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Leo Cardenas

November 26, 2007


After not having written for a few days, I tried to start the day by writing in my notebook. The pen seemed like a charred log in my hand. I forgot how to write. I pushed the charred log around a while, then stunned myself with lunch, then pounded some instant coffee, then paced around some, then finally left the apartment. A couple days earlier I’d left my house keys in a motel 600 miles away, so I needed to find a place that would copy my wife’s set.

It was a cold gray day today and I walked down Chicago Avenue, which seemed even dingier than usual, grimy yellow signs hanging over dead and dying businesses. I walked for a mile or so and finally found a hardware store on Ashland but stood for several minutes by the counter while a homely pale woman in glasses behind the counter ignored me. When she finally finished fiddling with a pricing gun she looked past me to a guy who had just come in and waved him over to continue a discussion that had apparently begun earlier. I just stood there with my stupid keys, wondering if I’d become invisible. Eventually a homely pale man in glasses appeared and made me copies of my keys, our dealings concluding with no exchange of niceties.

“Pay at the register,” he muttered, not looking up. 

By the time I got back to my apartment building, I had spent over an hour on the errand. The key to the front door of the building didn’t work. I cursed and started thinking about how I could have saved myself all this trouble if I’d not left my stupid keys next to the television in the motel 600 miles away. Why didn’t I put them in my bag? Why didn’t I just keep them in my pocket? Why didn’t I case the room like everybody knows to do before walking out the last time? I stalked down the street getting angrier and angrier, passing ancient Ukrainian women trudging along with their grocery bags.

I started punching myself in the head. I did it a couple times. The first time was sort of a heel to the forehead blow, and then the next was a clenched fist to the side of my head. The heel shot sort of made me see stars. Both punches together made me feel a little dizzy.

I’ve promised my wife I’d stop doing this, hitting myself in the head, but every once in a while when I make a stupid mistake that seems to unlock the door that keeps the infinite snarl of stupid, confusing modern living at bay I start falling into a downspiral of frustration and self-laceration that ends with the utter stupidity of me beating myself about the head. The only thing to be said for this personal tic is that once I do it a couple times I generally stop, as happened today. Woozy, I kept walking past the kerchief-headed Ukrainian octagenarians, wondering if I was going to fall over. I managed to stay on my feet. I found a dollar store run by a warm, jovial Hispanic dude who made me feel like an honored customer even though he only made $1.09 off me. On top of that, his key ended up working, allowing me back into my apartment, where I promptly proceeded to waste the rest of the day. 

Leo Cardenas, here you stand at the twilight of your career, when you should know better, displaying a batting stance like that of a rank beginner, a toddler with a bat, body facing the pitcher full-on. Leo Cardenas, I thought life was going to be different. Leo Cardenas, I haven’t stood like you are standing, the beginner’s stance, in over three decades, and yet I still don’t know shit. I thought I’d fail at first but learn and learn, perfect my stance, start hitting ropes all over the yard. It hasn’t happened that way, and sometimes I wonder if those few times when I really connected are all behind me, the rest of my days echoes of today, when I walked down Iowa Street in the cold gray afternoon punching my head.