By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But back home he got to worrying: Was it good to identify so intensely with his daughter? The roommate's daughter sometimes teased her. Pat told her he knew how it felt, and to try to accept the other girl as she was. But it was all he could do not to fight back on his daughter's behalf. He felt he might be more clear about what was right if he loved less, or less exclusively. Specifically his love for his daughter challenged his idea of a God who makes no distinctions -- a God to whom all really are one, to whom individualism is error, a symptom of The Fall. This is where Pat got confused. If his daughter were not so individual, she wouldn't be so heartbreaking; life wouldn't be sweet and doomed, and there would be nothing for him to stick up for, however silently.
PAT HAS A SLEEP PROBLEM, WHICH manifests as a waking problem. Sunday night he set a clock radio for 5:45 a.m., launching a message in a bottle to his morning self an ocean away. Whether he'd receive it was anyone's guess. Lately, doctors were talking about either fitting him with a mask to help him breathe right, or operating on his uvula so he'd get more air, unblocking the cave to REM. Until then, his first-line defense was to take consciousness where he could get it -- if his bladder woke him at 4 a.m., he would try to stay up. If his bladder woke him at 2 a.m., he'd guzzle enough water to wake him before 6. If all else failed, he'd be left to technology, talk-radio/music/buzzers/bells, it didn't matter which, because he was liable to write any such sound into his dreams. One time, the buzzer woke Pat's roommate, who came in and screamed at Pat to wake up, and the screaming gave Pat a dream about someone screaming, "Wake up -- WAKE -- UP," but it didn't wake him.
This time the hydration plan almost worked. He got coffee and a paper at the AMPM next door and boarded the bus an hour late; it took him through Cal State Long Beach to the Blue Line station downtown, to Artesia Station, where the Number 6 Torrance or the 130 MTA would bring him to 190th and Vermont. The workday flew by, or possibly snoozed by. Pat's co-workers are the earnest angels of Dilbert's America. They empathize with customers over their headsets. They nudge Pat awake when he nods off at the computer. Even the managers are supportive about his tardiness, which lenience makes Pat feel slightly guilty. So he stayed late to make up for arriving late, got some work accomplished, called it a day and rode back to his last transfer in Long Beach, where the long day was going to get longer.
Pat heard the voice before he saw the prison-yard strut of the guy chanting (of all things), "WHO'S YOUR DADDY, BITCH! WHO'S YOUR DADDY, BITCH!" A bizarre coincidence, to be sure, this fragment of his own standup monologue, but Pat was not in Hollywood anymore. In fact he was tired, irritated, resentful of the vocal assault, and though Pat is not a man to snap, he knows who he is, knows what he endures.
The bigmouth boarded the bus and sat himself with both legs in the aisle. Passing by, Pat brushed against one foot.
"Excuse you," the guy said, and in a moment for which free will had been invented, Pat could not resist saying, "You could move one of your feet out of the way."
"And I could come there and smash your face in."
Pat thought for a second and said, "Do you know it's a felony to threaten someone?"
"Come over here, fat ass."
At one point the guy got up, crowding Pat into the rear stairwell. An older passenger tried to calm him. "You don't want this. You'll go to jail."
"I willgo to jail. I'm going to put my fist through this guy's face."
But the peacemaker actually got somewhere, and the hothead only glared, assuring everyone how differently this would play out if Pat ever so dissed him on the street.
At that night's meeting, Pat was still a bit unnerved. Here he was, putting in time, trying to lose weight, trying to be a father and a friend. Something about a middle-aged father jostled, a fat man scuffling -- it offended the spirit. In the Bible, in 2 Kings, a pair of bears came out of the woods to devour 42 youths who called the prophet Elisha a baldhead. "Go on, you baldhead!" they'd been yelling at an old man of God. Of course, maybe Pat didn't rate a pair of avenging bears yet.
By the time he left his meeting, the adrenaline was down and he wasn't interested in payback anymore. It was simply his turn to join life at this level. A privilege to be aware of his mistakes. To be a working man between visits to his daughter is not heavy dues. Unlike the year when he helped his friend recover from knee surgery, this chapter in Pat's life feels like a time of little drama, the trail leading just now through lots of sameness, suburban sidewalks, life not on the edge of creative risk, unless you're looking at it from some other center -- wondering if you're hiding from your truest place in life, like Pat wonders if he's hiding from his. But if there's going to be any kind of an answer to that riddle, it's plainly more ahead of him than behind, and when he walks down the street he has a certain openness, a consent to what's coming at the end of one block or the next.