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Tuesday, 19 February
Getting Better All The Time

No, no, my droogs! I did not abandon you again! I did not! Rather, I was cruelly withheld from you, held in a prison not of my making!

(Who makes their own prison? Foolish people. Don't make your own prison, folks. Unless you're the Saw guy, in which case: totally make your own prison, because if you don't, those people will fucking run like crazy, and you won't be able to play with their bones like Tinkertoys after you pull their spines out. But you probably knew that.)

No, what happened was: I got fucking levelled by the flu. I mean, I got crushed. Here's a direct quote from the wife: "I've never seen you this sick." Here's another: "I guess I'll go to work again while you lie there, not making any money." And another: "Do you plan on wearing pants at all this week?"

Last Sunday it all began when I woke up and realized that someone--possibly the wife--had replaced all the bones in my body with magnesium rods. I hunched around the house in a misery, looking like Early Man, and marveled at certain phenomena such as feeling a ripping pain across my forehead when I moved my eyeballs to the side too quickly. I settled in my big-ass leather chair and prepared for a long week full of low moaning.

I had no idea what was in store for me. I called in sick on Monday, still feeling achey and horrible; the fever was starting to cycle up in intensity. This, of course led to Phase II: Chills. Chills are sort of fantastically schizophrenic in that even when you are certain that you are going to burst into flames, you can still be sitting there merrily shaking away and teeth a-chatter. When you combine this sort of thing with, say, diarrhea--though you might not have had anything to eat in 24 hours--it gets even better; for nothing pleases the terrified, vibrating buttocks like the cold kiss of plastic, and then you get to clatter around pathetically atop the toilet, sweating and shaking as your afflicted bowels feebly spit into the bowl in some sort of cheerless parody of defecation.

Then, if you're classy, you write about it on the internet!

I called in sick on Tuesday as well after a vivid night of fever dreams; in one, I was attempting to solve an intractable math problem (for me, that's something like a "How many red socks does Jerry have if he mends 3/5 of a red sock every eighth week, and shops at Threadbaresocks.com during Lent?" kind of thing), and then suddenly I was a member of the Roman senate and the senators were all screaming solutions at me.

Tuesday also brought The Cough. Thus far, I had avoided any kind of congestion or respiratory hijinks. That was all over. It has inspired a short poem, in fact.

O cough! Rage o'th' lungs!
Wake the wife!
Shake the rafters!
I beseech thee--
Bring up no phlegm at all.

Thanks, lungs!
You fuckers.

The thing about being sick and being a smoker is, you don't get to choose to just be one or the other for a while. You get to be both. And so, try as one might to wait as long as possible, there you find yourself, wrapped up in a knit blanket, standing outside, shivering with the chills--exacerbated by the fact that you're outside--and grimly trying to manage a few pitiable puffs in between wracking, gut-ripping coughs. It's pretty much the most pathetic thing you can imagine.

I had made the decision before the awful vapors that I describe, but having the sickness cemented it for me: I have gone out and got a prescription for Chantix. Chantix is some new hot-shit drug that is a smoking cessation aid; I got it from my dentist, who is nothing if not enthused about having to chisel the fucking garbage off my teeth so much. He might also be interested in my not dying, but I don't know him that well to claim that. I started this stuff a week ago.

It has interesting side effects! A lot of them are gastrointestinal, so I'm still getting some prime nervy moments in the bathroom, such as last night, when I suddenly and quite unexpectedly vomited up an entire bowl of soup. So I still get to experience these peristaltic cataclysms without having to be sick! Chantix also has a host of neurological side effects that are possible: "vivid dreaming" is one, and if I can survive being screamed at by Roman senators about story problems, I guess I can handle that. Some of the more serious ones now being reported are things like "suicidal ideation," which frankly? Not that surprising. "I'm going to fucking kill myself if I don't have a cigarette in five seconds" is hardly a new thought for the dedicated smoker.

So I'm feeling a lot better. I'm looking forward to Chantix and not smoking to make me feel worse. Somewhere in the middle I expect to find normal. Right?

Thursday, 07 February
Run Of The Mill

The first couple years I was in college, I would come home in the summers. I had two jobs waiting for me those years: one was doing p-line surveying for the Forest Service (don't ask--it's more boring than public television), and the other was doing the clean-up shift at the local sawmill. That was once a week, on Saturday mornings. Occasionally, as I was told by Gary, the foreman. "Occasionally I'll call you for some help," Gary told me when we first met. "It probably won't be every Saturday."

It was every Saturday. Every fucking Saturday at six AM the phone would ring, and Gary's funereal voice would march implacably down the phone lines, through the receiver and into my ear, where it would then start brushing its voice-teeth with steel wool right there in my fucking ear canal. If it sounds deranged and kind of complicated, remember that it was SIX AM ON A SATURDAY.

