Every authentic rebirth is a real ejection from paradise, Earnest Becker reminds us in The Denial of Death. The day Will Smith smacks the shit out of Chris Rock at the Academy Awards, I head to Purgatory, to a ski-in ski-out resort at the base of the mountain. It's not a metaphor any more than everything in my life is a metaphor. "As if real life weren't always fiction in the first place," Grégoire Bouillier writes in The Mystery Guest. I spend five days in a hot tub floating around in little circles. A zero-gravity simulation at ten thousand feet above sea level. After twenty-four hours I start to feel lightheaded. Mild oxygen deprivation. A freebie high from all the second hand weed in the air. I've heard it can be as much as .0002%. I don't mind. I used to pay bookoo bucks to feel lightheaded. A head is heavy. A head is awkward. A head weighs between eight and eleven pounds. They cause all kinds of back problems and posture issues. Most chiropractors recommend against them. "There's something different about you," J says when I return from Purgatory all stretched out and care-free and no longer having a head. "Hmmmmm," she says.
Today is April 15th in the year of our lord twenty twenty-two. I'm just kidding, of course. These aren't our lord's years anymore. Surely, they’re someone else’s at this point. Yesterday Elon Musk offered to buy Twitter for forty-three billion dollars. Maybe these are Elon Musk’s years. They’re okay. A little uneven. Everything’s a little more expensive than it should be. TV’s hit or miss. A few days ago, I saw a message on my Nextdoor app. Someone's been going around the neighborhood stealing catalytic converters out of people's cars. "Keep an eye on your catalytic converters!" the original poster warns. Later I too post a message. Mine's to www.nissanforums.com. "What might one say a catalytic converter is?" my message reads. "And how might one know if one doesn't have one anymore?"
Recently they opened a Jamba Juice near my house. It's on Spring Creek Blvd and Avenue K, in front of the LA Fitness. Maybe it's been there for a long time. Maybe it's been there for twenty-five years. I don't know. I'm not what you would call observant. The other day I drove by it.
"Oh hey," I thought. "Jamba Juice."
Lately it's overcast and humid. Highs in the eighties. Lows in the eighties. Some real Jamba Juice weather if you know what I mean. I'm going to Jamba Juice a lot. That’s what I mean. Once or twice a week. There's a constant chance of rain but never any rain. A bold-faced refutation of statistics and probability. As if all of us didn't already have our doubts. In the morning I look at myself in the bathroom mirror.
"Showtime," I say.
I'm ten weeks sober, slightly dehydrated, completely headless with a mild iron deficiency and a low-to-non-existent sperm count. I may or may not be operating without the assistance of a catalytic converter. In my experience we all need a little less than we think. Carl says when he lived in New York he dated a girl who was missing her large intestine.
"Cool," I said.
"Her mouth was connected directly to her asshole," he said.
"Wonderful," I said.
"Five minutes after Waffle House it was Welcome to Shit Town, USA," he said.
Once he had to pull over on the side of the highway, etc. A colostomy bag, etc. Wet wipes in the glove box, etc. He would have married her too, he told me, if she hadn't been so religious.
"Trinitarians," he said and shook his head.
Personally, I'm not much for the major world religions these days—the BIG FIVE and all that—but I am a firm believer that any stable, well-functioning adult in this world must be completely out of their goddam mind.
Pascal: "Not to be mad would amount to another form of madness."
Becker: "All character traits are psychosis."
It is perfectly normal, under the circumstances, to lose your head out there. It would be weird if you didn't. The day before Easter, one thousand nine hundred and eighty-nine years after the crucifixion of Christ, twenty-four hours before the anniversary of his resurrection, we drive to J's parents’ house in West Plano, across US75, near the H Mart. On the way over we stop at Texaco for gas. $3.95 a gallon.
"Gas prices have risen," I say.
"They have risen indeed," J says.
Recently an op-ed in Bloomberg encouraged Americans who make less than $300,000 a year to stop eating meat. "Try lentils," the writer suggested. We all must make sacrifices. In the story of Christianity, Jesus sacrifices himself to save us from hell. In the story of Avengers: Endgame, Iron Man sacrifices himself to save us from aliens. Me, though, I prefer the type of stories where we're all fucked no matter what.
"Have you heard the Good News?" a Christian once asked me on a train in Downtown Dallas.
"Yah," I said. "Have you heard the bad news?"
Saturday afternoon we sit around my in-laws’ kitchen table in West Plano eating gluten-free French toast and low sodium bacon. We drink Sprite and grape juice mixed together. To commemorate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are each given a hollow chocolate bunny.
"The secret," my six-year-old niece whispers to me, "is to start with the head."
I don't blame anyone for believing anything. It's all pretty ridiculous. What's the difference, you know?
"That seems like a bit of a stretch," Carl said when I explained to him my firm belief in the healing powers—physical, mental, and spiritual—of a large Jamba Juice RazzmatazzTM smoothie.
"Stretching increases blood flow to essential muscle groups and reduces risk of back injury,” I said. “Most chiropractors recommend it."
The reason I know so much about chiropractors—am something of an expert on them, actually—is because I watch their videos all the time on YouTube. It's practically a genre at this point. Pennsylvania's Dr. Brent Binder. Florida's Dr. Brenda Mondragon. Houston's Dr. Gregory Johnson. They use high-definition cameras and condenser mics. People come in with all kinds of crap wrong with them and these chiropractors always know what to do. They use the Gonstead technique. They do the Ring-DingerTM. "Let's put this back where it belongs, shall we?" they say and then body slam a sixty-year-old.
