Hypnagogic Jerk

1

His name is Oswald. He lives in a house in South Dakota. The house is situated on top of a dividing line of two time zones. The line cuts straight through Oswald’s room, and down through the center of his queen-sized bed. He is not married.

At night he’s prone to involuntary spasms, which “jerk” his body into separate time zones. This he does not know.

There was a moment in ’69 when he fucked two girls in one night.

In ’63 he was the third-runner up of a 3rd grade spelling contest. He was also bronzed on the podium from a recent family vacation to the Florida Keys, where he nearly kissed Elizabeth van Hoyten in the back seat of Juan Shrubu’s Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

He wakes up every morning at 6:30, showers and gets dressed in tartan clothes. Sometimes he forgets to brush his teeth, thinking that if teeth were meant for brushing they’d have hair on them, which explains why all of his teeth are gone (and so is his hair).

He was never a bad guy, but he felt like he was. Or rather, he thought of himself lowly, which translated to lonely. As detailed he wasn’t always like this. Two girls, one night. But that was the summer of ’69 and free love, and the girls weren’t all that pretty.

At night, after a hard day’s work reaping grain and sowing seed and double whiskey’s, when he trudges up the stairs to his master bedroom – woozy, feeling the weight of the Earth push down on him with each ascending step – he collapses onto his mattress in pursuit of some Z’s.

There was a period of obliquity for ‘ol Oswald. Skepticism. Rebellion. Sure. He wanted to run away when he was growing up but there was never any place to go. Besides the Indian Res. ten miles East of Toland, and the cabin up around Barton’s Creek, it was desolate. And both of those spots of refuge had been exhausted by the time things got really bad, when a Midwestern malaise began to weigh him down, and he began to acquire that subtle hue of defeatism all men have in these parts (and all women too) with the only proviso being that the women take it with a grain of salt, and the men with pepper.

His Grandfather came to No Cal in the 1870’s seeking employment. Instead he got the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and pivoted inland to sate security measures. Oswald felt he had a chance to redeem the family name in ’69 through placid insurrection, orchestrated revelry, and LSD. This was incorrect of course (and utterly inane) considering they were all dead, and thus redemption was no longer apart of their progenitorial arc. Perhaps their redemption was in escaping prejudice and flourishing in a different area of Earth, albeit not their own. You would have to ask Oswald Ming’s dead ancestors though, and that, of course, is impossible.

Chanticleer (rustle)

Chanticleer (rustle, moan)

Chanticleer — (arches up)

It’s 6:31 A.M. and Oswald Ming is in his bathroom. He’s looking into the mirror and acknowledging his flaws. It’s been a long time since he gave a shit about any one of ’em. The wizened face is whatever. The scars are life. The bags are sight – where bad images have since been logged and stored underneath the brittle skin.

Asians typically age gracefully. Oswald knows that. Oswald used to wonder about the part of his gene pool that dominated the rest, and where it had come from. Surely there was some interloping braid of science spit up from the white man’s balls, but he has since given little thought to his appearance. It is only in those sparse, vainglorious nights, when Oswald has had one too many and his eyelids aren’t as heavy, that he studies his physiognomy in the mirror and scans it into his mind. And in there is a mixture of solutions and antidotes and panacea’s; an imaginative fountain of youth that can be sought out through new routines of diet and exercise, or sleep, or … or … and it’s always a sham. But Oswald tries.

It’s seven o’clock and it’s gray outside. The cows are mooing and the chickens are spasmodic. Oswald opens the back screen door with an air of equanimity yet resolution: this is what I do. He has a mason jar of apple cider vinegar in his right hand and the last bite of a tunafish sandwich in his left. He tilts his head upward, away from the inter-special carnival and up to the long gray sky, not thinking about anything really. Just standing there, looking, quiet. He’s broken from his morning delirium soon enough.

