At four this morning I awoke while my brain was in the midst of reassessing my life. Nothing unusual about that. It used to be, when I was a cub, that assessments would happen every few years and be cursorily dismissed.
Aging acts to bring on assessments more often, at first when a life crisis breaks in on the fantasy – lose a job, get a job, lose a girl, get a girl, crash a motorcycle and live, crash a car and live – but as time goes on, the mind forces me to look more often.
Right now, in middle-age but not yet amid earth, the judgments pop in about every twenty-three minutes. In a way, that’s something of a relief, since I should most likely have murdered myself some years ago in a fit of depression and loneliness.
However, I do have cats. Lots of them. Eight at present, but over the past several years six have died. Trips to the vet with a cat and the trips coming home without one have been unpleasant, mitigated only by the knowledge that I did right by the cat and that I fulfilled my promise to them to be with them all the way to the end. Those were the indoor cats. There have been others, outdoor strays I feed who have become too sick to go on, others who have died by mischance.
Cats have saved my life. Not that it matters all that much to them, of course. Nonetheless they are there in the morning demanding to be fed, insisting their litter boxes be cleaned, tolerating insulin injections in a few diabetic cases, and so on. I have to take care of them, and so I am alive these almost twenty years since the first cat and her three children.
But then there’s that assessment, and its base question: ‘What’s the point?’ Not the point of the cats, but the point of being alive. I’ve been asking that one since I was twelve. No answer yet. Or rather lots of answers, but as with much else, none that stick.
Sometimes just being alive and sentient is enough. Back in the day I interviewed a Vietnam vet who’d had one leg blown off. He said that sometimes he would spend an entire day staring at the ceiling, bored out of his mind, and utterly happy to be so. Or utterly happy to be.
I’ve had days like that. And their opposites, where boredom spirals into depression and the universe has gone on for far too long.
Nothing is pure anymore. In the morning, while it’s still dark, I walk to Starbucks to get the newspaper, and on my way back across the parking lot I can see a few bright stars, sometimes the moon, and I feel awed and amazed and I wonder at all that bright stuff out there. And then I realize we’re never going to get there because we’ve destroyed our own planet and it will take its revenge, sooner rather than later.
When I was young and stupid the mantra of life was education and career. Simple. Pure. It was what one did. I took seven years to get through college. Fell out of the Peace Corps. Held forty jobs and two short marriages. Burned through three motorcycles and a few cars. Trashed by chronic fatigue syndrome and then undiagnosed Lyme. Finally I condemned myself to live on Cape Cod surrounded by cats, thousands of books, and computers. Discovered blogging.
And still can’t answer the question.
Nobody can, really. Perhaps that’s why people embrace religious fantasies so fervently. The alternative has no future.
Christopher Walken, playing the archangel Gabriel in The Prophecy in 1995, called humans ‘talking monkeys’. It is an apt description, but too kind. I would say ‘chittering monkeys’. But I think that perhaps he was being too kind to humans and too hard on the monkeys.
After all, the monkeys have been here longer, live in the present, have no false gods, as are all gods, and haven’t trashed their living quarters. All in all, they’re a hell of a lot smarter than the humans who cage and kill and eat them. In fact, I think it’s not too far a stretch to say that virtually all animals are smarter than us. They may not produce a Shakespeare, though we’ll never know what constitutes a monkey or an elephant Shakespeare, but they do not commit mass suicide either.
And here we are torturing, maiming, and killing animals as we please. Take bullfighting. I went to a couple of bullfights in Nogales when I was a kid. Not Madrid, but not fundamentally different. I didn’t like what I saw, but didn’t have the mental tools to understand my interaction with the events.
Later, rehearsing for the role of a Spaniard, a nobleman as I recall it, in Feydeau’s A Flea In Her Ear, I had to convince my English stage wife or fiance that bullfighting was a noble and majestic sport. I did an excellent job of it, according to everyone sitting in on the rehearsal.
I was wrong. Bullfighting is nothing more than humans dressing in ritual and colorful pageantry the maiming, torturing, and killing of an animal that has no choices. The ritual exists to cover the essential brutality of psychopaths torturing an animal to death in order to stroke the ego of one central narcissistic sonofabitch and to satisfy the sadistic impulses of everyone else involved, including the crowd. There’s nothing noble about it. The stadium and the corrida comprise an asylum full of sadists.
Monkeys and the wild animals don’t do that. They hunt and they kill, but they don’t dress it up and pretend it’s anything other than bloody dinner. Their satisfaction comprises a full stomach and another day alive.
The more ways I turn, the more I look, the more I see, the more the central question answers, ‘There is no point.’ Then it pauses and says, ‘Well, there is today.’
I’m sixty-three years old. There’s not going to be a career to distract me, nor any young woman to take my mind off mortality with her smile and sweat and heat in the night, nor any febrile entertainment on television or the local moviehouse to make me forget and move on into pollyannaness. I spend most of my time alone (not counting with cats). I dip into some of my books some of the time, roam the cybersphere some of the time, get some exercise, dream about Sicilian lawyers and others, and try to write a few things that matter, that occasionally rise to beauty, and sometimes to truth. A new novel is in the works – tentative works, but feeling strong enough to be worth a go. The cats are, for the moment, healthy. I’m not broke, and disability checks keep coming. Life goes on. I flirt a little with the Starbucks girls, but in the end, in maybe twenty or so years with some luck, I’m gone, much as I’ve lived, alone and puttering about in the universe of my mind. And with regrets, because I know it could have been better had I chosen better and been stronger.
And besides the certainty of death, there always the certainty that tomorrow morning at four o’clock I’ll wake up reassessing once again. And probably turn on the radio to listen to the BBC on NPR in order to shut out the thoughts that plague me.
And there’s one other certainty. When the last cat dies, I’m going to be in big trouble.