Serial Installment #9 of “On Rainy Days The Monk Ryokan Feels Sorry For Himself”, Pages 168-186

02.11.01happykittens2

Or, buy it now, of course I don’t really believe this.

And, here’s a place to visualize what happens 14 years later to a man who writes like this.

Crazy life I’m expected to participate in, here in Oswego, America. I can walk from my house on West Seventh Street, two and a half blocks to Byrne dairy to pick up heavy cream for our dessert, and a thousand mad images will pass through my mind to stifle any hopes of my ever becoming a valued citizen. The price to pay for being human in America today is too great, in the sense that Rockefeller was great, Carnegie was great, anyone was great who worked his fingers to the bone or got lucky in America. I tell you that everything here is money.
Everything! You know it too. Love is money. Love in its purest form has never been spotted within these borders. Once upon a time it was a trip to town by horse and cart for the overworked couple of the prairie. Those poor folks had no energy to love after three years of back breaking labor. Then Jake bought her tickets to a traveling Shakespeare play. She told him that she needed more than anything to imagine what love was like for the rich young daughters and sons of old Genoa and Venice. Her longing was for the romantic age of kings and queens.
Actually anything not of the prairie was desirable to her. Foreign love helped her forget the cruel prairie and the rough, dirty hands of stone-cold-sober Jake. Oh forget about Jake! From Jake onward, past a couple World Wars, all the boys ever dream about is money after getting laid. She needed the love of another’s poetry to dream about while starving to death through another harsh prairie winter. Never a love of their own to cherish and protect, Jake and she. Never a prairie love. It was practical to work towards love.
Towards what?
What did I say?
You said love.
Oh. I meant money. More money of course.
Now love has everything under the sun. Opportunity for the glory of love has been widely available now for over a hundred years. It is a free fertile half acre plot on a wide open prairie with a thousand slaves, lush tall grasses and beautiful grazing beasts for your burden and your beauty to make more beautiful. Love is as obvious as toilet paper, but even that last privacy has become money. Tonight, along with the cream, I bought two rolls for the price of one. If I’m going to go broke with the desire for rich desserts, then I had better look for bargains to wipe  my ass with.
Face it America, we are rich and dirty. It’s the truth, and most of the sorry hard bastards here love a good old-fashioned harsh reality. As far as I am concerned, which can never be too far for a lazy lovestruck man, everyone here is incurably insane. There is no wisdom. Not even a minor mental health. Love it or leave it? I would you stupid worm, but I like to hope I am wise enough to change things. Not for you. I am well aware of your mental retardation, and would not waste a minute more trying to change you. I have lived maybe half my life walking to the store the way I was expected to walk. Over the years I’ve made just enough money to rub shoulders with my neighbor, without pushing him too far to turn against me. But that is a fearful way to love, and I am so tired of being afraid of money. Now is the time to clean up this mess! I need to clear out the brain! I don’t even know whose brain it is I occupy, but damn if I believe it to be my very own! I have got to break out to save my life. Where? And with what means?
Love has been expected from me since the beginning. Evolution is over and love must reign supreme. One must squeeze a thing almost dead to rid it of all impurities. One must walk outside his door, take in several deep cleansing breaths, and always be prepared to run amok.
Join me boys, on a short walk to get my things. Just a few necessaries and cream. We don’t need much. But I do need cream if I plan to spend the rest of my breaths on earth breathing in the sweet air I was born to breathe.
My storm door is your door. Three factories make all the storm doors sold today. There is room for more, but there isn’t an investor who would risk another dime. Open our similar storm doors then, and step out into the sun. I am going to make it a summer sun to keep this ranting as cheerful as possible. We need cream for our desserts. What are you going to do with your cream?
I am making a custard. Wait, lemme run back inside to check for eggs.
I need eggs.
So my friends, what do you think of this day? Pretty nice, eh? Yea, there’ll be plenty more, but I want to enjoy them now, while I m tall and straight.
What do you need Jimmy? What about you Burt? Frank? Teddy? Eggs too huh? And all of your wives have the mayonnaise out waiting to make egg salad? Hmm. Interesting. My wife doesn’t do much of the cooking. Once it was my trade, now I keep to it regularly for joy.
What’s that you say Ted? Oh, Joy? Yes it does rhyme with toy. And no, I don’t cook on a jet ski. No Teddy, joy is something out of the Bible when you run out of toilet paper and wipe your ass with the story of Job.
Job? No Frank, no job yet. Geez, I don’t know if I’ll ever get one. Mr. Biley at the bookstore hasn’t been all too clear with me, and it’s already June. But I was talking about God’s Job.
You don t say Burt? Your cousin’s the priest? And he makes how much? Three hundred grand a year? Oh well, at least he gives back to the poor, provided the poor aren’t Jewish and the check clears at the dry
