Sunday, March 30, 2008

Paddling Upriver; Bud #3

I continue below with the third installment of "Positively Bud." But first I want to brag about an outing I took today. I had invited Kathleen to go kayaking up Big River, something I've been meaning to do for two years. Kathleen decided she had more important things to do but I didn't let that stop me.

I rented a solo outrigger canoe instead of a kayak, at the guide's suggestion, and took it up Big River until my back hurt so much I had to turn around. I saw a great blue heron and remnants of logging docks from long ago.

Strangely, I had a crying spell near the end of my progress upriver, but I told myself "It's OK to be sad." Not everyone can be sad, so tears might be looked upon as a gift of sorts. Except in this case the grief was diffuse, with no particular focus, the equivalent of a hiccup. Actually, I did think about David's psalm, "This poor man cried unto the Lord and he delivered him from all his fears." I felt sad knowing that this poor man hasn't received such a happy result. Thoughts of God and faith, in my condition, routinely sadden me. I feel locked out of paradise, never mind what theology I embrace.

I asked a good friend of mine some time back what he would do if he couldn't "feel" the presence of God. He said he didn't know what he would do; he couldn't imagine such a deprivation. I'm happy that he's happy, happy that he can't understand my sadness.

The only difficulty in the trip was a strong wind blowing upriver from the ocean. It aided my progress going up, but it was very difficult to paddle through on the way back; I was even blown to shore on one occasion.

The main thing is, however, that I thought up an activity and carried it out. And it was pleasurable, the solitude and tranquility, the green river and greener forest, even the struggle over the last half mile to paddle through the wind. As someone suffering from youknowhat I can rightly take pride in such an outing--not the kind of behavior one expects from one affllicted with youknowwhat.


"Positively Bud" #3

Bud got up slowly to follow Martha out the door like a whipped dog. Hope. Another hope salesman. His wife would likely be glad to be rid of him for a month, and the terror of a new institution could be no worse than the terror of his next footstep on the linoleum. Suppose the floor collapsed? Suppose his foot stopped working? Why should it work, anyway? It seemed like some completely foreign appendage as he stared at it on the way to the parking lot.
Martha got in the driver's seat and opened the passenger door. "Well, what do you think, honey?"

"I don't," Bud replied.

"Well, if you did think, what would you think about this program?"

"I might think it was a waste of time. But since all I do is waste time, I guess it doesn't matter if I do it there or at home. At least there's no charge."

"I have a good feeling about this, Bud. I think these people may be able to help you."
Bud stared out the window at the passing greenery on the Pasadena boulevard, oleander in white profusion and palm trees towering above. Tears welled in his eyes. The thought of hope was crueler than anything.

Their drive to the institute was uneventful. Bud said nothing and Martha listened to talk radio. As they entered the San Gabriel foothills the winding road swept through silvery-green chaparral with pungent sage blooming in bunches of small lavender flowers. Yuccas towered on the hillsides with their yellow-white colonnades of waxy flowers. Bloom once and die. Such a waste.

They turned off on a dirt road where a small sign announced "Institute for Positive Living" and passed under a wooden archway branded with the motto, "Abandon despair all ye who enter here." But how could one abandon despair when despair was abandonment? Abandon abandonment? His head began to hurt as he ruminated, and his body swirled around the hollow in his chest while the grim razor of fear cut every waking moment like a fresh wrist. He felt he was being dissected by the blind eye of the universe minute by minute. He was scared, but no more or less than always-- here, at least, there would be new things to fear.
The Institute was a ramshackle affair of one-story ranch-style bungalows connected haphazardly. Weathered wood siding and worn, warped cedar shingles gave it a rustic air.



"We're here, honey. Why don't you grab your bag?"

He opened the door and smelled the sage, as if an accusation by a former olfactory pleasure, then lifted his bag by its shoulder strap and schlepped to the front steps. After the car's coolness he began to sweat in the dry mountain heat, which rising from the ground seemed to inflate his pants.

The double glass doors above the steps struck him as incongruous with the surrounding architecture and scenery. Martha pressed the doorbell and they waited in the half shade of an inadequate awning. Finally a man came to the door dressed in whites. Crisply he opened the door and said, "Bud Rose?" Bud nodded. "And Mrs. Rose, I presume?"

"Here," Martha said with forced cheerfulness. "Can I come in and see the layout? I'm a nurse, you know."

The man smiled. "I'm afraid that's not permitted, Mrs. Rose. You'll have to say your good-byes now."

Bud awkwardly set his faded blue gym bag down for the expected embrace. Martha hugged him and he responded stiffly. There was no melting reciprocity in his hug, only the mechanical deference of a lifeless homunculus. She kissed him on the neck and whispered, "See you in about a month. Get well!" Then she extricated herself from his wooden grasp and walked to the car. Driving away, she smiled and waved as if sending her first child off to school. She didn't start crying until she passed under the wooden arch forbidding despair.
Bud was ushered in through the glass door and was mildly relieved to note the air conditioning. He was led to a small room where a blue molded plastic chair with chrome legs faced a battered wooden desk. His escort told him that his counselor would be in momentarily, and to meanwhile make himself comfortable. Comfortable. A foreign word. He looked around the room, concentrating on the fine cracks in the plaster that reaffirmed his sense of universal decay. A new wall to stare at. The door swung open.

"Hi, Mr. Rose. I'm Troy. May I call you Bud? Good!" He shook Bud's hand energetically and sat behind the desk. "I will be your counselor for the next month. It will be my responsibility to see that you get every treatment advantage our program can offer. Any questions so far?"

Bud shook his head.

Curly blonde and blue-eyed, with an upturned nose and a chin dimple, nicely tanned, Troy looked like he'd stepped out of a fitness commercial. He was the antithesis of everything Bud felt himself to be. He would have preferred an old woman who appeared to know something of suffering next to this Love Boat refugee.

"By walking through the door your treatment has already begun. You have made a commitment to feeling better, no matter how impossible that may seem to you now. You may feel distant, hopeless, disenfranchised, even a ghost-- but none of that matters now. By the time you leave here you will be feeling better because you will have a positive attitude. This does not mean the experience will always be positive-- but that the result will. Our techniques are . . . how shall I say? Aggressive? Bold? But they are proven to work, and work they will. You will get better."

Someone knocked at the door.

"Come in," Troy yelled. A black man the size of a pro linebacker walked in. "Let me introduce you to your trainer, Bud. This is Larry." Larry extended his massive hand and his teeth shone yellow in the fluorescent light. His smile was as large as the ocean. It swept Bud up like a tide. His monk's fringe of frizzy hair, large eyes and broad nose all seemed to emanate goodwill like the smell of a neighborhood barbecue.

"Larry will be in charge of your physical regimen while I am in charge of your mental regimen. We work as a team in coordinating your daily activities. Are you comfortable with that?"

That word again. Bud nodded.

"Good, then. No sense in wasting time. Larry will show you to your room and I will see you back here in exactly thirty minutes. Clocks are posted everywhere and we consider punctuality extremely important, since it displays a positive respect for others' time. Am I clear?"

Bud nodded.

"Good, then. I look forward to seeing you in half an hour." Troy briskly rose from the desk and exited in a blur.

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