Chapter Seventeen III

An ant goes round and round without rest
Like all beings in the six realms of existence,
Born here and dying there without release,
Now becoming a hungry ghost, then an animal.
If you are searching for freedom from this suffering
You must hear the sound of one hand.

 Zen Master Hakuin
 Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768)


Dear Reader,
For purposes of explication, above is the original version which, somewhere along the way, became ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’
Janah and I are on a road trip, a small matter of convincing an abusive boyfriend that my ongoing goodwill was far more important than his current need to assault women. Despite various girlfriends in the hospital, the last with a broken nose and what appeared to be cigarette burns on one breast, he’d managed to avoid jail by intimidating them into leaving town or keeping their mouths shut. In one case, wired shut.   
The most recent punching bag was committed to testify, then bailed at the last minute. Her daughter coincidentally unable to attend school due to an unexplained deep cut on her foot while playing in the woods behind her home.
The story of Prince Harming made its way through the system, until it appeared as a matter for the Society. There are so many assholes in the world. Most of them annoy the crap out of everyone then get old. Sometimes they slowed down, or even better, had the decency to die. More and more began to rise to the attention of the Society. The ones who tap dance around arrest or conviction, somehow staying out of jail or garnering stupendously insultingly short sentences. Like beating a woman is significantly less serious than an ounce of coke.  
Is the Society a vigilante, out of bounds, unregulated and self anointed system to deal with life’s creeps?
Yes.
Is it concerned about politicians, legal authorities, police departments and institutions of the state getting wind of their operations and bringing the full force of the justice system down on them?
No.
Anyone who rises to the attention of the Society is doomed. There is going to be a radical lifestyle change and Social Skills teams don’t offer plea bargains.
The current refocusing, a charmer similar to Mason, had been making women’s lives miserable for years. Getting his butt kicked is not going to bring tears to anyone’s eyes, least of all the local cops, certainly not any feds.
It’s a two day drive, we find him shooting pool, where else?
“What is it with pool? I mean, did somebody say, ‘Here’s a cool idea, let’s design a game for the least common denominator?’ Everything I know about pool halls is tacky guys with tacky nicknames, or that biker boy, pickup truck sort. Am I being too snobby?”
Janah giggles, “Probably. We don’t know squat about pool halls, or the people who frequent them. We see junk on television.”
“What about Demetrius?”
“Well, you have a point. Our first live experience didn’t put pool in such a great light. I don’t care about pool, it’s just touch and physics. I don’t see the big deal. It seems more interesting than trying to knock down pins by rolling a plastic ball down a floor. I know I’m not spending any time one either one of them.”
“Maybe pool halls should be illegal instead of marijuana, they seem to attract far more assholes than weed.”
“Don’t give the politicians any ideas, next there’ll be a War on Pool. You’ll have to be 21 and no felony convictions to buy a cue stick. A black market will develop in cue sticks and those little blue squares that pool guys use to fondle their tips before they shoot.”
I laugh, “I’m going to have a hard time keeping a straight face when I walk into this joint. I just know some guys will be fondling their tips. The mind reels with the image. Somehow beating up a guy and laughing is too bizarre. Okay Daphne, focus, forget about tip fondling.”
I wait fifteen minutes for Janah to get settled, I’m decked out in my usual uniform of loose fitting jeans, leather gloves, titanium reinforced knee wraps under my jeans, steel toe boots and chain belt. Today, I’d opted for green hair and green and black face paint that triangles down my cheeks and up my forehead, like the diamond on a playing card, but black. Visually, I could be from outer space.
Janah is near homeless in dirty jeans, a frumpy cap and a filthy blue jean jacket. She has cash to buy beer, so she could stay, sitting at the bar and listing like she might fall over any minute. She mumbles to herself about ‘whores, mah daddy and the gubment agency trying to fuck with her.’
Regulars snicker, give the woman with three black teeth and an unknown substance stuck to her cheek a wide berth. Plus she keeps sneezing and wiping her sleeve across her face. Even the crowd at this sleaze joint is leery of whatever she might have. She’d done such a good job the bartender is on the verge of tossing her when I walk in.
I overhear the bartender mutter, “What is this, insane dyke and homeless broad day?”
I stroll over to Billy’s table, the asshole du jour. He’s shooting solo, I face him from the opposite corner, Billy is just about to sink the nine ball. His cue stick slides forward, the cue ball hits the nine which rolls just to the corner pocket when I pluck it off the table and flip it hard into his sternum.   
