Monday, November 29, 2010

Super Ball

Who sits with me this morning?
My grandmother is here with bare feet, even though in life I never saw her stand on bare feet but always shod in fur lined booties, boxes of which were stockpiled in the guestroom closet. I saw her feet bare only if she lay down on her bed to watch talk shows on the beautiful old Zenith on her dresser.
That television had a special smell about it and of course it looked different from our televisions at home, even though I can barely remember the precise details of its form. I can remember that it looked stylish. This was a television set from the old school, a television built with a modern luxurious look in mind. A television that was good to look at even when it was shut off. I used to get close to it and press my nose against it to smell its special smell.
My grandparents had a way of preserving everything as if their house were a comfortable museum. Nothing ever got dirty or wore out. Things maintained the smell they came out of the box with and contributed that odor to the mix so that a new Zenith television set mingled with vanilla and licorice and coffee and wood and clean linens and sand.
Did you know that the sand of the desert has a smell? That even inside of the house you can smell the desert beyond the four walls? You can. It has its own special smell, clean and dusty all at once. Maybe the only way for you to understand what I’m talking about is for you to get into your car and drive to Phoenix.
I loved it there, not only in the house and yard which, against nature's desire, was a lush green paradise, but also on the streets. I loved the stark nakedness of everything, the sun tormenting all surfaces with its unashamed glare, the cacti and sand in center dividers and planters boxes, the hundred plus degree heat bouncing back up from asphalt and concrete, making waves in the view of the world and warming scrawny little girls like me so that I could never feel cold again, never as long as I could recall Phoenix.
My grandmother is here with her bare feet, perhaps to remind me of that warmth that saturated me to the bone.
When I was very young she would come out onto the porch carpeted with Astroturf and furnished with an electric reclining lounge. There was a lovely wooden shelf fashioned by my grandfather especially for holding a collection of little painted pots.
Inside of the pots we kept an assortment of small round super balls, the kind you could get for a quarter out of those red toped machines that lay in wait at the front of every grocery store. I had hot pink and electric green super balls and rainbow swirled super balls. We played with several at once, in no particular way that I can recall, because those little balls were so unpredictable. Once they had been released from the pots there was no stopping them, they bounced around like popping corn and there could be no joy in trying to catch them or pass them, only in setting them free to bounce like mad, then rescuing them once gravity had at last gotten the best of them. I would scramble around on hands and knees to retrieve them when nature had beaten them. I rescued them, my little friends who needed just a little help to begin their wild dancing again.
I never felt that I was too hot out there on the porch or in the yard. It was always too hot for my grandmother and she was very careful to take me back inside after a reasonable amount of time had passed and there re-hydrate me with a mixture of apple cider vinegar in water.
No one could ever reproduce my grandmother's apple cider vinegar and honey. I remember returning home and feeling the desire for one. I asked my mother to prepare it. The taste was awful. Being an honest child I told her, so that she could try again, and she did, again and again, to no avail. At last I stopped asking.
It must be terrible to discover that there is something that someone else can do for your child which you cannot emulate, especially when that someone is the mother of your husband and comes to your house for the holidays to complain of everything.
My grandparents could not be satisfied by my mother's pathetic efforts at home making. Unconvinced of her ability to even launder linens properly, they packed their own wash cloths and towels when they came to visit. Certain that they liked the expensive apple turnovers from the town's only doughnut shop, my mother bought them for breakfast every time they were with us, until at last my grandparents complained that she only ever gave them one thing. She was stung. I can remember her saying that they couldn’t be satisfied.
After that she no longer wished to go along when my father and sister and I visited them in their desert. She said that they made her feel unwelcome in their home. She told me once that they insinuated that they didn’t have room for all of us.
In retrospect, now that I can eat and bath myself without my family’s assistance, I feel that I would not invite my mother to my house either, nor my father for that matter. Most days I think that I would not invite my grandmother either, but now she is here, barefoot.
I feel that I have to explain.
In the early days when we played super ball on the back porch or turned the barstools over inside the kitchen to make me a doggie house, my grandmother and I were bosom buddies. My grandfather seemed rather too grouchy for my taste during that time and if I had had to pick just one to keep and one to throw away, I would have kept my grandmother.
As I grew older this changed. As little breasts budded on my chest and acne swallowed my face, my grandmother could no longer bear the heat outside at all. If I wanted to go out I went out alone. Her favorite thing to do with me now was to discuss awkward subjects such as premarital sex and homosexuality and the use of condoms.
My grandfather now enlisted my help in running errands. He enjoyed leaving early before the heat had fully come to settle on things and preferred to visit various different specialty stores to obtain all of the things my grandparents required to maintain their existence.
I soon intuited that part of his motive in getting one thing here and another there had less to do with the quality of this or that item and more to do with the interactions he had with each of the shop keepers. Even in the chain grocery store the manager would come out to say hello and the clerks could call him by his first name.
One day as we cruised down those scorching streets in his white Buick, my grandfather asked if I enjoyed running errands with him. I told him heartily that I did which put him into a great state of peace and contentment.
My grandmother could rarely be coaxed out of the house. This had been going on since before I was born. My father later revealed to me that back during my super ball days my grandfather had come to him in a shambles. He told my father that he wanted to kill himself because he was so lonely. My grandmother would never leave the house with him, not for dinner, not for a movie, not for dancing or ice cream or to watch sunrises. She gave the same strange excuse for every occasion; she was afraid of picking up fleas. My father begged my grandfather not to do it. He suggested that my grandfather try having affairs with other women before he turned to such a drastic measure. My father was always glad to conclude the story by saying that his suggestion had done the trick.
Slowly it was my grandmother who began to appear to my adolescent eyes as a grouch. Now that I was at an age to understand, she could do little more than tell sad stories again and again, and ask those same awkward questions suggested to her by day time talk shows.
My grandfather, on the other hand, could now interact with me in ways that he had been unable to interact with a connoisseur of super ball and games of doggie. He taught me to bake, and tried to show me how mechanical things worked. He took me to a vineyard to pick grapes, and to a sandy place where we watched people fly remote control gliders. And he introduced me to all of the little casual acquaintances that made his life worth bearing. He beseeched me not to reflect on the dark side of life but to embrace beauty while it was there to be had.
“Dark times always come. They will find you. So don’t go looking for them, enjoy the sun while it is here.” Then, with difficulty, he told me a little of his experiences in WWII as a young German fighting on the Eastern front.
“We were just kids. We didn’t want to be there. We would have preferred to be dancing, listening to music…people here don’t understand, we had no choice. Dark times.” He shook his head and looked out the window, gazing far away, into a place beyond the scope of the window, a place I couldn’t see. “Maybe you‘ll be lucky and never see such times.”
I was much closer to him by the time that he passed away, whereas by the time my grandmother left the world I hardly recognized her. Confined to a wheelchair, she unable to do more than grunt and exhibit behaviors that seemed selfish and cruel.
That was how I last saw her before she died sequestered in that house with my uncle as her keeper. At that time both house and yard had fell into terrible disrepair.
But now my grandmother is here again, standing with bare feet in the yard where green grass is beginning to push up through the old yellow stuff. She is standing and talking, just as she could when I was a child, and she is asking me if I will help her by playing with tennis balls on the porch. I feel that this will make her stronger but it is difficult for me to hold the tennis balls in my hands. They are too large and I can not juggle them.
Slowly it dawns on me… I know what we need. If my grandmother is to be fully restored, what we need to pass between us is not these furry offish tennis balls. We need super balls, tiny, lively, uncontrollable super balls. Then I will have my grandmother again. Then, at last we will be reunited. This is why she has come to sit with me this morning, unshod, to be alive again. Like a super ball that was lost under the recliner and now waits for me to set it free, my grandmother is here with bare feet.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Best Night Ever

