The Lake Erie Scarf gained me a run-in with Rocker Rod. I'd left the building to go see the Vikings to fix the brake lights on my Volvo when it dawned on me that perhaps I'd left my cable needle upstairs, in my apartment. I searched my knitting bag, didn't see it, and decided to swoop back up. Just as I stepped through the door to the building, even blinded by nearsightedness and not wearing my glasses, I could make out Rocker Rod's skinny figure down at the opposite end of the hallway. It helped that he was wearing the same crochet hat and bell bottoms he usually struts around in. I held up the peace sign because it seemed appropriate, then turned to dash up the stairs. But Rocker Rod is quick and knows how to project his voice and before I could disappear, he called out, Hey, do you have a phone I could use? Hmm. Actually, I have two phones and if that doesn't work, I have the capacity for you to send an e-mail. I can also drive you to whoever it is you need to speak to wherever, and probably stop you by a restaurant and get you something to eat along the way. But I won't. And so I said back to him, No. Sorry. The dejection in his voice was as soft and inviting as velvet. Oh. Okay. Thanks. That did give me pause because I am after all a feeling human being and I like to lend a hand when I can. But, goddamnit, I'm as old as I ever have been. If it's not okay to cut a leech like Rocker Rod off at the knees now, when will it be? I have a feeling I will be tested. These little moments with Rod are just a tease from God to see if I am ready to show up for myself. There will come a Great One. An emergency knock at the door or some hardcore trickery that will require me to think fast. On my feet, up close and personal. Am I ready?
At a place like Chez Hotspot, as we'll call the building in which I dwell, you can't have just one crazy. Only a host of them will do. Rocker Rod. Acid Andy. And Fuck You Joel.
Fuck You Joel is my exact, slam bang, kissin' cousin next door neighbor. There's no avoiding him. Or, at least, his voice.
I will now share with you my greatest fear. From an entire small town of fears, complete with a post-office, general store, and courthouse (it used to be a city of fears with skyscrapers and helicopters flying overhead, but I've been doing some work), my biggest fear of all, my fear among fears, is being left with only One Thing. One Thing to repeat, over and over again. One Thing to grumble about. One Thing to wake up in the middle of the night and moan about. One Thing to shout at passersby on the street. And, if you wanna put a cherry on top of that fear, to have that One Thing be PROFANE.
I am scared of Fuck You Joel. I'd like to think that I could take him. He's pushing sixty and I'm not. I'm taller than he is and I can still stand up straighter. I can also outlast him in terms of waking hours -- he's usually snoring by 10pm and I'm fully awake until at least 10:05. But Fuck You Joel rides a bike, like, almost everyday. He owns a car but that's no matter because all he does is move it from one side of the street to the other on alternate parking days. He straps on a gigantic set of old yellow headphones, straddles that bike with thighs I have noticed are developed, and rides like the mother effing wind. He comes back from wherever it is he goes hardly blowing a breath. I went hiking in Runyan Canyon the other day. I was panting like a suffocating dog just looking at the first hill.
So a physical match-up is out. Fuck You Joel's got it all over me. I'm a sly wench and wouldn't hesitate to fight dirty, but I fear I'd still lose, because FUCK YOU JOEL IS CRAZY.
I'm talking stone out of his cotton-picking mind. I know this because --
Fuck You Joel is down to One Thing.
If you've ever ridden the subway in New York City, or taken any form of public transportation any place on earth, you've likely run into a person who's down to One Thing. You know. The guy with the load in his pants who keeps hollering to women with
Suck my dick!
Or the lady wearing hair rollers she put in in 1952, murmuring to herself --
I didn't want no gravy. Never said I wanted no gravy. Didn't want no gravy.
Oh, yeah. We've all seen them. My question has always been, How do they come up with the One Thing? How does it come down to just fellatio or gravy or that Jesus is coming back? And what, God save me, would be my One Thing?
Fuck You Joel's One Thing is boxes in the hallway. Yes, that's right. Boxes. In the hallway. He goes ballistic at the very thought. And the thought is all it takes because 99.9% of the time there are no boxes in the hallway. Boxes in the hallway dog his dreams. Boxes in the hallway haunt his daytime TV hours. Boxes in the hallway probably propel him to pedal faster and faster and faster on his bicycle (which would explain the thighs). I kid you not, as I type this, I hear him crying. Through his tears, the following:
I do not enjoy this. Stop doing that please.
I hurt! I hurt! Don't I hurt? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!
Take the goddamn boxes out of the hallway and put 'em in the trash!
Do you not know where the trash is?
Fuck you! You cocksucker!
Fuck you! Go home! Go home if you don't know where the trash is!
What is wrong with you?! Fuck you!
You go to hell!
You're not the only one who lives here!
Other people live here, too!
Keep the goddamn boxes OUT OF THE MOTHERFUCKING HALLWAY!
Eat my asshole and die!
Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! FUCK. YOU!
I am not slow. Just distracted sometimes. And so it took me a month of living here to realize that when Fuck You Joel is screaming like this, he's not on the phone, he doesn't have company. He's talking to himself. I figured it out when he was doing his act one day and his phone rang. He was busy with the boxes, so he let his machine pick up. And there they were. Two Fuck You Joels. One cordial, like the one I see and greet in the hallway, and the other, the demonic screaming box hater.
And he's fast, too. Today I could've sworn I saw him riding away from the building but I wasn't in my apartment more than five minutes when I heard him screaming from next door again.
It's torture, this Fuck You Joel thing. Not for me, because I have resolved to have peace no matter what. When Fuck You Joel gets going at 3am, I fire up my laptop and do a little knit net surfing, or pick up a UFO and get to work, or put on a DVD and watch it until I fall back to sleep. No skin off my nose. Not like I have to get up early to hustle for The Man. But for Fuck You, things must really be hard. He's living my nightmare for crying out loud, and trust me, it's getting to him.
One Thing. It's like the DJ starts scratching your record and forgets to stop. It's what makes Alzheimer's so frightening. I've been around people with Alzheimer's. Usually their caregivers spend a lot of time hoping their charges don't yell anything obscene during high tea. I try not to believe the fact that we're so often left with curse words and foulness, with bitterness over things as tiny and benign as boxes, says something about human nature. But sometimes the thought creeps in.
I take my prayer cues from Anne Lamott, who takes hers from Arthur Ashe, who once said about having AIDS, I have never prayed to win a tennis match, I will not pray to live now. Like Anne, maybe I'd go ahead and pray just a little, especially when it comes to the One Thing. Please, God, if you're listening, don't let me go around shouting about my vagina for the rest of my born days. Amen.