“Dad” is an American institution. An icon. A force of nature. Like thunder, or lightning. Or mold. The less you see of your Dad as a young boy, the better a Dad you have. Because the longer Dad is gone during the day, that’s all the harder he’s working to slay the dragon and bring home the bacon. He disappears between the hours of 5am and 7pm. Then he comes through the door–like an apparition–and takes a seat in his barcalounger. Your Dad sits there and drinks a Pepsi and watches The Game or some other such thing, then goes to bed at a sensible hour, all to do it over again the next day. Then on the weekends, your Dad takes you to Fuddruckers for a burger and to the barber for a haircut. The American institution that is Dad is a guy you kinda know, but not too well. But that’s the way it’s meant to be. Dad Inc. has a lot resting on his shoulders…he can’t be blamed for not having too much patience for your immature bullshit. He’ll threaten to smack you if you get wise with him, but usually doesn’t. That’s ‘Dad’. Dad Incorporated. This is what Dads do.
Precisely on the corner of 56th and 7th, the right rear wheel of my Pontiac snuffed the life out of a perfectly adorable jack Russell terrier mix. I couldn’t help it. I’d swerved to avoid collision with some asshole in a Jeep running a red light. By mere inches, my vehicle (and, potentially, my life) was spared. Sad to say the same could not be said for this plaintive, twitching canine. He was still alive, but barely. My heart swelled, partly in shock, part in a deep sadness and remorse. I felt awful. And panic. I couldn’t think what to do. Pick the poor twitching thing up in my arms and race him to a vet, or what.
Unfortunately, I could not do that. I was in a hurry. My wife had sent me out on a last minute venture to the supermarket. I was to pick up some onions and a pack of sanitary napkins. The sanitary napkins were for my wife, who was on the rag, and not in the best of moods. The onions were for dinner. My mother-in-law was in town and on her way from the airport, and the onions were a necessary ingredient for the dinner my wife was preparing for us. Any minute, that old bat of a woman would be setting down her bags on the front porch, ready for an extended stay at our place. My wife would be scrambling to cook dinner and make a last minute sweep of the house, cleaning up the clutter and arranging things just so. I wouldn’t dare return home without the onions.
The Jack Russell, meanwhile, slowly stopped twitching. His heart slowed. Emaciated ribcage rising and falling faintly, and then altogether resting, suddenly and finally. I supposed he was dead. My heart felt tight and twisted in my chest. My stomach churned and twisted also. I felt sick. The thing’s eyes—still open—glazed over and took on a glassy, vacant appearance. My heart and stomach still twisted and sick, I reluctantly climbed back into my Pontiac and proceeded to the supermarket. Not looking back. I got the damn onions.
“Where have you been?” my wife started in on me before I’d even stepped out of my vehicle. She had been waiting, hands on her hips, in the driveway. The old bat was here. I could smell her. And dinner was late, in no small part to a poor dead dog on the side of the road. Of all the calamities and disasters in the world today…dinner was late. And a poor, innocent dog was dead. And I killed it. For want of onions and Tampax.
“I was delayed,” I said, stepping out of the car and gripping the grocery bag with white knuckles.
“Delayed,” she mimicked. “My mother is here and dinner isn’t ready. Nice of you to be here to greet her, by the way.”
“Nice, yes I know. I’m here now anyway. Here,” I said, handing her the bag and walking sullenly to the front door. My mother-in-law was here. She was a harpy. I braced myself for the nagging, the back-handed remarks, the unsolicited advice and admonishment. “Hello, Margaret,” I said, not looking in her direction. Then I noticed something. The old mare was crying, sniffling. Sobbing, in fact. I didn’t know how to take this. Even so, my first instinct was not one of sympathy.
“Some terrible man ran over this beautiful jack Russell,” she sobbed, “…and then just sped away…like nothing had happened. Oh. That poor dog. It was awful.” The old gray mare wasn’t so much telling this to me as projecting it to the wall in front of her, to no one in particular, to who knows what or why. She kept sobbing. Sniffling.
“Sick,” my wife said, obliquely. “Whoever did that ought to be shot. Just driving off like that…”
I was at first unsure of how to process the crossfire of emotions before me; but without warning, I was at once delighted. Why? Because there on the sofa was the old bat, the old gray mare who ain’t what she used to be—sobbing, blubbering, pathetically…genuinely. Seeing her in such dire straits of emotional angst I can’t help but admit warmed the cockles of my heart. I was at once ghoulishly pleased. …as for my wife…who cares, I supposed. I could go one way or another on that one. The old bag had apparently witnessed the event, but hadn’t identified me as the culprit.
