August is a slow news month, or so the commentators keep saying. Jewish families are evicted from Gaza by Israeli soldiers. Antiwar protesters camp outside a Crawford Texas ranch. A record fourteen tropical depressions trouble the Caribbean. News segments focus on cooking demonstrations and asthma advice from Dr. Grupta whose ethnic group I cannot determine.
I have unshakable free-floating anxiety, probably from being unemployed. Some crushing blow lurks just around the corner. I must keep a vigilant look out, watchman on the tower stuff. Paul and cat visit, and we watch a CD movie that features Johnny Depp as a pirate. Cat jumps on everything and chews the end of my leather belt that we utilize as a chase toy.
“That cat’s cutting teeth,” I say. Then cat gets out on the ledge of the south window. Paul coaxes him inside and makes light of it. I’m judged as being too concerned with cleanliness and vigilance.
All summer we’ve had a lingering drought. At North and Halsted streets, timbers on the Elevated tracks spontaneously catch fire and delay rush hour. Commuters are trapped in stalled stifling train cars. I’m glad I’m unemployed. A thunderstorm, finally, delivers a summer’s worth of precipitation in twelve minutes. The gallery roof leaks, connected to the deck. A roofer visits to assess the damage. “The roof struts are so dry that joints don’t trap the water,” I postulate to Petr. “He’ll only patch it.”
Paul launches into his argument about how the landlords tend to fix problems completely, and they trust this roofer to do good work, and he, that is Paul, can estimate costs at a glance and get the numbers right. He waves his cup of Starbuck’s espresso for emphasis. All the plants will need to come inside and Candish won’t have room or enough pots for all she planted in May.
“They’ll solicit a couple quotes, then patch it only,” I repeat.
During the Chicago Air Show on Saturday, we gather on the silver-tarred upper roof. We have a clear view of the sky over North Avenue and partly to the lake, waiting for planes to zoom by. Marty is drunk which isn’t unusual at three o’clock. The Thunderbirds have trouble forming-up and make lazy circles west of Halsted Street. Marty’s patience is non-existent. “The pilots had beer at lunch in the officers’ club,” he theorizes. “Flying drunk.” He would know.
Marty’s trained as an architect with a CAD program on his computer. Mostly he designs porches. A new city ordinance, passed after a Lincoln Park porch collapsed under weight of a frat party, requires that an architect sign-off on blueprints. Paul says Marty gets paid to stand in line at City Hall and file documents for real architects. Whatever. He keeps body and soul together somehow, and supports his wino habit.
The Thunderbirds zoom overhead, providing an anti-climatic display. They make less noise than the Blue Angels who thrilled us last year. The formation of four breaks off mid-maneuver and retires, but two others continue to circle in the west like gadflies.
“Go back to Gary, Indiana where you came from,” Marty shouts. It comes out later; the Thunderbirds experienced a midair scrape and a missile holder fell into the lake.
One morning I hear a cat crying and look out. Candish’s black and white cat crouches and bawls. The striped one is making anxious circles on the deck table. Candish leans out the second floor window toward the walk space between buildings. “Paul!” she shouts, then uses her cellphone to roust him from sleep. I back away from the window. The world’s crumbling. Some crushing blow is on my immediate horizon.
I hear the metal ladder rattling and look out again. Jack climbs down and rescues cat who fell from Paul’s third floor window. I get the whole story later, several times. Cat’s leg flops around due to multiple fractures. Art, who hates cats and works the graveyard shift, just coming in from work, grumpily agrees to provide Paul and Candish and cat with a lift to the vet. Then the torture starts.
Paul actually lets cat suffer a couple days while he weighs his options and counts his pennies. Paul has a long explanation about a pin in cat’s leg that’s fast healing, but the procedure costs $1400. The other alternative is a leg splint for less money, but the cat will hobble around for six weeks. Paul doesn’t have $1400 and asks about a payment plan. But he has no credit. Artists are destitute, a condition we don’t mind most days. I’m on unemployment and resolved this year to stay out of things like gardening and cooking for others and paying the check.
“The break’s a long way from cat’s heart, Paul. There’s no need to put it down.”
“The pin’s the best choice,” Paul repeats. “I could do a payment plan. I can get a coffee maker and stay out of Starbucks. I can get the gas hooked up in the studio, and stop eating in restaurants. Twenty dollars a week is all I need to save. I wouldn’t even feel it. But they won’t give me a payment plan because people skip out on payments.”
I have a farmer’s attitude toward animals. Just because we can fix them doesn’t mean we should. “Do the splint. So he’ll hobble around for a while. You can afford that.” Paul gives-in and relaxes, balancing parental concern with economics.
I call Mama seeking comfort, been planning to for days. I make the mistake of asking what she thinks about the pull-out in Gaza. She launches into her polished End Times rant, this time about how Jerusalem has a protecting angel with a fiery sword. I make an excuse and hang-up.
Roger visits to service the internet connection, then asks if I’m happy. I shrug with, “I’m starting something new with teaching, you know.”
“But are you happy?” he demands.
Only one answer is allowed, and why does he care at this late date? Roger launches into a long story about seeing footage of the Air Show mishap while he was working in the field repairing America’s infrastructure. “We work so you don’t have to,” he says with a grin, a favorite tagline. I just don’t believe him anymore. His words fall to the ground.
So that night Candish provides bratwurst and condiments for a cookout. I was writing, but Paul knocks and enters with a special invite. “It’s like Roger’s blowout party.” I throw back a couple scotches to delay my entrance, and then make a fresh drink before we go down to the deck to join the cat rescuers.
Candish makes several hostess gestures offering paper plates and tangy mustard for the overcooked braut. Marty’s drunk, and Paul’s doing his peacemaker thing. Roger tells a story twice, then tells it again, the same one I heard earlier about the Thunderbird mishap during the Air Show and how Roger saw the footage while saving America’s infrastructure. The repeated talk is his a way of controlling the event; no unwanted questions are allowed, nothing that gets at the truth. None of us can ask how do we contact Roger after he moves out? Or, which inflated claims are real and how much are blustering lies?