Mastodon Botanical Man, a story by Bonny Finberg

Botanical Man

I’m sure there was a moment when I realized it was about to happen. But I can’t remember it. It snuck up on me, like snake bite—sending you into a delirium, and just when you realize what’s happening you’re dead. It was epiphanous, if that’s a word. Anyway, I had an epiphany. It killed me and I’m reborn. I thought I was finished with all that self-examination Woman Speak shit. But there it lives, in the Oprah of my brain. I’m no longer Generic Man. I’ve developed a swagger, a dusty odor of salt.

I’m looking up epiphany in the dictionary. I’m lost in it. Maybe I should be reading pornography. I’m entitled. That’s what men do, men with no immediate prospects. Well anyway, I’ve got my taste buds.

The Gates of Hell
The Gates of Hell, photograph by Bonny Finberg

I have to take my glasses off and put my face close to the dictionary; there are glasses all over the table, both kinds, come to think of it. A pair of sunglasses with a broken arm, a pair of bifocals, the shot glass remains of my third Sneaky Pete and the one from last night. With my face over the big book, and the quiet darkness outside, I feel like Erasmus. But not really—how could I be? The days of fog are upon me. I don’t have the patience, the stamina, the clarity, to be Erasmus. I’ve publicly humiliated myself with this fact for years, starting with my mother, two sisters, and three ex-wives. They all get along very well in their mutually encouraging support group, a kind of twelve-step program of their kind. I am not, nor do I intend to be part of it. Though they’ve tried many times to present me with some common social work project that will improve my life. For some reason, even though I’ve been abandoned by all of them, they each have some private reason for hovering around. And I let them. Because, I need them each in a different way. Each is an expression, more like a symptom, of the many-faced, many-armed goddess. One at a time they suck the blood out of me, then all convene at my first wife’s house. She’s become the matriarch, even to my mother. She’s charming, sexy, and has a killer wine cellar. They sit around and knock back glass after glass of Chateau Neuf du Pape, competing for first place in who can make the most sense of my miserable life.

Untitled, photograph by Bonny Finberg

I want to hear foreign languages, ones that I can’t understand, language that’s pure sound.

Oh, look at that— Streblus pendulinus a’ai. Indigenous to Hawaii. It’s got a small cluster of greenish female flowers, each with a reddish, two-branched stigma, and the whitish pendulous catkin of the males.

Peyote Dancer
Peyote Dancer, photograph by Bonny Finberg

The botanical dictionary says it’s part of the Moraceae genus, lianas. A typical male flower has four stamens, one opposite each perinath segment. The female flowers have a bicarpellate pistil, generally with two styles, although one may be suppressed. The ovary is superior or inferior and contains a single pendulous ovule in a solitary locule.

This is better than Penthouse. Let’s face it, better than Tight and Tiny.

My ex-wives don’t think this kind of talk is funny. That’s what eventually turned them off, though they each hang around, acting like the look out, which seems to give them a reason to live. Their pity makes me uncomfortable—but what the hell—alls I’ve got are my taste buds at the mo’.

I like to show up for work wearing aftershave. There are women at the post office, not my type, but always good for a laugh. I’ve started giving the take-out Thai guy a big tip. He gets real obsequious, touching his hat as he gets back on the elevator. He’s probably just off the boat from some Asian village where they grow small and are socialized into being intimidated by just about anyone except their families or the other cowering people in their same circumstances. After work they probably slit each other’s throats first chance they get. But not in my vicinity.

Sometimes they send a different guy and he takes the money without making eye contact, just a curt nod of his head and then his back, like it’s not a big deal. I don’t particularly like him.

I’m still doing something wrong, but I can’t figure out what. I’m on a different path, though. Fuck that. I hate that kind of talk. I’m taking risks, breaking out. Whatever. Shit—I hate that—’Whatever.’ I’ve got a lot of work ahead so I can get back to my self. My real self, if I can be so trite. I like routine, I have interests. My botanical dictionary, for example—I can go for hours digging around in the roots of information, following tendrils of reference, layers of meaning—it’s a metaphor of itself. And the pictures, perpetually there, unchanged. No surprising acts of nature. No sun, breeze, weather. There’s a little stain here and there, coffee, booze, cigarette ash. But they’re my mistakes—not some swell headed God who’s too stupid to think about the consequences. He either has an overblown sense of humor or none at all. At least if I over water my plants I take responsibility. I don’t hide behind a cloud and laugh at the sinners drowning below.

I wonder what’s going on with the ex-wives tonight. I haven’t heard from any of them in around 36 hours. But who’s counting?

I feel like some Thai, see what’s on HBO, water the plants.

* * *
(From the chapbook “How the Discovery of Sugar Produced the Romantic Era,” Sisyphus Press, 2006)


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