I dreaded this trip more than anything in a long time. I’d have to think very hard to remember when was they last time I dreaded something so much, if ever.
The dread was worse than the reality, at least so far. Things have been okay. And yet, the creepiness is present, and it reminds me of all the meanness I associate with this place.
This morning I was walking back from the laundry room to my Dads place, a distance of about thirty feet, when I heard a man say “oh wow”. I looked to my left and so someone sitting in a very large pickup truck in the parking lot across the street. He was far away so I bet he didn’t realize I could hear him until I looked over. But the he looked at me in a way men look at me in this horrid state, that is, in a very predatory way. I only glanced over at him for a second and then looked ahead and went back to my Dads.
Let me remind you, I’m in a quiet, boring retirement community.
I went out ten minutes later to check the laundry again–it had been almost dry–and now the pickup was in front of my Dads building and the guy openly staring at me in the creepiest possible way.
I again had no idea how to react. I’m washing my Dads underwear and this guy is acting like a rapist.
So I just didn’t look at him.
I saw the truck parked over there later and I thought, that guy fucking lives there? So this is how he acts towards his neighbors? And also, it’s very likely I’ll see him again.
In which case I’m still not sure what to do except ask him if he’s available to wipe my dads ass.
I realized that Florida is the opposite of sex. All the things that I associate with sex — happiness, pleasure, intimacy, joy, nice sensations, love, affection — and, well, sexiness — they aren’t here. And because of that, I lose myself, my sense of self and my connection to my body. When these creepy guys look at me, I suppose they are thinking of their version of sex, but it’s not. It’s anti-sex.
Later I was at the library and this young white guy with dreads was looking at me. Maybe he thought I was a hippie because of my hair– people sometimes do. He asked me did I make my shirt and I said no but it was handmade. He said I like the birds. Three little birds. And I realized he wasn’t being creepy. I said, yeah three little birds.
He walked away. I left the library singing,
About a thing
‘Cause every little thing
Is going to be all right
I meant to go to the ocean directly from my the rehab center, but it was already 3:00 and I could tell my blood sugar was bottoming out. I had lost my appetite completely and wasn’t eating much but I felt I had to have lunch before I went to the beach. I went back to my Dad’s apartment, ate quickly, and then saw that a storm was coming. Unlike in the beginning of the trip, I decided to go to the ocean anyway.
I felt I was racing the storm, which was moving about 30 mph to my 40 with stoplights. When I got to the beach I threw my clothes and towel under the lifeguard stand (which, per usual, had no actual lifeguard) to keep them dry. I ran into the water but after 5 minutes the heat lightning was getting more intense and I figured it was just a matter of time before the lightning lightning started, so I got out.
As I headed out of the water a man showed up on a bicycle, and mode of transportation I hadn’t seen in days. He said, do you think it’s too late to go in? I said, Well, I’m getting out because of the lightning. He said, so it’s probably stupid, right? I said, I wouldn’t go in now. We ended up hanging out and talking by the lifeguard stand. He sat under it and I stood next to it because I didn’t care if I got wet, I just didn’t want my stuff to get wet.
We realized the stand was probably a bad place to be, as it was partially metal and tall, but we stayed because we were both were optimists about getting in the water. At one point it seemed to be clearing up so we made a run for it, joking that if we get hit at least we won’t die alone. I dove under and a minute later we saw real lightning decided it was too risky to stay.
The sky was so dark at the horizon at this point and the water was different pastel hues of aqua and lavender. Against the charcoal clouds great bolts of lightning came down and hit the ocean, over and over. It wasn’t the beach experience I had wanted, but it sure was something.
My mood lifted but when I went back to the rehab and saw my Dad’s angry, miserable face that ocean, that I had just left 30 minutes ago, seemed like something from a storybook.
