… being an installment &c …
Ignorant posteriority has its price in the enterprise of repatriation, which, as I said some time ago, ain’t easy.
But it ain’t all that ain’t easy.
True enough: I’m breathing a little easier. I’m no longer the dumb a–, that is, the unintelligent hind-end, who owns two houses (though if you prick me I’ll still bleed). I’m back down to one and I can pay some bills that are soon to come due, notwithstanding the obstructionist behavior of a certain bull’s-pizzle realtor.
(How the writing improves merely by enlarging the vocabulary!)
But as the Christmas holiday shortens on a man with a broken rib and ankle—a man, let us be clear, who, once classes begin, has no one to help him shuffle his geriatric bathing stool into the shower, and who also has no shower to shuffle the geriatric stool into, not to mention no place to live—a question arises.
How am I going to do this?
I have to drive four hundred miles to go back to work, except I can’t drive. My truck’s a five-speed, and I lack a functioning foot. And even if I could drive, even if I swapped vehicles with someone who’s got an automatic, I’d have to drive left-footed.
This, in fact, is the arrangement I’ve made: the automatic Tonka my brother’s been driving ever since his old truck breathed its last—the Tonka is our sister’s—is back in Illinois, and my brother now has my truck—because Musical Cars is fun for the whole family.
But where will I drive to? Am I going to sleep in my office and shower at the gym? Am I going to carry my clothing while hobbling on sticks and dragging a broken wing behind me? A pillow and a blanket in the file cabinet could work. I could pull that off for a bit—if I could get around, which I can’t.
I’m done counting the interior bricks on the wall opposite me in the room I’ve been convalescing in for a week now. That intellectual exercise is over. And I’ve done a fair amount of reading as well. Time to turn my energies to solving the problem my unsmart bottomness has got me into.
Not many people get into my racket because they like being managed. And, once in it for a while, especially after tenure, when the incompetence and belligerence really begin to show, no one in my racket will gladly suffer being managed. I certainly won’t suffer it. So I simply give myself another week to figure this out. I cancel my Tuesday classes and arrange for guest lecturers on Thursday. I know guys who will work for Bombay Sapphire martinis, and I know that students love nothing more than a cancelled class. (I was no different.) On their hierarchy a cancelled class is as good as a hook-up. (On this point I was different.) The diploma means you’re graduated, not educated, and that’s good enough. Who needs classes?
My neighbors, who are now officially my ex-neighbors, are good people. I’ve left some clothing at their house for use when I return, and they, being good people, have offered me their spare bedroom. They’ve practically insisted I use it. It’s right next to the bathroom that I plumbed for them a couple of years ago. They’re sick about our moving—as sick, in some ways, as we are—because it means I won’t be around to do some of the things that they, thanks to the ravages of age, just can’t do anymore.
Besides, after two days they’ll be leaving for a two-week vacation. I can have their house to myself. All I have to do is be able to handle watching strangers coming and going from the house next door—my house, my ex-house.
I know my ex-neighbors’ garage code. They know mine. My ex-mine. They also have keys to my ex-house, or had them. The trick for me is to cover the four-hundred miles and maybe have some help carrying a few things. I’m a man on sticks, after all.
But I’m also a real fart smeller, if slightly lesdyxic. I can figure this out. Into a duffle bag go three left shoes and some sweat pants. I’m a sartorial side-show. I’m Sartor Reunpatriartus.
I bum a ride to my ex-town with Nancy-Boy Polet, whom I’ve been planning to bring in, on the wings of institutional money, as a guest lecturer. He’s got both Calvinist and Papistical guilt in him. He’ll help me unrepatriate.
After some investigative work at 3 Floyds in Munster, we commence on the second half of the westward trip, and at long last we reach the city limits. And we’re heading toward a hotel, not my house, because it’s not mine. I’m disenfranchised, and the feeling is passing strange.
I gloss over two days of high mischief with Polet, because it turns out that some men actually care about their reputations. So permit me, rather, to sketch a scenario that on one of those home video shows might make me a fortune. No Cassio, I.
I’m my own neighbor now. I’m beginning to smell like someone else’s house. It’s my first morning, and I’m looking for a kettle so that I can heat some water for coffee. There’s no kettle and no coffee maker. So into the microwave goes a Pyrex measuring bowl and two cups of water. I pivot toward the opposing counter top and fill a cone filter with coffee grounds as one crutch falls to the floor. I pick it up. The microwave beeps, and I pivot again. I retrieve the Pyrex, pivot with it, and reach for the opposing countertop, spilling hot water and shouting loud hosannas.
I finally get a single cup of coffee made, only to discover that I’m standing one-legged in a kitchen. I look across a vast expanse and see a dining room table. I look down at the coffee cup. How do I get the coffee cup, filled to the rim, though not with Brim, to the table? I can’t hop, and even if I liberate one hand by using the pinch-the-crutch-in-your-armpit-and-swing-it-forward method I’ll spill coffee everywhere.
Ah! Got it! I hobble over to the table and start pulling the chairs away. Soon I have them lined up in a series. I’m like a Boy Scout placing stepping stones across a stream. I hobble back over to the counter and slide the coffee cup incrementally down its marble length until I’ve come to the end. I then place the coffee cup on the first chair, hobble around it, and then place it on the next chair, repeating the hobble. Soon the cup arrives at the table, where I can sit down to drink it and read the paper, which I have retrieved only after considerable effort from the snowy front porch.
I lift the cup to take the first life-giving sip, and the coffee ice cold. Nothing to do but cross back over the stream, stone by stone, then slide the cup incrementally down the long counter until I am in a position to make that pivot toward the microwave, which I now do, spilling the coffee and shouting loud hosannas. (They get even louder when, during this process, the phone rings.)
This is how it’s going to be for at least a month, longer if I fall into that category—two or three percent of men—whose broken bones don’t heal at the normal rate.
At length I hobble down the steps into the garage, then out onto the icy driveway. I fall dumb-ass-first into my sister’s car and head out to school. I move slowly past my ex-house and take a gander, left foot on the brake. Through the front picture window—it was the first one I changed out—I can see strange lamps lighting the living room, where rest strange chairs and tables.
And by the curb, in a heap, is all the lumber from a built-in corner cabinet I made for the basement. I had put the frame of the door together using a biscuit joiner and, with a router, carefully recessed the door panel. The cabinet was not the work of a fine craftsman, but it was no piece of junk either. And there it lies, in the snow, awaiting the garbage collectors. Do I raise a gloved hand to wipe away a tear?
Are you kidding? It takes an hour to make and drink a cup of coffee. There aren’t enough hours in the day for Hallmark Hall of Fame specials.
I put my left foot on the pedal and gun it. The tires spin in the deep snow and then finally catch.
This is the best winter we’ve had in a long time: deep cold and lots of snow. And the best thing about snow is being able to walk in it, preferably to the woods and a little campfire. But the capricious gods have denied me even this. Time, then, to think of something else to laugh about. Take, for example, the secret ministry being performed underneath this cast and the abstruser musings it gives rise to …