Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Self-Soothing: A Piece

trying to learn character studies

I suppose I don't know what to do any more.  I'm leaving pieces of coagulated gut in the toilet with every visit, and it's not the easiest thing to talk about; then again, bleeding to death on white porcelain has its drawbacks, too.

It's an old device invented as a way to calm himself.  His daughter-in-law, who drags his grandbaby girl around by the arm too much, smacks gum, raves about "self-soothing." Lectures him on the discipline it instills, the confidence, and how harmful to one's sense of self to be picked up and comforted all the damn time.

"You got your old ways, Dad," she explains, competent because she's nineteen.  "They gotta learn to self-soothe." And with that she shuts the door on baby Paloma, plopped into the playpen she's set up in the spare bedroom. Leaving the radio blaring on the peeling window ledge, Maria Angelica explains, has something to do with giving the baby a focal point.

So, Old Man, soothe yourself.  What I do is take my only mirror, the rear view mirror busted off that old Toyota truck trying to exit a downtown parking garage.  It was a tricky turn.  But I needed a mirror.  Old Men have wily wiry nose hairs need trimming, scraggly stuff everywhere, sometimes where you'd just never expect.

Yeah, so, I soothe myself by seeing past what I see in this rear view mirror -- "It's equipped with a handle," I joke at every put down of an offer to buy me a "real" mirror.

There's my uniformly brown hair.  Not a bit of highlighting to it and straight as if she'd ironed it.  The hairline hasn't even receded much these last 20, 30 years, and I'm seventy in December.  On December 25, to be exact.  I don't expect much from birthdays, though one year I'm bound to get a manly mirror, probably one that's part of a shower caddy.  No one believes that I'd really like some socks.

I'm German and Irish by blood, don't ask me where Luiz came from, because my name is Louis, except that Estrella used to have a bedroom name for me:  Mi Luz.  I was shy and just repeated, from my third generation Brooklyn German: meinem Licht.

But I'd say it three times to her murmured one: meinem Licht meinem Licht meinem Licht -- until it all ran together and we'd finished, and were spooned like melded flatware.

She was smooth and tricky, mi Estrella, and I became Luiz.

My nose is huge, with a scar and a bend to it from my days in Ethiopia.  There was this nomad, convinced that he was possessed by evil devils, and he ran in front of my goddamned truck.  Imagine that, would you?  A whole desert, empty, we're bouncing along, because that's what up and down dune driving is, a huge up and a huge down, and sometimes we got stuck.  And while we got ourselves unstuck, we usually got drunk.

With the whole of the Danakil before him, this nomadic man -- in an unkind place where you could freeze or boil in your own skin in the space of the same day -- believed that if he could run across the path of our bouncing truck, then the truck would kill his devils but he'd be free.

I always wondered how long he waited there, and how he picked the spot.

Well, you know it didn't go the way he had it planned.  We were United States of America Army Cartographers, map-makers, and we'd been stuck in wallows and sheep dohickeys off and on all day, and so, as we deserved, we were drunk as hell.  Well fixed for fixings, not due back in Addis Ababa for three more days, I wasn't keeping that close of an eye on the goddamned, supposed-to-be-empty desert, much less evil spirits and angry nomads.

Because, yeah, when the fender hit him, he was pissed.

We all piled out. That took a bit, right there!  I approached him, using my pretty decent Amharic, one of the billion languages spoken in that land, and asked if he was okay.  He had a big bruise on his hip, a small trickle of blood, but my x-ray eyes didn't see no breaks and he was walking fine.  Fine and fast.

Whacked the shit out of my nose with his walking stick.

So, yeah, it's crooked.  Some offer up that good old "character," some ask why I never got it fixed.  Well, it's helped me out of a few jams, that Afar nomad, and I am a little superstitious and wondered if I don't have a few of his evil spirits trapped inside my huge, scarred, crooked nose.

You know, for all I know, we might have strayed into Eritrea.  They don't exactly have border signs, or didn't then. What I really loved were the fly-overs, be it helicopter or iplane, or whatever we could rustle up.  That's when I learned about aerial photography and that some drunk pilots were better than their soberest of brethren.

We loaded up a new guy once on a Huey, as he just couldn't handle his first time in the field, then watched it crash and burn.  There he was, grinning like a hayseed fool, and then, there he wasn't.

But the worst was when we had to cut a Peace Corps volunteer out of the belly of a Lake Chamo crocodile, and wrap him up to send home. I kept wanting to yell that it wasn't in my fucking job description, but we had actual army overlords watching that dirty work, so I kept quiet.

Still dream about it, though.