Billy grabs his chest, it hurts. He still manages to glare both angry and disbelieving at the strange person who inflicted the pain. The quiet in the place is eerie. You can practically hear the cockroaches skittering in the walls.
I am suddenly standing next to Billy, “Billy baby, got a minute? Can we….talk?”
I have an almost smile, like a cat gets playing with a mouse.
Billy stares at my green and black face.
My voice is a total disconnect from the message. I sound chipper, perky, the weather girl on the local news forecasting a bright sunny weekend.
“I’m here to provide you with a new worldview. I have to make it snappy. I don’t like this cow town or this pool hall or more specifically, you; so I want to get this over with as quickly as possible. Have you followed me so far? I know you’re a stupid fuck, should I speak more slooowwly?”
Billy is blank, his mouth open. He could be a zucchini.
There are some whistles, somebody says, “Billy boy, I think the alien is trash you,” other noxious and innocuous comments rumble around. Billy is mystified. He rubs his chest cautiously.
Billy, “Fuck you talkin about bitch? Fuck you and your fuckin' face. You askin’ for a serious asswhippin’, cunt.”
I knee Billy hard on the side of his leg. It’s a serious pressure point, and the blow from the titanium cap, delivered with whip-snap speed, causes his leg to go numb. Billy isn’t that big, he’s wiry, inch or so taller than I am. He makes a fist, takes a step….his leg won’t work and he sinks to a knee. I snatch the cue stick and smack it on the side of his head, enough to ring his bell, not to knock him out. Billy eyes glaze, he shakes his head, trying to grasp this alternate reality.
The bartender reaches underneath the bar and pulls out a sawed off shotgun. Before it clears the bar Janah has her hand on his wrist and squeezes. The shotgun hits the floor behind the bar. He tries to pull away then yelps in pain as she near crushes the bones.
Her deluded mumbling disappears, replaced by firm clarity “Pick it up by the barrel, hand it over then leave both hands on the bar, flat, like they’re glued. Don’t get cute or I’ll snap your arm like a matchstick.”
He does as he’s told. She opens the breech and dumps out the shells on the bar, snaps it shut. She lays the gun on the floor.
“Hands on the bar. Watch the show.”
 She grips hard, he winces hard, “Christ, okay, okay,” she slips over the bar and stands next to him, discouraging any further intervention.
A friend of Billy’s, an acquaintance really, Billy doesn’t have friends, walks towards me. He is looking at Billy on the floor, then turns to face me. He looks in my eyes, stops cold. His hunter’s instinct takes over, he recognizes a dangerous animal.
He raises his hands in a gesture of placation, “Now Missy, what is it you want? Billy, well, he’s got his faults. Exactly what is it he done to rile you so much?”
“Damn, intelligence even in this rat hole. Good question, what’s your name, honey?”
His shoulders drop, he’s able to breathe, I not going to eat him, “Roy.”
“Well, that’s a nice name and that’s a good question, Roy. So, since you’ve been so polite, I’m going to answer. See, Billy here,” I stick the pointed end of the stick into the cleft just over his sternum and push, Billy gasps, “Well, Billy is a slimy little snot. That’s not news to any of you. It’s also not news that he beats up his girlfriends. I do NOT accept that as a thing he needs to do. Are you gentlemen following me?”
Roy, “Yes ma’am, we are, aren’t we guys?”
There is general agreement from the still dumbstruck crowd. They’re getting it, not quite all of it. I’m clearly completely in charge. Billy is still on the floor, on both knees now, his body leans back, cue stick in his neck. It’s like one of those Clint Eastwood westerns where everything seems to take forever. He tries to grab the cue, I press harder, he chokes.
“No, no, Billy, stay put, I’ll get around to you in a sec.”
I turn to the audience, “Good boy. By the way, there aren’t any other woman beating assholes in here are there? I can deal with two or three easy as one.”
“No ma’am. We, none of us is perfect, we don’t beat our women though. Couple of ‘em beat us.”
General nervous laughter.
“You all look like you can take it, tough, hard case country boys. Here’s the deal. Billy’s woman beating days are over. We’re going to take the current one and move her out. I want to be fair, well, sort of. Billy can just agree to mind his manners or he can take me on. If I lose, then he can wail on whoever he wants however he wants. If I win, he won’t want to, I guarantee it.
Well Billy boy,” I tap him on the top of his head with the cue stick, “what’s it going to be?”
I drop the stick on the table, then step back, hands loose at my sides.
Billy’s recovered, his head stings but he’s raging and doesn’t feel much but the rage. He has no chance, even if he hadn’t been mad. Pissed just makes it worse. Billy leaps up and runs head down, screaming.
‘Geez, they’re all so stupid,’ I think.
