Thursday, March 13, 2014

James Dean Once Considered Mopping the Floor Rather Than Taking an Early Exit


He was sitting in his favorite chair reading a movie script, but thinking about switching on the game, when she came home.

"I think we should clean the house tonight, dear," she said, breathless, as she set down two bags of groceries.

There was a tone in her voice that told him this was not open to discussion.

"And I have a yoga class later, so we need to begin now."

He wanted to say "But I was just going to..." when he thought better of it. He closed his reading and set it on the table. He pulled himself out of the chair, his tousled mop of signature rebellion looking a bit flat. He had put on a little weight.

His tight, straight-legged jeans bound his movements as he stretched, his mind quelling the rising insurgency. He was getting better at what she called watching his reactions.

"The mop and bucket are in the furnace room, next to your saddle and motorcycle," she reminded him firmly, but gently. "And I am so proud of you for having given up that nasty smoking habit. I mean, really, that cancer stick hanging off your lower lip all the time was really unhealthy. You need to get more exercise and fiber now that you're taking care of yourself. And I appreciate your not driving quite so fast. Traffic is much easier now that we can use the Pruis instead of that rough ride of that Corvette and your Porchie race car, or whatever you call it."

"PorSCHE," he said, with a German "UH". 

He had to admit that he did feel better now that he was getting regular sleep, keeping the hard drink to a healthy moderation, and seeing his therapist.

He plodded dutifully to the furnace room and noticed that his Norton was gathering dust. There was a puddle of oil beneath the kick starter. She would not like that.

He pulled the mop off the hook and cleared a path to the cat litter box. The last time his box of road maps had blocked access to the litter, the cat had peed on his favorite chair, the leather one, the one that looked like a bucket seat of a Ferrari.

"You have to sweep first," she reminded him when she saw that he planned to mop right away.

"Got it," he mumbled.

"Would you like some music to clean by? I have a great playlist of whale sounds or crashing waves in the distance," she offered, now wearing baggy sweats and fuzzy slippers.

"How about some blues?" he said.

"No, I can't clean while you play that whiny, hoarse music. It's so unsatisfied, so full of angst.... and longing," she chirped as she began dusting the leaves of the palm plants.

She practically floated over to the I-Pod and turned on the whale-call music. He pointed the broom deep into the corners under the floor cabinets in the kitchen. He pulled out scraps of kale leaves, whole-wheat pasta noodles, a piece of tamari-marinated salmon.

How did all that stuff get there? he wondered.

Then the phone rang and a buddy of his wanted to hit the town, then go up a car race up north.

"Nah, I got some things I have to do," was all he said, but there was more going on in his little image of how the evening might go.

On the one hand, he felt things so strongly. He lived for fire, for passion, for risk. He had made his career on being the bad boy, the one that, when given the opportunity to reflect before acting, chose acting, even when that was self-destructive. He was working on this, with his therapist, and in the meditation class he was taking with his new girlfriend. He knew he could stay home and "do the right thing," but there was that nagging impulse down there in the steamy folds of his gut that said "you know what you have to do."  The image of his father asking him, so close he could smell pipe tobacco and Johnny Walker, "are you a 'nice boy' or a tough boy?" the question dripping with contempt.

The sweeping was going well enough, but a pressure was building in his chest as the whales sang and she hummed along, thinking that the garden really needed some work too.

"You have to learn to detach, to disassociate, to dis-identify with your urges," the therapist had said. "It is the witness of your emotions that is going to get you through these hard times," she said. "You have created an idea of yourself that is dangerous and headed for a dark outcome."

He wanted to sink into his feelings, to let them guide him.

True, doing that had led to broken affairs, drugs, fights, dead-ends of all kinds.

But. Always that but. He felt the fire burning in him and wanted to move, to sizzle on the spit of oxytocin and dopamine and the roar of a Corvette leaving a patch of rubber at the first photon of green light.

It was different now that they had moved in together, he had to admit. He spent more time working, for sure, but also more time at home. She wanted to talk, wanted to get to know him. It was hard, because he did not really know himself, couldn't answer her questions.All that introspection felt prickly, if not indecent.

Her friends seemed to know so much more, and he was jealous when men would make her laugh or swoon with a wise and pithy observation about childhood or family histories of conditioning. She was like a foreign country to him, more foreign than what lay over the horizon on his aimless rambles on his motorcycle. Back then, when he was looking for something, he never thought he would find this.

This was the hardest thing he'd ever done, for sure. This ordinariness was bizarre.

He finished sweeping, and he had to admit that the floor looked good. He filled the bucket and began to mop the tile. Outside the ocean shimmered like hammered silver.  He thought about the valley and the heat and a time when the cigarette hanging from his lip had caught the eye of a film maker. He just went along with everything after that. It was fun, kinda phony, but fun. The surliness was real, though. He had a bone to pick with the world.

Then he met her and she did not kiss up to him. In fact, she stared him down. He took a turn and followed something else. That was a mystery. It was different, confusing. The terrain she saw was inside, invisible to the dancers and trend-setters he hung with.

All he knew was that he stayed, might even stay for a long time, even if he never understood why, and that in this life, anyway, he might never be the legend who died too young, who made for the perfect end to a story that people would tell again and again, the one about leaving behind such a beautiful corpse, as they laid flowers on his young grave.

Yes, that was a nice image. And the hot blood pulsing through him pushed over one domino that led to the next and the next.

He found the phone in the back room and rang his buddy. "I changed my mind. The races sound like fun."

His witness was no match for the hand that grabbed his leather jacket, a pack of cigarettes, and watched his feet as they carried him toward the door that opened onto his collection of gleaming muscle cars. They crouched there in the low light. He asked himself what he was doing, knowing in some way that this was the moment, the one that goes on and on, offering itself up to the call of how to use it.

He thought something about a road and being less traveled. Bunch of BS.

The seat conformed to him as he started the engine. The growl erased any doubt that he had about taking hold of a wild mane. He felt light and dizzy, possessed. The badness hooked him with a grip he was no match for.

He wheeled the car out onto the road that led him out and away. He was done mopping. 



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