Heaven for Climate, Hell for Company
Copyright by Morgan McFinn
rancis (or Frances) is one of those neutral names that can be applied to both males and females. I don't much care for the name because it seems a bit too feminine for a man and a bit too masculine for a woman. That, however, is merely my opinion and I won't mention it again.
I've known three people of this name in my life, and in each case their influence upon me was anything but neutral.
When I and my fellow siblings were a pack of little brats, our parents used to bring aboard pregnant unwed teenagers to tend us until they went into labor and discharged yet another adorable brat-to-be. For the most part, these temporary custodians were fairly pleasant. They loved children and they loved life. All except for one of them. Her name was Frances and I've always thanked God that I'd been born already lest I'd run the risk of being born unto her.
Frances was an ornery, red-headed Irish girl with a chip on her shoulder that was growing in direct proportion to the blossom in her belly. The luck of the Irish had passed her by, and she was none too happy with the croupier in charge of the gaming table thus far. She always bathed us in hot water, liked to feed us liver and onions, never let us play with matches, and made us take naps in the afternoon. She made us say our prayers too, the bitch. We prayed she'd leave soon.
Well, sure enough, Frances did leave soon. One night we were all sitting around the living room watching Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners. Very funny. Everyone was laughing, even Frances, God bless her. Then, suddenly, she was wailing in agony. My father carried her to the bathroom, and she flushed her child down the toilet.
Frances left the next morning. We never saw her again.
Being just beyond the brat stage now, in my mid-forties, I like to think that somebody, sometime, somewhere made Frances happy. Every time I smell liver and onions, I think of her. She was good for us, maybe, but not very appealing.
A few years later, my mother took me to a movie about the life of St. Francis of Assisi. That's when I realized that men could be named Francis too. That is, no doubt, when I also began to formulate my opinion that Francis was a bit too feminine a name for a man. I mean, after all, the fellow was referred to as "Francis, a sissy."
Poor choice of towns to be born in on his part.
Nevertheless, I loved the movie and read every book I could find about this saint. Hell, I was a boy being raised a Catholic, which in the 1950’s meant there was some hope I'd become a priest. During my period of infatuation with Francis of Assisi, I thought being a saint might be a pretty cool job as well.
My mother was very pleased. She bought me a parakeet, a turtle, and a furry white rabbit. St. Francis loved little animals, you know.
I think my mother was halfway through knitting me a hair shirt for Christmas when the parakeet shit on my head, the turtle bit me, and the rabbit ran away. That's when I gave up the saint business, and I've been none to fond of animals ever since.
My folks had three sons. No priests. Of two daughters, one became a nun. She was run over by a drunk driver at the age of twenty-five. My mother's brother was a priest. A Carmelite missionary in South America, an Air Force chaplain in Vietnam. He was sort of a hero to us kids, and then he had an accident cleaning a Bowie knife—cut his wrist in three places and bled to death.
I'm not planning to raise any of my children to become nuns, or priests or saints—especially if they show any talent for the game of golf.
Three weeks ago another Francis popped into my life. He's a hairy, heavy-set, six-foot, very intelligent Bavarian thug. He's very well read, speaks four languages fluently—particularly when the fluid is flowing, and he's been a guest at several international free room-and-board joints.
Francis is thirty-seven years old and his resume consists of having sold contraband motorcycles in Italy, been a bodyguard to a renegade weapons dealer, a hit man for drug lords, and a mercenary sniper in the Middle East. He is definitely not related to Saint Francis of Assisi, nor is he likely to join the priesthood any time in the near future.
If I'd never met Francis, if I'd only heard about him, I would probably think of him as a heartless, obnoxious, conniving, money-grubbing scoundrel. However, having met him and having spent a fair amount of time drinking and conversing together, I would say that Francis is not completely heartless, although every bit the obnoxious, conniving, money-grubbing scoundrel.
He isn't a braggart about his criminal exploits. You ask him what he's done for a living, and if he likes you he'll tell you. If he doesn't like you he'll tell you that too, and then you'll get up and leave. You'll get up and leave rather quickly, as a matter of fact. He doesn't like many people, and it’s doubtful there are many people who like him. We took a liking to each other, and I suppose when I return to the United States I ought to check into a psychiatric hospital and find out why.
Francis has a remarkable penchant for criminal activity. He's been shot in the head twice, and he looks as mean as a hungry gorilla who'd just been told, "Yes, we got no bananas, we got no bananas today." He's made a lot of money from time to time. He has five children from three different wives, and for the most part he supports them all financially. That alone would require a lot of money.
In the meantime he's also owned a Lamborghini and several Porches, he’s stayed in some of the finest hotels throughout Europe and the Middle East, has dined in the finest restaurants, has enjoyed many of the frolicking playgrounds of the opulent class, has had his clothes privately tailored, and is a connoisseur of vintage wines and designer drugs. In short, he's spent his wealth in a way that would have the common people think, "That he was everything to make us wish that we were in his place."
Then one night Francis said to me, "Life is the enemy."
We were lounged in a couple of bamboo chairs at one of the only two grungy ganja bars along the coast of Maenam Bay. It's called the Rasta Baby II, and yes, the other grungy ganja bar is called Rasta Baby I. Francis and I had been drinking Singhas and smoking ganja for most of the evening. It was around midnight when he let loose his comment that, "Life is the enemy."
I asked him why he felt that way.
"Because life is a pain in the ass. You're born, you suffer, you die."
"You like to suffer?"
"Then shoot yourself. Why prolong the misery?"
"I know how to beat the misery. That's what it's all about. Life is suffering, but if you're clever, every so often, for a while, you can have a good time. Whenever that happens, whenever you can have some fun, it's like thumbing your nose at fate."
"Like a game."
