ROCKET SCIENCE: The Heartache and The Thousand Natural Shocks

Frank Cotolo's Rocket Science

“This is an automated call from Apple …”

No, it is not.

“Hello, this is an apology call from your electric-power provider …”

No, it is not.

The ID on the phone read DICKIE HOWES-something.

“Hey, Dickie,” I said.

“This isn’t Dickie, this is Dickie’s husband.”

It’s a real voice, a human, in the flesh and in the moment. Am I busted for impersonating a Dickie-whomsoever?

“All right,” I said, “so why are you calling me?”

“Your number is on my phone.”


“I dunno.”

“Well, I don’t either, so there you have it.”

“Yeah, okay.”

We hang up.

Next, there is silence. And then I hear the wind, moving the big, old, thick, brittle and bald branches of the Mimosa tree.

When is the medicine going to kick in?

The next call ID reads: PRIVATE. It will be a bot, I know it, and so I let it ring. For a moment, I ponder the Dickie call. How did my number get onto his phone? Oh, come on, it was not his phone, it was his wife’s phone or his girlfriend’s phone and he may have misdialed the number.

Coffee. The brewing, inhaling of the fragrance as the brewing ensues and the first sip of the coffee from the old-diner-type white mug, saves the world from horrors. That first sip only takes a moment but then again, so does every little pleasure in life.

The meds kick in with the final sips of the first cup of coffee. Now the world must go on with more annoying moments. Any one could be fatal, though I trust my resilience.

My friend Bruce told me how his father died at a family holiday get-together. Bruce was ten or some young age and his father was leaning against a doorjamb while sipping on a drink—whisky or scotch on the rocks) while talking with a relative when he dropped the drink, raised his shoulder and collapsed. Death came quickly, in a moment, just a moment.

My father always believed great catastrophes came along to dowse the joys of the holidays. It did not always happen but it happened enough for my father to bring up what he thought were odd coincidences like a passenger jet’s collision killing everyone aboard just before Christmas. “It’s always around the holidays,” he would say.

Paris, 1980-something …

I’m in the shower of my huge bathroom at the Georges Sanc. The stream of water is blistering hot, the way I want it, because I am trying to wash away a bad cold I felt coming on the moment I deplaned. The room is filled with steam and I have the room radio on. A French disc jockey’s voice is tumbling sentences in the native tongue that go uninterrupted while the shower stream pelts (and close to melts) my skin. When the talking ends I hear the tapping of drums and the familiar woodwind melody of Ravel’s Bolero.

I experience a moment of bliss. The scorching skin no longer hurts. I inhale the steam; it feels like the first breath of life before parting with my mother. I improvise sinewy movements in place, hypnotized by the atmosphere—it is a pure existential moment in the tedium of eternity.

It ends abruptly, going to nowhere, as it arrived, with the splash of symbols and a dissonant array of brass. No beat separates its finale; instead, a piano chord slams, followed by a floating arpeggio and descent, and then the confident voice of Gloria Gaynor:

First I was afraid, I was petrified
Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side
Then I spent so many nights
Thinking how you did me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along …

A steady beat ensues and radio history, as far as I knew, is made, as Ravel’s Bolero segues into the disco classic “I Will Survive.”

Years later …

The Amtrak express rolls right through Leucadia and I watch it as I breakfast by a table outside the local café across the tracks. No more Hollwood, I live on the brink of California’s border, just a few Spanish miles from Mexico. I found the love of my life in a red Volkswagen, walk through the beach at night and my mind goes sailing, sailing, over the Pacific blue. There is a bright moon that makes a hole in the star-sprinkled night sky and her hair is lifted from the breezes, holding my hand like it always belonged there. This is Heaven, this is my moment and I float in it with no thought of returning to Hell …

… but I get there.

There are some days when I want to be everywhere and do everything. There is no way to prioritize; I want to spin like a tornado, sucking experiences and creativity and tossing them into the air where I orchestrate their landings.

December, 1950 …

I am born in a hospital named after a Jewish mystic. I have a freak strand of skin at least a foot long hanging from the Tragus of my right ear. A circumcision takes place so I don’t grow up with a tail on my head.

Another circumcision follows.

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