Like marijuana to Colorado or BBQ to Texas or surfing to Hawaii, cow milking and the Dakotas go hand in hand. It’s a craft, an acquired expertise, and Oswald takes pride in it. At first it felt like jerking a dick to him, sure, but fortunately the surrounding culture didn’t produce any prurient innuendos at school, or at Dairy Queen, or what have you. Everyone did it. Everyone does it. Everyone has a hand in food production in these parts, and they all start out clenched and jerking.

(POST PARAGRAPH: You’d think because the women have had so much practice with up-down, back and forth, they’d be able to jerk you in two minutes. Not the case. Their hands are coarse like sand paper, and their motion is rough and aggressive, as if it’s a tug of war. Oswald popped a blood vessel in his shaft after June Pursey’s right-wrist-twist “Arabian massage.” The word “Arabian” was the draw, and soon everyone was surreptitiously walking around with an ice pack taped to their junk, but proselytizing on the outside about how good it felt. Dakota men.)

By 7:15 he’s taking inventory in the cowshed half a mile due East. There he counts and recounts and separates the sickly lookin’ fellers from the salubrious.

There’s a vet on call 24/ 7 in Toland, and one is even apt to call them for personal emergencies instead of Dr. Boodish because of their expediency. But Oswald doesn’t call. Even that time when he fell down the stairs and split his head open he didn’t call. Not a vet or Boodish M.D. He dusted off the first aid kit, applied hydrogen peroxide, then a three-years-past-expiration dab of Neosporin and a couple butterfly bandages. He got on with it.

The problem was Oswald’s gastrointestinal flare-ups, which occur every so often – usually about twenty four hours after his last bowl of chili. The vet was on the farm that day, giving him a hard time about the animal’s dietary specs, when he began to pass gas a bit uncontrollably, even aggressively (though inadvertently). They started to come on harder and louder, and there was really no recourse – the outhouse was too far away. So he ran behind the equipment shed and dropped trou. This the vet took as an egregious affront to her recommendations. She felt her repertoire of knowledge had been disrespected, so when Oswald finally came back around with a relieved expression and a cool towlet, she stood silent and jaded. Oswald pleaded, but to no avail:

“But I’m sick! Honest, I’m sorry, no, no you misunderstand!”

Then she opened her car door, “You’re right.” Then she closed the door and turned her over, “You are sick. A deranged lunatic. I’ll see to it that it’s known.”

As for the livestock the vet planted the calumny. So the murmurs go: there’s blood in his milk; no health food standards; does he shower? – which hurts Oswald. When anger comes after sadness he feels wronged. He feels he knows more about every facet of farming or ranching than the entire conglomerated peanut gallery. When tested there are minimal traces of protozoa in his produce. 

Minimal!?” says the gallery.

“Yes” says an honest Oswald.

Then they turn away in a supercilious fit of agitation.

8:15 means hosing down the milking shed, cleaning requisite areas, and filing the cows back into their paddocks. This takes longer than it used to. Fifteen, even ten years ago he’d round ’em up in a half hour and have the shed spick ‘n span. Now it can run ’em as long as two hours, the poor bastard. But I guess he wouldn’t have it any other way; he just wants to be alone with his animals.

10 o’clock break time.

By 10:30 the primary duties can’t be put off any longer. Fortunately he has some equipment to give him a hand. These include (but are not limited to) the automated spraying systems, columnized light intensifiers, John Deere tractors, the seed spreaders, and pitch forks. Most of the time the day calls for machinery upkeep. In essence, ‘ol Ozzie is a means to an end. The equipment does the work while he operates it. Orchestrates it. He’s the guy waving the stick in front of the band; the guy with the script behind the camera. He’s the guy with the mason jar of apple cider vinegar and always, curiously, the guy with only a bite left of a tunafish sandwich.

At some point between chores he takes to the office. He keeps to a sedulous manner of business once there: filing expense reports, organizing delivery itineraries, booking independent contractors, etc. etc.

Anyhow, the day’s almost over after white collar work. He closes the door to his office once he’s sated, but not without taking a few glances back and forth between vacant hallway and vacant room, apparently scanning for something he might need or may have missed, but it seems as though he’s longing for something whilst in this pose, or looking at things that aren’t there … at least according to the bird’s eye view.

