and grime. So, it had to be scrubbed with Clorox. And I am allergic to Clorox. So, now I am done for the day. My lungs hurt. And it is hard to think. But I am not dying today from that. I am pretty sure the virus that has us shut up in the house has other plans for me.
But not everything is bad. Dust is bad. I am allergic to that too. Yet, I have now gotten 1,800 followers on WordPress. And somebody is using Amazon Prime to read more than one of my books. The pennies are rolling in on my Amazon author’s dashboard. Number one son has a serious girlfriend. Number two son has a work-at-home job that he is doing right now. And my daughter, the Princess, is helping her mother to finish cleaning the fan.
As part of my quest to rewrite AeroQuest as a comedy-science-fiction series, I am rereading the first book in the series.
Rereading your own work can be surprisingly rewarding in unusual ways. When I was working on that novel and reading and re-reading each section and Canto, I really began to hate the writing. It is my worst work so far. And yet, after plenty of time to forget how awful it seemed at the time, I find myself laughing at the jokes again. I know I am a notoriously un-critical critic. But I also am convinced I am a good writer, and even my bad books are better than I usually think. Now, if only somebody else would read them.
Work continues on AeroQuest 3.
So, even if I am a little bit down and blue, I am not out yet. The Dust wlll not win.
Last night I reached the climax of the novel, A Field Guide to Fauns. I pulled the scene off in a way that made me cry and feel like a part of my soul had been pulled out through my nose. But a critical question remains to be answered. Does it matter to the reader as much as it does to me?
The climax occurs after a group of four characters participate in a Chicken Dance, and the critical conflict is resolved by talking about the past.
Probably not the most cinematic approach I could have used.
But this is not a cinematic story. It is introspective. It grapples with chronic child abuse and suicidal depression. It deals with recovery from a seriously traumatic event. And it is set in a nudist park featuring characters who are trying to rebuild families after divorce.
Can I leave it like it currently is? Knowing me, I probably will. It is an essential sort of story that I need to write because of who I am, who I was before, and where I am trying to be. I don’t write for anybody else but me. But I do hope others will read it. I will, in fact, continue to coerce family members and friends who are not sick of my story-telling (if such rare creatures still exist) to read it and make faces afterwards. And I firmly believe it is well-written, but it is a well-written, introspective and highly metaphorical novel. How many people do I know, after all, that read and enjoy Marcel Proust or William Faulkner or Saul Bellow? (I myself have only read multiple books from two of those three, and that because I can’t read French to get the book in its original language),
Last night I watched what I thought was a marvelous movie on Disney Plus. And the truth is, the gut-punching climax of that movie happens when the main character is reviewing his to-do list while sitting on a rock. So, it is not only me who sometimes soft-peddles the critical steps in a story plot.
In truth, then, the next critical step for me will be to finish the falling action of the novel, carefully re-read and edit the manuscript, and then publish it. The novel will be done soon.
We have been isolated and quarantined for 12 days now, and the world around us continues to get weirder and weirder. The dog killed a squirrel in the yard two days ago. We are running out of bread and meat and potatoes thanks to hoarders, and we may need to find alternatives to toilet paper. But as long as we have love, not unlike the dog and cat in the illustration above, we will be alright.
One has to wonder, though, what they are using all that toilet paper for, those hoarders who are apparently eating it in massive quantities to give them more fiber in their diet.
Or, maybe, they know something about the virus that we don’t. Maybe it causes loose bowels and the toilet-paper-consuming condition of Montezuma’s Revenge.
Or maybe there are lots of toilet-paper mummies now roaming the nights looking for pretty girls who resemble dead Egyptian princesses?
But with the virus lurking out there, waiting to pounce on me and my weak, diabetes-ravaged immune system, there are some good things about being home-bound and fortified with solitude. For one thing, the girl who had to go see the nurse during that last substitute-teaching job I had did not turn out to have Coronavirus. In fact, it is now past the date by more than two weeks that I would’ve come down with the type of flu she did test positive for. So I don’t have that either.
Since the four of us are basically confined to our rooms for the majority of the day, it is a great time for reading in the nude. I benefit from that because I have psoriasis in places that itch less if kept dry, naked, and in front of the fan, but aren’t exactly safe for public places. And I don’t even have to offend my family with my naked self to do it. I am also pretty sure you are grateful that I didn’t use my own picture to illustrate this goofy notion.
