I Come Bearing Gas, Mylar and String.

Can't argue with a balloon.

Can’t argue with a balloon.

One of the cool side-effects of quitting booze is the increase of strange coincidences.  At least noticing them.  Some really mind-blowing ones.  Stuff that really gets your attention.  Stuff that makes you think.

Alcoholics in recovery call them “God Shots,” probably because it sounds like “Got shots.”  Jung called it Synchronicity.  Others say it’s just coincidence.

I prefer to call it “The Weird.”

Like I mentioned before, The Weird has followed me around my whole life.  My mom was open to some outside-the-box beliefs, and I think that helped my sister and I be more aware of the possibility that things were…maybe a little weirder than we gave them credit.  We learned early on to pay attention to certain stuff.  Because that’s where it all begins.  Once anything knows it might have an audience, it starts hamming it up.  Really tries to keep your attention.  With some real razzle-dazzle semaphore flagging.

That’s been our experience.  With everything.  Talk nice to something.  It talks back.  Nicely.

These days I’m pretty used to it.  It’s become a normal part of my recovery.  Don’t get me wrong, I still marvel at the show.  It just doesn’t upset the balance of my entire reality when I witness it.  But now and then, things will happen that take my wonder to a new level.  Like this balloon thing that happened a while back.

We have a housekeeper that comes once a week.  It’s nice because it forces you to clean the house, at least once, before she comes.  Anyway, very sweet lady.  Always feel guilty watching her work hard.  Make sure to pay her well and that the toilets are already cleaned.  Okay.

So on some special occasion, I forget what, she brought Lori some flowers and a Mylar balloon.  Okay, whatever.  I have nothing against balloons per se.  As long as they’re not attached to a clown.

Unfortunate association.

Unfortunate association.

But balloons by themselves don’t give me any especially festive feelings either.  No more than, say, looking at a soup ladle or half a bar of soap.  They’re just things that are there.  Things I wouldn’t care if weren’t…there.  Dig?

Very much don’t give a fuck about balloons.  Especially Mylar ones.  (they’re a little tacky)

Well, apparently something out there decided this was no longer a tenable attitude for me to maintain.  That instead of mild disdain, whenever I see a Mylar balloon, I should be filled with mystical reverence–to think of Mylar balloons as a most holy gift.  Nothing less than messengers sent directly from the gods.

And there was a plan for how this disturbing new attitude would evolve.

It started with You’re Special.  The very balloon I’m holding in the picture above.  There he is.  Miss you, brother.  That balloon might have said that you were special (and I’m sure you still are) but let me tell you, that balloon was too.

Miss you, too.

Right back at you, bro.

Right away it managed to free itself from the bouquet, but it didn’t rise all the way up to the ceiling.  Clearly it wasn’t driven by blind ambition.  I liked that.  Instead it free-floated mid-high in our living room.  For six weeks.  And not all around the room.  Just in one area over the couch, equidistant between the floor and the ceiling.  No joke.  This thing just hovered in place.  It never strayed out of a two to three foot radius.

Didn’t go up.  Didn’t droop down.  Doors opening.  Cats jumping around.  Didn’t matter.  Never wandered.  Stayed right there.  Hanging out.

For six weeks.

I think it was after the second week that it started to make me feel weird.  Seeing it.  Always over the couch.  Watching TV with us.  Constantly telling us we were special.  But I didn’t say anything to Lori.  Until after a month.

“I don’t know how to say this, but the balloon-being there all the time-makes me feel weird.  Like it’s somebody else.  Watching TV with us.”

“Oh my God, you too?”

That was good to hear.  At least it was weirding her out as much as me.

“It just floats there saying we’re special.  It’s…I don’t know…”

Oh, I knew.  Sometimes I’d look over at it and a strange feeling would come over me.  The surrounding environment would start to melt into one…thing, of which the balloon was only an outcropping.  Like a captioned cartoon balloon blorping out from the whole, in order to deliver a cheery message.  A loving little reminder from this big one thing.  To us.  That’s the best I can describe it.  It was fleeting but the feeling was that everything really was all one, and it was a nice and loving One.  Wanted us to know it, too.

Then everything would go back to normal.  Back to us just watching TV.  All together.  Acting like nothing happened.

If it happened once I’d say it was my imagination.  But it happened a lot.  More than I’d want to imagine.  I get bored imagining the same thing over and over.  Most guys do.  No, this balloon was trying to get into my head.  He was trying to tell me something.

