Today I almost skipped writing a blog post. And why? The air outside in Texas is gray with smoke from fires in California. It makes it hard for people like me to draw breath. I know it is important to practice going without actual air to breath in order to be prepared for the future. But I guess I am too much of an addict to fresh air to go too much longer in a de-regulated future where you have to be born wealthy to afford air.
And COVID still has me down. My son has returned to the job of guarding the prisoners in the jail of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office where he got infected once already, and may be risking re-infection. And my wife is back in the classroom now with students who have no other options than to go back to the brick and mortar school. She has diabetes. They may be infected but have no symptoms. Nothing to worry about, right?
But writing is like breathing. Once you’ve developed a metaphor-making gland in the primitive part of your brain, you have to be able to let it out. If you only breathe in by reading and watching old movies, and never breathe out, your lungs will at some point explode. Or you will drown in your own similes which only writing something can be a ventilator for.
Don’t get me wrong. I live for reading good books and watching good movies. But I don’t feel really alive on days when I don’t write anything.
So, the result is a post like the one for today. It is writing something… but it seems slightly off, slightly askew.
I have been watching a mega-binge of Don Knotts movies, and other old movies that I haven’t seen in some time… some since childhood. I have been pretty much isolated and alone in my bedroom since March. No more Uber driving… ever. No more substitute teaching. Not even taking someone to school in the mornings on school days.
And my father is dying. He is in hospice care, suffering from dementia when he’s awake, the result of Parkinson’s Disease. He is sleeping most of the time now. They don’t know when… but they think it will happen soon. And I will be stuck here in Texas while he’s in Iowa. My sisters in Iowa and Missouri are planning to take care of Mom and most of the arrangements are already done. But it is still going to be very hard.
For right now, things are a little off. My full-color, technicolor life is in black and white for the time being. My computer is crashing once a week. I am having to re-type the letter “o” so often it becomes a habit to type “oooo” and then delete any extra “o”s that may appear. But taking a day off from writing does not seem to be an option.
I face times in my life when the words just don’t come easily. And yet, I never suffer from writer’s block. The ideas float in a semi-coherent soup in the soup-bowl of my mind. It’s just that I have trouble making the spoon work properly.
I have a severe headache this morning. My blood-sugar is out of whack. I could always go to the store and buy more whack… but, oh yeah, quarantined. But that is almost done. My son is so much better. And the other three in the house, my wife, my daughter, and I have not gotten the disease. The disinfectant in the bathroom, the hand-washing, the wearing of masks in the house, has been mind-numbingly hard, but it has kept us safe. We are going to come through this.
But the school district I was subbing for last school-year is going to re-open and they are desperate to get subs back to the battle, especially subs who had no reported problems and even some good comments in their folders. They want me back. But my health has drifted down the ladder rungs of life from acceptable to moderately poor, and then slipped to daily suffering. I can’t go back at this time. In fact, I fear I haven’t the super-power left in me to ever go back to it. The Kryptonite has permanently taken me down.
And I am heartbroken. No students to yell at ever again? No captive audience to laugh and groan at my jokes… ever again? No more angry glares? And no more smiles? You can’t know how hard it is to say goodbye to those… unless you’ve been a teacher too.
But the time has come to make that decision. Risking my life in the pandemic to do one of the world’s hardest jobs for $100 a day is no longer something I can do.
My head hurts. There was something I wanted to say. But hopefully, I’ve already said it.
Some days it seems like I am losing because it simply isn’t a fair fight. What fight am I talking about? Well, all of them.
Right now I am quarantined in the same house and sharing the same bathroom with my son who is sick with COVID 19. With my incurable diseases and health conditions, that is a life-and-death fight. If I get infected, my already-compromised lungs will fill with liquid and I will drown in my own natural juices.
Of course, I am trying to fight off that possibility as if my life depended upon it. My mother, the Registered Nurse of 40 years, sent a box of masks express mail. She also recommended spraying down the bathroom with Lysol every time one of us uses it. We, of course, couldn’t get the brand-named stuff because there are shortages of cleaning supplies everywhere. We had to settle for a generic bottle of imitation Formula 409. And we have to make it last. My eldest son is still free to roam the earth, so he was drafted to get us the supplies we need. But he only manages to get part of what we need most at more expensive prices than we are used to paying. Still, at four of us in the house, only the original one is sick at the moment.
