Gravesides

I’ve talked before — a bit — about the friends and family I have lost.  About the friends, siblings, mentors and assorted others…

When I was young, my “list” of the lost dwarfed those of anyone of similar age.  As I age, however, my peers catch up with me in that sad statistic.

Put simply, I have not lost more than my peers…I just lost folks sooner.

Now, I’ve mentioned before the fact that I write stuff in this blog — and in my stories — that I would never say face-to-face to even my closest friends or family.  No one knew I fought depression until I started writing about it here.  Just as no one knew that my entire world changed with the loss of my child.

So I’ll write about something else that no on knows…err, knew.

41137445655_05e5ed14c8_bI’ve never visited a graveside.

Oh, I’ve been to services and memorials and celebrations — crap, I was (unintentionally) part of an Unknown Soldier service in freaking Budapest, of all places — but I’ve never intentionally visited the graveside of a friend or family member.

Why not?

Remember that whole “photographic memory” thing we talked about?

Yeah, that comes into it.  As does grief and weakness, guilt and shame.  Look, let’s be honest — I’m alive.  With everything I’ve done, I’m still alive.  With everything I’ve fucked up…

With all of the danger and drugs and quests-for-escape…

With all of the depression and flirtations with suicide…

I’m still alive.  I’m alive, and my friends and family — who had none of my failures and flaws — are not.

How do you stand next to the grave of a better person and, well, face them?

Now, that passage above was not what I set out to write.  What I set out to write was a post that would grow, over 500 or 600 words, to illustrate the power of a song.  A post that would provide a hint and a lead-in to a musical interlude that would explain far, far more to those who were willing to listen…and smart enough to hear.

That post has already failed.  With what I’ve written above, I’ve got no way to ease into an anecdote that can lead into a song…  With what I’ve written above, I’ve left myself no real room for subtlety.

Were this blog a novel, I would delete the scene and start over.

But this isn’t a novel, this is a blog.  This is my blog, my seat at the bar.

This is stream-of-consciousness writing with little to no room for editing and revision.

So no subtlety here, no hinting.  Below is the song that — no kidding — was playing on the radio as I drove from the funeral service to the graveside internment for my high school friend.  Even after all these years, I can’t listen to this song without remembering…

Actually, I can’t listen to this song, period.

And I still haven’t visited Mike’s grave.

Epidemic Microfiction: Ghost Town

I’ll just let this one stand without explanation:

Ghost Town

They sat there, inert and dead, metallic cysts erupting from the crumbling asphalt.  The rust was there, already, and the cobwebs.  A deer poked her head from behind one as I passed, curious if I was fried or foe.

A call in the middling distance, the chittering of squirrels.  Of voices and humanity there were none.  No sound, no evidence.  Nothing.

I was hungry.  I had no food, and little water, but I was hungry.  You had to keep moving if you were hungry, had to find the food that may be lurking ahead…had to, even more, keep ahead of the greater hunger coming behind you.

The creak of fading hinges and a door winked like some obscene blind eye in the building ahead of me.  It hung crazily on its remaining hinge, clinging desperately to life with a last, futile fingernail.

I went to ease it open, then.  I went to enter, then I saw the sign.  “We’re closed for the health of our employees” it said, the paper sun-bleached and rotting.  I turned and returned to the street, started to walk again.

A newspaper fluttered by, the words faded and barely legible.  It could change nothing — certainly not for me — but from curiosity I chased it down in the failing breeze.  “…open by Easter…” the words said.  That was all I could read, but it was enough.

I cursed and threw it aside, returned to my slow walk down that street, listening for any sound of life.

The Hard Way

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Because, well, you can’t go wrong with a good Dickens quote!

So, anyway, getting to my post…

Err, more specifically, getting to reactions to my last post: either I’m an over-reacting loon who is trying to turn a “minor flu” into the Black Death…or, I’m an under-reacting loon who is trying to turn the “the new Black Death” into the common cold.

Got it.

As a writer, by the way, if you ever manage to piss off both political/cultural sides, you’re probably doing something right.

I’m gonna let both sides keep going in their preferred brands of tunnel vision, by the way, without further addressing that particular topic.  Nope, instead I want to touch on something that we can all* pretty much agree on: we’ve had it pretty damned good.

*Yeah, right, all.  When did all of us ever agree on any-freaking-thing?!

One of the consequences of this epidemic may — hopefully — be a return of the hard-won wisdom that we have lost over the years and decades.  Look, let’s boil it down to the basics — it is, depending on our age, our grandparents or great-grandparents who last had to learn the hard lessons of survival amidst disaster.  It was they who last had to truly learn how to be self-sufficient and careful.  It was they who last had to well-and-truly worry about care and consequences and the cold, bitter hand of reality smacking them on a daily basis.

For those of us born in the US or Western Europe in the last 75 years or so?  Yeah, we’ve had it pretty freaking good.  Be honest — at least with yourself, if you can’t be honest with anyone else — who among us has had to truly learn the need for savings?  Who among us has had to truly worry about the damned world ending?  Who among us has had to develop a personal relationship with fear and disaster, and life lived on the knife’s edge of death?

