Nov. 8, 2014

Death:
or You Mean I Don’t have to Get Up for Work? How Cool is That?

          “To die: to sleep. To sleep? Perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come[?]” wrote Shakespeare. My response is, who cares? I don’t remember most of my dreams anyway, unless they’re nightmares, anxiety dreams, or one of the two wet dreams I’ve ever had in my life (you can read my book Going Hollywood for a detailed description of the second and last one). Admittedly, when I go to bed I’m always drunk, so even if I had a dream there’s no way I’d remember it. So, the big risk in dying, as per the Bard, is that you don’t get to dream anymore—big fucking deal.
          The big issue on my mind these days, as I’ve brought up in several earlier essays, is that people live too long now and it’s gumming up the works for everybody. I presently have a front row seat as I watch my two elderly parents wither up and face a situation for which they are dreadfully unprepared, meaning death. Both of them are utterly desperate to stay alive and cling to the very last vestige of life, even if that means being totally humiliated along the way. My dad, who used to be a big, strapping, six-foot-one-inch dude is now a shrunken little old geezer on a walker who can’t make it up two stairs nor get in and out of a car, and drools when he speaks. He’s always had his head up his ass about most everything, but at least he used to make some semblance of sense, but alas, no longer. You can’t tell him the shortest joke, like, say, A guy goes to the doctor and the doctor says, “Mr. Smith, you have to stop masturbating,” and Mr. Smith asks, “Why?” and the doctor says, “Because I need to examine you,” because by the time you reach the punchline he’s forgotten the set-up. Luckily for me and everybody else, he never complains—he is the definition of a Stoic.
          My mother, who luckily still makes sense, can’t walk six feet without falling down and bashing her head or some other extremity on the wall, which then entails a trip to the emergency room. Among six dozen other doctors, she has a “Boutique Doctor,” to whom she pays a couple of extra thousand dollars a year just to take her calls, which he usually doesn’t. My mom is an extremely bright, well-spoken lady—even though she had almost no education beyond high school—and resents the living shit about what’s happening to her, and is extremely vocal about it (up until recently, that is, when I courageously informed her that she complained a lot. “No, I don’t!” she proclaimed. “OK,” I acquiesced, “just 90% of the time,” and she’s actually lightened up, bless her lovely soul).
          But to what are these two so tenaciously hanging? Just one more day of misery? That life is so Goddamned precious that every single second of despair and pain must be cherished?
          To which I reply, “Balderdash!”
          I’m not interested in living one second beyond when I’m comfortable. If I can’t drive up to the liquor store at 4:00 PM, buy my pint of vodka, a case of beer, and often some beef jerky, who gives a flying fuck? If my brain is so scrambled that I can no longer write, then, just like my man, Ernest Hemmingway, I’ll put a 12-gauge shotgun in my mouth and bid this mortal coil adieu. Ernie was only five years older than me when he did himself this favor, but he certainly didn’t do it casually or by mistake.
          Good old Hem, as I called him, was the writin’est, drinkin’est, bull-fightin’est, Marlin-fishin’est, animal-shootin’est son of a bitch who ever laid pen to paper. Although he got famous with his bullshit WWI novel, A Farewell to Arms, where he wasn’t even a soldier, but an Italian ambulance driver, who then then spent the entire fucking book in the hospital wooing a pretty nurse, taking her out for cocktails, both of them constantly declaring, “Isn’t life grand?,” I believe he was far better at writing short stories than novels. Since damn near every other book about both WWI and WWII that have ever come out are better than his book, he naturally hated them all, actually writing in his review of James Jones’ brilliant WWII novel, From Here to Eternity, that “I’d rather suck the boogers from a dead nigger’s nose than read another of this author’s books.” Cut to Jack Benny placing his hand on his cheek, rolling his eyes and muttering, “Well.”