But, being stuck in the house in separate rooms from everybody else gives me lots of time to work on my career as a storyteller. I am about at the halfway point of writing The Wizard in his Keep. And re-composing the old AeroQuest stories is coming along nicely too, as you can see from yesterday’s Canto excerpt from AeroQuest 4 : The Amazing Aero Brothers. Amazingly, I had my best day ever on a free-book promotion of AeroQuest 2 : Planet of the White Spider. For some reason I don’t understand, 18 people all clicked on a free copy of the book in about one hour on Sunday. I set a personal record that day for books given away.
But my success as an author still has to be evaluated as… a good novelist who hardly anyone has ever read. Including relatives. The review service, Pubby, is so far a bust. I got one five-star review. And that one is suspect because the reader’s eight-word review had one spelling error in it… unless “complexing” is a word that I am just not aware of. The next two reviews that I earned with points for my reviews of the work of others are both going to have their deadlines expire without reviewing the book (Snow Babies).
And it doesn’t matter how hard I work at marketing according to the rules, my books have no chance. If you are not paying a major book publisher to get your book published, as I did with Catch a Falling Star with I-Universe/Penguin Books, they are not otherwise accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Good agents don’t accept new unknown clients either. Being a writer in 2020 means working hard at your craft so other people can make more money off the content you produce than you do. In fact, you are mostly telling stories for free to mostly nobody.
But this old wizard is not defeated until he is dead, or even longer, as wizards often cast spells that linger long after they are gone. The problem is, he may be dead by next week.
Yeah… Life is mostly not fair. Today I had to take number 2 son to the testing site near Parkland Hospital in Dallas. He got the COVID test because a prisoner at the county jail where he works as a guard tested positive, and then Henry started showing symptoms at home, and was too sick to work by Wednesday evening. The Sheriff’s Office is very concerned. He got in for a test faster than most people can, and the Sheriff’s Office is paying for it.
Of course, I am already exposed. And I have three health conditions normally associated with COVID deaths in people my age. Still, I don’t feel sick yet. And I had H1N1 twice, both strains of it. It is possible that I have leftover resistance and t-cells from that. But I am done feeling sorry for myself. Time to get more writing done.
It is not an easy thing to have to wait for bad news.
You know what’s coming. You know why it will happen. You know how it will happen. The only thing you don’t know is when.
My father is in hospice car. The doctor doesn’t believe he will last much longer. I will still be in Texas when it happens… probably. My mother is planning a cremation and later service when the pandemic has released its grip on us all. Of course, it is a nightmare for her. Not being able to visit the man she has loved and been companion to for 64 years. No kisses. No hand-holding. Only looking at him through a window with a mask on. And most of the time he doesn’t even know who she is. Last week he asked for her, wanting her to come to him. By the time she got there, he didn’t remember what he had wanted… or again, who she even was. There is nothing for any of us, my mother, myself, my two sisters, my younger brother… to do besides wait.
And of course, there is more than one dread thing I have to await. This pandemic is highly likely to bring an end to me. My number two son, in his new job working for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, had to deal with a prisoner who has COVID 19, and he was wearing his mask, but three days later he is not feeling well. And I have been sick since last weekend, and started coughing and sneezing today. It may just be that both of us are having a bad reaction to mold from the rain, but if it gets worse, I may end up being tested again so I can wait on pins and needles for another seven days before finding out the verdict. I am too susceptible, and the virus is too relentless. It will eventually have me before it’s run its full course.
So, here I am dreading the impending visits from the Grim Reaper. Why then do I choose to illustrate with cartoon villains? Well, Snowboy is a robotic device originally created to be an assassin by alien beings working for the US Government. He was wrecked by an individual given the power to do so by his future time-travelling self after a good-hearted scientist tries to bring him back to life in the form of the son he had previously lost in a fire the robot had caused. And, much as we all do in a life plagued with random tragedies and ill fortune, he spent time (and lots of it, thanks to his time machine) trying to figure out what he will do and why he should do it (though most of us can’t use WWI German Fighter Pilots and man-eating chinchillas to do it.)
Timothy Trollhammer uses his handy hammer to win himself a beautiful barefoot princess for his wife. But the trick for old noggin-bopping Tim is to keep her once he’s won her. And that’s a problem he can’t solve by bopping it with a hammer. He has to learn patience, and kindness and… maybe even love. The lesson does not go without its moral to the story.
As much as we may fear what’s coming very near,
We must be ready to to pay the price,
It’s certainly very dear
And though it’s something not so nice,
The due date now is here.
What more is there to say? I await God’s twisted sense of humor when it comes to my fate and the fate of my father. And waiting is all there is to be done.
“Mickey, why are you using that picture for this post?”
