See the moon?

See the moon?
Photo by Beth Fitzpatrick

The famous eclipse from the newspaper and TV and phone was closing in hour by hour and all day I had been having this intrusive thought that I was going to stare directly at it raw even though I didn’t want to do that for obvious reasons. Like the little ghost that dances up your spine as the subway is pulling into the station.

About 30 minutes before curtain I walked out of the gym (which I go to regularly by the way) and here were a number of people in the parking lot all looking up in chorus at the big idiot sky and so I did the most natural thing in the world the most obvious instinctive thing before catching myself at the last second like come on man. 

Next I walked over to the grocery store staring straight down at the ground with every footfall like Charlie Brown and I emerged a grocery store’s time later with two fistfuls of food bags and you can probably guess what happened again. 

It wasn’t yet spring but the puberty of spring and the pollen was beating my ass in and I had to sneeze so badly but it wouldn’t take and there was only one thing I could think of to do. 

I considered googling the most humiliating phrase I have ever thought of which is “how do you sneeze” but I knew I’d have to spelunk through five pages of ad chum and AI-generated horse shit before I learned anything real so I just sucked it up and stood there not sneezing and inspecting the integrity of the pavement. 

I had been taking potions lately to be able to sleep and to shit which was shameful to me because those are two of the most famous things that mammals can do without even worrying about it so adding sneezing to my rap sheet felt like a hat on a hat. 

I glanced up about 45 degrees at the electrical poles draped with buzzing wires and felt the new absence of birds. The world felt like walking into what you thought was a dark empty house just before a surprise party explodes.

I turned the ignition of the car and turned the radio on in the car and they had reporters on talking about how it all looked in Mexico and then north and east up the path of totality city by city in a diagonal fashion and I’m sorry but radio seemed like an inefficient medium for this particular phenomenon. I listened anyway because anything is better than one single second of silence. 

A fucking traffic jam pulling out of the shopping complex of course. Like before a blizzard. Everyone knew logically that it wasn’t the end of the world but that would be what we would think right before the end of the world isn’t it? Not accepting it.

Better to go out with a fridge full of milk than the alternative in any case. 

On the drive home I saw the guys at the townie machine shop standing outside in their welding helmets looking up at the sky and playing grabass and punching each other in the dick and all of that. Delighted like little boys. 

Like everyone else I had read Annie Dillard’s essay Total Eclipse earlier. 

“I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on Earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte.”

Powerful stuff to be sure it mostly made me think about another great piece of literature. 

"The sky was gold, it was rose, I was taking sips of it through my nose, and I wish I could get back there, someplace back there, in the place we used to start."

None of those words from either work of art applied to my situation here today in Massachusetts as far as concerns the eclipse but it would have been pretty cool if they had. 

I got an alert and I looked at it at the stop light at the fucked up intersection where I will be killed and die one day. It was my sister texting the family one of those filter image things where it’s supposed to show you what you’re going to look like in twenty or thirty years and here she was as an old lady with the thin white hair and sagging skin and liver spots and all of that and I texted her you can’t be thinking about that kind of thing yet my dear sister.

You have to just find out later. 

It felt to me like reading the Wikipedia summary of a horror movie because you are too scared to sit through it. 

A lot of people are intrigued by the idea of knowing the exact day it will be when they die but I don’t even want to know what happens five minutes from now. 

At home my neighbor was outside looking up at the sky and I said babababa or whatever you say and she offered her glasses to me and I didn't really give a shit but also didn't want to be rude and so I took them and looked up and sure enough there was the whole thing right where they said it was going to be almost happening. It was getting cold now and so I was getting cold and I looked up for what I assumed would be long enough to be polite both to her and to the majesty of creation and then a couple seconds longer and said to her wow looks like it’s all coming together and she said right?

I am in possession of the exact amount of instinctual awe over the wonders of the universe that I am supposed to be. How small we all are etcetera. Meaningless in the grand scale of it all. But if I’m being honest and this is just between you and I it was all amounting to a kind of a jack off situation this eclipse. We weren’t really getting the full thing here in this neck of the woods to be fair. More of a touring company production than the original Broadway cast. 

Inside on the TV the news was bouncing around from city to city and interviewing people about how crazy it all was and I sat there for a while and watched people somewhere else watching the sky act weird and then outside of my window I noticed a bunch of people from the neighborhood had gathered. They were standing together looking at you know what and I thought I had better go see what had developed. 

There were some older folks from up the road and a couple of young families and I said hey pretty cool huh to a few of the neighborhood kids and I thought that they don’t know what the world is yet. They don’t know anything is bad yet. Or worse maybe they do. One of them said do you want to look and handed me her glasses and my eclipse Grinch heart grew two sizes. She said they were kind of broken and I thought oh great I’m gonna go blind right here in front of everyone on the block just so some kid doesn’t think I’m a pussy and I held them up to my eyes and everything went black until I could find what I was looking for and there it was. We all looked and looked and I drank it in and at long last I finally sneezed.

