miércoles, 31 de agosto de 2011

Frycook-assisted Suicide

So a while ago, I took Gina out to lunch and we agreed to go to Al’s Burger’s a greasy-spoon on San Pablo in Albany. I ordered a double burger, leaving off the cheese, since that is just too much of the wrong kind of food for me, but Gina has other ideas about what is and isn’t good for her.
She ordered two hotdogs-on-sticks (battered and deep-fried), plus an order of onion rings (also battered and deep-fried). And she topped it off with a large chocolate shake. Ok, so the girl is sitting there, all 350 pounds of her spilling over the edges of her chair, stuffing her face with (a lot of) fried foods that can’t help her in any way – it can’t help her weight, it can’t help her cholesterol, and it certainly can’t help her heart.
I thought, Jesus, I’m looking at a fry-cook-assisted suicide here. I’m sitting here, watching my close friend commit suicide, and it’s like those nuts who attack cops in hopes of being shot to death. They call that kind of death an ‘officer-assisted suicide’ and write it off on the cop’s record as an occupational hazard. And apparently no one is noticing that Gina is slowly committing suicide by artery-clogging weight gain.

I mentioned something about it – not exactly in those words, but in words that indicated that it seemed to be a bit of a dodgy meal. Gina blithely brushed me off, saying, “Hey, I don’t do this all that often.”

To which my mind responded, Well, not all that often, but it seems we were only here about a few weeks ago.
At my slightly-askance look, she went on in a developing huff, “Look, I came to a junk-food joint – I’m supposed to order a salad?”

And at that point, I realised that Gina just doesn’t care whether she lives or dies, so long as she can indulge her whims in the moment. And the next thought in my mind was I can’t watch this.  I didn’t want to witness her killing herself this way – slowly, by degrees, by heaped-on calories and by ounces and by pounds.  I didn’t want to then, and I don’t want to now.

I think that Gina isn’t being completely honest with herself – she has no scale, so she says that she’s losing weight ‘because my pants are loose.’   But she never looks any smaller than she has been before, and she often appears bigger.  People – all of us, it seems, are stuck in ruts that we don’t know how to get out of, stuck in situations that we can’t find a way to change.

I know that it’s nearly impossible to change whole ways of life. I mean, it takes that triathlon super-hero gene to just take that 90-degree turn and stop a behavior. But I’ve seen people change by making one small shift, one little movement to the right or left, like a plane lining up on approach:  “Five right. Five right.” And by small degrees coming into orientation with the runway.  By shifting one small thing – even just an attitude – change can come. Big change. Significant change.  And sometimes that attitude is the first thing to change; often it’s the only thing you can change.

Heaven knows I’m not on some high horse here – I have my own faulted deals that need a shift, a small alteration, a change.  “Five right... five right.”  And I like to think that what keeps me from failing completely is that I’m awake and aware and I don’t lie to myself (I think).  And I live my life (often saved by this very action) as if it were the law that friends have some responsibility to each other to point out when one of them is acting foolishly or dangerously.

So one way to change (if one really wants to change) is to actually alter some smaller behaviors – like saying, “No, I can’t eat there, because when I do that I have no control.”   And that works for me… mostly. And ‘mostly’ is all I’m looking for, because ‘mostly’ means that I’ve reduced a situation from ‘a lot’ to ‘a lot less.’ And if I can do that enough, then pretty soon ‘a lot less’ will become ‘none.’

But Gina is different. She could try eating correctly, but the truth is that she doesn’t want to… and she doesn’t really want to lose any weight, no matter what her mouth might say to the contrary.

My big pal Ollie says that his weight is what keeps him safe, that he has 375 reasons to keep someone away from him and his broken heart… using his weight to keep people at a distance. And that weight also cues him to who may be prejudiced against fat people. Ok, so that’s Ollie. But he knows what he’s doing – he’s aware of his situation and how he’s handling it. And he’s not kidding himself about things. Like his true weight and how often he eats fat-filled artery-choking foods (and in fairness, his diet is pretty innocuous – he just eats a hell of a lot more ‘healthy food’ than his friends do).

I like to think of myself as not bigoted. I stay vigilant for signs of prejudicial thinking. And I understand that there are people whose weight gain results from physical conditions beyond their control. I also know that ‘will power’ and ‘controlled intake’ are useless concepts to persons with thyroid or hormone problems – or those who cannot exercise because raising their heart rate will create a panic attack.  I get it. But I have a little bit of trouble trusting people who once were slim and are now the morbidly obese. They’ve eaten their way into a corner, and while it may have been a picnic getting there it can't be much fun to be in that corner now.  And even though it’s got to be a tough corner to escape, still I want to shout, Jesus, get a goddam grip – it doesn’t have to be this way.

