The Bell Tower

bell tower underpainting









I happened on a room or a suite at the top of a building with little areas dotting the luxurious but otherwise spare penthouse apartment.

In the room, various individuals were standing and talking to each other. When I passed one, a man. He stood above what appeared to be his belongings and his name was Tom. He was taller, a bit red-faced, pudgy. He wore a plaid, long-sleeved Pendelton. He was balding but I could tell his hair was brown. He looked over at me as I was coming toward the group, but he continued his conversation: “As an entire country, we are being brain-washed, within the confines of a mass media, we’ve been told what to believe, how to look at the world. Although our eyes, ears, and mouths are the same, we still think a certain way that is controlled. My belief in God was laid across my brain as an early teething blanket destined to calm my fears, which were great, where I knew I needed my mother and father.”

There were beds, actually, mattresses on the floor, say a lamb’s skin throw rug here and a little lamp on the floor over there. You had to be careful when stepping through the obstacle course of these belongings. It was like a dorm room for adults. It turned out that the people were living there. Total strangers had come together with barely any belongings, and they would have parties and they would invite other strangers and I noticed a packet of candy with my name on it and a list of email addresses of people I knew. It was like someone had gone on my computer and printed them out. They were apparently being passed around as if I were the host of the party, but I didn’t know any of these people.

Tom continued speaking: “My mother asks in her late age, why she’s still in the hospital and I tell her, it is because of her Alzheimer’s and that is because she never used the mathematical side of her brain. And now, she’s further indoctrinated by the television, which provides her with a conservative view of everything, or frankly it doesn’t matter because so long as it sells fear, the television stations are fine because then the products will be sold as the answer to their loss of safety and control, but then we are never really in control…”

Someone I know from the past, Mark, says: “All of them were part-time workers, working at various companies, but were connected by the idea of harvested e-mail addresses. They would have dinner and even sex together, in this seeming business financial district frat house of temporarily-employed people. I looked out the windows, which were apparently one-way mirrors and saw a man, who seemed to be running from something. He had the demeanor of a purse-snatcher and I watched what seemed to be a chase being carried out on the roof as I looked over the room.

Tom is still talking: “We wake up in the morning and run to work and the guinea pig wheel houses us rather nicely and we see very little of the outside world, and while it isn’t quite like us; it is still being led by the same strictures.” Some in his group look at him and nod their heads while also watching the man on the roof being apprehended by men with suits and those Secret Service-like earplugs. They stop him easily. It is just one guy actually, a normal-seeming guy, who grabs his arm and suspends him in pain.

Mark tells me there are lots of these types of living arrangements, where people work for a temp company and move from temp job to temp job and they house these stables of business types, who are just normal people with no extended families. They have no contacts other than these temporary “friends.” They have no health care, no accumulated wealth, nothing, just what’s around their feet. They live day-to-day and they never know what their next job will be until they get a slip of paper the night before indicating where they’ll be heading in the morning.

“Capitalism is the Elephant in the room,” Tom continues, “and the psychopathic conquerors are unavoidable in their destructive tendencies.” 

You had to wonder by Tom’s conversation why he was so antagonistic toward the set-up. It seemed comfortable. A couple of nights ago I was watching the love of my life climb under a freeway over pass and into the arms of a large muscle-bound man who gave me dirty looks as he moved her into the darkness, where he had a dirty mattress and garbage strew about. It was clear she and I were over. I’d lost the 5-plex in Berkeley, which after the earthquake was tagged for demolition. I still had $699,000 due on the mortgage. I’d lost my job. I was grateful to have found these people.

The set-up reminded me of an idea Slavoj Zizek put forth, where he said that Jewish people were the only group that maintained their heritage and practices to the letter, while others seemed to have disbanded and a result of this were these ‘individuals,’ who had no common characteristics except this worker pool atmosphere. It reminded me of the Chinese dorm rooms at the companies that made Apple products, who lived in bunk rooms, but didn’t know each other and yet they worked long hours, and slept inches from each other. They were fed in cafeteria-like environments and dressed alike.

I could hear Tom in the background: “In fact, that’s what we can continue to look forward to, the eyes and glare of the psychopath taking out his rage that his father was never there to help his mother care for them and now the self-destruction is certain, if you breed destruction yourself, destruction as a nation, as a world…” I stopped listening to Tom for a second.

I felt a tinge of sadness. I used to believe that we needed to get together and help each other but I never imagined that his would be done akin to slavery, where the worker paid his wages for a space on the floor and he or she was trapped but certainly equal on this level to all the other people. But you could tell, someone owned the suite and someone was organizing us, or at least garnering the benefit of our desperation and loneliness.

