Caffeination. It doesn’t take much to get the essence of the word, Caffeine Nation. That is us. Indivisible, with liberty and justice. In order to form a more perfect. And so on. I pledge allegiance. And there is, unfortunately, no flag. Never mind. Under God, we are, and under-energized we also are without, you know, caffeine. Nothing like a little buzz from the ever popular speed to set the blood aflow. Except for the exchange of words with those at the other end of the cyber-telephone.

Yes, when all else fails, there is the 800 number. It’s a matter of principle, this one. I am tired of monthly bills from something called AOL System Mechanic. Okay, it’s only $4.99, but I’m tired, as I say. Just the feeling of being jerked around was enough to finally call the number, the only means of identifying these people, on my monthly Visa bill. Several computer consultants have shaken their heads when noting the presence of System Mechanic on my computer. The software is supposed to ‘tune’ things up a bit. Doesn’t that sound peachy? Your computer kind of humming along on four underpowered cylinders, then System Mechanic comes along and shifts into high. Rubber screeching, sparks flying. Your computer goes blasting along.

No, no, the weary computer consultant will assure you. It doesn’t work that way. And they seem to have a point. System Mechanic has a terrible habit of erasing records of recent activity, such as tax records for last year or or your list of the neighborhood’s loudest residents. Thus, the 800 number. Where someone in Bangalore informs you that there is no record of your name, phone number, address or any other identifying characteristic. Which results in a referral to an 866 number, where someone asks you for your credit card number, that is to say, the entity that is billing you on their behalf. This also draws a blank. Finally, a chat with the fraud unit of the company, turns up the missing info. You are a fraud, that is the message. Their monthly billing on your credit card is a sort of favor, an honor bestowed upon you by System Mechanic. So be grateful. Actually, be very grateful that this has only taken 45 minutes. No, someone in the Philippines assures you, there won’t be any more bills.

Anyway, the whole point of this is to get yourself charged up, downright adrenal, racing toward a start point or an endpoint…of uncertain meaning. For the morning has dragged. And you needed this rousing battle. You also needed to replace your furnaces. Why plural? Because you own four of them, a concomitant of ownership of ownership of apartments. Which is happening Friday, according to the contractor, who has just called in the middle of, well, things. What are the things? Let us start with the stove. That is to say, the old one. That was the idea, that one is old, one new. The latter has just arrived in its carton from Sears. Who, being in receipt of my $10 recycling fee, was supposed to cart away the old one. But thanks to Jane who has just conducted an inspection, the old one remains. Thing is, little of my brain remains after 45 minutes on the exercycle. I am trying to deal with this information, but excessive cardiovascular activity, contrary to mythology, does little to direct the mind toward stove recycling. It is unclear what to do. It is also clear that two stoves in one apartment do not add up to anything good. Three coins in the fountain. Two stoves in the flat. One for the Gipper.

All this serves to direct the mind away from dread. What does one dread? Dread itself. An underlying fear can take me over, directing itself to all available targets. What if Jane’s cold is pneumonia? What if she drives her car off the Bay Bridge, you know, by mistake? What if I can’t get out of bed in the morning, owing to my advancing age and declining neuromuscular wherewithal? Dread, all kidding aside, is nothing to kid about. It drains. It drains attention away from worthwhile things, such as life’s true dangers. The most acute of which, for me, probably involves dodging a wheelchair through urban traffic, which I do on almost a daily basis. Where does such dread originate? Childhood? Frightening years with my parents, isolated in a house in the middle of the desert, no neighbors, no hope? Who can say?

Enough to make one consider this matter, staring out the window of Caltrain, the San Francisco Peninsula moving north or south…and try it on, this dread. What is that thing most dreaded? Most dreadful? Death. Surely it is death. No, wait. Were death announced today, would I sink into a state of dread? Doubts persist. The most terrifying specter remains abandonment. Me in tumbling chaos, care absent, hope nonexistent. And yet this is the very thing that life has moved me away from, toward belonging, inclusion. My chances of being abandoned and forgotten seem lower than ever, a situation epitomized in Jane. Dying alone? Extremely unlikely. Unless the end were to come swiftly, by utter surprise. The knowledge that is, in its strange way, reassuring. Thus one calms one’s panicky self.

The problem is that visiting this dreadful place is most unpleasant…so much that quadriplegic kvetching is, by contrast, a major relief. Even better, self-flagellation. The opportunities? Well on this very day, working backward…. Moments ago a call from Sears announcing the delivery of…I don’t know…a new refrigerator perhaps…for one of my apartments. Was I the responsible person? Did I plan to be around during the delivery? Press 1. Ah, but where is 1? Not yet being smart enough for my smart phone, I had to hunt about for the on-screen keypad, entering the number while an automated message delivered all the details. Which I missed. I have no idea what time Sears plans to drop off its gear tomorrow. None at all. Fuck me.

Of course, only moments before, I had been cleaning my trackball. The latter being the quadriplegic’s eternal friend in the computer operation department. So eternal, that the thing needs frequent cleaning, so often is it rolled about my filthy palm. An easy matter. You just pull out the ball, clean the little laser contact points…then drop the ball. In every sense of the word. And being hard and extremely smooth, said ball rolls under your desk, as though driven by some unseen force, not only lodging, but actually disappearing beneath a jungle of wires and cables, such is the condition of your office electronics. Oh, yes, there it is, in the far corner, lodged between a cable cluster and the wall. You can’t crawl there. The little reacher with its squeeze trigger and mechanical claw, no it’s too far away for that. So what is there to do but spend 15 minutes of your short life prodding and poking with various things with handles, vis-à-vis, mops, brooms, and so on. Not to mention the crutch. While you curse yourself, denounce your very existence…but do distract yourself from dread. After all, what is happening can’t be dreaded. Because, here it is, occurring in real time. As opposed to false time. Or borrowed time.

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