Eleventy-Three Kinds of Loneliness (Collect the Set!)

“Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind.”   Mick and Keith

Author Richard Yates once wrote a collection of short stories entitled Eleven Kinds of Loneliness.  Each story was too short to be made into a movie (although I heard Robert Altman’s adaptation of several Raymond Carver stories, Short Cuts, is supposed to be good–hey, both of those guys are dead now, aren’t they?  I wonder if they finally got the chance to meet each other; if so, I wonder what Carver thought of the movie.  Would he hold back from telling Altman how he felt if he didn’t like it?  Hmmm, maybe we should ask Carver’s widow, Tess Gallagher, also a writer, and see what she thinks), so instead of making the book into a movie, it was made into an Emmy Award-winning series of television commercials.  (While on the subject of film adaptations of short stories, John Huston’s version of the James Joyce story “The Dead,” which is not about Jerry Garcia and friends, by the way, is surprisingly good and faithful to the original.  Who knows whether Joyce thinks so too, however; writers can be cranky and crotchety, and from what I’ve read about him, Huston seemed to be a bit of a scary character; in fact, he and Joyce might not even like each other, if they even ended up in the same place.  It is kind of interesting to consider, however, a movie director who lived long enough to work with Humphrey Bogart, Jack Nicholson, and Albert Finney, who might even be my favorite actor living today, even though I wish the poor guy didn’t have to keep doing movies in which he has to put on a hammy American accent.  Finney’s so cool, he even refused an offer of knighthood, unlike Sir Mick Jagger and Sir Paul McCartney.  And what about Master Sid Vicious, Esquire?  or Lord Elvis Costello?  Or the Clash’s Joe Strummer, the Duke of Brixton?)

In nearly fifty decades of decaying life, I’ve found that there are a lot more than eleven different kinds of loneliness (sorry, Richard), not that I’ll bore you by writing a short story about each one.  Some I’ve experienced directly, others second- or even third-hand through people I’ve known, seen, read about, or heard described in songs, books, etc.  

So let’s consider a few together, shall we?  Come on!  (Warning to pathological grammarians:  the following list will not consist entirely of complete sentences.  Consider each one a bullet point fired into your perspicaciously punctilious brain–compliments of George Zimmerman!  Hey, he’s still armed, isn’t he?  Don’t worry–as long as you’re white, he probably won’t shoot you.)

To get the ball rolling, allow me to go back in time like Marty McFly and regale you with a few autobiographical tidbits from my more tender, less pachydermatous years (the funny thing is that even though pachydermatous means “thick-skinned,” pachyderms’ skin is actually remarkably sensitive, which may be the reason why the U. S. Republican party chose the elephant as their mascot).

First of all, there’s the loneliness of being born.  Remember that one?  What a coincidence!  Neither do I. See?  We’ve already found something we have in common.  We could even become Facebook friends (or you could contact my wife Jina through Faithbook, which also happens to be the way “Facebook” is pronounced in Castilian Spanish-pronounced English–nothing like stretching a joke out on a rack to snap its spine and make you say “ouch” instead of “tee-hee”).

Then there’s the loneliness of not knowing what your parents, siblings, or classmates find so amusing, though at least some of them are discreet enough to catch themselves when they see that you’ve spotted them laughing at you (I’m just kidding about this one for the sake of paranoid zest).

Next there’s the loneliness of being the new kid, but not being good enough at team sports to be cool or to avoid the scourge of bullies who’d get laid, applauded, and promoted long before you ever would.

The loneliness of suddenly having to wear glasses, or getting braces.

The loneliness of coming in second place in the spelling bee (my Charlie Brown moment).

The loneliness of thinking your cat is playing dead in the road in front of your house at night, then realizing that she actually is dead, and the loneliness of burying her in the dark with the rest of your family and the neighbor you’d been playing with when you found her, in a haze of tears.

The loneliness of telling a fellow summer camper the next day about your cat’s death, and of having him say, “I killed your cat.”  (Full disclosure:  I’d told the kid about how the cat had killed either a mouse or a bird–I forget which–a day or two before the cat was murdered by a merry motorist, and he said, “I’m going to kill your cat.”)

The loneliness of failing to kick the kid’s ass for saying such a terrible thing to an impressionable young boy.

