“Under this dark sycamore”

It is sometime after midnight, and there is a man driving down a deserted Texas two-lane highway. There’s an atlas on the passenger seat, closed: he still knows where he is, roughly, and his goal at the moment is to get lost.

He drives on into the night, making turns at random, changing roads on impulse, avoiding major highways and towns whose names he recognizes. By three o’clock in the morning, he’s lost enough that he’s not sure he could narrow down what quadrant of the state he’s in—which is lost enough for his purpose.

There is a pale predawn light in the sky when he pulls off the road—another two-lane farm road with another four-digit number as a name—and onto the strip of gravel that functions as a shoulder. He opens the trunk, takes out a shovel and a metal lock-box of the sort one sees at bake sales and charity car washes—and walks perhaps a hundred yards away from the road, into a thicket of trees he can’t quite identify.

The dirt is dark, moist, easy to dig: he soon has a hole several feet deep. He picks up the box; there is a moment of hesitation. It passes, and he puts the box into the ground, covers it with dirt, walks back to his car, and drives away.

It is now somewhere in the neighborhood of six in the morning; he wanders the highways for another hour, not wanting to associate the grove of trees with a town too near. Somewhat after seven, he stops at a small-town diner, quietly eats a greasy breakfast, drinks several cups of bad coffee, and finds himself in the atlas—a process which takes several minutes. He plots a course back to the interstate, and thence home: a trip of several hours, in his estimation.

It is late morning when he arrives at home, but his children are still in their pajamas, eating breakfast. The oldest has made waffles. There is a moment of silence when he walks in, a hesitation, an unspoken thing with them in the room. Then the youngest asks: “Where did you leave Mom?”

“I don’t know,” the man answers; “that was the point, remember? Not knowing.”

That was the point, yes: the family had no real connection to the places where their relatives were buried, couldn’t even name cemeteries or towns; no real connection to the place they were living now, no plans to stay there longer than necessary. His wife’s ashes would be lost to them just as much in a cemetery with a headstone as in a grove of trees off a farm-to-market road somewhere in the big middle of Texas with nothing recognizable to mark the spot.

It didn’t make sense to bury her at all, really, since she was ashes, but the man didn’t want to scatter her, to let go of her in the absolute and final way that scattering requires.

It was a decision he would come to regret.


Day 220: Live this day as if it were your last.

There are a lot of asinine proverbs out there, and “Live every day as if it were your last” is one of them. It can’t be done. You know why? This is why:

Damn, Bill Murray.

Of course, the Book doesn’t want me to live every day like I’m going to be dead tomorrow—just one. It even provides me a handy hypothetical scenario—a meteorite is about to obliterate the planet, and only I know!—so that I’m healthy and there are no consequences, for me or anyone else. I’m Phil Connors for a day, I guess.

What would I do with a day like that? Have a ridiculous breakfast, yes—but I’d be drinking champagne from the bottle, and not coffee from the carafe. I’d be drinking all day, in fact. I’d play with my kids, I’d take my wife on a date (for lunch, before I got too drunk), I’d ignore the stacks of work that I’m mostly ignoring anyway. I might pick a fight with my asshole neighbor. No, no, I wouldn’t do that: I’d just burn his house down. No consequences, right?

Living a “last day” that’s radically different from all your other days seems, I don’t know, wrong somehow? I mean, I wouldn’t go to work if I knew I was going to be dead in twenty-four hours—but I also wouldn’t walk through a parking lot smashing car windows, or hire a van-ful of prostitutes, or gorge myself on french fries and doughnuts and cupcakes. I wouldn’t do any of those things anyway: why would I do them just because I was going to be dead soon?

Because my life is sad and miserable, and I need the extraordinary circumstance of my impending death to enable me to do what I’ve secretly desired to do all my life, the things that will finally make me happy, finally make my life worth living, when it’s finally too late——that, at least, is what the Book assumes. Stupid fucking book.

Day 198: Have a good cry.

Originally scheduled for Sunday, July 17.

There are people that enjoy “having a good cry” on occasion: I am not one of those people. Never have been.

I don’t cry at movies. I don’t cry at weddings. I don’t even cry at funerals.

