Joyland

New York |

Long Beach Life Coach

by Aaron Steven Miller

edited by Emily Schultz

The life coach sits on the couch. He sits on the edge, palms-to-knees. His chin stays up. Behind him, the light pierces the blind in horizontal slivers. It sears into the room and spreads weakly in the murky air. The dust motes shine dimly. As usual, he doesn’t figure anything out right now, or even figure what he’s trying to figure, he just sits reflecting and wondering, pondering, how or where exactly things could have gone, let’s just say . . . differently.

Outside, the yard is soaked in sun. Fat bees bumble on blossoms of honeysuckle; hummingbirds jab at amber trumpets of brugmansia.

The life coach has well-cut hair. His hair looks almost moist. It catches the light from behind, draws it forward along comb lines. His face is relaxed. His eyes point across the room, where the wall offers broadening bands of light, gray and darker gray. In the midst of the gray bands is the bulbous, curved shape of his head, like an octopus head crossed by arrows of light shimmering off a shipwreck. He can see the outline of his well-cut hair, and the protrusion of the tops of his ears. The helices, they’re called. He calls this position, and act, simply, Reflecting. One of many techniques for Purifying Inner Dogma and Channeling Thoughts. A way of centering one’s Moment Map.

In this particular Moment, he can examine the whole Moment Map of his life. He can seek insights like eggs on Easter morning. Hunt them down everywhere. From the heirloom copper tub to the walnut buffet to the record cabinet to under the couch. Into a duct, all the way down to the dusty circle at the bottom, quickly avoiding imagined tentacles and latching onto the prize. And then the last one, in the Amish Hoosier Sink. In the back of a drawer, wobbling around, there: an egg with purple-and-lime hemispheres blurring together in an uneven gray line.

This is his Centering Image.

*

The yard is soaked with sun. The stucco house is serene; it abides the light. Chrome glints in the grass. It clones the sun into stellated flares of brightness. Outside, the life coach saw wrenches. He doesn’t know those names. (They are: lug, monkey, pipe, channel-lock.) There’s a steel box of shiny fittings. A pair of legs, leather workboots.

The life coach is expert at parting blinds. But the plumber saw him do it. Now, the plumber is at the front door, sweating. Open sesame. Cool and warm air mix, creating feelable currents. The plumber has a reddish, chapped face. It’s weathered and full of acne scars, wrinkles. And there’s a little spiderweb of veins on the end of his nose.

“Check your bathroom?”

The plumber said earlier he lives in Anaheim. It is an unbelievable fact given his true name, which is Walt Disney. He declines an offer of water.

The life coach says something inaudible.

The plumber tells the life coach about water leaking under the bathroom in very certain terms such as stain radius and saturation depth in millimeters. He smooths down his kelpgreen overalls, covered in a variety of stains. As he pushes past, the life coach notes a ripe, footy odor.

*

The plumber sits on the edge of the tub, which the life coach has unfortunately not cleaned. It is smattered with hairs of various shapes and lengths, some clumped together with soap scum, some stuck against the sides like tiny hair refugees. Chapped fingers are reading the caulking and tiles. The plumber’s hands are stub-fingered, big and reddish. Two fingers find the faucet, burrow in and back out to hold up slimy white-green chunks. The chunks resemble blue cheese.

“Lime deposits,” the plumber says, letting them fall in the tub. They land on top of a long and winding hair. The life coach does not want lime deposits. The plumber says, “Its nature is to carry things. It goes where it can, carrying things away to make more room for itself, leaving stuff behind where there’s already plenty of room. Water never sits still, contrary to what you think. It will always find a way out, and it will always leave something behind.”

The life coach talks to people, asks how they tick. With each subject, he augers a Pilgrimage. He did a Preliminary on the plumber. Got his whole Narrative. The Narrative of the plumber was this:

  1. Youthful dream to become a podiatric nurse, a male nurse of feet, becomes Inner Dogma.
  2. Poor Thought-Channeling in podiatric nursing school leads to uncontained Mind Melt, leads to search for new Inner Dogma.
  3. Comedic show business becomes new Inner Dogma.
  4. Inner Dogma #2 fails upon violent death of comedic show business partner.
  5. Thought flow is rechanneled to achieve Dogma Simplification via employment at the Acme of Long Beach HVAC & Plumbing Co., Inc.
  6. True Unhappiness discovered.

The plumber, who’s named Walt Disney and has heard all the jokes and what-have-you-not, did his own variety of Preliminary for the house, which consisted of walking around the foundation saying salient things about drainage. A pair of tin snips cut the grate off the foundation hole. The word cesspool might have been broached.