cleaners. That’s okay, I heard the President wants congress to allocate more money to America’s houses of worship. Do you know why he does that Frank? No?
He has a personal mechanic, cleared by the FBI, to check the transmission fluid in his limo. Cannot have the President stalling on parade. He has a general too, and after a Sunday morning pretending to love God, he tells the general to send a plane over to Baghdad to shoot the limbs off little Muslim girls. Jesus, it’s his job, isn’t it? So it cannot be helped.
Yes Frank, Job had a hell of a time of it. Lost everything. His wife and children, his sheep, goats, ox, pet rabbit, most of his slaves (some were dumb enough to wait around for the wrath of God).
What Jimmy? Her? Yea she’s got a nice bod, I guess. That’s what a winter of tanning and a spring time of bulimia will do to a girl’s figure. I’ll get the door gentlemen. Jimmy, Burt, Frank, Teddy, each man to his eggs then…
Hey Burt, check out the deal on toilet paper. 2 for 1. Is five dollars enough? Just enough, right? Good.
Eggs, cream and toilet paper. A wise man could live on these staples and some wild herbs of summer. Dandelion greens, burdock, wild horseradish. Strawberries. Apples and pears in the fall. That’s the truth boys, and I agree it’s a scary thing to think about. Let’s go home and tell the wives about it, huh? We’ll pool our monies together and buy some land out in Sterling. Wow, just imagine! A morning hunt once a month because we miss the taste of meat. We’ll join together with bows and arrows and skill. Our wives will learn how to make their own mayonnaise with eggs from our chickens and grease from the bear we slain. We’ll build sound structures to last throughout our lives and our children’s lives as well. We will live together boys, with our wives and children. We’ll stay simple and vote on any complexities that arise. I don’t suggest living off the land completely. We should take jobs for money to buy plumbing and music. My wife would like some fabric to sew a hat for your wife, Teddy. What do you think of that? We’ll vote on all expenses. We can even have television if it will make most of us happy.
Every man can fend for himself and his loved ones. I don’t want a communist commune. I want a small, real America in Sterling, NY. I’ll buy your eggs Jimmy. You can charge me an extra quarter. But that’s it! I know your children don’t want to read the same books mine read, so we will need a little bit of money in circulation. But we won’t pay taxes. We will plow the snow ourselves. We will police our own yard. Eye for an eye painted to a sign stuck in the ground, every fifty feet. That should do it. You do mind paying taxes, don’t you Frank? You don’t really think it’s okay to help pay the general’s salary, do you Burt? So he can drop bombs on people and eat a roast rabbit at the same time? The fire department? Wouldn’t need them, would we boys, if we schooled the children ourselves and cooked our meals in an outdoor pit? Street cleaners? The mayor? The mayor’s helper? The mayor’s secretary? Twig collectors? Computer technicians? Whose computers? Look at me boys, I am plum worn down from being afraid. You know it’s fear Jimmy, and nothing but fear, that gets you up to mow the lawn, trim the hedge, wash the car, clean the cellar, remodel the kitchen, the bathroom, the hallway, shop for new porch furniture, file the tools, arrange the tools, separate screws by length and head into individual labeled boxes.
The fear of not conforming. Well fellas, I am here to tell you we can change all of that. We are little and weak. We are so tiny and small and helpless. Weren’t ready for that one were we?
Thought you were a big, tall boy, didn’t you Teddy? We are cowering in fear of our own illusions of Job’s prosperity. Fear of God? Yea, right! What God? Where? In our hearts? Which chamber? The right or left hypocrite? Look at your god’s representative Burt! A timid chubby girl man, bent over in his skirt, begging your money and paying you back with the Lord s wrath? I am sorry Burt, but your cousin is a sissy. There’s no God up there. The new god is our government. And not one of us has the balls to cross the new god. Life has not become more complicated. Fear has. Fear is our Satan, and his devils are you and me, boys, not living the freedom we were born to live.
Look there Burt! That’s a funeral parlor. You know it’s against the law to bury your dead wife in sacred ground. She’s gonna die someday. So are you. So if she goes first, why can’t you cover her with the dirt of your own back yard? It was your favorite grass. You mowed it once a week for fifty years. You rough-housed with the boys and helped your little girl train the dog to jump the ladder. You grilled on the deck, cultivated an herb garden, and buried a time capsule under the pine tree. They allowed you that one, because there was nothing bigger than a dead dog in it. And now every moment you go out and stand in the yard to see your dead wife come to life, hanging the laundry, weeding the garden, scraping the paint off an old door. Who are the dirty buggers gonna get paid off for the death of your beloved? Who are they Burt? Did you love your wife? No, you couldn’t have. Not if you gave up her dead body to these greedy coffin pushers. Who wants to take care of strange dead people in America? Everyone! Why? Because it pays so God damn well! Who will give up their dead to the big house at the end of the street?
