Return to the unemployment office.

I have returned to the unemployment office and am sitting in front of the same odd young man I had before. He is smiling.

“So how are you doing?” he says exuding sincerity. His eyeglasses glint and his hair gleams. His suit seems to fit him better than the last time.

“I am still looking for a job.” I state.

“You still troubled by that. I thought we got this settled last time you were in. There are no decent jobs for dudes your age. I said you should stay busy, wait for the work situation to improve.”

“And until then, how do I pay my bills”

“The state has a tit, suck baby, suck.” He says in a tired voice. He is no longer smiling.

“Suck baby, suck.” I repeat. It is hard to get a handle on the surreal audio coming from this man in an oversized suit. Strangely, I feel some empathy for him.

“Sorry bad day, need coffee. You know this ain’t no dream job. I gotta go with the gut, and things are bad all-round. Job’s made for burn out.” He says this earnestly. Then he takes off his glasses and polishes them with a handkerchief and replaces them on his nose. “All right then, why don’t we start over, from the top; so you been keeping busy as I suggested last time.”

“What’s the matter, not thinking positively?” I say trying to lighten things in a sarcastic way. If nothing else he’s honest. “Did play around with your writting idea – mostly out of boredom.”

“See the important thing is to stay busy, chill out. Things have a way of working out.” He says, back in the upbeat councilor groove again. “I’m assuming you took my advice and are writing about yourself. Good for you, lot of weird stuff in your resume. All I got to say is, show don’t tell.”

“Want to read it?”

“No I don’t like to read.”

“What.” The man is a walking contradiction. Maybe it’s my age but it is impossible to get a logical read on him.

“Trust me, show don’t tell.”

“What” I say, feeling we are no longer on the same journey.

“Try something pastoral.” He looks into the distance as if envisioning some country idyll — some baroque tableau of naked nymphs frolicking with horse hung satyrs. Again Henry Miller is brought to mind. “Pastorals are nice.”

“Yes they are.” I say.

We are on separate pages. Maybe it was a mistake to come back, man’s got nothing for me. Nothing for anyone my age – my age, I feel my time has passed. It is a shock to the system; I am no longer relevant to the new social order. At the most I am on the fringe. When did all this come to pass? My memory mumbles here. I have no idea how I tumbled from then to now. All I have are stories of the in betweens. We all have stories. It is how we get through the day. Whether we do it well or poorly depends on the stories. Right now my stories seem impotent. A little magical thinking is needed. My thoughts are interrupted by the strange young man.

“Only a small number of dudes read anymore.” He says, earnestly segueing into strangeness. “But reading literature is not really the same as reading…it’s more radical”

Wow. Radical. Reading can still be a dangerous thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The old Finn

 In winters there is an old Finn on the mountain. For the past several winters he has appeared—I never see him in other seasons. It is on the coldest days that I see him, temperature 10 degrees or bellow not counting the wind chill.

I did not notice at first but he travels with his false teeth out, dressed in layers, wielding ski poles he moves up the more gently sloped assent. He moves well and whenever we speak in passing his wind is good. I grew up in the area and know an old Finn when I see one. He has to be in his early eighties, clear of eye and relatively loose of limb. Those old Scandinavians almost run forever, though they get pretty bent and wrinkled at the end.

Likely he has a plump red cheeked woman at home who still makes her own coffee bread. He has probably known her 60 years or more and in that time they have merged successfully. Love’s endgame.

About the fourth time I’d noticed him, he stopped me.

“You climb every day?” He wants to know. I had not noticed his lack of teeth before. It did not make him look feeble, or foolish.

“Whenever I can,” I reply.

“That’s good,” He says, meaning it and giving me a smile full of gums. Then he continued on his way, an old one who knew about movement and cold. After all these years he still had not become bored with either. A gnarly old man is something to be.

Then again, he could be one of the snow trolls my Swedish grandfather told me of in my youth. Something to think about. I am at an age where one can note such things—the mento memori of the in-between. I decide to ask him the next time I see him. He’s an old Finn and will understand.

