Penguin Woman Redux

I think I’ve gotten rid of her now. Jeezus, I hope so.

It was simply the Week Of Flakes. Last Monday, the intermittent client wished on me by one of the personal trainers at my gym, who comes dressed as if going to a dinner party in the year 1953, complete with jewelry, stack heels, and matte lipstick, and commits a heaving inhale and forceful sigh about every ninety seconds while on the table; then Penguin Woman with her car blocking my driveway and her gabbling incoherent explanations; then an unexpected call from an old client who moved out of the area but got sent here for work this week and did I have a spot? Which is okay, but I belatedly remembered that this is the person who usually shows up late, takes an inordinate amount of time to undress and get on the table, an even longer time to dress again — I’m talking fifteen or twenty minutes to put on a tee shirt and a pair of slacks — and doesn’t know how to leave. I instructed the Engineer to produce cooking smells on the stroke of the clock that I expected to finish the session.

Just before Dilatory Former Client was due, there was a rap on the door and there stood Penguin Woman, now attired in street clothes that made her resemble Tweedledum or Tweedledee. “I just wanted to explain what happened this morning,” she said.

Ah. That would be Wednesday morning actually. It was now Friday.

She gabbled some more about how the car died and she didn’t know what to do and wanted me to realize it wasn’t like she was some drunk who had run up on the sidewalk. At this point, I did not care. I wanted her the fuck off my porch. She continued to ramble on about how the couple across the street had called her up on seeing her car aground there; possibly this was meant to tweak me for not recognizing the vehicle, though a note on my door would have worked wonders, I have to say. This is why I do not socialize with neighbors. Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of everything is crap. That includes interactions with other humans. At least even my flakiest clients are paying me for the time I spend pretending that their screwy behaviors are normal, a transaction I am prepared to honor. This was just taking away minutes I would never get back.

“It’s okay, I’m glad you’re okay and the car’s okay, everything’s okay,” I kept repeating, wondering if I was going to have to bodily eject her from the enclosure. I noticed that she had parked the car facing the wrong way at the curb.

I think I’ve hit my quota for the year. Any  more of this shows up, I’m sending it back.

The Return Of Penguin Woman

“Well that’s fucked,” I said blearily as I opened the front window blinds. “What is?” answered the Engineer, who was walking around the top floor in a pair of workaday khakis and nothing else, kind of rocking the furry barbarian look.

“There is a black sedan obliquely athwart the end of the driveway with its front wheels halfway up on the curb,” I explained. I’m sorry, I actually do talk like that, even first thing in the morning.

We both went out front to look. The hood was cold and no one was inside. “Looks like someone hit the curb, decided they were too drunk to go any further, and bailed,” the Engineer opined.

I hate calling the cops on people for this kind of thing — I have a keen decades-old memory of parking across the end of someone’s drive on a visit to a new friend because, with no car parked there, I genuinely couldn’t see it in the snow — but then, my clients have to park somewhere and the driveway was entirely blocked in. Presently a stocky, amiable, bespectacled guy with a strong Hispanic accent turned up in a county car and ran the plates, to see if the car belonged to someone nearby. I admit that, going on the Engineer’s scenario, I was thinking more along the lines of Julio’s Repose and wondering if I should suggest a search of my property, but it is damn cold for someone to be crashing in the bushes this time of year.

Presently the avuncular parking guy came back to knock on my door. Trailing him was the Penguin Woman of my porch-zoning adventures, who lives three doors down, so called because of her singular observation, when I sought the easement, that she was fine with me building a porch or putting fucking penguins in my yard or whatever I wanted. Probably I pass the butt end of that car every day that I go clock a few miles, but how many black sedans are there in the world? Half asleep, with exploded, brassy-blond hair, bare feet, blowzy and faintly flushed, wearing a long black nightgown with a lacy bib, she looked as if one of the staff at Downton Abbey had been roused from bed because the mistress was ill or a Minister of Something had paid a midnight visit. Somewhat incoherently, she apologized and launched into a disjointed narrative of the electronics had gone out so she couldn’t even get in to the car and she had been coming from the hospital and she had been so upset because what if someone wanted to get out and she was going to call a tow truck.

I don’t know why she didn’t just leave a note with her number on my door before repairing to her residence, but then my previous encounter with this lady was equally incoherent and also featured remarks about being just back from the hospital. I think she has poorly controlled asthma. I really wanted to know how the car came to be cattywumpus across my driveway in the first place, three houses on from her own driveway if she had been coming from the west, and one-eighty from the direction it would have been headed if she had been coming from the east, but I thought that prolonging the conversation was a bad idea.

The Engineer took the subway to work and left me his car, which was fortuitously parked at the curb.

The penguin’s still out there. I doubt she noticed it.

The Moon And (some kind of) Pence

Another dream, but I’m sleeping a lot. It has become my main way of coping.

Maybe it was the night of the new moon, or something, but just before first light I found myself in the audience of the new musical that was apparently Lin-Manuel Miranda’s next effort after “Hamilton.”