“On her way here from the airport,” my wife continued, “she sees this horrible thing. Right there.”
“The onions alright?” I asked.
“Fuck the onions, Hal,” she snapped. “A dog is dead. My mother is traumatized. Think,” she said, laconically tapping her index finger to her temple.
“The onions are alright, then.” I was secretly pleased. How I’d dreaded the arrival of this woman into my home. And now, to see her cruel, shrewish demeanor reduced to sniveling and tears… only, too bad that poor Jack Russel had to buy the farm to make this possible. I almost felt badly again, for a second, but didn’t. Ding dong the witch is dead, I thought to myself. It just might be an alright weekend after all.
“Console her,” my wife said, snatching the onions from my hands and disappearing into the kitchen.
Console her, I thought. Well, she’d only torn down my standing as a full grown man—respectable—respected—she’d only demeaned my perfectly good character and position at a reputable insurance company for years on end. “There, there…Margaret,” I said…in the slimiest dulcet tone I could manage.
“So awful,” she sniveled…sobbed.
“Life is sometimes awful,” I said. And this was the one and only true thing I would say to the woman until her eventual death…which was likely not far off.
Then again, I did picture that poor Jack Russell. Bleeding. Ribs smashed in. Leg bent in a way it shouldn’t bend. I almost felt badly again.
But then didn’t.
“Yes…life is sometimes awful.”
“Ask your doctor if Zyprexa is right for you …”
It took Jon all he had to not crack a smile when told by the detective…an unusually large man dressed in leather, name by ‘Stone’…that his wife and two boys of differing ages had been found dead long before he’d come out of his coma. By long before, Jon wasn’t quite sure then—going over the flurry of questions and answers that had just been thrown before him—how long before, exactly? Stone had said a lot of things. And Jon had been enjoying the 3,6,9 or so different heavy-duty pain meds flowing through his bloodstream at the time. …Regardless of that, however, he hadn’t remembered in the entire litany of police things that had just been said to him the slightest bit of caring, on his part. Stone seemed perhaps only a bit less unconcerned, ‘uncaring’. But not a police’s job to ‘care’ about a victim in a triple homicide (or all three victims) for that matter. Jon supposed, if there were ‘jobs’ to be assigned here, he’d been caught sleeping on his…(for the moment, thanks to a healthy IV of dilaudid flowing through his veins, that fact failed to worry him).
Back to the not caring, however…Jon, even in his fuzzy, cozy, nuzzling up close and snug with Jesus God himself up on a cloud, feeling of well-being and joy…even in the midst of that cuddle session with God Christ, surrounded by angels and fuzzy warm kittens and synthesized chemicals banging on all flippers and switches of the stoned pinball game in his mind—even through the indescribably orgasmic pleasure of all that, not once had he felt as if a single word this Detective what’s-is-name…Stone…said, had been the least bit for real. Not particularly that Stone was lying. More like…the things he was saying to Jon were true—as far as the good detective was concerned, and even maybe as far as the facts supported it all—but that the things being said (it follows, logically, assumed now to be “true”)—simply had not happened. And that presented a good, stoned, philosophical quandary for Jon. If one’s to assume that something is factually truthfully (as he—it seemed—had surrendered himself to subscribing to)…then is it possible for that truthful, realistic, empirically fact-based something to ‘also’… ‘not have happened at all’…to also and at the same time simply, ‘not be’? Something beyond a gut feeling. Or a delusion. Or a hallucination. Or schizophrenia. Even something beyond being stoned into a past life on a million different painkillers. Call it something like… “an existential…metaphysical…incursion…”. Without realizing it, Jon had spoken the remainder. A thing where—for instance—one planet, in one of many possible parallel universes, for one split second, for only the billionth of a moment in time—out of forces unknown and unknowable to man, just happens to appear, blink into existence in our universe, and to ‘coincide’ with the exact spatial placement of our own planet. What theoretical physicists, he concluded (with no basis whatsoever in knowledge or fact), might call an ‘incursion’. The question then becomes, if such a metaphysical, inter-dimensional conflict of space-time is indeed possible—then what happens to the world we live on? “The bed I’m lying in”. “The dope in my veins…” Jon completed his stoned, internal soliloquy. What happens to all that…physically…and in any other sense…and what happens to me?….and to the bed I’m lying in, and the linoleum tile squares that bed is rested on…and the hospital that linoleum tile lines…square by square…foot by foot?
