chapter 32: a Wheel of Fortune “Before and After” – Life’s a Drag Me to Hell

on august 5th, the day after my cerebral angiogram, i awoke from a night of inadequate sleep.  i know it was inadequate, because it was less than 3 days’ worth.  seventy-two hours might’ve provided enough healing for me to continue as if everything were normal.  but i don’t wait on things like time.  not this time.  brain tumor, schmain tumor.  angiogram?  big whoop; it’s just a freaking test.

i got out of bed slowly–even more slowly than i’d moved at the previous night’s band rehearsal.  bed was replaced by the bathroom floor under my feet, and that was supplanted by my gas pedal.  in quick succession, my choices brought me straight to work, where i burst through those fateful doors, intending upon a great day of easily-handled activities.

not so.

the doors of a restaurant can be a mystical portal into chaos.  at the wrong time of day, entry is like a hyperspace jump without a seatbelt.  if you’re on staff, an ocean of tranquility may elude you, as you plummet to the depths in a matter of seconds, sharks brushing against your suddenly-freezing skin, your corpuscles about to burst, the knots in your ears fighting to escape your head.  i walked in to absolute madness.  too many people wanted too much food from too few people too ill-equipped to provide it.  the sound was deafening, the tension overwhelming.  everyone was moving at a hundred times the speed of every other living thing outside the tiny building on Riverside Drive.  the world had it easy; it was tea time.  but we were the contents of the kettle, and although i can’t for the life of me whistle, i felt it like the sound of the Wabash Cannonball.

and so i began my race.  against time.  against customers.  against my injury.  and against the limits of remote possibility.  just the day before, i’d been a four-wheeled monstrosity up on the rack, being wrenched and ratcheted.  now i was on the speedway, with a hole in the tank.

put me back on the rack.

…or prop me up on cinderblocks in the front yard.  i don’t care; just take me out of the race.  my body throbbed where my catheter had been inserted; just 24 hours earlier, i’d had a rod shoved into a major vascular intersection–the corner of Hip and Crotch–and run up through my torso, through my carotid artery, and into my brain.  now, here i was, attempting a major feat, rushing across the floor with an uneasy limp.  i tried my best; but in the Talladega 500, a flat tire is a dream-killer.  say goodbye to the winner’s circle.  might wanna sit this one out…

and then, an employment-granted reprieve:

i was given the wonderful task of making a delivery.  ahhh…a delivery!  time to sit down, in my quiet car…my great car…my refuge from the insanity of a sandwich shop on speed, firing on all ten cylinders like a Formula 1, but sputtering like the first Yugo, 22 years after its econo debut.  Formula 1 = ideal.  Yugo = reality.  result = automotive failure.  file it with the insurance; your hunk of junk is totaled.

but not my REAL hunk; i drive a cop car.  and i love to drive.  i stuffed a ton of product in my car, and i escaped the madness.

as i drove through Toluca Lake–my picturesque neighborhood–i felt like a soldier resting in a trench.  my wound was more severe than i’d first realized; but i had a plan:  i’d rest, and continue this fight, this struggle to work and be normal today, just like my exhausting yesterday.  i had two destinations, each on opposite sides of town.  i’d be in the car for a while, and like an accessorized cellphone, i’d use the driving time to recharge my battery.  the first drop went off without a hitch.  perfecto.  but the clock–  tick, tick, tick…

–my employer had given me two packages, due at the exact same time, with only enough remaining minutes to make it to one place.–

i’d gone to the first as instructed, and now i would somehow have to manipulate the essence of existence in order to make good on my 2nd assignment.  well, either that, or i could just be late.  i went with the latter, simply because my angiogram had left me too drained to construct a worthy challenger to Doc Brown’s fluxing, capacitating concept car.  my Grand Marquis trumps ANY DeLorean; but, as they say, tired is tired.

as i drove toward my final delivery destination, i felt surprised by the pain in my recently-violated pelvic area.  like a rubber arrow through the head of an across-the-desk job interviewer, my insertion point wouldn’t let me forget it was there.  and my lack of energy added to a suspicion that a nap was a great idea.  still, like the democrats in the 80’s, naps would have to wait…

i arrived at my last stop, already a few minutes late.  i got out the ton of delicious cargo, and made my way to…WHERE WAS I????

it was a place i’d never been.  a huge property.  a tall building, located somewhere away from an expansive parking garage.  a giant compound.  a vast mystery.

i found my way to a sidewalk and read my written instructions, which were completely useless.  then, like Ernest Borgnine guest-starring on Little House on the Prairie, a man walked up to me and showed me the way.  “Trying to get to the building?”  “Yes sir.”  “Yeah, you’ve got to go to those elevators, go all the way up, and then walk all the way across to the building on the other side of the property.  Huge pain in the [insert your preferred word for the area between your legs and your back, rhyming with “glass.”].”