Does that make me a jerk? I don’t know. Of course, me – I can’t even lose this little pot-belly I’ve acquired in my middle age, and god knows that I’ve had in my life my own ‘excesses’ that could only be corrected with enough true and active intent. And pain.  And, listen – I still have a few so-far-not-life-threatening excesses myself.  But it seems that I’m comfortable in those excesses (and their consequences) and so they don’t change much because I’ve become habituated. So what the hell do I know?

Well, I know that I can’t watch a friend commit slow suicide. And I know I won’t be the person who’s always complaining about my friend’s behavior. And I won’t be party to fry-cook-assisted suicide.

So I won’t be taking Gina out to eat anymore.

© 2011 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.

lunes, 29 de agosto de 2011


for & after JG

I’m proud of my expensive scrapbook,
so I flaunt it to my friends.
It’s bigger than theirs
and looks like it doesn’t need repairs.

“How’s your scrapbook?” someone asks at a reading.

“Fine!” I chirp up,
jumping at the chance
to extol the many virtues of my scrapbook.

Pretty soon a circle gathers
and everyone’s discussing its size,
editorial control, the artwork, the sheer lettuce
it takes to put the damn thing out.
If someone stays in a corner
someone else might notice and ask about theirs:
they never want to talk about it.
So they join in, chirping you-don’t-says,
and isn’t-that-amazings and

By the time I get home
I’m exhausted from bringing up
the subject of my scrapbook.
I get home and there it is,
not much on humility or balance
or good artists without the money
to study scrapbookery with me.
It’s all sub-culture, all glitz-trimming
and illusory contours, not even bothering to cover
up the cliquey pandering of the maintenance quota lining.

Late at night
when no one’s looking,
I’m embarrassed and ashamed of the damn thing,
kick it across the room
and stub my toe,
then toss it into the fireplace.
Maybe even burn it.

But I’m unwilling to fix it, and
even though I use it to meet women,
I am a man who wakes up depressed, lonely,
frustrated, who tries to burn his scrapbook,
his expensive shiny scrapbook.
And I haven’t the courage to do even that.

Imagine burning one’s scrapbook.
The shame would haunt me the rest of my career.
So after a while I pull it out of the fireplace,
dust it off and put it on the mantle and go to bed,
hearing its weeping throughout the night,
the low short moan just before daybreak.

My expensive scrapbook.

This poem is part of an unpublished manuscript called SONGS & ECHOES ~ The Pastiche Poems. Pastiche poems are those written in the style of another poet. 
© 1992 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.


– for & after Tommy Swerdlow

How long can you wait

for the time to be right?

How long can you hide

in a silk mask of dreams

while the ticking tide of nightfall

bleeds the days out of your veins?

How long?

Street corners press your feet

and the women hurry by

evening cracks its knuckles

and you know you are alone.

How long?

The women swim around you

trailing several smells

and you wonder

if the brunet in spikeheels

knows the only question

or even the address

of a solid mental breakdown

as you walk in the neck of a cosmic disease.

You’re dizzy with the power

of this moving female mass:

actresses & secretaries

Cinderella’s sisters

streetful working girls

Athena on the rise

linguistics’ oldest teachers

and girls named for the moon.

Or those longthighed pinklipped schoolgirls

we hunt for absolution

going home to daddy

or a slice of cathode pie.

How long can you wait for her

to break through your looking mind

in a salient spark of flesh,

thrown down by lariat eyes

with a single twist around

your stumbled boyhood horns.

You hoped that she could change you –

but she’s late she is not coming

and now the street is empty

except for Van Gogh’s cab.

(One door is missing

and the driver’s always storming

about crowbars in the cornbelt.)

How long?

Until you waken sweating

with those dreams that fleck your skin?

Like the hot dried sweat of woman

and the tide of truth she holds,

this smell that nerves out something

from your Viennese valise,

some taste

remote & long forgotten

with a root deep in your past,

like the Hassidic revisionism

crashing in your skull.

But what you will become

can never be the things you were.

How long?

Til you see

that the only thing she’s hidden

is the orbit of her smile

in a breeze that drinks the leaves

of one morning’s gentlest tree.

And that’s how long.

© 2002 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.