“This is the end we should expect,” Tom was somehow making sense. He kept going. “If it is every man-for-himself, then the families have no chance. If it is that the strange shall survive and the weak perish, then that’s all that’s left.”

The crows outside reminded me of the precarious state we were in, where the whole country seemed to be looking over a cliff. Organization as we know it will be fundamentally broken. Kaypacha, an Internet-based astrologer, said in 2013, “Why doesn’t everyone just go bankrupt?” Apparently they had. What’s left when you still have to eat and sleep? I remembered the idea that our savings is our freedom, which is what Bejan would say when I was waiting tables before the 4-plex and the earthquake.

Tom said, “I don’t see a happy ending, where in the back of all the action is the inevitable personality of our nation, of people in general, a kind of Lord-of-the-Flies system of doing things.

“Just look at ourselves, what makes up our day? What are we constantly thinking? It is intimacy and the desire to be close to someone to share our fears, and to the efforts we must instill, just to deceive ourselves into making it? We are exhausted, focused, with blinders on, but there’s no other way but controlled acquisition and mergers with the intent of a deluded status of self-sufficiency and general independence? Are our hearts no longer the organ making the world sunny, or is it for men only the desire to penetrate and for women to receive and then manipulate by guilt the sacrifice of another person for their self-preservation? And yet love makes us give everything, we think, for a greater good, but that good is only slavery? After all, we’ve been trained so well that if we don’t do what they say, we are terrorists and they’ll lock us?” Tom questioned.

“We are reacting to the inevitable pressures that are upon us as ‘desiring machines’ in the middle of a life cycle. Let us now go into the other room and make babies, and let the next generation do what we did, as a second of pleasure.

“Even the criminal knows this pattern, and I believe they call this life.” Tom concluded.

The Prospect of Self-governance

It is a hopeless venture, wiping the butts of the aged. My mother’s constant crapping in her pants and fatigue not to want to shower are a horrendous combination that shakes my positive outlook.

Ask the beautiful nurses in the facility, where she hangs her coat, she’s slipping into the coma of her former self – childhood.

She asks me how I am doing, but her latest spill can only indicate the rough interaction of her head with the floor adding insult to the injury of Alzheimer’s. She’s perhaps the only mobile person in these beds of the disintegrating; but that lack of a handicap is slipping.

We all die and we die by losing the quality of life that eventually overshadows the joy of living.

Taking her out of the facility becomes such a chore and even dangerous. Her unwashed body is a hazard and explains why they all acquire MRSA. Every bed has the story of multiple demises, a series of deathly corpses wafted up in the smoke of the unwashed solitude of a past life smothered in the germs that came before. I wonder how many pretty faces comb these halls as employees against the backdrop of such a slow death? The whinnying, the circling of wagons of wheel chairs before the nurses’ station, the false smiles of some of the attending, all of whom are busy working.

It saddens me at this rest stop of the physically diminishing, that every mouth sags and that every television distracts. These are the last impulses fluttering before them.

It is true that we become bodies in our elder states shitting and pissing like birds.

Decorum is the obsolescence as long white hairs protrude from chins. Our teeth are now plastic foreign objects with which we cannot chew. My mother goes through $600 dentures like a child goes through clothes, except there are no hand-me-down inserts that can be negotiated with the two real teeth she has. Denture cream is never going to happen and so it is a lie.

There’s nothing left and so I don’t recommend it. There are no golden years at the end of this rope, no fading glamorous light akin to sunrise. The wisdom of age is simply to fall asleep and never dream again; hope lifts out of you and blows away.

We just get too tired to care, then carelessness overtakes us and unless there is external care, the bacteria eventually win. The body cannot fight till the end all the hedonistic forces begging to dig right in.

How much I love the memories of my father, my Aunt Mary, my Uncle Mike, and there are others as the good ones who succumbed.

My Aunt Connie is still mad at my mother for exhausting my father, she believes, to death. My mother must have told him to watch the children before she’d run away, where she could remember her dreams amid the silence of her former self. I have her personality. I cannot have children; I am too selfish. But, I see in their bright faces and mobility the dream of the past, their cute repartees, the snot leaking from their noses, the wanting to be seen jumping from piece of furniture to piece of furniture, their plans during tea parties. All is the revolt to being tied; and the prospect of self-governance is everything.