"Skot. Need ya today," he'd invariably say. Now the voice was taking a bone saw to its voice-ankles. "I'm pretty tired, Gary," I'd say every time.

"I'm fuckin' tired too," Gary would reply flatly. "Tough old world. Need ya today." Then he'd patiently wait while I hopped up and down silently, waving the phone around in a fury. He knew I wouldn't hang up or snap back, because Gary had that quiet sort of demeanor that had a tendency to scare the living shit out of everybody.

"All right, I'll be there in half an hour," I'd always say. "See you in a few," Gary would say, and hang up, and as the phone line clicked into silence, his voice would die in my ear and start to rot there, macerating my brain with its fetid echo.

The Bible tells us that God rested on the seventh day, and I can tell you why: it's because on the sixth day, the exhausted Motherfucker had to clean out His divine sawmill. He looked at this enormous fucking building, the Silver City's stinking, clanking, yammering machinery, littered with animal shavings, shattered soul-fragments, discarded jackalopes, an entire room filled with excess night, etc. etc., and He thought: Fuck.

Cleaning up a sawmill is not without its excitement. For one, there's the unavoidable fact that not all of the machinery is shut down when it's being cleaned, so there's always the off chance of being sucked into some shrieking geartoothed leviathan. Or there's an even better chance that one of the (exhausted, idiotic) burnouts that you work with will simply turn on a machine at the wrong time, such as when you're standing on it. Or in it. That's what happened to a fellow known only as Jerry, who some years ago was cleaning the innards of some gigantic piece of infernal destruction--I've long forgotten the names of most of these things--when someone for unclear reasons turned it on. The device in question resembled a six-foot tall mixing bowl, and had two-foot long metal blades that whirled at the bottom, and that's how the legendary Jerry was turned into tapioca one lonely Saturday afternoon while the horrified workers unlucky enough to be present were treated to the unforgettable sight of Jerry's upper torso bouncing merrily and leglessy above the rim of the death bowl until someone unscrambled his nerves long enough to shut the man-mixer off.

So there was a certain brain-tingling sense of adventure when one found himself wedging himself into the narrow space between two four-foot tall circular blades to brush the conveyor belt free of sawdust. I got jobs like that because I was skinny, or so I was told. A darker voice inside my head told me, It's because they hate you and they are going to turn you into thinly-sliced chum. Which may have been true, but I was not murdered, probably because everyone realized that someone would just have to go in afterwards and clean all the me out of the blades.

The debarker was another crowd favorite. The debarker is just what it sounds like: it's a giant structure that violently bullies all the bark off of logs before they enter the sawmill. It's so giant, of course, that it is outside. Which further means that cleaning the thing means climbing around on the thing clearing it of enormous strips of bark. Which further means that the task becomes exponentially more horrible when the bark happens to be soaking wet, which it always was, because the powers that were always decided that the debarker needed to be cleaned right after a punishing rainstorm--or, better, during a punishing rainstorm.

I never did see someone turned to a paste at the sawmill, but I did see one unfortunate fellow take a slip on the wet debarker chain and have one of the sharpened cleats that grab the logs go right into his ass; he howled like silverback and wriggled while we all stared at him until someone vaguely in charge told us to "unstick that boy." It was horrifying, to be sure, but slightly mitigated in my mind by the convenient fact that I thought the guy was an asshole anyway.

But really, the job was mostly dreary. Mountains of sawdust that needed moving from here to there; tiny little flywheels bearded with filaments of wood that needed brushing; magnetic plates on conveyors that needed clearing lest nails, spikes, wristwatches or severed boot-clad feet gum up the valuable sawblades. The dreaded Saturdays were, if truth be told, hated mostly for their endless grey tedium and numbing ennui, only occasionally shot through with electrifying moments of grave, pointless and stupid bodily damage. Sort of like a Uwe Boll film, but with shovels.

After my second summer of this nonsense, I told Gary that I'd had enough; the next year I wouldn't be coming back home. He chewed his mustache for a moment, regarding me with unsurprise.

"Well, that's too bad. You were a pretty good worker, even if you are a dinky little shit," he said. I regarded this as high praise. "You could really get in those tight spots 'tween the blades," he continued with a sigh. I felt the previous compliment shrivel up a bit as his voice shimmied up my brainstem and started doing a hornpipe on my medulla; I wanted to get the fuck out of there and go home and shower for six days and be done with the place.

"Well," he said, readying his final benediction to me. "You won't believe me now, but you're going to miss this job some day." Now the voice was doing half-pipe stunts in the buttcrack of my brain that leads down to the corpus callosum, and getting some pretty sweet air.

"You ain't never gonna have another job that gives you so much wood," he deadpanned.

Gary's been dead for years after succumbing to a typically awful and futile bout with cancer, but his voice lives on inside my head to this day.

Right now it's singing "Sussudio."










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