Monday, October 4, 1999

The Great Potato Famine of 1999

Cross my heart and hope to die I swear they must have lived happily ever after. Ruly just would never know. While a globe of people were working on avoiding the millennium bug, Ruly was the one when asked what he thought of the Y2K problem would inevitably and invariably say with only a slight hint of snicker in his most deadpan voice, "The question isn't Y2K, it's Y2B?"

One day he found himself sitting at the desk of the person who was driving him to a not so instant ulcer. Maybe it wasn't a mere coincidence her name rhymed with Hades. The sympathetic power of beauty whirled by and revealed that she had discovered the meaning of life the previous night. "It's to always remain curious. As soon as you lose your curiosity, your desire to learn, you die," she said as she scurried away. It was one of the repeated times Ruly mistook intimacy for love. He never forgot her unmatchable skill for making each and every one of the people who worked for her feel special somehow.

Sure enough he was eventually sent away, mostly voluntarily for being a hopeless romantic. He was on the fringe of a desperate edge where breaking down was no different than breaking up; where as good as he felt for two years (and in a way he'd never felt better) he now knew those warm inspired feelings were all wrong. His self imposed exodus behind the colorless but graying metal bars was spent trying to write his way out. Ruly didn't write to the warden, and he didn't write to the governor. He wrote to the dishwasher who washed her marbles in the kitchen sink not minding much if she lost one or two.

He called the mother to find out she wasn't home. He said he didn't want to leave a message because, "Your daughter is sorta mad at me right now." "My daughter doesn't get mad," the slightly polite but stern British voice said through the crackle of the airport pay phone. Ruly remembered it was at another airport pay phone not that long before where he talked to her daughter who was stark naked just out of the shower the day her uncle fell off the top of a bus meaning they couldn't get together while he was in town. He wanted to tell the mother he wasn't angry, he was mad. Or at the very least on the verge of madness. Even with his Latin roots he often wondered why certain words like stress and depressed rhymed so effortlessly. Some of us are on-line while others of us in-line, Ruly concluded many years later.

He finally got out when he revealed to those who mattered that if he were to be reincarnated as a fabric, he would come back as Velcro so he could hold things together. He then went on to write a fictional biography of a former President who didn't so much go mad as he did senile. A rather sad tale in the end where the writer's life was far more endemic to the story than the biographic subject.

At the checkout desk a cohort in his crafts class told Ruly she had been in after each and every one of her children's births. It was a common malady she was told, kind of like clockwork if not too entirely routine. She wished him well with a kindness to offset the harsh experience he would never be able to forget. It was like during an eclipse with darkness descending how the experts always warned people not to look directly at the intensely lessening light but the self destructive part always was so tempted to just take a peek- just to see why you shouldn't look. Ruly did manage to amuse another mother who demonstrated a keen awareness, by relating he cracked a tooth eating a donut filled with raspberry filling. She smiled knowing only he could manage such a feat. It was another total eclipse of the heart.

They sat on a park bench holding two dogs at the end of their leashes. He told her the last remaining piece not so much out of desperate understanding but more so out of need. She didn't move, didn't look phased. It was significant but his attention was more on the frolicking mocha colored young Labrador short haired German Shepherd puppy who teased the usually unmatchable in the frisky category, Rat Terrier. It was a day he would try to forget but would never live down. She said the most upsetting thing that he could almost bare but would forever keep to himself, even though she had shown she understood the spiritual sadness that consumed him. It wasn't the same game anymore. She simply didn't have further time for his shenanigans.

Ruly had endured a stressful grocery trip where he saw a foursome embrace. One of the couples' children screamed in ecstasy. The child continued screaming during Ruly's entire visit, rolling spastically on the grocery store tile. Under the maddening din he bought two bags of groceries for her. As she picked them up he forgot to give her her bag of potatoes (pronounced POH TAHH TOES). She promised an undelivered taste of her chocolate tort. The next day as he opened his mostly empty vegetable drawer he saw the sack of spuds. It was the last straw. He started weeping. It wasn't exactly spilt milk but it was the next closest thing. Once upon a time.

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