mister pants, part 6

One day I’ll own my own house,
but I won’t forget who I am
or where I came from.
Passing bums will ask, Can I come in?
I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay,
because I know how it is to be without a house.
Some days after dinner, guests and I
will sit in front of a fire.
Floorboards will squeak upstairs.
The attic grumbling.
Rats? They’ll ask.
Bums, I’ll say,
and I’ll be happy.

— Sandra Cisneros, “The House on Mango Street”

Mister Pants, a desert dweller, was editing a paper in Michigan, an oddity brought about by the Brave New World of Journalism. And there it was: a story about homeless guys struggling to survive in Lansing.

It’s an interesting, terrifying question, he thought. How do you abide by a stay-at-home order when you have no home?

Just stay at home, Salazar had told America during his daily puppet show. It sounds so easy.

Mister Pants  thought of all the weary souls who live along his running course on the greenbelt, their belongings stuffed into absconded shopping carts and hello kitty backpacks. Asleep under the bridges, sitting on picnic tables, trying to get through a day that leads to getting through another day that leads to yet another one in a numbing march toward a death nobody would notice.

Their local haunts were now closed. The library’s air-conditioning, the Starbucks’ promise of a restroom, the cheap cup of coffee at McDonald’s that could stretch out across an afternoon of sitting quietly in a booth. What would they do? Where could they go?

Mister Pants suspected they knew little of the coronavirus and wouldn’t much care anyhow. COVID-19 was no match for the daily worries of malnutrition and lack of  health care. The facilities in the desert, much like those in Michigan, were overwhelmed, even before the latest crisis. Any hope they might have had was falling victim to the new world order, a system in free fall that would leave them even further behind, a statistic nobody would care about.

But what can you do? Mister Pants was terrified enough just for himself and his wife. They had a cat and a 90-year-old friend they had adopted, and that was their limit. Maybe there’s a point where you stop worrying about the world and stay in your life raft. Sorry, Leonardo DiCaprio. The homeless guys did not have a chance.

Mister Pants wished he had an attic.

But he did not.

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mister pants, part 5

“Life is a memory, and then it is nothing.”
— Cormac McCarthy

Working from home has its advantages: unlimited paletas.

But Mister Pants sometimes missed the old days, when a wonky computer just meant a call to the sixth floor and a quick visit from the IT guy.

The day started innocently enough, but then the air conditioner went out. With temperatures expected to rise into the mid-60s in the afternoon, desperate action was needed, such as putting on pants so the A/C guy could come inside.

The work was going along OK, if by OK you mean staying out of the guy’s way. But then he had to turn off the electricity to replace a breaker. No problem.

And then.

When the electricity came on again, the little black box that connected Mister Pants’ computer to the monitors didn’t work. No power. No little reassuring light. Muerto. Finito Benito. Whoever Benito is.

It was not what you would call a “particularly slow period” in the news business. Mister Pants panicked. Which of course meant rushing out to steal toilet paper from the nearby park. When he came back, still no power.

Was the little gizmo fried by the power outage? Russian hackers? Can a little gizmo get the vermin? There was only one possible solution: weep unashamedly.

Mister Pants wept like a Republican senator whose stock sale before the crash had been exposed. But even that didn’t help. So He Called IT.

The IT guy (not to be confused with Cousin Itt from the Addams Family) promptly responded by chat, the thing that IT guys use now because talking on the phone allows you to hear their increasingly heavy sighs. He pretended not to laugh at Mister Pants’ description of “the gizmo” and “that other thingy” and “the whatzit” and other technical descriptions of his computer equipment. He walked Mister Pants through the steps of dealing with it: Duck and cover. Or possibly those were the steps of dealing with nuclear annihilation in the 1950s. Mister Pants was not thinking clearly at this point.

Yeah, right. Mister Pants thought. Unplug this, unplug that, replug this, replug that. Sure, that’ll work. Yeah, right.

And then.

Everything came up again. The computer worked. The monitors worked. The air conditioner worked. The federal government worked. Well, three out of four isn’t bad. Damn Salazar.

The IT guy said he was glad to help, wherever the heck he was. The air conditioner guy took his ladder and went home. Mister Pants took off his pants and resumed his life.

The cat looked out the window as she began her 5,475th day in self-quarantine. It’s not so bad if you find someone to give you food and keep up with your toilet, she said.

I suppose, Mister Pants thought. But for the first time, he missed the eighth floor of the newspaper office. And being able to buy soup. He didn’t even like soup. But still.

He ate another paleta, just in case the power went out again and the freezer stopped working. Life is a memory, and then it is nothing. Mister Pants wondered exactly what McCarthy was saying. Likely an exhortation to eat more paletas while you can. Done and done.

And then he went out for his long run. At least nothing can break when you’re running, he thought. His knees just smiled …

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mister pants, part 4

“I’m back in Maine now. I don’t know for how long.
Wash your hands. Protect yo’ heart.”
— Jennifer Finney Boylan

He thought back to those carefree days when you could buy stuff. When soup was still a thing. Toilet paper? All you could tote. Soap? Duh. But that was then.

This was now.

“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper,” T.S. Elliot wrote. And now here we were, debating how many clowns we would allow to gather in a clown car.

But life at the bird loop ambled along unscathed, a daily respite from Salazar’s screech. If anything, the people seemed friendlier. Had they re-evaluated their lives and counted their blessings? Were they basking in the joy of the sun’s return after the deluge? Were they all roaring drunk, the byproduct of the drinking game where you take a shot whenever Salazar says something stupid at his morning news conference?

Mister Pants wasn’t sure; he was just thankful for the refuge. But he worried there was still no word from Ernie, Lost in America, wherever that was.

The Bowser Boys filled in admirably, given their demoted status. 5k of fartlek. Trash can to trash can. Dust to dust. Trust Uncle Hal. It all seemed too easy.

Easier than finding Purell, anyhow.

What was ahead? Chaos, maybe. A happy ending, unlikely but still possible. A Friday long run? Most certainly.

Mister Pants grudgingly stretched, waved goodbye to the herons, and resumed his futile search for a can of soup.

Wash your hands. Protect yo’ heart. Guard your soup. Life is about learning lessons.

Not with a bang but with a whimper …

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mister pants, part 3

Then the worst case scenario came to him. What if Ernie Pook never came?

The last time Mister Pants had heard from him, he was somewhere between San Luis Obispo and Atlanta. What if he was left  standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona? It IS a fine place to be, after all. The world was shutting down. Would Ernie go down with it?

Was the Moose OK, hunkered down somewhere in Italia? Can meese get the vermin? Is meese even a word? Goose. Geese. Possibly.

Mister Pants stared at the course elevation profile. All unrelentingly uphill, and steeper by the day.

But what can you do? Uncle Hal’s plan provided refuge. How far, how fast, how often. No need to think. Just show up and run.

Mister Pants waved at the people on the trail, a mix of walkers and cyclists and runners suddenly surveying each other with caution. Exactly how far is 6 feet?

He finished his run as the rain began. A metaphor or five. He looked again at that elevation profile.This was going to be a long, hard race.

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mister pants, part 2

The Hurache Boys weren’t particularly political by nature. Running shoes have a limited world view, and no matter which direction the winds of democracy shift, they tend to get stepped on.

Besides, Mister Pants’ guy was up by 20 points in the last poll, and the vermin hung heavy in the air, a good enough reason to DNF a primary.

But still.

Mister Pants hadn’t missed a presidential vote since that time he helped Truman beat Dewey, his first experience with a proper newspaper head bust. it would not be his last.

The line at the voting emporium was short but earnest, and the list of candidates was long but outdated, a reminder of not so long ago when the candidates wouldn’t fit on one stage. Those were exciting times. Exotic groups like “minorities” and “women” were seen as viable alternatives. In the end, of course, it came down to two old white guys. Oh, well. Whatever it takes to bring down Salazar, he sighed.

Mail-in ballot? Not for Mister Pants. There’s something about that line, those people, the “I VOTED” sticker on the way out, that makes it all seem a little less futile. The Hurache Boys didn’t understand, but what do you expect for a crummy 180 bucks. Time to fly, indeed.

Mister Pants marked his candidate, slid the ballot into the box, took a big swig from the Purell bottle on the table, and headed out for Tempo Tuesday, an Uncle Hal 30-minute jaunt.

He wondered how this all would end. His retirement, his savings, his health, his country, his world, season two of Virgin River. Mostly that last one. He wondered why tempo is called tempo. He wondered what was taking Ernie Pook so long to arrive.