I may be anthropomorphizing, but he still needs to get off the couch and look for a job.

I may be just anthropomorphizing, and I really appreciate the mystic insights, but you still need to get off the couch and look for a job.

Anyway, after two more weeks, the old boy finally started to deflate, slowly sinking, eventually coming to rest on the couch cushion he had been claiming this whole time.  I was disproportionately saddened.  I actually felt a sense of loss.  Over a tacky Mylar balloon.

Lori too.  Why wouldn’t anyone be sad?  It never bothered anyone.  Kept quiet.  Never complained.  Politely paid attention to your shows.  Always told you how special you were.  Fuck yeah, we were going to miss it.  It was a righteous balloon, bro.

I buried it in one of the planters.  The one I bury the dead animals the cats drag in.

The next week, Lori had a procedure done on her back.  The nice lady housekeeper brought some flowers and… three Mylar balloons.  Oh shit, was Lori happy.  New friends!

Just here to break yours.

Just here to break yours.

Alright, I think.  Here we go.  What now?  What are these three going to be up to?  The last tenant was pretty quiet and I’d like to keep it that way.  What’s the deal with these guys?

A yellow smiley face.  A red heart.  And a Get Well Soon.

Seem alright.  We’ll see.  We untied them and all three floated up to the ceiling.

“The last guy never did that.”

I didn’t know if I liked the whole new floating all the way up to the ceiling thing.  A little too ordinary.  Too predictable.  I couldn’t see getting any mystical impressions from it.

Well, I didn’t need to stress, because in less than one hour, all three would be gone.  Gone.  Gone.  Gone.  Out the door, and from what the nice lady housekeeper said, were last seen under our neighbor’s boat dock.  But not there now.  Now just gone.

So that’s their deal.  Not hover over the same spot on the couch for six weeks.  Very much the opposite of that.  A flee-the-scene crew.

Somehow they all floated under the valance, out the sliding door, then under a dock.  But only for a while.  Once nobody was watching they took off.  Where to?  Who knows?  On their way to Argentina.  In six weeks they can get pretty far.

Lori was totally bummed.  I tried to console her.

“Look, think about how happy they’re going to make some South American kid.  Maybe one that has nothing.  It’s going to bring a smile to some poor little salsa slum dog.  That’s a pretty good thing.  Right?”

“What are you talking about?”

I explained how Mylar being able to hold it’s gas in for a long time, along with a well-timed thermal current, could bring joyous blessings to some poor south-o-the-border urchin.  But I couldn’t sell her on it.  We both did agree that it was probably a corny little lesson in “letting go.”

“If you love something…”

“Stop.  I’ll throw up.”

Yeah, we both knew those balloons weren’t coming back.  Whether they were meant to be hers or not.  Hey, no great tragedy.  Still a little stingy.  Didn’t even get a chance to get to know them.  Hell, I could’ve lived with the floating all the way up to the ceiling.  I just needed some time to get used to it.  They didn’t have to bolt.

Fucking Smiley Face.

Escape threat.

Escape risk.

That was on a Friday.  On Sunday I go over to my mom’s to deliver some library books.  She lives across the little man-made lake from us, and then down about ten houses.  I give her the books and we’re standing in the entry talking.  She’s telling me about how a girlfriend came by but was in too much of a hurry to stay.

“She didn’t even want to take the balloons I had for the kids.”

“What balloons?”

“Those three.  One for each of them.”

I turned around.  Smiley Face.  Red Heart.  And Get Well Soon.

“Somebody tied them to my front door.”

WTF???

Everything started to melt into a single blob.  A blob made out of vibrating and shimmering multicolored fire. “We are you.  You are us.  We are one.”  The grandfather clock chimed.  Right on cue.

So much for not getting any mystical impressions from this gang.

They were the same three escapees alright.  I could pick them out of any line-up.  But who would round them up and tie them to my mom’s front door?  The neighbor on her left was the one who pointed them out when he came over to return a bowl.  “Are you sick?” he asked, pointing to Get Well Soon.  That’s when my mom immediately suspected it was her other neighbor, the one she’d recently had a fight with.

“I thought the bitch was trying to say I was sick in the head by giving me get well balloons.”

Of course, given the vast choices of possibilities, it would have to be a hurtful and negative one.  I get that from her.  We both need to get well.

Thanks, but fuck you.