Everyone! Why? Because we are a country of fearful, crawling midgets afraid more of our own laws than death’s inevitability. If you went to bed with her Burt, every night for over fifty years, if you loved and made children with her, if you miss her laughter and are beside yourself with grief and loss and the hope for her spirit, then drag her sleeping death, as old and feeble as you are, out the back door and across the lawn. Drop her in a hole you dug with the same spade she used to plant azaleas back in the spring of ‘96.
You run along home now and give her your promise to treat her in death how you tried to in life. You do this now, over egg salad sandwiches, and I will take back every word I said. Look at that place Burt. It’s almost a mansion. You see the fat chimney? Down at the bottom of that hole is where the rich mortician gets his hands dirty shoving your wife into the furnace. Where are you? You’re signing papers in the office? You’re giving the woman behind the desk three thousand dollars in cash? It took her twenty years to practice that frown to perfection. She knows when exactly to break the ice too. And how long to refrain from beeping “Hello” to your dumb look in the yard while she drives past you and the memory of your dear beloved, whose death happened to be the final payment on the Cadillac she beeps from.
Listen boys, I am truly sorry for the morbid thoughts on such a beautiful summer’s day. I know you think I’m crazy. Anyone for checkers? Great, bring the eggs home to your wives, and meet me back here as soon as you can. I got lots more to say and all day to say it. I’ll talk right up until dinner if you’ll let me. I’ll talk until the thunder booms in the west. I am clean, well-dressed, and thin. I feel so good today with you boys. My mind is so clear. I am looking forward to the evening and the summer stillness. Checkers then okay? All night if we have to. Until the lightning flashes green, the thunder cracks golden, and torrents of rain soak our gentlemen’s clothes. Then it will be time to tell our wives about our new plans. Then we can listen to the storm all night from the safety of our beds, and dream about tomorrow’s game of checkers.
We could have our own chickens, you and me boys. The hens shall peck around our feet while we play checkers and smoke. That’s how the day goes by in paradise. Did you know that there is a law against keeping chickens? You can’t have your own eggs made. You can’t abuse your pets either, but the dog catcher can set your cat on fire. Can’t block the sidewalk, can’t swear too loud, can’t be loud, can’t get too drunk, but you can get drunk, plenty drunk just can’t drive drunk, or you can’t get caught driving drunk. Must abide by their electric code, their plumbing code, their living code which even the bravest boob will not dare decipher. The code of living has been set by god our government, and no man is free enough in thought to attempt to break it.
Hey Burt, you’re the first one back. I’ll be red, you be black.
Burt, did you know that the code has been set by our god the government? That means you should give money to the poor kids in Baltimore. It’s humanitarian even if in Baltimore the idiots pay their quarterback a million dollars. It’s all according to code. We pay for him too. So Burt, when your cousin gets caught red-handed screwing a twelve-year-old altar boy, the quarterback in Baltimore sends his pennies to Oswego to have it checked out. It must be humanitarian when us humans opt to take care of our own religious pedophiles. Your poor cousin has two deities to fear. He pays his dues twice, once to god the government and then to god the bishop of the arch Diocese of Syracuse. Today the bishop’s in Albany to tell the Roman senators it’s not okay for Insurance companies to cover the cost of abortion. The Pope doesn’t consider it medical necessity to ram a vacuum cleaner hose up a woman’s vagina. He believes women are man’s property, and that every homosexual must be brought to Italy to be tried and burned at the stake. The heat from their pyres will keep the Pope’s robes warm around the clock. Burt, your cousin’s dues paid for the bishop’s Mercedes. He drove it to the Romans this morning. Later he will have lunch with Senator Wright, who agrees with the Pope one hundred percent, but won’t give his vote until the holy father calls for a final crusade against the faggots.
Taxes are necessary Burt? Why? Will they pay for the promise of never being annihilated? Do they provide your wife with the necessary peace and safety to mash her hard boiled eggs, olives and mayonnaise? I don’t like olives in my egg salad Burt. King me.
Oh hello boys! Welcome back. Please gather round. Sit under the tree in the shade with me and Burt. Everything is screwy. We’re playing checkers. I want us to be like old Negroes in the old south. Negro means black in Spanish. It’s better to be Negro in 1934 than Blanco in 2001.
It’s god the government taking our birth rite and sicking the dogs on us whenever we get the guts to say no. We’re white niggers and black niggers, but every nigger today, white or black, is a fearful, nervous,
hyperactive, hopelessly depressed nigger. No more happy-go-lucky niggers, I’m afraid. You’re afraid. I just got enough sense to play checkers this afternoon while I sing to you my swan song of summer. King me Burt.
It is not a conspiracy. I am guilty Burt. So are you. And you just lost. Who is next? Okay Teddy, set up the board. Where do you think you are going Frank? The egg salad can wait.
