it’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to the
not the death of his love
but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left …
– From Charles Bukowski’s “The Shoelace”
My life is a great falling apart. Piece by piece I am at war with a world that is crumbling around me, rising up in revolt, and annoying the shit out of me. It goes like this:
The doorknob slides off in my hand—again, leaving the door still closed and me trapped inside. It will take a screwdriver, reading glasses, and ten minutes to free myself. It’s sunny outside, demanding success like rain never does. It’s easier to stay in.
I trip over the corner of the rug that no matter how I tape it, glue it, or staple it to the pad, it curls up like the tail of a whale and catches me so that it flips back on itself—where I will stomp it to the floor again until the sole of my foot throbs.
A hairline crack appears on the kitchen ceiling, not there yesterday, or last week where it did not threaten to collapse over me while I watched my daughter sift through her morning bowl, comic book before her, still too young to know that ceilings collapse over unsuspecting fathers and daughters at the breakfast table.
A dwarf gardenia so beautiful last year, so fragrant with the single best scent in the world, did not survive a harsh winter. I prune its limbs in an attempt to save it but the plant does not revive. I dig it from the ground and toss it into the green bin. Yard Trash, it says on the side in sloppy, dripping spray paint, my doing.
Paint peels from behind the bathroom sink where water and toothpaste and aftershave and floss gristle and mouthwash and shaving cream and tarry residue from the little pipe I keep in the pedestal drawer splash over it every day. Eventually I will pick at the peeling paint where I’ve scrubbed it bare to remove the detritus of my ablutions and vice.
A drawer slips from its berth when I pull too hard in an effort to free it from the errant cardboard packaging that has caught the frame and prevented me from getting at the nightlight bulbs inside. Tiny bulbs, screws, miniature screwdrivers, and batteries—AA and AAA, fall behind the dryer. I pull at the dryer to see what I can see, an inch at a time until the aluminum foil duct is stretched too far and tears. To get behind the dryer to fix the torn duct with duct tape—what else would I use? I have to slide a tower of metal shelving from its dock. But it is top heavy with an assortment of discarded bottles for coffee and water all of which have some logo, corporate and institutional, and wobble constantly from washer and dryer vibrations but never fall, an Easy-Bake Oven, a coffee can filled with spare change that looks too heavy to move and causes the World Trade Shelves to sway when I struggle to slide them from their dock between wall and dryer. Even as I pull on the rocking metal shelves, I know that items will begin to leap off, one by one or all together. But I know. I know that I should stop and step away before the whole exercise in correction goes south. I scream, more a raging growl, as I pull and slide from side to side until I’m knocked on the head by a plastic bottle, then an aluminum coffee cup. I jerk sideways to avoid further leapers and, in doing so, cause the tower of metal shelves to separate at the top joint leaving the top shelf at a severe tilt. The coffee can of change tips, landing on its side as quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies skate over my head, to the floor, behind and under the dryer. I barely catch a sharp-edged grill tool before it slices my ear off. With one hand, I hold the now separated top shelf, while the other steadies the entire tower. If all goes well, I will only slip on the scattered change as I tiptoe away from the chaos I’ve caused because all I wanted to do was change the little light under the water dispenser on the refrigerator though we don’t really need it, there’s plenty of light in the kitchen.
Rage has become a routine part of each day. I will rage at anything, mostly inanimate objects I feel have conspired against me. And I believe this. But I also know it’s something darker. A murky cloud floats just inches above my head, lightning waiting to strike, waiting to trip me up or cut into my skin or knock my head or tear into the side of my mouth or pierce my gums with its sharp point. Because I am observant by nature (read: some OCD, some hypersensitivity to light and noise), I see everything. Every infraction, every tear in what is right and wrong, every chip and crack, every foulness hiding behind sheetrock ready to sprout mold and eat my house. Every offense. The world is often black and white, and I have trouble seeing the shades of gray. If, while flying, I hear the click of your cell phone as you text, I will give you the finger from behind your seat. Your simple click clack, which you likely don’t even hear, will buzz like a busy buzzing bee around my head, causing my ear to itch. My overhead bin space for a Q-Tip. If it lasts for more than a few minutes, the buzz of your click clack texting, or maybe it’s the boop beep of game playing, will dig its way into my ear canal until I grow twitchy, the drink I’ve already had neither fueling my rage nor assuaging it, unable to read or listen to music (I’ve yet to discover a pair of absolute noise cancelling headphones—and, yes, the Bose and the Sennheiser and the Harmon Kardons), unable to concentrate on anything but the sound of your click clack boop beep, your tinny music leaking through stupid cheap headphones, your music far louder than it really needs to be, ha ha your ears damaged so that one day you won’t be able to hear the lower ranges of some music or parse out what you need from a conversation with a low talker in a noisy bar or the tinny music of a stranger’s music leaking from goddamn cheap headphones.
I will give you the finger in the most aggressive way I can without you noticing. It doesn’t matter that you don’t notice because if the noise continues I will lean my head around your seat and become the asshole you already think I am and ask you to please, the please barely concealing my rage, please recognize not everyone wants to hear that. I don’t even smile because the smile would be so phony that I’d call myself a phony.
It’s nothing personal. I give the finger at least ten times a day. When I’m driving, I toss it out like I’m a pretty girl on a parade float with a bucket full of candy. If you share the road for my commute or the small number of regular routes that I take, I’m sorry. It’s likely you didn’t deserve it. No, that’s not true, you probably did. The finger comes out for the smallest offense. Some of you lift your shoulders in bewilderment. Others throw the finger back reflexively, as if they too have had their middle finger in their lap like a handgun, just waiting for the moment to use it. And that’s my fear, that I’ll leave my wife and daughter and this planet the victim of a road rage incident. I gave you the finger, and you shoot me in the face.