And it ends how it started: milk the damn cows. Milk, milk, milk. Then hose the damn stables. Hose, hose, hose. Then latch the damn paddocks. Paddocks, paddocks, paddocks.

Whisky, whisky, whisky.

Feels faint; trudges.

Sleeps.

Then he sleeps, sleeps, sleeps.

2

The pinky toe is worthless. Tonsils, appendixes, pinky toes – we can all get along without ’em. So they say they are unnecessary appendages, or superfluous anatomical accoutrements – that their existence is shameful, lingering evidence of past barbarism.

We aspire to forget this evolutionary past, at least everything leading up to the intelligentsia of Homo sapien. We rode the vicissitudes long and far and away from that loutish relative en route to a better, more couth tomorrow. So they say. And that “a hypnagogic jerk is expendable; it’s nothing but an ignominious, vestigial reflex, imperative to a time when our past was subjugated and slept in trees for security.” They pause and take a sip of coffee, then cross their legs effetely:

“We weren’t the Apex Predator. At best we were average animals with opposable thumbs. We’d be wise to forget all about it and begin with the rise of civilizations.”

His bald head glistens in the moonlight, and his open, toothless mouth gapes at oncoming recollections.

He’s sleeping in Mountain time when he feels a jolt of nostalgia, born through the remnants of years past, and off he goes changing time, both above the surface and below.

“What the fuck you doin’ coolie on this here railroad?”

The Asian man stammers with ignorance.

“Coolie if you don’t get the fuck off — WE AIN’T GOT NO WORK FOR YOU. Not for any uh you slit-eyes. Go on. Get. Can’t speak Engish!? HAHA! Whoo-whee, thought they learned you over there in the Chinese. You as dumb as that there railroad, aintchya?”

The white man poked him with a sickle, continuing, “Aintchya?”, then laughed a high-pitched, weasly laugh, and walked off looking for someone to share in his perverse mirth.

The Chinese man looked off into the distance and mused about his better tomorrow. His shoulders were pointed East with the howls of white laughter behind him to the West.

Oswald appears:

“Grandpa?”

Oswald’s Grandpa turns and stares with a bemusing mien, for even in revisionist dreams there are hurdles.

“Grandpa.”

您是?”

Oswald dropped his head in frustration. He picked his head back up, stuck out both pointer fingers and brought them up to his face. He then flicked them towards his Grandpa and repeated the sequence with intermittent smiles and sheepish laughs, probing his long-lost for recognition, but it wasn’t happening. Grandpa Ming was as flummoxed as ever, and began to wonder if he should be taking offense. A couple moments passed before Grandpa Ming cocked back and cracked Oswald in the nose, sending him down to the ground in a red heap. This caught the attention of the white conglomeration, who ran to the scene in fits of surprised delight:

“WHOO-WHEE HA! Hahaha. Hah. Hit ’em Wang! Hit ’em! I gotta buck on the bald one who’s in?”

“I’ll take that. Give it to him other Wang! Hahah.”

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! Other Wang. Hahaha! Yip-skiddly-do!”

Oswald’s impatience grew with each defamatory laugh and every fist his Grandpa intended for his face. He was rolling on the dirt and holding his arms over his head for cover.

“Looks like your Wang ain’t doin’ too swell there, Jacobs.”

“Awh c’mon Wang. Git up! Git the fuck up!”

Oswald obliged. He rolled over on his stomach and got his hands underneath him. He pushed himself up – first his chest, then a knee, as if in a runner’s pose – and sprang away from his pugnacious long-lost en route for Jacobs’s torso.

OSWALD ROLLS OVER.

“Piano. P-I-A-N-O. Piano.”

Oswald BURST through the side doors of the auditorium and fell into a row of repulsed patrons. His blood splashed onto three attendees, one of them being Mrs. Schmidt – the mother of little Stephanie Schmidt at the podium – and alas he was arrested.

“Eee-ahhh!”

“Yah!”

