364. Super Size Me, Dude

Rusty did not set out to work the drive thru window at the Happy Burger in town. He had bigger dreams. No one dreams of working fast food, do they? So it’s safe to say that the drive thru window was his second worst nightmare. Kids he had graduated with and other folks in town drove up, and he had to smile then happily hand them their Happy Burger meal, smiling insipidly above the deep dread he felt. He chose the third shift to reduce his exposure to such social shame. But the inner revulsion rose up anyway, against gravity like a wave of acid reflux, gagging him much too often. He had suggested to management that the staff wear happy clown masks, hoping to hide behind a company provided clown mask instead of his own recognizable face. “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became”, he muttered to himself like some ridiculous rap line.

He was smarter than this and smart enough to know that smarts don’t count as much as family connections and money and wisdom. Those college prep classes, the AP, the advanced track, he took many of them and held his own, never once imagining that one day he’d stare into the deep fryer watching frozen French fries boil up in super heated peanut oil. His dreams were likewise deep fried and floated up, golden brown– so many dead fish, chicken wings or fries. He remembered getting A’s in chemistry class and physics, pointless now… “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became.”

Rusty knew it was not grammatically correct, but he didn’t care any more about rules and order, manners or limits, even law. Chaos had blown his illusion of control to smithereens.  Bits of his expectations littered the break room like shrapnel. He’d once memorized the periodic table of elements in his junior year. The only element that held any interest for him nowadays was plutonium, named for the Roman god of death. He was past dying; he was dead, walking dead. Zombiefied. Embalmed with the toxic liquor of his misfortune, like drinking Captain Morgan out of a corpse’s boot. The oxy’s, he found, took the edge off of shame, reducing life to a mere sham.

He got her pregnant. It’s just that simple. One biological fact threw two, no three, okay, maybe twenty lives into the industrial strength blender on puree. Chaos turbocharged the two of them. They were both in college prep and had a lot going right in their lives. They were bright and optimistic, glowing with the beauty of late adolescence–Radiant hair, teeth and skin, firm muscular bodies. Irresistible, and they did not resist many impulses. Faster and faster the unsustainable Whirling Dervish ride went. Time and money they did not have were squandered. At least those were measurable. All the emotions that vaporized over that furious year could not be counted or contained. Boundaries were crossed, no, leaped across headlong like the obstacle course at Ft. Benning, after Rusty enlisted to get the security package available no where else. Private Steele, first class. It was something, some place to start.

“Beep, beep, beep” the fry timer screeches to his numb mind. Never mind, never mind. The baby accelerated adult life, couldn’t wait. He raced the baby to graduation, marrying Tiffany, and becoming a father all in the same month, June 1992. The year Hell opened up and demons darkened his skies. Totally black now.

An anesthesiologist, yep, that was the target. It was high status and medically necessary and very lucrative. Plus, it just sounded so cool to say at a cocktail party. “And what field are you in, Rusty?” “Oh me? I’m an anesthesiologist.” Seven silky syllables in one sexy word. “The last person you see before your surgery, you know? It’s dicey, though. They put their lives in my hands, but they don’t all make it back from dreamland, you know?” Dr. Kevorkian was all the talk back then. He wanted, even demanded, assisted suicide be granted a legal guarantee. Rusty had disagreed with Kevorkian back then; but these days he thought it was pretty darn appealing. Why not?  When the unenlightened townies drove up yelling, “Super Size Me, Dude!”, he wanted to scream back “Minimize Me, Dude”. ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. Hook me up with morphine and leave me in the walk in freezer’ he thought he thought.

Some days he’d stomp into the walk in and punch bags of frozen French fries, and pound his sweaty head onto rigid patties of beef. The revulsion gurgled at the back of his throat, threatening to spew out. He could feel the grease on the soles of his shoes begin to congeal in the subzero temperature of the freezer. No one could hear him scream, “Super Size Me, God!! I can’t take this existence any longer. Kill me!”

Things looked good for him in the Army. College was still possible and his superiors liked him, recognized his abilities. He was finding a path in all the deep weeds ahead of him. And then Tiffany grew distant. Sure, they were both immature but coping as new parents, along with lots of help from his mom and hers. And surprisingly his own father stepped up and made himself available to them, far more than he’d ever done so with Rusty. Despite all the help or perhaps because of it, Tiffany demanded time out and away, fun time for her. “Girls just wanna have fun” times, she’d say.  There was more to it. Rusty had little experience with girls in his young life, but he knew something odd was afoot. Someone else’s feet were walking across his fragile marriage and slipping shoes under his marriage bed. He just didn’t know whose feet yet.

The night of the atomic bomb blast was burned onto the back of his eyelids, inescapable and beyond comprehension. Tiffany, his own father, the silent lies that wove together under a disgusting quilt of putrid truth. Incest: the unthinkable had become the unbearable. By then he’d broken his foot and been discharged, rejected by his Uncle Sam as a hopeless cripple. So as he locked the freezer door behind him and lay down with a can of starter fluid, it all seemed so poetic. He recalled Prufrock’s Lovesong from AP English, “Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table…” He huffed the ether, knowing he’d lapse into unconsciousness immediately. He uttered his own pathetic poem to frozen chicken fingers, “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became.”

…. Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

325. Going through the Motions

At dance class Colonel Frank tells us over and over that we have to keep going through the motions of new dance steps in order to develop muscle memory. I understand that. It’s just awkward to do something wrong over and over. It seems like we are practicing the incorrect moves and committing errors to muscle memory instead of perfected dance code. He reassures us that we are repeating near approximations of the desired goal. Our imperfect dancing is getting closer to the target, he says. I hope so. I know that the few dances my eternally youthful bride and I have learned were not there, and not there, and then inexplicably… there. Chick-a- chick-a-boom-boom!!  How’s does that work? One night at the winery I recognized that Santana’s song (actually all Santana songs) was a cha-cha. I just suddenly knew and my wife joined the cha-cha steps in open mouthed wonder at my Astaireness. I was a flaming comet musical dance genius for about 15 seconds.

My road to success went as follows.

1. I don’t know. I’m stupid. Duh.

2. I still don’t know. I’m still stupid. Duh, duh.

3. I know. I don’t know how I know, but I now know. I’m brilliant. Or maybe, I’m incrementally less stupid. Whazzup wiff dat?

It’s not a sexy mantra or a good high school cheer, but it’s true. I suppose I could funk it up and make it more rhythmic…

“I’m dumb, I’m dumb, I dance like a drunken bum.

Still pathetic, pathetic, I aint so copasetic.

I’m better, I’m better, I’m sharper than your cheddar.”

Maybe not. [Movie trailer voice] ‘In a world of reverse limbo dancing, you start with the quality limbo bar on the ground and dance over it until, suddenly,  it becomes embarrassing, criminal, or just anatomically impossible.’And yet we have mastered the Foxtrot, a dance that tied us in silken knots when we first tried to step, touch, feet together, step, touch, feet together. Now we can actually turn the girl and promenade like a pair of Austro-Hungarian royal milk chocolatiers, like trotting foxes come to think of it.

A gym teacher I once worked with used to say, “Fake it till you make it”. I always liked that expression. It simultaneously acknowledges the incompleteness of the now and gives hope for future competence.  It’s not a deceitful proposition. It’s encouraging instead. “Throw the horseshoes till you get a ringer.” “Roll up on that polena” ( in bocce). I like games where imperfection counts for something, i.e., getting near the target is acknowledged and encouraged.

On the other hand there is the self defeating pirate message, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”  The smart aleck in me likes that impossible situation, at least the dark humor in it. Cyclical dilemmas are fascinating– “We’ll have fun when the work is done…but the work is never done.”

“You’ll be released from prison when you have a fixed address on the outside. But you can’t get a fixed address on the outside till you’re out of prison.”

“You can have credit as soon as you prove you are credit worthy by paying off a loan, for which you need credit.”

“You can have a puppy as soon as you can prove you can raise a dog. But you can’t have a dog unless you start with a puppy. How about a kitten?”

These are no motion processes.  The game is over before it starts. In this world of dilemmas you have to hit the bull’s eye the first and only time you throw with your arms duct taped behind your back. It’s about being perfect. “Hey, just grab the bull by the horns and wrestle him into submission.”

To continue going through the motions of a no motion game is mind numbing. It can break the human mind and spirit, like digging holes and moving dirt only to move the dirt back to fill the original hole for no apparent reason. A one piece checker game, a stalemate, kickball with no ball, frozen mimes– what’s the point?  Humans demand meaning and purpose somewhere after oxygen, water and food, shelter and safety, security and love. Often times suicides are driven by perceived purposelessness and meaningless in one’s life. (Especially troubling is the suicide rate of mimes and circus clowns, estimated at 53%.)

Without water I am thirsty. Without food I am hungry. Without oxygen I’m getting pretty jacked up for my next breath. But all these needs drive me toward survival, the mad thrashing and grasping for life. Without meaning, however, it’s easier for thinking people to let go, to override the survival instinct because they can’t keep simply going through the motions, i.e., the near approximation of life. Just ask a mime, but you’ll never get an answer. He’ll take it to the grave.

Freud said there was a life urge and a death urge, Eros and Thanatos, and I believe this is true. The life urge pulls us to sex and creativity and heaven; the death urge pulls us to depression, defeat, and finally the grave. Sometimes, I guess, the tires of life get deflated and we can hit a flat spot in self esteem, marriage, career, family or faith. Going through the motions may help jumpstart the old energy for life’s zest. Going to the no motion one swing at the piñata mindset will corkscrew you into an early grave. It comes down to a choice of frames around life. Do you go with something hopeful and promising or something desperate and toxic? Imagine framing a baby picture with a thick black frame featuring gargoyles sneering. On the other hand, try framing dear departed Uncle Fred in a cheery pink rosebud frame. The same holds true with how you frame your own life.

So here is the take away nugget: keep going through the motions with faith in the unseen goal. Fake it till you make it, Carlos. Believing in the no motion option is deader than a dead mime.