I give the finger to the vacuum electrical cord when it winds itself around my leg like an undernourished python.
I give the finger to the fork in the strainer whose tines poke me when I reach for a spoon.
I give the finger to the back door that pops back open at least 75% of the time I close it.
I give the finger to the TV when the remote won’t respond like I want it to.
I give the finger to the driver who passed me unnecessarily only to scoot in front of me before stopping at the light, his car now only right in front of mine.
I give the finger to Donald Trump, supreme douche, when I stumble across him on cable TV or accidentally hear him on the radio (or not so accidentally as I irrationally seek out said douche just so I can hate him more and marvel at the ridiculously absurd and unkind world). I push it up hard, waving it violently at my television or my car radio as if douchebag Trump can actually see.
I give the finger to the driver who passes me on my bicycle, gunning his car and passing me, yes, but more than that, passing me aggressively, with an arrogant growl, and passing me too fast for the residential neighborhood, you reckless asshole probably talking on your phone, too, just another douchebag, my favorite insult, in part because my daughter never asks me what it means nor does she repeat it, cutting through my neighborhood. I said his because unless it’s a minivan, then the offenders are almost always male. Or a teenaged girl with her hand holding a cigarette out the window so she won’t stink up the car and get in trouble. Oh, and she’s talking on her phone with the other hand. There’s that.
I give the finger to the goddamned Sonicare that sprays toothpaste everywhere when it’s not in my mouth, apparently lacking in a non-spray setting.
I give the finger to the splatter it leaves across my bathroom mirror and every other inch of surface it can find, including the shirt I plan to wear to work.
I give the finger to the line at a new local restaurant and the hour-long wait. Apparently they serve drinks with a laundry list of things that shouldn’t be in drinks. So, the line.
I give the finger to the student who has wasted the short break between classes explaining to me why she hasn’t done the assignment and why she deserves an extension.
I give the finger to the asshole that forces me to get up early on a Sunday morning to retrieve my New York Times so that he won’t have an opportunity to steal it.
I give the finger to the torn screen that lets in mosquitos.
I give the finger to the mosquitos that unavoidably get in the house.
I give the finger to the bite I’ve scratched bloody, which now stains my sheets, my socks, and the shirt I plan to wear to work.
I give the finger to the woman in the grocery store three aisles over who shout-talks into her phone to one friend about another friend who has been acting really like a total depressed beeyotch lately because her boyfriend broke up with her, so that the woman shout-talking in the grocery store three aisles over feels put upon, burdened it seems by the friend’s refusal to just get over him and move on.
I give the finger to the signet ring I’ve worn since my father gave it to me upon high school graduation when it catches, as it almost always does, on anything anywhere it can find.
I give the finger to the sleeping laptop that won’t wake up when I repeatedly tap its keyboard or swipe its track pad.
I give the finger to the laptop now spread dead across the floor in large and small pieces.
I give the finger to the missing screw that should have been in the package of screws that came with the new ceiling fan I’m attempting to install and will give the finger to at least another five to ten times.
I give the finger to the troll who derailed via insult and snark an entire comment section on an article I thought was smart, engaging, and topical.
I give the finger to yet another book whose cover features a pair of women’s shoes or legs or feet or legs dangling from a dock or a picture of a brown hat before a lime green background, or all of the above.
I give the finger to the door jam at school that catches and rips the pocket of my new wool slacks, the ones I decided were worth paying more for because why shouldn’t I wear nice clothes to work?
I give the finger to yet another book title that cleverly subverts pronouns for what has become as clichéd an alternative title as the books whose covers feature a pair of women’s shoes or legs or feet, or all of the above.
I give the finger to the form rejection email I receive following a submission I made a year earlier.
I give the finger to the literary agent or publisher who couldn’t be bothered to send even a form rejection email following a manuscript submission I made a year earlier.
I give the finger to the young woman who lives in a nearby apartment complex and walks her shitty little dog and at least once a week chooses not to pick up what that shitty little dog shitted all over the sidewalk.
I need help. I understand it. I write it out as therapy.
In the mirror, I give the finger to myself.
I don’t want rage to become my default mood, so that my trigger finger is always loaded, always just on the verge of irritation and fury. How do others do it? How do they survive the day without complaint?
I don’t want to sweat the small stuff anymore. I am privileged and blessed in every way. I have no real complaints. I give the finger to my egocentric moaning.
I tried going a whole day without once giving the finger to something or someone. I wanted to look the other way and say, No skin off my teeth, whatever that means, but I gave the finger to the idiomatic phrase whose origin I didn’t understand instead.
The madhouse and death, I’m ready for, clumsiness I’m ready to accept, but not this ceaseless chipping away, this “swarm of trivialities” that precipitate the great falling apart I witness each day. Nothing holds, especially the center, but neither do the cheap plastic pieces or the stripped screws or the elastic waist bands or the desk and kitchen drawer glides or the paint on the sunny side of the house or the loose thread of my sweater.
Sometimes I simply hold my hand aloft, finger saluting whatever irritation might happen to be orbiting me. Anything to keep me from looking in the mirror where I witness the real shoelace snapping: the wilting and graying and wrinkling and spotting and swelling and softening of my aging body.
Photo by Riley