Thursday, December 31, 2009

Late Friends

No, not late as in dead dear departed friends; late as in never-on-time.

I have a friend who, if she tells you she will be here at seven, may make it by nine. Ten minutes mean an hour; "on my way" does not imply imminent, it's a manner of saying " first, I have to take a shower, then feed the cats and go to the gym." Appointments made in the morning are regularly cancelled in the afternoon. She sees nothing wrong with any of this--life is full of unexpected demands (on time) and you have to roll with the punches.

I am thinking of giving this friendship up. We've talked about it, she and I, and on more than one occasion after waiting much longer than I thought necessary, I've cancelled whatever was planned. I see it as a control issue--whoever keeps the other waiting is actually holding the person hostage. There's also a question of respect involved. If my friend is not respecting my time, how can she respect me?

The other side of the coin, of course, is that by insisting on a measure of punctuality, I'm the one controlling the situation, forcing the other person to do my will.

It's all very confusing. What I have found, though, is that people who are messy with their time are messy with their lives. Things that need to get done are endlessly put off until what should be a random chore becomes a critical event, and I don't care for critical events. Daily existence has a way of throwing enough of those around without my manufacturing extra ones. I also find that people who are compulsively late leave a vacuum behind them that sucks in bad things, like cops and speeding tickets, fender benders and small expectations unmet.

What I've often done is planned to do things while I'm waiting--a laundry, vacuuming the kitchen, preparing coffee for the next day--but that somehow does not feel right. I am no doubt anal retentive about many things--punctuality being one--but it's hard for me to launch into even a minor project if I know I'm going to have to put it aside when the late one finally shows up.

So this is the quandary for the last day of the year. Things could be worse....

Monday, December 28, 2009

Au Revoir Dédé

I killed off a character today, wrote him right out of life and it feels positively weird. And sad.

This was not a person of great meaning. I needed him to reflect the attributes and defects of other, more important player in the book I'm writing, but still, I liked him. I honestly don't know where he came from; he just appeared almost whole one late evening, a small boy named Dédé Bourillot, son of a largely inept dentist, born innocent, neither bright nor dumb, an inveterate trouble-maker of middling cleverness who just wants to get along. Dédé's most endearing--or troubling--trait was that he believed eating raw onions would make him smart and healthy. It did neither. If I had to have an image of what Dédé looked like, I would be that of Dil, the smallest kid in Richard Thompson's charming strip, Cul de Sac.

I now have to make his death count. There will be ramifications. His passing will be the stone thrown in the pond, creating ripples. The fact that right now I have no idea how all this will work is beside the point--Dédé will not have died in vain. That would be too cruel, too insensitive even for fiction, because here is the thing: once a character is created, he is no longer fictional. If he's done well, he'll have breath, life, thoughts, ambitions. He will engage others, meddle in their lives, become a power in and of himself. That's how good fiction works, I believe--by creating people we find endearing, and placing them in situations we understand and feel a part of.

It's not always easy. Dédé didn't have much of a chance to develop. He's in about 25 pages of what will be a 400-page novel but I'm hoping his brief life will be remembered. He will be resurrected a few times in the thoughts and memories of other characters.

I hope I do him justice.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scandals & Other Good Stuff

There is something profoundly proper and pleasing about a terrorist--a wealthy young man to boot--who sets his own leg on fire while trying to detonate a bomb in an airplane. Let us hope that this is the future of terrorism, even as we know it is not. It's a fitting end to a decade that actually started on September 11 nine years ago and has kept us if not on our toes, at least on our feet, largely disbelieving that anyone could hate us with such virulence.

There's an argument to be made that this past decade has been one of failure and discontent. Certainly, it has been neither the best nor the brightest. We've seen century-old institutions vanish, victims to amazing greed and ineptitude. Here, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, many brave have lost their homes and are no longer free. We have elected a black man thinking he was a black Jesus and are still waiting for the loaves and fishes.

Lets face it, it has been a crappy ten years.

The popular music stinks, we're mired in vampiric literature, tacky architecture, ugly fashion and larger traffic jams. Modern art is, well, neither.

Facebook, MySpace, Tweeter and a host of other non-essential time-wasters have proven conclusively that we are getting better and better at communicating more and more to say less and less.

My favorite failure of the decade is Dubai, an essentially non-existent country that, in spite of being in the black with trillions of dollars a mere five years ago, is now in bankruptcy.

My favorite politician remains George W. Bush who in full view of the world stole and election, thereby putting to shame all the Third- and Fourth-World leaders who have done the same with more style and less elan.

My favorite financier is Bernie Madoff. My Jewish friends want to de-circumcise him and make him a Christian.

My Favorite religious leader is the good Reverend Tedd Haggard, founder of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. A charismatic pastor, Haggard was a vocal critic of homosexuality until he was outed by a male prostitute who claimed to be involved with the Reverend for more than three years. Oh, and Haggard apparently liked crystal meth during gay sex, too.

There's more--of course there's more--just Google "10 worst" anything and feast your eyes. Come up with your own list and forward it!

