From Glasgow to Saturn

Go Forth and Prosper, by Amy Burns

My given name is Beth Day. I’m a recovering bride-a-holic. Because of a legally binding pastime called marriage, I’ve been Beth Collier, Beth Alexander, and Beth Maupin. Because of a legal antidote called divorce, I’m now Beth Day again. In order to reclaim a name, it’s necessary to go to a courthouse armed with every notarized, self-referential document and picture ID possible. The powers that be aren’t as worried with identity fraud as they are with the flexing of officious muscles. They like to watch people squirm.
        Be prepared, even if you bring a driver’s license, birth certificate, university diploma, elementary school report card, vaccination schedule, fishing permit, validated parking ticket, insurance policy and the latest copy of your mobile phone bill, a second trip to the courthouse will be required to complete the process. They’ll think of something you’ve forgotten and if they can’t think of anything, the computer system will mysteriously ‘go down’.
        Now that I’m back to whomsoever I was before I took-up marrying, I think I’ll stay single. Paperwork ‘does’ something to me. Even going to the dentist for a root canal can lead to forms requiring information about previous employers, previous addresses, previous spouses’ social security numbers and dates of birth. I couldn’t remember their birthdays when I was married to them! But, for the sake of things like root canals, I make something up.

When I was still at university, Professor Graves introduced me as one of his brightest students but, unfortunately, one of his laziest. I was wounded by the comment especially since I was shooting for something in the neighbourhood of tortured genius. I stopped going to his class, citing the fact that Detective Fiction wouldn’t count toward my major. I had more than enough electives to graduate. In fact, my undergraduate education was entirely composed of electives including but not limited to: Lapidary, Basket Weaving, Landscapes of British Modernity, Topics in Slavic Languages. Tick. Go forth and prosper!
        The afternoon my professor introduced me as both bright and lazy, we were at K-Mart. It was almost Christmas and the place was packed with people buying cheap toys. I was there with two girls from work. At the time, I worked in a laboratory where it was my responsibility to scrape rabbit intestines and run electrophoresis gels, separating protein molecules and deoxyribonucleic acid. I didn’t know much beyond that. I didn’t even really know that. I also cleaned out refrigerators, catalogued scientific journals, screwed postgraduate students and walked back and forth along University Boulevard to classrooms of higher education where I learned about people who are dead and practices that are no longer practiced, in theory. It was the happiest time of my life.
The girls and I were at K-Mart to buy Christmas gifts for the homeless. Our boss had watched a news feature about the Jimmy Wayne Homeless Shelter for Men and, during the program, he had an attack of conscience. He told us to buy socks, travel-sized toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant.
        When I heard the Professor Graves say my name, I was up front messing around with the vending machines. When I was a little girl, my hands were small enough to reach inside the machines and trip the anti-theft mechanism, thus enabling me to set free little plastic capsules containing rubber balls, stickers, rub-on tattoos, plastic rings or sea monkeys. I wanted to see if I could still do it. I could. This is what I was doing when I heard him say, Happy Beth Day!
        I thought that was very clever.
        I’m not a fan of clever.
        He said, I’d like for you to meet my wife.
        The wife looked like a juiced-up pixie. He said she made organic-cotton, antique doll clothes. I asked how she managed the ‘antique’ part and she said she dipped them in all-natural tea and other things. I laughed. She didn’t. She said something about the plastic balls I was holding and how petroleum products were killing the earth. I assured her that my list of crimes was long but that I’d never produced a petroleum ball and that, if it made her feel any better, I’d stolen the ones I was holding.

After graduation, I had my share of mind-numbing jobs. They involved serving lunch to ladies that split a house salad, minding a desk while middle managers minded me and selling plus sized pant suits. Eventually I landed a job with corporate America as my proud sponsor. This left me on the brink of suicide and facing a huge dry cleaning bill. I worked there for ten years during which time my obsessive compulsive nature took firm root and, at the expense of my mental, emotional and physical health, I began climbing the ladder of success. While my career flourished so did my addiction to antipsychotic, antidepressant and anti-anxiety prescription drugs. It was a medicinal cocktail that would have put a horse down.
        When I was at my very worst, before I officially told everybody that I was having a nervous breakdown, before I quit my old job, before I kicked my drug addiction… I was at my very best. This isn’t as much of a contradiction as one might think. I was removing pieces of my own flesh, sleeping less than three hours a night and involved in four automobile accidents within the span of three months. I also worked fourteen hour days, got a promotion at work, got a substantial raise, got married (‘I do’ number three) and got a PhD.
        When I tell people about that time in my life, they don’t believe it. They don’t believe I could’ve been successful and that fucked up. To those people who don’t believe it I say, try.