I slide aside, catch him with a knee in the face. His nose splits open, blood spatters. Billy flips up and lands on his back. He sits up holding his nose, the crowd is “Jesus Christ-ing” and “Did you see that-ing?” looking at Billy and each other, warming to the occasion. Billy gets up slowly, his hands up and comes slowly, warily, blood dripping from him instead of his girlfriend.
I skip in, slap him twice and shoot back before he understands what happened, “Is that what you boys call a bitch slap, did I just bitch slap Billy boy here? You’re MY bitch now, Billy.”
The crowd gives low whistles and groans, someone yells, “She’s making you look a fool, boy.”
Billy growls and snatches up the cue stick. He comes forward, swinging it butt end to the left of my head. The natural tendency is to move away from the threat, I’m unnatural. I step into him, stick my right hand up and let the center of cue smack the heel of my hand, snapping it. I hold the broken piece in my left hand, flip it fat end up.
“Geez, Billy, how thoughtful, you gave me the big part,” I break his jaw with it, kick him in the groin and ask the bartender for a beer.
Someone says, “Jesus my savior, I never even saw her frickin’ move. Jimmy, you see her move?  He’s laid out like road kill and I never seen her move a muscle, got-frickin’-tam.”
The crowd is restless yet quiet, they’d seen bar fights, they hadn’t seen this. Billy is on the floor holding his crotch, his jaw crooked, blood dripping from his mouth.
I pour the beer on Billy, “Listen carefully genius, here’s the rules,” I grab his hair and pull his face up to look him in the eye, “look at me, asshole.”
My voice never raised a decibel, I speak as if swapping recipes with an old friend, “You are never again going to hit, shove, raise your voice or even look crosswise at a woman. We found you and we’ll be watching your cracker ass from now until Oprah goes bankrupt. If you can’t manage yourself by yourself, the next time I take your balls and mail them to you in a jar. I kick him in the crotch again. “Maybe I’ll take them now, you fuck,” I put my boot in his face and push him to the floor, then take out the serrated knife, flick it open and slit his jeans.
“Man, no wonder you’re so irritable, you got a tiny dick there Billy, little dick Billy. Boys, meet Little Billy,” I look Billy in the eyes, “and if you touch anyone in anger again, I swear your cock will be so tiny you’ll have to squat to pee.”
I swipe his balls lightly, a line of red forms, Billy wets himself.
I turn to the men, the knife open in my hand, “Stand warned, gentlemen. This piss-hole town has surfaced on our radar because of him. We’re watching. You jerkwaters should have taken him out back a long time ago, but you don’t have the cojones.”
Janah moves to the door, mostly to keep an eye on the men, in case another one gets the stupids. None does. She figures Billy’s alienated most of them by now and they aren’t too upset by his humiliation. Still, it’s the kind of place where not just the bartender might carry a gun. She has resources to neutralize them if necessary. No weapons appear.
As I hit the door I turn, “Tell Little Billy the guns from his truck and home are gone. He won’t be needing them. If he buys one, if he steals one, if he buys a slingshot, I’ll come for him. If you loan or sell him one, I’ll come for you. There’s more than just me. You don’t know who we are, you don’t know how we found Billy, you won’t know who’s watching.”
We disappear, hop on the motorbike we’d come in on and ride out of town to a panel truck waiting behind a stand of trees. The bike goes in the truck. After washing up then changing in the truck, we slide into a plain as day Honda parked next to it. Transportation will move the truck with the bike. I pull a wig over my hair.
Janah, “That went easily enough.”
“We catch them off guard. They look at us and either start thinking with their peckers, like Demetrius, or they can’t grasp that a woman can do them any serious harm. It’s not like we go in armed to the teeth.”
“I had an ashtray handy, and there was a rack of balls close, plus the shuriken,  figured I might need to whap someone across the room. Wasn’t close to necessary, Billy couldn’t muster a friend in the joint.”
“He won’t stay in town, he’s been downsized and he’s discovered that nobody gives a dead goldfish about him. Compliance will be monitoring Little Billy from some other pothole before long.”
We drive in silence for six hours, then take state roads to get to a different Interstate. I pull over at a Hampton Inn, Janah goes in alone while I drive the car nearer a side entrance. I shut the door. Tomorrow morning, there will be a different car in the same spot, key under the mat.
We bathe, I scrub the green hair color out and then do Janah’s hair. We’d picked up food, fruit, nuts, tea and cokes. I make tea, turn on the television, choosing the bed rather than the front room; we eat and watch an HBO movie about a serial killer until midnight.
“The movie was pretty good. If you’re not too tired, I’d….”
“Like a bedtime story?”
“Know anything interesting?”
“I think you’ll like this one.”
Within the hour we are dead to the world, Janah curled on my tummy, the air conditioner humming softly, one more perspective freshened; maybe even a few, the guys who watched me play with Billy won't forget.

