While I’m on the subject of the end of all things, not long ago somebody asked me if I was afraid to die. It was a weird out of the blue question, I thought, a little morbid, but I said no, not at all. Which was true, I’m not afraid of dying. I don’t sit around dwelling on it or pestering people in bars with questions on their own mortality. Besides, I said, there’ll be one helluva wake. But you won’t be there, she said. Well, my cold corpse will be, if we go traditional. That’s sick, she said. No, I said, that’s dead. Uh, okay, she said. One fuck of a wake, I added. Screaming jazz and everyone drunk and stoned and raising hell. She looked a tad frightened, little her next to this giant dude talking about his post-mortem bash. I ordered another whiskey and offered her one, but it was obvious I was the last person she wanted to drink with. See ya at the party, I said.
The sexiest of all signs is Merging Buses Ahead. There was such a sign, too, on the Hollywood Freeway. I noticed the sign one night a zillion years ago when my bass player, stoned out of his mind, was driving us to a gig. Looking for a shortcut he suddenly pulled into the bus lane. We whizzed past the mystified people waiting at the bus stop and gunned our way back into the slow lane, saving maybe three seconds. As he was holding at least a quarter ounce, was ripped, had an expired driver’s license and an unpaid traffic ticket or two I thought his act showed unusual verve. Had I known the car was unregistered I would have awarded him even more verve. He always was a lucky bastard, though, and those three seconds seemed important. His luck later ran out when be blew a tire while tripping on acid at the Grand Canyon. Without a spare, he stood staring into the vast and infinite beauty of the canyon. Dusk was falling and the sandstones glowed a brilliant red and the whole universe seemed full of color. A park ranger stopped to help, discovered his DMV rap sheet and cuffed him. A drag, of course, though with all that blotter it seemed at the time rather groovy. Like I said, he was a bass player. Anyway, as we zipped past the people waiting for the bus and muscled our way back onto the freeway I noticed the sign on the left. Merging Buses Ahead. It seemed tremendously funny at the time. It became my sign. Some hippie or lady at work would ask me my sign. I’d say Merging Buses Ahead. It had just the right mixture of randomness and disdain. Made a lot of sense in the punk rock eighties. I’d never explain. They’d usually walk away, or change the subject. I was big and mean looking, wore huge steel toed army boots and had developed quite a glower I’d use when annoyed. If asked my sign and I said Merging Buses Ahead and my wife was there she’d explain. He thinks that’s funny, she’d say, he’s an Aries. Oh you’re an Aries…no wonder you said Merging Buses Ahead. I don’t know my wife’s sign–after 34 years I still can’t remember but it’s either Gemini, Scorpio, Aquarius or maybe another–but she knew mine. She doesn’t believe in astrology of course, not a whit (she’s into astronomy and the two can’t mix…she doesn’t believe in UFO’s either) but at least she knows the signs. But then I’m an Aries. You can always tell an Aries because we don’t believe in astrology. We’re arrogant and stubborn and skeptical and confrontational. Lively, though. Fun.
Somewhere in middle age telling people I’m a Merging Buses Ahead lost its zing. It doesn’t seem to come up much anyway. Recently, though, someone asked me my birthday. I told her. Then I told her all the cool people that have been born on my birthday. A whole bunch: Spencer Tracy and Gregory Peck and Bette Davis and Lord Buckley and on and on. Her eyes lit up. Then I told her it was a cool death day too and ran off Howard Hughes and Chiang Kai-shek and Douglas MacArthur and Kurt Cobain and Allen Ginsberg and Saul Bellow and Charlton Heston…. She looked appalled. You know who died on your birthday? Well, yeah, famous people die on your birthday and it’s in the news and it’s easy. She gave me a look–it’s the people who are born on your birthday that matter. The dead, well that’s just sick. She walked away. Wow. I’d just been dissed by an astrology freak. I didn’t even think that was possible.
I suppose it was too late to say Merging Buses Ahead..
A friend’s wife died. Sad. More than sad. I hear about those things now and feel a momentary chill.
I lost my wife for a few minutes some years ago, they brought her back, but I’ll never forget those few minutes. Sometimes I hear her breathing next to me in the middle of the night and suddenly I remember her beautiful blue lips and knowing I was on the very cusp of being a widower. So many thoughts go through your head in those few minutes, you can’t believe how many thoughts. The doctors were so good, though…man, they were good. I got her back. After a couple weeks she walked out of the hospital. I thought the nurses were going to cheer. It’s such a rare thing, one told me, to see someone walk out like that after what happened. But she walked out, smiling. Amnesia, but smiling.
Eventually life returned to normal. But that precipice is something to peer over, and I don’t think anything’s been the same since. A lot seems pretty insignificant–I quit my writing gig, it suddenly seemed a waste of precious time–and much of the insignificant has vast importance. Like hearing her breathing in the middle of the night. Something I never even noticed before. Not in the same way. Knowing that once, for a few minutes there, she wasn’t breathing at all.
That was over five years ago, and this is the first time I’ve ever written about it. I just realized that. You think you can write about anything, but you can’t.