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29: August 1, 2009


Thanksgiving in July



Word of the alleged national cholesterol crisis has yet to reach
the denizens of the Mississippi River valley.When it does, rest
assured that they will deep-fry it.


Freshly back from a week in the Great Satan and woefully behind in my blog updates as always.

I found the old Sate—specifically the Muggins boyhood homestead in western Illinois that I have redubbed Mortonville—none the worse for wear in the midst of these harsh economic times. Then again, like so many small American towns, it has been lolling in its decadent phase for over a quarter century now, and so had little left to lose when the latest recession hit.

It was, if I may borrow a phrase, a quiet week in Lake Mortonville. But before I arrived, there had been an uncharacteristically clamorous town council meeting which, according to the local weekly, climaxed with the Mayor inviting the Town Stockbroker (for, while Mortonville boasts many viable candidates for the post of Town Drunk, only one claimant qualifies for the title of Town Stockbroker) to sit down and shut up.

The contretemps centered on one of the pillars of what is now called Mortonville’s “Historic Main Street,” a coy euphemism for “Defunct and Superfluous Main Street,” which is what that boulevard has been ever since neighboring Whitney succumbed to the siren song of Walmart back in the Eighties. Some weeks earlier, one of Historic Main Street’s historic bulwarks—a three-story colossus located on the southeast corner of Main and Cherry—had begun inexorably lurching under its own venerable weight toward Cherry, and in the early morning hours of a day in late June a renegade segment of its western wall made a mad, futile break for it, leaving an unstable, slouching skeleton behind.

This issue before the town council, to my surprise, was not “When a bulwark falls on Cherry Street and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” but rather the more prosaic matter of what to do about the surviving skeleton with its three stories of unsightly exposed interiors. Restoring it would break the town budget, while tearing it down risked collateral damage to four more slices of Historic Main Street attached to it. Hence the taut emotional undercurrent at a normally somnambulant town council meeting.

But never fear: stimulus money to the rescue! The council agreed to blow all 300 grand or so that Washington had sent it on a restoration project. The Mayor apologized to the Stockbroker for his unseemly outburst and presumably invited him out for a beer, probably yearning to include the town’s leading black intellectual, too, who couldn’t make it on account of his not existing.

Upon first viewing the remains of the building, the actual name of which escaped me and everyone else in town (it was generally described to me as “the one across from what used to be Eleanor’s and next to what you might remember as Rexall Drug), I dubbed it the Leaning Tower of Mortonville, and proudly showed it off to the rest of the Muggins diaspora as they trickled into town over the next few days for our family reunion.

Reactions ranged from polite to what I choose to call nonplussed. “It’s not leaning,” someone ejaculated, after which another added, “It’s not a tower,” and still another noted, “You can’t used nonplussed in conversation.” And so yet another Muggins marketing ploy falls flat. By cracky.

The Leaning Tower proved an apt metaphor for the middle-aged populace of Mortonville, which continues its oblivious slide toward…well, oblivion. The previous summer, for example, had seen my graduating class’s thirty-fifth reunion at the country club. I excused myself from it, as per my quintennial custom, on the grounds that it was held in June, which is the middle of our spring semester here in Japan. My best intentions notwithstanding, I was subsequently assaulted by the delivery, via attachment file, of the group photo taken on the wooded grounds at the apogee of that evening’s bacchanals.

It is obvious from a brief glance at the photo—and anything more than a brief glance could prove more searing to the unsuspecting recipient that a slow gaze into an eclipse—makes clear that a “Making Of” documentary of this photo would feature no small amount of hair coloring, tanning, dieting, garments-in-slimming-colors selecting, and aerobic gut-sucking. And that’s just Debra Lynn Zuidema. Everyone’s efforts, alas, availed them little.

Fortunately, I saw only a few of my high school classmates on this trip—and those that I did see, I saw by choice. Three of us fulfilled our annual custom of attending a baseball game together, and it was at the local Single-A league stadium that the photo above was snapped.