I finally was able to go to the ocean. I had an idea that the ocean would be life a giant mikvah, washing away all my sins, worries, fears and sadness. The chart at the entrance of the beach said the air temperature was 91 degrees and the water was 85. I had remembered to wear my suit under my clothes because there was not changing rooms or bathrooms. I laid down my towel and walked in. Normally I have to go in very slowly but it was so warm, I was walked right in and swam without a pause.
The water was beautiful, from turquoise near the shore to a deep blue near the horizon. But I didn’t smile when I looked at it. I didn’t have any feelings inside me but sadness. I swam and played in the waves for a long time. I kept trying to feel a sparkle, a bit of joy, something. I couldn’t feel it. I didn’t feel sad though, so that was an improvement.
After about an hour I got out, and walked on the shoreline for few minutes to dry off a bit. It was good that I had gone for swim and I did forget about the problems for a while. But I didn’t feel good. I would have to leave Florida for that.
Tuesday. My Dad had an appointment at a pain clinic at 10am. I arrived at the VA hospital at 9am. He was not dressed or ready to go. A nurse came in said her name was Marty, same as my Dad. I told her he had an appointment to get to. She seemed uninterested. I called the social worker. It was now 9:25. I said, my Dad has to get to this pain appointment. She said, he’ll never make it, you should take him straight to the rehab place. I was stymied. I felt it was so important to get him the hell out of the VA, but I also felt the pain appointment was crucial. Marty the nurse came back. I told her what was going on. She said, Let’s get him out of here and to his appointment. She got him dressed, found a wheelchair, and we were out of the room in five minutes.
On the way out the door I we passed the social worker in conversation with someone else. I tapped her on the shoulder and said, “We’re leaving”. She just nodded and continued her conversation.
As we went to the car Marty the nurse loosened up and spoke a bit about herself. She even smiled as she said goodbye to us. Then we were in the car and off to the pain clinic. I was traveling with only written instructions I copied from online maps. I had forgotten to bring a paper map — the really old school form of travel — and my Dad had no printer, so I just had a pad with different pages of directions: Dad’s house -> VA, VA -> pain clinic, pain clinic -> rehab, rehab -> Dad’s house. I knew my “internal GPS” would kick in after a few days but for now I was tired and disoriented. I didn’t trust these notes and was terrified we’d get hopelessly lost. We didn’t.
We reached the pain clinic and I left Dad in the car. I asked if they had a wheelchair we could use. They gave me one and I went to get my Dad. Everytime my Dad got up or sat down he grimaced and groaned in agony. I wheeled him to the clinic and after a few minutes he said he had to use the bathroom. I asked where the bathroom was. They buzzed us out of the waiting area and into the clinic proper, and there was a bathroom right inside the entrance. Then I realized I had to go in the bathroom with my Dad.
You know, things happen when you are a kid that seem kind of awful but sometimes aren’t so bad later on. What I mean is that my Dad used to walk around in front of me in his underwear when I was a teenager, and sometimes left the door open when he peed (I could only see his back). I would yell at him not to do these things and thought they were disgusting but in some ways it prepared me for this moment. My Dad was in diapers (they use a brand name for adults, but my Dad just called them what they were). He needed help getting up out of the wheelchair and back into it so I had to stand there while he peed. It was kind of horrible but I had this sinking feeling that this was just the beginning.
After the doctor’s appointment we went to the rehab center where my Dad would be staying for 20 days, which is all that the insurance would pay for. He hated the place immediately. I pointed out that they had a little aviary, that they had a physical therapy room, that they had a dining room. He agreed all these things were good but still was cranky.
The next day I came back to pick him up for the minor operation he was having. When I came in his room he was talking to himself. I said, “Hi Dad, who are you talking to?” He said, “Myself, I’m so furious. No one gave me my medication since I’ve been here. My blood pressure’s gone through the roof! I don’t know if they’ll even do the surgery now! This place is a hellhole! It’s worse than the VA! Forget it — I don’t give a shit anymore!”