I cried when my children were born. Each time, it was a spontaneous losing of my shit. I though I was prepared the second time around, but no, I wasn’t — I cried more than either of the kids did, and they were the ones transitioning from the comforts of the womb (I guess wombs are comfortable?) to the harsh reality of being alive.

Other than that, I don’t cry. I mean, I’m sure I’ve cried in moments of extreme stress a few times in my adult life, but those were brief moments, and I have no desire to repeat them. I don’t find crying cathartic. Maybe that’s a sign that I should do it more often? How would that work? Have a few drinks, watch a sad movie — but which one? Steel Magnolias? — and maybe drop a hammer on my foot for good measure: that might do it, but only the “have a few drinks” part sounds remotely appealing.

Also, there was that one time that I cried in the shower — but if you haven’t heard that story, you’re out of luck, because it’s not getting told here.

Day 164: Share someone’s pain.

I’m not sure there are four more insulting words in English than “I feel your pain” — because, in almost every case, they’re absolute bullshit.

Plenty of things people say are bullshit; the bullshit is not the problem, exactly: the problem is that, in this case, the bullshitter completely trivializes the pain felt by the … uh, the one feeling the pain. The bullshittee?

“I feel your pain” seems to get used in two types of situations. It is, on one hand, part of a ritual of kvetching: it’s insincere and bullshitty, sure, but the kvetching is equally insincere — or, if not exactly insincere, still passionless and unconvincing. I find this usage of “I feel your pain” insulting only because of the context, because I hate listening to people complain.

The other type of situation in which the phrase gets used — or, more probably, some variation of the phrase that contains the sentiment in different words, because I think the only people who use the exact phrase are assholes, in the technical sense of the word —— where was I? Oh, right: the other situations in which this sentiment is expressed are those in which actual pain — usually emotional pain — is being felt, and in such situations the bullshitter has no idea what the bullshittee is going through.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that my wife keels over and dies tomorrow (I love you, dear): I think it’s safe to say that other people whose spouses have died are absolutely not going to be the ones to say “I feel your pain” — because they, having experienced a similar pain, understand how intensely personal and unshareable that sort of pain is.

I’m not saying that sympathy and empathy are bad things, or that we ought to ignore people’s grief, or people who are grieving — I mean, I don’t ever feel sympathy for anyone, but that’s because I don’t have feelings at all — but there’s a difference between genuine sympathy and bullshit sympathy. Genuine sympathy doesn’t express itself in trite phrases.

All of this is why I interpreted today’s task much more literally, and smashed my thumb with a hammer. Somebody, somewhere, I’m sure, also smashed his or her thumb with a hammer, at about the same time, and I like to think that it hurt less, because I’d done the same thing, but on purpose.

That’s how it works, right?

Day 132: Your lucky number is 12.

I was twelve years old when I left home.

It wasn’t a great place to grow up: my mom had been shacked up with this short, hairy, greedy little bastard for as long as I could remember. Never knew who my father was. This dude my mom had hooked up with was the closest to a father-figure I had, I guess, but he did a shitty job; he treated my mom like a live-in maid, and me like an unwanted burden. He ran an auto repair shop, and put me to work almost as soon as I could walk. I think he had something shady going on, on the side – a back-room gambling operation, something like that.

When I was twelve, these two dudes came through town – had a hot, probably-not-quite-legal chick with them – man, did I have crush on her –– anyway, their rig had broken down, they needed some parts, brought it to the shop. The older dude took an interest in me right away – said I had ‘special talents’, something like that, and dropped hints that I should come with them. I was more than happy to get the fuck out of there, so when they left, I went with them.

They turned out to be drifters of some sort, and I think members of some sort of cult. They kept talking about how they were ‘protecting’ the ‘queen’ they had with them.

Shit got pretty out of hand a few weeks after I took up with them: the dudes ran into some dude from, I don’t know, a rival cult? Things turned violent really quickly, the old dude died, then the young dude killed the other dude. He dropped the ‘queen’ shortly thereafter, and he and I toured the country for a while. It was pretty cool, despite being pretty fucked-up – not that I had a good frame of reference, anyway. Dude was like the older brother I never had, and we got along pretty well, for a while.

