Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Sensible Idea

Charles J. Carter, master illusionist
An east rain came in just after sundown, pelting the windows as if it were hail.  I had been on the phone all afternoon doing interviews for a nationwide study concerning the early care and education of children.  I'd made about thirty calls, found two people willing to participate, and so twice worked my way through the questions of the forty-five minute survey.   

At some point during my six and half hour desk stint, I connected with a chatty young grandma; an avid horseback rider and motorcyclist who had joined 4,000 other bikers for a 911 Memorial Ride this past year.  Its funny to hear a self-declared grandmother use the word "awesome" when describing the roaring thunder of such an incredible pack of machines.  Her granddaughter, daughter and son in law had lived with her for the past couple years, but they recently found their own home and now its just her and her husband.  She misses them.  Her younger daughter owns a horse farm but she's way out in the country so they can only get together on weekends.  "It goes fast." she tells me, as if with two kids of my own I hadn't noticed.  

Her husband must be one tough cookie.  He was a  rodeo bull rider when he was young.  His nephew was a bull rider too, but the boy was killed about a year ago.  The truck he was riding in veered off the road and smashed into a tree on the way home from a competition.  Only twenty-three.  The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.

"More of them get killed that way than ever do in the ring. The circuit is exhausting, so many miles in between shows."  

I told her about how I'd taken my kids to the rodeo at the Harford Fair this summer.  We'd watched the bull riding.  It was the first time I had ever seen it done live.  Handome boys.  Tough as nails.  Obviously a wee-bit crazy and a little top heavy on testosterone. 

I worked until 8:30 and then made myself a really thin steak and some kick-ass homefries.  The house is quiet and I hear my ears ringing and the ever present sound of the furnace fan.  The wind comes in gusts outside, banging the aluminum cat bowls around on the porch.  I sit in the green chair and thumb through a couple books I've yet to read, ones that I've picked up and set down before.  "Three Cups Of Tea" was given to me this summer.  I started it and then was told by a closet kill-joy that the true life component of the book was bullshit, all made up, just fiction being passed off as some third person biographical memoir.  That sort of took the shine off it.  Why I'm not sure.  If its a good story, who cares whether it actually happened.

JC called me this morning.  I had just finished "Carter Beats the Devil," the cinematic adventures of a vaudeville magician loosely based on the real life story of Charles J. Carter, master illusionist.  It had been light reading, but a weighty text, with 662 pages in paperback, the last fifty of which could have used the wave of the editor's wand and been done away with.  Still, the book had been a fine companion over the past week.  Lying there in bed, I tried to imagine what it must be like to spend five years on a novel as Glen Gold had; dreaming, researching, writing, revamping, bouncing ideas off friends as well as his incredibly talented wife, Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones).  I must say, I was also a wee bit in awe of the very last line in the text.  It appears in the acknowledgments under the title "Program Notes" and reads:   "Wife!  I love you-- lets take over this evil planet and make it a playground."  

Touching.  If his feelings for Alice are a tenth as strong as those describing Carter The Great's  passions in marriage, than Glen Gold  is a very lucky man.

Anyway, my phone rang, and after a three jingle debate, I decided to answer it,  

"Hello Ron?"  

I had met JC six years ago in a hotel near Edison. NJ.  I'd gone to the tiny computer room off the lobby to check my email and she was there, smelling of some luscious perfume and playing a video game on the house computer.  Somehow we got talking, exchanged addresses and have been sporadic pen pals ever since.  JC has invited me to her Brooklyn home a few times, but I have never had the opportunity to visit.  She is an independent TV producer and incredibly talented stained glass artisan.

She tells me she's had a rough year.  Two close friends, one a jazz drummer, the other a fellow producer, died unexpectantly.  Then her vibrant, ninety year old mother had a massive heart attack, and only after a lengthy struggle, was revived by paramedics.  She has now recovered enough to be released from the ICU, and if all goes according to plan, she will soon be home in JC's care after many months in the hospital.  

I have seen pictures of JC's mom and even at her advanced age she is still a remarkably beautiful woman.  JC is an only child and they are very close.  She has phoned me from the hospital room, where she spends a good deal of each day. She replays events, but uses so many medical abbreviations for all the conditions and complications her mother has endured, that it is confusing and difficult to follow.  And then the wailing begins. Her mother has dementia, a result of oxygen starvation during the extended period that her heart had stopped working.  She often cries uncontrollably for no apparent reason.  Perhaps nightmares, hallucinations, or just a soul trapped in a waning body.  Who knows, but the sound of her suffering, even through the phone, is incredibly disturbing.  JC apologizes, but she must turn her full attention to her mom, so we exchange good-byes.  With concern in her voice she asks if I still have her phone number.  I assure her I do and I encourage her to call whenever she feels a need to talk.

There is so much beauty and so much tragedy in this life.  Last night when I went down to the furnace room to bank the fire before bed, I revisited the rather unsettling thought that my generation is next in line.  Both my parents are gone, my mother for thirty years now.  A shiver driven by the incredible impermanence of it all shot up my spine like an orange ember on a chimney draft and my next thought?  

Well that was same as the one that greets me in the wee hours of the morning when I lie awake alone and imagine the feel of skin on skin and warm, clear breath mixed with my own.  Yes, a wonderful thought.  "Let's take over this evil planet and make it a playground!"

What a sensible idea.

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