Besides, it’s better if you let it chill. It’s obvious you’re not waiting for a dough to rise, or the cakes to cool before frosting them. You’re guilty Frank. You too, Teddy. Jimmy’s not coming back because he is too afraid to show his face. Each one of us is guilty for letting god the government inside. It’s not a whole big thing. It’s not a monster. God the government manifests itself in one man’s fear. It is god the government being its own Job and Job’s creator/destroyer in every man. Please Teddy, be honest, why aren’t there more checker games being played in Oswego? I mean the kind of man’s game to gather round and not look conspicuous. There exist all kinds of games to take the fearful out to play. There is golf, but limited to a foursome, and four cannot overthrow their fears of god the government. King me.
Okay Burt, good point. The bar room. Yea, but do you actually listen to their conversations, Burt? They want to believe they’re free to talk about politics. Damn the President! Damn that woman senator, what’s her name? I think the mayor wants to smell the police chief’s underwear. Everyone laughs because they think that last remark safe and local. But it’s just politics for fear of god the government. Did anyone climb up on the bar waving freedom’s flag?
Who said Saddam is right, America is Satan? No one did Burt because they know in their hearts that they are fearfully free enough already. Don’t push it. Have a few beers, watch the nightly news. Oh, we bombed Iraq today? Good. Those sand niggers need us. Yes they do, king me Teddy, but not in the genocide way you’re thinking of. Just look at these old men, friends. Some of them are still young enough to fight. But Jesus, just look! Tip toe, shhh, softly, quiet, shhh… If I’m really, really quiet no one will notice me dying in front of my warm beer. Hunched over at the bar, pickled and forgotten, when they have the real freedom to join our checker game in the shade. How embarrassing! What tables would turn on our god the government if we gathered together under this tree every summer day to play checkers and exclaim, No more!
It’s not worth it. They can have all the goodies. We are not bored. We are dangerous. We know the cops can’t get rid of criminals. We don’t think the President is tough on crime. He’d have a noose around his own neck if he was. King you Teddy?
Why? What fear are you crushing today? One would think that constant fear would eventually cancel itself out. If everyone is afraid, there would exist no measurement for fear. Or that after a couple generations of depreciating manhood, we could trade each other in for a replacement nullity just as useless, but less careful and not expecting to rust away so quickly. I won’t king you Teddy until you go home and burn your Bible, your W-2, your pension plan, your neighbor’s mail, put on your coat of mail and come back to my tree for a final game of checkers.
Bring ten egg salad sandwiches. It’s going to be a long afternoon. It could go on all night. Do you hear the thunder in the west? It’s not coming from the clouds. Our President nuked Iraq this morning, seconds after a sorority of republican co-eds visiting the White House blew him to get their way. The thunder you hear is Buffalo screaming. Rochester is next. And then a big fat one to fall on our checker game. Yes it’s a staggering reality when earth’s annihilation can begin without our
permission.
All right boys, forget it. I have said too much already. And I can see that I don’t have your confidence. Do you understand we have no real control of destiny? We can form a clan tonight, after checkers. Not a guild or union. America does not need another special interest group to make and break its own laws. It needs more clans to stop god our government from dishing out Job’s fate to its families.
Teddy, time out for a minute.
Boys, gather round. I have never been more earnest about anything. Come closer while I whisper this revelation to you. What the hell are we going to do when other nations come to bomb us? Will we act like everyone else and sign up for the big fight? Will we get angry like Pearl Harbor? You know Roosevelt knew the Japs were coming. He wanted into the war. He thought it would be fun. And he could forget, at least temporarily, about his paralysis and that annoying, dandruff-forming head itch. But that was an easy and slow time way back then, to end up with a piddly-diddly atomic bomb. Do any of you know what s in store for the next war?
No. I doubt any of us understand at all. In fact Frank, I could swing a steel pipe against your skull, and I think you’d get up after a few minutes to finish checkers. We are drugged robots. We are at the mercy of our own technological, totalitarian government. We are a nuclear democracy, a hydrogen bomb republic. No man is a man. No woman can be a complete woman.
Who has control of the buttons? Would any of us trust even our own, dear, fearful fathers with such unlimited power?
God our government is picking a fight. It’s their Persian Gulf, not ours. Get out. I want to make friends with the women of Baghdad because they must be some of the best cooks in the world. But I can’t get to their food, and neither can they because of the sanctions. A half million happy children are dead now. Rules of war. Rules of pre-war. Starve the kids. It’s not good form to storm into a country and slice off the head of their psychopathic leader. It’s proper protocol to rain bombs on families sitting down for supper instead. Hi Honey I’m home!

