Sometimes people ask me, “What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever seen in the hospital?” The answer to this one is easy: nothing. The lights went out. My job was prepping patients for outpatient surgery, and I was standing by the nurses’ station. Without so much as a flicker, every light in the OR died, throwing us into utter darkness, the kind that only exists on the inside of sealed vessels. I began to count off the seconds, thinking, there must be backups, batteries, generators, something. Metal doors slammed closed around us: normally they were held open by electromagnets, and their circuits had failed, too. There were patients in surgery – how many? Three or four, probably, open right now. Even if I’d known where the ward flashlight was, I could not have found it. How many flashlights were there, for all surgery? Nine seconds and still no light. A young nurse gave voice: “Oh, God. Oh, my God.” An older nurse cut off the panic before it could find spread: “Be quiet!” And then the lights came on. Fourteen seconds. I had kept very good count.
Simon, it had to be said, was getting on in years. In his senescence he could not jump as well as he used to, and while petting him was not yet like fondling a hairy bag of knuckles, he was distinctively leaner than he had been. He couldn’t retract his front claws very well, either, so one Sunday afternoon he got them stuck in the new carpet just inside Shannon’s bedroom door. Being a equanimous cat, he accepted this turn of events with dignity and settled down for a nap.
Unfortunately for Simon and his plan (insofar as any feline can be said to be capable of such a thing), his gracefully-endured ignominy had been witnessed by two men in their early twenties so utterly bored out of their minds they had even briefly entertained the concept of playing Monopoly. This option, previously rejected on the solid grounds that the only thing more boring than Monopoly is Monopoly with only two players, was resuscitated when my brother and I saw the possibility of a third, unwilling participant.
(At this point, I would like to point out that Simon the cat is long gone. So for those of you properly horrified at the coming tale of animal abuse, it is many years too late to call the Humane Society.)
In the blink of my mind’s eye (for in my memory the board and pieces materialize as if conjured), we laid the game out in front of the unprotesting animal and dealt out cash for all three of us. (My brother was banker, and chose the boot; as always, I insisted having the racing car as my champion. It goes faster, you see.) I explained to my brother the idea I’d had to make our three-handed game possible: every time a decision was called for by the player not capable of such a thing, the physical consequences of the two options would be presented to him on either side of his head, in his peripheral vision. Whichever he inclined to first would indicate his choice.
(An aside: I do not think I have played a thousand different games in my life, but I would be surprised if it was far south of five hundred. While I am not an incisive critic of games by any means, I have had experience with many different forms, with different varieties, many with mechanics simple and powerful enough to engage disparate mental faculties in a nuanced synthesis of cognition. Monopoly is not one of these games. In fact, and here I think I can speak with some authority, and while the game has some misguided defenders, Monopoly fucking sucks.
Monopoly fucking sucks not because it is too random – Snakes and Ladders is a fine game for young children, who can play with adults on equal terms. But Monopoly seems determined to draw the tedium out, with steel tongs if necessary. The decisions one makes in the game are either ultimately irrelevant or one option is so transparently superior the choice is not really one all. In conclusion: Monopoly should not be inflicted on children or any other beings sentient enough to have attention spans. This, fortunately, did not include our cat, and my brother and I were of course inflicting this suffering upon ourselves.)
My brother and I play Monopoly (when we are so inclined, i.e., almost never) fairly straight. That is, we do not use any house rules, with the sole exception that unpurchased properties are not auctioned by the bank. Being possessed of fingers and not, at any rate, completely ensnared in the broadloom, we did the various small duties the game demands – make change, roll the dice, move his token (dog) – on Simon’s behalf. When he landed on a property he could afford to purchase, we would offer the money from his own till on one side and the representing deed on the other. (Later, my we would suggest tactics like buying houses or mortgaging properties to raise cash.) What thoughts went through his mind, if any, we were not privy to, but in all cases he would eventually deign to sniff, contemplate or nod at one or the other. During this process my brother and I would discuss Simon’s grasp of the situation, his acumen, his possible long-term strategy.
It soon became clear he was pulling ahead. In fact, cleaning our clocks, from the face and hands all the way down to the tiniest internal cog.
(Another aside: I wish to clarify the previous aside. I dislike playing Monopoly intensely, and this has nothing to do with the fact that my brother and I had been taken to school by a goddamned cat – a cat still renowned in family lore for his mindfogging stupidity, so stupid that, when finished feeding and presumably satiated, you could pick him up, pet him a few times, put him back down again and he would immediately recommence eating – no fewer than seven times in a row.)
The game, like most games of Monopoly, gradually petered out as it became clear that even in collusion my brother and I had little chance of overtaking our ostensibly evolutionary inferior. We conceded that sizable forebrains and opposable thumbs had not enabled us to prevail, that the loss was not necessarily due to pure chance, and that we had been beaten fair and square.
The cat and my brother are both now long dead: in Simon’s case, painful arthritis that made him unable to jump up to get his food made it necessary to put him down; my brother, unfortunately, was all too able to jump into the implacable waters of Niagara Falls. But for a while, we played Monopoly, and managed to even have fun doing it.
Up against a world so high and mighty that one day it will never fall,
I edge my way between the twin pillars and never look up.