Oh, I’ve courted death…I’ve been in situations where my life was on that knife’s edge for survival.  No, I never fought in a war — wrong brother for that one! — but I have done stupid shit, beyond frolicking with bears and chasing wolves.  I’ve done stupid shit like hike this trail in the midst of a biblical thunderstorm:SkyRim_01-670x1024

As I was saying, I’ve been on the edge of disaster, but — and this is the important bit — I CHOSE that edge.  I chose it every single time.  Worse (or better, depending on your outlook), I chose to walk that edge in situations in which I was knowledgable and in control.  I did not have it thrust upon me.  I did not have the Universe itself cry out to me, “You think that’s bad?  Hold my beer!”

My grandparents did.  Like so many others of their generation, they lived through the best of times, and the worst.  The rest of us?  Yeah, the “worst of times” has not really been on the radar.  Not yet, anyway.

Let’s be clear, COVID-19 is not the worst of times.  It’s not even close.  If you want the worst of times, go re-study what the Bubonic Plague did to the world.

What this current epidemic is, however, is a nice little reminder of just what could happen.  It is a Black Swan event to clue us in to just how bad shit really could get.

We’ve been complacent.  We’ve been comfortable.  We’ve been, if you want brutal honesty, soft.  We’ve had it too good for too long.

We have to re-learn the wisdom that we’ve spent so many years disparaging.  We have to re-learn the value of saving, of having money put aside to cover our asses when the world falls apart.  We have to re-learn the necessity of being able to handle our own stuff: to fix a leaky faucet, to repair minor car problems, to protect our friends and family.  Crap, a huge percentage of our population has to re-learn the ability to simply walk a mile!

To be even more gloomy-blunt — for when things really do go to hell — we have to re-learn to forage and hunt, and to survive.  A common isolation joke in my little corner of Montana is, “Who cares if the store is closed?  I’ve got plenty of ammunition…”

And, no, I’m not going all join-a-militia-in-Idaho crazy, thank you very much.  What I’m saying is that COVID-19 is a reminder that the worst really can happen.  Our forebears learned that lesson the hard way, and now we have to, as well.

Musical Note — the song below, for those of you who disparage video games (for which I’ve written, goddammit!), is from the soundtrack of a game.  It’s a great song, off a great soundtrack album, and it kinda fits our world of isolation and quarantine and looming disaster:

Keep Them Wheels Greased!

“The corona virus is a hoax.”

“It’s just a cold.  The media is blowing this out of proportion.”

“It’s only the old and sick at risk.  Everyone else is fine.”

To those who spout those little tidbits of “wisdom” — along with the (literally) dozens of other headlines, quotes, and hot-takes that I didn’t type here — all I have to say is this: kiss my quarantined ass.

Yeah, that’s right, I’m pissed off.

I’m pissed off for several reasons; for the willful blindness inflicting so many supposedly intelligent people; for the red- and blue-team politics turning this thing into a full-blown clown-shoes-level farce; for the self-centered hypocrisy lying at the heart of US society.  But, mostly, I’m pissed off at the callous, immoral and deeply irresponsible short-termism of those who insist “business as usual” is the best way to get this through this thing.2hhhnd

I’ll say it again, because it bears repeating: kiss my ass!

It is not business as usual.  It is not a hoax.  It is not the liberal third of the country enacting some grand conspiracy to “get” Trump and the conservative third.  Nor is it “in the minds” of those affected and at-risk.  It is not a cold, it is not the flu.  No more, of course, than it is the “judgment of God for our sick depravity” as I have heard it described.

It’s a virus.  A nasty, mean one, yes, but a completely natural virus.

Humanity has faced countless viruses and diseases throughout our history.  Well over a third of Europe died to the bubonic plague…millions died to the Spanish influenza…millions were killed or maimed by polio…billions have been killed by dysentery…*

*Thomas Malthus, by the way, is laughing his ass off in his grave right now, in between bouts of shaking his finger and ghost-shouting, “I goddamned well told you so!”.**

**Yeah, that Malthus.  Google it, for chrissake.

The entire town of Gardiner, Montana is closed at this point.  Yellowstone might as well be.  Is my work closed?  Of course not.  Someone has to be there to receive those pallets of cheap mugs and plastic bison manufactured by Chinese slave labor…

Someone has to deal with the drivers who have been to 50 warehouses in four states over the last three days…

Someone has to “keep the economy running”…

Yep, that someone is me.  Me and the two over-60 ladies that are the heart of my warehouse crew.

Oh, but wait…I’ve now had two people (one visitor and one regular) be required by the state to go test for COVID-19!

Should we, maybe, you know, shut down for a few days?  Should we maybe, you know, live up to the organizational “value” of taking care of our staff members?  Should we maybe, you know, treat the staff like the “heart of what we do” like all the HR notices say at the top?

Fuck no!

Keep them wheels of commerce running!

Your concerns are noted, now get your ass back to work!

And, yes, I am quarantined this weekend due to possible exposure.  Since, however, I am the only one able to go to work on Monday, I have to.zimg_001_1

Someone has to keep them wheels greased with bloody mucus, after all.

But it’s all a hoax.  It’s just a cold, turned into some plot to bring down the current government…

I might live in paradise, but my work is a satire of epic fucking proportions.

Ain’t life grand?

P.S.

Either the same earpiece on every single set of buds I have is going bad at the same time, or playing the music a bit too — ahem — “enthusiastically” in my ears is starting to catch up with me.

Well, shit.

 

P.P.S.

Random song because it kinda fits — oh, and don’t skip over it like you usually do.  Listen to it…and listen, especially, to the words…