Even the Tsaddik Has a Giggle


Rosa chewing on a deer leg along Turley Trail reminds me of my own gnawing over the spent gristle of my past.

I realized I had gotten too serious when I wrote about my nasal polyp operation. The ENT’s anesthetist gave me so much Atropine I came off the nod and couldn’t pee, had to wear a catheter for eleven days. The only “tragedy” was I couldn’t play with myself for a week and a half. In fact, it was a philosophical quieting. I watched Amazon Prime and Netflix, went shuffling to the bathroom with the bag slapping my shin, lifted the petcock to let the pee splash into the toilet. Napped a lot. Contemplated mortality and a saintly wife.

I got through it.

But while the thing was going on … oi, the self-pity. Self-pity, enemy of a sense of humor.

And now, writing some meshugge memoir that turned into a novel has presented me with the same challenge. If you’re using your painful memories to limn something literary, it won’t work unless you take the trip of feeling those memories, really feeling them. Because you’ve just been skimming the surface. If you don’t dig deep, you’ll never see them, not enough to alchemize them into palatable reading. Of course, you might realize you have to make shit up. Your life ain’t that interesting, but that’s another story.

I’ve grown doing this. I recoiled from the shame of exploring my little traumas. As I forced myself to do just that, and explored them anyway, I came away with more shame than I could have imagined! But that’s a good thing. I see now I had no cause to hate all those people whose only crime was they were there to see me make a donkey out of myself. Draft by draft the rancor drifted away, leaving an aging man wondering at the madness and weird perfection of his imperfect life.

I’m working at two levels: what AA people call the Fourth Step, a spiritual and therapeutic telling on oneself; and a literary enterprise, an effort to launch a salable story, even if the crazy mess will be published in heaven and there alone.

I’ve been going nuts. I got stuck at sixty thousand words and in a hysteria of needing it bigger started patching in old essays and short stories, hoping the grafting would take. It wouldn’t. And then something broke within me, I realized the problem wasn’t an empty script but too many memories standing in the wings to fill in around the edges. And now the words poured out, a thousand a morning, in the dark, before I had to go to Walmart for my job or, on days off, drive to Prescott National Forest to let my dog romp … and meditate in the piney serenity of a world waking up, listening to birdsong, realizing my blissful lack of importance.

The book, whose motto could be “You’re as sick as your secrets,” improves iteration by iteration. Its main flaw, however — this unwonted moroseness — might prove unsolvable, as complete closure continues to elude me. I am doomed to take but half-steps toward my apotheosis of ultimate awareness.

And some stuff is sad. It just is. The man of sorrows cannot hide who he is.

It turns out that memories are fictions; you don’t know if everything you’re recalling isn’t so inflected with your subjectivity and bias, it has become something written by you.

I HAVE TO shake myself out of the self-absorption. The United States of America is in a battle for its soul.

As Trump hangs on to the presidency, I remember with growing nostalgia the Lincolnesque eloquence of the man who preceded him, a man whose speeches, by appreciating nuance, calmed us.

How hard is it to accept the complaint made plain by this latest, brutal killing and set about making a public effort to reform how police do business? Being a cop can’t be a refuge for white supremacists.

I often think black people are the best of us, if the martyrs they’ve served up aren’t all Martin Luther Kings, but characters like Rodney King, fucked up on PCP, and George Floyd, trying to buy smokes with a fake bill.

God willing, enough black people will get to the polls to end this Caligula shit show that passes for American government, and get us a real leader. Because if this is the best we’ve got, there will be ironic merit in all the talk I hear in red state Arizona about “government” being the cause of our evils. You’d think we were all libertarians. We’re not. We’re just fucking idiots.

I am transfixed by what’s going on around me.

My own life? A reflection in a barbershop mirror … images of images. I must be there for others, the better to fight my part of the crusade.

I went to my first AA meeting in two weeks, out in Fain Park, all eight of us seated six feet apart. I mostly sat silent, deliberately. For I remembered the last time I’d been here, shooting my mouth off about how AA’s focus on tried-and-true sayings reminded me of Orthodox Jews nodding over Torah portions. There are times I wonder if my problem isn’t that I’m too serious, but not serious enough. I can be a smart-ass.

Let me end this long-delayed blog post with a Hebrew saying.

Tikkum olam.