“Well, because… um… the picture of Millis I tried to start with didn’t work, because my computer keyboard keeps messing up… or maybe WordPress doesn’t like it now that they are supposed to be paying me pennies to put ads on my blog.”
“Millis the rabbit that became a man?”
“Yeah, that one.”
“That doesn’t make any more sense the picture of the Robot boy doing chemistry in front of a Japanese castle.”
“Who are you to question my decisions?”
“I’m your talking dog, Jade. You know the one that you just took for a walk and doesn’t really talk in real life.”
“You don’t really talk?”
“Mickey, I’m your dog. I only talk to you in your imagination because you know me so well you practically know what I am thinking.”
“Oh, really? What were you thinking when you ran away instead of coming back into the house with me at the end of our walk?”
“Oh, that’s easy. I was thinking, SQUIRREL!!!“
“I should’ve just left you out there to chase them. Instead I waited on the porch for you to come back and beg to be let back in the house.”
“Well, you love me. And besides, I am almost seventy in dog years, and I am really stupid about cars that could run over me and squish my little head.”
“Yeah. Your stupid head.”
“Mickey, are you holding this conversation with me because you can’t think of anything else to write about?”
“Yes… er, no… It’s just that I am trying to finish editing my book of Essays, Laughing Blue. I am almost done with it.”
“Why does that make you write about your beloved talking dog? The one you are thinking deserves a little hamburger meat right about now?”
“Because my brain it numb from the careful re-reading, and proof-reading, and changing pictures from color to black and white. And I have no thoughts at all where you and hamburger meat are in the same sentence… or even in the same paragraph.”
“Hey, I like that picture of Mom and Henry. Why didn’t you post that one first?”
“I am using it to illustrate the point that I have been converting artwork to black and white for the book. And that isn’t really Mom and Henry. Your mistress, who dislikes you and doesn’t want you to call her Mom even in my stupid old head, is actually a human bean. And Henry is almost 21 and working for the Dallas County Sheriff now. Neither one is still a panda bear.”
“But why did you have to make that black and white? Pandas are already black and white.”
“Her poodle skirt was red in the original picture. And they don’t do color photos in the print version of published books.”
“Why even include a picture, then?”
“Well, you know me. I am a cartoonist. I think in pictures. Especially silly Paffooney pictures.”
“Why don’t you end this post with a black and white picture of me, then?”
“Because I can’t connect my scanner to the computer for some technical reason. And besides, you slobber too much when I try to press your head against the glass in the scanner.”
Here I am again, exhausted by battles with life and disease and uncertainty. I haven’t caught the Corona-virus, or anything so fatal. But I had to drive my number two son to work last night and bring him home this morning. He is working for the Dallas Sheriff’s Department and doing the night shift. The drive is about forty minutes each way in light traffic, and I suffer from arthritis and diabetes which both make driving that far a misery.
And driving that far, forty minutes alone with my own thoughts and worries, I was not only plagued by my aching rib cage and diabetic headaches, but my mind returned to that same dark, muddy wheel-rut that infects so much of my driving down novel-writing paths… In the Baby Werewolf, Sing Sad Songs,Fools and their Toys, and other stories as well. I can’t get out of that horrible trap I was in when I was ten and sexually assaulted.
You see, his brother gave me a warning, telling me about what had been done to him on a couple of occasions. But, stupid little me, I didn’t understand what he meant. I mean, I knew what testicles were, but I had not had the sex talk at that point to know anything at all that was true about the subject. I sorta liked girls, though I never admitted that to any of my girl-hating friends. And I knew sex was something that people did that would make me want to kiss a… (ergh) girl. But I had no idea how it worked or why you would do that. And I suspected what Lonny told me had something to do with sex, but I had no idea what the connection was.
I admit that I could not tell you the date that it happened. It was some time in October, I think, before the tornado tore apart Belmond, Iowa where both of my parents were working. I am pretty sure after the long night worrying about my parents, both, it turned out, helping with rescue and attending to injuries, I was so overwhelmed by the terrors of that month of my life that I intentionally buried what had happened to me in a lock box in an unused dark part of my memory, where it stayed until I opened it again when I was twenty-two.