The house was packed because it was, well, the guy who brought you “Hamilton,” and because the subject of the new show was actually the new administration itself. I can’t remember a damn thing about Act I, because the dream started during the interval, when we were all trying to get in and out of the ladies’ room, and the show resumed before I could get to the head of the line, but as a courtesy the theater was piping the sound into the loos. The opening scene involved Vice President Pence going into the Oval Office for a chat with President Cheeto, only the Cheeto was chasing some female staffer, and presently Pence appeared to say oh well, what the hell, and put the blocks on another woman likewise — a smooth, Don Giovanni-like effort given that we were supposed to understand it was his first shot at depravity . Set to excellent music, which I can’t remember. And I could only listen to it while finally reaching the solace of an open stall.

Highly subjunctive, as they say. But it’s the first good laugh I’ve gotten out of this.

The Coverlet

I had a strange, wistful dream the other morning that will not get out of my head.

I’ve dreamed entire stories before — once, I preserved enough of the narrative to write the damn thing, for what it was worth — and it looked as if I might be about to do it again, only a Person from Porlock, in the form of a cat or traffic noise or something, broke in before I had really gotten started.

It seemed to involve my Transgender Ex.

Neither of us have all day so I will try to explain that as briefly as possible. In high school I set my cap for a brilliant, toothsome, Ganymede-like young thing who could play piano like an angel. In those days he embraced an intellectual conservatism that you could at least debate and dispute and had a sense of humor about it. The relationship was off and on and rocky, punctuated by moments of the kind of stupid drama that make me ever so glad I am not young any more, and eventually he owned up that he had always felt like a woman, inside. Fine. Whatevs. Except that he didn’t do anything about it, which is why I am still calling him He, and went on to various relationship disasters intertwined with a decently accomplished academic career. Somehow, every half dozen years, he would turn up on my doorstep or the other end of my phone looking for some form of tea and sympathy (I was  susceptible because long history, Beethoven, loves cats, intelligent conversation) and, quite often, to mooch dinner. Then he would eventually say something condescending and snarky about my liberal politics, zingers which got nastier as he began to sink to the level of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Don’t ask me what the appeal of such institutions might be to someone who identifies as trans. The last zing was, well, the last; at a certain point, you just have to tell someone to have a nice life. I wonder if he has ever put on a dress (you have to start somewhere).

Anyway the story in the dream was apparently about him and it was called The Coverlet, which was printed on the title page of what seemed to be a little booklet or perhaps an open book turned to that chapter. As I sort-of heard the narrative in my head it was simultaneously pictured like a film unreeling.

The Coverlet

The spare room had been empty a long time, but was still kept fresh and neat; on the bed was a quilted coverlet of flour-sack gingham. He passed it every day on his way out, and had stopped giving it much thought.

That morning a pair of gloves rested on the green-and-pink patch of quilting below the pillow, almost like a pair of  hands resting one on the other.

He went on out of the house.

The next day a neatly folded winter scarf lay under the gloves…

And that’s where everything stopped. Couldn’t get it back. But I can still see the morning light shining in on that quilt and the slightly forlorn looking gloves and scarf sitting on a patch of grass-green quilting with tiny pink flowers printed on it.

They weren’t his gloves and scarf, they were someone else’s; someone coming into his life? Someone who’d gone out of it?

Someday I’m going to go to Porlock and burn the place down.

 

Heatyvent And The Despised Marshmallow Bed

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Torvald has discovered a new love and its name is heatyvent.

All the cats, unsurprisingly, like heatyvent but he is the biggest customer, no doubt because he is usually in the living room when the furnace is ginning up for the day. That vent’s right above the heat exchanger and right behind my chair — in a perfect world there would be no furniture near a vent, but I’m not sure where we’d all sit. It makes a nice little sauna.

Most days he’s come out after a half hour or so. Then, a couple of days ago, I was tossing the living room and murdering clutter, and my eyes fell on Marshmallow Bed, which was a big hit when it arrived a couple of years ago but which all have spurned since about the time Torvald got up out of it one afternoon and immediately collapsed from the heart condition for which he now receives five drugs a day. I’ve wondered idly if some whiff of panic adheres to the thing, but it’s been sitting on the floor under the stereo, forlorn, finally used to stash a couple of lumbar pillows that the Engineer doesn’t like.

I looked at this useless heap, threw the pillows back in the Engineer’s chair, and stuck the white fuzzy bed next to the vent. The next time Torvald ambled into the room he disappeared into it almost instantly. About four hours later he emerged.

Heatyvent == well, Heatybed — has become the lodestar of his existence. Where, previously, we dared not open the nearby door to the upstairs because he would be up there like a shot in search of ALL THE BUDDIES that he knew wanted to play with him, now he barely lifts his head when he hears the doorknob turn and says blearily “Huh?” before subsiding again.