Chapter Eighteen III

Rumack: Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Ted Striker: Surely you can't be serious.
Rumack: I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.
From the movie, Airplane

In the morning, we’re on the road shortly after eight thirty. I’d retrieved tea and fruit from the freebie breakfast in the lobby while Janah showered. We’re making our way up the coast towards New York, still in South Carolina. As a diversion, we go from northern Alabama south then state roads through Georgia, then the Interstate. We’re cruising along, calculating how long it would take to get back to New York.
Janah, “Shall we go to someplace on the coast, some fancy hotel for a night or two?”
“Sounds like fun.”
She calls Transportation and gives them the general idea. Twenty minutes later we get a reply.
We’re booked at small resort in the Charleston area for two nights. We check in, put our stuff up and head to the beach. It is a lovely spring day and we meander up the shore, then back to the hotel. Time to feed. Janah has vegetable stir fry, a cup of green tea. I opt for an omelet with cheese and vegetables, fries on the side, Diet Coke.
We go to the room and chill on the balcony. The view is directly out to the ocean, the room a suite with a fully stocked bar, a pile of fresh fruit and snack items. The balcony is private, it can be seen from the ocean if there was anyone to see, the beach abandoned. The view is pristine, just birds, a freighter out in the distance, fresh ocean breeze.
Perfection, together, alone.
The place is primarily designed for business meetings, small conventions, the golf and tennis crowd. It’s a weekday, busy, not the golf dweeb beehive it would become over the weekend. There’s a drug show and tell of some sort, doctors Janah said, and the usual gaggle of pharmaceutical reps pandering to the prescription writers. Mysteriously, the pharma reps are virtually all attractive young women in their twenties or very early thirties.
I become thoughtful, “Let’s see, most of the docs are middle aged men, the drug reps are young, well manicured, attractive women in snug short skirts and heels. What do you suppose that’s about?"
Janah smiles, “Getting the most scripts written, one presumes.”
“Silly me, I was thinking that the pharmaceutical industry decided that women should have greater professional opportunities, and were coincidentally overwhelmed by applications from babes in their twenties.”
“I suppose it could have happened that way.”
“The pharmaceutical business today resembles the airline business before our time. C-mom says that once upon a time, flight attendants were called stewardesses and they were hired to serve food and beverages to passengers, a great many of which were men.”
“Isn’t that what they do now?”
“Yes, except they decided to become flight attendants because stewardess sounds like they serve food and beverages to passengers. Flight attendants only serve snacks and beverages, and when they can get away with it, nothing at all.”
“If you say so.”
“Well, Chris said, back then, stewardesses were all women resembling today’s modern drug rep honeys. The passengers were mostly guys, and guys like pre-flight attendant type girls. Now, instead of serving food and drink to passengers under the guise of enabling a safe flight, the drug repettes serve food and drink under the guise of providing useful information to doctors. They must assume the docs can’t decipher printed medical material, so they hire hot chicks who took a basic chemistry class to do it for them.”
Janah, “I’m shocked. You seem to imply that stewardesses were selected for their looks, not their ability to spill as little food and beer as possible on the passengers.”
“The airlines could care less about spilt beer, that would smack of actual concern for the passenger. They are in the business of getting the most hairy butts into the seats at the maximum price. It worked okay until the stewardesses became flight attendants. Then the airlines started losing money hand over fist, going bankrupt with annoying regularity and avoiding as much customer service as they could without actually using a whip on the passengers.
“Would they do that?”
“In a heartbeat, except the FAA, normally uninterested in actual airline regulation, drew the line. The airlines found a less strenuous way. Instead of whips, they perversely made the seats tinier and tinier right when Americans started getting fatter and fatter. The expansion of American butts, by the way, coincides exactly with the completion of Disney World. Shortly after that, a new word entered the lexicon.”
“What word?”
“Biggie.”
“So it was then that the American waistline exploded?”
“Yes, you can look it up. Google ‘American+tubby+waddle+Mickey+fries’ and the whole story unfolds before your eyes.”
“And now the former stewardesses have moved on?”