I witnessed the best night ever. It didn’t happen to me, but I was part of it, guiding the events, letting out a tune every once in a while until we broke out into a spectacle of fireworks that moved around the room disguised only slightly by the turning disco ball.
We both drank slowly from our plastic containers of lemonade. Every time she took a sip her eyes would squint involuntarily and her cheeks would pucker. It was a look of pain, but she kept drinking more. It was the most rich, sweet and sour drink I had ever tasted, I couldn’t imagine it with the thousand extra taste buds of youth. She took another sip, wincing in pain and I laughed.
“Do you want me to get you a glass of water so you can mix the two? Then it won’t be so sour.”
“No, I’m ok.”
I offered to get her water several times until I realized that I needed some. I got up without a word and poured two cups from the self-serve plastic water container on the counter of the restaurant. When I brought them back to the table she drank greedily from the cup, perhaps unaware until that moment of how much her body desired something neutral.
Eating from my plate, I realized that this was not kid-friendly food. It was rich and intense. The mac and cheese was mixed with hot sauce and other spices that made it almost too overwhelming on my tongue. Next to it were two types of tofu burgers, one was fried, seasoned and crispy while the other was drenched in deep red bbq sauce. She picked delicately at the only quiet thing on the plate, a small piece of yellow cornbread.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take you to get a kid-friendly burger next door.”
I looked around the restaurant. The walls were a bare white except for the two large portraits of Big Mama Thorton and Muddy Waters behind me. Each portrait was five feet tall and four feet wide. They were painted with one shade of maroon that reminded me of a film negative.
Besides the paintings, the place was bare. The seven tables in the front section were clear of any decoration. Around the corner in the dimly lit section that might have been an old blues club, a disco ball turned its light on an empty collection of tables.
Before we left she tossed another penny into the fountain by the front register and the hand written chalk menu on the back wall. We walked next door to Nation’s burger. I had eaten there twice. Once years ago after I had been drinking with my friend Julie. I thought it was delicious, the best burger ever. After a few weeks and fond memories of my meal, I went back sober. The experience was night and day. My burger was greasy, flat and tasted of oil.
We walked next door hand in hand. There were several tall black men standing by the register, one had a head of dreadlocks hidden behind a large knit cap. As we walked in and I saw him I felt safe just because he was there. Another older man showed us his plastic bracelet, he had just gotten out of the hospital.
The man with the bracelet looked down at her and she was already smiling,
“You must be ten,” he said happily with his red eyes and deep voice.
“No! my sister is ten! I’m nine!”
“oh!” he said laughing.
She smiled and held onto the purple pillar by the cash register. A crew of three young Asian men worked behind the counter.
“What do you want?” I asked, “they have hamburgers, hotdogs, grilled ch-“
“A hot dog and French fries and a piece of cherry pie!”
“hot dog, French fry and cherry pie!” the man with the bracelet said out loud, sounding like Samuel L. Jackson on the verge of laughing.
A young Asian guy with acne took our order and we took a seat in the booth by the front window. The man with the bracelet followed us back to the table.
“scuze me, do you have any money I could use ta get something to eat, I bin in the hospital and you wouldn’t believe the weight I lost.” I reached in my bag and got a dollar.
Our ticket number was called soon and when I went to get it I saw the biggest piece of cherry cheese cake, a foot long hot dog and French fries.
“Wow,” she said amazed, “this is such a nice restaurant, they have such nice food and they must have spent a lot of money to put all these nice vases and flowers on every table. This is such a nice restaurant, I love it here!”
I looked at the red plastic vase on our table and the two red carnations in it. One carnation was dead and dried up, the other still had a bit of vitality. I looked at the rest of the tables, each with a matching vase and flowers.
As she ate her hot dog I looked around the space. I was slightly uncomfortable, several homeless men came in to get cups of water. There were two old black men sitting against the wall at a table, I wondered just how prejudiced I actually was given my anxiousness to leave.
One of the older men sitting against the wall seemed to be staring at me. I held his gaze, unsure if he was looking, then looked back at the paper in front of me. I read her a list of activities that were being advertised in the local free weekly while trying to give the appearance of confidence and relaxation.
A while later I looked back at the older black man. He nodded to me, not smiling, but acknowledging my presence.
She kept turning around to the man with the bracelet who now sat in the booth behind us completely focused on his food. She looked like she wanted to talk to him and she positioned her body in a way that did not completely shut him out with her back.
“I can’t eat any more without some water.”
I went to the register and got a cup for water. As I was walking back, a middle aged man, perhaps of middle eastern origin smiled at me. I smiled back and wondered if people were friendlier if they saw you with a child.
When she couldn’t eat any more and I put a limit on the amount of pie she could eat, she walked up to the counter to get a box for the extra slice of pie. She walked back with it, now confident of her place in the space. She looked over at the homeless man eating, looking shyly at him for his eye contact. I could tell she wanted to smile at him, to talk with him, but he was focused on his food. As we were putting on our coats he looked up and she waved,
“bye!” she said.
He smiled brightly, “bye!”
We walked out the front door and she closed it gently, looking through the glass in the door as she did so. She caught his eyes again and smiled and waved her small little hand.
“I like black people,” she said as we walked from the restaurant, “actually I adore them!”
We walked back into the vegan restaurant to use the bathroom and sit in their more empty section in the back to wait for 9pm to roll around. There were several more tables with benches for seats. We sat next to the wall facing the small TV which was shining with images from Soul Train, a show I had heard referenced so much but had never actually seen.
In the back the lighting was very dim, the light source came from the bright area in the front of the restaurant and the rotating disco ball.
A group of four young white people sat in the darkness at a table close by. At first she lay on my lap and tried to sleep since it was almost nine, but then she sat up to watch the images of a crowded room full of afros and dancers.
Playing constantly on the loudspeaker were old Motown classics. I began to lightly tap out the rhythm on the table. She did the same, using my left leg as a drum. Soon she hit the beats harder and harder, pounding into my muscles. When a slow song came on, I grabbed her hand and swung it in the space between us. She insisted on trying to pull our hands down every few beats to try and hit me in the leg. Sometimes she succeeded, other times I was able to pull our hands towards her, though our force never reached her leg. She would laugh each time she hit me, each time I diverted it, each time she was almost hit with the energy of our combined hands.
We were both singing, me knowing some of the lines, she just grabbing what she could at the moment. At that moment I was free, singing openly, letting my energy spill out without a care for its interpretation or judgement, for there was none. It was a state I may never have been in before, singing so openly-playing so effortlessly.
She looked at me, “this is the best night ever!”
Now I nodded my head, it was indeed a great night. Maybe the best night ever.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Radical Feet


The letters swept across the face of the floating billboard in a font Dayne recognized as Aero Brazil, something from the pulp adventures of early 20th century North America. Under the excited slogan a there was a picture of a smiling young blonde woman posing with the bulging black hulk of an antimatter gun. Her crisp blue uniform fit her smartly and Dayne felt that she wanted her own breast to stand so pertly at attention, she wished that her lips and cheeks could be so rosy, her eyes so sparkly and blue. She could vaguely remember the ancient black and white films of 1941 and the brighter than life Technicolor of 1952 that her mother had spent hours manipulating on the ComPad, creating new material from the fecundity of publicly accessible digital archives.
That had been before the arrival of the Aeons, before the archives were destroyed and the artists, videographers, musicians, and poets were rounded up and executed. All creative work was banned. The Aeons, emissaries of The Absolute insisted that it was a crime to emulate The Absolute with acts of creation. Creativity was a source of confusion that led to a path of madness like that which led Sophia to steal the creative light of the Pleroma, inseminating herself with it in order to birth Yaldabaoth the architect who in turn created this dimension and the first creatures that inhabited it.

“Where are you now grandfather?” Dayne asked the fallen God under her breath, her feet hurrying away from the billboard, slapping against the concrete with a clack. “They punish the children for the sins of the parents.”
Another billboard announcement, depicting the Archon Astaphanos being dethroned by the beautiful blue uniformed mob of the New Earth.
Dayne hurried by as it drifted nearer. The children are punished for the sins of the parents. Dayne herself was like Astaphanos, a child of a renegade creator.
“But where are they now Astaphanos? Your father and my mother? Where are they while these angels punish us and pit us against our parents?”
Betrayal was so common. How many shining young faces had proudly delivered their mother or father into the hands of the Aeonic Avatars, other pretty boys and girls in crisp blue uniforms, for a crime such as making up little songs while doing the housework, or whittling a useless little sculpture of an owl? Even the Archon prince Horaios had aided the Aeons after his capture in the pursuit of the terrible architect Yaldabaoth.

“There are no parents in this age, isn’t that right Astaphanos? No brothers, no sisters. An end to family. The end of history.”
Weren’t the sidewalks crowded with the citizens of New Earth? Stations were set up every three blocks or so where a citizen could become a member of the armed forces and fight alongside the stewards of New Earth. One could enlist to help storm the stronghold of Archon loyalists bunkered down on Mars or travel to another sphere of light under the wings of these angels to make war with strange alien demons in parallel worlds. Or one might stay home and police the streets as an Aeonic Avatar.
What will it be Dayne Strothe? The army or the police? A different sort of civil service perhaps? Food industry, garbage disposal, weapons manufacturing? There was an appropriate outlet for that inappropriate urge to create, make antimatter guns or sew little blue uniforms. Forget your mother making videos on the little ComPad, forget the music of Bach, The Beatles, that little band that played in the garage next door…
Administrative work perhaps, making and issuing the papers of identification.

Dayne’s feet carried her swiftly, independent of her mind, clack, clack on the concrete. It was of course always dangerous to walk alone on the street. Only dissidents sought solitude. So hurry, hurry to the place your mind hasn’t fully realized it is traveling to. Ah there it is, now that you see it, you know where you were going, where you meant to go all along…

Dayne slipped into the alley without a hesitating glance over her shoulder. She had been watching the reflections in the glass buildings all along, taking notice of those who did or did not notice her. In the last 8 blocks the beautiful glass buildings and clean but crowded streets had given way to bombed out brick ruins, to buildings of charred plaster and mortar. The streets were empty.
Dayne could remember those films her mother clipped and pasted in the ComPad. In those films, on a street like this, a piece of old newspaper or a plastic bag, or a leaf might have danced a lonesome dance and folded into the gutter.
Not now. There were no newspapers or plastic bags left in the world since before the Aeons arrived, and the trees that were here once had since been burned. It was even more desolate without a desolately drifting newspaper. A little water in the gutter, a few broken windows to search for reflections, but there was no one behind her, no one ahead. So Dayne slipped into the alley without a hesitating glance over her shoulder.
Her feet, her radical feet, carried her to the grimy yellow door. She found herself standing before it, felt her hand lift and tap out a little beat, heard her voice, alien to her own ears, singing waveringly:

“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.”

Then the silence rolled over at her feet. The sound of rats scurrying, a sound more silent than silence. Suddenly there was the sound of a bolt scraping and the yellow door swung inward on to a darkness deeper than that of the alleyway.
After a moment she made out the silhouette of a bearded face. It leaned out the door and scanned the alley in both directions and then jerked for her to follow it back into the darkness. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the deeper gloom as he re-bolted the door. Picking up a little saucer upon which a nub of candle glimmered faintly, he motioned for her to follow. They crossed the room entirely concealed in shadow and began the descent down a flight of stairs.
Dayne heard her voice bubble up in her throat once more,
“I am a great granddaughter of Sophia.”
“All of us here are.” The man ahead of her answered and she felt her shoulders relax.
The descent went on and on and Dayne heard the rumble of drums, the wailing of a flute, strange music swirling down in the dark depths. There would be no questions here, no need for answers, no papers of identification. Here perhaps Iao, Sabaoth, Adonaios, and Elaios were hiding from the prying light above.
‘Mother,” she wondered silently, ‘Could you have escaped the executioners? Are you down here, cutting and pasting, cutting and pasting the history of 1941 and 1952? And what about the terrible architect? Is he here too? A golden child nursing at Sophia’s breast, still dreaming worlds for us to inhabit, spheres where we may sing and dance and cut and paste without regulations, without jealous eyes watching?’
The music was growing louder the deeper they descended and Dayne’s feet drummed on the steps, clack, clack, radical feet carrying her to the place she dared not imagine.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gray Hounds

We are like dogs. All we can do is try to hump each other in the street, or sniff each other at the bar, or beg for our masters in the gray suits to throw us another scrap from the top of the gray buildings.
“Come with us to Café Van Kleef?” Alice asks as I board the elevator, already loosening my tie.
“We?” I sigh as I ask. Is it because I’m tired? Because I’m bored? Because my sphincter is releasing the death clinch it has maintained all day while I stayed out of the biting range of the Alpha dogs and the master’s whip?
“Sue might meet us there. Andrew. You met him, I think. He’s Rob's cousin.”
“Yeah, I know him.” as if it matters to me at all who might be there, where there is, or whether I ever manage to crawl back out. “I’ll go.” I say as one more skinny blond in high heels joins us in the elevator. She has a name, but I forgot it long ago. I see her making coffee thick as mud in the break room. We never speak, not a word, even though we once fucked at a Christmas party, and even then we didn’t make a sound and hardly looked at each other, just as we now ignore one another, not out of any sense of malice, but from a mutual indifference which may accumulate into passion by next December. Or not.
“Andrew’s fat.” I remark as the elevator doors shut us in.
“My eye itches.” is all Alice has to say and we descend with the blonde standing in front of us, texting away.
Café’ Van Kleef. It’s not as fancy as it sounds. There is a giant bust mounted to the rail behind the stage and some red metallic streamers shimmer over the hall that leads to the john. It is a long narrow bar full of dogs like us, tired desperate dogs ordering greyhounds because they put a fat slice of fresh grapefruit in each one, and we like that.
We like fresh grapefruit. As long as it comes floating in hard alcohol. We like fresh grapefruit. As long as we can’t remember who we are or where we came from. We like fresh grapefruit. As long as fat Andrew stops putting his arm around my shoulders like we're good chums while sticking his other hand up Alice’s skirt. We like fresh grapefruit until we’ve knocked the glasses over and Andrew is rolling in a puddle on the floor like an inexperienced puppy trying to get back to his feet because I forcefully pushed him off of his barstool.
“I said knock it off!” I snarl, and not even I know whether I’m talking about his arm around my shoulder or his hand up Alice’s skirt or that damned nasal laugh he’s been serving up at all the wrong moments.
On the stage some poor little poet is reading about her struggles with a disability that I can’t pin point from within the haze that has enveloped my mind. She is trying to read over the commotion, her audience of friends and family gathered up around the stage are looking back over their shoulders at Andrew. Someone- the bartender? A bouncer?- is inquiring about the state of affairs, but I’m eating the grapefruit off of the high table and Alice is explaining that Andrew lost his balance because the stool had a wobbly leg.
And Andrew? He seems to believe Alice as only dogs can believe, accepting her version of reality instead of his own, because that is how dogs are wired. We're built to please, to observe the subtle gestures of others and try to give them what they want so that they’ll toss us a bone later.
Is that what Andrew hopes? That Alice will give him a bone later if he co-operates with her version of reality? Her version which is now his version, is now the version accepted by the inquirer and the other patrons of Café Van Kleef, and is swiftly coming to replace my own. I’m innocent. Fat Andrew fell off of his barstool. We like fresh grapefruit. Another greyhound for me please.
It is a straight shot from the front door to the stage where these soft strange creatures are trying to read poetry over the cacophonous roar of drunken conversation and laughter. The bar lies in between, to the left, and it is mobbed by glee desperate pound puppies in their white collar shirts and dark slacks or pencil line skirts. It is now nearly impossible to get in or out of the front door. Where the bar ends lies a tall table surrounded by stools where I sit ignoring Andrew’s stupid attempts at humor and social reparations, even though he does not now quite believe I did him any violence. He smiles apologetically at everyone, especially me, and is careful to keep his arm away from my shoulders. Between us and the stage there are more smaller tables and chairs.
I watch a woman who sits on the stool at the end of our table, her back turned to us as she tries desperately to hear and understand the poets. Her shoulders are stooped as if she were crumpling in on herself, as if she were a giant rolly polly intent on folding into a perfect armored ball. As my attention focuses on her, she becomes the only real object in the room, the rest are all ghosts drifting in the vapors of spilled alcohol. I see her with perfect clarity, I see her like a houseplant trapped in a dark room reaching desperately towards a small far away window, her body bending visibly towards the poets, towards the light that will give her life and prevent her from joining the rest of us here in the ghost world.
Then I hear Alice saying:
“Sue and them are going to the Conga Lounge. Want to go?”
I snap back, back to the reality created by Alice, and shake my head.
“Not yet.” I say.
“You want to stay here?” she asks and I nod. I realize that Andrew is no longer with us when I see him walking towards us, returning from the can.
“Ready?” I hear him asking Alice. His face wilts a little as Alice explains we’ll catch up with them later. Then he’s carried away by the bustling tide of bodies abandoning our table with its high stools in favor of the wicker seats of the Conga Lounge.
The table is suddenly empty except for myself and Alice and the strange woman sitting with her back to us. She could easily turn and suddenly speak to us, except for the fact that she is no longer real. She is a ghost now and Alice and I are real, the bar and the noisy pound puppies are real. She vanishes from my sight and my mind and only a place marker in the form of a human body hunched on the high stool at the end of our table remains. I forget her, and I forget that I have forgotten her.
“Alice,” I say, “You’re still here.” She has taken Andrew's seat beside me and I let my leg rest against hers.
“These shoes squeeze my feet.” is all she has to say. Someone picks up our empty glasses as fresh bodies squeeze through the door, crowd around the bar and find their way to our table.
“Let’s go then.” I say, ready now to seize Andrew's bone.
“To the Conga Lounge?” she asks glancing at her phone.
“No. To the streets.” I tell her as I stand up and she follows.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mountain Gods

We watch him again, alone in his room, the stifling heat from a closed window makes my ears sweat. It is like watching a tower of isolation collapsing from within. He argues with himself, seeing his own shadows wandering over the white walls. Which one is real? The flakes? The fakes? The snowflakes. The shadows don’t respond, but he screams as always into the whiteness, into a flurry of pure ice.

Those mountain gods sure can be nasty kings! Down with them !!! Just a bunch of fakes anyway ... A bunch of flakes anyway, snowflakes, swirling round the peaks.

Once they were rivers winding through low valleys, then they were vapors like ghosts rising from lakes taking the forms of clouds, then once more shifting into a solid form, delicate and complex, many individuals drifting anonymously together, as alone as only snowflakes can be. Silent voyagers, taking many shapes, undergoing various transformations before at last becoming king and crown of the lofty peaks.

Down. Down you drift to take your place again at the primal beginning, always a subject of the thaw. Always returning to the river, but never the same river.

He imagines he can hear the pale one, the dark one, the one without eyes. The ones with twenty arms. They all say something different. The shadows lash out, sending persimmons to the ground, pomegranates burst open and send their ripe seeds across the sky, creating other worlds with red, glowing stars.

It's hard to bring down a mountain. Falling down, coming down. Hard to fall off a mountain, hard to bring it down, down, down. There is a timeless energy and spirit that lives in the trees, that holds the rocks like glue. Beings that suck from the pollen of pines.

The mountain can drive mortals away with wind and cold, it’s height that peaks only before the clouds. Life comes out of its wet top, the sprout covered in a forest of trees, they come from the soil, they go and remain timeless.

Shiva had his consort mounted on rocks and ragged cliff sides. Shiva had his consort buried deep in pine cones and floating like snowflakes on drifting clouds. Wise mountain gods know how to come down on their own.

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. The whole of the law. The whole of the law. The hole in the thaw. The thaw, dripping breaking, dissolving from solid to liquid, from rigid to free and flowing. The will like DNA, a silent pilot guiding it’s ship, up, up, up into the mountain, down, down, down into the valley below.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Prison Escape

Today, I escape from prison.

It is a dream, one I have to claw and smile and swallow my way out of. It is a dream with beep…beep…beep…and paperwork and cloth robes and bleached walls.

There are bars on the beds and they hide the sun, protecting us from nature with thick walls and windows that cannot open. The smell of chlorine burrows its way inside, first covering my arms and legs, then coming in through long streams of tainted breath, making a nest in my worn-out lungs.

In this prison, ladies wear white clothes and white shoes that match their white skin. The whites of their eyes shine down on me like evil dogs that fail to mask contempt. They hand me long white pills between polished nails, urging me on with pained white smiles. “Swallow- it’s good for you.” I watch their nodding heads, their obsessive trust in this medicine.

I lay in bed later, the effects of that long white pill making me shudder. I am cold. I am hot. I am sick. I am cold. I am hot. I am sick. It is a dream of beep…beep…beep…and paperwork and cloth robes and bleached walls.

Men walk the halls with big egos and white coats and little pens that click closed with authority. They know what’s best and urge me on though white teeth and hard eyes, “here’s another pill- now swallow.”

There are carts with airplane food served with more false smiles and plastic spoons. The smell overcomes me, reminding me of death and old soil and chemicals.

Each room in prison has an old lady that moans all night. She’s there just to keep me awake. Just as I doze off I hear her ragged breath, just as I drift into dreams the vampire comes around to take more blood. He reaches through the bars of my bed, searching for my arm, laughing when he sees my eyes, “no, one gallon was not enough.”

As I slip once again into a place beyond the bleached white, they put a band around my arm. Pump, pump, squeeze. Just another test, but they don’t want me better. They deprive me of food, sleep, and air. They hold back laughter and humor, looking at me in disgust when I say I have to get home to water my Farmtown Facebook crops. “They’re dying” I say. I see their eyes of cold hard black. There is death in their white robes and white eyes, death in their painted white smiles. Is this where I’ll die?

They already made me sign the paperwork just in case and it must be their plan. Their pills, their tests, their bars and old food.

They attach a dozen cords to my body with sticky tape. The plastic tentacles hold me back, the tape latches to my skin. They gave me a gown that I can’t walk in, so I stay in bed. I hear the wheels of the food cart and squeaky steps in the bleached hall.

The lady in the next bed moans. The machinery she’s attached to beeps and beeps and beeps. No one comes. I try to find some fresh air, I seek out the breeze but it’s all sealed, zombies sit at every corner.

“Are you OK?” they ask. I smile and say yes, holding back the tides of black anger that want to wash their white world away. If I was OK I wouldn’t be here. I would be sitting in the fresh air, dozing without the beeping sounds of machinery and the vampire and the rotting food.

To escape from prison I have to do everything they say. I swallow, I eat, I watch the election results on TV though a smile of white teeth. As I try to walk out the door they hold back one leg with excuses and paper work and pills. More drugs, more bullshit as the door swings shut.

It is a dream with beep…beep…beep…and paperwork and cloth robes and bleached walls. Today I escape.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Orange Guide

Jonas jumped off the worn metal bench as soon as he saw the balloon catch flight. It was a warm breeze that opened its arms, smelling of salt and pink flowers that bloomed in a garden not far away. He had been on the bench for hours, watching toddlers wander through a desert of sand, infants in their strollers electrified by the world above, young mothers pushing swings and sharing weary smiles of happiness with their children.
He sat there waiting, needing inspiration of some kind, an inspiration to do something he could only fail to describe. But he waited, understanding his need. This was where he turned to in times when he grasped for something, and since he lacked the ability to understand what that something was, he came to the place where little creatures acted instead of thinking.
The park was a constant teacher. Crying, young laughter, the tinkling music of an ice cream cart, old tears that quickly turned into shrieks of delight. Those little legs and arms, they all moved without rationalization or intent, it was pure movement released from the invisible binds of causality.
He needed more of what they had, what he had lost along the way from infant to man. He was constantly stuck in his mind, a rotating wheel of four thoughts that shifted in color and shape. Four different thoughts but he understood them to be the same. To escape, he came to the wide-open lawn of soft grass, to the world of sand and slides and swings. He watched carefully, always open to the possibility of newness, of great teaching.
Over the course of an hour he kept a careful gaze on a short dark haired boy in a stripped shirt and tiny tan shorts. The child was barely a few feet tall, but his eyes were of an ancient stone, something created only once in a century. The eyes of the gods looked out from the body of that little boy, searching the greenery of the neighborhood park, looking up into the fluffy clouds of an otherwise clear day, at the other children in various moments of play.
The young boy held onto a nylon string from a tethered orange balloon. From the bench where Jonas sat, he had focused increasingly on the small pudgy hand of the boy that was smeared with chocolate stains. Jonas watched the hand of the child, willing that hand to open, to give him a guide to follow.
Jonas felt a breeze on his back and a slight rustling of his dark shaggy hair, momentarily his eyes diverted from the hand of the child and darted to the left, to nowhere in particular, they just darted away as his body was overcome by the feeling of the breeze.
When he looked back up, the youngster was looking at him. They held eye contact for just a second, and in that time, Jonas saw dark mountains and red trees and rivers that flowed with blue and white foam. He was called back from the vision when the child’s hand opened, releasing the string and the balloon on its leash.
The balloon drifted easily away from the boy, content now with a new task. Jonas gave a quick nod to the boy, knowing that a guide had been sent. He jumped from the bench and walked towards the sidewalk that delineated the park from the street.
The balloon drifted away from the playground and the screech of children skidding down warm metal slides and the watchful eyes of young mothers with bulges below their loose shirts. None of them could see the door open and follow quickly, both because of their physical limitations and the children they were tending, so it was only him that was free enough to move from the worn green bench, him that had not just the luxury of time and open eyes, but the ability to act when a god released its guide.
Jonas followed the balloon in its path down the green lawn, over the stairs and then down the sidewalk. They moved into the world swiftly, he with absolute devotion, absolute certainty that this was the path to walk, that he would be shown things that needed to be seen, that he would hear music and horns and conversations wanting to be heard.
He managed to keep up with it until the edge of the park. There along the street, late morning traffic was moving along at a lazy pace, the hot sun glaring down on windshields and the people that waited behind them for a green light. He looked briefly into a dark blue car, noticing a young woman at the wheel. He wondered where she was going, what she was thinking about behind tinted glasses and frosted lips.
When he looked back into the sky, realizing his deviation, he saw that the orange balloon had befallen the grasp of an old tree on the corner. Or maybe it was resting, he couldn’t tell. The balloon hung onto the very thin outer branches, as if awaiting another signal.
Jonas stared up at the orange guide, and while he did, he sang. His body was straight, his arms were at his sides, his head bent backwards keeping the balloon in his sight, watching attentively until it would be time to move again.
As the song progressed and his heart began to open, his arms started to sway. His head and upper body began to rock gently, the melody integrated with his muscles and he moved like he was the song. It was long, an old ballad his father used to sing every night as he walked the perimeter of their farm and locked all the gates. The old man had once said that his father had sung it as well, walking the same land, tending the same perimeter. And now, travelling through the generations, it was that song which had embedded itself in the heart of Jonas. It came to him in dreams. Came as he walked down sidewalks, when he needed to catch what his hands could not grasp.
Two young mothers pushing matching strollers approached him on the sidewalk. He knew where they were headed, going towards a god they would not recognize. He turned to them slowly as he felt them approach, he turned to them with a smile on his face, the lyrics still on his lips, his eyes overcome with emotion as he saw their moving bodies, the young skin of their cheeks and the infants watching the sky. His eyebrows were dancing as much as eyebrows could, his eyes, dancing as well. He directed the song to them, to the two young women walking towards a god they could not see.
“Solo mi amor.”
When he was a boy, listening to the love songs of his father, he had understood that lyrics were a vehicle for emotions that had no names. And so he looked at them, the two young mothers, letting the words carry his love towards these women who would perceive him as a stranger in the park. He was their fool, their lover, their servant.
The words were not important, they merely gave shape to something else, and he let that something else come from someplace deep inside, move up through his throat gathering conviction and strength, up into his mouth, gathering a bit of sentimentality that spun the notes slightly, adding a glossy sheen.
He sang it for them until they made eye contact, one smiled shyly and the other looked away quickly, diverting her eyes to the ground, a little embarrassed by his attention. He smiled with the song on his lips as they passed. Then he took a quick breath and turned his attention back up to the balloon, which was just beginning to catch a ride on a light orange-scented breeze.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


It was a mistake. A blind mistake. How she got there, I don’t know. How I found her, even more mysterious. Mysterious. Mis tear ious. I don’t know.
Where was I? Let's see… One of those corporate coffee houses with Jan and Tyler. Jan is a dude. I guess the name is Swedish or something… well it doesn’t matter because Jan never saw her, never even made it to the parking garage.
I didn’t have anything. At the corporate coffee house I mean. Jan had a black coffee and some marbled pound cake and Tyler had an Americano. I don’t even know what that is, but I heard the girl call it; “Tyler, Americano” and he took it from her. I guess I did have something. I ate one of those packets of raw sugar. My stomach. It was hurting, had been hurting all day. Well… there is a reason for that.
My dog Ludwig is 12 years old. He’s got arthritis and all kinds of problems. The vet prescribes this medicine for all the pain. I really haven’t been sleeping well lately. Every time I close my eyes I see this weird skinny little man glowing and dancing. It’s like in that KE$HA video, only for real and I hear all this noise like poker cards in bicycle spokes or locust during monsoon.
I had this big presentation to give yesterday in front of the whole department and I really needed to get some shut eye. Some honest to god sleep. So I took one of Ludwig’s pills and slept like an angel all night. Woke up, dressed for work, ate my Pop Tart and started throwing up. It was seriously bad. I had to call in and go back to bed. Jan gave the presentation. It looks like he might get a promotion. Whatever.
So my stomach was still hurting the next day at the corporate coffee house. I didn’t need any of that swill anyway. I was going home. Only guys who are up for a promotion need to tank up on caffeine and head back to the office. That was Jan’s plan I think.
Tyler’s just a perv. He orders coffee with a fancy name, flirts with some girl in line, makes eye contact with her while he’s sitting at the table with us, and when she’s on her way out, he also happens to be on his way out, holding the door for her. He takes her back to the office and gets her panties down around her ankles in the elevator. Then, after they exchange phone numbers and she leaves, he goes into the security office to watch the surveillance video with Rodney, the night watchman. I’ve been invited to have a look a few times.
It doesn’t exactly get old because he keeps a sort of score card upon which various depraved acts are outlined and wait for a tally mark. In this way things are kept interesting and new acts are always being dreamed up. The standards are there of course, doggie style, a blow job, anal shenanigans… but things are now more subtle. For example the goal might be to get a woman to say a particular word or phrase while he works that coffee buzz off on her ass, or he might get her to play a role like pretending to be his boss.
I have to say that it usually works out for him. You’d think that most girls would tell him to bug off. It's his looks. That’s the problem. Its why they go along with it, and it’s why these elevator escapades are the only way he can get off anymore, because as a good looking guy he’s had enough vanilla sex to last him five normal guy life times.
Jan, by the way, knows nothing about all this. It would freak him out. He’s a vanilla kind of guy. And me, I’m just not good looking.
But none of this has anything to do with it…
So Tyler left first with this tall Asian American chic in a short orange dress and gladiator sandals. Seriously, the Greeks would have been proud of her. Then Jan talked for a while about his girl, Dora, and then begged me to go see his acupuncturist about my stomach. Of course he doesn’t know about the dog’s pill. Then he wiped the cake crumbs from his ample lip with the recycled paper napkin and announced that he was heading back to the office.
I guess my car was on the third floor. I hate parking structures, ever since I was a kid. Nothing good happens in parking structures. Your fingers get smashed in the car door, you get mugged, or if you’re a chick you get raped, or you can’t remember where you parked and you get lost. Nothing good.
That’s what I got. Lost I mean. Because I was on the fifth floor wandering around and around under the flickering yellow lights. I kept pushing the lock unlock button on my key chain, but I couldn’t hear the alarm disarming. I was convinced my car had been stolen.
I walked into the farthest end of the garage and pressed the little button again and heard a weird thud. Then a muffled voice started screaming and the thud was repeated. Again and again like someone was pounding on a car. I guess it was adrenaline, because suddenly I was Mighty Mouse flying towards the sounds of distress.
Within moments I had tracked down the source, an old yellow Dodge Dart. The trunk of an old yellow Dodge Dart to be precise. Someone was inside pounding and screaming away.
“Are you okay?” I called to the mysterious prisoner. A stupid question perhaps.
“Get me out of here. Please!” came the muffled cry.
“I’m trying. I will. Just hang on. I’ll call the police.” I said taking out my cell.
“No! No police. They take too long anyway. Just get me out.”
The trunk could only be opened with a key. This was an old car. I tried wrapping my arm in a jacket and breaking the drivers side window. I saw that in a movie once. Inside I looked for a trunk release lever or a spare key under the visor. Nothing.
Finally I returned to the trunk.
“I’m going to get some help. Some tools or something. I’ll be right back.”
“Hurry. Please hurry. They could come back.” The mysterious captive implored.
I looked around the garage and sprinted for the elevator. Before I could get there a young Latino got off and headed for a black Cadillac Escalade.
“Hey man, I need a hand!” I called. “You got any tools? There’s somebody locked in a trunk out here.”
I think his name was Hector and what he had was a crowbar. He accompanied me back to the DART and we got to work prying the trunk open.
When it finally opened this cute little blonde leaped out into my arms.
“Thank you so much! Oh thank you.”
I held her for a full minute before she was collected enough to release me and thank Hector with a handshake.
“Okay. Well, thank you very much. There’s no way that I can repay you really, except maybe money.” She turned and ducked into the trunk and dipped her hand into a big black duffel bag that had been her bedfellow. Out came two stacks of hundreds.
“Here we go.” She said handing us each a stack before she tried unsuccessfully to close the trunk. When it wouldn’t close. She grabbed the duffel bag out and tossed it through the broken window. “So my advice would be: don’t spend it right away or all at once. They aren’t marked so don’t worry too much, and enjoy!”
She smiled at us as she brushed the broken glass off of the driver's seat with her sweater and dug a key out of her jeans.
“Thanks again. Really.” She said it warmly and got behind the wheel. She closed the door and started the engine up.
Hector and I moved out from behind the car. She pulled out of the parking spot and said to us out of the broken window:
“I’d skeedaddle if I were you, before anyone else shows up on the scene.”
Then she waved and was gone.
It was a mistake. A blind mistake that led me to her. How she got there, I don’t know. How I found her, even more mysterious. Mysterious. Miss tear ious.
I don’t know. I haven’t spent any of the money. All I can think about is her. The way she felt pressed into my arms for those two or three minutes before she came back to her senses...
I could maybe hire a private eye to try and find her. I think I saw something like that in a movie too. I could maybe go to a strip club and blow a hundred bucks or two and forget about that cute little smile. I don’t know.
Why I feel this way… it's…mysterious. I don’t know.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Hey, this is home. I think this is home, I wonder and heave as I stare at a strange shape that seems to breathe with dark smoke, pulsing, expanding and contracting. Eyes like windows. Doors that open with each inhalation. Home. A twisty multicolored spiral ending in pools of black water. I can see the nostrils, flaring. This beast. A wide mouth with wooden doors and thin glass panes. A painting in the living room that looks at me with wide questioning eyes. I stare back, unblinking, who are those pale women in straw hats? Their skin smells of roses and oxygen-filled water.