          Then evil tidings befell him: in 1952 he not only won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with The Old Man and the Sea (the shortest Pulitzer winner ever), but he also won the Nobel Prize for Literature, then a shit-storm ensued because now every journalist in the world needed to interview him, and were willing to fly to Havana to do so. Well, Hem hated interviews—in fact, he hated everything but writing, drinking, fucking when he was younger, and killing any and all of God’s creatures—and did his almighty best to avoid being interviewed, but now there was no stopping it because the asshole journalists were lined up at his gate and he and his wife Mary were simply too polite to turn them away after such a long trip. Well, that sucked, but he could live with it as long as he still had a bit of time to write and drink.
          So, everything was more or less OK for Hem as long as he had his little house in Key West, Florida, and his palatial hacienda outside Havana, but then that green-clad, bearded, cigar-smoking, rat, Fidel Castro, took over Cuba in 1959 and promptly threw Hem’s sorry ass out of the country. So, Hem moved to Ketchum, Idaho, and tried to keep writing. Ay, here’s the rub—his health and his eyesight both gave out, causing him to be unable to concentrate or write, which was all he wanted to do, except drink (Hem invented the Scotch Squishy—fill a large drink glass with half-scotch and half-water, place it in the freezer at bedtime, then when you wake up you’ve got Scotch Squishies for breakfast).
           And so Ernest Hemmingway went insane. He was put on electro-shock, sent to the Mayo Clinic, given every sedative ever invented, therapy, treatment, you name it, and he just got worse and worse, and more and more depressed every single day. Everybody tried to cheer him up, but it was of no use. Finally, as 1960 rolled around and Kennedy took office (Hem was invited to the inaugural, but declined), he began attempting suicide, one time after another. On one single plane ride in a small prop plane, he first tried to walk into the spinning prop, then while in flight, attempted to jump out of the plane twice. Mary found him several times holding one of his many shotguns with shells in his hand and a sealed note addressed to her on the mantle, him looking dazed and confused, then psychotically wouldn’t let her read the note and stumbled away.
           Finally, on July 1st, 1961, at the age of sixty-one, on Hemmingway’s last walk in the Idaho woods with his best friend and biographer, A. E. Hotchner (co-inventor of Newman’s Own Salad dressing and author of, among many other books, the definitive biography of Ernest Hemmingway, Papa Hemmingway), Hotchner asked him, “Papa, why do you want to kill yourself?”
          “He hesitated only a moment; then he spoke in his old, deliberate way. ‘What do you think happens to a man going on sixty-two when he realizes that he can never write the books and stories he promised himself? Or do any of the other things he promised himself in the good days?’
          ‘But how can you say that? You have written a beautiful book about Paris [A Moveable Feast, published posthumously], as beautiful as anyone can hope to write. How can you overlook that?’
          ‘The best of that I wrote before. And now I can’t finish it.’
          ‘But perhaps it is finished and it is just reluctance . . .’
          ‘Hotch, if I can’t exist on my own terms, then existence is impossible. Do you understand? That is how I’ve lived, and that is how I must live—or not live.’”
          And the very next day, July 2nd, he finally managed to blow his brains out.
          La!
          My questions is: why didn’t they let him do it the first time? Why he did have to endure two more years of utter misery? What the hell is wrong with us? If we’re not happy about living anymore, why can’t we just end it? Why is it against the fucking law, for Christ’s sake?
          I attempted suicide twice, then threatened it two more times, and ended up in the psyche ward for thirty-three days. The 4th floor of St. Joseph-Mercy Hospital is the looney bin, where, once you’re in there’s no telling when you’ll get out—it’s at the Indian doctor’s behest. Well, there were nuts of every shape, color and size in there, although we all had one thing in common—we’d all failed to kill ourselves. Failures were we; born to be free; just like the fish in the sea.
           So, I’ve got these parents who are presently going through the same humiliating, painful, debilitating, inescapable, final throes of shuffling off this mortal coil, just like old Hemmingway went through, except now with the giant strides made by medical science in the interim, that which took Hem less than 24 months to achieve, my parents have endured for at least a decade. And I have no doubt that were Hemmingway dying today, they would now prop him up until he was at least 80, ensuring that he got to taste every last sweet morsel of misery available to him.
           Well, not me, brother. That’s not how I’m gonna go. I’m gonna go like Elsie in Cabaret, and I’ll leave you with the bridge from John Kander and Fred Ebb’s title song, Cabaret.

I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie
With whom I shared four sordid rooms in Chelsea
She wasn’t what you’d call a blushing flower
As a matter of fact she rented by the hour

The day she died the neighbors came to snicker
Well, that’s what comes from too much pills and liquor
But when I saw her laid out like a queen
She was the happiest corpse I’d ever seen

I think of Elsie to this very day
I remember how she’d turn to me and say . . .

What good is sitting all alone in your room
Come hear the music play
Life is a cabaret old chum
So come to the cabaret.

 

 

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