For in looking up is the primordial error; all aspirations are overloomed
by the shadow of the world so great and wide it demands all attentions.
Better to throw paint at a wall and call that painting.
Every once in a while popular culture sneaks up on me while I am napping. Usually, it just puts my finger in a bowl of warm water and leaves me to embarass myself, like the time when I asked aloud if Jessica Simpson was a cartoon character. Other times it grabs me by the elbow and shouts “BOO!” in my ear at a volume and pitch that leaves me twanging like a guitar string. When that happens, I can’t move my bowels comfortably for the rest of the day.
This time, though, I think I have the advantage of it. I am on top of things. I have Wikipedia. I could watch Hulu, if I wanted to. (I don’t have the patience for video any more. Print offers more immediate gratification.)
Therefore, it has come to my attention that there exists a person, suspected to be an adult male, named ‘The Situation’. I can only imagine this is not his birth name, since surely this enormity would have been corrected by force of law soon after his birth. While the thought of some black-clad squad of humourless federally-employed goons bashing a new mother, exhausted and spent from her labours, over the head with a truncheon until she changes the name of her newborn son is certainly an appealing one, it is much more likely that the bearer of the name actually chose the moniker out of his own free will, ow what he thought was his own free will.
Let me make it clear: I have no problem with people choosing their own names, even nonstandard ones they made up themselves. I merely ask that when they do, they do not include the definite article, do not choose one that is five syllables long and do not choose one that sounds like a sports news program or something from Kim Possible.
Using the definite article in a proper name reeks of attempted self-aggrandizement. Anyone who does so without the power to send armed soldiers to beat you into submission is trying too hard. (If they do have the power to send soldiers to beat you, then plainly they can call themselves ‘Anthony The Great’ or whatever.) No one is allowed to use ‘the’ in their own name. Someone else can give it to you, but no bribery must be involved.
The length of this travesty is also a serious problem. (Not as serious a problem as people who use ‘issue’ to mean ‘problem’, but still a problem, nonetheless.) Most names, as used, are one or two syllables, with the occasional iconoclast insisting on proper pronunciation of their three-syllable names. We rightly hate and shun these people. “The Situation’ is asking us to say five full syllables – that, or he is willingly allowing people to call him ‘Sitch’. I think it risible that anyone would allow themselves to be called something so easily rhymed with itch, bitch, witch, and ditch. ‘Sitch snitch on Kuchinich bitch ‘: the headlines write themselves.
Finally, there is the annoying ambiguity. Anyone subjected to this travesty of a name is forced to wonder: what situation is being referred to? Is this an oblique reference to the economy? Is it coyly self-referential, giving a name to the situation of being introduced to someone who willingly calls themselves The Situation? Is it a good situation or a bad one?
I have just got off the phone from with the FBI branch office in Tor0nto and – unfortunately – there is no provision in their budget for a squad of black-clad jack-booted thugs to force this man to change his name. This is a sad state of affairs, because without proper employment jack-booted thugs are going to have gay bashings or Kristallnachts or something. It is plain, then, that The Situation is A Problem (but not an Issue), and as things stand there is no agency with the power to change it.
This is true.
I was going through old files on my memory sticks, deleting redundant files. On my oldest I saw a bunch of music files in the root directory, selected them and deleted them. Somewhere among them was my novel, and most of my writing. I had assumed it was in the directory called “Backup.” It was not.
Usually, there is a vertiginous moment that comes the instant I have committed some incomparable, irreparable blunder such as this. All reality gives a half-twist and my stomach follows, even while the realization is still preconscious. This did not happen; I only had a flat, cold-marble-slab feeling, while my brain came up with half-truths: it’s not that big a deal. It wasn’t that good. It was going nowhere anyway.
Long story short, I managed to recover most of what I’d lost with the aid of a hastily-purchased commercial undelete program. The reason I could not recover everything was that I used WinRar to bundle the files, and the recovered archives were corrupted. I could only uncorrupt the files from the summer of 2005; unless I spend more money, everything I did in 2006 may be lost to me. If I had not been so religious with saving old redundant backups, I might be in far worse shape.
An unfinished piece, written mainly for practice. A couple of themes could be developed.
We are standing, waiting for the elevator in the hospital. I am going upstairs to pick up a juvenile cancer patient, so I have my wheelchair, folded so I can drive it with one hand. Though much of the second floor has been renovated, the area surrounding the C-wing elevators remains an island of decay, holding out stubbornly against the small army of fit dusky men the hospital employs to perform constant surgery upon itself. Plywood barriers and construction signs serve to separate this area of peeling green paint and worn linoleum from the newly-renovated sections of the hospital: stainless steel with matched blonde and brunette wood veneer panelling.
When I write, I want to write something that does to your emotions what a runaway SUV does to a holiday crowd. I want it to twist and roll and what it does in a moment can never be undone. I want to make you fall in love with someone doomed, to gasp in awe at their triumphs, to worry yourself to the point of anguish over their failings until you want to scream into the page for them to stop doing the things that made you love them. I want to draw something down from the heavens, terrible in its majesty, inevitable yet capricious in who it spares and who it takes. Read more…