“Hey!!”

Mr. Schmidt leaned over his wife and grabbed Oswald by the back of the neck. Oswald threw an elbow back into Mr. Schmidt’s belly and scampered off to the podium. The moderator took notice:

“Mr. Ming, this is for first place of the Andrew Jackson Elementary School Spelling Bee”

Oswald’s cuts and scrapes were all healed; his bruises and broken bones mended. He was now 4’8″ with big ears and a bad haircut. His clothes were three sizes too big and his teeth were all bucked.

“Mr. Ming: your word is interloper.”

He choked a bit and swallowed a mouthful of saliva. His knees were shaking as the giggles of the little girls made him buckle. He turned around for assurance that the laughs were directed towards something else:

“Good luck, KamikOzzie,” whispered Stephanie Schmidt, breaking into a piercing laughter with her acolytes. He turned back around:

“Inte-what again, Mr. Jones?”

“Inte-loper, Mr. Ming, and if you pronounce the word again without spelling it you’ll be disqualified.”

“Yes. And part of speech?”

“Noun.”

“Yes. And definition?”

“A person who becomes involved in a place or situation where they are not wanted or are considered not to belong.”

The girls laughed once more, and the transient hotness on Oswald’s forehead broke into perspiration beads, which slowly streaked down his strained skin.

He looked up to the roof for some sign of brilliance, and down to his Converse’s in acceptance of his shortcomings. He took a small step forward and looked out to the cronies of Toland, South Dakota – scanning from left to right and reading the faces: some fat and wide, some long and thin. Some with anthracite hair, some blonde. Some with aquiline noses, others small mouths, others bushy eyebrows, others bifocals. All white. All blank. All staring, until Oswald settled on his mother. A white man with a blurred face was moving his hand up her inner thigh. He was sticking his face against her neck like a tick. She was coy; she liked it. He whispered something in her ear. They got up, made their way to the aisle, and left.

“Interloper. I-N-T-E-R-L-O-P-E-R. Interloper.”

Mass hysteria broke as cries of jubilation echoed through the auditorium. Oswald was lifted up and carried off the stage to a standing ovation. He closed his eyes and drank in the sounds of fun-loving life.

OSWALD ROLLS OVER.

“If everybody had an ocean, across the U.S.A. Then everybody’d be surfin’, like Californ-I-A.”

Oswald opened his eyes.

The radio blared as Juan Shrubu’s Coupe de Ville accelerated for turns. He was singing along to the song in a screechy voice, with aviator shades deflecting hot sunlight from his eyes. A friend of his was in the passenger seat bobbing his head.

“Everybody’s gone surfin’, surfin’ U.S.A.”

The cigarette lighter popped up. Juan brought the cherry red heat to the marijuana cigarette hanging out his mouth, lit it, and put it back. Oswald’s eyes were glued to him through the rearview mirror.

“Yo Oz!”

Juan turned the volume down – only a little bit – and yelled again:

“Yo! Oz!!”

“Hey. What, what?”

“I’m gonna pick up this girl Liz. That cool?”

“I really need the aloe vera. My Dad said.”

“You’re gonna get it, relax. Can I just pick this girl up? Like please?”

“Fine.”

The Cadillac roared off. Elizabeth bopped into the car with blonde locks and chewing gum.

“This poor kid, Juan!”

And the radio:

“We’ll all be gone for the summer, we’re on surfari to stay. Tell the teacher we’re surfin’, surfin’ U.S.A.”

“Shee-it, he’s fine. You should have seen me last June, almost third degree burns, Doctor said.”

“What?”

“Doctor said!”

“Said what?”

“Said shut up were going to the drug store anyway.”

The Caddy pulled into Murray’s lot; Juan and his buddy got out. It was beautiful, angelic, Elizabeth van Hoyten – in the back seat of Juan Shrubu’s Coupe de Ville – with Oswald Ming. His heart was racing, faster and faster. She was calm:

“Does it hurt?”

“A little.”

“Should I kiss it? That’d help, no?”