Now, here is the part you may want to skip, the horrible secret I kept buried for twelve years and only talked about twice with one other person in the following twenty-nine years. He caught me when I was playing alone in my own back yard. He dragged me to the pile of used tractor tires in the neighbors’ yard. He pulled me into an alcove in the side of the tire-pile where nobody else could easily see. He roughly pulled down my pants. And what he did hurt so bad I saw stars. Who knew that you could twist part of another human being in a way that could cause that much pain? And that was not the worst of it. He warned me not to yell. “Nobody will hear you anyway. And you will just get hurt more. ” He showed me how much he enjoyed what he was doing to me. His enjoyment was large and scary to look at. And he got that way by causing me pain. He even told me that it was happening to me because I wanted it to happen. My head was too dead inside at that point to tell him that it wasn’t the truth.
I know that I probably should have told a teacher, or my parents, or the police. Believe me, a lot of years of regret and self-loathing happened because of that “should have.” But when I finally unlocked the repressed memory, my attacker was already married and a father. And I had never heard a report that he had done the same thing to anyone else. I could’ve destroyed his life by telling someone then. But would anyone have believed me? Especially if his record was clean otherwise? And how petty and evil would I have looked after keeping a terrible secret like that for twelve years? I made it my mission to learn everything I could about that kind of sexual assault. Was I a monster myself for having something like that happen to me? Especially for not telling? Cowardice can make a man a monster, can’t it?
John Wayne Gacy was arrested in December of 1978. My memories of the assault on me had come flooding back into my memory in April of that same year. Gacy had handcuffed, raped, and murdered over thirty young men and boys. And during the trial, it came out that he had himself been sexually abused as a child. That news stabbed me right in the heart. Was I destined to become that kind of creature of darkness? Was I a monster?
Simply put… I am not a monster.
And it was up to me to prove it. I like to think I did just that. As a teacher, especially when I was still single, I made a special effort to be a mentor and a protector to young middle-school and high-school boys. I did not rape and murder even one. I was dungeon master for endless Saturday role-playing games. I gave them a sympathetic ear to listen to the things they needed to talk about. I reported some abuse. I even fed a few of the hungry ones.
Judgmental old ladies noticed the time I spent with kids and took note of the fact that I was unmarried (though I had two different steady girlfriends they didn’t notice.) I got reported for their suspicions. But I had character references to help in that matter. I had game-mastered for the son of the County Sheriff and the son of the Baptist Minister, as well as the son of the high school Science teacher. I had already been thoroughly investigated at that point. And every boy they asked about me defended me. I felt that proved… at least a little bit, that I was not a monster.
I can’t say truthfully that I never had a moment of inappropriate lust in my life. But, not only was I not a rapist, molester, or murderer, I was not gay. And no girl was ever invited by me into my apartment. Only my girlfriend was responsible for inviting them and was always present when they visited. (Except for one girl who came with her older brother for role-playing games, and she was always chaperoned by her brother and one or two of his friends. And he brought her along without an invitation from me.) Truthfully, I never invited anybody to my apartment. The kids would ask for a role-playing game, and I would agree. Even my girlfriends weren’t invited by me. They just assumed they were welcome and came in anyway. I didn’t protest… most of the time.
From the time I learned in Belmond Junior High what being a virgin meant, I never considered myself to be one. But that was because of the horrible secret. My sex-life and love-life were extremely quiet and eunuch-like until I got married at the age of 38 (girlfriend number three, and the second teacher-girlfriend). My sex-life was negatively affected by the horrible secret. My chance to become a practicing nudist was also stifled by the horrible secret. I still suffer from the after-effects of what he did to me. Especially when my illnesses and a long drive make me feel bad and a bit down. But I am not a monster. And that one resolve has kept me from ever being one.
I woke up this morning feeling about as bad as ever I have on a morning when I wasn’t already suffering from flu or bronchitis or other illnesses. So, my first thought… those maskless mooks at Walmart. But, testing myself for fever and lung problems as quickly as possible, I discovered I was normal, and it was more a matter of nighttime arthritis pain than infection. Once I got up and moving, had breakfast and given time to my saliva and other juices to thin out and flow once more, I was feeling like I was still among the living, though plagued with illness due to joint pain and headache.
Nothing comes easily anymore. It has been over a decade since the last time I felt completely well. I fully expected that the current pandemic would be the death of me well before now. But it seems that I may have time to complete more projects. I am staying mostly alive and out of harm’s way most of the time. I continue to survive and to write. Of course, nothing comes easily. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have made of me a virtual pincushion full of little stings and piercing, small pains.
There are still villains to be thwarted out there somewhere. My heroes and space cowboys are lined up and ready to do it. But not much will happen today. I am pretty much tied to my bed and Netflix. Fortunately, the new season of Umbrella Academy is here. That is a real hoot.
Tomorrow I will get back on track. More will get written then. And hopefully it will make more sense than it did today.