Quitting drugs isn’t as hard as some people make it out to be. Try this:
Become addicted to prescription medication. This isn’t difficult. In the United States they hand the stuff out like jellybeans at Easter. Even if you don’t go as far as I did, which is to have a complete nervous breakdown, just visit the doctor complaining of some minor disillusionment (in theory, nothing that could be corrected with cosmetic surgery). Once you’ve secured a prescription (or better yet, several prescriptions) and have been taking the medication(s) long enough to weather the initial side-effects like insomnia, migraines, nausea, blurred vision, dry mouth, and unexpected, explosive anal leakage (as if there is any other kind), a love-hate bond will develop. I suggest allowing this relationship to blossom/fester for at least a year.
        Quit your job. Corporate America is legally obligated to continue to provide insurance, albeit at absolutely astronomical premiums, to employees who decide to terminate employment. They call it a Cobra Continuation Plan. It lasts for six months. When those six months are up, you’ve no more insurance. The countdown is on. You’re well on the way to recovery.
        Once you’ve gone all ‘wing and a prayer’, deplete whatever funds you’ve managed to squirrel away to pay for your prescription medication as long as possible. In my case, it wasn’t possible long.
        Apply the following liberally: Pride and Sloth.
        Pride: Refuse to go on government assistance.
        Sloth: Refuse to get another job providing insurance (you’re screwed anyway with a documented, pre-existing condition).
        You might consider a life of crime to support your habit, in which case, reapply Sloth. Turns out, my professor was right about me being lazy. Being lazy saved my life.
        Withdrawal symptoms are harsh.
        Once I was done with the gnashing of teeth, rending of flesh, nausea and hallucinations, things were peachy keen. I met up with an old friend who introduced me to a new friend who was so impressed with my knowledge of Basket Weaving and Topics in Slavic Languages, that he gave me a job. It was an incredible job. That is how I ended up living in Tokyo with the Binghams.

The Binghams were something to behold, real marketing geniuses. No overheads, inventory issues, shipping costs or danger of copyright infringement. They were the product. America was the brand.
        Japanese corporations paid Martin and Rachel Bingham more money for a four hour motivational seminar than the average American family made in four years. That doesn’t include living expenses and perks. There were plenty of perks. The Binghams were quick to point out that they gave plenty in return.
There was nothing tangible about what the Binghams gave in return but, nonetheless, it was wildly popular.
        Martin Bingham played professional football until he broke his back in a car accident. He took-up sports casting. He invested well. He bought part of a steel mill in Venezuela. He got top dollar on the public speaking circuit. He developed a line of motivational DVDs, posters, refrigerator magnets and coffee mugs. He sold them using late night infomercial television. He became rich.
Martin Bingham met Rachel Sutherland.
        Rachel Sutherland was always rich. She had an Ivy League education and I imagine she was taught to play hopscotch with a dictionary balanced on her head. She had a way of finishing people’s sentences that made them forget what they were trying to say.
        Martin and Rachel got married and started their game. They were extremely successful at selling ideas to people. They were extremely successful at selling image. They had a group of catch phrases called Our Little Secrets. One of them read: A false sense of confidence never hurt anybody. Nobody has to know.
        They had a baby and named her Hannah.
        The Binghams made a lot of money in the United States and then they took their act on the road.
        While in Japan we were treated with constant extravagance. We were escorted from engagement to engagement by limousines. Our suites were always decorated with fresh flowers. There were dinner parties. Most of the time Hannah and I would end up finding somewhere to hide and watch people.
I became quite attached to Hannah. It hurt me to leave her.
Hannah was eleven years old.
        Three days before the Binghams saw to it that I was deported from Japan, we were all at a party in Shinagawa having a good old time. The host, a Bingham fanatic by the name of Jackie Kobayashi, told me about his eight year old daughter, Etsu, and some problems he was having with her. I was barely listening until he said he could really use somebody like me on his team. He said that he would double whatever the Binghams were paying me to baby-sit Hannah if I would consider baby-sitting Etsu. I said, you’ve got to be kidding! I’ve got a PhD.
        Jackie Kobayashi said, okay, okay… he would triple whatever they were paying me.
        Turns out I am a high-priced baby-sitter.
        Less than fifteen minutes later, I found Hannah lurching against the wall of the Kobayashi’s 1,200 square foot bathroom. I managed to pull a Barbie doll head from her windpipe. I held her in my lap like a baby while she cried. She told me they left the United States because Martin (that’s what she called her father) couldn’t keep his hands out of her friends’ panties. They gave three families money to keep quiet.
        As far as I know, nobody from those three families reported Martin to the police. And no, I didn’t report him either.
        When they showed me the video tape, I knew I was well and truly fucked.
        The Binghams were represented by a crew of attorneys. I was seated at the end of a long wooden table by myself. The see-saw was tilting. A screen scrolled from the ceiling. I resisted the urge to say, Action!
        The tape had no sound. It had been edited. It was grainy. It was black and white. It showed Hannah. It showed me. We were in the fancy 1,200 square foot bathroom at Kobayashi’s house. It showed me straddling her. It showed her dress riding up over her hips. It showed me down over her mouth. It showed me holding her afterwards.
        It didn’t show the phlegm soaked Barbie doll head I pulled from her windpipe and, without the benefit of sound, you couldn’t hear Hannah’s confession about Martin.
        I told them that all of this could be cleared up with a single conversation with Hannah.
        They said, the tape speaks for itself.
        I said, the tape says nothing.
        They decided to show mercy. They deported me instead of putting me in prison until such time as I could be hanged.
        I said, ask Hannah. They said, Hannah has been through enough.
        I agreed.

During the holidays, I got a family photo Christmas card from the Binghams. I was surprised they had any Yuletide wishes for me. Hannah had signed her name under the pre-printed line which read: Believe in Miracles and Miracles Will Believe in You! Happy Holidays, The Binghams. I thought for a long time before I cashed the enclosed check.
        I used to like to say: When I was at my worst, I was at my very best.

Powered by WebGuild Solo
This website ©2006-2020 From Glasgow to Saturn