We have done things together as a family too. Making masked visits to the grocery store or Walmart only to find there is still no toilet paper is one. Using up the gingerbread house kit that didn’t get used at Christmas is another.
And, of course, eating the gingerbread house was also something we did together. The Princess and Number Two Son both ate lion’s shares in order to save me from being weak and eating too much of it myself with my miserable diabetes. I say, “miserable diabetes” not because it is out of control and making me ill or susceptible to comas, but because I get to eat less of things like gingerbread houses, and that makes me miserable.
But the evil, moron, criminal president says that too much quarantine time will make us kill ourselves. So, he intends to end our time in isolation by Easter. We have to go out of the house, spend more money that could end up in his pockets, and get back to work to make the economy stronger so he can be re-elected on a strong economy. Even if we have to sacrifice our lives to the virus to do it. After all, what’s more important? Staying alive longer? Or helping an evil, moron, criminal president get re-elected?
The Coronavirus Isolation has put a lot of new limitations on our lives. But, I happened to have an unused Gingerbread House kit. So, for Art Day, the Princess and I decided to put it all together with supplies we already had on hand. Here, then, is the Beyer Family Gingerbread House 2020.
But, it wasn’t a total disaster. We can use our inherent craftiness to rescue it at least a little bit from total wicked-witch-housiness. Though I am sure Hansel and Gretel would still eat it.
Two weeks ago I let my car drift too near the curb of the street. I hit a curb-corner at the edge of a driveway and something there punctured the passenger-side tire. It was a financial setback. I had to buy a new tire.
But what it really cost me, was the confidence of all three of my children that I can still take care of myself. They were united in threatening to take away my driver’s license and treat me like an invalid.
It was a bit of an over-reaction to what actually happened. But God has it in for me. The challenges to my continued survival seem to never stop coming. At this writing I have six incurable diseases. Diabetes, hypertension, COPD, arthritis, psoriasis, and an enlarged prostate. On top of that, I am a cancer survivor. Skin cancer, 1983. My father has Parkinson’s and it is severely slowing him down. It is also a disease I am beginning to show symptoms of. God hasn’t killed me yet, but not for a lack of trying.
Personally, I am worried about my own frequent bouts of stupidity more than anything else.
Sure, I have diabetes and not enough income to get insulin thanks to pharmaceutical profiteers (another term for blood-thirsty pirates) But I have learned since 2000 to battle it with proper diet. It has been working. And it still does.
But I can be stupid, too. I hate being left out of restaurant trips to SpringCreek Barbecue or Chili’s. But the temptations to eat myself into a coma is always there right in front of me. My wife always eats food that will kill me and even offers me some. (She is not trying to kill me for my money, though. She knows I am bankrupt. That’s why she has to pay for these little family outings that she invites me to. And there are no huge insurance checks in her future if the mashed potatoes get the better of me.)
Arthritis is hard to live with too. My kids worry that my gas-pedal knee will seize up when I am going 55, or my break-pedal leg will fail to move when I need it to when the inevitable Dallas-area killer grandma is driving beside me in the next lane in her black BMW, thinking seriously about how to kill me and make it look like my fault on the insurance claim. I learned long ago to drive with extreme defensiveness in Texas. But still I can be stupid too. Like when I don’t watch the lane’s squiggles and curves hawkishly like I didn’t do two Sunday nights ago.
So, I have to be less stupid for more of the time. If not… if I die on the road some god-forsaken night, my sons are going to kill me. Even if they have to dig me up again to do it.
They came in the mail every November in the 1960’s. Particularly important was the Monkey Ward’s catalog because there was a Montgomery Ward Catalog Store in Belmond on Main Street. Mom and Dad could order, pay for, and pick up things there, particularly Christmas and birthday gifts. The four of us; my little brother, my two younger sisters, and I would argue about who would get to look at it next for hours at a time (the catalog, not the store… although the man who ran the store sold tropical fish in the back, so I could look at that for hours).
I, of course, dog-eared different pages than my sisters Nancy and Mary did. And David was eight years younger than me and was into baby toys, blocks, and books.