But please, no Salahis. I'm trying to keep this blog in good taste.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Story

So at 4 p.m. on Christmas day, I am struck by the fact that my back is simply not getting any better. Nothing major, mind you, just moving too much snow too quickly and now, five days later, what was a small ache has become a real pain that makes getting out of bed and rising from a chair just a little too difficult. At this rate, by morning I will not be able to move.

It's getting dark, it's raining. I have already taken too many Tylenols. I hate taking pills--my addict self recoils at ingesting anything that may cause my body to have strange reactions--and whatever is available over-the-counter won't do the job. I had a few Percocets I was saving from oral surgery but an addict acquaintance stole them a while back.

The only recourse is a heating pad, but I lent mine to a friend.

At 4:40 I head for Giant, which will close at five so the Islamic, animist and Buhddist workers can enjoy a Christian holiday. At 4:50 a Giant lady dressed as an elf tells me that yes, they have heating pads, and no, I can't have one since the pads are in the pharmacy and the pharmacy is closed. At CVS just down the road they have heating pads too but they're sold out on account of all the people who hurt their backs while shoveling snow. The tiny Vietnamese woman behind the register commiserates--her husband had terrible back pains and swore by Tiger Balm, a sort of Asian super-lethal Ben Gay I used to rub all over myself after having the living cr*p kicked out of me when I did martial arts many years ago. It does work, kind of, and makes you smell like eucalyptus and garlic.

Rite Aid is closed, the bastards. The CVS in McLean claims not to have heating pads but now I am getting suspicious that the Sikh cashier with the Singh nametag is actually hoarding them. He has a wary, haughty look when I question him but remains adamant. The last pad--the deluxe $50 model with four heating settings and the automatic shut off for safety--was sold not an hour ago. He sold it himself to an elderly man with a cane who looked as if he really needed it. The implication is obvious; I am not worthy of the Singh heating pad.

Getting in and out of the car is becoming actively painful. The rain is getting colder. A 23-foot long Cadillac from the 70s almost sideswipes me and fishtails down the street. I give up. I am going home. I will stay in my steaming shower until the hot water runs out. Then I will wrap myself in something flammable and... No, I won't do that. I will stay in bed, eat chicken soup (the chunky kind), and wait for my spine to fuse.
On the way home I pass a 7-11 and decide a Christmas spicy quarter-pounder might make me feel better. I stride painfully down the overpriced medicine aisle. I spy a blue package on the bottom rack. I bend, I hurt, I pick up the heating pad, it costs $19.95 and has five settings and an automatic shut-off so I do not immolate myself as I sleep.
I buy the pad. I pay cash. The spicy quarter-pounder is warm in my hand, an omen of things to come. The clerk wishes me a most happy Christmas, and I return the favor. Blessed art thou, 7-11.
I go home, plug the pad in, lie down and begin writing this blog on my micro laptop. All is well with the world. I have left the spicy quarter-pounder in the car, where it is now congealing. This is probably meaningful. Merry Christmas, one and all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Today the sun set one minute later than it did yesterday. This is progress. My favorite day of the year--the winter solstice on December 21--came and went with nary a whimper. The area is still digging itself out of the Great Blizzard of Aught Nine and my back is sore from moving a few tons of snow a few feet to the right or the left. I have been watching--and participating in--the mob scene at the local food store and scored two pounds of sauerkraut, which will make my Christmas meal complete. I saw two women have a heated argument over three little cups of Danon Vanilla Yogurt and one man grow apoplectic as the Muslim lady in front of him at the dely counter bought one each of all non-dairy and non-pork products.

My mailman has been a source of humor in his hip boots, my paper delivery guy less so as he flings my Washington Post into impossible-to-reach areas. But that's OK. I am in better than average good humor, considering the month; my shopping is done, my plans formulated, my season-to-be-jolly reasonable and amusing.

I am worried about a friend in a funk and concerned by unanswered emails. This is a bad time for folks without families, particularly for folks who think that by now they should have families of their own. Everything at Christmas screams gifts! children! joy! booze! food! laughter! letdown! The onslaught is relentless and erosive, a particularly nightmarish high familiar to addicts whose days are too often either manic or depressive. This year things are worse because of cabin fever. We are not used to snow, here in this Southern capital; we react poorly to the white stuff; we drive like fools, run into each other, curse, dent our vehicles, skid as if we're on olive oil, park and/or abandon our automobiles in emergency snow lanes.

But there are good things too. A day or two ago, I heard an insistent thumping coming from my kitchen stoop. I looked outside through a frost-rimmed window and saw nothing. The thumping continued, located, it seemed, in my trash can. A small raccoon was stuck there having practiced the dumpster dive but not the dumpster recovery. I helped him out by lowering a broomstick into the can; he grabbed it and I brought him to the stoop. He was totally unafraid, inquisitive, haughty and hungry. He sniffed my boots, decided against eating them, turned tail and vanished into the night.

Two days later a young buck with a barely nascent rack came into the yard. The snow was as high as its haunches and he seemed to float above it. There were rabbit and fox tracks all over the front lawn.

In my home it was warm and smelled of Earl Gray tea. My cat was happy. I wrapped stuff with candy-cane colored paper. I cleaned, washed, dusted, defragged my hard drive. I am extraordinarily lucky and have just about everything I need.

Happy solstice!