Does it all just blink out of existence?
And beyond the drugs, still, the reason for the helpless metaphysical probing presented with new symptoms, it seemed, by the second. “After all…” it shouldn’t bother me at all, none of this, “Jon posited,” if it were all just an effect of heavy drugs. “Not just the probing…” but the fact, beneath all the spacey, out-there what-ifs, it STILL didn’t feel one bit like the thing he knew pretty well not to question (a triple homicide of a family—supposedly his), bothered him. That is, if it didn’t actually—truly—feel like some sort of metaphysical cock and bull story, he would naturally be beside himself with grief for the death of his supposed family. But…it didn’t feel like it. It didn’t seem to be a thing that had happened. Even though Jon knew well enough it had. How terrible a person does that make me, he wondered. The Cat, snuggled between his legs, purring on all cylinders, seemed unconcerned at the moment. Something had happened. But it didn’t feel like it did. Good enough reason to not shed a tear? In present company, and more concerning, good enough reason to crack a doped-up grin? If this is true (I know it is, he thought to himself), then it surely is no laughing matter, and my heart ought to be laid bare on the pillow beside me…but it didn’t seem it.
Not in the slightest. “Does this make me a bad person,” he wondered, again. This time to himself. In his head. And the easy answer, of course, was ‘yes’. But only assuming the sense of ‘knowing’ this thing that had in reality occurred had—as per the ‘incursion’ theory—also ‘not occurred’. Holding to the sense this was entirely possible, and likely…then, perhaps, ‘no’. Perhaps then there would be nothing to feel guilty about. A poor man also named Jon—living on another earth—a carbon copy but nonetheless, a ‘different’ Jon, had according to the theory been the victim of some as-yet unnamed crime, and the massacre of his family. For one billionth of a second, that Jon had blinked into existence in the same precise space-time of the Jon presently confined to a hospital bed…and whatever grisly thing that had happened to that Jon and his wife and sons of differing ages had (perhaps?) seemed to have also happened to the Jon of the here and present. And then all the calamity and bloodshed and horror of that cosmic singularity had just as mysteriously blinked out of existence. Maybe.
One thing made no sense, then… If Stone had indeed found dead, bloody things resembling a wife and two offspring ostensibly related to Jon—himself—here—now…then what could possibly account for it? He’d overlooked the fact he had no wife, no children. No dead wife and no dead children for a Detective Stone to find. The same grisly thing that had happened to the ‘other’ Jon couldn’t have happened to Jon. The bloody things, the wife and children, ought to have vanished along with everything else temporarily taking up the same space-time. ‘Jon’, his ersatz ‘family’…all of it. The bloody things had been left behind. And that carbon-copy yet ‘different’ Jon had (luckily, it seemed), been whisked away to his ‘home planet’, in another reality, another dimension…or…something. As it stood, Jon…for lack of a better word, the ‘real’ Jon…had been left to clean up the mess of an inter-dimensional doppleganger. A dead wife and two children. Left to rot, here in the world he’d occupied for 46 years. Without causing a single major incident in all that time. Without even having earned more than a single speeding ticket in all those years. Now…a dead, bloody mess of things had been laid at his feet. Rotting. Or, to be fair, freezing. Stuffed into iceboxes. Like old meat—use or freeze by this date. And then…with the somewhat decent looking nurse coming by to top up his dilaudid, Jon had a pang of disquiet.
Well. “What if I’m wrong?”
And those simple four words happened to strike a chord every bit as utterly displeasing and confounding as those occupying the entire line of his thoughts to this point.
“Jell-O?” the pudgy yet attractive nurse asked.
Jon brushed her away, wordlessly…like gnats. The Cat between his legs gave a nice long stretch and squeaked on yawning, razor teeth glinting in the fluorescent din of the hospital room. The Detective had apparently left. Wordlessly. “It’s you,” he said.
“Me what.” Jon asked, wrestling his tangled IV away from the cat’s paws.
“Not some other you.”
“How do you know?” Jon asked.
