• man on show fourteen below •
Fourteen blow, I mean, below, F…F…Fahrenheit. It is the middle of the night. I can’t feel my feet.
My nose hairs are freezing in my nose, startling to this South Texas boy, (a new sensation) which I find strangely amusing. At this age (shall we say, over fifty), new sensations are diverting, if not altogether wonderful.
The gout, I could do without.
It’s funny what passes through your mind, when you’re just…standing around, not really doing very much of anything. Some things, that are fairly silly, some, that are deadly serious. You may have noticed this, yourself, from time to time. Nobody likes to think of the consequences of our occasional silliness. Ditto, this, for me.
[Gertrude Stein, on her deathbed, dying. The love of her life, Alice B. Toklas, is at her side, holding her hand, looking intently at Ms. Stein’s pale face, and at her pallid lips, desperately, importuning, “Tell me…what is the ANSWER, dear Gertrude, what…is…the ANSWER?”
Ms. Stein, being rather annoyed, perhaps at being interrupted, as it happens, being rather busy getting on with this business of, say, dying – sighs deeply, then, opening her eyes, and taking in the bereaved Ms. Toklas, quips, “What is the QUESTION!?”]
What IS the question? What is all this preoccupation with ‘meaning’, with ‘purpose’? Would life really be meaningless if it inherently MEANS nothing, intrinsically? What’s the big deal? Isn’t that asking a bit much, I mean, really.
Can’t life just be fun, I mean, can’t it be? The simple pleasure of an awesome meal, in good company. Pleasant conversation. Creme brûlée. Good coffee. Arabica beans. All by it’s lonesome. No saving grace. No homily. Isn’t that worth the trip?
Great. Now, my stomach’s growling.
[My ‘inner director’, is running a movie in my head. I hear a young Matthew Penn over the intercom: “I’m dyin’, here! We’re losing the audience. Run the clip, ‘Poor Flick’. Reel two. On my cue: three…two…one…go!”
…’A Christmas Story’. That kid, Flick, is in the Elementary schoolyard with his tongue stuck to the flagpole, on a dare, from his ‘best buddies’. He is struggling, growing increasingly frantic, unable to get free, his tongue stretched to the limit. The bell rings. School is starting.
His friends have abandoned young Flick, where he stands, and are filtering back to the school building, hands in pockets, whistling. All but Ralphie, and he is considering his options. The bell has rung. Seeing he only has seconds left, Flick begins begging, hysterically.
“Thon’t leath ne!” He pleads.
“The bell rang!” Says Ralph, as he slumps away.
Leaving Flick in the cold, inextricably stuck, to the flagpole, by his tongue, naturally. His arms are flailing.
Back in the building, the students are taking off their coats, finding their seats. The teacher is doing a head count. Then, concerned, comes the dreaded query:
“Where’s Flick?” asks she.
The children are universally averting their eyes, mostly up, and to the left, never a good sign.
She tries again.
“Has anybody seen Flick?”
(Voice over: “Flick? Flick who?”)
Then, tentatively, a beribboned redhead points, with her pink little finger, in the general direction of, ‘outside’. The teacher rushes to the window, as does the rest of the class. Screams ensue, and peals of laughter. A general hullabaloo.
Sirens wail. Long shot of a big red truck: the entire volunteer fire department, to the rescue, through the driving snow. Poor Flick!]
There are certain kinds of cold, like, say, now, at fourteen below, when normal everyday things start to act differently. Like, the nylon shell of your ski jacket, should you be wearing one, when you move your arms, starts to kind of crackle, instead of being slithery, like a bowl of Rice Crispies, with the milk poured on. Crackle, crackle. Creepy. Weird. Still, it’s just physics. No big deal, I mean, on the grand scale. Just an idiot, in his underwear, in the middle of the night, in the town square, hanging by his tongue, from the flag pole. No biggie. Could’ve happened to anybody.
No, not really. This requires a certain sort of curious. Yeppers.
I can’t feel my feet. Oh, I said that, already. Fourteen below, that’s what the lights on the bank says.
I try to wiggle my toes, but they’re so numb, I can’t tell if they’re doing it.
The quiet is astonishing. Nothing stirring, not even a mouse. It’s sort’a sweet. Small town life. everybody knows everybody. All is pretty much as it should be, at four a.m.. Anybody with half a brain – is nestled in it’s snuggly burrow, it’s safe little nest, cuddled up in it’s warm little bed, happily. Only an idiot would be out in this kinda cold. Only a compete idiot. That must be it. Honestly.
[The delusion of ‘scientific curiosity’, so modern, so skeptical: I must see for myself, absolutely. Such the individualist. Whoopee. Can’t just believe the movie, me. No way.
Poor Flick, my butt. Stand aside, Mythbusters. Long live Scientific Inquiry!
