My body as Agency

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Friday weather — it’s only raining where I live!

Ten years ago my body decided to kill itself.

I collapsed in Time Square’s subway station, and was transported to Bellevue with a heart rate approaching 200 BPM.

The 9 years’ of immense disappointment since 2001 had culminated with an inevitable conclusion.

I was now 60, and my body was giving out.

My career had lain in ruins since 9-11.

Worse yet, my beloved Manhattan had been gentrified beyond recognition.

The sorts of people who used to live between City Hall and 14th Street, the demi monde of  true bohemians and artists and writers and drinkers and crazies, had vanished.

They had been the reason why I moved into a tiny, $227.50/month studio on 13th St and University Place back in ’74 — during NYC’s final golden age as a place where creative outcasts who didn’t fit in anywhere else could live both eccentrically and on the cheap and meet interesting people from all over the world.

Being right next to Union Square, I occasionally had a chance to see such people, sometimes even while singing Demon Alcohol at the top of my lungs from the vantage point of George Washington’s icy horse at 3am in the dead of winter.

Now Lower Manhattan’s prized and unique vibe was dead, displaced by the sorts of young professionals who used to rent pricey one-bedrooms in the Upper East Side — thanks then as now to Daddy — for a year or two before buying the bourgeois starter house in Greenwich or Scarsdale.

But I didn’t die, although after my thyroid operation, I ceased to look like the person I had been most of my life. At least I didn’t end up sounding like this ancient Egyptian.

I was now balding, with what was left of my hair grey, with bulging eyes, pretibial myxedema, Plummer’s nails, tremors, extremely fat, quick to tire, given to mood swings, and easily distracted.

This was the same person who used to work 12 – 15 hour days on Wall Street for years on end. I now could not finish reading a novel, let alone write one — which I once had thought was my true calling in life.

Fast forward to the present.

Though I survived, and eventually looked less grotesque than I did in 2013 — when I travelled to Egypt, during the year the generals removed the only freely elected leader the country has ever known — I remained lost at sea, without purpose or direction.

I returned to Egypt in 2017, and stayed for 7 months in Gouna on the Red Sea.

This was after the orange pig’s election, when I decided that the US was no longer a safe place to be an Arab-American. There had been a few unpleasant scenes with neighbors who threatened me physically; I eventually had to call the police.

Well, now these cunts are either all dead, or have moved away to even more right wing, racist parts of Florida.

But I’ve survived — even though El Gouna did not turn out to be my cup of tea.

I’m still here.

Despite everything, my body has refused to give in; it continues to fight back against everything that wants to destroy what remains healthy in me.

This might stretching the analogy, but isn’t that impetus a form of “agency”?

In the sense used by William Gibson. (Btw, I just put a hold at my local library on his latest — large print of course — and I’m psyched for the upcoming relaase of The Peripheral on Amazon prime.)

As readers of this blog know, I have spent much of last week trying to get my back porch ready for Geneva’s arrival.  Geneva is a gorgeous little German Shep dog that my wife and I will be picking up in Boca a week from Sunday.

The constant rain has frustrated my attempts to get various things done, such that Geneva can have a nice, safe enclosed place — which I am calling her “habitat” — to gambol in for her month of sequestration during her run of shots, when she will not be allowed to interact with other dogs.

What is weird is that this rain has centered on the Treasure Coast; the rest of Florida is sunny.

Fucking annoying, to say the least.

bleach burn
Bleach burn scab

But the painful burn on my right hand has now scabbed and is begining to heal.  This injury happened from the bleach I was using to get rid of mold on the patio screens.

That is what I mean by agency — or resistance, if you will.

My body is fighting back, and refusing to let my hand turn into some puss-filled, gangrenous mess.

I’m unaware how it knows how to do this.

There are all sorts of things that my body does that I don’t consciously know how to do.

How do I know how to breathe?  Or manufacture red cells?  Or heal wounds? Where does the instinct to thrive originate? Or the will to defend one’s country?

There is much about the future that is bleak.

Currently the United States is being led by a conniving, malevolent fuckface who is probably not going to be around in 10 or 20 years when the disastrous nature of his malicious environmental policies come to roost.

But I still have the hope that despite everything — just like when it looked that I was done for, back in 2010, on the verge of a myocardial infarction that could have ended my life — we the majority in this coutnry will fight back and defeat this evil turd and his base.

Instead of obsessing about the Reaper’s impeachment sham “trial,” I’ve been writing a lot recently about DIY handy man stuff.

After all, isn’t Nancy herself — instead if standing shoulder to shoulder with Schiff as he eviscerated this White House’s assault on American democracy — spending the week yukking it up with her good friends in the Knesset?

But what about those mutilated Arab children in Gaza and elsewhere, Nance?

Fuck ’em.

They’re all a bunch of terrorists, I can imagine Bibi saying, soothingly, to gullible Nancy, no doubt over caviar canapés and glasses of chilled kosher wine.