The plumber’s old day job was part-time. His new dream was for the comedy duo of Walt and Schmalt. By day, he worked at a meat processing plant, on the big tubes that shot meat through. The big tubes got clogged with beef so often that pretty soon a full-time man had to be retained. His lucky old self got to take home free chuck every night. Then there was his buddy’s accident. Schmalt wrote one last joke, plus a note explaining how the joke worked, then another note explaining that he could never write another joke or an explanation of a joke, then another note that he would not be writing any more notes. Then he jumped off an overpass and into the path of several container trucks on the 710.

The plumber told the life coach if life did anything for him, it was take away his Funny Bone and replace it with a Sad Gland.

The life coach remarked on how funny that was, Sad Gland.

The plumber just shrugged and crawled back under the house.

*

The creases of the plumber’s neck are white. There are dotted lines of sweat clinging to the fat pink ridges above the creases. The life coach notes a similarity to the rind of a country ham. The life coach is concerned about apparent sweat levels, heat stroke, overexertion. “Can I get you anything?” he asks. “Some iced tea, maybe?”

“No bevs. I’m a bath guy myself.”

“A beer?”

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

“I have juice too. Or just sparkling water.”

“No,” the plumber says, “You don’t understand. I don’t drink any liquids.”

The life coach has never heard of such a thing.

“You must,” he mumbles, “Something.”

“No, never liked liquids. Except soup and milkshakes. And salad. And cucumbers with salt. And watermelon and other kinds of melon. Just not a liquid guy if you get my drift. What I can’t get from moist foods, I absorb through my skin. Like I said, I’m a bath guy.”

*

The plumber declares the Tub-Shower an abomination. A marketing invention to please traditionalists. The one in the life coach’s bathroom probably replaced a fine old claw-foot. The plumber can tell because a place originally built for a shower will have a drain in the floor and a double-sealed marble or tile enclosure, structurally attached to the wall. Which is the new thing, by the way.

Following the tub-shower along came the stall-shower. Whereas newer places have the showers designed in from the get-go, the stall-shower came about as an add-on to places that never had showers in the first place.

“You know,” he says, “Fifty years ago, people took baths. Now alls they want is a shower. You see,” he points to the window above the life coach’s tub, “You got water collecting in that sill from the shower. These old bathrooms. They were never meant for showers. The Spanish tile there, that’s nice, that’s original.”

They both admire the Spanish tile.

“Too bad the wall is making it bulge,” the plumber says, with genuine unhappiness. “You wanna save the tile, even if you tear out the wall.”

*

The plumber recommends this: Knock that window out, put one smaller up high, redo the whole wall if it’s even worth keeping and keep the Spanish tile. The plumber says, “I recommend a vintage claw-foot and a TheraFlo attachment, both made in America. There’s two ways to do it if you go that route. You can use the TheraFlo to shower off. You spray it over you, it runs off. You don’t need to twist yourself around cause you can move the TheraFlo wherever you want. You just sit and aim it. And you get yourself a TubGard contoured stool and a basket. There’s something to be said for doing it that way, sitting down. But soaking is best. Soak in the lye. Let it really cleanse your pores. Really wipe out the oils. It lets the water into the cells, that’s good for you. Your skin should itch when you get out. It should be real white and wrinkled. Not all smooth like a Japanese. Shower people. There’s nothing more disgusting to a Japanese than the idea of an American stewed in his own juices. It’s an islander thing. But the Japs don’t understand the value of a bath. My wife’s Japanese’s how come I can say things like that.”

*

The plumber stands still in the living room, like he’s got something to say. A grimy wrench slips from his hand to rest on a couch cushion. The life coach lets it happen. The plumber slides one hand into a coverall pocket and hesitates. Then he apologizes. For unloading stuff. He got going sometimes. Tendency to ramble. Used to amuse the hell out of people back when he was funny. Peccadillos, little dotes, fibs, funny honesty. Now folks just get weirded out. Or bored. Maybe he did need some of that—what was it called? Life Boosting?

The life coach smiles.

*

Channel your thought, the life coach directs. Send your negative thoughts away. Bring your positive thoughts around to generate Passion and Goodness. Change the Channel. What channel are you on when you think about your worst life event? Can you change that Channel?

The plumber is on the couch, one leg up. He pokes a finger in his ear. A meaty, belly-white bare foot extends from his coveralls. He screws his finger around while his eye squints at the floor. The life coach takes the foot, takes the dogma with therapeutic hands.

It’s okay to have those thoughts, the life coach coaches. You learn to keep them on a frequency. You tune in when you need to, when you should, not when you shouldn’t. The second thing is to Purify Your Inner Dogma. And what that means is just be true to the Passion you generate. It means it’s okay to be hard on yourself. Round up your dark thoughts and simply eliminate them for the good of your Inner World. It’s okay to demand a pure standard for your achievements, your goals, your hopes, your time. Yes, your Time. Time without Dogma is False Life. Just like impure Dogma is not only a lie but a waste of time, a deviation. Stay true, stay true is what Purify Your Inner Dogma means.

