Ezra Titus

1966 – 2009

TOE HOPPING ACTIFED

“God?” I asked, and there was silence.

I said, whether anyone was listening or not, “I need a clue or a path. Please. I need help. I need a reason, like, why I’m supposed to live … and suffer,” I added, under my breath. – and there was no answer.

Again, hopelessly, I asked the empty sky, “Is this it? Just phone bills and snow shovels? Fried chicken and pharmacies? I’m not sure what I mean by that. It’s just … well, I don’t mean to sound prideful or whatever. It’s just that maybe I thought my life was supposed to mean something a little more.”

I lit a cigarette and started to walk away when I was startled by a thunderous, exaggerated voice coming from all around me. “You are part of a great plan,” God said, “But, you won’t feel validated in knowing what it is. I play the long game. You may never even know how the smallest of your actions today can influence events in the distant future. Your entire life could be lived only to ask a stranger where Carnegie Hill is, make him five seconds late, and indirectly cause him to be run over by a car that wouldn’t have been there five seconds earlier.”

I said, “So I have to go through all this, just for that?” And God laughed, “No. You don’t have to worry about anything that important. Let me just bring up your file here … yup. Didn’t anyone in your family ever tell you about the potato latke woman?”

Everyone in my family had told me the story of the potato latke woman.

My great, great grandfather was in love with a beautiful woman. But, she had a horrible, evil sister who looked like a witch. Finally, my great, great grandfather was to marry the beautiful woman he loved. The ceremony came to its climax, he said, “I do,” and lifted the woman’s veil, only to find that he had been duped. For, when he lifted the veil, he saw that he had not married the beautiful woman he loved, but instead, her ugly, horrible sister. And it being the old days, it was too late, so he remained faithfully with the witch.

The witch made potato latkes all the time. All their lives, my great grandfather and his brother sat at the kitchen table and laughed about how much they hated my great, great grandmother’s potato latkes. I don’t know her name. In my family, she is simply referred to as, “the potato latke woman.” One day, my great, great grandfather was so sick of potato latkes that as a joke, he nailed one to the wall. It dried there, and remained nailed to the wall for the rest of their lives. My great, great grandmother, the potato latke woman, was so angered by this that she cursed my lineage for five generations.

I was cursed with allergies.

I am allergic to many things, for instance, cats and pollen but that’s not all. I also suffer what may be extreme, psychosomatic reactions to organized religion and lawyers. In a church or a lawyer’s office, my nose runs and my eyes itch and tear. Furthermore, I start wheezing and I can hardly breathe. I’ll confess to, or sign anything to get out of those places. The truth is that most things, including people I despise give me a runny nose, and I get a little puffy around the eyes too. So, when I was fifteen, I got a package of Actifed. Commercials at the time claimed it was the preference of astronauts. If astronauts used it, I reasoned, it must work, because I didn’t imagine they had a lot of time to mess around up there. So, I chose Actifed.

The first time I took Actifed I thought, “Where have you been all my life?” Not only were my sinuses unbelievably clear, I also experienced an extreme, cocaine-like euphoria, combined somehow with a resplendent tranquility. It’s one of my favorite drugs; I can get as much of it as I want, whenever I want, and it gives me a beautiful, recurring dream:

When I sleep on Actifed, I dream of a mossy planet which has very low gravity and a soft, pink sky. I fly in great, soaring arcs through the warm air which has a nice feeling, like silky mink against my skin. It’s a beautiful flight, and when I slowly descend to the surface of the Actifed planet, I simply flick my toes against the moss on the ground. That nearly effortless toe-curl sends me flying high into the pink again; up, and away for miles on end. It seems I inherited this ability from my family:

My grandmother says that because I like to write, I should know everything about my family members’ private lives. That’s how I know about my grandfather’s toe hopping. Grandma has also told me all the most intimate details of his dreams, along with those of my other relatives.

Like a dog dreaming of a bouncing tennis ball, Grandpa runs with his tiny toes as he sleeps, and makes abrupt, snorting noises. He usually wakes up screaming, “No!” because his dreams often center on feelings of guilt he apparently has regarding a certain Private Hucklebee, who was under his command during the war.

Once, Grandpa dreamt that he’d trained Hucklebee to ride a tricycle around an obstacle course. As the Private did so, Grandpa pressed a secret button that shrank Hucklebee, and encapsulated him in a plexiglass cube. “Hucklebee!” Grandpa shrieked as he woke, “What have I done to you?”