Maybe — given her obvious intelligence, which is is plainly evident in the maddeningly halting geezer way she has of talking, as well as her impressive grasp of global history, which all can tell from her humble preoccupation with fancy couture — Nancy thinks Palestinians are just like them Red Injun terrorists, savages who dared stand up against the palefaces.

And besides, poor Nancy can’t see any Palestinians at this shindig, even if she wanted to, because there’s walls everywhere, conveniently obliterating Palestinians from the old hag’s view, at least from the windows of the so-called “President’s House,” where the triumphalist Zionist event she was attending at US tax payer’s expense took place, the “president” in question being one Chaim Weizmann, a venal racist, thankfully long dead, who once wrote to his wife: “The Arab retains his primitive attachment to the land.”

And Nancy the soon-to-be octagenarian Wonder Woman is so perfectly okay with that she channels her inner Gal Gadot and proudly hangs Israeli soldier dog tags on walls at home or at the office or wherever.

Nancy, Nancy, Apartheid Nancy: truly a moral giant in these difficult times.

How on earth did she keep a straight face under all that ghastly makeup when she ever so grandly handed out all those personalized impeachment pens of hers? Were those footed at the taxpayer’s expense too?

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latex paint curling on oil base previous coat. Nasty.

Now the porch work I’m doing, of itself, is inconsequential in the larger scheme of things.

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How it looked after I scraped and sanded it yesterday. Much better!

Focusing on the small and doable is a bulwark. What’s important is that I’m planning for a future. One that will be better than the present. One hopes.

Even the act of getting a purebred German Shepherd dog at my age tacitly implies that I expect to be around for a while, and that I will have the energy to deal with a full grown work dog in her prime.

Though it may seem right now that things look bleak, I still hold onto to possibility that, come November, the tawdry orange pig and his smugly nihilistic friends will be ousted from power and forced to face the music, Southern District of New York-style. The blood hounds up there are waiting patiently, their eyes laser focused on his every

Meanwhile, I shall bide (ugh, too close to Biden— the very same genial idiot who in 2008 suggested carving up Iraq into three) my time, spruce up the habitat and get ready for Geneva.

She’ll be here any day now.

The times they are indeed a-changing.

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Dealing with Failure

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The beach near my house in FLA. I hang out here a lot less than I used to, and come 2 or 3 times a week to exercise by walking a few miles up and down a mostly empty beach that’s a protected nature preserve

The observable fact is that things are improving.  That is the current datum.

Why is that?

I am not sure.  For 17 long years, things were going downhill.

I am an emigrant from Egypt and the UK.

I came to this country in the late 60s.

I lived in NYC, and worked in Fintech most of my career.

In 2001, I lost a great job due to the tech meltdown. So I moved to Florida.  Went to France for the summer, plenty of money in the bank still, thinking that when I got back I could take my pick and choose my next great career move.

Now during this time, a highly mysterious French programmer wrote a piece of software called “b2/cafelog ,” and a college kid called Matt noticed.  I didn’t, though.  I was too busy trying to find a job and feeling sorry for myself.

Hundreds (or maybe it was only 15, I can’t remember anymore) of resumés send-outs later, I still couldn’t find work.

Let’s see, I had worked as a programmer and systems analyst in Manhattan for over 25 years at some of the biggest financial companies in America, and I couldn’t get a job?

Why?

Was it 9-11, you know the Arab thing?

Bad luck?

Age?

All of the above?

So I wrote to a childhood friend who, at the time, had great tech job in the Gulf and his answer was basically I’m kind of busy right now. This is a guy who I once helped by pulling family strings to make things easier for him in terms of being drafted in the Egyptian army.  Send your res to Bayt.com, he said:  that was his response, instead of, say, introducing me to any one of his many contacts in Dubai who might have offered me work.

Understandably, I got a little miffed about that.  I learned that people have short memories.  I learned that loyalty is not a two way street. I learned that people don’t always remember down that road what you once did for them, that sometimes they prefer to forget it entirely.

But I still had money in the bank.

So I said, fuck it, I am going to walk the deserts, not like some of the geezer Birkenstock tourists I recently saw in Tavira, Portugal, but like a nomad, a sort of Bruce Chatwin, minus the gay thing, with a knapsack and notebook, travelling literally to remote deserts, and spending the little money I had saved from selling the Greenwich CT house on a sort of extended Leaving Las Vegas binge. I wrote a few stories, during this time; they got published in Mizna, until that pub stop liking me and I told them to go fuck themselves.

This worked for a while, but underneath it all I was worried as shit.  I was still in my 50s.  What was I going to do with the rest of my life?

This more than kept my up at night; it ate me alive with worry.

And I did become embittered.

Finally, from all the stress, I contracted Graves’ Disease.