Boom!

Sorry Teddy. Just set the checker board down against that smoking stump. I’ll wrap things up, and then we can all go home. It was
easier for Hitler to kill eleven million than for the Allies to find Hitler and cut off his head. It’s a funny rule, don’t you think boys? To leave the insane mass murderer alone and starve and bomb his people instead? La-te-da-te-da. I’m a little boy in Baghdad hopping down the street. I got a loaf bread and a jar of goat’s milk for mommy—

Ba-Ba-Boom!

Are you getting the picture boys? God our government is a killer. It says that it’s all for protection. It is not. It helps put fear into you. It’s also damn good money for the rich and less manhood for the poor.
Supposedly we have elected Mr. President into office. Supposedly it is against the law to kill babies, women, and men without guns, even if they eat couscous and fried grasshoppers. That law is meant for you and me. It’s murder if I kill my old man neighbor. It’s protection if Mr. President kills Assan Hassan’s old man neighbor. The senator sits passive in his seat. The air force bombed Iraq today. The senator had diarrhea all morning long, and is not a bit interested in what the President is telling him. He looks to his right and then to his left.
Everyone else seems okay with it, so he is too. He won’t object. Anyway, he can’t stop thinking about the fish sandwich he ordered last night in Georgetown. The news camera focuses in. Senator Poopalot of Nebraska is considering the gravity of the situation. I can’t tell if he’s happy with the President’s request, or if he just shit his pants.
One hundred people to represent 300 million? They must think our brains have melted.
That’s no good. In the last election we were given only two to choose from, and both were greedy fat bankers. The House of Representatives? Really? Be honest Frank. Whose interests are represented? There has got to be one man in the bunch to stand tall, with back straight, and denounce the slaughter of children, to agree with Saddam that America is Satan, to get on TV and tell us never to vote again, and to stockpile weapons because Waco was wacko, but only because God Jehovah was getting too tough for god the government, and the stronger god had to prevail. Oh yes, and it also killed their babies.
Enough! Politics is always an easy target. The truth is obvious boys. God our government is our own damn fault. We are struck blind and deaf by paranoia. I wonder sometimes if our brains are goo. We were born and for the first ten years most of us liked egg salad and a hot day for a game of checkers in the shade. The problem is puberty, TV, and both parents joining the work force. We can stop two out of three from happening again. Then it’s only a matter of time for clans to be reinstated. Ask me about it during tomorrow’s walk to the store for tuna and milk.
But I won’t unveil the final terrifying truth until I have won twenty or thirty years of your confidence playing checkers under a tree. Boys, I need to be absolutely certain where your loyalties lie.

Good morning spring! I know you’re under there! Come up from beneath the ground you froze last night with winter’s wind.
So many more turns of the earth needed before the lake warms up enough to bust open the buds on the trees. Thirty or forty more until the winter coats get hung back up in the closet. Time is too long and drawn out, this waiting day after day to open our windows and doors. Winter begins fast and furious in early November. It won’t leave for good until late April. Sometimes even early May. Such a stubborn thing to kill, winter. A short one lasts five months. A long winter will stretch itself past the half year mark. It is difficult for men to remain happy in extreme cold for any length of time beyond a weekend. Oswego’s cold is not unique. It’s just cold. That’s all there is to it. Cold.

After Halloween even small static shocks of joy are rare at best. Winter is such an uphill climb. Thanksgiving is happy because nothing is expected of anyone but to eat a grand meal and be lazy after the dishes. The snow is always pretty in November. The smell of no smell is new and anticipated by everyone. Then the cold is a tonic, an interesting change to warm the blood. The leaves aren’t dead. They have fallen. Gourmets feel the most open to experimentation. Now there is plenty of time for cakes, pies, stews, roasts, crinkle-cut root vegetables… Long cooking warms the heart and the home. There’s a drunkenness come over the man who can walk out into the new fallen snow and pick fresh thyme as green as it was after an evening rain in May. Wine is not necessary, but if there’s an extra ten dollars a week, it’s a whole lot more cheerful than sautéing with tap water.

