So there I was last Sunday. Waiting, eternally as usual, for my streetcar transfer in the subway underground. Beneath Philadelphia’s City Hall. Trying to go to church to pray. Because when your week has been the hell your demons set loose all you seem able to do is cling onto that thread of faith.
And suddenly the guy sitting next to me, with a lot of his underwear showing, starts screaming and shrieking and slumps off the bench. He is rolling abruptly away from some pain. He is on the cement platform amidst some 70 folks waiting for various streetcars. At 8AM.
Apparently he is wrestling the grips of a seizure.
I didn’t know if this was a full Saint Vitus Dance convulsion. The only other seizure I have witnessed up close and personal was when I was a kid. And this nice, skinny, pale girl, a year ahead of me in school, writhed on the chilly sidewalk. Everyone was standing around helplessly staring. And my father barged through. Pulled off his leather belt. And managed to slip it between her clenching teeth.
All I knew now is that you aren’t supposed to do that anymore.
So I got down next to him and tried to do no harm. I placed a consoling hand on his arm and shoulder. And just tried to reassure him that ‘we’ll ride this out.’
Individuals in the crowd about me were barking instructions to do this! Or don’t do that! One pathetic numb nut even started bellowing for a pillow. “Does anyone have a pillow?!’
But of course. Don’t we all carry pillows with us?
Hmm… In life we allow ourselves to be so unprepared for so much. We don’t know what to do in so many situations. Yet somehow we seem to muddle through. And mostly call 911, which somebody eventually did.
But at the same time, like out of a bad Hollywood script, there was an explosion not 30 feet from us. Louder than July 4th fireworks the boom led to a spreading fire. And heavy black smoke began seeping, then quickly filling the tunnel.
And, naturally, panic followed.
Even though it is inherent in human situations I’ve never really understood panic. That’s not to confess I haven’t done much much more than twitch in a bad situation or two. But as I have witnessed in dire misfortunes about the globe, panic causes tunnel vision. It seems to be a sudden desertion of our senses, and going over the enemy of our imagination. It almost as if your mind starts thrashing, leading you to do something stupid and self destructive.
Perhaps as a private pilot I have better learned to keep my composure – at least five minutes longer than my screaming passengers.
But panic spread like the smoke – even though at a major subway stop like City Hall there are so many accessible avenues of egress.
Nevertheless the crowd screamed, pushed and shoved while running one way. The firemen eventually poured in the other. And double-wide cops started pretending they actually understood the conundrum in the riddle of the donut hole.
And meanwhile everyone seemed too frantically busy to help me carry the ‘seized’ man outta there.
Now I am certainly not that big. I am not overly strong. And I ain’t that brave. But somehow I got the man up. Slung him over my shoulders in a fireman’s carry. And tried to proceed.
Damn! I ain’t done this since one or two of my honeymoons. But this guy was a whole lotta dead weight. Which is not to say that some of my ex-wives weren’t.
Hmm… but I digress.
Fortunately, after about 40 feet the Emergency Medics arrived. And lifted a burden off my shoulders.
But only one.
Like I said: This was only the latest in my week from hell. Obviously I never got to genuflect at the church. So I did the next best thing: I lit up a couple of cigars. In Rittenhouse Park. In the classy center of town.
And as the cigar smoke drifted under the shadow of the trees up towards the mid morning sun I got to reflecting again that the g-ds are sadistic. They enjoy toying with our phobias, anxieties, psychoses and innumerable other shortcomings. Indeed, Earth is a penal colony. We are sent here to serve out our life sentences. And, like I’ve often claimed: there is no devil; it is only g-d when he is drunk.
Obviously being Jewish but attending a black Baptist church for the last 8 years has deeply affected me.
But of course!
The week began with my Mother. She turns 95 this month, and has spent the past year recuperating twice from breaking each hip. She has also had stents implanted in her aging heart.
But mostly Mom is going seriously delusional. She phones me five times a day to ask my phone number. Where I live. And where she lives. Where my brother lives. And she wants to go home to a town that no longer exists, and to her contemporary friends and relatives who no longer live there… or anywhere.
No one is dead when you’re delusional. They are just misplaced in time. It’s like being far out at sea. And not knowing which way to swim back to shore. In a better moment my mother said she understood that metaphor.
But what is far worse is that she realizes her mind is adrift. And she hates being like this. It is unsettling to both of us.
And the g-ds play on.
And then I wrote a note to my brother and sister-in-law who live 20 minutes away from Mom in SanFrancisco and bear the brunt of her responsibility. I thought my email seemed pensive, kind and appreciative. Opening up thoughts for discussion. I thought I was being nice.
But things are rarely what they seem, And my brittle older brother-duh-heart-doc and my sister-in-law-duh-lawyer took some serious offense.
Gee, apparently it’s no secret that I’m no good at trying to be nice.
Also this week a ‘friend’ decided to send me some unkind FaceBook writings from my estranged younger son who the g-ds have challenged with every life threatening malady… and then some. Actually they are obviously the poisoned writings of my ex-wife who is already separated from her latest husband.
But I never should have read the missives.
The g-ds must have enjoyed watching me roar.
Then there is the serious six-figure debt left over from this last ex. I pay on it monthly. But I forgot about a balloon payment that was due in 5 years. Well, last week was five years. And the balloon has more Zeros in it than the darkened sky when the Japanese dive-bombed Pearl Harbor.
Oy-vey-iz-mir! The best thing about being broke again is that no one – even those that owe me a few shekels — really care. Everyone goes glib. And cavalier. It’s like the old joke:
I told my doctor I broke my leg in two places.
He told me to quit going to those places.
The g-ds are screwing me again.
And then Rita, the woman whom I met at a huge fountain pen show five months ago has suddenly written me off. Without even a thankx for the good time, buddy. No note. Nada. I mean we were in each others’… arms… every weekend. And I gotta admit: I was totally seduced. I was planning a future. And she was obviously planning to pass.
And I am left to wonder: What did I do – this time?! Maybe I shouldn’t have told her I was crazy about her. Or perhaps she only heard: “I was crazy…”
Sheesh! No wonder my body is a roadmap of battle scars.
Anyway, this too will pass. The trouble is the gas passes, but the stink always seems to linger.
I gazed upon the cigar smoke drifting up. At those moments enlightenment often strikes.
You are inspired to decipher the cryptic message hidden behind the smoke screens. And for some reason I just started laughing… at myself.
It was the end of the July 4th weekend. And a gust of breeze reminded me that you can only do what you can only do. In other words: You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.
So I’ll make some adjustments. Hell, I shrugged, it’s America. How bad could things really be?
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…