Tuesday, January 6, 2009

THE COLD
by
Jeffrey Tischauser


The day started and it was cold. The wintry winds pound against the shutters, awaking even those whose hearts still sleep. At this hour only Franklin’s robotic tendencies curiously arise. Outlandishly fooling his body with promises of continued peace, his brain tries to find the cause of the racket. The blasted clanks; the dreaded bangs, awaken his darkest desire to remain under covers, free of work; free of cold.

Franklin lays in bed under three faded down covers and a reckless quilt, stained from years of smoking and sex, but also love. Stitched by his grandmother, the light green quilt is outlined with a narrow white line, accentuating the quilt’s patchwork. Several four leaf clovers, lined with yellow, dot his only heirloom that matters. His quilt helps him presuppose that life can be different, after all it once was.

Franklin has ambition, but always needs a push. Worst still, he has been plagued since birth with a terrific ability to analyze situations, people, and history. A born intellectual goaded by brilliant parents and siblings, he continually asks questions: “Why this? Why that?” But because there are usually no concrete answers, Franklin, since he first heard them on the playground, likes to use words fit for a sailor to express his displeasure.

After graduating college, nothing makes sense. All he has to look forward to is work for the next forty years and extending his apathetic mood is the morning cold. Of course there are other less prevalent pressures that cause him pain, but forging new ground in his intra-personal dilemmas is never a good way to start the morning, especially when Franklin realizes it’s snowing again. Franklin pokes his head above the window frame to get a better look. The wind is strong. All that is visible is a clutter of white. The wind, picking-up the snow already on the ground, violently flings it upwards, colliding it with snow Falling from the sky. Visibility, while driving to work, becomes something else to worry about.
Franklin prepares to dismount his bed, but stops. The feel of air early in the morning is his pet-peeve, an utter annoyance that is slowly destroying his life. Why should Franklin care about waking-up? But like a machine, he wakes up on-demand. Usually it’s the cacophony of a loud and persistent BEEP, but today it’s the determination of God – or so it seems.

Franklin asks, “The shutters, why do they bang against the house?”
But he knows the answer. It’s the weather. For two days, a sheet of ice and a blanket of snow fell outside his window. He went to bed and it was 5 degrees outside, with a negative 10 degree wind chill. Waking up, it was more of the same.
So, the weather is the culprit, Franklin thinks to himself. The blasted weather, with its inhumane treatment of humanity. Doesn’t the weather know it’s not natural for humans to live like this?

As a child, Franklin thought of developing a weather controlling device, complete with matching see-through eyeglasses, but funding fell through. The damn satellite cost 10 million dollars.

When he thought of this scheme he knew deep in his heart something more than weather was at work. By pondering the weather, Franklin was pondering faith. As a youth, he poured his energy into Christianity but was always open-minded. Faith is faith, he thought, whether worshiping God or the Sun – anything that helps calm the soul. When he was 13, Franklin developed an ingenious scheme to control people’s thoughts, thus controlling the weather.

He started this mission on a blustery winter evening. It was late October in Chicago, just before his 14th birthday. He asked himself, “Why does God hate me? It’s like for six months out of the year, I am shitted on continually. The wind is always cold and unbearable, the skies are always dreary and miserable. It’s fucking October! San Diego is straight right now, why not Chicago? What about a break, I’m turning 14, I just started high school. Broads are always easier in warm weather, you know what my Dad says…he says he learned it from you. I don’t know what to believe anymore, why the constant bad weather? Are you trying to ruin my life?”
“Don’t you know weather has a control over us,” Franklins says. “If we’re built in your image, doesn’t that make you subject to weather’s ruses. Snow, slush, and ice create assholes. I’m no exception. Are you? Waiting in traffic or lines, being accidentally shoved by someone on the street, and sitting through a boring class all create more drama in winter. I’m cold, my socks are wet, and I got Mr. Jackass talking to me about square roots. When do I need to know the square root of anything? Fuck that, fuck this…whoever or whatever controls the physical world, sure loves fucking with people…motherfuckers.”

Franklin shied away from Christianity after this realization, but his faith in something more than this world remained. His faith was piqued by the changing seasons. He got interested in nature and physics. But living in Chicago he only sees summer and winter.

Franklin states, “Sure it can be 70 degrees with no humidity in late April, which gives the plants a moment to bloom and time for trees to grow leaves. But within a day its muggy, humidity does its dance to human behavior, and I start sweating in the shade. Summers are bogus. Winters are cruel, barley long enough to appreciate the reds and oranges of the leaves and the glow of the Sun.”
Franklin thinks to himself, the Sun is incredible in the Fall. It leaves an awesome haze and reddish mark whatever it shines.

Because the world is moving through space, around the Sun, the Sun’s position in the sky changes, causing new seasons. Franklin loves to picture the Earth’s orbit in his head. Franklin likes the Sunlight in the Fall the best. It reminds him of the end of Shawshank Redemption when Red makes his way to the short rock fence under the tall oak tree and finds Andy’s letter. Franklin wishes he lived during this time, before computer technology was everywhere, back when Andy or Red would have taken him on a ride in a sailboat rather than a yacht. Not being able to enjoy the Fall pisses Franklin off. And it begs him to ask, “Why?”