Several weeks later I see him and ask him straight out.

“Snow troll,” he says annoyance twisting his face. “That’s Swedish crap.”

“My grandfather was Swedish, he told me about Snow trolls.” I say. He was my grandfather, of course I believe in the stories he told me in my youth. It was a magical world and he was a magical man.

“He was full of shit; the Finns don’t have snow trolls, Jesus dumb Swedes.” He pokes me with his pole and puts a hole in the sleeve of my fleece. He is one of those Finns with an inbred dislike of Swedes.

“That’s what he told me.”

“He was an ass. Now if you asked me about Snow Ghosts we could have talked,” he says. “Now get out of my way. You Swedes never get anything right.”  He pokes at me again with his poles.

I dodge out of the way and watch the Snow Ghost move it down the mountain. I consider the general absurdity of life and move on. One expects a mountain climbing old man to be …more magical.

 

 

Cough syrup

 

On my way home I decide to buy a bottle of cough syrup. An old woman taught me this trick. She’s 78, one of the old beats, but there is still a sparkle in her eye and mischief in her smile. She still likes adventures even though age has limited them. Says, the syrup puts her in a kind of trance which makes the long ago seem now. Well, God bless her.

I stop at a CVS go in and find the cough syrup section under a sign that reads Cough. What I am looking for will have a high content of antihistamines which results in a long, nod factor. Drink a bottle, smoke some good weed on top of it and you go on a nod of 2 -4 hours. It is a hypnotic groove. Head bobbing on my chest, eyes heavy lidded. That state between wakefulness and sleep that allows you to float between reality and dreams. I pick up a bottle and read the label, a contentious consumer. No, this will not do because it contains acetaminophen might blow my liver at the dosage I am going to take. I rummage about the shelves until I see what I want. It is my lucky day; there is a two for the price of one sale. Outstanding, I saunter with my purchase to the check-out, a senior intent on buying medicine for his night time cough.

There is a mother and child ahead of me. The little boy clutches at the front of her jeans and looks back at me. Something about me must amuse him because he starts to giggle and drool into his mother’s shirt tails. The mother turns back to see what is holding her son so rapt. She looks me over.

“You remind him of his grandfather, he’s lean like you,” she says. Pavlov’s dog, I think, cute kid though.

”Cute kid.” I say.

“Ya right.” She says.

“Really, kids are great,” I say and they are. She is in one of the best times in her life and she does not see it. It is a time of beginnings and flexibility. She pays and drags her son toward the doors in a bubble of seemingly endless time.

I place my stuff on the counter in front of one of those generic, short and perky girls. There must be factory somewhere where they turn them out according to need.

“Sir…I need your birth date.”

Birth date. She needs my birth date?

I say,” What?”

“Your birth date. I have to ask if your over ‘40.”

“To buy a bottle of cough syrup.”

“Kids try to buy it for a cheap high”

Resourceful kids I think. I say, “Jesus. That is really stupid behavior… but thanks for thinking I’m under ’40.”

“Oh, I didn’t think that.” I am a little disappointed at the fact that I still don’t look under 40. Denial is a wonderful thing. I wonder what she would think if she knew I was going to do a bad kid thing, the geezer with the heart of a child. She must see disappointment in my face because she says;” I don’t mean you look old or anything.”

“Thanks.”

“Tell you what, I’ll just make up a date for you.” she says, giving me her best perky smile. “Would you like a bag for that?”

“Yes please,” One should have some propriety in these matters.

When I get home I roll a fat boy and open the cough syrup. I use the dispenser cup like a shot glass and knock back six quick pours. Then I fire the fat boy and continue in a more leisurely fashion. I finish the bottle and decide to add a valium to the cocktail. By the time I get to my bed I am already a little wobbly. I plump the pillows; put my back against the headboard with my legs stretched out on the bed. The line between sleep and wakeful starts to blur, the head nods, lids droop. I am in a peaceful place. It is the limbo of the in-between; I am part of the warp and weave of time. Actually I am just stoned but in a very pleasant way. It is magical how one is able to swim between wakefulness and sleep.

