I THINK I’VE GONE PLUMB MAD!
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
I think this story is fictitious. If not, I may qualify for disability benefits.
Excuse me, I think I’ve gone plumb mad. Not that that’s such a bad thing, not if I can find a conscientious lawyer to prove that I qualify for disability benefits. Allow me to explain if I can.
In October of the year 2002 of the Common Era, I received Your Social Security Statement, Prepared especially for Walter Q. Davidson, signed by Jo Anne B. Barnhart, Commissioner of the United States of America Social Security Administration. I am duly informed that, if I become disabled now, I have already earned enough credits to qualify for $1,111 per month in disability payments.
The way I see it, that figure in itself is a rather occult number, something more than a “mere coincidence.” On the other hand, if I want until I am sixty-two, my monthly payment would be about $739, or, at seventy, $980, with two big IFs: IF I continue working, and, IF my earnings continue at the present rate. The Two IFs are problematic: first of all, I am not working; secondly, I have been unemployed, meaning that I have been looking for work, since 1997. My dear reader can well imagine why the disability “if” would be more appealing to me even IF I were working, and even more so after considering that the official worker’s benefit figures will fall drastically after the Bush Administration reforms the social security system. But I did not apply for disability because I did not believe I was disabled at the time.
But I began to have my doubts after it dawned on me that I lived in apartment number 1908. Furthermore, despite my excellent references, I have only obtained two job interviews out of 2,467 applications in the past five years.
Perhaps I have been mentally disabled for some time now. Therefore I figure it is a good idea to write out this confession in order to pull my thoughts together into some kind of whole that might be certifiably sane or insane enough to qualify for some income. The only reservation I have at this point is that a semblance of sanity might disqualify me for disability benefits before I find a job, and that would leave me sleeping in the park of a paradise notorious for its meanness to homeless people.
Where was I? Oh, you see, one day I had a big fit and threw away my perfect part-time job in Manhattan. I was mad because I wanted to be somebody. But I was somebody, and now I know I just didn’t know it at the time. I had then everything I want back now. But it doesn’t do me any good to know all this now. What’s the difference? History is always a mistake! It always could have been better, so why rub salt in the wound? Quitting that job was virtual suicide and I knew it when I did it, and I probably would do it all over again in accordance with the Groundhog Day Doctrine, knowing fully well it would be a great mistake.
“Don’t do this! It’s suicide!” I yelled at myself. The president came up to me at the fax machine the next morning. He figured I had acted hastilly due to pressures around the office, and that I and would take my resignation back. I should have done just that, and I wanted to. Instead, I disobeyed myself and shoved several more pages of embittered resignation in his face, then I insulted his main man, a very nice guy except that he was a corporate type who looked like our current vice-president, Cheney. Nothing is good enough for me, I guess, especially success.
I’m getting off the track again. Maybe the track is the problem. Try wait! Something hit me, about quitting my job. I used to be a nicotine fiend a few years before I quit that job, and I also guzzled beer every evening. I quit smoking. What a drag quitting was! But I’m glad I did; I don’t want a drag now; the very idea of smoking is repulsive in its absurdity – smokers are fools! Then I quit drinking beers. I’ve been years without beers. I have no physical craving, but I still feel like I’ve lost man’s best friend – I watch Leaving Las Vegas at least four times a year. After I quit my cushy day job – a job that had allowed me to dabble in several arts before heading to the nightclubs and to still save something for retirement – I was offered a tax-avoiders dream-job in a banana republic. My stuff was already shipped out. I quit that job before I started it, then I quit Manhattan and flew to Paradise. Why? To take up writing, my first and foremost love.
When I arrived in Paradise, the subtropical clime smelled like death. “This is suicide!” I exclaimed at the airport. I panicked, and almost bought a ticket back. Rick and Lynn picked me up. Rick talked real estate, and pointed out a condiminium complex next to a golf course. “Tombstones!” I thought, “Oh my God! What a great place to die! This is the living end!” My apartment building, by the way, is across the street from a cemetery.