These fresh new winter mornings are the reason why the majority are tricked into staying here. But there are sixty of the same days and nights to come until Christmas. And Oswego’s face looks sinister to the gourmet after the second or third coq au vin. It sneers at him mockingly, like a delinquent searching for the right button to push, the one to finally send him over the edge. It actually calls him a liar for making a French stew in Burgertown. And then “idiot” for spending that kind of money on chicken and egg noodles. Free range chicken, $2.79 a pound? Wild mushrooms? Bottle of burgundy? Unbleached flour? Twelve dollar beef stock? To keep his sanity he learns to speak the language of the automobile. They won’t tolerate a chicken prepared like that unless he’s got fries and an oil filter to go with it. After Thanksgiving Oswego turns into the land of the automobile. Every man to his machine, the steel block engine calling from the driveway, as it warms up the plastic seat for his pallid ass. Salute to the wipers that be! Look proud to the green anti-freeze. Praise for the carpet that exists in the brain to get dirty then cleaned and dirty again. Suck in that air bag belly. Stand as tall as you can sit at thirty-five miles per hour. Signal right to turn right. Or signal left always and drive in circles until you run out of gas. That’s okay. As long as you own a car. Live once. Look silly.

On Friday after Thanksgiving everyone drives a car. You in the car want a new car. And what better time to buy a new car than on the busiest shopping day of the year? Always a sale. Marked down for the Holidays. Why pay $24,000.00? It’s yours for $23,800.00 (pronounced twenty-three-eight to new car buyers). If you get in it now and turn the key, you can be to the mall by 4:30. Turn the two hundred  bucks you saved today into Christmas gifts for the children. They should get a little something too. Two hundred dollars is enough to buy the latest video craze, and remove any traces of guilt you have for birthing the children into automobile land.
26-6. We know it’s a fix. A new drug every five years. Demanding copper as an alloy might make us men and not boys. But it’s an advisable, encouraged addiction, to be ripped off and not care. Even if the car costs as much as a warm shelter for life, us big boys like our toys. Big girls get their thrills. Here is a perfect example why romantic love is dead.
“You look like a big boy Mr. Throop. You must think that you need this new car, or you wouldn’t be here today, would you, Mr. Throop? These Oswego winters are harsh on the heart. I understand. For 36-6, this one will getcha through snow up to three feet. For 46-9 this one won’t do much more, but with sunglasses on, you’ll look like a movie star! That is our guarantee. We promise. If you’re not entirely happy with this purchase, we will reimburse you up to 3/5 the total cost an hour after you buy it. And if you try to hound us for mocking your pride, we will call the police and have you arrested. Because it’s legal and encouraged by the corporate charter for us to strip you of dignity, Mr. Throop. It really is.”
“So trust us. This is what we drive. Mine was 29-7. Hers was 28-5. Together we pack the suicidal energy of several thousand shivering elk racing to leap off an ice cliff. Ford or Chevy? Volkswagen or Audi? Buy now before Christmas and we’ll throw in a barbie doll to take home with you and your purchase. It will be easier to tell your daughter that you traded her education for a car. “Don’t cry, honey. Here. It has a retail value of 7-98,” (pronounced $7.98 to the last man in Oswego who used the money to feed his children instead).
“You’ll throw in the barbie too?”
“Yup, for 35-5 you can make your daughter feel happy and occupied in the back seat while you day-dream freely about your next purchase, and drive the new car-truck into a tree.
“Yes, but is it safe?”
“Safe? Why Jesus yes. I should hope so. If you’re hit head on, twenty-three airbags inflate immediately.”
“Wow! That’s great, isn’t it honey? And airbags save lives, right?”
“Yes, but only if they’re installed on a tricycle and the tricycle rides into a gigantic pillow at 3 mph. In fact at any speed over 42 mph, upon impact, there’s a 95% chance that all passengers will die painfully… and without their heads attached.”
“Oh. Well hell, but it looks great! And I need something big and warm, like a womb, for me to climb into. It snows a lot in Oswego.”
“Actually, no it doesn’t. Global warming has had its affect on the county, especially in the city of Oswego. Scientists claim the warm-up is due to morons like you spending thousands of dollars to look big and clog the atmosphere. But if there was any significant accumulation… No. It would be wiser to buy a used Chevette for a hundred dollars. But, if I’m going to sell you a car today, I have to lie outright. Company policy. They already know that if you are here, then you’re dumb enough to buy one. It wouldn’t matter if I told you that while you were checking sticker prices, me and the mechanics were sticking your wife on the lift. I could say you have the balls of a cricket and and at the same time hand you a pen to sign the contract. It’s a tiny piece of yellow paper with the three words written on it— “I hate myself”, and a place at the bottom for you to sign.”
“Well okay, it’s a deal. Does the barbie come gift wrapped?”
“No. And I think you’re making a terrible mistake.”
“No no. 35-5. That’s the price we agreed upon. You won’t get me to pay a penny more. Just roll her up in one of those paper floor mats will you?”
“The barbie or your wife?”
“The barbie. I’ll take my wife up front with me.”

