“And if you wake up, you might learn something before it’s done.” -Bill Cosby
About 50 miles north of me, a high-school gymnasium had been transformed into a temporary shelter for evacuees. The rows of cots were all filled by those ordered to leave their homes as the fires advanced. They did not know if they would have a home to return to, but they were exhausted and for now, they just wanted a place to sleep. Except for a few children sobbing, all was quiet in the spacious darkened interior.
Until the farting started.
The first one didn’t even make a sound, but what it lacked in volume it made up for aroma. It smelled of broccoli, egg, and some sort of dead animal. The groans of protest from those still awake woke others so they could smell it too.
Since humans’ directional sense of smell is limited at best, the perpetrator remained anonymous and therefore immune to shaming. The only way to retaliate was to return fire. Sauce for the goose and all that.
Payback was not so silent. It trumpeted from the buttocks and took full advantage of the gymnasium’s acoustics. The person responsible had no hope for anonymity, but did not care. This was war.
Any need for restraint after that was, as they say, gone with the wind. Razzers, pops, and sputters erupted all around in the darkness, as well as frustrated grunts from those who tried and failed to add to the flatulent zeitgeist. Some farter non-starters decided that sound effects were better than nothing and drawing from memories of their summer-camp bunkhouse after lights out, put their lips against their forearms or palms pressed together and forcibly exhaled.
Unfortunately for them, the volunteer working the night shift was a former camp counselor and had little patience for such shenanigans. She blew her whistle and issued a direct order to knock it off. The gymnasium fell silent and sphincters tightened save the one that caused the ruckus in the first place.
Fifty miles can seem like a world away, especially when the threat from the fires are kept at bay by, of all things, a bay. What woke me from my my fitful sleep was not evacuee flatulence, but my cat demanding attention as she often does in the vicinity of three o’clock in the morning.
Kitty is 16 now. If she were a dog, she would be dead. Cats on average live a little longer, but she is well into her dotage. A few years ago, she would have delivered multiple headbutts and/or taps on the face with her paw. Now she just leans her forehead in and lets gravity do all the work. It’s lazy but effective. I was soon awake and scratching that spot on her forehead.
“It’s OK, Kitty. We don’t have to worry about those nasty fires,” I said.
My cat, having never ventured north of 17th Street, purred and concurred.
There were posts on Facebook from friends who lived up there and were now cooling their heels in Marin County. Soon they would go home and feel relieved that they had been spared, perhaps thanking the same god who saw fit to ruin the lives of their neighbors.
San Francisco was immune to these fires, but not their smoke. The more sensitive and cautious donned facemasks before setting foot outside. The sun turned blood red when it lowered into the late afternoon sky.
I had seen the sun like this on the tail end of by bus ride home from work and it reminded me of the Japanese flag. There were no streaks radiating from the sun so this was not the flag of the 1930s and 40s when Japan had lost its collective shit and took to raping Nanking plus countless comfort girls, bombing Pearl Harbor, and beheading POWs. No, the unadorned red ball was the Japan of Gamera, tentacle porn, and peaceful prosperity made possible by seeing that the way of the future lay in the transistor and not the vacuum tube. This is the Japan I visited. This is the Japan I love.
It was a lovely sunset, perhaps not worth the torching of California’s wine country to create it, but impressive nonetheless. Yet neither it nor the fires burning out of control held my attention. I had a bigger crisis of my own to deal with.
I did not know how to process the passage of time.
I had some conventional wisdom. There was that adage about time flying when you’re having fun. Not applicable given recent fun levels. Then there’s the Clash’s “Clocks go slow in a place of work/Minutes drag and the hours jerk.” That’s closer to the mark, but both fall short because they deal with perceived time. My concern is far more objective and quantifiable.
I have about a decade to move through before I hit retirement. I went to the epoch-converter website and with it and my calculator, I came up with how many seconds were left between then and just after midnight on my 65th birthday. It was a lot. In the low eight digits, I think.
I then remembered an internet hebephile during Emma Watson’s Hermoine Granger period who put up a clock counting down to her 18th birthday. There was quite an uproar over it at the time. He was labeled a predator by some, which was idiotic. A predator would not have been so willing to wait. Watson did eventually turn 18, but that’s all I know about how the story ended. There is probably not much else to tell, but part of me likes to think that one of her first acts as a consenting adult was to reward him for his devotion and patience. Perhaps consent was given with a most British “Right, in you go then” or maybe she was a Joe Don Baker fan and quoted his Final Justice catchphrase, “Go ahead on.” I doubt I’ll ever know.
I considered creating my own countdown clock, or better yet appropriating someone else’s, and customizing it to fit my needs. Underage actresses aren’t my thing, but knowing the number of seconds to retirement might provide comfort when work stress gets to be too much for me. Tick fucking tock, I would think while watching the number decrease.
Ultimately, I am afraid this would feed a much bigger problem. You see, I am in that stage of life where I am neither here nor there. In the past, I behaved irresponsibly and figured I could get away with it. Abnormally good luck proved my prediction, if not my judgment, to be accurate. When I retire, the plan is to have enough money to be irresponsible again and by then I’ll have the extra reckless abandon of knowing I’m on borrowed time.
Perhaps I’ll be like that one old fart Creepy Jeff told me about who got carried out of a strip club and thrown against a tree. I don’t know what his transgression was, certainly not simply leering. You earn that privilege by paying the cover charge. Maybe he got grabby or was caught sprinkling brewer’s yeast on currency before stuffing it into a g-string. Neither activity is my style. The tree fate could still await me, but only if it was a service I paid for and was carried out by strippers who were built like bouncers.
There I go again with the hints at my proclivities. TMI be damned. I may just have to write about it at length someday, but I’ll spare you this time.
The point is that in order to secure a future of not giving a shit, I need to give a shit now. That’s job one. I need to hunker down and transform. I am neither caterpillar nor butterfly. I am a pupa. (I originally wanted to call this blog entry “Cocoon” but did not want to establish a pattern of picking movie titles, especially with the softening of the film’s subject matter over the last one. Following this trajectory, the next one could be called “Terms of Endearment”and none of us want that).
Fortunately, being a pupa is not a 24/7 operation. I just need to remember to make the time count so I’m not just counting time. Irresponsible, self-centered people are supposed to be good at living in the moment. Half the time I don’t even know what the moment is. And it should be so easy. All I need to do is get over myself and see that the world needs me. Hand me a beer and stand back. I’ve got a fire to piss on.