Thank God I’d had a second cup of coffee so I could see the cars ahead of me, all twenty-five of them, screeching to a halt. I could already make out the man, disheveled, maybe homeless, holding a bottle of beer with one hand and the railing of the overpass above us with the other. I could tell he wanted to jump, but he also still showed keen interest in that beer.
People watch LaLa Land and think we all stop our cars during rush hour to sing and dance like our lives depended on it. This is more like it.
The firemen maneuvered a mattress underneath the overpass just before the man grabbed the beer and went to the other side. The firemen followed with the mattress.
A policeman approached from the side of the overpass. He looked like he was saying something kind.
It seemed the jumper collapsed just before the cop walked over and knelt, but I could have been making up the part I couldn’t see as clearly.
And so it goes. For many of us, I suppose, without the support system that keeps us hanging on till the next chapter. Like many other places in the country, we ran into trouble when we reopened too fast here in California. We’re still locked down to a degree. We turn on the TV every morning to see what batshit thing happened in the world while we slept. Then we turn off the TV to see what batshit thing happened in our own lives while we slept. Sometimes it’s a snippet of change, sometimes it’s a whole story. Like a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, but with shorter scenes.
“Bro. Do you wanna have lunch at that new place on Arizona? Have you seen? Huuuge outdoor dining area – have a couple beers?”
My friend Jeff. “You mean the old funeral home?” I ask.
“Um, I’m not sure,” he says. “Maybe.”
Maybe my ass. It was a funeral home until, like, five months ago. I know BECAUSE I WENT TO A FRIGGING FUNERAL THERE! I pass it every day and I’m thinking, do any of these people consider the fact that the freezer I can see through the front door of the new ‘restaurant’ chilled somebody’s Uncle Cecil before it flaunted their ham and cheese baguette?
Lucky for me, I’m not one of these people who are climbing the walls because they can’t go to a nice place and order a bucket of clams to feel complete. Maybe it’s because I’m a good cook. “Um, I think I can wait on the dining out thing for a bit,” I say.
A couple of months into the lockdown, I can remember scrolling past, then scrolling back to an ad for an alcohol delivery service called Drisly. I’d never heard the word before, but it pretty much summed up how I was feeling. I snapped my laptop shut. “We are NOT having our hooch delivered, Phillip. It’s bad, but it hasn’t gotten THAT bad, so go clean the house for the third time this week or write a script for something that can’t be made until three years after we get a vaccine.”
My phone buzzed with a text tonight. A dear friend’s daddy in hospice from this virus. He’s going through the stress of flying home tomorrow during a pandemic with the hopes of seeing him through some dingy nursing home window before he vanishes from this whacked out nut job of a country. Mere weeks after The Partner buried his brother – not from the virus, but still…saying goodbye to a loved one is jacked enough without having to do it from the midst of a Michael Crichton novel.
“Have you seen the fingernail scissors?” I ask said partner.
“I don’t even know what fingernail scissors are,” he says without looking up.
“I read in Film Comment where Mia Farrow started a decades-long trend when she cut her own hair with fingernail scissors for “Rosemary’s Baby.”
“Well. That was Mia Farrow,” he says, like I may have a better shot pulling off one of the elderly devil-worshiping neighbors who make her drink the stinky tea.
Fingernail scissors in hand, I study my pandemic face in the mirror, something I never do with my reading glasses on. I try to decipher if I look crazier than usual and decide I do. I remember a friend asking why she never sees any hair growing out of my ears as her husband has them in spades. Without even squinting, I find two and snip them faster than Roman Polanski can say, “Action.”
On our Sunday afternoon constitution, we stop in to visit our friends who own a shop on Montana. There are chimes and Buddhas and we always feel better when we leave.
“What’s happening?” The Partner asks as we enter the shop, taking notice of the butcher paper over the front windows.
“Closing. September 30th. It’s all – too much,” our friend says, leaning over the counter like no one’s holding a mattress under her freeway guardrail.
The Partner says there’s still hope if they take their business online and, since his tools of trade are advertising and marketing, offers his services free of charge.
He buys a Buddha and then some. Even though it’s far too late to make a difference.
“Boo, you done gone and got your hair did and thank God for that.” Sheila has lived down the street from us for years and I didn’t know she was trans until she told me. She also let me ask all the questions I wanted and I’ve tried my best not to ask the stupid ones. Sheila walks her little white Maltese like she’s a runway model. And not a knock-off runway model, a really good one.
“The Partner says I look like one of the old people from Rosemary’s Baby.”
“Well, I wouldn’t know,” Sheila says, “‘cause those movies put me OUT. Except for the ones with Jamie Lee Curtis. ‘Cause she badass.”
Sheila picks up the Maltese and ducks into her tiny BMW.
On our hike this Sunday, a tiny group of fellow hikers with whom we’ve become friendly over the years gathered in the glow of a blood orange sun reflecting the smoke of distant fires. The topic of conversation was an older couple who never missed a hike a day in fifteen years. Tough as nails, these two were the ones you’d want to be trapped with on an island. Whenever we’d spy them scaling a rock for which we’d not yet gotten up the gumption, we knew we had to put it on our list or die trying. Seems no one had seen them since the pandemic began and, since all of us are on a first name basis only, there didn’t seem to be any way to get in touch with them.
And that’s the thing these days. Folks just disappear. They get sick, their business goes belly-up. A friend’s parents lost their house yesterday in the Oregon fire. Who knew in this day and age? All in some Dickensian novel none of us asked for.
A house on the corner already has their front yard decorated full-on cemetery for Halloween. The fact that we’re all whistling past graveyards of our own every single day that rolls is clearly lost on them. Or maybe it’s not. And if that’s the case, then I like it.
On my way home from running an errand in the valley today, a truck several cars in front of me was oblivious it was losing cargo – what appeared to be thousands of packages of toilet paper, all tumbling ass over tit from this side of the road to the other. Trapped in what felt like too much of an on-the-nose ending for this late pandemic musing, I watched a string of thin white paper twirl itself around my windshield wiper. For a moment it felt like I was driving in some sort of fever-induced Covid parade, all of us liberals waving to the rest of the world that we were finally getting our just desserts. All we were missing was a blow-up Trump baby touting the news from above that this would all be over by April.
At the end of a long day, I hold my head over a pot of boiling pasta, giving the billions of pores I never knew I’d had till a few nights before the facial of a lifetime. In the midst of all this crazy, it’s the tiniest things I find that give me the most joy. Plump overpriced blackberries in the market I can afford to take home. Clean towels in the linen cabinet. The Partner hitting that perfect place in the foot massage I didn’t have to ask for. A pair of dragonflies spreading good luck over my head as I make my way back down the mountain. Someone – or something – to hold the mattress for me until all this finally passes.
4 thoughts on “The Strain, Part 4”
Phil, this was very good, and moved me to tears. What a crazy, bat-shit place our country has become. I’m glad you’ve someone to hold your mattress. I love you.
Just fixed a glitch where I’m getting my comments from ages ago – love you back.
Phillip, love you and the anonymous partner! Keep the essays coming.
Just reading some of your very sweet and supportive replies, cuz – just fixed a glitch where I’m getting comments from a long time ago, oy! And yes I know one of these days after all this craziness is over we’ll meet up somewhere! xoxo