I was a little worried, given his dicky heart, but when the furnace heat isn’t going, he’s still the same cranky, unsocialized dick he’s always been, trotting into the kitchen for kibble and down the stairs to harass Agatha. He just loves Heatybed. He always has been quite vocal about telling us that despite clear Maine Coon antecedents he is not suited to withstand frigid temperatures, that his breed is actually Virginia Goon, and he is not having the porch in winter, thank you.

Mr. Ferguson gets it overnight. He’s becoming hard to find, too.

I guess this will go on till around April.

Les Dames

The plate loaded T-row machine had apparently suffered some insult. They affix these things to the gym floor, through the mats, with substantial hex bolts, but all hardware fatigues at a certain point. When you hauled up on the crossbow-shaped plate arm, the whole thing rocked a half inch this way and that, just enough for an instability goose to the exercise. This can actually improve your training effect. Nonetheless I checked in with the management, who averred that they knew about the problem and had put it on the repair list and told me to be careful.

Uh huh. I went back and threw another ten pound plate on the load arm, only to be hailed by a large gentleman in a do-rag, with meaty, glossy, chestnut-colored arms emerging from a torn singlet. “Watch out, that thing ain’t level,” he warned.

I already had a 2.5 pound plate in hand. I have never had the slightest goddam idea what anyone would want with a 2.5 pound plate, but the slender part of its bevel slid seamlessly under the upbucked foot of the T-row apparatus, the perfect shim.

“Leave it to a woman!” cheered Do-Rag. “Fixed it!”

“Well hell I am always leveling furniture not to mention my commode,” I said, and cranked out a set.

“Leave it to the ladies!” he shouted again, and went off to do something dangerous, probably of an age to be my son had I ever been interested in such undertakings.

Gender politics in the gym probably isn’t the hill to die on. Besides, I have to say women are kinda extra practical. We gotta be.

Going into 2017 that kind of cheers me.

 

Chilblains

For Christmas I got a chilblain and a dying lady. Well, dead, actually. More about that shortly as it is the more complicated story.

Chilblains seem like such a quaint, Dickensian affliction that it is slightly mortifying to have one. My readers from Canada and the upper tier of the US may not see it this way of course, but please remember that I live in Virginia, which is technically the South.

On the other hand I frostnipped a couple of toes on my left foot thirty years ago, shoveling the street in snowmelt while wearing leaky boots, and they have never exactly been the same. I have learned to stick my sockfeet in plastic bags before attacking a snowdrift, thereby mostly avoiding a reprise of the lopsided, purplish toe-tip that marked that past occasion, but lately, I have been working barefoot because I can feel my weight shift at the side of the massage table more precisely, neglecting to note that as the winter advanced, I was planting said bare feet on an increasingly frigid hardwood floor for a lot of the session.

The day before Christmas Eve was cold and grey and my feet would not get warm, but preferring cold to heat on any day of the year and impatient with anything like suffocating my feet in socks or shoes inside my own house, I just put up with it, until the following morning I felt the characteristic  “I have been in the cold and now I am warming up ouch” sense on the tip of one toe, and discovered a circumscribed, indurated, reddish purple bit underlapping the end of the toenail. It took a little Net searching to convince me of what I was seeing. Who the fuck am I, Bob Cratchit?

So now I am ignominiously having to stuff my feet into little socksies and shoozies (L. L. Bean’s Wicked Good fleece clogs, if you must know) and keep them dry because chilblains don’t heal if you keep, well, chilling them.

So in the middle of that I texted Clarissa, who has come to me for fifteen years: tall, majestic, always mercilessly well dressed, in peacock-patterned tunics and looping great necklaces of chunky glass beads, too conscientious for her own good, scattered, dutiful, full of narrative of her life and work like a fire hose under maximum pressure.

Only this was the year Clarissa hit the wall. Um, they said, we’ve found a recurrence of the precancer you were treated for several years back, they said. Well, no, this is cancer. Come on down to the medical torture chamber and we’ll zap you coming and going.

Strangely, when ominous signs began to manifest distant from the cancer site, no one bothered to check if it was in fact more cancer. Don’t ask me. We have the Best Healthcare System In The World ™, right?

Well, whatever, it didn’t stop things from getting to the point where she wanted work, because in bed all day long stiff sore ouch, but couldn’t get to me because oncologist says don’t put weight on your leg bone it is full of cancer and will break, so I loaded up that fucking folding table and went to her, on the only day of the week I could find the time. You just do this. One December Sunday. Then another. Then “no, family are all coming this weekend.” Then Christmas. I don’t give a rat’s ass for Christmas, and sent her a text on Christmas Eve, complete with emojis (I just figured those out), asking if she’d like me to come down her chimney on Christmas Day.

Her husband texted back just as I was about to set out the gifts that we do exchange because it is the time after all. She died late Friday evening. About the time I was cultivating chilblains. I had to read that text but motherfucking God, he had to send it. I have no words.

2016, have you no goddam mercy?

I am still wearing my fuzzy socks.