My mother does everything slowly. It’s not an affectation. She is old.
There are things that don’t need to be done, however. Today, she’s taken the white meat off the rotisserie and placed it on a sheet pan in order to oven heat it.
I’m reluctant to touch the so-carefully destroyed slices of chicken. I don’t want to sense the inevitably disappointing dryness, the futility and waste of this preparation.
Soon she’ll be picking through the leftovers, when all we need to do is get them into the water to start the broth. Life-giving fat and bones get thrown away in her unnecessary process.
I don’t want to step in, though, because we can’t make a mess on the counters now – the ridiculous fake quartz she spent a fortune on stains too easily. I already don’t cook for her anymore in order to serve her maddening priority of keeping the kitchen spotless.
I need to leave this world, her world, but I can’t. I’m not even sure I really want to.
Still, I’m better this visit. I don’t complain, even when nothing works, in a home where everything has passed its use, where things that shouldn’t break are broken. The towels are too small, the guest mattress is a sinkhole. She keeps foods far past their use date but simultaneously refrigerates stable items that should be in the pantry. There are endless papers but nothing to write on. The car barely fits in the two-vehicle garage.
I go upstairs to do whatever it is I do – nothing seems meaningful, everything is reduced to childhood here – maybe only to do something while she is alive to do something else, for another day. I look back, to see her puttering, cleaning, scrubbing up to some other-worldly standard. Her skin is translucent, her hair washed of all vigor – ashen and limp like a doll’s. The old and the religious are obsessed with the idea of the return of their youthful bodies, and it is clear why.
Still, it doesn’t matter what she does to distress me. I don’t even have a chance of losing my mind about this stuff on this trip, because I’m here for a reason that’s going to take more patience than I’ve ever had: She’s just given away her life savings and all her liquid funds to a scammer, and needs me here to pick up the pieces.
For twenty years, I’ve a phrase on my mind, one I’ve turned over countless times – infinitely limited. It was striking when I first heard it, said by my overtalented, overbeautiful girlfriend, one I didn’t deserve and held onto sacrilegiously, to describe her own parents. I love them but they’re infinitely limited, she said, and I could not quite grasp what she meant, even though I was already an unbalanced prodigy with words and interpretation. Past the end of that decade-long relationship which would set so many lives astray, and among details I swore I’d never forget nor reveal, each fading all too impalpably, her phrase stayed with me.
Now it and its question revives again, in my own frustration with my mother. Our borders are infinite, she is flesh and blood, but her limitations never end and yet I still want to her to live, to never die, to not let me alone in this world, no matter how endlessly foolish she is.
I can’t fix it. I can’t fix things, and all too soon, she will be gone, too.
Much of life is grimly quotidian: it’s about the people who make rent and the people don’t. Tonight on the commute home I meet eyes with some wanderer at the highway ramp streetlight: he’s angry and bedraggled and fighting for it, but one block down, a woman is in a blanket, stumbling down the center of the road. She’s black and abandoned and invisible, people don’t want her and the end is coming.
There’s more of my mom in her than in him.
A financial loss is not just some moral failing, some challenge to rationalize. It will make my mom frailer, especially as she grasps it more fully; it’s already happening. For the moment, she is going through the bargaining phase of grieving now, working too hard to get past it and to warn others: can I avoid the true consequences of my actions retroactively, somehow, some way? Is there a penance that erases the sin?
Wouldn’t I be doing the same but differently?
Money is energy; we have found a way to store our work and her lifetime of it was put into reserve for her. “It’s just money,” we instead tell each other, emptily, knowing better.
I have to replace this money, I have to replace the years of her life or lose her.
It’s more conflict, always more, and I never tire of it. Everything has been conflict in my life. I remember one contented happy morning: how striking it was, how quickly it disappeared! I was shocked at it. And as this life inexplicably drags on into a strange late middle age I didn’t expect to see, I long for more of that oxygen again. No, not the happiness – that wish has passed – the conflict, the signs of life.
Yes, I know I will miss conflict if it leaves me. It’s why I’m still interested in perfecting my behavior, in handling everything well, in making sure mom gets taken care of right. I want to harass the slovenly companies like Coinflip and Bitcoindepot that made the fraud possible, I want every lazy crypto bro to suffer for trying to ride their dullard prescriptions into safety: may each one buy high and sell low. Can’t Mike McDonald go broke and thus shut up for fifteen minutes? One time? No, some people run too hot to know suffering and so we have to hear from them forever, our real sickness unto death, the sun-running cock of the farm yard.
Now we’re on the phone with barely literate cell network reps, all babble and delay. Everything is a strategic retreat for these people; a gigantic, ball-busting time-waste by the writers of their templates. They’re clever. The corporations ensure older Americans can’t understand them by hiring people with accents they are unused to, exhausting them into helplessness, killing the weakest off with the endless 30,000 a month shell rate of ineptness and stupidity and bluffing and delays, forcing them out of the public square and into more and more quietude. I have to stand in and yell at the poor puppet employee to get a simple document request completed; he coughs it up before slinking back into the bile of his clichés, a defeated orc of the customer service wars.