The Ticking Bomb

You don’t want to know what happened in the end, but I’ll tell you because that’s who I am.

I brought baby food, gently tugged at my mother’s foot to wake her a second time. I asked her to eat the yogurt, squash, and I actually don’t think she ate anything more. Then I helped her dress, by the way she smelled like cheese. We went to Peet’s but it was crowded, then to Appleby’s where I bought her a cup of coffee, a chocolate shake, and French Onion Soup. I told her I would bring her back to my place to look at family photos so I could get an idea of what some might mean. I gave her the first picture and she said, “That’s her mother,” but I never got the names. That ended pretty quickly. Then she announced that she had to go to the bathroom. I tried to help her and a few feet later she exploded in her diaper. I helped her in the bathroom, first getting off her only pair of pants. Then she pulled her diaper and the sh#t leaked out onto the seat and the floor. As she wiped, she drew her whole arm into the John, picking up, the brown turtle dove of her earlier meal. The smell of my mother’s specimen filled the room like that of any number of memories in public restrooms or frankly, whatever and wherever. Sh#t renders everything indelicate. This moment has ruined every romantic interlude I might have believing women aren’t any different then men. The ruse of modesty is out the window. I helped her up and asked her to take a shower. She would have simply put her pants back on. The look in her eye was like I was committing murder. She looked tired. I had no idea, because she really was tired. Still, I saw no option. As it turned out, she stood in the shower, but complained the whole time about how tired she was. I compromised and said I would bring a chair. I went for the $250 plastic Scan design chair that would be fine in the shower, except that by the time I got back, she was tugging on the shower curtain and fading fast.

I said, “Here, take the chair,” but by then she started to slump and by the time I could reach her, she melted into the tub. She hadn’t trapped an arm or a leg, but she slid down into the back of the tub and she seemed to have gone unconscious.

I shook her, checked her pulse and breathing; it was faint. Her eyes were rolling back into her head, and I kept talking to her: “Mother, mother…” I could not believe that she was going to die on my watch. And how close I was. It was no mystery. I guess, we just get tired and shut down.

Then she threw up, the bile of French Onion soup, the chocolate shake,  and probably the coffee. The vomit was the color of caramelized onions and it smelled like faint puke. I called 911 and waited. She threw up again but this time much more. It was all over her chin, chest, and now it was along her side. I asked the person on the phone if I should wash her off before the Paramedics got there, but she said I didn’t have to, “They were used to it.” I felt bad. I rinsed her off a little more, but it was partially hopeless because I couldn’t move her and she was laying in it.

The paramedics came, there were like 6 men and they asked me if it was feces or vomit. I said it was mostly the latter, which made them even more uncomfortable. One wiped his shoe. They wondered how they were going to get her out of the tub. I gave them towels and they had a blanket. They carried her to the white, Scandinavian leather chair with wheels and dropped her in it, then rolled her out and drove her to the hospital.

I pushed the chair covered lightly in vomit behind the recycled bin and told a neighbor to tell the other neighbor not to throw it.

She replied, “You better take it; someone will steal it.”

I said, “It was dirty,” and she could see, I was running around with apparently only one of my mother’s slippers, the same pants and shirt she had been wearing. I also had a clean diaper. As you might know the day felt like it was 100 degrees. I was sweating and embarrassed.

My mother, once a television model, a woman not unlike Elizabeth Taylor in her prime, was now naked under a few towels, wrapped partially in a blanket and being wheeled.

It turned out; she was only dehydrated and fainted when the moderately hot water and steam wafted up in the shower. She did look white. They filled her with two pouches of saline and told me if they transported her, it would cost me, versus the last time, when they insisted.

She was at the hospital within 48 hours for the injury she suffered when they found her at 1AM lying on the floor. She was there again about a month ago because she was bleeding from of her rectum.

She is shutting down. Her Alzheimer’s is taking its time, but I can see it in her tarnished capacity, the shortened distances between the same question. How she is less and less stable. And she always asks me how I am doing? It is a joke; she is fading and she knows it. All her life she’s been on the cusp of not trying, in the forest where the woman cries wolf. And so when the nurse brings her to the car and she’s feigning the capacity to enter, I tell her, “This is not a joke.”

I am tired. I am helping people in quadraphonic stereo and apparently my caring is a curse. We become the byproducts of our environments. I am always attracted to the helpless women. They need me and I come running, which of course means they never stay long. My mother probably won’t make it beyond next year. How could she? The less I can take her out, the greater her lunacy becomes. But, if I take her out, she is a ticking bomb.