“Why have a place in the world that only sees two extremes,” Franklin asked days before his 14th birthday? “Why do people seem to like it, I mean the city itself has 3 million Ice-fuckers in it. It’s not an accident. People are put in Chicago for a reason.” After a moment and a sigh, Franklin’s says his last thought on the matter, a thought that he always had but never could think because it was always beyond words, even as simple as the words are: “People are put here for a reason.”
Upon speaking these words, Franklin eyes’ perked up, a buzz began to surround his body, gently shocking his gut with slow and pulsating warmth. “Why make a place in the world with only two seasons if people are put here on purpose? We’re created out of the image of God. We’re effected by weather. God is effected by weather. Weather is the answer. Weather, weather, weather. Location is pointless for real estate. It’s about whether or not your property is going to get hit by a hurricane.” Franklin thinks to himself, Yeah! Yeah! That’s it!

“I’m gong to create a satellite that beams positive energy into the atmosphere. All I need is a device that allows me to transmit my voice to a satellite and back down anywhere in the world. My voice is part of my soul like my nose or ears and language is power, just like my eyes. That’s it then. I’m going to study computer science, develop a contraption that transmits voice without wires by using satellites to bounce my voice around the world. It’s going to be great. I can talk positively anywhere. Spreading my energy through the clouds to shed light, ha!”
The next day he watched Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell pull a machine off his belt, a machine that Zack used to talk to someone far away – a cell phone. Ok, thought Franklin, that probably costs something like $800. I’ll get a paper route. Now all I need is a satellite. Shouldn’t be too much.

With a hint of mad scientist in his eyes, Franklin scrambled to the yellow pages, looks up NASA, and dials the number.
“1,” click, “8,’ click click click click, “0,” click click click click click, “damn rotary phone. They’re so stupid,” Franklin says with petulance.
“7,” click click click, “finally.”
“You got NASA, how can I direct your call?”
“Oh hi. Can I get research and development,” Franklins asks?
“Here’ya’go.” The phone rings once and a friendly motherly voice answers.
“Hello, research and development, how can I direct your call?”
“Yeah, can you research how much it costs to build a satellite? I need one for a project.”

“Wait, hold on. What did you just say?”
“I need a satellite to change the world, I don’t know how to build one. How much do they cost?”
“Well, I don’t really know, I just answer the phones. Is this for a school project or something?”
“No, it’s a personal goal.”
“Oh, ok. Let’s see, I just pulled up the database on the units put into orbit last year,” the secretary says sarcastically, dropping her motherly tone for that of a whore. “The last two cost $10 mil each, that’s 9 zeros and a 1… or reach-arounds for life, depending on the channels you go through to procure your machine. You like the cock, huh? Kid, stop messing with me and get another goal.”
“Fine, fuck you too! I’ll just make one myself,” Franklin says while hanging up.
From that day forth, Franklin studied computer science, physics, and astronomy. He went to M.I.T. He failed out. He became to enamored in philosophy after taking a course in linguistics. He stopped talking and only used symbols to communicate, not a great way to pass the general education requirements.
He started talking thereafter and was accepted to UC Berkley as a philosophy major. Franklin studied the greats: Kant, Voltaire, Locke, Spinoza and got interested in human behavior. He read Freud; Marx. And fell in love with justice and happiness. “What is joy? What is freedom?” These questions still haunt him. For answers, he turned to the Frankfurt School, but doubt remained. “Marcuse, Habermas, and Fromm, where do I stand, why am I here,” he demanded after a binge of personal reflection. He just turned 21.

At 22, he graduated with accolades. “Terrific and insightful” is how his professor’s described him to his parents. His papers were always well thought-out and well sourced. But after graduating, he had no where to go. A void appeared. “How can I use my talents and get paid,” he asked his Father?
“Look for jobs in PR and marketing,” he was told. He looked on Craigslist with a cringe in his stomach.

“I don’t want to sell myself to a bullshit cause, I don’t wan to drive people to buy more shit. We have too much, while people around the world starve,” he cried.
“Son, work is work. You need to pay the bills,” answered his father.
He ended up finding a job as a research writer for an investment bank. He develops business plans and market research reports for his clients. He helps the rich stay rich. What makes it worse, he gets paid pennies compared to the people who crunched the numbers and assess value of a company or a stock – the analytical side of the business. Since getting this job, Franklin’s ambition has evaporated. The only thing that keeps him going is his unhappiness. It motivates him to try new things, but how can he leave a pretty easy job with an okay salary. The job market is fierce.
On that note, Franklin crawls back into bed.