“We hear things.” The Cat rose to its tippy toes and arched its back—a perfect crescent. “Remember when we were hanging out at your place, and I asked if you had bitches?”
“Watch your mouth,” Jon snapped, reflexively.
“You do remember.”
“No. I don’t. Just…watch the mouth…”
“…aaanyway, you couldn’t for the life of you remember where your bitches went. Or. Whatever you want to call ‘em. But just knew that something (something like a bitch) had been taken from you.” The Cat began gnawing in the spaces between his claws. Nibbling little flecks of cat dandruff from between his toes.
“No. Wasn’t that…”
“Don’t say it,” the Cat interrupted. “Seems like after all this happened,” he mewed, finishing the thought for Jon.
“How’s that possible..?” Jon was now officially not enjoying his drugs nearly as much as he had been to this point.
“An unfinished square?” The Cat guessed, sincerely. “Who knows. But think of it this way,” the Cat nodded toward the soap opera playing out on the black and white television set in the corner of the hospital room, “…every scene in this…whatever it is…has already been filmed. Photographed. You know. Then they play the photographs, in order, like a flip-book, real fast like, and you get…what?,” the Cat asked somewhat rhetorically.
Jon shrugged. Now scratching his nuts.
“…you get…the motion picture. The picture, in motion. That’s why they call it a motion picture. You get movement. Forward. Movement.” The Cat spoke haltingly, a specious authority in his voice. “But look.” The Cat hit ‘pause’ on the remote. “Now it ain’t moving no more. And look how the broad has her eyes halfway open. Lookit that dumb expression on her face!”
“What’s the point of this?”
“Who would pose looking that dumb in the face,” the Cat answered.
“No one?” Jon guessed, drowsy now from the fuzz of chemicals warming his brain.
“Exactly. No one would. So why did she?”
“She didn’t.” Pawing at the faux nurse in the faux hospital room, setting down a faux hospital tray in front of a faux hospital patient. The actors seemed to mirror the precise movements of the real nurse, emerging from behind the green curtain now and again to fiddle with this or that, and even that of Jon himself, scratching his balls and sipping on a juice box. “Know why?”
“Why she looked so stupid in that freeze-frame”. The Cat hit had hit ‘un-pause’. The ersatz nurse and the ersatz Jon went about doing nothing in particular, on the vacuum-tube 50’s era television set. Is this even a show? “Because,” the Cat continued, sitting up, chest puffed out, “that little freeze-frame was just one of a million-billion pictures chosen at random—by me—to stand apart for a moment or two. There are so many pictures shuffling by us right now, there’s millions—billions—of things we’d never even notice going on around us this and every other split-second of every day. Same as that show. It’s already been filmed. All the pictures exist, in order. Or, alone. Or, in reverse. Or, out of order. But they all exist. And it’s only cause we’re so used to the grand illusion of the ‘motion picture’, that we always assume the show is going from Point A to Point Z, from beginning to end, start to finish…AND, that we don’t all look like maroons, like that chick on the TV did in that freeze-frame, when we take it out of context.” The cat squeaked out another yawn, then sharpened his claws, treading on the thick bedspread covering Jon’s lap. “So what I’m saying is…”
“You’ve seen this movie before.” The nurse—the real nurse—had just come by to top up Jon’s dilaudid. Again. The faux soap opera nurse exited the room as she did.
“Or, somebody has,” the cat added. “If not me…or you. Clearly, you haven’t seen shit. Hell, don’t you watch TV?” the Cat snapped.
The nurse poked in and out of the little green hospital room, doing nothing in particular. Jon’s nuts still itched. The cat yawned. Not particularly captivated by his own mini-lecture. The antique television set sat in the corner of the little green room, by two or three seconds lagging behind the decidedly inelegant movements of the real nurse. Her arm flab flapping as she aired out some soiled linens. Her graceless shuffling captured in the delay of the fuzzy black and white TV screen. The ersatz TV nurse a hypnotic, fuzzy, perfect homunculus…three seconds behind.
“Somehow, still. It’s just so much more interesting,” Jon excreted, lazily and out of nowhere; high and fuzzy on chemicals bounding to and from warm little receptors, bouncing like ping-pong balls in the playroom of the pleasure center of his brain… “…it’s just so much more interesting than real life…”
The faux nurse folded a sheet, leaving it over Jon’s legs. The nurse had wandered off, pulling the green curtain to the green room closed behind her.