Like an aging Little Nemo, I set sail through my memories pausing here and there to remember long ago conversations and events. The fact that I am in dire straits financially is forgotten for the moment … it’s all good.

 

 

 

 

In America everyone spins their own con.

I am sitting in an unemployment agency. The thin bespectacled man across from me is borrowing into the papers on his desk. I have given him all my information and am now waiting for him to impart wisdom. The man pops up from the papers.

“Sorry, I don’t see a problem.” he says. Dark and balding, his suit seems a size too big for him

“What.”

“You have a lot of high level skills, you work for yourself, you’re not badly hurting financially, yet. Looks to me like you’re in a temporary lull. Wop dee do.”

“Wop dee do?” I question.

“Probably some middle age thing.”

“Mid-life crisis.” I say. He blinks at me through his glasses.

“See. Your old, you’ve had an interesting life, convey it. Something to keep you busy ‘till business picks up.”

“I came here for that.”

“I feel you came looking for direction. You’re like some kind of rudderless freak.”

“A rudderless freak.” I say.

“Right, so you want my advice?” he asks, acting as thought it would be in my best interests.

“Bring it on.”

“You should write an autobiography.” I am being told this by a thin man with glasses who works in an employment agency. Probably the diluted grand seed of Henry Miller.

“Appealing to what market share.”

“Think small.”

“Where’s the interest.”

“Elaborate,” he says.

“You mean fictionalize.”

“So lie a little. You’ve done a lot of strange stuff.”

“My life is made up of strange and useless stuff.” I say, realizing that it is true.

“I did not say useless, it was implied.”

“A freak?”

“You’re in good company.”

“You’d probably want a Quite Days in Cliché opening,” I say, testing my Henry Miller theory.

“What?”

“Nothing.” I say. A strange young man but I believe he knows my meaning.

“You don’t seem satisfied.”

“I’m 58 and looking for a job.”

“You’re self-employed. The economy sucks for guys like you you’re in a trough. There are no jobs for dudes your age. So I am telling you to ride it out. Things will get better, in the meantime keep busy.”

“Write a book?”
“Do something; there isn’t much I can do for you. I’m trying to be positive, do what I can.” He says, pointing over his shoulder to a sign that says, THINK POSITIVE.

“Well, thanks I guess,” I say, standing. My search for work has led to a cliché of happy thoughts without any action at all. Lay low until the storm passes. The Economy is in meltdown for the old. It is all sound and fury. All I want is a job and all I get are clichés. The American dream is being seriously diminished in my eyes, it is in fact defunct.

 

Notes for Bad Geezer

“The life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Thomas Hobbs.

I was born wanted. I was also born with a rare brain growth, which made life interesting. This is a remembrance not of fondness but of  great` strangeness.

 

Bad Geezer.

When you get past 50 you come into a strange space, you become a senior, and your life is forever changed in small immutable ways. You are no longer what you were; you consider endings, loss, what could have been. And one’s version of what could have been is generally absurd — but then how would you know, you could torment yourself over impossibilities.

I have regrets, and much more than a few. In fact a veritable cornucopia of regrets from greater to lesser — a film loop of the worst moments of one’s life which plays at inappropriate times. The best moments pale beside them. And wisdom, I am still waiting on that.

But, that’s just me. Some people are very happy being in their fifties, or so they say.

Not me, I became a geezer at 55 and the bad geezer when my nephews caught me smoking a fat boy behind the barn at a family function. It was a boring function. They were completely wacked to catch their old uncle blowing a joint. It amazed them – they had trouble getting their heads around it. Why is it that the young think they’ve discovered everything? Hell, I was dancing with Mary Jane before they were even a twinkle in anybody’s eye. They hee and hawed and finally one of them said, “you are one bad geezer uncle Zeek.” The moniker stuck and gives my family great amusement. My family is like that.

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