Thursday, November 20, 2014
In the morning, I make my wife’s sandwich for her lunch at work. The sandwich is made with Miracle Whip, two slices of cheddar cheese, and hard salami on wheat bread. I cut the sandwich into two halves for her and put it in a zip-lock baggy. This morning, I noticed that the tray container holding the salami was labeled: Same Great Taste! New Convenient Container!
My custom is to use the sandwich knife to slice a Fun Dogs wiener into nine pieces. (Fundogs cost $1.08 for ten wieners.) Five slices of the wiener are used as treats to urge my dog to perform her simple repertory of tricks: she sits, shakes, comes, rolls-over and stays motionless with the wiener slice on the floor between her paws until I give her the command to eat it. I take the remaining four wiener slices into the back yard and hide them. Then, I shout "nose" and the dog searches for the little pieces of appalling pinkish-brown meat.
For some reason, this morning, I deviated from my habit. I used four pieces of wiener to reward the dog for her tricks, omitting the command "roll-over" from her performance. This meant that I had five pieces of wiener meat to conceal in my snowy backyard. The dog quickly found the first four pieces, impaled on twigs from vines sere and dead now, dangling from the daisy-yellow siding of my garage. But she didn’t expect me to hide a fifth wiener piece, embedded in the snow next to the empty peanut butter jar that she likes to nuzzle in the back yard. The dog scrutinized me with her big dark eyes. ""Nose!" I said, meaning: "Use your nose to find the treat!" But the dog was no fool: she knew that I only hid four treats in the backyard and not five and so she simply looked at me with a faintly accusatory expression, sorrow at my betrayal of her expectations. "Nose!" I said again. The dog looked at me as if I had gone mad.
A couple weeks ago, two of my partners came to my office in the basement of the law firm where I practice. The visit was obligatory. One of my partners was moving to a large corner office in the building that my firm owns. Since I am senior to the partner moving into that sunny corner office upstairs, courtesy required that I grant my permission. "Do you want to move?" my younger partner asked me. "No," I said. "I have my stuff down here. I am happy in the basement. I guess I will stay here until I die." "You can have the corner office," my younger partner told me. "I’ll stay down here," I said. "This is where I have my stuff."
Until you are forty, or, even, perhaps fifty-years old, all change seems positive to you. Change means progress. Even bad change and harmful events can be interpreted optimistically: if it doesn’t kill me, it makes me stronger. And: you must learn from bad experiences.
From your fiftieth year onward, change is all bad. It represents deterioration and a kind of waning; the idea of progress has proven to be a cruel illusion. The pipes become clogged; the sidewalk is covered with snow with no one to shovel it away. The odometer on your car is inching upward to the fatal mileage when the engine will fail.
My law firm has hired a new associate. She is a helpful young woman. I asked her to go to Albert Lea to investigate an accident involving a woman who had fallen and broken her shoulder at a convenience store. I told the young associate: "Look around Albert Lea. It is a pretty town." I told her to go to Fountain Lake to see the delicately arched footbridge leading from the shore to a miniature island forty or fifty feet away. Near the footbridge, there is a big glacial boulder on the edge of the lake. A bronze mermaid sits on that boulder. She has a pensive expression on her face. "You must see the ‘little mermaid’," I told her.
We met with a new client, a 23-year old woman who had been injured in a car crash. The young woman was very serene and she had symmetrical features. Her skin was extraordinarily pale. The young woman spoke with the faintest accent, a tiny click and snap in some of the words that she used. I asked my paralegal if she could recognize the accent. "I thought it was some kind of speech impediment," my paralegal said. The woman’s mother had a Finnish name. "She is a Finn," I said. "That explains the porcelain complexion." But are Finns as pale as the moon rising over dunes of snow?
Before going to bed, I read "Caput 3" of Heine’s The Winter’s Tale. Usually I encounter two or three German words on each page that I don’t know. I mark the words with a pencil and, then, look them up in my Casell’s German-English dictionary. But I can’t ever remember the meaning of the words after I have read their definition and, even, written the English equivalent in the book’s margin. It seems that I have been unable to learn any new German vocabulary for the last twenty years. This disturbs me. In the middle of the night, I woke up, my mind afflicted by worry. I tried to assuage my worries by recalling the German words that I had noted in the margin of my volume of Heine. One word in particular came to mind: geschniegelt. I had looked that word up in my dictionary. But what did it mean? I had no idea. I tried to recall the context of the word, but couldn’t place it in the poem. In fact, it seemed that I had almost no recollection of the verses that I had read before going to my cold bed. Tormenting thoughts made me anxious. The darkness seemed poised to pounce and crush me.
In my law firm, there is a suite of offices in the center of the building. This is the law firm within the law firm, a place where attorneys with impressive resumes and important clients work. In the law firm within the law firm, transactions involving skyscrapers and factories are negotiated. This interior suite is different from the outer offices – it has cherry-wood paneling and oriental carpets brightening the floors and the secretaries are beautiful and expensively dressed. There is a discrete hush in the corridors and, among the conferences rooms with their vast circular tables, there is a feasting hall, a place where the law firm’s victories are celebrated with lavish banquets. Although I don’t have my office in the suites comprising the law firm within the law firm, I have been there many times and have even, (if I may be bold enough to say so) been feted in the banqueting hall.
