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Bad Air September 30, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, odd, Toulouse Street.

“…depression was a successful adaptation to ceaseless pain and suffering…”
— novelist Jonathan Franzen on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air

…which I trust he explained somehow between the car and the stereo remote, but I missed it and so went into the kitchen to get something to drink. When I came back there was a review of a movie about a man who has built a tornado shelter in his house and moved into it. In the clip his wife is pleading with him desperately and increasingly angrily to explain the shelter, the time he spends there, why he sometimes never comes out from it at night or vanishes into it at all hours with no explanation.

Charming. The usual host is off and some fellow is filling in and all he really did was dust off an old review of Franzen’s Freedom, which was just released in paperback, and queued up the author’s year old interview with Terry Gross. I doubt he picked the movie review either. It was what the reviewer had pitched and had accepted, what was scheduled for this week, just another cart to feed into the machine. It’s not as if he spent the weeks leading up to Terry Gross’ absence plotting how to ruin the Friday night of a hundred thousand temperamentally melancholic Americans home alone on Friday night, pushing the emotional tachometer to its limit hoping for a multi-car crash like a NASCAR fan with a prominent italic 3 tattooed on his arm.

While the review ran the fill-in host probably walked up the hall to the latte dispenser and pressed the button for sugar-free, low-fat mocha. I took my glass of water back into the kitchen, selected another, smaller glass, and poured some run and then some of my ice water into it. This was probably not a wise choice after last night’s exhausting revels, the endlessly flowing Jameson and bottled water back for a featured reader and the drinks after, but there was something about the confluence of events on that radio show that called for it.

He probably took his steaming foam cup back to the studio and sat idly watching the VU meters, thinking he would have to pick up some over cleaner on the way home. It was his turn to clean the kitchen and he was scrupulous about it, meant above all to avoid those weekends when his wife would come behind him, sigh, and do something over because she felt it not quite right.

After he finished recording the outtro from the depressing episodes he wasn’t really listening to, he gabbed a pad of pink sticky notes, wrote out oven cleaner (having used up the last of it a few weeks ago), and stuck the tab on the inside fold of his wallet. As he filled in the paperwork for the broadcast he gave no further thought to the last time he cleaned the oven, his wife having her Saturday off reclined on the couch reading the new, corrected text edition of Ariel.

He had knelt with his head swimming from the dilute scent of lye, the rag he had been using to wipe away the last of the blackened cleanser clenched in his rubber glove, studying the temperature sender at the back of the burner, wondering exactly how one could kill themself in an oven. Did they have to defeat the safety feature that cut of the flow of gas when there was no heat, or was it overridden by turning the dial all the way to the start position, which allowed the gas to flow prior to ignition? The latter, of course. It was not like jumping off of a bridge, an irrevocable moment. You would have to kneel with the rotten egg warning scent of the gas in your nostrils for a long time.

Aren’t you done yet? his wife asked when she came in for more tea. What have you been doing for the last hour?

Cleaning the stove he said, not realizing how long he had spent staring into the dull, enamel darkness of their treasured antique Merritt. His knees ached in spite of the cushioned garden pad kept for such chores. He dunked the cloth in the bucket of rinse water without turning to face her, waited for her footfalls to vanish down the hall and and then resumed wiping the dark nooks and crannies until they glowed with a dull brilliance, trying to scrub away the last traces of whatever had just happened.


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