This onslaught of fury went on and on, and at some point something in me snapped and I started bawling saying, “Don’t be mad, Daddy”. Then I hugged him and he started to cry and he said, “Don’t make me cry, that’s all I need, I’ll really lose it then.”
The first wheelchair the rehab place had given him had a broken arm, and I had to leave my Dad to locate a working wheelchair. There seemed to be a scarcity of them. No one could find a wheelchair. I just couldn’t go back to my Dad’s room without one. Finally someone wheeled up a old, banged up thing with a torn arm. My Dad was sure to comment about that.
At the hospital my Dad cheered up considerably. The hospital seemed like a better-quality place with good staff. When no one was in the room, he pointed out that the staff was all white, unlike the staff at the rehab. Suddenly my Dad had become a racist. I suppose everyone in Florida eventually becomes a racist, a sadist, a rapist. Cruelty is part of the culture.
When I said I don’t think the problem has to do with skin color Dad, I think it has to do with the systems, he agreed, and didn’t say anything racist again. But the fact that he had, even once, disturbed me.
I stayed with him until they wheeled him off for surgery, which was several hours. I had a couple hours to myself and I thought, I’ll go see the ocean. But the minute I walked out the building, a thunderstorm begin. I thought, the hell? I can’t even go to the beach? I guess not. I guess I am just caught in a vortex of crud.
I went to the library where I could use my computer until the nurse called to say come pick him up. The minute my Dad got in the car the torrent of anger started again, because he didn’t want to go back to “that hellhole”. Several times I said, “Dad. Please. Please stop. I can’t take it anymore”. But he couldn’t stop himself.
When we got back to the rehab place he was worse than ever. They brought him his dinner but it was pork. He said, “I can’t eat that shit” and I found someone to get him another dinner. While we were waiting he was saying, “I’m so fucking angry! This place is the worst! I’m sick of this shit! I’ll tear this place apart!”
They brought back a dinner with a chicken leg. By this time I was bawling again. The nurse asked what was wrong and I said, “He’s so angry.” I started cutting up the chicken for him before he screamed about how he couldn’t eat it. I was crying as I cut it and too upset to even think about how disgusting meat is to me. Just like my Dad couldn’t control his anger, I couldn’t control my reaction to it.
Several more times I had to help him in the bathroom, and each time things were more exposed. My Dad didn’t seem to care. He said, “Now you’re going to see an old ass.” I kept trying to look away. I didn’t want to see his ass, old or otherwise. Or him sitting on the toilet to try to pee that way. Or to dump his urinal bottle. I didn’t want to do any of this.
That night I dreamed that I cleaned up the bathroom at his apartment. I had been using the spare bathroom which was just a toilet and a sink. If I wanted to take a shower, I would have to clean up the main bathroom. Somehow the dream gave me the courage to try.
The next morning I scrubbed everything and realized that it would take several passes to get everything clean. Well, as clean as I could get it. Perhaps a decontamination unit could do better. It ended up taking four passes over two days. There was no longer a shower curtain because I had to throw it away, it too was shit-speckled. Despite the lack of a curtain, I took a shower anyway. A long, long shower. I hadn’t showered in three brutal days. There was tons of water on the floor afterward so I had to mop it up for quite a while. Compared to everything else, that was easy.
I think it started with the first taxi. The driver said he would give me his phone number so I could call him directly, but when I did, he yelled into the phone that he couldn’t help me. Okay, then.
It did disturb me that the highest rating for any taxi company in the area was a three. This was the one star company, whom was waiting outside the airport and I was directed to take by the dispatcher. I thought, I’ll call the three-star company and everything will be fine.
I called, and the taxi came very quickly. The driver asked if I wanted to sit in the front or the back, and I opted for the front. He asked me if I worked at the hospital and I said no, I had just flown in from California to visit my Dad who was in the hospital. He said oh, you are here to have a little vacation? I said no, I am visiting my Dad who is in the hospital. I am not here for fun, I’m here to help my Dad. He smiled and I realized he was very, very high.