I almost headed back to the City, the only city worthy of the noun, but I figured Leaving New York is like quitting smoking: one has to stick with it, practice it like a piano until the quitting is perfected. But there is something I wanted to say here – I should have made a note of it …. Yes, quitting may be the key verb that could unlock my social security benefits, so I’ll make a note of it here… but no, then I’ll forget it again… oh, never mind that. What was I thinking? Paradise is pretty parochial, not the best place for an outsider to get a perfect part-time job or even a full-time job, but it is a great place to practice quitting in excellent weather. Good grief, that’s it! I’ve become a quitter! I wonder if that’s a mental disability that would qualify me for $1,111 per month?
Now that I think of it, there’s is something else I quit. I quit the world! I’m not really here, or not that often anyway. If I am a quitter, all quitters are not lazy. I am a busy quitter, busy escaping the so-called real world in order to work in the mental field. Studying and writing, that’s about all I do, and I do it a dozen hours a day, so I am not so lazy, except for marketing, a place where I fall down. I can often be found devising, revising and mailing out peculiar resumes and unique job-query letters, but I seldom try to market my profuse mental effusions as such because that would defeat my purpose!
I am laughing now: maybe sanity is being restored? No, that’s not it: I always laugh at my own jokes and seldom get the other jokes, the ones people like, the ethnic ones, the vulgar ones, about some color or sex organ or orifice….
Excuse me, is any one reading this? Maybe my double or a social security official or a psychiatrist? Does my dear reader see how easily I am distracted by free association? Where is the thread out of this confounding labyrinth?
Here’s something. I live in the mental field, mostly, in an infinite and timeless sphere, sort of. I regret to confess that I missed both job interviews because I got my days mixed up. I often do not know the the correct name or date of the present day, and when I think I do, I am often proven wrong. Further, on some day last week, I don’t remember which, I automatically went to the cafeteria for lunch. I was thinking about 1908 as I ate my usual meal. I went to the bathroom, and when I returned I could not remember where I had been sitting, where I had left my valuable things, so I had to ask people if they had seen me. How embarassing that was! It happened again in the library: I came out of the stacks and could not remember where I had been sitting. I determined that would never happen again: I keep my notebook and pen with me now at all times. And I made a note that, when I become successful again, to hire a secretary to tell me what day it is, where I am, and where I am going.
The library reminds me of what led me to believe I might be plumb mad. I was browsing the reference section last year, and Longmans, Green, and Company’s The Annual Register, A Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad for the Year 1908 caught my eye. I delved into the volumn and was compelled to write my own book about the major events of 1908. Of course the problem with the major events of 1908 is that they cannot be understood unless the major events of the years before 1908 are examined. And all the events about the globe are related, or must be related if one is to make a coherent statement about them. To further complicate matters, the salient events protrude from a background of a virtually infinite number of minor events, insignificant in themselves, but often by chance necessary for such things as a successful coup d’etat. For instance, if a bug had not bitten Napolean’s face, causing him to scratch it and to inadvertently draw blood, his soldiers would not have been incensed, thinking he had been assaulted, and would not have rushed into the assembly to defend his honor. And that bug had a prodigious impact on the events of 1908.
The more I studied the chronicles, the more obsessed I became with 1908. I proceeded to write furiously about each major event as if there were no tomorrow. Before I knew it, I had already written a book without a plan to it, so I decided to entitle my book 1908. But I could not stop there. No matter which subject I took up, whether it be the Lisbon Assassination, the Kaiser’s Daily Telegraph Interview, the London Suffragettes, and what not, I did not foresee the complexity of the task before me, and the chapters grew into books – yes, at least one book would be required for each major event, and that just to scratch the surface. It was not that I was like the novice historian who preoccupies himself with writing down what every historian before him had written down. No, I was convinced that I saw everything in a different light altogether, and from a unique universal perspective, a grand point of view that illuminated everything including the political policies of the Bush Administration. Who says past history is irrelevant to today? Numbskulls, that’s who.
Now I must confess that I began to suspect that my addictive personality was misleading me again, and that I should quit writing about 1908 if I wanted to really be somebody. Maybe a millionaire novelist – hell, I could write a couple of best-sellers every year if I got addicted to writing so-called fiction. Anyhow, I paused one day in 1908, in the middle of a Berlin beer hall, and said to myself, “Damn, I could write one of the best short stories ever written in the time it takes me to get a few historical facts straight!” Yet, like Frederick the Great, I persisted with my Prussian agenda.