The forecast this week is all hot air and inflation. Ups and downs. Monday morning, I go for a walk through Bob Woodruff Park. Everyone around me is all hunched over and trudging along under the weight of their big stupid heads, straining their necks and shoulders, trying to keep those things level with the horizon.
Suckers, I think.
It's eighty degrees out. Overcast. Humid like a car wash. There's a chance of rain. In a clearing by the pond, I come across a hot air balloon. It's being inflated. I wonder if this is the inflation the forecast was talking about.
"Bigger!" I yell as it grows above the trees, an 80-foot-tall technicolor bounce house.
I don't know who needs to hear this right now, but no matter how out of control your life feels it is always possible to pretend like you're still running the show. After I get cut off in traffic, I motion politely to the offending driver. "After you," I say. When Outback Steakhouse runs out of grilled asparagus, I announce that I will be having the mashed potatoes. I once saw a toddler at a firework show pointing commandingly up at the sky like he was conducting the New York Philharmonic. According to developmental psychologists, it takes a newborn human nine months to realize that its actions can affect the world. Then another thirty-four years for it to realize that no, actually they can't.
"Now take her to the moon!" I yell as the hot air balloon lifts off the ground carrying five old men in windbreakers up above the power lines.
This neighborhood we're in is mostly retirees, community college students, amateur power walkers, and other people in various stages of completely giving up on their lives. Yesterday the kid next door popped his head over the fence.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey," I said.
"Do you have a cat?" he said.
"Yeah," I said.
"Is it a real cat or a cat statue?" he said.
"It's a real cat," I said.
"Oh," he said. "I thought maybe it was a cat statue."
Around 6pm this neighborhood smells like Stouffer's lasagna and Ore-Ida crinkle cut fries. Around 9pm it smells like chamomile and weed. Five square blocks of people taking it slow, taking it easy, taking a load off. Every community can be a retirement community if its residents lack enough ambition.
"Hey," the neighborhood kid said an hour later, popping his head back up over the fence.
"Hey," I said.
"Do you have a dog?" he said.
"Yeah," I said.
"Is it a real dog or a dog statue?" he said.
I am thirty-four years old, psoriatic and eczematic, both near- and far-sighted, a proud new member of the Jamba Juice rewards club. I have liver spots on my knuckles and arms. My investment portfolio is conservatively diversified, set to mature around the time I turn one hundred and fifty-seven. Up in Purgatory there was a sign on our cabin wall. "It's all downhill from here, folks," it said. So I've heard. To keep my blood sugar down I take 14mgs of insulin glargine a day, injected directly into the fatty part of my stomach. To keep my blood pressure down I take an ace inhibitor called Lisinopril. A small pink pill. I don't know what it does. It's so small and pink it's hard to believe it does anything. To be safe I take two. Common side effects of both medications are fatigue, irritability, dry mouth, disorientation, extreme light headedness. In some cases, your head just falls off completely. It's been known to happen. "Hmmmm," my doctor says when I go in for my annual checkup and I don't have a head. "That's weird." Much like the appendix, coccyx, catalytic converter, 94th Academy Awards, and the entire field of weather prediction and meteorology, experts are still NOT ONE HUNDRED PERCENT CERTAIN what exactly the human head is for. One theory is that it's some sort of battery.
A member of nissanforums.com sends a reply: “Similar to the human body, 90% of all car parts are pretty much unnecessary. Many can be removed easily with a flathead screwdriver and a socket wrench.”
I knew a guy who set out to design the most inexpensive, no-nonsense car in the world and ended up designing a motorcycle.
I don't know how much a gallon of milk costs in the year of Elon Musk 2022 but a large RazzmatazzTM from Jamba Juice costs $6.59 plus tax.
"Would you like to boost your Razzmatazz today, sir?" the Jamba Juice team member asks me.
"Let's give her a boost," I say.
"Just one boost today, sir?"
"Let's make it a double boost today," I say. "Might as well go for it."
I choose a boost of vitamin C for my immune system. A boost of vitamin D for joints and ligaments and an overall sunny disposition. I avoid the boost of vitamin E, a known memory enhancer. None of this strikes me as being particularly worth remembering. Not worth the extra $1 if you catch my drift.
I sit outside Jamba Juice on their rattly metal chairs, the ones designed to withstand nuclear Armageddon, 120-degree temperatures, teenagers who drive used Camaros and connect their wallets to their pants with chains, a nearly extinct species at this point. These chairs are well-built. A little wobbly. I wobble back and forth, working my hip flexors and lower back. I wonder if I've invented a new hip exercise. Biceps be damned. I'm all hips, baby.
"Have you seen that guy’s hips?" I imagine people saying. "Powerful."
The Razzmatazz tastes like sherbet and bananas. It feels like vitamin C and vitamin D. I can feel my disposition getting sunnier. Your body is smart. Your body knows what it needs. If you put your body in charge it will eventually lead you directly to a Jamba Juice. I have it on good authority that their rewards club is currently accepting new members.
It's late afternoon. Eighty degrees with a chance of rain. I suck a banana chunk through the straw as a hot air balloon goes floating by overhead, low-flying and getting lower, all cool air and deflation, the pattern on the outside bright red and pixelated like when I was a kid and I used to press my face right up against the TV screen. I'd get so close my eye lashes would pop with static electricity.
"LOWER!" I yell as the balloon descends toward Bob Woodruff Park. "BRING HER DOWN NICE AND EASY, BOYS!"
In the basket I can see four old men in windbreakers, wide-eyed and sunburned, white beards down to their chests, working the ballasts and pullies, really going to town with those things, heads bobbling around like dashboard figurines, looking like four Moseses come down the mountain and we all need to have a little chat.