Just before Christmas I get a renewed contempt for the new car buyer. Last December that’s all my chef talked about. His Ford Expedition. And every one wonders why I quit my job over and over again. I am one of those few curious Romans who thought Jesus of Nazareth was a smart cookie. I was no Jew about town. I was pagan out of habit and laziness mostly. And I loved being one of several personal cooks for Senator Ipicus. Mornings I got to inspect the fish the minute it was brought up to dock. He also allowed me every expense, which meant I could use however much garum and sea salt I needed to create a supper fit for the gods. So the days of my life were always pleasant and easy. I had a bath once a week and spent my coin wisely. Then one day I met Jesus. What a fanatic! He didn’t like us pagans one bit. “What’s wrong with money,” I asked him on the morning he marched down to the docks with his band of rowdies, cursing and flogging the Hebrew fishermen for selling their catch to me.
“Oh, go get a Ford Expedition. It’s shiny crabapple red with four-wheel drive!” was his answer.
What a queer Jew that Jesus! Ford Expedition? Four-wheel drive? What is a crabapple? It didn’t sound right. Like something out of the frigid northern corners of the Empire. Some curse of the Britons maybe. Nor would he tell me what it meant, either. He just looked up to the sky shaking his head, and then he took out that flabby prick and peed all over the Hebrew’s full nets of fine Turbot and Hake.
What a strange bird, that Jesus. They finally arrested him. I knew he would get the cross if he didn’t shut his trap. Each morning during crucifixion week, I’d hike up the hill to where the crosses were planted. “Jesus,” I pleaded, “This is driving me crazy. What the sheep’s dung does ‘Ford Expedition’ mean?”
He’d smile and say, “It’s got four-wheel drive and is crabapple red.”
Every day I made the same determined hike up to Crucifixion Hill to repeat the question. But Jesus wouldn’t budge.
Finally, on the morning of Slave Slaughter Friday I made a last ditch attempt to get my riddle answered.  “Look Jesus,” I said, “Tell me now and I’ll get you off this thing. You’ll be back down at the docks in an hour. I am the cook for a powerful senator who’s back from Rome on holiday. A dinner of little lamb a lá verjuice and a bucket of wine to take along to the beheadings tonight, and it’ll be a cinch to persuade him. Just tell me what this Ford Expedition means, and why I should get one. It’s your freedom for a riddle. What’ll it be, Jesus? What will it cost? Please Jesus, I beg of you, how much for a Ford Expedition that’s shiny crab apple red with four-wheel drive?”
“35-5.”
“What? Are you out of your mind? That much? Man, I might be a pagan Roman dog, but nobody, not even the glorious inbred Emperor himself, is that stupid! All this time I wasted and now I don’t even want to know what a Ford Expedition is. If it’s that much, you can go straight down there to Jew Hell. 35-5! Jesus, you can hang there all day, but I ain’t bringing you a single coin. 35-5. You know Jesus, I got a senator to cook for, and two kids to feed after that. I can walk to the docks… And Jesus Jesus, it doesn’t even snow here. Four-wheel drive for 35-5? Now you’re just pissing me off! Marcus has an ox. Tiberius a trained boar. What the Christ do I need a Ford Expedition for?”
Christmas is car time in Oswego. Everyone is driving at this most wonderful time of the year. I drive. But ever since I began to drive, the holiday has lost its appeal. Even I would walk for Jesus, and I am the worst Christian among men. There exists an immense ball of self-loathing expanding beside the heart of the good Christian as soon as he steps out of his new car on Christmas Eve. The big ball triples in size during the time it takes to stand by the snow bank and lock its doors using the plastic remote control on his key chain. He’s got to feel the pressure on his heart about to pop while walking up the church steps to Midnight Mass dressed in a long, black coat. When their Jesus comes back…Wow! Is he gonna have one helluva time with the hypocrites! Wait, not their Jesus. Rather, my Jesus. They just assume that their Jesus will pull up in a new Cadillac with shrimp cocktail and a hat full of thousand dollar diamond rings, one for each good Christian woman. Jesus, I hope he comes in my lifetime. Otherwise it’s still ten dollars going to Christ in the collection plate. $419.35 a month as a signed check to Chrysler. I imagine him picking out the grandest churches on Christmas Eve, and being everywhere at once like Santa, standing by the holy water with a shit-smudged face and ragged clothes, looking like the worst beggar in Christendom. Any person giving him a cross look will immediately be stripped of every possession and set on fire, or put out to sea alone in a row boat. Time to think long and hard about his transgression while the cold fish and weary gull petition Christ to get his shit off their lake.
Not one man or woman I know believes in Jesus Christ. And yet everyone is a Christian. No one really believes he even existed to ever come back anyway. It’s a sham Christians have played out since smallpox stopped eating their children alive. Not even the most devout priest could possibly be Christ’s friend. How would I know such a thing? How can I call out such blasphemies in the name of Jesus Christ? Because my poor little lost lambs, I am him! Here I am, Christ almighty. What do you think about that? The second coming. It’s me. Do you believe it? No, of course not. It’s impossible. “You’re just like us,” you’ll say. St. Elizabeth’s Hospital? That’s not a manger in Bethlehem. Forceps didn’t pull out our beloved savior. If you’re Christ, then prove it. And then here we go all over again!
Jesus is not feared. Jesus is a thing to hide behind, a symbol to allow sin and illusion’s powerful reign to endure. All the little old Oswego ladies setting up their mangers on Christmas Eve believe that Jesus wants to take care of their souls when death wakes them up in the night. Jesus is the grown-up’s Santa Claus. The toys he brings are life ever-lasting, and safety for all of God’s children who believe. He would come if they believed. But they don’t believe. It takes each old lady an hour to get ready for mass. And then a very short drive to it, seated in a shiny new automobile, the most decadent display of pagan wealth ever spit into the face of a people’s savior. Some good Christian ladies even pray to have one of those too. They know who they are. They got their gobs of spit warm and ready. I’d be careful if I were you Christ. These old ladies will eat your face off if you threaten to change even a minor routine in their existence.
You can see how my winter in Oswego gets off to such a bad start. What a heavy climb it is. Yesterday a March storm dropped a clean white blanket upon us. I woke up happy again, a feeling I hadn’t felt in three months. I called it holiday cheer. If the spring wouldn’t come, at least I was able to rewind winter’s tragedy to its innocent beginnings. While making crepes for breakfast I started to sing “It’s Lovely Weather For a Sleigh Ride Together With You”. In March, singing Christmas carols. Did January and February ever happen? “Where is this coming from?” I wondered. “Have I been asleep all winter?”
More proof to my theory that if man chooses to keep the northland his habitat, he needs to hibernate like the animals. Have I not been practically asleep since January? A rough slumber for sure. My head itched. I got dry scalp and dandruff. My skin got pale. I ate twice as much. I started to think low thoughts. I couldn’t fit into my jeans. Rarely did I step outside. From time to time I glanced out my window to see all life still asleep. I was pushing back despair. I was fighting to stay awake. Why bother? What was there to keep awake for?