Then his cell phone rang and he answered it and starting speaking in French. You know, in Florida there’s no laws. You can ride a motorcycle with no helmet, you can talk and drive, whatever. Anyway, when he got off the phone he apologized and I said, “Pas de problème” and he started speaking to me in French. I was glad to be practicing my French.
We got the the gate where my Dad lives and I gave the guard my name and my Dad’s friend’s name, and my Dad’s name, but no one had told the guard I was coming. My Dad’s friend has dementia and although she swore up and down that she would remember to do this task she did not.
The taxi driver started yelling at the guard, Look man, just let her in, she is here to visit her Dad who is in the hospital, she just came from the hospital, just let her in. He said this loudly in an angry tone.
The guard responded, louder and angrier, look just swing your car around boy, you can’t stay here I have to let people through, move the car, boy.
He just called a Black man “boy”. I knew I was in the South, but I had never heard this myself before. I felt sick.
I got out of the car and talked to the guard directly. I had no idea why the taxi driver thought he could speak for me, especially if it was just to fuck shit up. The guard told me I had to call my Dad and get permission. My Dad thankfully answered the phone. It was bad to call him because he was already very angry about the bad treatment he was getting at the hospital, and the horrible pain, and his loss of independence. You know, people like to quote the line, “Rage, rage against the dying of light”, but in reality being witness to the raging is somewhat corrosive. I had to act like this little snafu was not a problem, just a simple thing so my Dad wouldn’t start raging again.
I hung up the phone and acted polite to the guard because I was exhausted and just wanted to get to bed. The guard gave me permission to go in.
I went back to the taxi and got in. I was giving the driver directions but now he was hitting on me, saying in French that I had a pretty name and I was a pretty woman and I didn’t know what to do so I just laughed. I thought, my god. I’m here to visit my sick Dad. Why are you hitting on me?
We got to the apartment and I paid him in cash. I asked for $5 back and he started digging around in the change, claiming he had no bills. He found a roll of dimes worth $5 and handed it to me. I thought, what the fuck will I do with this?
I got out, then he got out to hand me my suitcase. He looked like he was going to try to kiss me or something. I quickly turned and walked away. I thought, my god, first there’s the yelling, and racist slurs, and do taxi drivers here also rape their customers? It seemed like anything was possible.
I got into my Dad’s apartment. He had told me that he had had a terrible accident in the bathroom which is when he called 911. He said he had tried to clean it up. But when I saw the bathroom it was worse than I could have imagined. There was a patina of shit on every single surface. Every. Single. Surface. The toilet, the bathtub, the walls, the floor, the cabinet, the garbage can. Behind the toilet. Under the cabinet. I didn’t even know how this was possible. I mean, my Dad didn’t explode, he was still a human being in one piece. How was it possible?
That was my first day.
I’ve come to the end of time, the end of my dreams. I’m assuming the two are related but it could just be a coincidence. By the end of time I mean this: people say, “Can you believe it’s already (fill in month here)?” and I think, What difference does that make? or, You were expecting something else?
Now it’s summer and I love it, the long days and the warmth, but it won’t last. Nothing lasts, especially summer. I’ll try to love it as much as I can but my love can’t hold it here with me. In the end, it’ll slip by, like everything.
I’m nowhere and I’m going nowhere. All concepts of goals and destinations are have no reality to them. There’s nowhere to go, nothing to want, nothing to achieve. Everything is temporary and in the end it all crumbles to dust, including myself.
I waited my whole life for a life that had camaraderie and friendship with a partner, something that seemed as solid as the earth, but that life turned out to be insubstantial.
I don’t want that life again and I don’t want anything else. I don’t want.
There’s a prayer said every Rosh Hashanah, “People come from dust and end in dust”. I’ve already half quoted it above. It’s only now, at this point in my life, that I really feel how fleeting everything is. I get comfortable with friends or situations and then they’re gone, sooner than I expected.
