Saturday, December 6, 2014

maybe just happy




RIOTER #1: Were we less free then?

RIOTER #2: Not now. I think.

RIOTER #1: Then we’d have to please the court, if it would, I’d venture to guess, please them to have us.

RIOTER #2: Not a chance in a pear tree for even a drop of accountability.

RIOTER #1: Can I not get a witness?

RIOTER #2: Without even a partridge to your name, this time of year.

RIOTER #1: Lying in the street, pretending that you’re dead, trying to whip up some rabble to be roused over it all. I’d dare a peach.

RIOTER #2: You’re sinister enough without it. Stranglers make bad scapegoats. Trust me.

RIOTER #1: Bishop takes rook.

RIOTER #2: Something like that, but less essential. More universal. I don’t know. I don’t breathe anymore. I don’t hold up my hands in surrender.

RIOTER #1: A taciturn mold for the egalitarian modes of getting around. Elvis always said that only Jesus was the king. For me? I don’t think it matters. We make up what we want to see or believe. All evidence aside, I’m phoning in my sentiments. Not expecting much of a return, if any.

RIOTER #2: Belated sorrow or regret tinged with disbelief over the willful ignorance of some power-hungry sucker in a $1,000 suit.  

RIOTER #1: Not so grand, really. Reckless? Hell, we’re an endangered species, taking potshots at each other, pretending that the subtle nuanced differences between us make any bit of a difference. Take that, you person with a darker hued skin tone! You are not as deserving of a human being as I am. It’s all a bunch of name-calling, bullying, and other grade-school theatrics. It’s stupid.

RIOTER #2: Nobody notices.

RIOTER #1: It’s a really dog-gone shame. Really. We could be nice to each other, but we choose to be mean.

RIOTER #2: Being hateful towards others makes cowards feel better about themselves. “At least I’m not like that guy, you know? I’m better than those people.” That sort of thing. Justifying one’s shortcomings by attributing false ones to other, usually less fortunate persons. Passing judgment to shore up your self esteem. We’ve been going too damn gentle into these horrible nights for too long. I want the meat-and-potatoes of me to mean something. Nothing need be ideal, but shit, maybe head in that direction at least?   

RIOTER #1: Mattering. Is that it?

RIOTER #2: I’ve heard it. Maybe just checking under your own hood for faults before telling others about what’s wrong with theirs, because maybe the check-engine light’s broken and you’re in dire need of an overhaul.

RIOTER #1: Be able and willing to be judged before passing judgment on others. I mean, if you’ve really got nothing to hide and have done no wrong then what’re you scared of?

RIOTER #2: I’m indicting myself. From here on out let’s let it all hang out. I’m a willing participant, see? This is me not resisting. This is me playing along. Ain’t even going to struggle. Let me tell my story, you tell yours. Let’s see where any of this gets us.

RIOTER #1: Nowhere, most likely.

RIOTER #2: The truth dies easy under the gaze of the partial eye.

RIOTER #1: God awful, these positions we are put in, the things that come to define us, the horror of living with the fear of retribution, or dying by it. I am me just because I am. There’s nothing else. Get over it.  

RIOTER #2: The minor inconsistencies of major network failures. I am speaking no language. The rest is not up to anyone.

RIOTER #1: Bare it all. Or bear it?

RIOTER #2: The difference is lost, failed and familiar, on all onlookers.

RIOTER #1: Structural integrity, lacking the imagination for a real empathic quality about one’s own perilous sojourn through the sadder fields of plenty. People come from all over to leave here, and to ask stuff like, “How will I think about this strange time of my life when it’s all through.”

RIOTER #2: I need a body double, a stand-in for the reasonable essence of guilt, courage, and strife. Plans to never attack. Those wayward whiffs of pacifistic, surcharged enough-is-enough marginalized into victimization. I play it dangerous. There’s just no other way.

RIOTER #1: Sure. And mercy’s just a plea deal gone wrong. A broken sort of miracle that hampers your better instincts for escaping the pressure of fitting. There are blocks and blocks cursed by false grades drawn up by no-good wealthy industrialists with greedy pens, where the widows mourn through shallow fits and the stray dogs nose through junkyards of foul promises, probing for reassuring signs of the past.

RIOTER #2: The safety of it. The comfort of being forgotten. My edges have been dulled by financial institutions who need naught but themselves. There used to be a wig shop and a funeral parlor there where that 40-story condo complex now stands. Taking back what they long left to let grow fallow, and now bulldoze in a tax-free exchange to build castles in the sky for yuppies. We are the diminished, the refugees of capitalism’s greasy smile, the chased and the frisked and the choked, the ones who cry wolf in their sleep and crowd the hidden fringes of a world with no need of memories.     

RIOTER #1: Place stripped of time.

RIOTER #2: Try not to breathe. I believe in such miserable things.