It almost killed me.  This life-threatening autoimmune disorder resulted in my body attacking itself; unfortunately, I exhibited ever possible manifestation or symptom of Graves, from pretibial myxedema to bulging eyes to erratic mood swings to purples bruises on my faces and elbows.

Unable to deal with the nasty behavior that hyperthyroidism often engenders in its victims , my wife almost left me — we separated for a year, and commenced divorce proceedings.

Alone, depressed, jobless, I was no longer the handsome young man with a bright future that she fell in love with some twenty years earlier.  I had become the angry, resentful old Florida guy no one wanted around any more.

My life stopped having any meaning and my vacuous days seemed pointless.

I didn’t give up completely, though.

I still emailed strangers — or, rather, company bots — about getting something akin to my old “datum” job back, but I kept getting shot down, and finally no one even bothered answering my job applications any more. My wife even suggested at some point that I change my name — Americanize it, the way many immigrants to America used to in the past — and shave years off my birth date: in old school IBM punch card terms, to fold, spindle and mutilate my true identity into some fictitious heteronym; that is to say, to no longer be who I am; to become, in effect, a living lie, instead of a human being.

Finally, a friend took me aside, when I went up to DC, in a last-ditch attempt to get a consultant subcontracting gig.

He was someone whom I had hired in the old days, when I was a tech honcho at a billion dollar company based in Virginia.

He said:  do you mind if I be honest with you?  Even if you never speak to me again, I owe you this.

I said okay.

He took a deep breath and said your life is over in tech. You were at the top, once, but now you’re not a player any more. Face it: you’re never going to be hired in a tech position ever again, let alone be considered the IT visionary you once were. That was a long time ago, before all that went down happened. Tech is a young man’s game.  You warned me about that yourself, once.

So do yourself a favor, he said.

Look in the mirror.

Ageist as this sounds, would you then have hired you as you are now?

My conclusion was that I could either turn to something like becoming an airport limo driver, or giving up and turn into the guy who goes to the liquor store at 9am and is never seen in public except for the early morning, darting beer and whisky runs.

What do you do when your life is over, except commit suicide on the installment plan, or be the codger who packs shopping carts at the checkout line at the supermarket?

In 2016, a lot of people were like me.  The 2008 housing bubble had wiped them out financially. For some, it was the lack of construction work; for others, it was globalism that outsourced their well-paid union jobs; for white collar workers, many had simply gotten older and were no longer welcome in the offices where they once made other people rich.

And so, many of them voted for Donald Trump.

They needed to believe the con that he would make it all better.  That he would put the screws on those guys who were responsible for your life turning to shit.  Because that wasn’t your fault.  What had happened had nothing to do with you.  You had played the game fair and square and they came with their Moslem and Mexican and Jew ways and fucked your life up. It was Them that did it, those fucking bastards who wanted to take your place, and live in your house, and fuck your white daughter, while leaving you out on the curb with no place to go except rot like a piece of garbage.

Somebody had to answer for that.

Or so it went for many.

Others vanished.  They became zombies, which is essentially what I did.

I stopped taking care of my physical appearance.

I stopped reading, because it was too hard for me now to do so, and I couldn’t afford the cataract operation.

I pointlessly walked the beaches, first for days, months, and then years.

For no reason.

With no purpose, except just to not to sit around.

Sometimes I saw the carapace of dead turtles that had washed up on the beach and were being picked clean by the seagulls and crabs.  Sometimes I saw small boats that had shipwrecked.  But mostly I saw old guys like me, either fishing or walking the beach for no reason other than there was nothing else to do.

What do you do when your mind is still alive yet no one wants you anymore because no one wants to deal with what everyone perceives is a loser?

Many people say they would rather starve than be pitied and turn into charity cases, but the soup kitchens are full people who had to swallow their pride for the sake of their families.

How do you stop from going insane, as everyone around tries one way or another to pry ever last dime you have on some car or insurance or payday hustle and you finally find yourself alone waiting to die in some 600 dollar a month studio with barely enough money left over to pay for food, your  meds, and the beer you drink now to make all the hurt go away because you don’t matter anymore to anyone except every few years when some politician in a smart suit says this or that or the other thing and then goes away till the next election?

Of course not everyone my age went down that route.

Some started taking steroid shots, so their knees could withstand logging those he-man mega clicks on their expensive bicycles; others administered themselves testosterone injections and even Viagra, to get rid of the moobs and still be able to fuck that trophy wife or girlfriend; while others still pumped iron and did everything in their power to make the comeback that never happened, until they realized that there comes a time when not even Michael Jordan can play basketball any more.

So where did that leave me?

With all the gun shops in Florida, taking yourself out is a real easy option.

But… ultimately…. I finally ended up going another route.

Stay tuned for Part II of this maybe completely fictional, maybe not, post, when the reference I made earlier to the history of WordPress will start making sense and I’ll start to talk about positive solutions, despite still being trapped in a suffocating world that was slowly killing me.

leaving america