The desire to persist after death through our creations, whether our children or our art or our ideas or our work, is the ultimate futility. In the end we are only buying time from our eventual obliteration.
I have no age. I’m am alive until I am not. Being 55 makes it seem like death is more likely than when I was 25, but in reality it’s all random and any day, any minute, any second, can be my last. In light of that, age as a measure of time is inconsequential.
I live now in my last minute, a place with no future. And if there is no future, there is no place for wants or desires. I’m writing this from my house, another culmination of wants and desires, but after just a few years it seems it is not mine to keep. This is what wants achieve; you may as well try to embrace your shadow.
I had a coworker who told me that a few years before she had been hit by a car and sustained head injuries. She said before the incident she had been a very rational, clinical person. She had worked as a forensic detective. Afterward, she said she felt like she was on acid all the time.
This is my acid life. There’s no reality to it. Whatever meaning I have is the meaning I give it. It’s all a projection from my mind. There is an external world but I can’t really know it, I can only know my interpretation and projection of it.
Reporting from the end of time, this is… a little creature.
I had glanced in the guidebook about Pompeii, and mostly what I remembered was that it was supposed to be fairly large and that Herculeum was a more satisfying experience. Everyone in my travel entourage wanted to go to Pompeii because who the hell has heard of Herculeum and I didn’t want to try to persuade them to try Herculeum instead, so we went to Pompeii.
Getting there from Naples was a trip through Hades. If you have never been to Italy, think of the New York in the ’80s and you’ll have an approximation. You know: noisy, crowded, bad signage, graffiti everywhere, nothing running on time, gruff people (who are occasionally very friendly). The train was stuffed with people and I had to stand for almost the entire 45-minute ride, cheek-to-jowl with tourists and locals.
There was no clear signage to the entrance, so we walked about 200 meters to the exit, only to be told to go away by the unfriendly carbonieri. T. and I met up with some Spanish tourists who thought we could get in the exit if we showed our tickets but basically said we had to go back to the beginning and find the entrance. They told us this in Spanish; I kept wondering why I couldn’t understand their Italian at all.
Mind you, we had a map but in typical Italian style there was nothing indicating where the entrance was on it. (Also on the map were numbers corresponding to different features of Pompeii, but it turned out these didn’t correlate to anything in reality. This, and other similar experiences, led E. and I to start using the phrase “Everything’s normal” instead of “This is so crazy” since SNAFUs are the norm in navigating Italy).
We got in and the place was huge. I thought, well of course, it’s an entire city. I mean, and ENTIRE CITY: ampitheatres, temples, all the houses of 20,000 residents which was its population at its peak. We wandered around for ten minutes and still had no idea where we were on the map. I found a friendly guard and asked him, he pointed to a spot on the map, and finally we had our bearings.
For a long time, we just saw house after house. They were really more like townhomes, as they all shared walls. This went on for a long time and I began to worry that this was all I would see. We were trying to navigate to Garden of the Fugitives where the casts of the escaping people are, but it was slow going. That was kind of weird: wanting to see people frozen in their last moments, something fairly gruesome.
Finally we came upon frescoes and mosaics, and Pompeii started to come to life for me. I could start to imagine how people looked and lived. They were people, just like me, just living their lives.
At some point I was looking in a room which had a fresco with Egyptian motifs. How fascinating: that just as now, people chose to decorate with themes of vanishing or vanished civilizations. A British guy was standing next to me and said, “Look at that! It’s archeology of archeology! I don’t even know what to think about it!”, to which I agreed. He then said, “I’m looking at these rooms and thinking, maybe someday thousands of years from now someone could be looking at my room. It gives me the chills!” to which I also agreed, although I seriously doubt humans will exist in 2,000 years.
I very much enjoyed that exchange because it was fairly amazing that someone unlike me in many ways was having a very similar experience. That is, we felt the humanity in this place and how it echoed our own. I felt a great tenderness towards these long ago people, and then it extended to the other visitors around me, and then to everyone, whatever my concept of that is.