Thanks, but fuck you.

“I don’t know about that, but I know these fugitives belong to Lori.”

I explained to her what happened.  Even she was impressed.  Tried to imagine what kind of odyssey brought them to her door.  She said they were all dirty and that she had to wipe them down.

“I didn’t understand why Sabrina wouldn’t take them for her kids.”

I did.  Because these three were coming back with me.

I came home, but Lori was out.  I picked a rose from the garden and wrote a little note saying “We’re back!” then tied them to the balloons and waited for her to come home.

While waiting, I thought about this bizarre series of events.  I mean seriously.  What the hell?   The whole thing.  Even if in every step along the way, there was a perfectly normal explanation for how those balloons wound up at my mom’s house, there’s the fact that they wound up at my mom’s house.  At all.

But especially after I was paying extra attention to what these balloons were going to be about.  Because of You’re Special I was open to any more possible weirdness floating our way.  They didn’t disappoint.  Very much the opposite.

I heard the garage door open.  Watched Lori walk in.  Watched her face.  You could see it register.  Smiley Face.  Red Heart.  Get Well Soon. They were back.  Oh the joy!  Oh the crazy mind-fucking mysterious, pants-pissing hilarious, heart-filling joy!

Not so much about the balloons being back.  But what it meant that they were.

What that said about stuff.

All this stuff.

This wonderful stuff.

This holy stuff.

This “They were at my mom’s house!” stuff.

This “No fucking way!” stuff.

This “Yes fucking way!” stuff.

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Monk and The Meows

Some of Monk's gang

Some of Monk’s gang

My buddy’s heart hurts.  And there’s pretty much nothing I can do.  But keep telling him that I know.  That loving things that die is just the worst.  No. The worst is not loving things.  Loving things that die is second worst.

Still, I hate to seem him go through it.  All because he’s a good person with a big heart.  It doesn’t seem fair.

Monk was always good.  Even when he wasn’t.  When he was bad, it was the best.  The best kind of bad.  My kind.  And even though his bad period lasted shorter than mine, it was stellar while it burned.  Bonded us as brothers.  Of bad.

Today he’s just always good.  With maybe a light sprinkle of bad.  Which is kind of a miracle actually.

Childhood written by Dickens during opium withdrawal.  Dad died when he was two.  Alcoholic mother abandoning the family for weeks at a time.  The kids having to steal to eat.  Foster homes.  Abuse.  Just the fucking ugly worst.  Surely, he would grow up gnarled and thorny.  Somebody should pay for his misfortune.  Why not everyone around him?

Not Monk.  It never turned him ugly.  He endured it all with a quiet dignity.  Like they teach saints to do.  Only nobody taught him.  He just did it.  And has kept doing it.  Ever since.

Who does that?  Statistically he should have become a serial killer.  Instead of a man who goes around like St. Francis, taking care of animals.  I shit you not.  Wild rabbits, squirrels, and birds at home, and a bunch of feral cats living in the industrial complex he works at.  Him and a guy that volunteers at Felines and Friends have caught fourteen of them.  In cat traps.

All the cats get a trip to the vet.  Everybody gets a check up.  Gets spayed or neutered.  The ones with a suitable temperament are put up for adoption.  The ones too Marius, get turned back loose, where Monk continues to care for them.  The original family he adopted lives in the relative safety of a pile of pallets behind chain link.  He feeds them everyday.  Even drives into town on week-ends.  So none of them would have to take any crazy risks to eat.

It beats the shit they serve at The Sally.

It beats the shit they serve at The Sally.

Digs the crazy spats.

Dig the crazy spats.

These feral cats come to him.  Because he’s proven himself a good yegg.  A Square John.  A Stand-up.  They let him pet them.  Let him hang out with them.  Share their silence.  Together they stare at the beauty of the arroyo under big sky.  Everybody all squinty-eyed and wise.  Like they’re posing for an album cover.  He’s family.

And like me, they know they can go to Monk when they’re in trouble.  And that he won’t let them down.

He went to feed them one day, and noticed he hadn’t seen the mom around.  One of the boy cats comes up and starts meowing, then takes off like Lassie.  Monk follows him to a warehouse.  The workers tell him they’d seen a black cat in the back somewhere.  They like having the cats around because of the mice, so nobody tried to get rid of it.

