For its offenses the dry-wall has been hanged. Hung, rather. Hung, taped, mudded, and sanded. The passive voice is intended to indicate the manner in which a fund of budgeted sweat equity transmogrifies into hemorrhaged money, all while I lie abed, the muscles of one leg atrophying into something akin to strands of wet cardboard.
Thus does an enterprise of great pith and moment its currents turn awry and lose the name of income. Thus does a fiscal inny become a fiscal outty, and certainly not an Audi.
Should a man pining far from his family make long useless trips to the job site, there to put his own uselessness into boldface italics?
There are reasons he might. Filial love might drive him, or the desire for a single glimpse of her for whom great deeds are undone. Certainly living for years without television and then suddenly being tempted by a thousand channels could do it.
(The life of Ignatius J. Reilly makes perfect sense now—lured by the lurid, affecting horror for the very trash he is powerless to resist, theology and geometry notwithstanding.)
Or fear. Fear could really do it. The neighbors have a jovial spinster red-headed daughter who comes to visit on weekends, even when the neighbors are on vacation. And—how to say this—jovial spinster red-heads seem all to be of a type. Body type. So, stranger that I am to this house I am also cohabitant to a stranger, Friday to Sunday. And to this state of affairs a man might perhaps prefer any number of alternatives, for example being on the receiving end of a grizzly bear’s amorous intent.
Of course it’s not like that at all. Unlike me, the jovial red-head is very kind and very good-natured. But the less movement, the better. So I’ve made no trips. My children account me dead, no doubt.
But when you lie abed, your foot in a cast, you think of things, and you think of ways to say them, because, as Frost said, the fun’s in how a thing is said.
Take the matter of the cast and the much-aggrieved foot inside it. When the post-op cast came off three weeks after it went on—went on whilst I slumbered on a soft cloud of unknowing, borne aloft on the viewless wings of anesthesia—when that second cast came off I found myself in a cold sterile examination room with the surgeon and his dour nurse. The sutures had been expertly removed, and the wound pronounced clean.
“Your color’s good!” the surgeon said.
I took a closer look. The foot appeared better-suited to the leg of a large purple dinosaur who loves children, and whom children love. Color? Not colors? Joseph’s coat had nothing on my technicolor nightmare. My foot could have won Best Banner at a Gay Pride rally.
“See you in three weeks!” the surgeon said. And then, as I wondered why everyone must speak to me in exclamatory sentences, my foot went inside a black fiberglass cast, where now it heals even as it languishes.
Meantime, let us note in brackets what’s getting done at Dumb-Ass Acres: [ ].
A man who’s done what I’ve gone and done can doubt himself in ways heretofore unthought of, especially if he reads in every visage variations on the theme of bewilderment. You did what? You broke it how? You’re living where? You were prompted to do this by what exactly?
And who can blame them? The academy is full of nuttiness—rabid devotion to strange ologies and isms, offense-taking capacities of Olympian proportions, perversities of mind, soul, and body—but not this kind of nuttiness.
And meanwhile, back “home,” [ ] will come of [ ], as Lear well said.
At such moments of great self-doubt there’s naught to do but rely on my smug sense of superiority, which I use, like my crutches, as a crutch. (Don’t worry, ye who, from a smug sense of superiority, object to smug senses of superiority: mine’s an affectation.) So I remind myself of the true engines of action: we have parents who will need help; we have children whom we’ve been raising in the absence of grandparents, which is a terrible thing to do to children—and to grandparents. And we have a great desire return home, to sail to Ithaca, to swim upstream in the autumn of life where wait those abiding ancestral headwaters and the good death of which they are a fitting emblem.
But first I have to endure three weeks of Cast #3, which I do, keeping up the sartorial side-show of sweat pants and sweatshirts. The professor hasn’t become George, not yet, but sometimes it feels as if he has.
A pal helps me vacate my current digs to make room for the returning vacationers. Into the next strange abode I go, forsaken, almost human, sinking beneath my wisdom like a stone. My vocation in life, my life’s new high calling, is to water the house plants of snowbirds. This particular snowbird, my godson’s grandmother, will be in Florida until the end of March. A month and a half! Such stability! The chief of dumb-asses has seldom known it. And lo! A coffee pot! I’m a medieval lord on aluminum crutches!
And then the day arrives. A young nurse takes my foot in her lap and, with an overgrown Dremel tool, begins to saw through my cast. The ghost of Freud whizzes by me. Words not suitable for print, and hardly sufferable to thought, crowd my head. The rigid cast is being uncasted, decasted, cast off, and by this declension castrated. The blade, the noise, the gallows-black scrubs adorning this young anti-Jocasta—and add to them the vibration that tickles my too too sensitive foot and sends me into orbit: these rank right down there with getting shorn by a girl named “Destiny.” Oh, my young sadist, you with my appendage in your sinister lap, if you’re going to unman me, unman me quickly!
Fault lines appear on either side of the cast. My tormentor reaches for a stainless steel tool that looks as if it could pull me from a crushed vehicle. Or is it a speculum? What has happened to me?
And with two deft movements she separates the upper and lower halves of my cast, pulls them off, and cuts away at the soft bandage underneath. And there is my leg, as thick as a toothpick and half as strong, extending down to a swollen and still-purple foot. I take it my color is good. (“Good!”) I’m shedding skin like a bull snake. Showers of dust cascade to the floor. There could be a dry flood warning. The black-clad young nurse gives my leg a quick wipe-down, and still the ghost of Freud whizzes around me.
“Let’s go get an x-ray of that!” says another smiling toothy nurse. Again with the exclamatory mood! This place should be called “The Doctor’s Office!”
“Okay!” I say. And we do it.
By and by into an examination room walks the P.A., laptop under his arm. This guy looked at my elbow and knee a few years ago and brought with him the headline news that I’m getting older, but he’s glad to see me again. We immediately start talking about basketball, because he assumes that’s the offending sport. (His headline news included the instructions to stop playing basketball and to take up—gasp!—swimming, as if I were some sissy PoMoCon.) He shows me the x-ray. The only anomalies I can detect are the two screws that actually go into my tibia and out the other side of it. These screws are long enough to hang several sheets of offending dry wall, and I wish that at about noon on New Year’s Eve they had.
But he delivers the good news that six weeks have been grace sufficient unto the task. There will be no more casts, not even a walking cast. Recasta in her black scrubs is not coming for me. I’m to break into things slowly. No playing catch, no skiing, nothing stupid.
“You mean nothing dumb-assed?”
“That’s right.” (“Right!”)
Fat chance of that, I think, but not to worry. The thought of putting weight on this swollen purple foot sends me into paroxysms of horror. And I’m not exactly at that stage of life when exuberant synaptogenesis is about to kick in. I’m going to have to learn all over again. And off I go.
I think this calls for a beer, and I agree with myself. My local brewer has just tapped a keg of his brand new roasted garlic stout. I hobble in on one crutch, working the newly imped wing delicately in the slippery environs. But I’m greeted like Norm and, though I have my doubts, I order the new stout, which now, like me, is on its maiden voyage. And I raise the beautiful snifter and its lovely cargo to my lips. Lo! It drinks like a stout. There’s a very slight garlic warning in the nose at first, and a mere touch of it in the palate right toward the end of the swallow, registering at mid-throat. Oh, Lord Jesus! Could two things in a row be going my way? This is the real deal. This beer tastes like … like … it tastes like I’m not going to work tomorrow.
(No, that’s not my foot–my scar’s on the inside of the right foot–but you get the idea.)