“Yes. The kind of girl who formerly made air travel tolerable, girls who were attractive, pleasant, willing to do lots of interesting and fun stuff if properly approached, got moved out by gay men and flight attendants who’d gotten old enough to have flown with the Wright brothers. That’s mean, strike that. In those days, stewardesses left the job when they became mothers. Now they stay so long they become their mothers. Then they objected to the word stewardess because it referred to someone who was actually pleasant and enthusiastic, not surly and cynical. Thus flight attendants.”
“It wasn’t the gay guys?”
“Don’t be silly. What gay guy would object to being called a stewardess?”
Janah’s laughing, “I’m happy only I’m hearing this.”
“Hey, we’re as gay as they come. Poking fun at our own is acceptable between our own, like when black folks say nigger. They appropriate it to defuse the stigma. Sorry to get on the highroad, where was I?”
“Dissing gay guys.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, it’s not dissing if it’s within the culture."
We are silently enjoying the sea and just being, until after four, then Janah decides that I have an urge to make love to her, “I can just take a nap. However, if you insist, I can submit to your attentions first.”
“The way you anticipate my desires amazes and delights me.”
I spend the next half hour trying to find place I hadn’t kissed before. After a very thorough search, using fingers, lips and tongue, I wind up focusing on a small mysterious area I am certain I had tasted before, a rich cherry vanilla delight. I taste it again for confirmation, deciding to adopt a version of the Reagan doctrine, ‘Lust, but verify.’ After a few minutes, I discover that particular spot causes her to make the most delightful noises, and her whole body tremble for the longest.
I think, ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.’ Not sure how it applies to this situation, but it sounds stupidly pretentious. I wonder, if you need to be eternally vigilant, then isn’t freedom meaningless?
Janah snuggles close and sleeps. I’m out for the first half hour then content to hold her and think of exactly nothing for the second. I look at my girl and see blue eyes smiling up at me.
“That was a beautiful afternoon. Your exquisite lovemaking, you hit every note perfectly, the beach, the ocean. When I woke up, you were empty, just in me. It felt otherworldly, Daphne. Pristine, just incredible.”
“I could have stayed there forever. I was you, even with you asleep, I was in there, no me, not even you. There’s no way to clearly describe it, and no way to hold on to it. It brings reverence, bliss, comes without asking, goes the same way. So, no more talk.”
“Walk?”
We’re out on the beach, no breeze blowing in the early evening, the temperature  moderate. We wear shorts and t-shirts, no shoes, down the shoreline for half an hour, then back, sit cross legged on the sand, the darkness descending, hold hands.
Janah stands, pulls me up, “Food, lots of food.”
I dig around the snack tray, find sesame crackers, cut up fresh fruit. Janah climbs into the Jacuzzi and soaks in the jasmine scented warmth. I lay snacks out on the edge of the tub. After a quarter hour, she drains the thing, then refills it. I shower while Janah sits in the clear warm water, bubbling merrily. Seven o'clock sneaks up on us.
“Go out or order in?”
“I’d like you to myself.”
 “Excellent.”
 Janah studies the room service menu, calls and orders. Three appetizers, soup, a grilled vegetable entree, a Waldorf salad, chocolate cake and an almond torte.
“Good thing you’re eating light.”
“I couldn’t decide about the appetizers, the cheese thing sounded good, the shrimp cocktail is for you, the grilled vegetables sounded tasty.  We can do the entrees then have the appetizers for television snacks, then dessert if we can make it.”
“It’s good to have a plan, I’m starved, let’s rock.”
We plop on blankets in the front room of the suite, pile up pillows against the sofa, the television on, another action movie. We don’t care for sight gag comedies and love stories. Romantic comedies made me gag, neither of us tolerate the endless commercials on regular television. We like action movies, mysteries and some dramas. This happened to be a submarine movie, not requiring full attention, enough tension to be fun.
At the moment, Janah is attending to the fried vegetables I keep feeding her. Then rests against my shoulder for a bit, and we get into the movie until it ends. On the balcony, we eat cake and almond torte, sharing bites and watching the moon beautifully doing nothing, pale light shimmering off the smooth water, gentle mini waves rolling up the beach. It is moving on to midnight.
Janah throws the cushion of her chair in front of my chair and kneels between my outstretched legs, “I need something else sweet.”
She makes me quiver and gasp in the moonlight, we settle into bed. She puts me out and sleepily curls onto her spot.
‘Daphne makes the best dessert,’ Janah smiles, then drifts off to sleep.