After that sojourn in historicism, where each moment is equally near the divine plan, I took up in earnest one of the greatest gaffes of the twentieth century, the Kaiser’s 1908 Daily Telegraph Interview. Someone back then called it an “incredible mistake”, so I decided to entitle my chapter on the subject ‘The Incredible Mistake.’ My psychoanalytical readers may already know what was to come: I plunged into my subject and was submerged by ‘The Incredible Mistake.’ Before I knew it, I had traced it back to Hermann’s defeat of Varus after Varus crossed the Rhine in the year 9 of our Common Era.
Again I am getting off track. I am about to lose myself in My Incredible Mistake. Yes, mine. Somehow, perhaps by the power of suggestion, the German Emperor’s Incredible Mistake had transmogrified itself into My Incredible Mistake. And what a discombobulated mess I had on my hands! A ream of my own indiscreet ramblings interspersed with lengthy quotes from memorable memoirs – and I do not even speak German.
Something within me shouted, “Quit! Throw away that trash, write a novel, better yet, get a billboard and a tin can full of rolled up resumes, go downtown, beg for a job, get a life!”
Well, I was once advised by a professional writer that being a good writer is knowing what to throw away, and that is half of everything. I threw away the best half of my life, but I did not know that it was the best, so I try to forgive myself. So now I never throw away anything I write: I just put the clippings in another file for future reference and for amusing stories and brilliant essays. I began to trim ‘The Incredible Mistake’ and managed to fashion something coherent out of it, but then I got sidetracked by the Pan-German League, and off I went into a 14,000-word paragraph!
But enough about the writing process, as I don’t want to be one of those writers who have nothing better to talk about than writing. There is only one how to write as far as I am concerned, and that is with love. Now the point was, the point is….
Excuse me, I think I’ve gone plumb mad trying to plumb the depth of things. ‘The Incredible Mistake’ and its interminable continuation has taken up a couple of months of precious time. Precious because I am almost flat broke. If I want to survive I suppose I must leave Paradise, a great place to escape in order to write, and return to the rat race. I’m talented and skilled, I have been and I could still be a great ass to money-mongering people – but here in Paradise they throw they throw away my resumes. I think if I return to Manhattan the Jews will save me again – they understand what I am going through.
Me taking a full-time, multi-task-position in a fast-paced company would be a great loss to un-hyphenated literature, I’m sure, but what else can a self-motivated, goal-oriented, computer-friendly man do? Maybe I am disabled. $1,111 per month in disability benefits would get me to my goal, to be one of the best writers the world has ever known by 2008. Then I would gratefully pay plenty of taxes. Yes, 2008.
2008! What a coincidence! Eight plus Two equals Ten! Then ONE. That reminds me of what I wanted to say, how my apartment number 1908 led me to think I had gone plumb mad. Although I had had a few doubts about 1908, I still could not quit writing about 1908. Yesterday, while walking home, I asked myself, “What is it about 1908? Why 1908?” Then, on the elevator to the nineteenth floor, I experienced some anxiety over the rent. “If I cannot pay rent, it will be difficult if not impossible to continue writing. Maybe I should just jump out the window if the sheriff comes to evict me,” I reasoned. But not to worry, I am a melodramatic thinker, it’s not going to happen, because I already wrote about it.
I got off the elevator and put my key in the door. As I opened it, I noticed the number attached thereto:
“Holy Smokes! I’ve never noticed that before! I am writing about the year 1908, and I live in apartment number 1908. Wow, that’s heavy. There is something mystical going on. Add the digits, add again, get 10, the perfect Ten! Add again, get 1, the ONE. Awesome.” [Hairs on end. Goosebumps. Flashbacks!]
A few minutes later, the magic was gone. “I must be plumb mad,” I speculated. “Why didn’t I notice that the number of my favorite year was also my apartment number? I think I’ve lost it. My writings are probably ravings and people do not let me know because they know that’s all I have, all that I am. Maybe I qualify for that $1,111 per month after all.”
2003 Kansas City, Missouri