When my grandmother asked him who Hucklebee was, my grandfather told her his deepest, darkest secret … and she told me about it the next morning over breakfast. My grandfather said that he usually dreamt of one particular thing that happened during the war. When it was translated into the language of dreams, it became this story:

My grandfather and Hucklebee had run out of ammo, and they were running from a group of Germans near a river in France. They took a tiny rowboat from a farmhouse, and tried to cross the river. But, Hucklebee fell out of the boat. The Germans turned into crocodiles, and swam out to drag Hucklebee back to shore. As my grandfather watched in horror, the Germans stripped Hucklebee of his clothes. Then, one of them turned to looked at my grandfather, and smiled as he cut off Hucklebee’s balls.

Once, after my grandmother had assured her that she’d never tell a soul, my sister confided in her the following dream, which my grandmother told me about on the phone, minutes later:

Artemis, my sister, dreamt she’d had a party in our parents house, where a spinning, leaping dildo spewed forth fluorescent, neon fluid in rainbow colors. While the dildo jumped around the house, defiling all it encountered, dogs and cats were fornicating all around. Our father came home in the middle of this maelstrom, and said, “Artemis, I’m very disappointed in you. It will cost a lot to clean this place up. I’ll just have to put off that hip replacement I needed in order to live.” The dreams made Artemis feel guilty, and my grandmother told her they should. “Artemis should be ashamed of herself, having such a filthy mind,” said Grandma.

When I had a band, we used to travel to New Jersey to play, and we’d spend the night in a hotel. When we got a new bass player, a guy named Gila from Taiwan, I agreed to share a room with him. I was walking down the hallway toward our hotel room when I heard a high-pitched, shrieking sound, and presumed immediately that a wild animal had found its way into the hotel, and was now fighting the managers for its right to a suite. I moved toward the wailing, demonic sound, only to find that it was coming from my room. Gila snored like a wolverine. As bad as it was, I managed to fall asleep. Then, in the middle of the night, Gila started yelling, “Fuck you! I’ll kill you!” in his sleep. I woke him up a few times by throwing a sneaker at him and then pretending to be asleep, but it kept happening. Gila told me he had long, detailed dreams about a professional wrestler having sex with his wife. That was what made him so mad.

As Gila squealed into my subconscious, I had eight hour long, epic dreams about Taiwan. I’d follow my Taiwanese tour guides across grassy planes to a place where old bombers laid, sunk into lush, watery rice paddies, overgrown with vines and moss. These, my guides would inform me, had been left over from the cold war. They would have been used against us or Russia, but the time never came. After seeing the bombers, we’d go eagle hunting. My tour guide asked me why I didn’t seem to enjoy it. I said it seemed cruel, just to shoot them in the wing and leave them half-alive in some field. The tour-guide and his entourage laughed, explaining that they, the Taiwanese were a very cruel people.

Then, one would hold up a pistol, and the others would line up to stand in front of it. If they wanted to live, they’d say “I wish to see the heavenly light of dawn.” If they wanted to die, they’d say, “I wish for the long, darkness of night,” and the guy with the gun would blow their brains out. Invariably, my turn would come. I’d think I wanted to die, and I’d close my eyes, but then, I’d always back out and say, “I don’t know what I want.” The gunman would say that was all right, and pour himself a glass of sake. He looked very weary, and he’d ask me, “Please decide soon. Until you do, I have to keep doing this job, and it’s driving me mad.” – “I will,” I’d say, feeling sorry for him, “I will in time.” I finally said, “I wish to see the heavenly light of dawn,” and the gunman smiled, because at that, he was released. I watched him walk off toward the bomber graveyard, finally relieved of that duty. The wind kicked up a cloud of dust, but before he disappeared into it, the man said, “This is the end of the potato latke curse.”

“Well,” said God as the Taiwanese shooter disappeared, “If you had your own ant farm, and you could make some of the ants magical, wouldn’t you? And didn’t I give you Actifed, and space flight?” I said, “Yes, that’s true.” And God said, “Don’t worry about your place in the great scheme of things. Just keep toe hopping. Remember, the higher you hop, the closer you are to me.”

*****

Epilogue: In November of 2006, Actifed was made illegal in Florida because people make crystal meth out of it. They came out with an altered formula, and the box still looks the same, but those amazing dreams have been removed from the brew. There’s nothing I can do except to hold this against every crystal meth freak for the rest of my life. So, if your a meth-head, and I kicked you for no apparent reason, that’s why. May you rot in hell.

 

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