Too scared to dart past the workers, Mom was holed-up in a dark storage area.  Monk called out, and she kept meowing back until he found her.  Let him pick her up and carry her past all the scary people.

They all go home.  Mama’s back.  Big happy reunion.  The whole family making a big furry figure eight around his legs.  Everybody frisky with the joy of life.  Monk the hero, petting with both hands.  Angels in the clouds getting cuted-out by all this.

Home safe in an easily defended fortress.

Home safe in an easily-defended fortress.

No surprise really.  Even back in eighth grade I had been telling him he should be a monk or something.  “You’re one of those spiritual mystics,” I’d tell him.  I wanted to guidance counsel him towards his strengths.  Something about his eyes.  You could picture him walking in the woods.  Drinking maple syrup out of tree branches.  Squirrels on his shoulders dropping nuts in his pockets.  Bees bringing him honey.  Putting it on his beard,  So he can have some later.

Since he just had some maple syrup and probably doesn’t want any honey right now.

A man whose love for creation and it’s creatures is returned ten-fold.  Walking lightly on the leaves, so as not to startle the shy wood nymphs.  Winking at snakes.  Knowing each frog by first name.  Strolling along, cloaked in love.

Yeah, he seemed like that type.  So I told him that’s the field he should pursue.  He should be some kind of holy guy.  Me, I wanted to be something more bad-ass.  Like a heart-broken Legionnaire or a Robin Hood bank robber.  I wanted to be more Noir.  But I never wanted to let that get between us.

I don’t know what Monk wanted.  I never asked him.

Well anyway, it doesn’t matter because he didn’t take my advice.  Instead of becoming a devout monk, bent over some scroll, he went a’Viking.  For a little while, din’t yeh?  Clocked your romper-stomper pillage and plunder time.  I saw it.

Watched him give the Bat Chain a mighty tug, I have.  Hell, he was entitled to some bad behavior.  But even then, if anyone was going to get hurt, Monk made sure it’d be the right people.  Racist skins.  Drunk Frat assholes.  He carefully discerned who truly deserved a running punch in the guts, and who needed a fast fist in the teeth.  And Monk always made sure it was the right people.  He was like that.

The other difference between us was that he knew when to reel it in.  He knew when it was time to grow up.  To wise up.  To finally follow my advice and become some kind of holy dude who treads the Earth doing good deeds and shit.

And now I feel like he’s paying for it.

On his way to work he found one of the little cats run over dead.  Smokey.   Son of Midnight.  Brother to Kung and Fu.

Well, it cut Monk in half.  Even though he tried to prepare himself for the eventuality, it still sliced.  Losing any of them was going to be bad, but finding one of the younger ones hurt to death… it just doesn’t suck worse.  It’s a scientific fact that bigger hearts hurt more.  If he didn’t spend all that love on those cats, his heart wouldn’t be squeezing with so much sorrow right now.  Instead, his love has been paid back with pain.

He should’ve never listened to me.

He wouldn’t have to deal with this if he’d become a mercenary.  Or a drug lord.

Wouldn’t have to deal with all this sadness,  Burying it.  Crying.  Praying.  Shiva in the heart.  Trance of Sorrow soul-ache.  For what?  To love?  Some cats?

Some deal.

I know he doesn’t regret it.  Because he’ll keep riding on, with more arrows stuck in him than St. Sebastian–eyes scanning the horizon for any other orphaned ball of fur that might need his help.   A guy like Monk is ready to pay the price of love.  I know him.  He’ll just keep loving, no matter how bad it hurts.  What the sages call “Faith above Reason.”  Doing the loving thing, no matter what the consequences to your self.

Love no matter what.

That’s not a very reasonable thing to do.

In fact, it’s absurd.

And that is why it’s so kick-in-the-balls bad-ass.  So bat-shit reckless.  It’s so insane, that I have to climb on-board.  It’s Noir as Nuit and just as sweet.  Beyond gnarly.  The ultimate rebellion.  Against a selfish self.  And if not a fatal blow–a real chop to the beast’s throat.  A little something-something to make it think twice.  Before it rears it’s ugly head again.  That’s for sure.  So count me in.  Love no matter what.

This is going to be my craziest stunt yet.

Fucking Monk.  You still got it.

Always did.  Always will.

That’s why you lead the way.

Smokey hiding.

Smokey hiding.

In lieu of flowers, The Temple of Bast has asked that donations to http://www.felinesandfriends.org/ be made in Smokey’s memory.