I have not always been so lucky in my visits to Mortonville: the unsolicited injection of former classmates into my society is a constant risk. The tensest moment of my recent trip came a few days before departure when Mom Muggins, as is her wont, treated the whole brood to Sunday brunch at a lakeside restaurant at the state park. For whatever reason, it is always in this idyllic open-air setting, amid the lapping of fishermen’s oars and the quacking of stupefied ducks, that I am ambushed by some terrifying, wizened old crone or other who cheerfully identifies herself as someone to whom I once masturbated with great vigor and hopeless glee. Let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like that experience to put one off one’s pancakes and sausages. I can't for the life of me understand why my appearance does not have a corresponding effect on my assailants.

Still, even in these unwanted encounters can I find cause for self-reflection and for an admittedly smug stock-taking that leads me to feel thankful for the life I have chosen for myself as expatriate English teacher and undiscovered memoirist here in Japan—land of the fish-based diet, of heart-rate-elevating self-powered commutes, and of heart-rate-elevating females.

At age 53, less than a year shy of celebrating my 20,000th day out of the womb, I have come to take a number of things in stride that, through my encounters with kin and kind in Mortonville, I learned should by no means be taken for granted by one of my vintage. To wit:

● I do not require a daily infusion of any drug. (Well, except for the nightly sleeping pill, along with the occasional slug of cough medicine and half bottle of wine to ensure efficacy. And aspirin to mitigate the effects of all of the above. But except for that, nothing especially.) Unlike my classmates and relatives (and fellow Class A baseball aficionados), I require no cholesterol-lowering medication, no analgesics or corticosteroids for back pain, no antihypertensives for blood pressure control, no frothing nightly cocktail of anti-anxiety drugs, painkillers, and anesthetics to cope with my misguided elective-surgery choices. Okay, that last example wasn’t related to a classmate. But that guy was my age, too, and grew up not far away, as I noted in my last post.

● My annual health checkup raises no dire warnings regarding anything below my palate. (Above it, admittedly, is another story all together: vision, hearing, and cognitive ability all sailing toward Hell in the proverbial handbasket.)

●  I have had no restrictions, none whatsoever, put on what I can eat. Moreover, I chew the foods of my choice with a full set of original teeth. Likewise, my liver and kidneys have yet to register even the slightest protest to the abuse I continue to heap upon them, god bless their icky, squishy souls. If it suited me to do so, I could have a medium pizza and a six-pack tonight and top it all off with an ice cream cone, with no fear of violating any medical professional’s advice. In fact, I think I will.

●  I have never contracted a sexually transmitted disease and have the paperwork dated May 2009 to prove it.

●  I have not crippled my chances for a comfortable retirement via an addiction to riverboat casino gambling.

● Perhaps most important, long-term-survival-wise, despite hundreds of hours of abuse to my cortex in the form of listening to the Rush Limbaugh Program (the first hour of which has been carried here in Japan on Armed Forces Radio), I have not felt tempted to join the distinctively American cult of Political Conservatism, an embittering and soul-crushing virus that, I am convinced, has already taken at least a dozen years off the lifespans of some of my dearest old friends.

To paraphrase the philosopherJoe Walsh, life’s been good to me so far. Old age, I believe, is less a gradual decrepidation of body and mind as it is a series of intrusive Can’ts: can’t do this, can’t eat that, can't read the small print, can’t drive, can't pee standing up, can’t summon the stamina to complete a new book, can't keep up with Gossip Girl plot lines, can't achieve two orgasms within the allotted sixty minutes, can’t derive stimulation from Japanese porn, can't swallow, etc., etc. So far I’m living a life essentially free of the dreaded Can’ts, but inevitably there comes that day--which my father-in-law is experiencing even as we speak--when the Can'ts overwhelm the Cans, and this can only end very, very badly. I need to start appreciating that while I can, and maybe so do you. So on that merry note, excuse me while I go order my pizza and chill my six-pack, a combination that I highly recommend to all of you with still tolerable cholesterol counts.