Squinting is a whole new thing when you're tracking landmarks in the freaking desert from overlaid photography. Use a loop, don't use a loop, bring out your best magnification, it's still a big squint. We were good at it by the time our tours were up, all overlapping, so one group of aerial squinters could teach the next how to ruin their eyes. Back at camp, we had pet baboons, and I swear they helped sort things out from time to time. Nothing like a baboon for clarity.

We had one boonie, a baby yet, that we got too fond of and tied him up at night.  Sad morning, those big cat tracks and a bloody, nubby rope end.

My beard, now, that's a wonder.  White as snow.  That's why people keep asking me if I dye my hair.  Some years, I fancy a goatee, and that seems to please my kids, as it's a kind of neatness they long to see in me. Most of the time, I just let it grow, but trim it close, so I don't look like a crazy old fart.

I've forgotten what my lips look like, so I guess I need to step it up, the pruning of this grand moustache.

The woman I stayed on with in Ethiopia loved my lips.  I taught her how to say "luscious," because I suppose she thought them full and plump -- clearly, my lips were the most attractive thing I had going.  It was just me, her, and her dad, plus a pitiful herd of goat.  I just didn't feel like flying home;  The war was still on, and I could go get riled about it, or I could stay under the stars, drink goat milk, drink goat's blood, and be called Luscious Lips. And I learned to run.  There is nothing like running in the desert.

Am I soothed, has my self soothed me yet?  No, you gotta go beyond, behind, and that's what this Toyota rear view mirror does for me.  I can pull it close so that my eyes fill it up, a mask, just a streak of just me, just my eyes. I don't know how it is for other people and their rear view mirrors, but it can be hard to look yourself hard in the eyes.  With, you know, some honesty.

Nothing special, brown again, but there's some wit and soul back there.  If I can spot it, I spot me, and can whisper, mi luz, mi luz, and that joy of her comes rushing in and darned if there is not a sudden streak of hazel, like a falling, shooting star.  And so I'm soothed, old Lucious Lipped  Luiz.

I feel generous, soothed.  I feel big as the whole out of doors, as the world seen from our also generous stoop. I have no blood in my intestines.

"Let me have that grandbaby of mine," I cajole Maria Angelica, wife to my Ramón, as she's dragging a red-faced, pissed and pissy little Paloma to another self-soothe session. She comes over to "do" for me, at Ramón's insistence. "Doing" has come to mean cooking a one-pot wonder, that often literally goes to the dogs, my neighborhood evening pals.  She vacuums, and she does something she calls "textesting," which I understand, but don't get. Half the people she's testesting are girlfriends she talked to all morning at the salon,where she rents a chair, and the other half?  Well, Ramón has business to attend to, let's say.

I wish all my children could have clipped a desert nomad, got whacked in the head in return, and harbored another soul's demons, zipped up, locked up, keeping their particular cantankerous nomad safe from that no good demon devilry.  They don't seem to see, my kids, beyond their own substantial noses.  Not to badmouth my Estrella, but she had quite the honker, too.

Maria Angelica throws a hip my way, the baby's butt square on it, to let me know what she thinks of me, but my serenity and self-soothed charm overcome her, especially when it occurs to her that she could, maybe, "run an errand."

Off she goes, and a surprised baby -- I think she's about two, I dunno -- is flabbergasted to be on my lap.  I don't bounce my knees, nothing like that.  Nothing against it, it just isn't my style with babies.  She talks some, but with a thumb plugged in her mouth and a spare finger up her nose, it doesn't make sense.

"That's okay, Paloma, you and me, girl?  We're not about making sense.  No, ma'am.  We're about selfffff-sooooothing," and I swear she smiled, even with all that fancy digit work going on.

They should sell whatever babies are stuffed with -- and I mean your clean, non-poopy drawered babies.  The things just mold to your arms, your shoulders, their heads find where to lay, all on their own.

We read a magazine and we watched some Track and Field I'd saved to watch on the television.  She fell asleep pretty early on, so either Autoweek is Paloma's "happy place" and "focal point": or the sound of my self-soothed voice lilted her into lullaby land. So long as I don't have to sing. She missed the Prefontaine Classic but I won't hold it against her.  She's got time.

The whole while, my innards calmed, for who can go jumping up, running to the bathroom when there is a sleeping baby to be held.  I will either bleed to death in that bathroom or I won't, but right now, I just can't, can I?

After Maria Angelica's culinary creation of the day, with her heavy hands of cheap pork cuts, over dirty rice, everything awash in cumin and cilantro -- always bruised and stem-heavy -- after the feeding of the hounds, and the greetings from the stoop, I'll cross over to the Korean grocery and get fresh peaches and their smallest carton of cream.

© 2013 L. Ryan

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