|Apr/May 2002 • Miscellaneous|
I wake sheathed in sweat in a tangle of sheets after dreaming that I'd found the perfect lover on the planet Jupiter; he was a hunk in every imaginable way, with only one slight catch—I couldn't kiss him without taking off my plastic bubble of a space helmet, which would, eventually, kill me, Jupiter's temperature holding pretty steady at minus two hundred degrees, if I remember my astronomy. To hell with hopeless, star-crossed love! I think. Then I stumble into the kitchen and decide to put my manless life in order. And how will I do this fine thing? By playing Solitaire, putting the cards in their rightful places in their neat little suits for the comfort that numbers can give in the sweet way they have of following one another in what we learn as tiny babies is an orderly progression, never changing their minds, or vying for your attention by falling randomly out of line, or breaking your heart by moving down to Miami and cutting you out of their will for all eternity. So I make a pot of coffee (first things first), then sit down and shuffle my $1 deck of plastic-coated blue and white-backed "Maverick Poker" playing cards. The ten of diamonds is dog-eared at the upper left-hand corner, and when I cut the cards, it often finds its way to the top of the deck. Then gently but maliciously, like a depraved librarian cutting the face of Albrecht Durer out of a rare first edition, I bend the broken corner back and forth until it falls off in my hand, leaving me, without warning, overcome with guilt and sorrow.
Now the coffee is ready, and I bring a cup to the table, and turning the cards face-up in my hands, I develop a sudden, mad crush on the virgin Jack of Hearts, in spite of my vow to swear off unrequited love. Of course it will never come to anything since the infatuation is, of necessity, one-sided, and for now, I like it that way, but I don't need a space suit to look at him, which gives me great pleasure, handsome as he is, a yellow feather in his hand (the rake!), an angel of a fellow whose sole aim in life is to find an 18-year-old blond with long legs and a pierced eyebrow and make little jacks of his own. But even as my heart goes out to the Jack, I am also romantically drawn to his father, the fully-bearded King and crazed suicide, posing in full-faced grief with downcast eyes and worried brow, stabbing himself in the back of the head with a short sword clutched in his hand.
And why is he called the suicide king? Since we can't see the point of the blade, it may be missing his head by inches, so it might turn out that he's only faking it to confound his enemies or play for their sympathy. Practically speaking, it's highly unlikely that even a big strong manly man could stick a dagger through the bony back of his skull, which means the suicide king is a phony and a fraud, and they should change his name to Joker, which they'll never do, for obvious reasons.
Still, I know sorrow when I see it, having known my share, and a face never lies. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for those who threaten to do themselves in, older men, for instance, my father in particular, crying with much stagecraft and well-practiced gesturing, that life is hardly worth the pain, and there's nothing for it but to smother himself with a pillow, or strangle himself with a fine silk scarf, neither of which one can accomplish on one's own but either of which I'd pay good money to watch.
Losing three quick hands of Solitaire in a row, I decide to cheat, winning once and for all, but there's no one here to witness and verify my triumph, phony as it is, no aged father to convince that I'm not a failure, since he moved down to Miami, celebrating by himself whatever birthdays are left to him, a rich man at last but lonely as a skunk, a porcupine, a viper. So everything's the same as it was when I woke, and there is no consolation in ordering the universe with a pack of playing cards. And it's time to sleep again. I slip the ten of diamonds back into the deck, and vow to buy another pack first thing in the morning, proving that I'm reckless, but in some small way, still worthy of redemption.