Three Girl Rhumba

I’ve been experimenting with drugs for our pets, for a 14-hour international flight next week where they’ll sit in the cargo hold while I read a first draft of my memoir on the plane. I crush the drugs, dilute them in a plastic dosing cup and fold them into the wet food for the cats. The dog just swallows the pills whole.

I sit and watch, and wait. We note how the fog makes the tree tops mysterious, how I never noticed those trees until just now.

Ginger looks quizzical, eyebrows shifting to and fro, eyebrows tapping Morse, her face long and conical, an Indian petroglyph now, sand-colored, flickering. She yawns and puts her head down, looks sad. Sometimes I have bad dreams too, Ginger.

It was 1987 and The Cure had just put out Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. We had that tape and one other, John Denver’s Greatest Hits Vol. II: we had those two tapes, my dad and I, for a drive across the U.S., about 7,000 miles, maybe more. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.

The year before, we’d done the trip with my dad’s brother Jim and my dad’s colleague Hartman. Hartman had a first name but everyone just called him Hartman — that was a Pennsylvania Dutch thing, to just use the last name.

The four of us camped and tooled around the American Southwest, looking at petroglyphs and cooking hot dogs over the campfire, boiling them in canned beer, farting.

Hartman took me aside and told me a story about a time he was hitch-hiking as a kid, some really bad thing happened, something that kind of defined him that he needed to tell me (a 16-year-old) for some reason.

Perhaps he hadn’t told anyone else, it was his darkest secret: he got picked up by some guy who wound up being terribly odd, took Hartman to his house, then when Hartman woke up the next morning he had put something in Hartman’s mouth and made him keep it there.

Hartman was a state champion wrestler with thick calves and an erect, military posture. He always wore a well-rimmed cap, sometimes chewed an unlit cigar. He surveyed the area before we camped and often went ahead by himself, to scout the trail. For some reason, a rift developed between my dad and Hartman and there was a lot of the trip the two didn’t talk, it was beyond me, perhaps they were concealing something.

Hartman and I were in Rocky Mountain National Park philosophizing about nature and God and the wonder of things, and Hartman said I was pretty wise for my age: Imagine how wise you’ll be someday when you’re old as me? Probably a lot more so.

The vet’s eyes are disproportionately big and she talks with a squeaky voice like a character in an animated film, one of the characters you can’t tell if you can trust yet. The drugs don’t seem to be working on the cats: they should be seeing clouds, she says.

One of the cats (they are sisters) is being restrained by the vet’s assistant, who’s got her fist balled up on the cat’s neck, but the balance of power is shifting like grains of sand through a stem, and Roxy’s eyes are going blank, that center in the brain that’s instinctive, that says KILL — and she breaks free and spins in the air and it’s so fast no one saw what happened, the vet’s assistant is just covering her arm and turning red now with anger or embarrassment, perhaps at me laughing: but I wasn’t laughing at her, I was laughing at Roxy’s face. Or maybe I was. The vet with the big eyes says we’re just going to waive the temperature check and I nod, yes. Deep down, I’m proud of Roxy for bucking the system.

On that trip I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but don’t remember any of it, didn’t understand a word, just thought I should read it while we’re driving out West. I try On The Road but can’t get through it, there’s too much to see in the trees, outside of the book.

My phone makes chimes and I reach for it instinctively, just like a rat would for more sugar, to tap the feed bar. I’m half-way through Brave New World, to see what a 50,000 word book feels like, how it flows, since that’s the length of my memoir, or will be when the first draft is done, next week.

He wrote the book in 1931, when they still hyphenated to-morrow. Tomorrow (the future) was made to look a terribly confined, fractured, vapid place driven by industry, the need to control, to manipulate our thinking.

Tonight, Anthony and I go see the band Wire in Seattle, the band known for angular guitars: angular guitars best described as herky-jerky, inspiring an agitated, nervous feeling that makes you just want to jump backwards in the air, spin, cut something, feel alive, overcome by the anger and lust in it.




Categories: music

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16 replies

  1. I read this with Elbow playing in the background. It’s a good soundtrack. But my question is: how come I’ve never listened to Elbow. They seem right up my downbeat alley.
    I was baffled by Zen etc. but, like you, felt like I should read it. Maybe now at 50 rather than 25? Nah…
    50,000 words, eh? But what if they’re extra-long words? (Please don’t make them extra-long words.)
    Enjoy Wire.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I couldn’t get into Zen either. I made it through On The Road but I wasn’t on the road like you were, I was in my apartment.