God bless you one of the kids said.

Hey check it out. 33% off one year's subscription to Hell World the newsletter you like to read. What a deal!

This week in Florida Ron DeSantis signed a pair of bills meant to address the state's fentanyl problem. One in particular – "Exposures of First Responders to Fentanyl" SB 718 – is designed to "make sure that the people that wear the uniform are protected," he said on Monday.

That sounds very nice but what it means in practice is that you can now be charged with a second degree felony if a police officer has a panic attack and/or pretends to be overdosing if they vaguely come into contact with fentanyl in your possession during an encounter.

"If an officer says 'Do you have drugs in your possession,' and you lie, and then the officer ends up getting exposed and harmed, we're gonna throw the book at you, and we're gonna hold you accountable," DeSantis said. Standing with him at the press conference was Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo who I would like to believe, being a doctor, knows that cops being harmed by being somewhere in the vicinity of fentanyl is straight up bullshit but who knows how they do things down there.

"The bill says the only evidence needed to bring charges is if the first responder receives medical care. It does not require a drug test to confirm an overdose or the presence of drugs," the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

"This new Florida law makes it a crime for an officer to have a panic attack if he thinks there's fentanyl near you," Brandon del Pozo, an assistant professor of Medicine and Health Services at Brown and former cop tweeted. "Its threshold is literally that an officer receives medical care for symptoms related panicking about fentanyl; no proof of exposure needed."

"You read this right," Dr. Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist who spends a lot of time trying to disabuse people of the myths about fentanyl exposure added. "In Florida you will be charged with felony assault if someone else has an anxiety reaction near you. The law doesn’t require them to prove you did anything to them, just that they didn’t feel good around you."

Me and Zachary Siegel wrote about this phenomenon of obvious cop lying a while back.

The cops and local news won’t stop lying about fentanyl
Cops lie

"None of which is to say that fentanyl isn’t actually dangerous when used..." I wrote.

"It’s just that it quite simply does not attack you like a sentient alien molecule riding on the air from host body to host body as the cops would have us believe. The reason they want us to believe it does is obvious to anyone reading this but just to lay it out anyway the more dangerous the job of a cop appears and the more that idea is laundered through the media the harder it becomes for people to push back against anything they say or do never mind get anywhere remotely near something like defunding them."

"But bringing facts and science to a viral news story like this is like bringing a super soaker to put out a burning house," Siegel wrote about one particularly viral news story about an Ohio cop "overdosing."

"These stories go viral because the facts and science don’t matter. What matters is the story, perhaps the singular story that the entire political spectrum of the American mainstream media, which ranges from the right wing all the way to the slightly less right wing, can agree upon, which is this: Cops risk their lives every day to save drug users from addiction. And to save the rest of us from whatever they might do as a result of those addictions. Editors everywhere are more than happy to run with this line simply because it must be true that drugs are bad and cops are good."

Similar bills are making their way through the legislatures in West Virginia and Tennessee as we speak!

On the topic of opioids, Philip Eil's book Prescription for Pain: How a Once-Promising Doctor Became the "Pill Mill Killer", which I excerpted in here recently, is out now. Check it out.

Prescription for Pain
One of the most notorious pill mill doctors of the opioid epidemic

This poor son of a bitch just about gave me a heart attack – a real one not the cop kind – when it came loping weird out of nowhere toward me when I was sitting outside yesterday.


I actually said to the fox – in the seconds where I hadn't recognized that it was a fox just yet – what the hell are you? I spoke to the fox then I hoped none of my neighbors heard me doing that.

Foxes are very small.

A Creature Wanting Form

In any case we called Animal Control – or rather called the cops on the fox because that's what you have to do here – and they said that they had heard of him already.

He was known to police as they say.

That reminded me of this piece I wrote for Esquire back when I was about to turn 40 and having certain feelings about it in which I called the cops on a bird. I think the piece holds up. Check it out if you never read it.

Am I Really 40?

he neurologist told me my back looked a lot older than I am. The room was cold, and his desk was surprisingly large, more like the ornate, rich wood of a lawyer's office than what you'd expect in an otherwise stark examination room. "A herniated disc is pressing up against a nerve," he told me, which explains my inability to make it through the day without guzzling ibuprofen or sneaking off in public spaces to perform yoga stretches. "Two other discs show signs of deterioration," he said, gesturing toward the squiggly blur of my MRI, my eyes glazing over in the way they do when someone produces a chart displaying information you'd rather not have.