It’s not that the world is no longer built for you when you are old, it’s that it actually doesn’t want you here. Living to a overripe age is thus a form of revenge.
I don’t want to hang around, not here, though: I have my own life to mangle. I do want to be back in Las Vegas, but what comes to mind is my room and the rock-hard floor in the bedroom, so uninviting and miserable. It’s there to inspire, to hurt my feet and keep me up. In a minute the shower has no hot water, the refrigerator is stuffed with my roommates’ foibles, the walls covered with the decorative debris of a hoarder. It’s not my home but it’s what I rented and where I belong.
Las Vegas is many things, and one of them is giant care center for the elderly: Homestretch, after the road in Summerlin, is its secret name. You see, we use the words wrongly, places can be unimportant but communities and their activities explain everything. The slots entertain the dying minds and bodies, the flimsy-board condos house the flattening carcasses of the lucky, the smelly and overworked Uber drivers deliver the meals for a resentful wage and to fuel the Silicon Valley party machine. Elton John has a whole song about it.
But the young can peter out too. I came here to Stu myself, to settle in his unnamed neighborhood. However, things didn’t turn out quite as I imagined them, and these conflicts persist, keeping me alive. I don’t understand people who don’t go all the way to do the right thing; I had to shut myself in my room just so I wouldn’t see my roommate while I found the strength to take care of everything. Lost without my woman, my fortress, my neighbors, my religion, anything that made sense in my life, I let myself sink ever deeper into the Ungar neighborhood. I was supposed to be the broken one, my life destroyed in its PTSD repetitions, but instead I am looking after everyone, as usual. “Not Leaving Las Vegas” did not get the attention of the Hollywood producers for some reason, however.
Where’s my Homestretch? Why am I the wanderer, not the victim in the blanket?
I arrive later and later, ensuring the house is quiet when I return: there’s something orderly about it that helps. After all, it’s hard for anyone, never mind me, to understand my roommate, the lounge lizard. Still, he did floor me one day when he explained that he was taught to respect himself and his surroundings, to nurture whatever need he has. It explained so much. Our conflict is probably that we each need to balance our extremities out – as I respect myself again, he’ll respect others more.
I’m stubborn, though, and refuse, perhaps foolishly, to be constrained by the limitations of the those around me. I only care about overcoming my personal preferences in order to achieve what I really want, as Harriet soberly assessed Peter Whimsey was doing late in that drama. However, what if that means me giving up on him, in one of those maneuver X moments that the toughest cases require? I am not sure if I am talking more about him or me.
Of course, then there are also the conflicts that shouldn’t even exist. For several years, as a believer in him and his work, I slowly wrote a detailed review of DGAF’s Sessions. However, Billy didn’t like it, lamented it repeatedly on his podcast, and cut most ties.
It’s a can of worms, but I’m not going to open it fully. While few have promoted Billy as much as I have, pushing Sessions across my site and on The Poker Zoo and on Twitter and at the table and in coaching examples, even attacking his enemies, the accuracy and style of the review has apparently burned down some illusion of how I am supposed to behave; real reciprocity is hard and equality mere politics. What’s important to me, beyond mottos, is to have insights, to engage with the world, to differ, to have a spine, and so better describe what is. I’ll make a point about something and often some cheerleader dude will say ‘yo why the hate,’ when of course there is none, only their own shock at the coolness the opened window brings to the smoke-filled content room.
I can accept my repudiation and stay out of his way because I wish him the best; he’s a hero. Still, even within conflicts there are more conflicts. In fact, the only part of this affair I am actively irritated by – really very disgusted by – is that when Billy explicitly posted that he, unlike me, wouldn’t be able to listen to someone he had less than accord with, one of poker’s golden boys dropped in to support that regrettable perspective and in complete ignorance of what was going on. I’ve rarely liked celebrities and social climbers, and now this ever-grasping glad hander and idol of poker noobs has reminded me all over again why, just when I was beginning to think I was the one with the problem.
And that wasn’t wrong: we are all part of the problem, all responsible for each other, to some degree. Should a woman in her seventies be left alone to her own devices? Should the elderly of Las Vegas be abandoned to Benny Binion, murderer, racketeer, and felon, as their spiritual and final tour guide? Does my friend deserve to be unsupported just because he is irresponsible and nihilistic? Should you always turn your back on someone because they see the world and themselves differently?
The answer to all is a resounding no. For what value do we put on everyone else? Who makes that call and why should it always be set on transactional terms? Nothing is gained or even learned in being so regimented, so protective of our own feelings. She was so right: we are infinitely limited, but all that means is we must reach out all the more, always further, and make the great attempt to not be so constrained by our weakness. So it is that their opinions even about themselves don’t always matter, not when we are all soon enough residents of Homestretch, where we shouldn’t be so eager to let anyone go any further into the invisible night, self-cheated of their hopes, and wrapped only in some thin and borrowed blanket.
Any conflict is better than that.