That’s  the best thing about running, he thought. Miles and miles to wonder, to imagine, to exist, just to be.

He got back in the car, drank a shot from the little Purell flask in the console, and drove off into the unknown while the Hurcache Boys slept contentedly in the back. They didn’t understand the importance of a little guy climbing up on a soapbox to scream FUCK YOU, SALAZAR. But Ernie would be here soon enough. Mister Pants could wait.

America needs you, Harry Truman. Harry, could you please come home?

But maybe being your own Purell.

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the mister pants chronicles

He was swimming in a sea of despair, awash with no water wings. Day after day, the same chorus. The sky is falling. The end times. No eggs. How can you have your pudding if you don’t eat your eggs? He was face to face with the wall.

The world was imploding in real time, available later on YouTube, of course. It was all that bastard’s fault, the one guy who could have fixed things but put himself above it all.

that man, of course, being Alberto Salazar.

Mister Pants’ race was killed, another victim in the global game of chicken. Which reminded him he had no eggs. He was furious because there were no refunds, even though he had gotten in for free because he was a club member. But still. Also, he had no eggs. He might have mentioned that already.

What can you do? He bought out the rest of the body glide at the store, sipped his rationed diet coke, and went to the bird park.

And then.

The world still existed just as he remembered it. A man fed popcorn to the ducks in front of the don’t feed popcorn to the ducks sign. The herons courted. A couple put down their bikes and sat on the bench, watching the world as it continued to rotate on its axis.

He ran the ed loop. The day was warm, the trail was soft, the run was glorious. The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed. suddenly he wanted pie. Life was good, even if only for the 45 minutes Uncle Hal allowed.

Ernie Pook would arrive soon. And then, things would change. Mister Pants could wait.

He bought up the rest of the Clif bars on the way home and hunkered down. It never always gets worse, the old saying goes. He was on the road to find out.

He and Uncle Hal propped their feet up and waited for Ernie. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Maybe it wasn’t closing time just yet. He resumed swimming in despair, hoping it would count as cross-training. He looked forward to eggs. Mojojojo.

Damn salazar.



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brothers, part 25

If you’re a zipper, you don’t want to be around Rick these days.

Fidgeting is an occupational hazard with dementia, a way of coping with the constant anxiety. For Rick, that means no zipper goes unpunished. He is a zipperholic, if there is such a thing. If not, I hereby copyright it. Please send me a dollar whenever you use it. Thanks.

As we went out for our morning walk today, I tried to zip up his trusty Standard-Times jacket for him, but the zipper’s missing. So we switched to the Eddie Bauer jacket. No zipper. I looked at my REI jacket. Nope. I nervously looked down at my shorts. Luckily, Gramiccis have no zipper, so we were not arrested during our outing.

How’s Rick doing? Remarkably well under the circumstances. He’s trapped in this horrible dark place and can’t find his way out. A tunnel with no light at the end. Sometimes I wish he didn’t know what’s going on. “We’ve got to get out of here,” he just told me. i don’t know where we can go.

But he is coping courageously, flashing that Rick Smile often and giving me a big HELLO! even when he has no idea who I am. Bouts of quiet frustration are interspersed with periods of joy. I guess you can’t ask for more than that. OK, maybe that and the return of my zipper. But still.

June has a lock on the fridge and freezer so he can’t break in at night. But when I woke up this morning, the ice cream was all gone. The fruits and vegetables were unscathed. Same ol’ Rick. Investigative journalists will always get to the bottom of a story. And a tub of neopolitan.

We have matching beards these days. We are twins. Just took me two years longer to arrive. A shame. We would’ve made such great hobos.

He came walking out of the study today carrying a legal pad. I half expected him to interview me. I wouldn’t have told him anything. Damn mainstream media.

He’s getting around OK and no doubt could still trounce me in Scrabble if he hadn’t eased up on me in our later years. He’s lost a couple steps, but he’s not out of the race by a long ways. I look forward to many more visits to crew for him.

Mostly, Rick is still Rick. If there’s a blessing in this, it’s that dementia hasn’t robbed him of that inherent kindness that radiates from his soul. You can see it when he’s gently petting the dogs, or waving to the neighbors while out for a walk, or giving a hug to a wayward brother in the morning as they introduce themselves for the millionth time.

How’s Rick? He’s just fine. He says hey. Thanks for caring.

But if you see him, maybe hide your zipper.

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