"Exactly. You get what you want, you have fun, and you win. Of course, you only win a little skirmish once in a while. All the time you know that in the end you're gonna lose the war."
"Like the ‘Myth of Sisyphus’ by Camus."
"Oh yeah, that guy…. No, not like the ‘Myth of Sisyphus’ by Camus. That guy was a fool. What do you think . . . pushing a big rock up a hill only to have it fall back down and then to push it up again…? You think that's fun? Sisyphus was a sucker. The world’s full of suckers."
"It was Camus's argument against suicide. Embrace the burden of existence. Accept life as a challenge despite its obstructions and misgivings. Camus suggested that only such an approach offered any dignity for man's plight."
"I said plight."
"Plague, plight. What's the difference? Camus wrote The Plague, too. Life is the disease. Pushing a big rock up a hill all day long isn’t my idea of dignity. It's certainly not my idea of being happy."
"Ah. You want to be happy?"
"But you seem so miserable."
"I am miserable . . . now. I got no money."
"You just got out of prison."
"So, you should be happy. Here you are on a beautiful tropical island. Not expensive. Lots of fruits and vegetables. Clean . . ."
"Bullshit. It's not expensive because there's nothing worth spending much money on here. As for the fruits and vegetables, most of them are tourists. What do they know about life? Any of them ever spend six months in a German prison, twenty-three hours a day in a windowless cell, no TV, no radio, nobody to talk to, shower once a week? They know nothing. A bunch of whankers rubbing themselves with coconut oil while their flaccid egos get all puffed up thinking they're in the midst of some fucking adventure so they can go home and impress their friends."
"Yeah, you're right Francis. Six months in a windowless German prison cell sounds like more fun."
"No. It's not more fun, asshole. It's just more about the reality of life."
"Your idea of reality."
"What about the guy with a wife and three kids who works as a machine operator, or an accountant, or a ticket taker in a toll booth? You think your idea of reality is more comprehensive, more genuine than people like that?"
"Yes. They're just pushing the big rock. Life is their enemy too, but they've surrendered. They're waving the white flag. Not me. I'm still fighting for every moment of fun I can get."
"And now you're in Thailand, a Buddhist country. Buddha also claimed that life is suffering, and he said that the source of suffering was a man's clinging and grasping ego. Clinging to objects of desire and grasping for others—a slave to his sensory contacts with the material world around him. 'Meditate,' he said. 'Fast.' Abandon the concept of ego. There is no I; there is no mine."
"Drench the fire of desire."
"Yes. Desires are the curse of human existence. Better to want nothing. No desires, ergo no misery and turmoil."
"All is quiet…."
"All is still."
"So said the Buddha."
"Not for me, pal."
"Buddha, Christ, Mohammad . . . they all believed in some kind of afterlife. Reincarnation, heaven, nirvana . . . whatever variety on the theme you like. I don't believe in that. When you die you’re dead. Finito . . . end of story. I intend to enjoy my sensory contacts with the material world around me."
"Buddha taught that the senses were merely transmitters of delusions."
"Is a twenty-ounce, medium-rare, corn-fed steak sautéed in bone marrow a delusion? How about a bottle of Margaux Rouge or the body of a beautiful woman? A Beethoven concerto or the bouquet of a fresh-cut rose? You think these are delusions? I live to indulge my senses, to feast upon the bounty of beauty whenever I find it. What else have I got my senses for? You . . . you want to ignore them . . . to put them in chains. You don't know what that's like. I do. Go take a seat next to your friend in a tollbooth. Choke to death on the delusion of toxic fumes. Me? I'm gonna make some money and have some fun."
"You think you have to have a lot of money to have fun?"
"Unless you’re a hermaphrodite with a dick long enough to fuck yourself, yes, you need money."
"You gonna steal it?"
"I'll do what I have to."
"What if you have to kill somebody?"
"It wouldn't be the first time. But, I'll do something for you. My next job is in Southeast Asia. Never mind exactly where or what. If I have to kill somebody, I'll make sure he's a Buddhist even if I have to convert the son of a bitch myself with a pistol between his eyes. Then, you know, he'll not really die. He'll be reincarnated with a healthy dose of good karma as a reward for the suffering he endured before I squeezed the trigger.
“Now, whoever he is, you can be sure he's as much of a scumbag asshole as you may think I am. But, as a favor to you, I'm gonna do my best to make certain he comes back a better man. Maybe as a street sweeper in Bangkok. I've never killed anyone who deserved better than that."
"Well damn it Francis, that's mighty kind of you."
"You ever read The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky?"
"Yeah, once a week."
"She said, 'I've done nothing but give away one onion all my life. That's the only good deed I've done.' Well, this will be my good deed; my onion to you."
And that is why I said Francis isn't completely heartless.
We sat and had a few more beers and smoked a few more bowls of ganja from a bamboo water bong. A storm was charging out of the east across the gulf from Cambodia. Menacing dark clouds flared upon the horizon in a flash of soundless lightening.
The conversation moved on to the subject of women, and then we told each other some jokes. Francis has a great laugh . . . like an innocent child. I told him I wanted to have children someday. He thought that was a great idea. He said he loved his children, and that they were the only source of happiness in his life that he didn't have to buy.
"All they need is love," he said. "And the funny thing is, you won't believe this . . . I have a lot of love. It amazes even me. You must have children. They are my heaven."
I told him when I meet the right mother I'll have children.
What I didn't tell him was that I, for sure, wasn't going to name any of them Francis. Not unless they were born with a halo on their heads. In that case, I'd put a diaper on the parakeet, de-fang the turtle, and tie up the rabbit.
When we were really drunk and really stoned I asked Francis if he'd ever had the sensation of being flushed down a toilet.
He said yes.
I said I thought so, and then I said goodnight.