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It's Nelly's World


alec vanderboom

Another birthday hoves into sight, like the dangerous rocks on the landing shore, glimpsed through the slantwise curtain of gray rain in a cataclysmic storm. Watch out! There’s no way to avoid the collision now! Ahhh----

No, no way to avoid the piling up of years, is there? A friend sent me an e-mail picturing a befuddled gray-hair with the caption, “Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the fuck happened?” That about says it.

When one’s birthday is elided with another, somewhat more famous anniversary (oh, just this guy everyone keeps talking about, his birthday December 25), and the end of the year, with its wistful nostalgia melting into hopeful prognostication, one is apt to be slightly mystical. Even if one is a stone atheist.

A couple of years ago, this person was clinging to every form of voodoo there is, from fortunes in cookies to newspaper horoscopes. There was a heart milagros taped to her front door, and at dinner she made sure to light the Fast Luck and Siete Potencias and superscary Most Powerful Hand candles. (Notwithstanding the word “Alleged” appended to the Lucky 13 candle, lest one feel moved to sue the Goya company after failing to hit the big scratch-off or win the girl of one’s dreams after burning the wick well into the wax.)

These things felt necessary, because there was nothing else to hang onto in order to not fall down, down, into some unfathomable abyss. Since the basic truth of daily life that had been operated upon for years and years had vaporized one day, it seemed just as likely suddenly that dice and stars knew what was what. Better than she did.

But sometime after last year's birthday, the world slowly started to right itself. There were invisible winches at work, slowly moving the surface on which everything rested back to horizontal. But she has not lost the taste for hope, and will take it from whatever source gives it.

Tonight she reenters the world of portents and for the first time in a year lays out the tarot cards on the amateur’s cheat sheet.

If I don’t like the answer the Magic Eight Ball gives, I turn it over and try again. Eventually, “It is certain” shows up in the inky window, and I know “Will I be able to write something good?” or “Am I to find love?” will have the outcome I desire. Surely one can trust the Eight Ball to know these things. I can sleep.

If I don’t like the way these cards tell my future, I’ll do it two more times. Isn’t this a best-of-three game?

I can reason my way around anything, even the opening “Caution about the present” card. Of course I am being cautious. Aren’t I? Well, yes, in my usual incautious manner of approaching anything. It is the last card that tells the truth, however. I do not need to shuffle the deck again, hurrah. “A good augury.” I will take it. I can live on auguries in the absence of proofs. It is all I need, along with all I already have.