RIOTER #1: And by the way, no. Everyone is not entitled to their own opinion. We are a nation of the lazy and the busy, the misinformed and the needy. What we lack’s all substance with a surface sheen. There’s an undelivered keening just below the sound commercials make. A mild sort of despair, timid and brash, scared and selfish and mean. I used to know a guy, a fire eater who would get drunk and burn his throat. He dated a lady we used to call Priscilla the Monkey Girl. She looked just like Uma Thurman, and danced like Rita Hayworth. Couldn’t take your eyes off of here, twirling through the drugstore. The way she swayed through a barely lit room, no stage would’ve cut it. But when it was all told and said, the lather told the housesmith to ruin a hod carrier, and it got loneliest at the bottom for everyone. Just more failed greatness. A nation of wannabes.

RIOTER #2: Christopher fucking Columbus. I could use a good week’s sleep. No. I am not mighty. I just toss with no more turns to take.

RIOTER #1: Hey God, you can go fuck yourself, you piece of shit.

RIOTER #2: That’s more like it. Our rebellion is too mild, too easy to overlook. Seldom is the slice of it all that all of our laboring gets us. We are easily made before our time’s ever got a chance to come. Wither and fold without even a flash…or a pan for that matter. 

RIOTER #1: Revenge never served except as an appetite-whetting rouse. I mean, what the purgatory’s happening to those so-called innocent-until-proved-guilty among us? What a dump. What a dive. What a devil-damned shame. I am not so moved. Not ever less than now, then.

RIOTER #2: Put me in your will. Sew me as a seam into all of your I-have-a-dreams. Then the neighbors start to whine and we all dress for church, and the real reason you’re fomenting the rage of so many window smashers is merely the unique properties of forced demand poorly disguised as options . Retribution slips in through the service entrance while the waiters smoke in doorways of discontent. We are without the true channels to willingly make the proper choices. Everything is rigged.    

RIOTER #1: Perhaps pretending to behave is best. Falling in line just to eventually, quietly, without notice, destroy the whole idea of the need for a line in the first place. And nobody knows or cares when it goes.

RIOTER #2: Fuck that. Fuck God and country and all that other jingoistic, egomaniacal bullshit. I’m burning the ship before I go down with it. The video replay will be ruled inconclusive.

RIOTER #1: Cudgeled saps. Conked on the pate. Fustigated to an early retirement from the big show. Castigate! Retreat! Rebel! Attack! Lie low! We are all made of and by things outside of who we believe ourselves to be. The eye squints until it can perceive things the way the mind wants them to be. These are just things to say out loud in times of doubt and rumination. Well, because, strangers in relation to other strangers, all the stitching and unstitching is for not.   

RIOTER #2: An entire generation tossed aside, lost in the byzantine circuits of gadgetry, addicted to being entertained, never looking back, entitled and comfortably ruined for daydreams at such a young time in their lives. The same mistakes. The same whimpers of giving up. Put a catch phrase on a banner and wave it in the streets. Chant the same phrase in a mob while clapping hands. Block traffic. Stand up. Lie down. Dance. Follow along with the crowd. Shit. Just more useless histrionics. Is this the best we can do?    

RIOTER #1: Probably. Hey, I hear there’s a party going on in the basement of a burned-out building on Mission. Super underground sort of thing. Music. Dancing. Hallucinogens. Real live girls. Ramen burritos. Locally grown organic beet-and-goat tacos. Gluten-free microbrews. Whisky distilled from apricots and guava seeds. Wanna split?

RIOTER #2: Sure.





Saturday, October 18, 2014

click here to avoid nervous breakdown




My older brother’s mustache was a prized possession of our family back in 1989. We were reeling from the effects of Dukakis’s defeat, and the mustache had come to have a polarizing effect on our way of life, our instincts for inching along towards victory. For further surety, father was polishing his remorse with fall-down drunk theatrics. The rest of our household went on posing for family portraits without him—mostly funny ones, though. Calmly and with as little aplomb as possible, the neighbors were driven insane. Was it really all just the fault of my brother’s mustache? Hunches were thin in those days, and we were all enduring a fairly great drought too. The few flushes of the toilet we partook in were unkind and, well, putrescent at best. The lawn dried out and tanned to a hard tawny hue. The gutters went desiccate and filled with old trash and crumbles of dead leaves. The only thing that wasn’t getting dry was father, whose inebriated escapades were legendary, and at least something to enliven the doldrums of our days. I wore a t-shirt on all weekdays reading, “I’d rather be flying!” My brother preened and trimmed his mustache in any of the dozen or so mirrors in our house: in the parlor, in the boudoir, in the shitter, in the kitchenette, the den, the hallway, and even in the playroom where my younger brother and I played tiddlywinks through it all. We placed no restrictions upon all things mustache related. It must be maintained at all costs. It was either this or be doomed to an even baser mediocrity than the one we’d grown— along with the mustache— to know so well. To my eldest of siblings, chores were off-limits as long as he kept that mustache in order. The rest of us plugged along and kept the bill collectors in business.