On this late afternoon, with the sun setting outside beyond the stockade of barren and leafless trees, I went to the law firm within the law firm. An attractive blonde receptionist with a quizzical half-smile met me at the entry. "You can’t come in here," she said. "Why is that?" "You are not authorized." She was exquisitely polite and her enigmatic half-smile seemed to taunt me. "But I have been a member of this firm for 35 years," I said. "I’ve been a partner for thirty years," I added. "I don’t make the rules," she said. "You can’t come in here." I began to weep. My face was wet with greasy tears and I closed my eyes with shame. "I feel so sorry for you," the attractive receptionist said. She took me by the hand and led me into the basement of the building. Some desks were set up in a corner of a big room and a skylight overhead made the place bright and, almost cheery. Between the desks, there were porcelain and zinc basins. They were conveniently placed in case one of the workers at the small desks had to vomit or began to bleed or suffered from diarrhea or urinary incontinence. "You see," the young woman said. "It’s all set up for you."
I worked at my small desk for a couple hours and was quite content. Then, I went to my car and drove downtown to another law firm where I had some friends. I knew that there was an aquarium in that law firm and I thought it would be relaxing to see the fish swimming in their prisons of glass. The receptionist at the downtown law firm was attractive, with very pale skin, and she recognized me as soon as I came through the door. "Welcome!" she said. "I’ve come to see the fish," I replied. She took my coat and hung it in a closet next to her desk. Then, she beckoned for me to follow her to a narrow escalator leading down to the aquarium.
I toured the dimly lit galleries peering at the strange sea creatures in their tanks. No one else was there. One corridor led to rock-girt pool where two dolphins were frolicking in the water. Water splashed and made puddles on the concrete terraces next to the lagoon. I thought that it was cruel for such large and playful animals to be confined within that small pool of water. But, then, I understood that the law firm was employing the concept of "animal friends" to ease the captivity of their larger animals. For instance, the thoroughbred horses had small goats living in their pens to keep them company and reduce their anxiety. Similarly, the law firm had put an elephant in the lagoon with the dolphins so that the big mammals could play together in the water. As I watched the elephant swimming with the dolphin, the animals came close to the glass window at which I was standing. The dolphin reached out and opened the window. She asked me for a treat. I noticed that there was porcelain basin next to the window on an iron pedestal. In the basin, there were bloody hunks of raw tuna. I took the tongs leaning against the side of the basin and removed a piece or tuna. The dolphin reached out to me with her slender hand and greedily seized the tuna. She had a very pale face, as white as snow. Suddenly, the elephant had come to the side of the lagoon, next to the open window where I was standing. "He eats hamburgers," the dolphin told me. "But I only have tuna," I said. "Look more closely," the dolphin said, her words slightly accented with mermaid inflections. I examined the basin and found some sliders among the big pieces of tuna. With the tongs, I retrieved a slider from the basin. The elephant’s serpentine trunk wrapped around me and, then, the mermaid was pressing her fishy body close to mine and I felt as if I were being dragged into the cold lagoon, pulled from the viewing gallery into the tank.
A little later, the receptionist took my hand and led me to the escalator that ascended to the front desk. She removed my coat from the closet and handed it to me. My checkbook was missing from the pocket of my coat. I reached in my pant’s pocket for my wallet, but it was missing also. Apparently, the elephant or the mermaid had picked my pocket. I couldn’t find my car keys either in my pant’s pockets or my coat. But it didn’t matter. I had no memory as to where I had parked my car in the busy city stretching to the horizon on all sides of this great and powerful law firm.
I am drowned in a sea of worries.
At noon, I will go home and make beef borscht according to a simple recipe that I have developed myself. I will chop onion and cook a pound of stewing beef with the onion until it is browned. Then, I will put the beef and onion into a crock pot that I have prepared with a slow-cooker liner – this makes cleaning the crock pot after the borscht has cooked much easier. I will pour a can of julienne beets into the crock pot together with fresh, raw beets that I have chopped into small pieces. I will add a can of beef broth and a jaw of pickled cabbage. Then, I will turn the crock pot to "low" and cook for five or six hours.
Perhaps, I will stop at the grocery store where my daughter bags food and purchase some dark rye or pumpernickel. Perhaps, I will buy a small bottle of vodka and put it into my freezer so that shots of the liquor go to the brain like a spike of cold iron driven into your skull. I have some excellent pickles that my secretary, Susan, made and gave to me for my birthday. I’ll cut the pickles into slivers to eat with my borscht and dark bread. I will put honey on the dark bread and drink shots of vodka as I drink the bread and eat the pickles. This is self-indulgence on my part. No one else in my family will enjoy this meal as much as me.
A wise man reported this to me: He had gone to a place in one of the Carolinas to assist an elderly woman in moving from her apartment. After doing this work, the man and his wife went to a restaurant. There was a Black waiter who was extremely gregarious, friendly, and cheerful. The man asked him for his secret recipe for happiness. The waiter said: "I treat each day as if it were my new bride. That is with joy, respect, and love."
Another friend told me this: "Stay away from people who are unhappy. Unhappy people do mean and unpredictable things. Spend your time with happy people. Life is too short to spend it with those who are angry or embittered." This is good advice.