Sufficient time has passed. Sufficient smoke has cleared. Sufficient dust has settled.
The story can be told.
As it happened I took that fateful telephone call from Susan on an early November Wednesday in the midst of helping Wax put new “mud” on the walls of the living room in the old farmhouse. I had come back from Mexico to move my mother from an assisted living facility to a full blown care facility. She had begun to fall repeatedly. I had accomplished that while living in the interim in the farmhouse amid the 200 acres of Iowa farm land where I grew up. I was still sending my monthly rent check to Mexico for my little loft apartment there under the spell of the delusion that I was not punching the tar baby here, slowly but relentlessly becoming stuck although not entirely unhappily so.
The farmhouse had sat vacant for a year. The ravages of time had taken a toll. Upon my return I found that the wallpaper in the living room had fallen from the walls and was lying about in little scrolls on the floor. That had been the least of the problems, but as of that Wednesday I had successfully surrounded the others. I called upon my friend Wax, the master wallpaper man, to help me with the living room. He had wallpapered many of the public buildings, including the new public library, down in the city.
I digress now, but I digress for a reason. I cannot capture Wax’s personality with the written word. Anybody who does not know that I am dangerous with a video camera has not been paying attention. For his part, Wax has mentally extrapolated from the indisputable proposition that he is the master of wallpaper hanging to the doubtful proposition that he is the master of interior decorating. This is a video of his initial consultation with me a couple of weeks earlier. This video is laced with obscenities of the most scurrilous sort. You should not watch if that sort of thing offends or if a video that is nearly 12 minutes long (originally intended to be a public television program) will test you:
Ironically, that is Susan’s portrait of me sitting on the mantelpiece of the fireplace.
There was precedent for what was about to occur. That past spring I had taken in Trapper Jack and his dog Daisy for two weeks while he waited for the flood waters to recede so that he could return to his cabin downriver. I do not recall any expression of gratitude for this by Jack. He obviously considered the gesture as his due in return for having added some color to my life.
Then there was penniless Jeff who was trying to reconcile with his estranged wife. They had been living in a camper trailer parked next to the last of the great roadhouses about eight miles downriver. The owner of the camper trailer quite abruptly sold it out from under them. I took them in. They lived here for two months during the summer. It was no problem. They both left for their respective jobs in the morning. Ultimately, Jeff’s efforts to reconcile that marriage came to naught. They both took off again on their separate ways better people for the effort, I like to think. In Jeff’s case, his gratitude has been boundless over the few years since. He has been ever so much help to us in learning how to keep this farmstead wired together.
As a consequence, when Susan explained to me over the telephone that Wednesday morning that she had finally determined to bolt her long term marriage and take me up on my earlier offer of a place to stay until she got her head together and then moved back to Scottsdale or back to Connecticut or back to New York City or back to wherever the fuck, I had no problem with that. I had no real understanding of the ins and outs of the difficulties with her marriage nor did I really care. Nobody on the outside, no one who is not a party to the relationship, can grasp that sort of thing anyway. All I knew was that the unhappiness . . . more accurately, the profound sadness in my friend’s voice was palpable.
Ah, but the practicalities . . . . I was going to have to go into the lion’s den and extract her along with her essentials. The word “essentials” makes me laugh to this day, not to mention the fact that I somehow misunderstood and was under the impression that no dogs would be coming with her. Whatever the case, it was immediately apparent to me that I needed a crew of three other stout rustics and two full-size pickup trucks. Moreover, I had less than 48 hours to put all that together before making the run with the crew in two large, inevitably manure-splattered pickup trucks five plus hours to the south on the following Friday, deep into the snooty Plaza District of Kansas City at midday, and out again with the woman and the loot, all of it without getting killed or caught.
And why did I have no problem with that? He asks himself. Why would a dignified, 66-year-old (at the time) bachelor who had only recently at long last assumed his rightful place among the local landed gentry, a man who was content with his circumstances, at the drop of the dime and with nary a second’s hesitation determine to organize such a caper? At a casual glance from the outside, the whole thing would appear tawdry, akin to the scandal of Paris and Helen of Troy, with the notable exception that Paris was 20 and Helen was 18 at the time.
We are all citizens of God’s own specially blessed republic of the United States of America. That means, if it means anything, that we are free agents if we choose to be. I believe that, although I could be wrong. (I do admit that I am more than a little shaky on the “specially blessed” part.) Therefore, if one of my friends who finds herself in chronically sad circumstances determines to do something about it, rather than merely talk about it interminably, and needs my help to do something about it, then with all of my faults—and they are multifarious– I am all in and cannot help myself. It is not that I am some sort of selfless Galahad. I have several witnesses who will testify that that is not it at all. Rather, it is an utterly selfish thing. It makes me feel good to help a friend who has ultimately gathered the courage to do something about it. You can safely bet your entire net worth that I enjoy feeling good.
[Here I have deleted an entire lengthy closing paragraph detailing how much I enjoy feeling good. I was fond of that paragraph. (Murder your darlings, they say.)]
This is where Wax will come back into the story.
* * * * * * * ** *Come to think of it, the whole thing probably started with this video on my patio in Mexico in early 2012, although I had no idea at the time. I was simply struck by the poem.