Right at this moment, the life coach isn’t sure if he is a life coach. He doesn’t know what he is. He knows that beyond the shielding, segmented blinds, the yard is still drenched in sun and the palm trees offer no shade. And the plumber’s foot is dry and cracked but also moist and puffy, like dough. The foot is firm like a succulent plant or a cactus, the skin like steamed sticky rice but with some patches so dry they feel like shells or husks. The life coach works his fingers along the arch. His thumbs palpate the heel. He works it up and down, across and over, letting the plumber just speak his mind, channel anything at all.

The plumber says, “There is a town called Raftonville in Mississippi where they still eat mud and bathe their children in urine, believing it makes them grow and keeps their souls pure. There’s a place right here in California, up in San Jose as a matter of fact, where you can order a worm taco or a cricket tamale. And yet, go to the beach in Santa Monica and signs tell you swimming is prohibited because of so called health hazards. There’s no place more Asian-American than California, that’s for sure. Proximity to Japan is no coinkydink. To make an entire population more susceptible to germ warfare, just pamper their immune systems. Protect them from everything, so they forget all living things thrive in filth, even humans.

“I can see you’re wondering am I some kind of bigot. I am not. I don’t dislike any race or culture. As I said, my wife is Japanese, and I omitted to tell you my mother was also Japanese. You can almost see it. Just a bit at the corners of the eyes. Hard to tell. It makes sense though. Cause who else would marry a Disney and name their firstborn child Walt? My father called her the Little Mermaid. But when he was mad at her, really mad, behind her back, he called her Fish Face.”

In the dim light, as the plumber’s jawline gills against his fat neck, his face takes on the drooping look of a bottom-dweller—shiny wide nose, broad sagging cheeks, eyes drawn low by fat sagging lids. A carp stares back at the life coach now. And at that moment, for the life coach, there’s also a sense of something lurking in his peripheral vision. He looks down at the hardwood floor where his other foot is planted, sees nothing. Then a bug-sized bead of water, seeping from under the couch, rolling across, drawing a thin trail around the rubber tread of his shoe and going on under the footrest.

Something’s flooding, he says. Something is backing up.

The life coach stands up. The plumber stands up. The plumber walks lopsidedly around the life coach. One bare foot in water with each step. He faces the window.

Those who travel with one shoe off or one shoe on, he says.

Without further warning, he yanks the cord of the blinds. The life coach protects his face with both arms. They avert their eyes from the flood of light, let them adjust slowly.

Maybe a sprinkler system has gone haywire. Maybe it’s jetting water right at the side of the house. Maybe a child is spraying a hose. Maybe a water main in the street has backed up and the whole yard is flooded?

No. Out there, nothing but dry grass and spikes of palmettos and the bristly flowers of a bottlebrush tree. In the lawn, the hollow openings of the sprinkler tubes are dry and chapped. All of it motionless and baked to death in this sunny clime.

*

The life coach asks, “Do you know what everyone fears the most? It’s not death. It’s not dirt. It’s lack of fulfillment. That’s like death before death. If you have dreams, pursue them. At any cost. I believe this. Look at me. I’m doing what I dreamed of doing. I am successful, important, helpful, vicarious. I love life. I am alive. I am fulfilled. You can be too. Ask yourself what you want to reflect on while you’re dying. It’s never too late.”

He says this even though he suspects it’s untrue. Everyone has dreams, but not all come true. This is the dirty little secret that you can never say to a client. The life coach wanted to be a male model once. He was not attractive in any marketable way. He looked like the sort of small-town clod that he really was. The Mormon milk-fed wholesome look, if you know anything about ’90s fashion or heroin chic, was incredibly out of style at the time. Poor sense of attire, misproportioned limbs, a face that looked like sponge bread no matter how it was shot or painted, patchy facial hair, receding hairline, the worst exercise and diet discipline you’d ever seen. He realized one day that, as a model, he was frankly pathetic. It was hopeless, or the only hopeful thing about it was that he had hope at all. That he had hope in the face of all those things.

And that is the secret he keeps trying to pass along to others now, after all of his own hope has gone.

*

The life coach stands at his kitchen sink and looks down into the drain hole. It is the eye of doom. It goes right through the now to what lies beyond. To the past and future food and bugs. To the bugs all slickery crawling on wilted veggiebits and concavities of meats, pivoting this and that way, wiggling pointy rear ends, flicking antennae and snickering with their mandibles.

The muck awaits resolution.