I have these moments of universal compassion from time to time, but they are rare and don’t last very long. I am very appreciative when I can experience them.
Visiting Pompeii was very exhausting, so I could not rally myself to go to Mount Vesuvius the next day as planned. I’m sure it would’ve been amazing, but it would have meant getting on that same train and I just couldn’t bear it. Instead E. and I ended up at the Museo Nazionale, which was filled with objects from Pompeii. I realized this is why there wasn’t much in Pompeii, but was also perplexed as objects from the Colosseum were supposed to be there as well but were not.
The museum had beautiful glassware and ceramics, more frescos and mosaics, surgical instruments, items in silver, and of course the Secret Room of erotic art. Overall, it seemed like life in Pompeii was much like my life, minus the electronics and rushing about. I thought about that British guy, someone who I would only have one conversation with in my life; how I would only see Pompeii and its artifacts this one time; that these thoughts I had about it would be lost after I die, just like the thoughts of the Pompeii people buried in ash.
I’m in Rome. I’ve been here for several days. I thought the minute I was on vacation my mood would improve but this was not the case. My mood didn’t really start improving until the fourth day. We were in a castle — yes, a real castle (Castel Sant’angelo) — and there was just something about the frescoes and statues that was so amazing that it just, for lack of a better phrase, blew my mind. The statue of Sant’angelo itself, huge and looming, on the top of the castle had such a presence that I was completely engrossed with it. Somehow that gigantic figure of an avenging angel towering over me affected me in a strangely positive way.
I’ve never been the kind of person who thinks that art can change lives or that it is of dire importance in the world. I’ve never thought it is as important as say mental health services or mission-driven organizations that are helping the world. And yet. Something happened to me on the roof of the castle that couldn’t have happened anywhere but there. It changed me from the inside, and for the better.
It’s interesting for me to consider this as an artist. My art has a profound effect on me, but seems to not have such a profound effect on anyone else. Some people like it very much, but it doesn’t have this effect that I am describing very poorly — this feeling that something essential to their being is changed forever by seeing a particular image. And of course, for most people my art doesn’t effect them at all. It’s been a while since I’ve seen art that affected me as much as the images I create.
The next day I went to Palazzo Barberini and had more moments of profoundity. I don’t know how else to describe it. There was one magnificent huge room with a 50 foot ceiling. It had gold flecked wallpaper and nothing in it. I felt overwhelmed in that room by another indescribable sensation. Then I went to an adjoining room that was all white marble — the floor, the statues, the ceilings. Through the doorways I could see the giant gold room. I stood there in awe. I felt like I had been there before, that I had always been in that room, looking at that magnificent expanse. That somehow this palace in Rome was my place, it was mine.
Twenty-five years ago I came to Italy in a state of depression so deep that I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed, and left the country with a small hope that I could and would get better. I’m not nearly as depressed as that, but I am suffering from a lost of identity and feeling of complete pointlessness about my existence. When I first came here and looked at those ruins I thought: there, in that rubble, people just like me lived and died. No one remembers their name, who they were, who they loved. They are completely gone, as if they never existed. One day that will be me.
Now another thought is coming to me: but they lived. Even if they leave no trace, even if I leave no trace, I got to be here through all the wonders and tragedies of life.
The last time I saw art that affected me deeply was also in Italy, on that same trips twenty-five years ago, at the Uffizi looking a Botticelli’s Primavera. I had seen that image reproduced many times in my life, and have since, but the actual painting was so beautiful it literally made me cry. That is the only time that has ever happened to me in my life.
I fall in love with every country I vacation in. Up until now, I thought it was because I am relaxed, free of responsibilities and worries, and not working. Before this trip, I was barely working so the feeling of “Hurray! I’m free from my stupid job!” never happened. In any case, I have a new theory about this love. What I love are these moments of awe. Seeing something intensely beautiful for the first time opens, for a brief moment, a sense of timelessness and transcendence that is the very meaning of being alive.