I like that show. Stirring my curiosity. I blame them, those pasty science whores, those bespeckled deceivers, those Einstein wannabes. Herr Heineman, Doctor Savage, so daring, so intrepid. Well, gentlemen, top this for dedication! On three!]
I don’t want to die. Helloooo?
(The Darwin Awards, heard of it? The ‘top’ one hundred horrifyingly embarrassing ways of accidentally killing yourself, in which, stupidity on a grand scale is a deciding factor, where you fall in the countdown, and they publish your name, post-mortem, and you are suddenly famous, for a day. Me, personally, I’m shooting for forty-two. (Thank you, Douglas Adams, for Life, the Universe, and Everything.) No need to be number one. I’m not competitive, that way. Forty-two’s good. Just stick me in about mid-way. Just kinda average stupid, fair to middlin’ dumb.
I could live with that, except, of course, for being dead, and missing out on all the fun.
Still, it’s pretty funny, I have to admit. Our little local paper, The Daily Examiner. The headline reads, ‘Mythbuster’ Wannabe Found Dead in Town Square’ Proves Old Adage: Stupid is as Stupid Does.”
Famous for a day, the talk of the town: dollars to donuts,they’re all either snickering or shaking their heads, by nine a.m., in banks, and diners, and grocery stores, and in beautician’s bays, and schools, and churches, and gas stations, all over town, in fact, except for Barbara, maybe, that white-haired neighbor lady, who’ll say, for the record, to reporters on T.V.: “I’m not surprised at all. I knew he had a screw loose. Did you know, get this… he used a BLOW DRYER. A GROWN MAN! Can you imagine? It was always the same, I could hear him, up there, in the apartment above me. First, with the shower, and then, the blow dryer! It’s always that way, with the quiet ones. Fruity.”)
(You know, hypothermia is not all that bad. Getting sleepy.)
[Aphorisms, starting with, ‘colder than’, spring to mind. Wonder what Dan Fogelberg would have done with it. Lyrics form themselves in my mind to the tune of his big hit, ‘Longer’: “Colder than…the proverbial well-digger’s ass, in Montana…” (nobody can cram as many syllables into a single line like Fogelberg), “…I am in dove with you. I am in dove with yoooooou!”
Try saying ‘love’ without the tip of your tongue. Go ahead, I’ll wait. See? Not so easy. The best I can do, under the circumstances, is ‘dove’.
Oh, man, now that song is stuck in my head. Oh. You’re welcome.
Dirty Dan. Dan the Man. Greatest love song ever, but I’m done.]
Wouldn’t it just have to be a flagpole. I can just hear the County Coroner, a notorious Queen, looking up at me, hanging there, blue as the Danube, ‘in situ’, as it were, like a trussed up turkey, and him clucking gaily to the Police Department photographer, as, with his camera, he is clicking away, merrily: “Oh, myyyyy. Vaguely phallic, wouldn’t you say? ‘Tsk!’ And so young, and handsome.’Tis a pity!”
(Just great. It couldn’t have been a mailbox, or an open bed truck, or, even an iron bridge. Something that “spans the miles, majestically.”)
Nope. Not for me. No way.
(Think what the Freudians will make of this. Or, that other one, with the funny name I can never remember, probably because he doesn’t come with a “slip”, or for that matter, IN one. Jung!
Karl Jung, that’s the one. He would, no doubt, have some insightful wisdom, to apply, to such a case, but what, I wonder.
“Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and…sometimes, not.”
That’s IT?!! REALLY?!!)
Okay, I’ll say it. I don’t want to die, at least, not THIS WAY. Not –
‘Like this.’ So there. Geez. How cliché.
(‘Could be worse, I guess. I could be found dead, hanging by my tongue, AND wearing a bra and panties. That’d do it. Silver linings, see? It’s not all bad.)
[My brain is going. It’s like a dream: The entire cast of ‘Bambi’, frozen on a crystal lake, little fauna-mannequins, like so many fuzzy popsicles, posed, in ghastly mid-skate, all in a row. They never knew what hit ’em. Except for young Thumper – from the corner of his mouth, you can just hear him squeak, “OIL…CAN! OIL…CAN!” Merrily.
And, hey! There’s Thumper’s mom, wearing a babushka, and a grimace, in a posture of utter derision, gaping at me, the centerpiece, and, as one might expect, speaking volumes, saying nothing at all, as it “wouldn’t be nice”.]
Any questions? Yes, you in the back. “Why, in the name of God, did I come out here, in the middle of the night, on the coldest night of the year, wearing nothing but pajamas, a house coat, and fluffy shoes?”
Oh my! You missed, “while no one was looking,” and, “with no possible hope of being found, and rescued, should the very worst happen,” – “what of recovery?”
“That’s a very good question…”
“I’m glad you asked.” I’d say.
“Well, isn’t it obvious? If anybody were to see me, and the worst should happen, wouldn’t I look foolish.”
I might be embarrassed.
I sure showed them.
Thinking, always thinking.
~ Tim Burchfield