Oswald shook his head in the positive. She leaned her head down and gently pursed her lips against his scarlet forearm, then moved to his shoulder, and up to his neck. She stopped in front of his face. She realized it was serious for him. She made a face that said the joke was over, and began to lean back, but before she could reach that second degree of realignment, Oswald took the initiative and pushed his mouth against hers. She was startled, even disgusted, but admired his chutzpah. She committed to – her tongue was sweet and smooth, her breath cool, her teeth clean, her mouth without question the best thing that had ever happened, and Oswald imbibed the peppermint aftertaste of her chewing gum.

OSWALD ROLLS OVER.

Two smelly hippies with loose clothes and dreadlocks spotted Oswald behind the porta-john:

“I want whatever that kid’s on!”

Oswald was passionately making out with a peppermint lollipop; he realized and dropped it in bewilderment. The taste of Elizabeth van Hoyten lingered on his lips for another second, then she was gone.

Naked women were abundant. Illicit drugs were copious. Psychedelic rock was pervasive. It was Woodstock, ’69. A corpulent man exited the john with a waft of invisible, noxious gas trailing behind him. Oswald went in the opposite direction.

His hair dangled down to his shoulders, and his bangs were kept out of his eyes from the employment of a red bandana, tied securely behind his head. He was acne-riddled but confident; walked with some swagger and élan, and had these big wide eyes that looked at everything as something to be treasured. Whatever idea or preconceived notion he had of the festival was myopic – THIS was something he couldn’t have ever of imagined. It was a jungle for human beings, a certifiable planet of eccentricities. He had no problem fitting in. Whether it was true or not, his idea of himself was a laundry list of foibles – and not just from accepting South Dakota slurs. He felt he could be smarter even though everyone cheated off him. He felt he could be more athletic if only he had more diligence. He felt his familial quarrels could be corrected by absconding, and that everything could be ameliorated through rebelling. These were his people in this point of time; they were what they were to him when they were.

Oswald hooked a left and thrust himself into the throng of solidarity. An arm protruded from no particular direction and unfurled its hand in front of his face:

“LSD?”

Finding the origin of the arm was impossible – the palm was its face. And in the palm was a prerequisite for fun, so he picked it up off the clammy hand and put it on his tongue. In an instant he tasted the music, felt the vibrations, smelled the hippie love. He was now a fixture of the collective consciousness. Two women took note of it, made themselves known. Then two more, and, and, and two more? Then eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty – thirty, forty, fifty, sixty! All the women in the world!

“We want you, Oswald. We want you, Oswald.”

They marched to him in rhythmic gaits, announcing in dull, monotonous unison:

“We want you, Oswald. We want you, Oswald.”

It was a nightmare! He darted off to whence he came – to the porta-johns, to the corpulent man – they were gone!

“We want you, Oswald. We want you, Oswald.” They kept marching on and closing in! Soon there was no place to go!! He was cornered off!!!!

“We want you, Oswald. We want you, Oswald.”

When they were within arms reach he shot his head up to the sky and YELLED for saving:

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

The Earth collapsed in on itself in a variegated succession of origami folds, taking out everyone and transitioning Oswald into a new

OSWALD ROLLS OVER.

omnipresent form of sight: he was watching himself in an out of body experience from the previous day – the point where he was underneath the office door header, looking in and looking out. Omnipresent Oswald began to zoom in, pushing in on Other Oswald’s line of sight. He followed his eyes to the point of concentration: a small, laminated label – the size of a business card – was leaned up against the pencil sharpener. It was hard to make out. Omnipresent Oswald kept pushing in, kept refocusing. Other Oswald shut the office door and walked off. The last few inches were enough to make out the rectangular lamination: a young, beautiful woman with a big smile was encased, with a beige oval providing the backdrop. Below her were letters and numbers: “In Loving Memory / Susanna Ming / 1956 – 1997”

OSWALD HAS A SHORTNESS OF BREATH.

Oswald began to choke up and he, very slowly and gently, faded into a deeper sleep.

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