Chapter Nineteen III

One should absorb the color of life,
but one should never remember its details.
Details are always vulgar.
Oscar Wilde

Today, it’s exactly nothing, lite breakfast, Janah reads a novel to me, translates the English to Chinese. Fruit and granola for lunch, nap, suddenly it’s late afternoon.
We walk along the beach, She feels me shift into playful, “This is one spot, you know, the beach scene, quiet stillness, vast restless powerful ocean, orange hue of the setting sun, where, if someone was writing a book about us, they would make up a lot of colorful or dreamy scenery, juxtaposing images that tie in with the contradictions of our lives. If it was really highbrow literature, the images and phrases themselves would have double and triple meanings, If you study the author’s life, analyzed the biographical data, talk to her friends, if she has any, authors being what they are, and referenced the times she grew up in, various social influences that impacted her life, you might connect the dots. I am growing to despise that phrase. Then declare the author to be either a literary putz, a genius, or unworthy of bothering to label.”
Janah smiles, I’m on a roll.
“When I have to do that much work reading a novel, I return it to the library. If I have to understand the author that intimately to get it, I leave it. Frankly, I think most of it is crap made up by English majors who get jobs teaching and invent symbolism to torture students as retribution for all the times they got picked on in school for being English majors. Of course, as you’ve said, every book is ultimately about the author, so maybe they’re on to something. On the other hand, it’s also entirely possible I just don’t like reading page after page of descriptive sentences that ultimately don’t move the story along. Or that I’m too stupid, too lazy, or simply uncreative, and lack the soul of an engaged, intelligent reader.”
“Maybe that’s it.”

 I ignore her, “I once read a book, cannot recall the title, it was one of those well-regarded authors, that had a description of a woman and a man taking a ten minute car ride that took something like six pages. No dialogue, just scenery and thoughts about it. You know the type of word infested descriptive writing I mean. Think Mrs. Dalloway. I’m either too anxious, or Virginia Woolf took too long to get to the point.”
Janah, “Perhaps the description is the point. Still, the poor woman was apparently molested by her step brothers, spent some time institutionalized, had a gay relationship with another married woman and ultimately filled her overcoat with rocks, jumped into a river near her home and drowned herself. Her tendency to over-describe scenes might have resulted from the tediousness of constant depression, a way to distract herself. Perhaps you have your own example, even though you aren’t Virginia Woolf,  labeling you as depressed and suicidal is preposterous. Still, I’m sure you can make up something.”
“Let’s see, my example….okay, a couple at breakfast. Here’s the story.
‘The woman took the flat, polished silver Moldavian butter knife and laid it on the grainy faux-Italian marble counter. She moved gracefully, her steps light, yet assured, almost flippant, to the massive side by side, gleaming Sub-Zero refrigerator. She partly opened the brushed stainless steel door, then, in a flash of near blinding clarity, realized that the organic cage-free Lithuanian butter was already lying in its spotless white porcelain dish, the one with the hand painted lid, painted by former Krudyuckistanian orphans, now freedom fighters in the endless conflicts that infest that sad slice of the planet. The butter on the table; the table she adored, had selected only after an extensive search with her husband Rudolpho through hundreds of stores, catalogues, little dusty barns and roadside garage sales, the table that was so like him, one leg shorter than the other. He listed to leeward, she had an irresistible urge to tilt her head when she talked to him. Like the man, the table was solid, heavy.....thick; it was the table where they shared the intimate crunchy slices and crispy crumbs of warm stone ground organic free range wheat toast every shimmering, sultry, monosyllabic morning for the last five years.
She despised, no, too strong, she disliked wheat, the idea of wheat, so provincial, so mid-western, so full of gluten. She disliked, no, not strong enough, she despised gluten. The word reeked of torpor, it felt sticky, gelatinous, no, oleaginous. She hated oleaginousness, the sticky nastiness of an overseas plane trip...on a fully loaded 747…in coach.
Gluten, the word stuck to the roof of her mouth. It had become yet another terrorist of the chronically allergic, no peanuts, no lactose, no shellfish, no berries, what the fuck did these too tender timid sissies eat…air? No, too much pollen and mold. Then this blood congealing word, gluten, oozes into the lexicon. It made her sluggish just to say it, and it was impossible to find gluten-free gluten. She flung the refrigerator door open…..open, the antithesis of her cloistered enclosed existence; her practiced 20-20, gluten free, free ranging eyes examined the chilled contents, as if she might find the answer to her troubled, feline, earthy, organic but caged soul in the ordered, pristine, fully stocked interior that Rudolpho was so meticulous, nay religious, in maintaining; a shrine to his compulsions, he vacuumed the freezer every Saturday afternoon without fail. She had grown to hate that giant sucking sound.
Was it only that? Was it Rudolph’s mind numbing, obsessive neatness, his sanitary and orderly life juxtaposed, no, grated, against her creative, untamed, animal, longing to be free roaming self; the chained beast of exquisite passion she held, hormone filled, hepa filtered, boiling within her preservative free lactose tolerant body? If she could tolerate Rudolpho, lactose was a layup. Then, trembling with the blaze of volcanic, molten, certified organic blood coursing through her veins, her soul, her essence, like a pig in a rust tortured pipeline, burst though, shattering the old restraints.