The wait to get out of bed is the best part of Franklin’s day. Besides keeping him warm for a few more moments, it’s the only time when Franklin has full autonomy over his life. The mucky routine of going to work, grad school, running errands, paying bills, fixing dinner, going to bars, interacting with friends, family, strangers, becomes less of a hassle each time Franklin realizes he can stop anytime by not getting out of bed. He fights with himself each day. There are no right answers or wrong answers, just opinions versus experiences.
“Work sucks,” barks Franklin. “My boss treats me like I’m an idiot, But being broke sucks.”

With these thoughts steering the way, he delights himself with new reasons to stay in bed.
“Maybe if I shit myself it would be easier to call my boss and tell’em I’m sick. It’s gotta be hard to sound fake with a giant turd in my pants.” Yet, no matter what rationality he concocts, Franklin always chooses responsibility over madness.
Franklin eases himself out of bed, the cold air hits his chest sending a rush through his spine; his eyes blink frantically as he unconsciously tries to keep them moist in the dry air. Rushing to heat up the coffee, Franklin adjusts his posture, his nagging back, worse than his nagging mother, drives him crazy. Trying to remedy his pains his doctor urged better posture, but this takes work. He has no time to waste on old habits or gray lonely days when cares and feelings are at their remotest; often it’s on those days where Franklin is not mindful of his posture or health.

The kitchen is where Franklin spends the least time, evident by the stack of dirty plates and dirty laundry strewn about. His laundry, thrown onto his kitchen table in a caustic fury three days after his terrific accomplishment became moot, reminds Franklin of the cider made from moldy apples his Uncle used to give him as a child. The cider always caused Franklin to vomit profusely. Similar to the stench of his dirty clothes, Franklin never stopped his Uncle from fooling him, submitting himself to his Uncle’s static ruse year after year gave meaning to an otherwise pointless existence—what else was certain in life? The dirty cloths remain inert, just like his Uncle’s joke, nothing evolving or fixing the problem, just acceptance. Franklin looks at his job the same way.

After a shower and three cups of pumpkin spice coffee, Franklin finds himself at his mirror. The naked body gives way to memories. He remembers his coach during the big game, the way his cap finally fell to the ground after years of trying moments and uneasy anticipation. His hat always arched to the brim of his head finally let go as Franklin dodged three defenders to take state. He remembers his traveling days. Rekindling his wanderlust, he thinks of the red cottage near the river Spree. How he searched his way through Europe, from town to town, finally meeting eyes with the most distinguished looking home in his life. Perched atop a clearing at the end of a dirt road off of the river, the house stood at attention. A sprawling field of yellow and blue daffilods in its foreground accentuated its red charm. The rolling hills in the distance, layered with towering Ginkgos and Oaks, gave way to tremendous snow covered mountains. The reflection off the terrifyingly glisining river was unforgettable. The house looked glorious in the autumn air, Franklin’s favorite picture.

He stumbled upon the house by chance. Reading the map wrong, Franklin thought he was heading to a riverfront hotel. His initial reaction as he passed around the bend is unforgettable. He stopped, flung his arms into the air, quickly dropping them to his side with a violent twirl, screaming “holy shit,” to which another lost youth, standing under a tree at the side of the road, replied, “You should see it from the other side! I think...”
“How do I get there, where’s the bridge” Franklin interjects.
“Follow this road around the bend. It starts by that huge tree. A bridge made from rocks. The river is shallow enough to get across, just don’t get swept away by the current.”

“Where, I don’t see a bend,” says Franklin.
Pointing his life away, the youth stretches with such fury his bleach white arms turn dark red. Franklin notices the youth’s eyes don’t blink. For what seems like ten minutes, the traveler doesn’t move, but slowly he reveals a sinister grin, highlighting his grey and pointy teeth; black tar gums. The young man’s expression turns lifeless, his face drops, his eyes close, he breathes deep, gasping, as if these were his last breaths, he says, “What are you doing here anyway, this is a private road.”

The youth makes his way toward Franklin, a blackening aura, almost a mist, follows his footsteps as he eases closer to Franklin. The Sun is setting a harsh reddish glow across the young man’s grey skin, hollow eyes, and elongated arms.
“It’s amazing here, but over there is bar-none the best, you get to see the entire mountain range in the background. Are you headed to the Inn, if so I can walk you there?”
“I would rather not. Thanks for your help, but a Falling tree does not make a sound without anyone present.”
The youth looks curiously. As if begging himself to leave, his legs start to twitch; he grins. “You’re the one who talked to me first. You didn’t even give me a chance to explain who I am.” Walking briskly away, the youth turns his head in frustration, his eyes flaring red.
“By myself I am static,” Franklin responds, “relative to nothing, not even time. I will pass through myself. I mean no disrespect.”
Without turning around the youth shouts, “We will see about that....We will see about that!”

Franklin snaps out of his daze, coming to attention after knowing he can never have that type of freedom again. He looks in the mirror over his right shoulder into the closet thinking about what to wear today.

Jeffrey Tischauser teaches Speech and Mass Media at Triton College and work as a Freelance Business Writer.