“Just When I Thought I was Out, They Pull Me Back In”

— Michael Corleone, “The Godfather Part III”

When I retired several years ago, the smart money was on establishing a routine to avoid boredom, pretend 66 was the new 40 and mostly trying not to embarrass myself by stringing too many senior moments in succession or falling down in public. Although my stumbles have been in the privacy of my own home and my routine often feels more like a rut these last nine months and my daily patterns remain undefiled, there’s still one aspect of it I’ve been anxious to change for quite some time.

I begin each day with a query — a question that no longer requires a question mark, slipping the surly bonds of Grammar 101, becoming more statement than interrogatory. After I put on coffee, clean up last night’s dinner debris and pop a couple of slices of bread into the toaster, my wife and I open our respective links to the outside world, it doesn’t take long for my somewhat less than eloquent inquiry: “What the Bleep is wrong with this guy.” It’s become my mantra.

I can empathize with Michael Corleone. I want out, too. I want to go legit, leave the carnage behind and focus my attention to the windswept hillsides of late autumn and the impending holidays, but I can’t do that, either. The smaller ponds are showing the first sheets of thin ice, but I can’t yet focus on that. I’m otherwise enraged. I’d love to meditate for a moment or two on the gently falling snowflakes outside my window, whitening the ground with a light coating that somehow feels more permanent than the 8 heavy inches that came and went two weeks ago. This time of year holds fascinating mystery that, unfortunately, needs to be put on the back burner because he’s still here.

Like the last obnoxious, 2 a.m. guest at a cocktail party, he won’t leave. He’s not even looking for his coat, suggesting instead another nightcap. The hosts have clearly suggested departure in the most polite manner, but he pretends not to have heard or worse, misinterprets that he’s been invited to spend the night, or even the next several days, camped out on the couch, complaining incessantly about recently losing his job even though he was “better than anyone else in the history of the company.”

Thanksgiving is this week and the dusting outside — “tracking snow” — reminds me it’s deer season in Vermont, but even these fall rituals are compromised by his refusal to leave; perhaps even by his having been invited in the first place. Gatherings, whether families with the kids home from college or hunting buddies around a poker table in the woods, once taken for granted, are now sources of possibly life-threatening danger as a still unchecked pandemic — his pandemic — stalks what was once considered the safest place in the country. As our two remaining general stores have gone to phone orders and outside pickups only, the chill we feel is not simply from the falling temperatures. We grocery shop like we own a chain of restaurants and shy away from people as though we’re either on the FBI’s most wanted list or in the witness protection program.

There’s no arguing he had a big job, vitally important. We counted on him to do it well and responsibly, but he failed at that miserably, while at the same time boasting his work was exceptional, fully expecting his contract would be renewed. When he was eventually fired, it so traumatized him that he pretended it hadn’t happened, barricading himself into his office and blocking the access of his replacement, demanding recognition of largely fabricated accomplishments and denying the reality of his situation.

Whatever leadership he was charged with providing has long since disappeared, mostly squandered on convincing gullible followers of numerous things that simply are not true, some of which are as dangerous as they are ridiculous. It is with their encouragement he continues to escape accountability, pathetically breaking anything within reach as he grudgingly makes his way toward the door. While he drags his feet, my mantra changes only slightly into: “What’s wrong with the bleeping people around him?” — it’s impossible they don’t see the same thing we do, and their ignoring the obvious borders on criminal.

But they’re frightened, and rightfully so. The firepower at his fingertips goes well beyond the Second Amendment and his intermittent rage cycle has everyone walking on eggshells, hoping to get through the remainder of his tenure unscathed. He’s already begun an agonizingly slow, scorched Earth exit, purging the disloyal, upending whatever norms impede his far reaching acrimony and alternately sulking or fuming, spitefully striving to undermine his replacement’s ability to do the job.

A gusty north wind stings my face as the temperature plummets. Noticing things around me begins to work some kind of therapeutic magic as I experience several long stretches of time during which I either forget he’s still there or content myself with the fact that, no matter what he thinks, says or does, he has been deposed. His reign will come to a close in the relatively near future and with it, perhaps I’ll acquire a new mantra.

Until then, I’ll hunker down around a Thanksgiving bonfire, grateful it’s almost over, anticipating the vaccine’s arrival and his ultimate departure, knowing whatever wreckage he leaves behind will be salvageable, because collectively, we are way, way better than this.

Walt Amses lives in North Calais.

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