She was instantly, phytochemically, transformed into the homeopathic psychopath she had secretly contained yet lusted to become. The horrifyingly essential, life affirming self revelation washed over her like a tsunami of partially hydrogenated soybean oil. She made the only decision she could. She selected black…berry, shunning the chunky golden, gluten free, unpreserved, fair trade policy orange marmalade Rudolph insisted was the preferred, the civilized, the oh so correct high fructose corn syrup based spread for lightly crisped, low carb, trans-fat free, free range shade grown wheat toast. (She’d searched the shelves for preservative free preserves only to be laughed out of Whole Foods for her trouble.)
Not now, not today; today, she would be her own woman, hypo-allergenic, not pasteurized, no BHT and nary a whisper of monosodium glutamate, there was that stupid g-word again, pathetically clinging to a food additive, waiting to assault her non-BPA vitamin enriched, non hydrogenated, open source coded, free range ears, “How far could ears wander?” she thought rhetorically.
Then, as she approached the table, sterling Moldavian butter knife in hand, Rudolpho, venomous, vacuous, vapid, verbose Rudolpho, threw down the newspaper, printed with biodegradable organic reasonably fair, but not perfect, trade policy ink on recyclable recycled paper and said, ‘I’m going to the gym. I need to work my…..glutes.’

That’s when she slipped the butter knife into his eye socket, up into his dolphin free spring water packed brain, swiped it back and forth, and withdrew the blade, the simple, anesthesia free lobotomy complete. Rudolpho would be the man she’d always dreamed of, there, and not there, just part of the decor, his free ranging days over, still organic, the persistent vegan now persistently vegetative.’
Janah is laughing, she wipes away a tear, “You are too bizarre.”
“No way could I, writing our story, write like that, and who, besides English majors, would want to read a whole book full of it? That’s why God invented English majors, to test us. I’m pretty sure, when you die and get to the front door, I just can’t mouth the phrase ‘pearly gates,’ I mean, it’s sooo hick. Anyway, if you get there and they ask you why you deserve to go to heaven, if you tell them, ‘I never beat up an English major,’ you can probably go on in.
If God’s in a good mood that day, or if he just finished reading, like, Finnegan’s Wake for the third time and still not getting it, you could even say, ‘I never beat up an English major that didn’t deserve it,’ and you could still get in.”

A couple walks past. They see a girl in near hysterics and another girl silent, both strolling along. They wonder if the laughing girl is on drugs. She doesn’t appear to be laughing at anything. Janah has the hiccups she’s giggling so hard.    
It’s near six, we pass through the hotel lobby, the pharmaceutical crowd is swarming out of meetings, we get a few stares from the still lecture dazed medical profession. I’m aware of it, like I’m aware of everything, but ignore the cautious attention. The docs have the pharma girls to laugh at their jokes, to buy their drinks. There are a sufficiency of suites opening with free food, booze and gaggles of pharma stews to dispense the stuff. Groping, some actual and some only fantasized sex would come later. The sign mentions a DJ that would crank up in the bar later.
“Want to wow the crowd?”
“Let’s go do our Jacuzzi and food thing and see what movies come on. If we feel like it we can come down and see if the DJ has any dance stuff worth the energy.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Jacuzzied, rested, we check out tonight’s television fare. A Brad Pitt drama about Tibet we hadn’t seen, followed by the second Jason Bourne movie we had; it doesn’t matter, I revel in the action.
“Guess the medicos won’t get to see your moves.”
“It seems too depressing, girls trying to score points while avoiding or not avoiding getting scored, smiling, pretending to give a crap about the doc’s jokes and what a stud he thinks he is. What do I know, maybe they like it, and I’m waxing judgmental? Then there’s the hilarious horror of anally retentive white men trying to ‘get down.’ It’s too bizarre to contemplate, much less to witness. In any case, if I bring you down there, the girls will have to compete for their customer’s attention. Maybe they can get to bed earlier, by themselves if they’d like, if we stay here and leave it alone.”
“You think I have that much power?”
“I think a dozen docs would offer to leave their happy homes.”
“I’m really glad I’m not attracted to men.”
“Me too.”
Janah gets room service on the phone and we have a repeat of the night before, except while she pretends to watch the late movie, I turn her brain to plasma and Jason Bourne annihilates several of the government’s secret agents.
We are blissfully asleep before the pharma stews decide which doc might really walk the plank for them. I wonder why they’re called ethical drugs.

