Saturday, March 20, 2010

Good morning, knees

Sometimes it feels as though life is little more than the constant struggle to stand up straight in a world governed by gravity. Homo erectus versus unseen force. Especially as you get older and the effects of gravity on the body are more pronounced -- sagging jowls, sore feet, a tender fattening in the middle, aching vertebrae, the challenge of ascending steep steps and even, eventually, a gently sloping hill. The heavy breathing and pounding heart aren't due to sexual arousal. Pity. Quist used to tell me, "Stand up straight and be a man." Yet I spend most of my waking hours sitting, at a desk in front of a computer, or at the table, or in a meeting room, or on a bus or train. Putting my fleshy arse to work, spreading it wide on each flat surface, thereby dispersing the effective force of gravity on my bodily mass.

Meantime my legs and back get stiff, achy, the joints and pinch-points accumulating painful poisons. Even if I get up and walk around every so often, by the end of the day I'm effectively crippled. So I keep a drawer full of pills -- Aleve, Advil, Tylenol, whatever seems to work that week -- and smelly unguents, Ace bandages and illustrated one-sheeters on how to perform stretching exercises at your desk. Though I walk two, three miles every day and ride a bike on weekends, it's not enough to compensate for all the sitting. Exercise may clear the head but it won't reverse gravity's downward pull.

If things get really bad body-wise, you're okay: the human being as a bio-engineering problem has largely been solved. It's amazing what surgeons can do. Knees, hips, spine, shoulders. Arthroscopic surgery, non-invasive (nice coinage, that), even robotic. It may cost a lot, but who cares? In America, you either find someone to pay or you learn to live with pain. Nobody cares about your pain except you. Even Hallmark doesn't care. That's why I don't worry. I've got insurance. I can eat like an effin farmer and sit all day, letting my hemorrhoids get bigger, bloodier, messier. I can cultivate pain because I can buy drugs. Hey, I'm a sweet deal for somebody. I've got a card in my wallet that says so.

I go down the hill, there's a Walgreens across the street from a Rite-Aid, just down the block from a CVS. There's a lot of good shite in there, and not all of it is prescription. It's better than an effin liquor store if you've got that magic card in your wallet. And if you're really strung out, you can always find some two-bit shyster trying to pay off his own big mortgage willing to write you a prescription for Vicodin or Percocet. And here we've got those blubbering arseholes on Capitol Hill still worried about marijuana and Mexico. They make me laugh. Just like this fat guy in the Jersey seat. A prosecutor, no less. I'll bet all those guys are on drugs.

Quist had his own drug. Jameson's neat with a glass of water. He'd sit there with his pipe and doodle in the air with smoke rings. "Go on, poot, there's another bottle in the cupboard. Lemme have it here." He told the best stories, about Teach the pirate and Lucky Lindy, about Vinnie the town councilman who killed himself and about the fast girls at the Oak Beach Inn. In his telling, all the stories got mixed up into one. The one thing I never understood -- how he stayed so skinny. He'd sit in his rocker all day, alternating booze and milk, smoking through a pouch or two of tobacco. No exercise, but no discernible bodily capitulation to gravity, except some loose skin dangling under his Adam's apple. He'd laugh about it. "It's all in the genes, poot, it's all in the genes. And just remember. Homo erectus is extinct."

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