I'll be 40 years old on Friday, and the failure of one's body to operate is a predictable truth. To be fair, my back hurt at 30 as well. It hurt even more at 20, when a weightlifting mishap took me off my feet for a week, and then had me tottering around the steep hills of my college campus with a cane I managed to convince myself added a certain air of mystery. No matter, I climbed the hills to class. I made it to the pool to swim when running was no longer an option. I gained the 25 pounds anyway. Then, over time, I lost it.

People will ask you how you feel about turning 40. Younger people, mostly, because the ones who arrived before you don't need to be told. I wave it off when I'm asked now. It is nothing, I say. It is not a thing. It's just a number, and besides, I've never had much interest in math.

When you're young, pain seems like a problem that can be solved. In middle age, pain of any kind, physical or emotional, is instead the convergence of a series of inevitabilities. Not a mountain to be crested, but a valley to settle into, a place that may not be as nice as you had imagined, but one where you nonetheless arrange the furniture just so.

I don't remember much about my childhood anymore. Looking at the newspaper clipping I dug out today, it seems one plan was to stop biting my nails. "I'd like to stop because it makes them hurt," I had said. That, like many things, has not gone according to plan. But there's a story my mother often tells about me as a boy. We came across a dying mouse in the driveway, nearly broken in half, but still struggling for air; I couldn't comprehend the injustice of it. I was reminded of it this week, on a path I usually run along by the Charles River—an activity my doctor has instructed me to avoid—where one of the hundreds of geese that nest and shit and squawk nearby sat motionless in the grass, its head turned inward on its plump body, deathly still. I couldn't be sure if it was suffering or merely resting; the difference is often imperceptible.

When I got back, I called Animal Control to see if there was something that could be done, but they didn't answer. So I called the police instead. People often ask what you might tell your younger self about what to expect, and I guess if I had the chance now I would say that some day, you will call the cops on a bird because you don't know what else to do.

The next day on my run I found the goose in the same spot I had left it. It was standing up now, not going anywhere. The authorities never showed up I suppose, or else they did, and determined the big dumbass was going to make it after all.

People ask me what it feels like to turn 40, and I'd like to be able to tell them, but I don't know yet. I can tell them what it's like to be 39, which is to say, to have lived through the single worst year of my life, a cavalcade of calamities personal and otherwise, many authored by my own callous hand, that feels like it should have been Entirely Too Much, but as of press time hasn't got me yet. Life isn't a journey. It's the act of curating a museum only you can visit, one where the animals and artifacts might come to life when you turn your back. What's worse is when they do not.

It was raining when we gathered by the bay on Cape Cod earlier this year to contend with my father's ashes, the long suffering bastard. About a dozen of us, a collection of ex-wives and far-flung children and a remaining friend or two. We walked down onto the rocks, and I was nervous that my sister would fall into the ocean. Each took turns sharing a fond memory or a goofy story, in the way you do when you're conjuring the humanity of the dead. But I said nothing, my comparative pain placing me lower in the pecking order of grieving than the rest. In the distance, a bridge loomed through the fog, clogged as ever with traffic, with people setting out to someplace else.

I tried to explain to a couple of 20-something dudes at a bar the other night what they could expect from getting older. They had not asked. "You'll have to grow accustomed to eating shit," I said. I was drunk, and I don't even know that I believed what I was saying, but I wanted to momentarily interrupt their hateful innocence. "Behold, the ghost of hipster future," I moaned. They were polite, because you listen to your elders. And then when they're gone, you forget everything they told you.

Being older is merely having read further along in the book, or finished bingeing a season of the series. The people behind you don't want to hear what comes next, and at any rate, even if they did, there isn't much they could do to change things. There are only so many variations on the plot.

The neurologist asked me what kind of writing I do, and I stammered, as I always do, at the answer, trying to make it sound in the vicinity of important, but not so that it seemed I thought too much of myself. "I went to the White House the other day," I told him. "Yes, yes, it was quite a thing." He's very good at what he does, this doctor. He performed back surgery on my wife earlier in the year, when she was felled by a sudden immobilizing pain similar to mine. He cut her open and pieced her back together, and she walked away from it intact in the long run. Not the same as she was, mind you, but enough to begin again. There was a bright scar on her lower back that has dulled over the past few months, so it's harder to see, but I know where to find it when I'm reaching over in the dark.

The neurologist brought my attention back to the MRI, dusky and muted on the computer screen. "Let's not do surgery," he said. "Sometimes, over time, these things can heal themselves," he said. The body has a way of absorbing the herniated disc back into the … something or other. I wasn't listening to his advice, because I already knew what I was always going to do anyway.

"Okay," I told him, thankful to be able to put things off, to forestall the uncertainty of decisive action in favor of the familiar. I looked at that image and thought about what it feels like to turn 40. How can a spine be older than the person it belongs to, I thought. Whose bones are these inside of me?

Wow this Cindy Lee record is really something else. Listen to it.