3 Flashes: Smokers, Victims, Midgets and Dwarves
The Marlboro Man, a cliché on a cliché horse, rides through the canyon. The gun is real, the bullet real, his depression real. Several generations ago, I came to Wyoming to kill myself. Well before I was born, I was destined to die by my own hand. I leave a custom guitar, built by my brother, bloody rosewood, shaped in his shop.
Cottonwoods quarrel on the banks of the river, humans quarrel on downtown streets, in bars, in bedrooms. I leave a quarrelsome species.
I rearrange my motley collection of guitar picks on top of my dresser, as if they were arrowheads found in a field. My death was a glint in my great-grandfather’s eye. My great-grandmother made a quilt to keep her bones warm. She was always cold, a cold woman, said my grandpa, who had her for a mother.
Smoking damages the tissues in your penis, but Viagra makes it all right, like Jesus died for your sins. You can sin, and then repent, make it all right again in God’s eyes. You can take the little blue pill, you can bring a woman to orgasm, afterwards lay propped up in bed enjoying a cigarette together. You’ll never see her again. She’ll never see you again.
Smoking damages a lot of body parts. The airplane doesn’t allow it. You can’t disable the sensor in the toilet. The flight attendant watches you as if she knows that smoking is your healthiest vice. She is fresh from martial arts training, knows how to control people in tight spaces, how to neutralize their bad intentions. She itches to try out her new skills. You live in a small space in a large world.
My rental car doesn’t allow smoking. I open all the windows to the hot desert air. The tip of my cigarette is no hotter. For the first time in weeks I relax.
J. Robert Oppenheimer died at sixty after smoking four packs of unfiltered Chesterfields a day all his life. He built The Bomb , then got blacklisted for being a commie. No matter how good you are, no matter how bad, they’ll get you. Like Dylan said: Everybody must get stoned. He also said: It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
I serve ice cream to children. It’s my job. Even with my PhD, it was the best I could get. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’d rather serve children than the Devil or the Lord.
J Robert Oppenheimer’s daughter hung herself from the rafters of the family’s beach cottage in St. John, Virgin Islands. She hung there for a while until she was found. Her ex-husband—did he attend her funeral? I think not.
Somewhere , J. Robert Oppenheimer’s daughter’s ex-husband resides in the world, unless he also has died by his own hand, or by someone else’s. Maybe he was in front of the supermarket listening to Congresswoman Gabby Gifford when she got shot in the head. Maybe he got shot to death too.
J. Robert Oppenheimer, a heavy smoker and a guy who messed around with radiation, died at 60 after the House Un-American Activities Committee fucked him over. They ruined his life said his daughter. She was a woman who had a hard time with relationships. Finally she hung herself from a rafter of the family’s beach cottage in the American Virgin Islands. Later the cottage was blown away by a hurricane. Things come into being, then go out of being, but the legacy of destruction and the threat of nuclear annihilation remains.
She teaches black children in a rural ghetto. Every morning she drives from her ruined house through the forest primeval in her Subaru, which the commercials say means Love. She and her husband live in their cellar. She feels more like a rat than a human. They drink and take drugs to get to sleep. The blades of the turbines around their house spin and spin, and the turbine symptoms have about killed them. Pressure in their ears and head, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Others have abandoned their property, but they have animals they can’t leave. They have fewer animals now than they had. Men on snowmobiles, who didn’t like their criticisms of the power company, came and poisoned their dogs. She and her husband found them in the snow, blood from their mouths and noses, so red in the snow, the ground too hard with winter to bury them.
Peg has gone back to Winnipeg. She was short and thin and her husband was tall and corpulent. They were like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, except that they weren’t creative. They were retired administrators who thought they were smarter than everyone else. Peg and her corpulent husband were part of the group until they alienated everyone with their self-satisfied smugness, their overweening sense of superiority, which of course masked a sense of inferiority, which everyone understood and felt compassion for, until Peg and her husband’s obnoxiousness became too much too tolerate. They refused to play cards, one of the group’s foundation activities. They intimated that playing cards was a pastime for morons. So gradually they were pushed out of the group. They were thought of with distaste and/or disdain. Members of the group remained polite to them, but nothing more.
When Peg’s corpulent husband had a heart attack and died, Peg went back to Winnipeg where she’d spent her childhood by a lake in an unpainted farmhouse with her aunt.
In this infra-human world of fedoras my grandfather rests in peace. He never had peace in this country. He missed his home town but he knew he had to get out. Everyone who’d stayed there had been murdered, all but one of his nine siblings. The men who got him his job in this country were extorting money from him every paycheck. He had terrible kidney stones. He never had kidney stones back home, and even though his wise and compassionate wife told him that the stones were a function of age, not place, he didn’t accept that.
He was depressed. He yelled at his kids. His kids came to hate him. They refused to go to his funeral.
Midgets and Dwarfs
Mayans are small people, but the Mayan midget who works in the ancient convent is no smaller than other midgets I’ve seen. He tells me that four Franciscan monks still live in the convent. I ask him why the church has put monks there, and not nuns. He makes up answers to a lot of questions, but this time he says he doesn’t know.
You can hear the monks giving mass in the morning, and you can see them if, as an atheist, you violate their sanctuary.
I’ve never personally known a midget, and only one dwarf, a guy in high school. A foxy slut was balling him. She was a new arrival from Texas, our Janice Joplin—she had a lousy voice and fronted a band, but also had California blond hair and a willowy body, but she took too many drugs, and later her looks were ruined. I guess she was turned on by my classmate’s dwarfism. Maybe she liked the idea of being his “arm candy” though, owing to their disparity in size she was never literally on his arm. But he was also handsome and a nice guy, also very strong and a good and dirty fighter. I guessed he was a good lover. All us guys envied him for the nookie he was getting every day after school—her parents worked until late. Still, none of us wanted to be a dwarf.
J Robert Oppenheimer died at sixty after smoking heavily and disturbing atoms. J. Linda Hoskins, a high school classmate, also died at sixty after receiving a degree in Anthropology, working as an adjunct instructor, and being denied a tenure track position. She had good genes. Her father was strong as hell, her brother a bodybuilder. In high school she performed feats of strength for our amusement, but she stroked out anyway, at 60.
The strongest woman in the world got cancer, she revealed on a TV commercial. Under her words were the questions: What did I do wrong? What did I do to deserve this? But the Cancer Centers of America made everything right. Their facilities look like the headquarters of the future World Government that right-wing nuts obsess about.
Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois’ poems and fictions have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He is a regular contributor to The Prague Revue, and has been thrice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available from Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition.