Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yossi and The Little Girl

“Daddy, daddy!” the little girl called. Her little legs took her across the marbled-covered living room floor. Her feet slapped against the floor as she waddled, she was only a couple feet high, having taken her first breath only 18 months before. “Daddy!” she called. Her mother smiled and knelt close to the little girl, “that’s not daddy, his name is Yossi.”
The mother and daughter had just moved into the condominium complex a couple of months before, the little girl did not have a father, but somewhere, amongst TV shows and the greater collective unconscious, she had quickly learned about daddies. The middle aged couple from across the street, Meg and Yossi, had invited them to spend the afternoon and the mother and young daughter were guests for a Sunday barbecue. It was a sunny day, the sun being the reason the older couple had moved from Boston to this southern California town, a town they always said resembled New England, with its mature trees and charming downtown. They had come here twenty-three years ago, bringing with them their two young daughters.
“Yossi, Yossi! Look at me! Look at me do this!”
The man looked over and smiled. He was a short, stout man with olive skin and a barely-there white beard that he refused to completely shave. His legs and arms were slender and muscular, but his belly was full and round and extended from his white polo shirt no matter how much he exercised in the evenings after work.
“Yossi, Yossi!”
There were different impulses moving through him, happiness and annoyance, tenderness and humor, they were all moving because of the little girl. There were five other adults in the house: Meg, the little girl’s mother, a man named Vince (Meg’s friend, and Marylyn and Ruth (another mother and daughter, but aged 55 and 84). The little girl called to none of them.
“Yossi! Watch me do this!”
He was not used to this, his own wife did not talk to him this much. He was not used to such overpowering innocence, such unobstructed attention and unashamed requests for love. His own daughters were grown, they had moved out of the house years ago and he and his wife had created a new home, a place of sophisticated style and marble and hard edges. It was clean and uncluttered, it was obvious that children had not lived there for many years. The only trace of his daughters was on the cluttered piano, an instrument not used for music any longer, but a place for a multi-leveled arrangement of picture frames that held the images of the two daughters: first as little girls playing with dolls, then as teenagers in pretty dresses, and then as young women. Long ago he had held them, protected and comforted them. But it had been many years. They had stopped turning to him so long ago, even before they left his home. They were his blood, but they were all strangers. Once, he lived with little girls that wanted to sit close to him and be picked up, but it had been so long. Now, he preferred a clean, quiet house. A home without dog hair, without anything that required much of his time or attention or worry. Now, here was this little thing, this little girl, barely two feet tall, who called to him constantly. Whether he was outside tending the barbecue meat, whether he was in the kitchen or sitting on the couch, the little girl kept calling his name, she kept running to his legs and hugging him. He smiled, slightly embarrassed by the love.
There were no toys for the little girl, but she wandered around the small downstairs and found the extra room. The door was open and she walked onto the plush gray carpet. There were a couple of piles of paper on the floor next to the couch and there was a mesh bag full of neon green tennis balls. She went back to the living room, carrying her find. Like nothing was ever more interesting, she pulled out the balls one by one.
“Yossi, look at me do this…” and with her little arm, she threw a tennis ball across the room and then ran to retrieve it. She ran back to him, a smile of achievement on her face as she hugged his legs.
“Watch me do this…” she threw another tennis ball and went after it. The adults sitting in the living room smiled while a barbecue smoked on the back patio.
“That’s good,” he said. He smiled, laughed a little, liking the attention, and at the same time a little unsure of how to react. He had forgotten people could love so openly. The little girl ran back to him and raised her hands, “Can I sit on your lap?”
The hamburgers were ready. He picked her up and sat down, he gave her some small pieces of meat and he held her while she ate.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Morning Train Ride

It was early morning when the alarm started ringing. I ran to my cell phone, more than half asleep with wisps of fast moving cars and a girl who followed me with a toothache. The colors of dreams moved with me as I opened the door from the bedroom to the kitchen. My eyes were almost completely shut and I walked with my arms out, feeling like a blind woman for furniture and a clumsily placed chair and the walls that now seemed to be in my path. I dropped to the ground reaching for my purse as the incessant ringing grew louder with each second, its monotonous call cried for me to join the land of daylight, the place where clocks and appointments and schedules seem to matter. I smelled the leather of my bag and reached into the cluttered guts of my purse. My fingers felt a wallet, a notebook, the red vinyl change purse, a handful of lipsticks and chopstick, I felt a couple pens, a roll of extra socks. My hands, which were now bestowed with the power of sight, whose fingertips were the only eyes I had, finally, in the corner of the bag, found the cold rectangular object. Memorized movements flipped the phone open and they pressed one circular button at the top and then the arrow to the right. The ringing stopped, and the small studio was back to a clear silence.
I walked back to the bed and lay down. My heart beat with the rapid pulse of a machine gun. I wanted to drift back into the current, but a thread of consciousness told me there was no time to spare, the night before I had already set the alarm a little later than I should, bargaining with myself that I could sleep later, but it would mean required swift action as soon as the alarm began.
And so, with a great blast of effort, I stood up from the bed slightly too fast and walked to the bathroom sink. Still mostly blind, I groped for the toothbrush I knew was towards the left of the sink and reached out with my left hand to the ledge by the window where a small tube of toothpaste sat uncapped. The brush entered my mouth and, as mint tingled my tongue, I opened one eye and caught the reflection of a tired looking young woman whose hair could have been a messy wig found in the bottom of an old cardboard box. A splash of water on my face felt good and I buried my head in a soft beige towel hanging from the shower ledge. Opening my eyes and looking out the blinds, I saw that the morning was young, the sun was still hiding beneath a layer of moist silver clouds.
My dresser drawers were messily opened and I reached for the first pair of sweatpants I could see. I put on some tights for extra warmth, then the sweatpants. I was headed for the San Francisco Bay, for the farmer’s market that was just steps from the water and the wind. I would be standing there for hours, ‘til the sun gathered force and burned the clouds to vapors, I did not want to be cold while I waited for the sun to show its strength. I put on a long tank top to cover the soft curves of my love-handles and another two long sleeved shirts and on top of it all, a mohair sweater. I wrapped my neck up with a long sequined shawl and headed out the door. Down the winding street I went, from my home and bed, from the warmth of my little sanctuary, down into the busy streets of Daly City. There were stop signs and red lights and cars and pedestrians, I went through all of them in a haze, as though guided by an angel of mercy. I parked a block away from the light rail system and, as I walked, I caught a glimpse of myself in a car’s dirty window. The image was slightly silly, slightly mad. Where would they think I was going dressed like this? I looked like a slightly stylish homeless person, the only thing that could distract from this perception would be the bright red lipstick adorning my pale lips. I looked again into another car window, “slightly insane”…but I smiled at myself, maybe as insane people do.
A voice rose from deep inside, “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks anyway, image is a mirage, none of them will ever really know me. The ones who matter to me don’t care how I look.”
I stepped down a flight of cement steps and into the station. There was a mixture of beeps coming from the opening and closing doors on the train platforms above, the low dull sound of a mechanical woman over the intercom system giving security tips and the sound of people and buses coming and going. Pigeons darted in the open-air station, some looking for a quiet place to sit, others searching for their early morning meal and finding no difficulty locating dropped crumbs. I heard their cooing, their flapping wings. As I rose on the escalator to the platform, there was an 8-car train with open doors. I stepped into the yellow-lit car and took one of the few remaining seats. The blond woman next to me, with short hair and a black trench coat, sat hunched over her cell phone, punching in text messages.
I opened my backpack and spent some time unraveling the long cord of my headphones. The night before I had set them and the Ipod next to my bag, in anticipation of the 20 minute train trip, thinking that I would play the “good morning song,” (as I called it) on my way. The song was seven minutes of electronic beats and melody that nearly always had a profound effect on me. For whatever reason, I particularly responded to this song. My chest would open, my heart would flower, everything around me would become more interesting, beautiful, tender, important. I would be in the center of this amazing mass of movement, travelling through it, as though it was all a gift from a god. How many times had I been driving while listening to that song, feeling as though everyone around me, disguised slightly in their metal cars, where brethren, a part of me that defied words or explanation? And so I had planned it the night before, as though I was planning a psychedelic journey or an invocation, I planned for the morning journey.
The train doors beeped and then closed, I watched the people rise from the escalator seconds too late. The train moved and we left them standing on the platform, seconds too late to travel with us. I looked around as I put my headphones on, I scrolled through the Ipod and found the song. It started, slow first, then mounting in volume. I looked at a middle aged woman who sat in the seat next to the doors. She sat with her eyes closed, perhaps wishing she was still in bed. One minute later, we stopped at another station, we lost a couple of bodies and we gained a handful more. A woman with a young child in her arms walked though the doors and looked desperately for a place to hold on to. I started to get up to offer her my seat, but the woman who had sat with her eyes closed got up and walked away. Another minute passed and we stopped again, a horde of people entered and they stood in the aisles, holding on to the metal bars and plastic seatbacks for stability. The song was beginning to enter its peak.
The little girl in her mother’s lap kept looking at the people around her, her head and eyes darted and then she looked at her big sister who stood a couple steps away, holding onto a chair back with one hand and holding the folded up stroller in the other. What was she thinking? I looked at the hairline of the young Asian man in front of me, his body and skin seemed smooth and young, but he had gray hair that speckled his head. There was a man with a dark blue suit standing up, he was wearing a lavender collared shirt beneath his tailored suit, he looked Latin and had dark hair and big dark eyes. He was tall, not needing to stretch at all as he held onto the overhead metal bar. A short white man entered the train at the 16th Mission St. stop. He was blond and had thin arms and legs and a protruding pot belly. He was wearing knee length khaki shorts and tennis shoes with little white socks and a salmon colored polo shirt, there was no mistaking that he was gay, the color of the shirt accentuated it, but it was his being, the way he stood that announced his sexuality. I looked at the man with the lavender shirt, a color many heterosexual men would run from, but there was no denying he was heterosexual, there was something very obvious about it. I felt them both, two men, their sexual preferences evident in their bodies and the way they stood. I looked again at the guy siting in front of me. The little hairs on his neck where dark and I looked at them with the whole of my attention.
To his left, an Arab man with a large nose read from a small book, there was a picture that looked like a very old woodblock print on the left side of the page, it was an ancient deity surrounded by floral embellishments and other blurry details. On the right side of the book was a bold heading which said “Morning Prayer” in English letters. “He’s praying,” I thought. Then he closed the book and put it in his bag and he turned his head in my direction but did not make any eye contact. All of them seemed interesting, beautiful and worth the full power of my attention. The baby with the big brown eyes kept looking quietly at her sister in between moments of staring at other passengers. “What does she see?” I thought once again.
As the last beats of the song faded, I skipped a couple songs ahead and put on a less familiar song. A very simple melody with three notes began to repeat every couple of seconds. There was a beautiful beat on top which seemed to move and move, taking my heart through landscapes and ringed worlds. Tears began to flood my eyes and I opened myself to all of them. I looked at the Latin man in the suit, my head tilted slightly to my right shoulder and I looked at his form. A small salty droplet escaped and went down my cheek, I did not wipe it away. The man, sensing something, looked at me. I looked back, hearing the music in my ears, holding contact, looking at him without thought, he was not good, bad, handsome, nice…I just looked at him from the eyes of an open vessel, he looked at me, held contact for less than two seconds, then looked away. What did he see? His break did not prevent me from looking. It did not stop the tears. I looked at others with the same sense of wonder without structured thought.
I looked out the train window as I felt the brakes begin to work, I was close to my destination point. The song was fading and I looked around me sensing that a wave had passed and now I was wet to the knees at low tide. I scrolled around the Ipod for a second, but turned it off. The train door opened and I stepped out, joining the line of people on the left of the escalator that walked instead of letting the escalator take them. We moved past the line on the right that stood in place. I reached daylight again and the downtown center where people in professional suits and skirts and clicking high-heels and tailored jackets walked past me. I saw my reflection again in an empty storefront. “Still goofy, but it doesn’t mater.”
I spent the next couple of hours setting up an organic peach stand. Michael, Fernando and I opened tables, set up the canopy and opened boxes of summer peaches. I was reminded of the moment in Pulp Fiction when Marsellus Wallace (the ring leader of a criminal organization) opens a briefcase. The audience is never explicitly told what’s inside, but a yellow glow shines on his face, as though the light from a golden sunset is projected straight towards him. When I opened a ripe box of apricots to cut samples, the light from them was just as bright, it was breathtaking and beautiful and I tried to retell the experience of opening the box for a couple of customers who commented on the pretty color of the apricot skin, but something vacant in their eyes revealed that they didn’t quite understand the story I was trying to tell them.
During a lull in customers between the breakfast shoppers and lunch-time, Fernando and I were standing together, gazing at the many types of people that walked by the Ferry Plaza Building. He looked to me and said, “You know, you don’t look like a woman.” I turned to him, all 29 years of me, “What do I look like?” “You are so slim, you look like a teenager, like a kid.” “Oh,” I said nodding. Knowing that in his eyes and mind, his words were not a compliment. He liked women, not girls. Almost instantaneously, I felt small, ugly, worthless. I felt self conscious in my sweatpants and messy hair, undesirable amidst the career women in their shiny high heels and form-fitting dresses. I heard a faint voice again, “Who cares what they think, it’s all image, he doesn’t know anything about you.” But I hardly heard the voice, I started to feel like it did matter. I went to the bathroom and reapplied some lipstick and tried to fix my hair, but there was nothing to be done. It was my internal landscape that had shifted. So open early in the morning, so tender, that a couple of ill-conceived words went in like zig-zagging daggers and sent the entire fragile newborn edifice sprawling to the dust.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Buried Treasure

It had drifted to them during the waning-hours of a beach party. Almost everyone had taken off, packing up their backpacks and heading back into the bright lights of the city. Only they had stayed because Kate insisted on beach-combing. Whenever they came to the water, she would take her little plastic bucket, one she had had since childhood and walk to the far ends of the beach. She would disappear for hours and come back with rocks and shells and things that most anyone would consider litter. Why she brought the lone sneaker, the lens-less sunglasses…he could never understand. He would just shake his head and laugh when she showed him her treasures. It was no surprise to him to find himself in the dim light of the setting sun, resting on a colorful beach towel and waiting for Kate. A wind blew in from the ocean, “a cold front,” he thought. He reached for his backpack to retrieve the hoodie inside.
“Max! Max!”
He looked up and to the north, running along the shore, small and white against the blue background of the ocean was Kate. He could see the white outline of her body in the even whiter bikini that came towards him. “I wonder what she found this time…” He got up, pulling the hoodie over his head. He started walking towards her.
“Max! Max! Look what I found.” She was carrying something large in one of her hands, the red plastic bucket was in the other. “Look,” she thrust an old bottle into his hands. It was worn and white. It was cold, cold from years of travelling the ocean currents.
“Wow, look at the glass, it’s all cloudy and milky-white, it must have been out there forever.,” he said with a slight hint of curiosity.
“Yeah, and you know, I think there’s something inside it, listen,” she held the bottle to his ear as she shook it slightly.
Max smiled slightly, “it’s like from a movie,”
He took the bottle from her hands, he gave it a little shake and then tried to unplug the cork. “ahh, I think it’s useless, the cork’s really in there, we’re gonna have to break it.”
“Oh, but the bottle is so pretty, I thought you’d be able to open it with some sort of tool.” Her eyes showed a bit of worry. This was her treasure, now he talked about destroying it.
“Well look, don’t you want to see what’s inside?”
She nodded her head.
“Well there’s a years worth of salt buildup along the cork, I’m not sure if I can get it out, if I push it in, it could destroy what’s inside. I think the only thing we can do is break it.”
“Really?” she said, still a little worried.
He nodded. He took her silence as consent and turned and started walking towards the cement bathrooms. There were lots of rocks near the bathrooms. He picked one that was slightly larger than his hand, he brought it down tentatively, striking the bottle. Nothing happened, the bottle was slick. He raised his hand higher, he brought it downward and closed his eyes upon impact. There was the sound of glass breaking.
“Max! you said you’d be careful!”
“It wasn’t going to work any other way, it needed some force.”
He carefully reached his finger among the pile of creamy-white broken glass. There was a small tube, a tube of paper. He brought his thumb and index finger to the edge of the paper and pulled it out, shaking the paper gently and letting the glass shards fall.
“Made a little mess,” he said with a devilish smile.
Kate shook her head, “you like destroying things, don’t you?”
He smiled. They turned their attention to the paper. Their fingers fumbled together as they tried to un-scroll it. “It’s a map,” she said in disbelief.

Three months ago they had found the map, and now they were here, tromping along the south side of Tikam-sui, a small island in the Sampui Republic, which was really a collection of a dozen small islands in the South Pacific. The map had taken a hold of them, like a plague of the imagination.
“What if it’s really true?” Kate would wonder at night. “What if it was the last message sent from a sinking ship? What if a defector made a map and threw it overboard in the middle of the night?”
They came up with dozens of stories, they wanted it to be true. And now they were here, animated creatures following the lines of the map, looking for the buried treasure. Was it jewels that the map promised? There was no picture of a treasure box on the map, nothing that overt. But there were complicated lines indicating the ocean currents and this was the modern-day nation that the lines all pointed to. This was the place with the “X.” The “X” that promised nothing but mystery.
“So…I’m not sure how the topography has changed since the map was made, but if it’s still slightly close, then we’re on the right side of the island. This beach is big, how the hell are we supposed to find it? Whatever it is?” Max wondered out loud.
Kate shook her head, “just pick a place and start digging,” she said. “But you know,” she added, “don’t try to use your head, just walk ‘til it feels good and then start digging.”
They held the map between them, four hands held the corners open in the light of the setting sun.
“Well, we should probably make a nice fire and carve out a place to sleep…maybe eat some chocolate…we can start looking tomorrow, soon as the sun rises.”

They slept among a sparkling blanket of stars. They were at least a thousand miles away from any big-city noise and neon signs, here the night lights came out from hiding, they showed themselves to wondrous eyes in unabashed openness. Max and Kate lay together, in the double sleeping bag they had brought.
She nestled her head against his chest, “I can’t believe this all exists, it’s too beautiful.”

The sun came up against a layer of sinewy blue clouds that burned away quickly.
“Ok, remember, pick a place with your body, not your head,” Kate said with more confidence than she felt.
Max nodded. They each started walking, in slightly parallel lines and then, after a couple of steps, they diverged. Kate walked for forty more steps, then sunk to her knees and started digging with her small metal shovel. She dug until the sun was high overhead and her stomach was rumbling. She climbed out of the sandy hole and went to look for Max. She walked down the beach half a mile and saw three holes that were close together, each was a couple of feet deep. He was shoveling into the third hole.
“Ready for lunch?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said, looking up and squinting, there was sand stuck to his cheeks. “You know, this is gonna be a big job.”
She nodded. “How come there are three different holes?”
“Well, I started and then, obviously, didn’t find anything, so I started digging in another spot.”
She nodded, vague memories rushed to her of all the things Max started and then stopped. The two hours of guitar lessons, the two weeks of Karate, the single lesson of sculpture. Nothing held his interest too long. She imagined a beach pocked with a thousand knee-high holes.
“I’m still working on mine, it’s pretty deep,” she said. “Cool, different styles, I guess.”

They ate their lunch and returned to their respective places on the beach. At night, they returned to their camp and made a fire and held each other in the soft confines of their sleeping bag.
“This is gonna be a lot of work,” Max said as he drifted to dreamland.
Kate knew Max would never find it, the mysterious “X.” He just never went far enough, he always stayed at the surface, giving up before making a committed effort. The only thing she had ever seen him commit to was her. She smiled a little and kissed his sleeping forehead. She thought to herself, “if there is anything here, it’s sure to be buried deep. Anything worth hiding is worth hiding well. They would have hid it thinking ahead, thinking of storms, of the ever-present sea, of the coming years, without the certain truth they would ever come back. Whatever it is, it is probably buried very deep.”

The next morning the sound of a small bird awoke them. It spoke in the rhythmic intervals of a metronome. Somewhere in the thicket of tropical trees behind them, a chorus of little birds answered.
“Time to get up,” Max said, kissing Kate on the forehead.
“Let’s find the mystery…” she said with sleepy eyes.
“You want to come over to my side of the beach to help me?” Max asked.
“No, I want to really make sure that it’s not there, or make sure it is. Either way, I need to keep digging.”
Max shrugged.

They dug for hours, they dug for days. The days turned into a week, the week transformed, moving out of the regimented intervals they had grown accustomed to. As she had seen with her mind’s eye, Max had indeed dug a hundred small holes over the beach. Time only had two designations for them now, light and dark. They dug when it was light, they made love when the sun moved away from them. Each morning, Kate went back to the same large hole she had started with. The one her heart had chosen. With each movement of her shovel, she thought of something precious she would want to hide and protect, she thought of how deep she would have struggled to protect it from unworthy hands. There was nothing else to do. There was the sun, the beach, the sand and the work. Sweat ran down her forehead as she came to realize that nothing else truly mattered anymore.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Special Bottles With Unique Mechanical Abilities

It is a most unhappy circumstance that I awoke this morning with a mean little headache. It is the sort of dull ache which never ceases and makes me feel as if my head were stuffed with cotton or steel wool. It is easily excited into a throb. All of me is easily stirred into a storm of confusion. I ran up and down my stairs five or six times unable to decide whether to run out of the garage and off to the bus stop in my sweaty red pajamas or to go back through the front door and change. It took me five or six runs before I finally prevented my self from jogging back down the stairs by shouting.
Then I stayed where any maniac in sweaty red footed pajamas should stay, in their own apartment, and I stripped out of the pjs and went to take a shower. The light switch in the bathroom explained to me that the light bulbs were burned out again because of a problem with the building’s electrical wiring. It was most apologetic with it’s little nose turned down and it’s rectangular face staring blankly into the murk of the bathroom. I forgave it and turned the shower on and walked to the living room to get a candle. I approached the general region where a candle might have been found but stopped a foot short of that destination and went to my computer and opened a word document and attempted to print some labels. They printed on the wrong side of the label sheet so I turned the sheet over and tried again, but they still weren’t right, the text was all crooked and wasn’t aligned with the stickers properly. All the while I listened to the water running in my shower and thought,
"There goes California’s water supply down my drain."
Eventually I returned without the candle (which I never properly looked for) and climbed into the dark shower. First I avoided washing my hair. Then I decided it would be best, you know, to go the whole hog including the postage and quit pussy footing around. I wetted the hair, then scanned the shower for my shampoo. It was then that I recalled seeing it on the bathroom sink this morning. I had seen it and shoved it back out of my way wondering which child had removed it from the shower and for what reason. Now I debated going out after it or using the children’s shampoo. I went with option two and found that it was gooey from careless little hands closing the cap only partially so that all of the shampoo was running out into the cap and had turned rubbery in the night while we slept. It might be important to note that these bottles are the type that stand on their caps so that the shampoo is always ready to be squeezed out. What genius invented these bottles, now so widely used, but nonexistent in my childhood?
Everything from shampoo to ketchup can be found in such bottles so that no one ever has to bang on the bottom of a bottle and wait for anything to come pouring out ever again. It saves a minute at least, and that’s time that a person really needs, especially after they’ve wasted so much of it running back and forth up and down two flights of stairs in their pajamas. The only drawback of course is that you must close the cap properly or all of whatever it is in your bottle will spill out in your absence. Some particularly cheaply manufactured bottles are especially prone to this. At last, my hair was washed and my body cleaned and I came out of the dark shower and looked at the deodorant bottle which I knew was empty. (Since the subject of bottles has become so important, I will mention that this particular bottle holds a liquid deodorant and has a little roller ball on top that rolls into the liquid and then over your pits in the most charming way. A very special bottle that makes a special product accessible.) I used the other weird smelling deodorant that I bought at the Ninety Nine Cents Store and resolved to throw the other empty container away. I suppose that it stayed there empty for so long only because I preferred it so vastly over the other. I dried my hair and applied the various lotions and potions I’ve become accustomed to and dressed myself to look like a sane person, still wandering through a fog of pain.
I faced the stairs again having recovered the memory of the sacred secret; “Whatever you do, do a lot of it, do it all the way, and do it with flare.” I took the stairs with resolve, undaunted by the break from routine that had left me so impaired, defiant of the squeezing brain gone useless under my skull. I made it all of the way down the stairs and out of the garage and to the bus stop. Eventually I arrived in a new place and I sat down with the same numbed mind and idiotic body and put all of these words down for you, so that you can benefit from this strange effort of mine, exercised on a day when my mechanical nature has nearly thrown me into a seizure of repetitive up stair and down stair trips. In the end, I hope that I too have been a very special bottle that made a very special product accessible to someone who could use it.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I saw the little boy coming up the crowded blocked-off street. The street was lined with fruit stalls and vegetable vendors. Swarms of people gathered around the sample booths with their little bowls of toothpicks, others walked hurriedly with heavy bags on their shoulders, moving quickly to their waiting cars. I had seen the boy’s dad a little while earlier, a sweet man I had worked for during a summer of transition and pickle-making. We talked briefly when I waved to him, he told me his wife was teaching a pickling class on the other side of town and he was here with the kids. I saw a child on his back, a little girl with blonde hair I had never met. On the flickering out-reaches of my mind, while I nodded and smiled and asked more questions, I wondered where the little boy was, the one I had first met by chance in Mexico, at a bus station in Chiapas during the only time I was ever sick on the road. His mother had given me charcoal tablets to ease my stomach, but they did not work on the long, curvy road to the Mayan ruins. I had recognized them from Santa Cruz, and as I locked myself into the small bus bathroom and looked out the open window while beads of sweat dripped down my cheeks, I imagined myself working for them when we all returned to the place we called home. And so it happened, I had spent a summer cutting green beans and making strawberry lemonade and listening to the Spanish oldies station with the other workers in the kitchen.
Three years later, Todd, the man with the green eyes, one of which had a large brown fleck in it, and the little girl on his back, stood before me. We talked a little while longer and then they left, blending in with the crowd. Twenty minutes later, I saw the little boy. He appeared like Moses parting through a sea of adults. He was only as tall as the waist of the many adults that he passed, but he moved through them assuredly on the platform of a small scooter. He held the metal handle as his foot leisurely kicked the asphalt below for a little more speed. He rode with open eyes, looking in all directions at once, waiting for an energetic pulse to grab his attention. I stood behind my wooden table, laden with green soaps and incense, I watched as he approached and passed me. He stopped a couple feet away and watched an old white man in a wheelchair communicate with the black man that pushed him. The old man had had a stroke and spoke in long extended syllables and consonants that echoed through the market. The little boy watched the exchange. He watched with total attention, as though these two people were all that existed. The black man secured a bag of peaches onto the handle of the wheelchair, then began pushing it though the crowd. The little boy watched them go, he stared at their shrinking backs for about five seconds and then he got on his scooter and followed them. The wheelchair stopped in front of the ice cream booth and, through the crowd, I was just able to see the little boy standing a couple feet away from them, absorbed with curiosity. A couple grabbed my attention and I turned to talk to them about soap. Some minutes later, as I put six dollars in my black change purse, I looked up and saw the little boy approaching me once more. He looked at me and I waved.
“Don’t you remember me?” I asked. He shook his head. “Your name’s Rye, isn’t it.”
He smiled slightly, “yeah,” he said with curiosity, “how’d you know?”
“I used to work with your parents in the kitchen… actually, I first met you in Mexico, in the bus station, but you were even younger then. Do you remember going to Mexico?”
“Yeah, I remember Mexico, but I don’t remember you. I remember standing like this,” he stood with his arms at his sides and made his back very straight, like a wooden solider, “I was standing in the back of a truck like this,” he pointed to the truck behind me. “I was standing like this and I was smushed in between big plastic things filled with water.”
I nodded. He smiled slightly, then began to walk away. He walked his scooter to the sidewalk, just a couple steps behind me. There was no one on the sidewalk. I watched him ride away, a little boy totally open to the mystery surrounding him, engaging and disengaging as the impulses ran though him. He moved on, knowing no limits, lacking any hesitation.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Take my weakness, it hangs like a limp rainbow. Take the blue and the orange, the fuzzy pink and the splashes of black. You see them all beyond the lens of the image, worlds away from the thick coating of cheap sentimentally and projection. You see it all, the dying songbirds, the singing crickets, the little girl lost in the arms of an oak. How you can hold it all? Will I ever know? The golden cauldron of your chest is their grave and their birth. Where death and life move together like parallel lines that spurt off electrons and grow fields of sunflowers and daises. Your heart is surrounded by a massive cave of wonder, the chamber that opens despite the westward winds and the storms that rise like Vikings from the sea, just a blink and the bearded men are more than ghosts, a breath, and gentle winds hurl their snow. But it matters not, you are warm and the butterflies make a rainbow of you.
Your golden wand is the one found in dreams, where mountains dance like frogs and orange crickets fly with three foot wings. The cauldron spins, churning what I have given, turning what has been taken. The chant is quiet, still…contained…my ears lack the strength, my attention scatters before the voyage, but still, I can see the trail made of breadcrumbs laid for the witch, I can see the trail of candy for the little girl. Which one will I be today? The magician on the mountaintop looks to the clouds. Black storms rise and fall at your command, rainbows break into a thousand particles or scurry to form broad arches.
What is it you wish?
What is it you need?
I watch from the tattered lip of a pink rose petal, watch while the elements bend to the will of a bearded dragon. Flames, rain, wind…they come in intervals to match the moon. The rose bounces in a sudden breeze and I look up, up, up the side of the granite bolder, it reaches well beyond the clouds.
I sit here with a picnic basket and a thin little blanket. I sit here with my neck arched and searching for your form among the boundless white and blue and gray. I look for the black silhouette and the golden cauldron and jeweled staff. I wait for the unseen. I wait for the feeling in my chest to rise and rise, for the bubbles to burst. I wait and watch, listening to the sound of chatting birds and the blades of dying grass that swap nearly identical stories. Like a blanket they have grown, but each has its tale of sun and vanishing rain and the lovers that have kissed upon them. If I close my eyes I can hear the murmuring of the trees. They sing like a chorus and if I listen closely, their sounds multiply like a cacophony of doves. I look for you, for your shape, for the curves of a glowing black cloud.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I wake up with multiple strings pulling at my thoughts. Some are golden threads yanking lightly, others are thick hemp rope that tug and tug, pulling with the strength of a thousand sailors. A single mind, a single point is stretched, I imagine my head like the dot on a map, a red city with a web of highways emanating from the center. This day has begun under a layer of clouds and I have awoken rested, yet with sore muscles that pinch my neck and upper back. I feel a tug. My dreams stirred me like a cauldron and floating on the top is the memory of a childhood crush. The boy who was beaten by his stepfather, the boy who drew gruesome fish and decapitated bodies. The boy I always wanted but could never look in the eye. What did he do with his past? Has he turned his lashings and fear into a graphic story that lines the shelves of bookstores? Does he smoke away his days in an effort to still his mind? What has he done with his past? The dream lingers, “I’ve always held out a hope that we would be together,” I told a childhood friend. I’ve written it all down and I sit here, my mind moving in a thousand directions, my breath moving in and out, my attention coming back in bursts of self remembering. “yes, it’s time to focus…”
But here I go….down the highway of thought. What have I done wrong? Oh yes… sleep has not erased the contact I muddled. A new day and still, my eyes are a little worn, my body lacks the ability to hold itself straight, so I sit like I always do, like a little old woman who has spent the last seventy years bearing the burden of her family. How many generations do I pile on my back? With whose mouth do I speak? What dreams do I carry with me like a coat of arms? Only, we didn’t have coats of arms, we carried ourselves in secret, only our noses gave us away, that, and the eyes.
Eyes that can be found in any country where our women wander. I remember the long lost photo, the seductive stare of a young woman in Egypt who rests on a marble floor, her hand on the handle of a copper urn, staring up at the photographer with brown eyes that speak of lust, of pure heat that is transmitted through DNA. I carry them all in my cells, every sex crazed woman. Every complaining man. Their teachings, their fears that could topple me if I let them. Their lifetimes are piled on me, my sentence since birth.
Shall I give up the body and focus? Shall I give up the thoughts of children, the thoughts of a monogamous pairing? All the things I thought I never wanted. All the things I did. All the things I have seen while watching movies, while watching my parents, while watching the world go by me in a blur of pairs and extended bliss. I saw the video of the wedding, it was glorious and they pledged it would go on forever. They swore their love would never crumble, that their devotion would only grow, that nothing would change. And I cried while watching them, a set of strangers, a couple convinced of the lie that defies their own nature. The pretty girl in white smiles as though she has never known true happiness before. I was never promised happiness. I was promised work, continuous, never ending work. I was promised it would be hard and I took his hand with a blindfold over my eyes, I took his hand and stepped through the doorway.
I look down at my naked body, I have been pulled again, down the road of thought. Strings pull me in a thousand directions. If I pull back, that only makes them stronger. If I float calmly, then they may fall away.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Doing The Rounds

They slid through the long curved streets, like silver balls over a pinball table, or rather as a single silver ball composed of two men on two separate bicycles, slim artifacts that swiftly carried them from one corner to another, from one edge to another, from one gateway to the next. The men were long and thin and white, and they were covered in tight colorful clothes that were now drenched in their sweat. Their heads were protected by small hard black helmets, their eyes were fixed on the road ahead, and their lips sometimes broke into little smiles of easy contentment. At busy intersections, where they had to wait for a few minutes for the light to change, then, and only then, would they turn to each other and make a comment, usually on the speed at which they were travelling, on the current working of the bikes and any repairs or upgrades that would soon be required, on the traffic and the weather and all other things that were beyond their control. Their long arms would then hold on tightly to the handles, while their heads were turned, always ready and waiting for the rapid movement to begin again so that their silent circular journey could continue.
They swiftly rode up and down the paved slender paths that criss-crossed the park like the patchwork web of a metallic spider, some strange monster perhaps hidden under the great parking lot that lay on the west side, by the ocean, or maybe under the busy little streets to the east. They looked around only briefly and then only to acknowledge the visions that rose around them, or to avoid an obstacle or an unsuspecting pedestrian who failed to hear them coming and didn’t step aside. The paths for them were like private channels and all the people that they might encounter here, even other cyclists, were ultimately seen as intruders in their own secluded realm. They only crossed roads when they were forced to by geography, and then they ran back into the paved paths as soon as it was possible, losing themselves in the web once again. There they could imagine the cars fading into non-existence and the noise boiling into a single soup of white and pink snow.
They rode around the lake, where the couples pedaled on their little plastic boats while looking around themselves and at each other, trying to reconcile their mutual private love with a world of cold strangers and coming up with no clear answers or even any distinct questions that could be voiced aloud. They rode to the edge of the white arboretum where the windows were dripping with the sweat of the hot life that lived inside and people walked out smiling, unsure of what they had seen. They rode to the edge of the ocean where the cars were lined up diagonally and people sat on a cement wall, staring at the endless repeating spectacle of waves, sand and horizon, trying to find hidden meaning in a short glimpse at the surface of the world. They rode under large thick trees that held the promise of longevity in their sprawling roots and branches, in the weight of their profound knowledge buried in their deep green silence. They rode up to the heights of the waterfall where a single thick cement cross stood proud, protected by wire fence that had been cut open in several places, surrounded by bottles and graffiti and paper bags and newspapers that danced calmly in the light breeze. They rode through the abandoned park buildings to the north east, where old men in sweaty layers of thick clothing sat and stared at the burning cement surface, surrounded by bushes and flowers and the singing of birds. They rode to the great open lawn in the southeast, where the young ravers and the old hippies danced to the beat of a circle of drummers, all eyes half closed in the distinctive manifestation of chemical ecstasy. They rode under tunnels drenched in urine to emerge into playgrounds drenched in laughter and screams of childish surprise. They rode past signs that said “no entrance” and “road closed” and they found that they could enter and that all paths eventually lead somewhere, even if it wasn’t where they originally meant to go. And finally they rode back into the street, past a bus stop and a no parking sign, on their way back home, when the sunlight was starting to wane and the air had begun to turn chilly.
There would then come a week of papers and bright screens and phone calls and pressure and calm grace. They would be away from each other and away from the concrete paths that formed the outline of a world of flowers and trees and grass. By the time the week was over, it would be time to do the rounds once again.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tender Strangers

Sitting on the BART, a delicate film of sweat collected over my cheeks and collar bone, I rock and sway with the other anonymous strangers. The young man across the aisle from me sips from a disposable coffee cup. His sneakers are white, he wears a black fedora and leather jacket over his tee shirt paired with skinny blue jeans.
The metallic caterpillar rocks to a stop at the platform overlooking John Daly Blvd. and more passengers stream in as an indistinct mass and then separate, congealing into distinct forms as they find a place to sit or stand. One wears a black and white stripped shirt and looks like Ross from friends. This street means everything to me. It was the first and only street I knew of when I first arrived here in this strange cold land. Everywhere that I went I found my way by connecting it to this central artery and for years I followed these same desperate routes carved out in this cold wet and misty wilderness of concrete, afraid of becoming lost, tangled in streets whose purposes might elude me, ending at a chain link fence or curving around to swallow their own tails like the ouroboros. My path, which always sprang from and returned to this blvd., was ultimately always the least direct route. There were streets nearer at hand which connected to my destinations and traversing these would have taken half as much time as I spent tracing my way along the spinal column of road that stretched from the seas to the cemeteries and beyond into lands unknown, but I was oblivious to these paths.
And now that I understand the lay of these other smaller veins that reach through the city and they no longer represent a dark forest in which I might be ensnared by a witch abiding in a gingerbread box house, I have no car to take advantage of this knowledge. Now I sit on buses which also trace their way along their own main arteries, always watching the more direct route to my home flash by the smoky tinted window and then I am forced to walk the difference home. Cats now nest in my broken down Chevy Celebrity station wagon laid to rest in the garage like the hull of a sunken pirate ship nestled down in the sea bed. Swathed in the eerie and sparse illumination of a halogen bulb and coated with a fine white layer of dust as French toast is with confectioners sugar, it accumulates many little feline paw prints and a rank filthy odor. The power windows could no longer be rolled up after last summer and so whatever wants to come in can do so. In my car, spiders dance with newborn kittens on the juice stained cushions and they scale the mountains of debris that have accumulated to form a range reaching from the front seat to the back hatch. They can play with discarded little ponies and Barbie’s heads and dress up in the costumes that once belonged to my littlest daughter, dress as princesses or mermaids or disco queens. Or they can establish a school for young alley cats and the spiders can write out the lessons on the chalkboard that my eldest daughter used to use as a painting easel. But in none of these activities am I involved, so they do not concern me overly much.
I am a passenger on a little turbo train like the one that my father built into a train set for me as a child, coasting along on a rail high above the heads of ordinary commuters. A new influx of passengers board and I am joined by a new stranger that sits intimately near to me. He holds a bagel that smells of onion and a bottle of milk and pretends not to notice me writing and I pretend not to notice him eating, but we know that each person is aware of the others actions, and somehow it makes it even more intimate, our mutual respect, our ability to be alone together. We have suddenly become like a loving elderly couple that sits in easy chairs by the front window, one reading and the other knitting, only we rock along on the BART together for 7 minutes rather than fifty years. Then I hear “Powell Street” and I look big eyed into his face, seeing for the first time the blue eyes and sparse strawberry blonde beard of my tender stranger. Without words (for we are that sympathetic to each others needs by now) he knows I must get off at this stop, and he rises quickly, allowing me to slide out into the aisle and that first look at his face is the last as I bustle off of the train.