Those months were wrong. Everything else was wise enough to play dead. Why must man be so cocky about everything? Even life? Why must he force himself to survive these terrible winters, when, year after year, he should just curl up and sleep through them instead?
I believe the Oswego man in collaboration with the Santa Barbara man should offer their skulls up to science after death. It would be an interesting and revealing comparison to prove my following hypothesis: Homo Habilis is alive and degraded in Oswego, N.Y. Homo Sapien, the thinking man, cheerfully resides in warmer climes, like Santa Barbara. I predict a noticeable difference in shape and structure between the skulls of the two beasts.
The skull of the Oswego man will show a squarer jaw and flatter top, the latter enabling him to properly balance enough weight up there to impede even the most stubborn dream to get up and leave. The Santa Barbara man will show a more rounded skull and less pronounced jowl, most likely shrunken from the advantage of a winter of fresh vegetables to eat and thick green summer grass to cushion his walk.
The jaw of the Oswego man has sixty-two very sharp teeth. Used to tear meat and appear mean even while whimpering like a sad puppy over his supermarket kill. Over a lifetime many of these teeth wore away and needed to be replaced, probably due to the beast’s high intake of New York Strip Steak in winter. The Santa Barbara man has six teeth, one for each small cup of food he took in daily.
The orbital cavities of the skulls bear a marked difference as well. The Oswego man’s are larger, reamed out after many years of winter’s rot on the eyes. This peculiarity happens when a Northern man closes the lids over the eyes too often. Without a pleasant world to look upon, the eyes are purposely kept without sun or exercise. They begin to rot behind the lids, and the rot spreads into the skullbone, evidenced by two significant cracks splitting down past either side of the nose. One good jolt in life would have resulted in Oswego man’s face falling off. Fortunately he was rarely moved, neither by earthquake nor inspiration.
The eye holes of the Santa Barbara man are smaller, showing no evidence of life rot. Most likely the result of a lifetime of keeping his eyes wide open to the sun. A strong squint strengthened the muscle and bone around the eye, to give Santa Barbara man a more secure possession of his face.
In conclusion, this scientist casts measurable doubt upon his own sanity. Being an Oswego man half his life, and a northern man forever, he believes the life rot has already begun to eat into his skull. Therefore, suffering this condition makes it impossible for him to carry out a decent hypothesis, scientifically. So he’s left both skulls in the middle of the street for the snowplows to crush.

 

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