I awakened to hear my wife walking around the house at about eight in the morning. This is extremely early for her and I mean EXTREMELY. I asked her what the matter was and she said, as expected, that it was G., a very close family member who is suffering from a serious mental illness. This is someone who was always problematic, but has now gotten what his doctors describe as a paranoid psychosis of the schizophrenic variety. This is a matter of his suspecting that his food is poisoned, that his meds are poisoned, that snipers are setting up perches to kill him near his home, that cars filled with assassins are circling him in his car. He is really, really sick.
God bless Big Pharma. They have drugs that could straighten him out but he won’t take them, and the reason that my wife is up so early is that she’s getting called by another family member about how oddly G. is acting. Genuinely scary stuff. Threatening stuff.
We made a flurry of calls to the doctors who attend G., but while they are eager to help they can do nothing if G. never shows up for his appointments. So, my wife and I are frantic.
I swam for a long time, then worked on some bills, then took my wife out for lunch at our golf club, Morningside. There was only one other person at lunch, a distinguished-looking older woman. She shared with us that she had just lost her husband of forty years. What a blow that is. How does a mate go on living after that? I don’t even have any idea. It must be harrowing.
Back at home, I had a blizzard of texts from a dear friend in New York who is having a wild fight with her husband, or maybe it’s her ex-husband, about their children. She called for me to help her get a hotel room in Manhattan so she could go there and cry all night. This woman is in her late 30s and has no credit card. How is that possible? Anyway, I arranged it, and off she went to cry.
Then more calls from a family member about G not showing up for doctors’ appointments, and then time for a long nap in my guest room, where I feel fairly protected. It’s the shadiest room in the house and neat as a pin. I slept for two hours and then went outside to say farewell to a crew who had been putting in a new, incredibly pricey air conditioning unit in a wing of the house.
“Are you sure it works?” I asked them.
“Oh, yes, it works great,” they said and it seemed to be keeping my bedroom cool. I lay down and in half an hour, the darned thing simply stopped working altogether.
Many calls to the a/c man later, he showed up and said the problem had been some small part and I never needed that whole unit after all. Of course, he has to charge me for it anyway. Meanwhile, the unit is still not working.
Then, a call from a lawyer in a case in which I am a plaintiff, or The Plaintiff. We have a ruling against us on an issue so insane that only a trial lawyer could have thought of it. I can easily appeal, but I am sick of the whole thing. Litigation is a pure nightmare.
I really feel sad for people who do it for a living. Painful.
More texts about G., more texts from the friend in New York whose husband or ex-husband is mistreating her, and new texts from a woman whom I help to hide from her anxieties, and then a text from a woman I met at an airport in Miami ten years ago who saw me on TV and wants to marry me. She wants me to take her away from her fears about money. Ha! Little does she know.
Alex and I took the dogs for a walk. Above us, jet planes crossed the sky high above the oleander and the palm trees. “I wish we could ride away on a contrail,” my wife said.
My life is filled with other people’s problems. Russ Ferguson said that about me and it’s true.
I need yet another nap and I need to change my focus.
Fifty years ago this summer, my pal, Marvin Goldberg, put the car radio in his little blue Triumph sports car on a local Virginia station that played “folk songs.” The station was WAVA. “There’s this really great singer they play a lot,” he said. “Name’s Bob Dylan.”
As we sped through the Fairfax, Virginia night, on the then empty Dulles Access Highway, sure enough, the next song to come up was Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” an anti-love song that lit my brains on fire.
Dylan’s raspy voice said that he was not going to be totally devoted, that he was no one’s love slave, that he was his own man. And he was angry that the question even came up.
From then on, he was my hero. It wasn’t because he was the voice of my generation — anti-segregation, anti-war, questioning, mocking. It was that for the first time I had ever heard, a popular musician expressed the most basic of human emotions — anger, poetically and unsparingly. His song about the wrongful death of a poor black hotel worker, Hattie Carroll, because she was hit with a cane by a wealthy landowner’s son at a Baltimore hotel society gathering, has many of its facts wrong… but the emotions of outrage he expresses at what whites could do to blacks in my home state of Maryland fifty years ago were searingly on target.
He was not content to be a folk singer. He became an electric guitarist and rock star with the best rock song of all time, “Like a rolling stone.” I still don’t know what it means, but then I don’t know what a sunset means either and I love them both.
For more than fifty years, Bob Dylan has been giving us songs of genius that no one else even touches. This little boy from the Mesabi Range in Minnesota has come to be — to many of us — the greatest poet — by far — of the postwar era.
Now, he is getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. He deserves it. No singer that I am aware of ever hit the notes of what life really is, what humans really are, better than Dylan. I have spent more hours listening to him than to all other human beings on the planet put together and it will never be enough. Well done, Mr. President. Well done, Bob. I have not spoken to Marvin in forty years. I don’t know why.
By the way, Mr. President, I caught your speech about Afghanistan tonight. It is EXACTLY the same as Nixon’s speeches about Vietnamizing the Vietnam war some forty years ago. I suspect it will work out about as well. Can Mr. Obama really be that ignorant of history and reality? Yes, he can.