    So next week begins the year abroad? I envy you, sir. I wish I were doing that. Instead I’m driving 14 hours this weekend to Texas. We’re leaving Ohio forever and my wife couldn’t be happier. That will automatically up the happiness of the rest of us. I hope you continue to do this bloggy thingy while you’re away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you are leaving Ohio forever and that will up the happiness quotient for you. If you think of it, drop a note sometime via email to let me know what you’re up to work-wise, and your plans there – just curious.

      Yes I’m going to Germany next week but just to convey the pets. So four of us are flying, and I’m leaving the animals there, staying for a week, and flying back. Our larger family will go back over there at the end of July and stay for about 9 months. It does sound enviable I suppose, but isn’t altogether real yet – I am very excited, for sure. We are going to spend 3 months in the UK over the winter, which I’ve managed to romanticize in my mind. Thanks for your kind note about the bloggy thing and yes, for sure I’ll be doing that – probably more so. I’m lucky to have cool readers like you hoss, so thank you.


  3. I am glad to hear this outpouring of agreement over Zen. I remember feeling kind of dumb because I found the whole thing dull and incomprehensible. I always think it’s my fault. Not the fault of the author. I tried reading Ulysses and almost jumped out a window.

    I feel bad for pets. Look what we do to them. We’re not nice. My dog is on Prozac. Tough shit. She shouldn’t have bit me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah don’t get me started on your dog. That touched a nerve for me too, that post of yours with the stitches. Ulysses: I think I would jump out of a window too. I was lucky (I guess) to have been hand-walked through it by a lovely professor in Erie, PA. I was drunk on Joyce, couldn’t get enough of it one winter — read everything he wrote except the play, and connected with it on some level. But Ulysses, I don’t know. It’s funny, we always think it’s our fault. I like that insight. Really enjoyed your post from today too.


  4. Did you see what happened to Johnny Depp’s pets in Australia? (Snuck them into the country, the Minister of Agriculture/Little Dogs said he would kill them if they weren’t gone in 50 hours, Depp rented a private plane and flew the dogs home…)

    Zen and the Art of… tried it, quit.
    On the Road…read it, don’t remember much of it.
    Brave New World…read it a long time ago and I don’t want to read it again even though it is commonly taught in high school.

    I am a bit envious of your use of fragmentary imagery in your writing, must be the poetry influence.


    • Why do you think Brave New World is commonly taught in high school? Just curious, if you’d share your opinion on that. News about Johnny Depp’s pets is funny, though it reminds me of something I’d read at the checkout stand, at the QFC. Thank you for the note on the imagery and your thoughts on those other books too. What was it about Zen and the Art? Perhaps a fad, or just a curious title.


  5. I learned to pill a cat when our last one got wise to crushed pills and stopped eating wet food. Every morning I wrap our asthmatic boy cat in a blanket and pop a pill (sometimes 3) down his throat. And he doesn’t even get to get high, though I let him keep his paws out and I swear he doesn’t hate the fussing part. He once shredded the vet’s shirt and I secretly felt vindicated because we spend so much money there, though the vet is a dear.

    I enjoyed switching between vet visit and road trip here. Different scenes and moods and characters and I like the way they fit together.


    • “Pill a cat,” that sounds funny – I like it. Good for you for doing that for your boy cat, that sounds like hell. My cats just turn to jelly in my hands, can’t keep hold of them.

      Thanks for commenting on the scene switches, and glad you thought they fit together Kristen. Hoping I’m getting your name spelling right because I’ve known some Kristins/Kristens who get ticked off if you screw up the spelling. I’m just a Bill. Cheers —


      • The only time I haven’t been at least secretly offended by a misspelling or mispronunciation is when my friend’s dad said “how the hell should I know what we’re doing on Christmas!” My friend had asked if she could go to a sleep over at my house (it was July). So I do appreciation your attention to detail and care, Bill. And you too could learn to pill a cat. My boy was purring in his blanket burrito this a.m., and not the angry/stressed kind. Perhaps we’ll make a series of YouTube videos and market a common couch throw under a clever name.

        Liked by 1 person

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