If ‘Batman’ were a real guy, he’d be a complete and total psychotic.
…I once spent the better part of a month with a roommate who swore up and down on multiple occasions that the ghost of Tupac Shakur would appear–like clockwork–at the same exact time and position, every single night, at the foot of his bed. I don’t know what ever happened to that guy.
But if he has at any point in his life since my time sharing a room with him ever slipped on a mask at all resembling the one depicted below, then he is for all intents and purposes the real-life ‘Batman’. That’s all it would take. A nut who sees Tupac at the foot of his bed every night donning a cape and cowl. That is the real-world definition of ‘Batman’.
Terrible things happen every day. Bruce Wayne’s mom and dad aren’t the first mom and dad to ever be murdered in cold blood. Yet he elevates this plainly tragic event to the level of crusade (a pathologically psychotic crusade). One that causes more harm to the general public than good. And I’ll never understand why he doesn’t leave law enforcement to trained, qualified professionals instead of building a tank and going out to blow shit up. (Furthermore, you would think–in this day and age–that ‘Bat-Tank’ would easily get tracked by GPS and satellites and the CIA and Interpol or any combination thereof, and be seized and impounded within seconds of retreating to the ‘Bat-Cave’…)
‘Batman’ is a severely psychologically scarred character. Not only because he feels the need to put on a mask and avenge his parents who were gunned down in an alleyway outside a performance of Die Fleidermaus…but because what he does with that pathology for vengeance is fundamentally flawed: he never does what is necessary to END the cycle of killing that, in earnest, is responsible for the creation of his own pathology. Maybe it’s a bit more pathological to even suggest–but the reality of it is, ‘Batman’ could put an end to the killing ‘The Joker’ does simply by shooting him with a .45, or snapping his neck, or slicing his throat…a wide array of murderous options. And make no mistake–that is what ‘Batman’ signed up for. Murder. How he chooses to frame and explain away that murder, that’s up to him…
‘Batman’ was created by ‘The Joker’, who represents the impetus for the pathology that drives him. That’s in the bag. Done. But rather than A) close the circle in simply killing the ‘The Joker’ and ending the back-and-forth, or B) breaking the cycle and opting for medication and intensive psychological treatment, the ‘Batman’ pathology chooses option C) that is–chooses to perpetuate the cycle, engage ‘The Joker’ without solving ‘The Joker problem’, all the while inspiring more and more psychopathies and pathologies in their own right. I’ve spent much time so far in my life locked within close quarters of all kinds of psychopathies and pathologies. Some see the spectre of a slain rapper at the foot of their bed, some believe the CIA and FBI are inside their head, or see mechanical spiders crawling along the ceiling and try to convince you, too, to see them…others hear the Devil himself talking to them (often about pretty mundane stuff, interestingly). None wore masks. If the mechanical-spider guy were to put on a mask and try to stop an armed robbery at 7-11, however, he’d be, in truth, the more psychologically disturbed party in that scenario…by far. All (presumably) noble intentions aside.
The crazies come out at night.
‘Batman’ sets out to “avenge” a sad event in his own life, but all he succeeds in doing is to create more crazies just like himself. And he still won’t do the responsible thing (if you’ve already gone down this road), and simply shank ‘The Joker’, kill him dead, so he won’t wind up killing others in the war of pathologies that never ends…
This makes ‘Batman’ not only terribly mentally ill. It makes him an asshole. His quest for justice is a poorly disguised private, psychological war, with himself. And the bodies multiply because he is either unable or unwilling to solve the problem. If my roommate and his ghost of Tupac incurred the same level of collateral damage to real people’s real lives that the depicted altercations between ‘The Batman’ and ‘The Joker’ do, I think I know exactly where he would be right now (at the present, in reality, it’s anyone’s guess):
Maximum security prison…serving out multiple life sentences…or, on death row. Or, dead.
Thankfully, the guy I roomed with who would complain intermittently about the ghost of Tupac haunting his bedside has a bit more sense than Bruce Wayne. I’m sure he hasn’t racked up millions in property damage, countless dead bodies, and endless movie sequels because of it. He’s probably doing just fine. Whether Tupac still visits him or not.
He never wore a mask to tell me about Tupac’s visits. Intellectually, and in every other way, he was far more honest, responsible, and upstanding a citizen than to do that. Far more than Bruce Wayne…