i glared, into the distance, at the elevators.  it was like looking at the centerfield fence.  but in this instance, i was no Babe Ruth.  my injury ached.  i was TIRED.  my double-doored, elevating destiny seemed miles away.  baby steps…one, two, three…now i’m 10 seconds closer…

the walk to the elevators let me know that i needed rollerskates.  or the Popemobile.  anything.  just let me freaking rest.  crossing the halfway point, i began to doubt whether i was going to make it; i needed to sit down.  i couldn’t believe walking was this much of a chore.  this was ridiculous.  and pathetic.  but–hey, is that chair full of tacks?  sure looks COMFY.  i could sure take a load off…

by the time i reached the elevators, i was ready to crash.  i could feel the hole in my fuselage about to spring a leak.  ground me, somebody.  i could imagine the guys with the big headphones, waving me in.  time to land this thing.  and shut down the airline for a while…

when the elevator opened, i stepped out and almost hit the ground, face-first.  i was sweating.  with both hands grasping multiple bags, i teetered like an old fashioned set of scales, trying to determine which anvil was the lightest.  i took a couple movements forward, looked ahead, and almost gave up.  the endgame building was about as close to me as Janet Reno to a Maybelline contract.  i took a deep breath.  well, okay, maybe more than one…swallowed hard, and took a step.  i felt as if i’d been stabbed in the femoral artery.  which, of course, i had been.

each foot in front of the other took the effort of a hundred-yard leap.  my body seemed to be shutting down.  my legs no longer moved in succession.  i felt like an action figure being pushed across the sidewalk, no bendable limbs to transport me any other way.  how the crap would i make it????

despite the presence of a serene lake to the left of the well-manicured, multiple-acred corporate paradise, in my mind, i was in a desert.  buzzards circled above.  the screams of birds interrupted the sounds of slithering and the rustling of underbrush scattered among the cacti.  i could hear all, feel all.  the tiny legs of a scorpion, scurrying across a baking rock, came in loud and clear.  they provided the soundtrack to the visual of a blinding sun, creating lens flares across my sweat-drop-obstructed view.  i fell to my knees.  no more walking.  if i was gonna make it to the oasis, i’d have to knee my way.  ashes to ashes.  dust to dust.  i started out this life crawling; maybe this was how i’d end it.  back to reality, on the real pavement, i imagined falling to my face, my kneecaps eventually eroding ’til i was pulling myself with my hands, struggling to drag what was left of me toward my fated drop zone.  the pavement was hot and sticky.  and i was a slug, slow and slimy.

i thought back to the trailer–the place where i spent my high school years:

like a cliche country song (redundant?), we had a redwood deck.  but not the tacky kind:  WE had astroturf.  CLASSY. living in the metal box for four years left an indelible mark.  so many memories:  the night i was awakened by a giant cockroach, trapped behind my Stryper “Soldiers Under Command” poster; the day we moved out, when i removed said poster to find a 6-inch green smear under crumpled legs from a shoe-to-the-wall, middle-of-the-night solution; the morning i threw up so much, i overran the sink; the countless winter hours my dad spent underneath our single-wide with a hair dryer, like a mad stylist, hoping to unfreeze the pipes; kissing my (female) best friend at my 16th (surprise) birthday party…

and among those many remembrances, i recall the slugs…

they would crawl up the steps of the deck.  it was their place…  i guess they figured, “these people live in a TRAILER.  we’re at least as good as them.”  but my mother disagreed.  and i remember her method of voicing that fact.  it was a horrid thing.  a treacherous act toward God’s creatures.  one that i will never defend, and would never encourage.  it was awful.  and inexcusable.

but now, as a part of that family, i bear the sins of my mother.  and right now, right here, in this moment of clarity–on this delivery, frozen in time–dragging myself, knife in my groin, across the desolate void of meaninglessness, sacrificing for my art, suffering for the sake of spaghetti, i know i have become the legless, armless creature, inching its way across the redwood…

and i feel it coming…under my dripping brow, i can see the clouds.  they are dark.  and heavy.  and at any moment, here it comes.  the salt.

i’m melting in a pool of exhaustion, of misguided ambition, and a ridiculously cumbersome entrance requirement on the part of whoever controls the setup of a building dying for quaint cuisine.  and so to serve their needs, i am dying so that they may live…

hence–

the hands of an unseen clock continued forth, as i did not.  how could i?

the bags of food were no longer in my hands.  they were now sitting flatly on my back, as my fingers clawed at the pavement to drag my zapped carcass forward.  and this was made more difficult by the fact that i had to raise the right side of my pelvis, lest i nick the wound and bleed to death.

after a savage trek, i found myself nearing the building.

can’t make it much longer…

i finally reached the entrance, with a guard in a suit holding the keys to the kingdom.  i gulped down the absence of all moisture, took a deep breath, and…

“i have a delivery for Suite 1523.”