I am amazed at how cheap things were back then compared to now. Of course, things were more easily destroyed because of the cheaper plastics and simpler ingredients and materials common in the 1960’s. So, it is truly amazing how many of those toys I still have. And how many survived me only to be destroyed by my own children.
And it often wasn’t enough to look at just the Monkey Ward’s catalog. (Grandpa Aldrich always called it “Monkey” instead of “Montgomery”, a pretty standard old-farmer joke in the 60’s). Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich always got a copy of the Sears catalog. And we would pour over that to find treasures that Monkey Ward’s didn’t have. That was inconvenient for Mom and Dad. The nearest Sears store was in Mason City, 50 miles northeast.
Just the mention of Christmas catalogs of old when discussing with sisters flashes me back to the time when I was in grade school and Christmas time was all about being good for Santa because… well, toys.
And old Christmas catalogs still fascinate me. I love to look back through ten-year-old Mickey-eyes at a simpler, kinder time. Although, if I’m honest with myself, it probably wasn’t really any better than now. I just choose to believe that it was.
This has been a terrible week. It takes a good deal of explanation to make clear what fundamentally went wrong. But the ignition of the raging fire of black-luck can be traced back to the explosion of the upstairs toilet that unexpectedly started a cascade of bad luck and rather icky events.
Yes, you heard me right, the toilet exploded, not with actual fire, but with an unexpected gusher of the household water supply that disrupted and defeated a simple toilet-repair procedure. And went on to mess up the rest of the week.
The problem was first apparent when the float broke off from the bar that is supposed to stop the water from flowing into the toilet when the tank is full. So, it began pumping water into the bathroom relentlessly through the overflowing tank. Three inches of water on the floor later, I noticed what was happening and cut off the water to the toilet at the shut-off valve. I then went to Lowe’s and bought a new refill stack (a really cheap plastic one because I am really cheap) and I planned on repairing that toilet the same way that I did twice before. Easy-peazy.
What I didn’t know before beginning the repair, (and would soon learn to my horror half-way through the job) was that the shut-off valve was secretly out to get me, and put into action its twenty-year-long plan for exacting rust-revenge right before it’s gruesome demise. I discovered as I removed the broken piece of plumbing that the broken piece of plumbing was the only thing actually holding back the gusher that became a geyser while I was trying to fix it. And of course, once I knew what the problem was (several gallons too late) I managed to jam the piece I was putting in with such gusto that not only could it not be put in place over the geyser, it was also jammed hard enough that it could not be removed.
The only thing I could do was to shut off the water to the whole house. So, I went out to the spot by the front door where I remembered the shut-off valve to be. But where I thought I remembered the valve being, there was only a new bit of PVC pipe where the city had made changes to the old sewer lines two years ago. So, I began to panic. I don’t pay the water bill. My wife does. And she works at the Dungeon in her middle school’s basement where she can’t call out or get calls in. And I didn’t know the number to call to get help from the city. So, I went back upstairs to find something jammable to stuff in the geysering hole while number-two-son continued to hunt for the shut-off valve. I tried electrical tape and duck tape (though I didn’t actually have a duck to tape with it) and even considered briefly using one of my daughter’s many soaked socks that littered the bathroom floor (or rather, floated above it). As I went downstairs defeated, contemplating calling 911 for a drowning victim’s rescue, my son came in shouting that he had found the shut-off valve. It was under the replanted hedge that my wife moved two years ago.
So, we got the geyser stifled, and the rest of this week we have been living a comfort-free lifestyle with the water shut off while I have been contemplating my Joe-like ability to make bad things happen around me.
I have had to adapt as I work out how to undo the plumbing damage already done without being able to afford a real plumber, and attempt to prevent further damage from happening. And our luck with things like midnight bathroom runs by auto to the nearest all-night-Walmart-store restrooms, my daughter getting ready for school with limited wet resources, and even the car accident I had today between paragraphs two and three of this essay (no kidding… I had to run and pick up my son and got clipped by the car behind me going around the Walmart corner) has been Joe-Btfsplk-esque.
I have had a bad, bad, icky-Mickey week. But I did publish a book. And I got a fairly-funny essay out of the whole thing, though, sadly, every detail is truthfully accurate.