Home. At least that’s what I tell myself. If this is not home, then I'm lost. I’m an orphan in a cold world that smells of dark gray and burning charcoal. Was there another? Another place that could have burned with memory and scandal? I can’t remember where home used to be, how it spun or smelled, if there really was one that had a different sort of beast in it with scaly flesh and a cold double tongue to wipe me clean. Home. A place to hang my feathered hat, the resting place for my heart, waiting, beating for a cavernous chest in a messy underwear drawer...

I have plenty of hearts. Some rapid, some barely a flicker on the tin drum. If this is that place, the place of the beast, the place with my waiting heart, well, then this is home. Isn’t it? I look for my hat, that pale gray wool one my grandpa gave me. I grope the hooks on the wall, searching, finding only peeling wallpaper. Forget the hat, I might not have a head.

In fact, I’m pretty sure I had to loose my head to get here. And what about my heart? Is that a muscle with two important valves that pumps blood through a corporeal body, or is it something that looks like a leaf plucked from a clover, used to signify the presence of certain emotions usually linked to reproductive drive and familial relations? I don't want to rule out the possibility of having one, but as far as I can tell, I may have lost my heart as well.

I thought I had dozens, but I grip my chest and find just a cold hole. My fingers are sticky and I see dark footprints leading towards the basement. What part of me sees with no eyes? Don’t loose your head, don’t loose heart, or sometimes, take heart or use your head. These old axioms offer their council, written down on the back of a napkin like driving directions obtained at a Denny’s from an old trucker sitting at the bar over his Grand Slam and black coffee.

All I am sure of is that it got hold of one of us. And all I can say is “it” because I don’t have any other words to use for what “it” is. How can I think with no head? Even if I had a head, would the words be meaningful or hollow without the heart guiding them gently like a Sherpa swathed in wool? Empty I say. You could drop a coin through their vowels and never hear it hit bottom, just wait for it to come out the other end and put out a Chinese man’s eye. (Lucky fellow has a head.)

You can give me a good scrubbing, but I'll still need that head. Strip the flesh right off my bones with one of those metal wire brushes used for scrubbing oil stains off driveways, I’ll go on, but the head...I’ll always long for, always lament the loss of the head. Like the scarecrow, I’ll get torn apart by flying monkeys for the chance to think deep thoughts.

Still, who was worse off, him or the tin man? Ah, if I only had a heart! I’d be tender, I’d be gentle and awful sentimental regarding love and art... But somehow, I adapt to the loss. How often it is like that. We think that we’ll simply die if it comes to this or that, then this or that comes and we go on, altered but still in motion.

For example here I am, wherever here is, (It must not be home, I’ve searched the underwear drawer and under the bed, but still no heart...) My fingers do the seeing, my toes the thinking. They stamp out my thoughts like an ecstatic mime desperate for an audience. The crowd claps and it seems the theater seats are almost full and I am encouraged to go on, flopping like a fish when my legs go numb and the toes are mute.

There’s my grandfather in the front row with his crooked banana of a nose, clapping appreciatively. Naturally he is biased, and at this point he is the only one enjoying the show. The hecklers start booing and howling, “Off the stage!,” which is bad enough, but to my embarrassment my grandfather tries to defend me, “Hey, you should do so good, with no head and no heart!” He is still yelling at the crowd when the proprietor hooks me with the curved cane and I convulse spasmodically, looking more than ever like a speared salmon. He drags me off stage and leaves me in the gloom behind the curtain, tired out from my elephantine efforts.

This place, with the smell of spilled soda pop turning acrid like vinegar and peanut shells and stale popcorn, is this home? It seems plausible enough as I have been here for a very long time listening to the mice scurrying over the rumpled heap that I generally regard as “me.” There may be a hat here somewhere, on the prop table perhaps, and hearts were broken over there, just beyond my reach under the bright lights. Maybe not real hearts, but pretend hearts, which must hurt as much as the authentic versions because actors' tears have stained the wooden planks of the stage leaving it splotchy and discolored. When you have it, you have to work it to keep it, and if you haven’t got it you pretend to work it until you have it. Very simple. But now it seems that I’m being pushed out with the rubbish by a custodian wielding a shop broom, and no doubt this bright revelation will be lost.

I just got to know the world of the damned. It’s colored like a rainbow and the red moves with flames. We drank rank tea with scaly men, men with rubber skin and yellow eyes. Men with white long beards and penises that dangle to their knees. They gave us tiny cucumber sandwiches on embroidered napkins. They were gentlemen until we started to sway. Then the trouble began. The sweating. Didn’t I mention that I get in trouble? Haven’t I been in trouble before? This was no worse.

Getting on in the place that night, with those scaly men, getting up on the shiny grand piano. And I, the singer for eternity. They sang along, crying, their tears pouring into their empty floral tea cups. They gathered what fell, then drank it once more, sharing their cups among themselves. Sipping ceremonially, just tiny sips. Salty. A gift from the body in this place of electric rainbows and flaming rivers. Tears that sprouted a heart which grew full and round and vibrant, booming with a resounding thump like the cry of a war drum. Music crawling its way up a multicolored twisting spiral ending in pools of black water. My men, swaying and sweating, a dozen sweet hearts restored to their abode in my chest, and if they don’t have me, then they are orphans in a cold world.

Wait. The bare breasted women in straw hats have come to roost like a flock of swallows under my eves, protected by my sheltering consciousness. They have all come home to hang their hats in my head. What place of rest do I need? What sanctuary that is not in me? A wide mouth with wooden doors and thin glass windows. Geraniums in terracotta planters. I deal with the cold. I am the beast, so that my people can hang their hats and warm their hearts around my fire. It’s not much, a small barony in an abyss, but hey, it’s home.