Eventually, when I was, I don’t know, 19 or so, I decided to track down my mother. Went back to the shop I grew up in, found the short hairy bastard – told me he’d ditched my mom years ago, and she’d married some other dude. When I tracked him down, he told me my mom had been kidnapped by sand people about a month before.

I found her, she died in my arms, and I sort of lost my shit. Killed the whole tribe. Since then, Obi-Wan and I haven’t been getting along as well.

(Inspired by flossdaily and ruinmaker.)

Day 97: IN DA HOUSE: Today, rap!

Dear the Book: you have got to be fucking kidding me.

Rapping requires three things that I don’t have: an innate sense of rhythm, a profligate desire for rhyme, and – if one is delivering the lines, and not merely writing them for someone else – a brash, swaggering bravado.

I am not Kanye West: I do not have a nice flow.
If Jay-Z saw me brushing the dirt off my shoulders, he would laugh at me.
I am not fit to be stir-fried in Ad-Rock’s wok.
I can’t even keep up with the words to Wil Wheaton’s theme song mentally; there’s no way I could sing along with them.

I couldn’t write a fucking limerick to save the farm, and it wouldn’t be funny or clever if I managed to scribble one out, and I certainly couldn’t deliver it in the extremely unlikely event that I wrote one that was passably funny. I can’t even deliver limericks written by other people. How the hell am supposed to rap?

I’m not supposed to, of course: I’m supposed to try, and fail, and look ridiculous. If the Book had been written a few years later, it probably would have required me to post a video of my making-a-fool-of-myself to YouTube, so that total strangers could also laugh at me. The only upside to that would be if Keyboard Cat played me off, but he’s a busy cat, and the chances of that happening are slim.

So, sorry to disappoint, but I’m pulling a Brave-Sir-Robin on this one: packing it in, running away, buggering off, chickening out, &c, &c, &c. It worked for him, didn’t it? He may have been the laughingstock of Arthur’s knights, but he survived to the end of the film, didn’t he? Everyone else died or got arrested, but good ol’ brave Sir Robin ended his days comfortably at home, a good book in his lap, a pipe in his mouth, and a snifter of brandy in his hand.

Actually, no. No he didn’t. He died attempting to cross the bridge, because the stupid bastard didn’t know the capital of Assyria.

Anyway, the moral: if you try to rap despite a palpable and blatantly obvious lack of skills, you’ll be cast into a rocky chasm and plummet to your death. Or something like that.

Day 92: Write your will here.

The Book provides a useful connect-things-in-this-column-to-people-in-this-other-column template for making a will, and a place to sign and date below: legally binding! Woo-hoo!

By “useful” I mean, of course, “useless”: I don’t have, for example, a lover, mistress, best friend, or favorite child to whom I wish to leave things, and I don’t have any secret life savings, hoards of pubic hair, space shuttles, or giant dildoes to bequeath to those I leave behind.

What’s the point of writing a will, anyway? Once you’re dead, it’s not your stuff anymore — why do you get to decide who gets what? Why do you have to decide who gets what? Why would you even care?

Maybe we should go back to the primogeniture system: firstborn gets everything, wives get nothing, younger children marry well or fritter away their lives – it’s all arranged in advance, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it, so there’s no room for complaining or hurt feelings or any of that nonsense. Right?

Really, though, that system was designed for the wealthy, for monarchs, and for characters in Jane Austen novels. I’m none of those, and so must find another solution.

Do I, though? What am I going to leave behind that’s important? Maybe something, maybe nothing. It’ll all be unimportant to me at that point, though, because I’ll be dead, and therefore will have no use for any of it – and yes, I’m repeating myself – I’m going to flog this horse to death, and then it won’t have to decide which of its colts gets all the carrots – anyway, I’m dead, I don’t care, and so I don’t understand why it’s my job to sort it all out.

If it were up to me — and it’s not, which is the whole point of this post — but if it were up to me, I’d want my carcass to be burned on a pyre built out of my worldly possessions: clothes, furniture, kitchen utensils, garden tools, even my books.

No, I’m just kidding. Not the books. I mean, let’s face it, obviously my books will be important hundreds of years from now precisely because I owned them and wrote in them – like Petrarch’s, or Milton’s, or Johnson’s. I would be doing the future a disservice by having them burnt.

Everything else, though, should just be consigned to the flames.