Saturday was already shaping itself into a beautiful day by 6:00 am: the sun was shining and the sky was a clear, cloudless blue. I was trying to screw up the courage to jump-start a new daily ritual designed to make me write more and dread writing less.
I’d been at it for a good three minutes when I was distracted by a loud “WAP!” at the front door, followed by a “BAM!” and then another “WAP!”
This was a little distressing, as I had posted signs all over the yard and the windows of my little Hobbit House that said: DO NOT DISTURB! I AM VERY BUSY! GO AWAY! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE – CAN’T YOU SEE I’M NOT ABLE TO COME TO THE DOOR? LOOK HERE: DON’T CALL THE POLICE! I AM FINE, I SWEAR!
I called out in the direction of the knocking, “Come in!”
“The door’s locked!”
A man’s voice. Angry. Ready to do violence. It sounded like it might be the police, despite the sign I’d posted warning people off of calling the cops if I didn’t answer the door.
What if they were coming to arrest me? Had my sister turned me in to the secret service after our last argument regarding Donald Trump, the Fake President of the United States? Was I going to be deported? Were Trump’s friends constructing private prisons in Siberia to hold all the political prisoners Trump seemed to want to generate during his time in office?
I have to admit – the whole idea started growing on me. It was probably only about 60 degrees in Siberia in June. Another probability was that I might see a tiger up close and personal! Also: a gulag seemed like the ultimate answer to my problem of being too distracted to write. And besides all that, prison literature always stands the test of time!
Oh boy! I thought. Political labor camp, here I come!
“I’m ready! You can take me wherever you want!” I shouted, trying to think of something cryptic but definitely intriguing to post on my Facebook timeline just as they pulled a hood over my face and handcuffed me.
More pounding on the door. “Open this goddamn door right NOW, you raisin-brained little jackass!”
Oh. I knew that voice.
And, okay, so maybe it wasn’t the secret service coming to arrest me and haul me off to a gulag. But it was something that might turn out to be better: Citizen Jim! Just in time to keep me from making any progress whatsoever on my work! Oh, how I loved him to pieces!
My heart soared as if held in the grip of a billion flying angels!
I opened the door to find him standing on the sidewalk dressed in an outfit that screamed: I’M THE BIRTHDAY BOY!
Actually, his outfit was just a standard Citizen Jim get-up: black polyester trousers, a black polyester shirt, black shoes, white socks, and a white sport coat; it was Citizen Jim who screamed, “I’m the birthday boy!”
“I’m so glad you were born!” I said to Citizen Jim, but he wasn’t listening.
He rushed past me and disappeared into some other part of my little house. The layout of the house basically makes a circle, so I knew if I stayed where I was he would eventually return. And after passing me about five or six times, he did come back to where I stood.
But he was so mad! “Where is it?” he asked.
“My birthday cake! The candles! The champagne! The noise-makers, the loud music! Hula dancers! What kind of birthday party is this?”
That explained why he was so dressed up. Ugh! I hung my head. “I’m sorry. I forgot.”
“No you didn’t! You’re just the worst friend ever! You wouldn’t throw me a big birthday party even if it happened to be the last one I was ever going to have!”
“Oh, don’t talk like that, Precious Lamb! I can’t bear to think about such a thing.”
It was true. Since I’d started working at a rest home for old and decrepit minor, uselessly titled aristocrats all I thought about from 8:30 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening were death and sickness and all the things nobody should ever have to think about. Adults wearing diapers. Elderly couples fighting to the death over whose children from a previous marriage should get the largest inheritance. Old men with clammy hands and week-long erections. Old ladies touching their privates and then offering unwrapped pieces of candy to anyone who walks in the door.
“Oh, Stimpy, I know you don’t give a crap. Speaking of which, I only came by to use the bathroom. Where the hell is it? I’ve walked in a circle around this place for ten solid minutes and can’t find any sign of a bathroom.”
“Sorry,” I said and led him to the bathroom door. I pointed. “It’s in there.”
“But that’s just a dressing room!”
“No, that’s the bathroom,” I said.
“Listen, I can’t use a bathroom with nothing but a slatted door separating the toilet from the rest of the house! For all I know you might make a video right outside the door and upload it to YouTube after I leave,” he said. “I can’t invite that kind of shame on myself. Spare me a little dignity.”
After he used the word “dignity,” I thought about my job again. I almost suggested he take a lesson from one of my residents, Louie von Prine, who always shits in the courtyard at the rest home when he can’t make it back to his room in time and doesn’t think anyone is watching. I figured if it was good enough for a man who still thought he should be called “Count” a whole century after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it’d be good enough for Citizen Jim. But I didn’t mention Count von Prine. Because, well, you know: HIPAA.
Oh, and, of course, because: dignity.
“There’s a gas station less than a block up the street if you’d rather go there,” I said.
Citizen Jim’s hands flew up while he rolled his eyes. “I’m not walking all the way to the gas station! I’ll just go outside and defecate on the ground like the good Lord intended when He created man right there in the outdoors.”
After he slammed the back door and headed into my land lady’s backyard, I yelled, “Oh, hey! Watch out for the–”
But it was too late. Before I could finish my warning I heard Citizen Jim screaming and cursing as he waddled across the lawn with his pants around his ankles. A squirrel was holding onto Jim for dear life, its bushy tail moving across Citizen Jim’s face like a windshield wiper.
While a half-naked Jim hobbled around yelling and trying to get the squirrel off his head I made a video to upload to YouTube later in the day. When I couldn’t think of a good title for the video I realized that not only was I unable to write anymore – I would probably never write anything again.
I realized that I had never really been able to write. I realized that no matter how many self-help books I read, or how many manuals I downloaded for my Kindle about increasing my productivity at the keyboard, I would never start and finish another piece of writing of any length or depth. I realized I might not even be able to write another Citizen Jim story.
In that moment I knew I was washed up, finished.
Before I could throw myself on my bed and cry my eyes out Citizen Jim burst back into my house. His pants were pulled back up around his waist but unbuttoned, and the squirrel was no longer on his head. “You gotta call an ambulance, Stimpy! Hurry!”
“The hospital is two blocks away – you could walk there,” I said. “But what for?”
“What for? Are you crazy? I just got attacked by a squirrel – I need me some rabies shots as fast I can get them!” he shouted. “I guess you want me to spend my birthday foaming at the mouth and rolling around on the ground and biting the tires on parked school buses instead of celebrating my life!”
I reminded Jim that we were in Fairhope where anything that threatened the quality of its residents’ lives was taken care of faster than you could throw a plate of food at an uppity waiter. “You know Fairhope won’t allow any cat or dog inside city limits if it hasn’t been spayed or neutered,” I said. “And they pay to have all the wildlife vaccinated against rabies each and every year.”
This wasn’t true, but it certainly didn’t sound crazy in relation to Fairhope.
“Okay, yeah, all right. That’s all well and good,” Citizen Jim said. He tugged at the waistband of his trousers and added, “But I still gotta go to the hospital.”
“To use the bathroom!”
“Oh, Jim, for Heaven’s – ”
“You know as well as I do that the hospital probably has the cleanest, most private bathrooms in town! And it is MY BIRTHDAY! You drive me there right now!”
“I know a better way to get you to the hospital,” I said, and called 911. The ambulance would be there in less than 30 seconds.
We walked outside and stood by my car. I didn’t want to leave for fear that I might miss the secret service when they came to arrest me. I was really anxious to get to that Siberian labor camp and start writing a jail house memoir as soon as I could.