The Neocon Republican asshole,
but a landsman,
was back at the gym this morning
after a two-week trip,
the centerpiece of which
was his wife’s fiftieth high school reunion.
“Hey, Jimbo!” I heard him calling
to another guy in the showers
while I got ready for my swim –
the gregarious loudmouth of the locker room;
but it’d been a little too quiet
while he was away, too monastic.
I like his spirit.
“Hey, Fish!” I called to him.
“How was your trip?”
A rotund guy, Fish reminds me
of Nikita Khrushchev –
a former weightlifter gone to flab,
man-breasts wagging like beagles’ ears.
“FANtastic!” Fish enthused.
“You should have seen
those sixty-eight year old grandmas
boogying on the dance floor!
Just goes to show you,
you ain’t dead until you’re dead.”
You Know He’s Schizophrenic
Fish, the seventy-year old bodybuilder,
confided in the locker room
about another guy, Curtis,
who told me, the first time I met him,
that he had “cognitive disabilities.”
Curtis reminded me of Benjy
in The Sound and the Fury,
or Lenny in Of Mice and Men,
except he wasn’t a lumbering giant.
Always full of hard-to-follow- stories,
Curtis trailed Fish or whoever he could latch onto
– sometimes me – around the gym
like a sort of puppy, talking on and on
about whatever was on his mind;
he claimed to be in touch with Homeland Security,
the Department of Transportation, other government agencies,
in a way that made me think of conspiracy theorists,
and I imagined him writing letters that nobody read.
At Christmas he brought us all cards and gifts,
bringing to mind the retarded kid
who presents balls of string to the prettiest girl in school.
I looked it up, and in a general way, maybe:
abnormal social behavior, confused thinking,
reduced social engagement and emotional expression,
false beliefs, lack of motivation.
“Hi, Charlie!” he greets me,
that slap-happy grin on his face,
trademark engineer’s cap shading his wild blue eyes,
offering his fist for a comradely bump
as I enter the athletic club,
head to the locker room for my morning swim,
gym bag hoisted over my shoulder.
“Gaza’s burning out of control;
there’s a widespread Ebola epidemic,
and all anybody can talk about
is this comedian who killed himself,”
Paula complains, her indignation monumental.
I think of my own trivial concerns,
the pretty unserious stuff I write about,
my banal longings,
the losses I mourn --
and I’m so glad I’m not Paula,
seething with the burn of her resentment,
buoyed by her sense of being
more “serious” than anybody else,
her furious sympathy, her compassionate outrage.