Chapter Twenty III

If you don’t like who you are, then quit being that person.
“My mother was inattentive, or over attentive,
my father was gone, I’m ADD,” all that blather.
Sincere intent to change is enough,
don’t beat yourself up, don’t trot out lame excuses;
you’ll change when you get tired of yourself.

The family is gathered around the big table, unabsorbed in the various Sunday morning head rattling of news magazines on television, the big paper spread out across the table. James is fiddling with the crossword, getting answers from Janah when the going gets arcane.
“What’s a five letter word for a group of mountain nymphs?”
“Oread.”
Chris, “What? Nobody know that. How do you know that?”
“I don’t know. I must have an unconscious interest in nymphs.”
“You’re a nymphomaniac, like Sis.”
Sis, “I don’t hear you or Chris complaining.”
James, “A sleeveless coat or jacket.”
“Jerkin.”
Chris, “He didn’t even say how many letters. You did the crossword already didn’t you? Just admit it.”
“C-mom, she just knows the words. When she does crosswords, she doesn’t fill them in. Most of the time she doesn’t look at how many letters it takes. Actually, she doesn’t need the crossword part. She just needs the list of clues. Once I gave her take a list of clues in random order, no number two across, or number three down, nothing. She answered them in her head, then constructed the crossword in reverse.”
“Uh, uh. That can’t be done. Not even by Janah.”
“No lie, French fry.”
Sis, “She should do a television show. If that guy with the magic tricks gets an hour, Janah should have her own channel.”
“Chaste.”
“Vestal.”
Chris, “Could you at least pretend to have to think for a second? Are my inadequacies showing?”
“Hey, I have to live with her all day every day. Good thing I don’t have self esteem issues.”
The whole family laughs at me.
“I can see the sympathy ploy won’t wash here, maybe I’ll call Mrs. Epstein for reassurance.”
Kara and Chris start discussing an exhibit down the street covered in the Arts section, Susan and Lacy are looking at the business section, headed for the Style section. I’m reading a health article, the television a monotone in the background, something about Middle East tension.
“They keep finding out everything isn’t what we thought it was.”
Lacy, “Delusion is a surprise to a Shaolin priest?”
Janah giggles.
“I mean like finding out that this formula is a diet myth, that that drug doesn’t do anything, low fat won’t necessarily help reduce heart disease, neither will fish oil. Or the combo of aspirin and Plavix, thought to protect against heart attacks, actually increases risk unless the person actually has heart disease in the first place. What happens to all the people who had been taking both as a preventative measure?”
James, “She’s right. We take people down one path, then research pops up that says that’s not right, so we change, sometimes other research contradicts the second research. Confuses the hell out of everyone. Just last week they decided that daily alcohol in any amount, one glass of wine, increases the chances of breast cancer in women. This was after they announced a glass of red wine was good for everyone’s heart.”
Chris, “My suggestion is to quit racing around trying to live forever and live right now.”
Janah, “Precisely. Daphne might have an additional Shaolin suggestion.”
Lacy, “What would that be?”
“She means the middle way. All the food and diet research appears to come down to a varied diet, a good blend of vitamins and minerals, not overkill of anything, and eat in moderation. Candy is fine, not all candy all the time. Fries are fine, not “biggie” size every day. Speaking of which, it’s time to break some eggs. Besides, Janah says that, barring accidental death, longevity and the health you get along the way, is ninety percent genetic.”
“Then where are all the fat kids coming from?”
“That’s a combo of the ten percent that matters and have you ever looked at their parents? Two thin parents do not have a fat child.”
“I’m sure it happens.”
“Everything happens. It’s the exception.”
Janah, “I won’t win any Oprah points for this, but there’s a direct connection between overweight mothers and ADHD children, twice the likelihood.”
“We watched a news program, 60 Minutes or something, and every, I mean every, set of parents they interviewed with so-called ADHD children, the mom was fat to obese. The amazing thing was that it never got mentioned in the program, the parents had no idea, they blamed other stuff, and at the end of the program, the reporter summarizing it never mentioned the connection. The research is right on Google.”
Chris, “Do you have an explanation?”
Janah, “They don’t know if the weight is preventing nutrients from reaching the growing fetus, overweight women have lower levels of vitamin D, for instance.”
“I prefer a simpler explanation. Overweight women are, on balance, inactive. Any kid has tons of energy, parents need to help vent it. Fat moms aren’t going to do any of that.”
Susan, “That sounds, I don’t know….mean.”
“I guess, doesn’t change anything. Get up, get moving, and not to the refrigerator or the fast food chain. Take your kid to a good martial arts school, or get a flipping treadmill. It’s your child, you have an obligation.”

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