My mother always preferred rhymed poetry that jumped to a meter like her and her little friends on Eastburn Avenue singing in cadence as they hopped Double Dutch. I sent her a prose poem called The Shoelace by Charles Bukowski, which went nicely with the words she copied in all caps on an index card and years later found a huge hot pink button with the same words: S-T-R-E-S-S: that confusion created when one’s mind overrides the body’s desire to choke the living shit out of some asshole who desperately needs it.
My mother loved The Shoelace, which neither rhymed nor skipped like girls over a rope. In that classic poem Bukowski correctly states that it’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse, but a shoelace that snaps with no time left. He refers to, and then riffs on, that swarm of trivialities that kills quicker than cancer, the death of a thousand unjust and arbitrary cuts, the accumulated little bumps, scrapes, itches, insults and bruises that can finally tip a man over into madness when his shoelace snaps, with no time left. You can hear his inimitable reading of the poem my mother loved here.
I think of that poem now as my printer runs out of ink (cyan, which I am not using to print black and white, but smart business majors found a way to force you to buy cyan anyway) as I try to assemble tax documents, a favor done for me in haste results in a frustrating forty minutes of futile work trying to fix a mistake, I’m looking for tax papers in a haystack of papers only an insane person would have saved to begin with, trying to assemble two short films I need for Monday, find out my assistant will not be available after all on my day off and I’ll have to fill in for her, for a fraction of what I’m paying her colleague who will be there.
It’s not these little things that send a man like myself to the madhouse, nor the even need to feign great optimism and remain an upbeat salesman of a product that suddenly looks fatally defective to me. It’s the fact that although I am wearing no shirt, and only boxer shorts, my apartment is so hot that sweat is creating a slime on my brow, in my underarms. I can feel bands of heat radiating off my naked back.
“Hah, that’s a good one, a NYC tenant complaining about getting too much heat!”
It is a good one, the place is a sauna, and I have windows open. It must be at least 90 degrees in here, I feel like I’m about to faint. The ‘super’ is a cheerful, manic, chattering rat in human form, I mean no disrespect to him, just describing him for you. You can hear him outside at random times banging garbage cans and yelling in a variety of languages, sometimes repeating the same phrase over and over, like a demented parrot. He shrugs about the heat, you know, the landlord has it programmed, nothing he can do. He shrugs about the faucets he broke while fixing a leak– they trumpet like enraged elephants, particularly late at night when I brush my teeth or try to run cold water over my sweltering face. “You gotta have the sink replaced, my man,” he tells me philosophically. Until he fixed the leak a short time ago there was no problem with the sink. “You got to call the office, tell ’em you need a new sink.”
So many things one has gotta do, endlessly remind oneself, for example, that nobody can help anybody on the deepest level. Hard work is hard, sometimes, because it is amorphous, hard to prioritize, hard to even conceptualize sometimes. It requires stumbles that can be embarrassing and worse. A readiness to take a smiling step forward, slip, fall and break your nose and the arm that tried to break the fall. Next time, hopefully, you will remember to let go of the kid’s drawing you were holding carefully aloft as you pitched forward, the better to catch yourself.
“You lost control because you were frightened of failing,” consoles a friend, “you will do better next time. I’m pretty sure you won’t break your nose again protecting a drawing!” There’s always a bright side, you dig. Always an enlightening bright side, if you do not suffocate at your desk from the oven-like conditions in your apartment before enlightenment can strike.