“deliveries have to go through the loading dock.  you’ll have to go back down to where you parked, and go to the loading window.  and come up a different way, on the escalator.”

…  there are no words…  there are no words…

there are no words…

and still…no words…

and still…

…and still…

okay:  in retrospect, i should’ve told him my situation.  told him of my medical condition.  shown him my ID bracelet.  and if necessary, shown him the bloody hole in my lap, still taped from the day before.  but alas, just as necessity is the mother of invention, devastation is the father of incoherence.

how do you double infinity?  what is eternity x 2?  whatever the answer, that’s how long it took to drag my limp, useless body back to the garage.  i had to keep stopping and resting.  my eyes were almost all the way closed.  i arrived at the loading dock in immense pain, looking as if i’d lived in the swamp for the last 5 years.  UNDERWATER.  and not in a “Tony-Randall-in-Hello-Down-There” kind of way, but rather more of a Creature From the Black Lagoon type of sogginess.  i gave them my license; held onto the window ledge; tried to sleep standing, as i waited for the magnetic key which would give me access to the escalator.  i needed to sit down so badly, i seriously considered just going to sleep on the floor, food-and-job be damned…  but five minutes later, i entered the office that would relieve me of my burdensome packages.  and as soon as the tall, thin asian woman walked into the room, i knew i was in deep trouble:

she was all legs.  with brand new, well-pressed pants.  she walked on high heels with more purpose than the Bill of Rights; her shoulder-length black hair was immaculately layered and styled; her fitted dress shirt and thin watch confirmed the obvious:  this chick was ALL BUSINESS.

and she was MIFFED.

she tore into me for being late.  i would say “she tore me a new hole,” but she was too late– UCLA had beaten her to the punch.

as she berated me, i could feel the last bit of life drain out of my incised artery.  i really couldn’t have cared less who this person was, or what they were saying; i just wanted to go to bed.  right there, in her office.  she could cuddle with me if she wanted.  i almost said this.

“you have long legs…might be cozy.  but keep your hair out of my face.  oh, and one last thing:  SHUT UP; i’m trying to SLEEP.”

after a scathing review from my unwilling sleep buddy, i slipped and slid on my own sweat and various other fluids, back down to the loading dock, and back to the car.  getting in the front seat was difficult; but after the initial challenge, it felt like falling into the best bed in the world, after the longest day.  i wanted to stop there.  stop everything.  stop all.  just shut down.  and if i ever turned back on, cool...  if not, ….well, i’m too tired to finish that thought…

after a minute or two of euphoria, i headed back to the restaurant.  i was no good.  devoid of value to anyone, including myself.

i walked in, only to find total bedlam, unrelieved since i’d last seen the place.  everyone was on edge.  the boss was livid.  i walked to the back and witnessed that lore of all lores:  the chef fit.  screams erupted.  chopping blocks were beaten.  words were aimed at me.  so was grated cheese.  and i thought of the poetry of the moment:  the man who cares the most, and the man who cares the least, magically and cosmically contained in the same small room.  as flecks of orange, curdled milk hit the wall around and in front of me, i heard, “And this involves you too!!!!”  i had no idea what he was talking about, but in a subsequent conversation with Mrs. Chef, she informed me that her significant other was angry over a host of errors, one of which was the untimely delivery to a certain long-legged, phone-calling, complaining, oriental businesswoman.  too exhausted to think clearly, too weak to fight any idea, i agreed that the pressed-pants-wearing she-devil should be compensated.  and as the bearer of her initial batch of salads and sandwiches, i stupidly offered to deliver our token of apology.  me.  wounded and ready for a month of sleep.  because i want to be an asset to the company.  on second thought, take away the “-et.”  i was about to take Ms. Legs a sampling of delectable treats, on the house.  i drove again to my place of torture, although this time avoiding my previous mistakes.  loading dock.  escalators.  elevators.  dirty deed done.  i went back to work.  and then straight home.

my apartment was home like nothing had ever been home before.  i went straight to my bed.  and it was GOOD.  cuddles or not.

my dark-haired, attenuated-timepiece-wielding nemesis had been Captain Ahab to my Moby.  lying in the silence, i was the Great White Whale.  she’d won.  there i lay, defeated in the fight.  harpooned.  i could envision my artery opening.  there she blows!  my white, foamy blubber was her bounty.  my motionless body was her victory.  that’s the way it appeared.  but not so.  now, the victory was mine.  HOME.  i’d MADE IT.

sleep…at last.  hopefully, i wouldn’t wake ’til i was new.  my hip ached; the old me had worn out completely.  the last of myself was smeared on pavement and left for a team of forensics to puzzle over.  i wanted nothing more to do with that person; he was used up.  i would sleep in my cocoon.  i would transform.  and until i had wings, i would keep the door closed, the light off, the covers up, and my eyes closed.  goodnight.

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