The loneliness of thinking the people on television are your friends, or that G. I. Joe is a real person, a right-wing reactionary who enjoys igniting huts in a Vietnamese village with his Zippo lighter with the rest of his platoon, and of exacting your revenge by taking him for a spin in the automatic dryer, which makes his head a lot more pliable, throwing him down the laundry chute, and throwing him up in the air as high as you can not far from the spot where your cat was killed.

The loneliness of throwing up right in the middle of a ring of twenty-five or thirty students, as if you were some kind of sadomasochistic performance artist, and of their shrill, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”-like reaction to the cascading pink Fluffernutter- and Hawaiian Punch-flavored abdominal geyser as it splashed with pungent joie du vivre reminiscent of Jackson Pollock all over the blue-green carpet.  (The funny thing was that the class in which it happened was study hall, and I was politely waiting my turn to ask the teacher’s permission to go to the boys’ toilet so I could puke with impunity; who says nice guys always finish last?)

The loneliness of being in a foreign country and not knowing what the hell anyone around you is talking about.

The loneliness of unrequited love.

The loneliness of unreciprocated sexual attraction to girls who “just want(ed) to be friends.”

The loneliness of realizing that as a white person (to quote George Carlin), “you’re never going to be as cool as black guys.”

The loneliness of not getting to say goodbye to people before they die, and of not being able to hear their responses to your questions afterwards.

The loneliness of praying to a God whose only reply is a perennial “No comment” (and of being married to someone who claims God actually does speak to her–though I suppose I should be flattered–again, just joshing you about that last bit, the part after the first dash, but not the part before it).

The loneliness of being a consumer, and of thinking that buying and owning stuff can somehow plug the abyss of loneliness (even though, to be fair, loneliness is strictly an imaginary condition, since we’re all one, as any bozo knows).

The loneliness of failing to become a vegan or vegetarian, even though you know that by buying into the factory farm and fishing industries you support the mass-enslavement and excruciating slaughter of innocent creatures who suffer as much as you would in their shoes, if not more so (and the lonely rationalization of appetite’s self-defense:  “But how come meat tastes so good, then?”).

The loneliness of being cut off from nature.

The loneliness of not being able to recognize the seasons or make sense of the weather anymore.

The loneliness of not being able to care enough about the people or creatures who need you to rescue them from the plight imposed on them by the imperial, corporate-contaminated culture you come from, represent, or indirectly benefit from–as if you even could without becoming a part of a dogged, painstaking movement and making it your life’s work to make social justice a reality instead of a Hollywood movie plot line or the hook of a catchy pop tune.

The loneliness of not wanting to belong to a club that would like you to join them, even if it is called American Assholes Anonymous (celebrity members include Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Rick Perry, Rush Limbergher (sp?), and other blood-curdling punchlines).

The loneliness of bombing on stage during a comedy set, then remembering that you’re actually delivering the State of the Union address.

The loneliness of working for a corporation, and of being discarded from it when they spit you out like an old grey piece of chewed-up gum, then of going postal and then having to wait on death row for years just because your state is governed by lily-livered, bleeding-hearted liberals who are too chicken-hearted to bring back the death penalty for failing to shout the phrase “under God” while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or remember all the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” or all the notes to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar solo of that song (sorry, I was channeling the ghost of Morton Downey, Jr., Bill O’Reilly’s spiritual forebear).

The loneliness of not being able to sell someone on a favorite movie, book, band, or god.

And the loneliness of realizing that everything that comes out of most political candidates’ mouths has been scripted, tested for its effect on certain focus groups, sanitized, and approved by a team of psychologists, advertisers, and propaganda ministers before it ever reaches the TelePrompter.

That’s enough for now–Jesus Christ!  I don’t know about you, but I’ve managed to thoroughly depress myself with that list.  I promise the next entry will be far more chipper by contrast.  I’m still waiting for the warm weather to kick in.  I’ve lived in a lot of different places, but Seoul must have the most punishing climate of any place I’ve dwelled; it fits the bill, of course, considering how tragic this country’s history has been, at least for the past hundred years or so (as an American, my historical attention span can’t go back much farther than that).

When does mini-skirt season begin again?  That’s what I’d like to know.  Then I’ll know when to shave my legs (just kidding.  At that time, all I’ll have to wear is my trusty old overcoat, a Halloween mask, and a pair of flippers).





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