Kyle Clarke came storming into the Zeffer house before
either the sheriff’s deputy or Mrs. Philips could arrive. He was angry to the point of curse words over
what apparently had happened to Valerie.
He made Mrs. Zeffer and Ray repeat the story of how Ray found her three
times before he even started calming down.
He made it clear he wanted the story from Ray, not Valerie. Once he had learned she had been unconscious,
he didn’t even want to hear her version of events. He told her she would not be able to make
sense of things until she was well rested and recovered. He wanted Mrs. Philips, a registered nurse,
to examine her before any other investigation took place. Valerie could only imagine in horror what he
“Mrs. Philips! We
need you to examine little Valerie Clarke,” said Mrs. Zeffer as Mary’s mother
arrived at the Zeffer home. “She’s been
attacked by someone.”
Mrs. Philips was very pale, and also seemed shaken.
“What is the matter, Mrs. Philips?” Kyle asked. “You seem unwell.”
“My daughter Mary and her boyfriend Pidney Breslow are
missing. I’m afraid it has something to
do with what happened to Valerie.”
“Oh, no! We’ve phoned
the sheriff already and he’s sending Deputy Harper from Belle City to
investigate,” Kyle said in a concerned tone.
“Do you know what happened?” asked Mrs. Zeffer.
Ray was sitting on the bed in Bobby’s room next to Valerie
who was already wearing the clothes Kyle had brought her. Both of them looked at the adults standing
just outside the bedroom doorway.
Valerie’s fear for what might’ve happened to Mary and Pid was
overwhelming. She leaned against Ray’s
shoulder and began to cry softly.
“It was the strangest thing.
The three of them were all in our basement, reading some old book. Then, suddenly there was a purple fog in the
house. It smelled so sweet it made me
sick to my stomach. It apparently
knocked me out. When I came to, I found
my daughter Amy and her brother Jason were both sleeping on the floor. They had been knocked out too.”
“And the kids were taken from your house?” Kyle looked alarmed and upset.
“Yes, all we found were their clothes in the basement. I have never seen anything so strange. Whoever took them must have stripped them
“Oh, you poor dear,” said Mrs. Zeffer, taking hold of Lady
Philips’ shaking hands and guiding her to a chair in Bobby’s room. “Sit here.
Let me get you some tea.”
“Was there any indication who might have done this terrible
thing?” asked Kyle.
“I… I don’t know,” Mrs. Philips said as Mrs. Zeffer bustled
out of the room to make tea. “We found
the empty clothes… and then you called asking me to come here and examine
“You should’ve said something then,” Kyle said.
“I… I just felt numb.
I told Jason to look after Amy and came right here to see what I could
“All right… um, Mrs. Philips… I called you over here to
examine my daughter Valerie. I was
worried someone might have… well, she was found naked in the alley,
Lady Philips made a small strangling sound in her
throat. Valerie knew immediately what
she must have thought had happened to Mary.
“I’m okay, Daddy. I
know for a fact that nobody did anything like that to me.”
“Valerie, princess, you were unconscious. Somebody drugged you and stripped you
naked. We need to be certain what
happened.” Daddy Kyle was trying to be
comforting and soothing, but there was a cold, desperate edge to his voice that
actually scared Valerie. She looked at
Ray. Ray’s eyes were frightened too.
“Your dad is right, Val.
You need to be checked. Mrs.
Philips is an RN, a professional nurse.
She’ll be able to tell.”
“Okay, Ray,” said Valerie’s dad coolly, “You should go help
your mother in the kitchen. Deputy
Harper will be here soon.”
Ray reluctantly let go of Valerie and stood up. “You know, sir, that I would never hurt your
Kyle’s angry glare softened a bit. “I… I do know that, son. And believe me, I am grateful for the way you
rescued her and brought her somewhere safe.
I’m on edge right now. I don’t
know what was done or who did it. You
know what I mean?”
“Of course. If I were
in your shoes, I’d be afraid for my daughter too.”
Ray nodded resolutely.
Then he went out of the room.
“I will examine her in private, Mr. Clarke. I will be able to tell. I have treated rape victims before. I don’t have a kit with me, but I will know
if one needs to be used… Only…”
“What?” Kyle asked.
“After we know, I am going to need you and Deputy Harper to find Mary.” Valerie’s dad was grim-faced, but he nodded his agreement.