That was the season when my uncle Wilbert was running for mayor. One balmy day in September he woke up and uttered apropos of nothing, “Fuck it. I’m running for mayor.” At first we took it as one of his unusual non sequiturs kissed to life by troubled sleep, but he proved resolute in his run for the highest office in town. “I’d rather be reviled than overlooked any new day here,” he'd rattle off through the breakfast silverware-clink of tines. “This is not some soapbox I am seated upon. I am a born taker of music through contextual exaggerations, not, let me repeat…not obligations.” These were the unbuttered bread of his unappealing spiels. I took him for some folk hero come down to us from the tattered pages of some hobo baron’s history of drunks and train robbers. I also took him for my uncle. I had to. When all of his loquacity finally diminished to a whisper-thin rant he abandoned his haphazard journey to the top. “There is nothing to accomplish. Or at least nothing that a few thousand bucks won’t fix right up. And all of this bragging and boasting like teeth implants, good for me? Yes. Good. For. Me.” That was the last I ever heard of or from handy uncle Wilbert.
   
The mustache reigned through all of ‘89s conditions. My brother kept it tiptop. He believed in the power of grooming, that hard-won feeling of accomplishment that comes from steady upkeep. It kept us all dreaming well. Strangers would smile in passing, and some might come right on up to him with the burden of wheelbarrow thoughts to say, “What gives?” To which he might reply, “Art is the highest form of communication.”

My father’s tippling became the stuff of legends. “I don't know what's right with me. That. That there’s my only home,” he’d wheeze while pointing at the mustache which began to curl up at the ends of my brother’s lip. He would lie still on the carrot-colored carpet at times, once clutching an empty bottle of Chartreus, once with a Macy’s One Day Sale ad tucked into his belt. I remember him best lying on that carpet, not quite passed out, not quite awake, misusing his prayers, his buckwheat hair matted and unruly, his face stuck in the middle of a scream. I brought his bottles to him when he needed them. There were other emergencies to muddle through, cabals to get around to hatching, and back then that was the take and give of things. My father slept through or slept off where none of us ever left him off. We’d escape in glassy gazes over him, my brother’s mustache, slick and shiny and laced with eel oil, in the middle of it all. And then my father would let slip a query: “Whatever does any of this mean?”     

Reworked gimmicks like the too tidy get mildly crushed soft off to peace. Trust me. If that weather back then taught my instincts anything it was that. My name got changed to Oliver for a while. I signed it once during an identity crisis, and it stuck around some. Then it was Claude. Then it just became a sound I made like giving directions to the found. I called myself what seemed suitable for the present’s just cause. And people just nosed and poked around in the rubble of our backyard while I was at it. I’d pull open the screen door to tell them things. “I am a closed circuit provider. Blacklist your burials. Put some toast in your fist and squeeze. We are our only armaments, so keep up your digging. A shovel for the old guy. Who among you is never always sure? Telltale contortions, sympatric and unclaimed, let the bodies fall where they may not.”

Then time passed. Then it came to be that my older brother’s mustache had vanished. Our family gathered in the foyer beneath the crippled chandelier. We bowed deeply to each other, over and over, being civil and silent. The remote control was lost. Everyone was home, at last, and we built telephones from microphones. We ate dinner one at a time. The mirrors were taken down and laid out on the sidewalk. I had no reason to be myself. I was stored in music and wishes and cocktails, and I didn’t need to exist. This is the best I’ve ever felt.







Friday, October 3, 2014

Laughter Is The Best Poison



I can’t keep track of the days. One runny midmorning leaking into another boozy evening. It’s with great dysfunctional style that I grace slender-of-thought (my thoughts, they’re all doing 99 years) nobody’s presence but my own. And what’s happened in some misguided moment of sloshed terror is only mine to keep. No harm…or all of it merely my own…a sipped mirage downgraded to a swallow and a belch… on to dangerous keeping. When’s tomorrow? Has today happened yet? How soon’s yesterday? A certain allotment of questions I can’t quite care about anymore. Just more insects to kill.
         
The anonymity of the supermarket gives some ease to my ways. Going from liquor store to liquor store, well, they get to know you, and I start to worry, “When’s the last time I was in there? How many bottles does that make this week? Who’s going to be working the counter?” As if that matters. I don’t know. I guess I’d rather keep some shred of dignity. After years of this, the same routines of scurrying out late at night, not knowing if what was left in the freezer would hold me until daylight, with the same baleful looks and creased brows staring back at me, I somehow started to intuit some deep sense of resentment, or perhaps just disappointment in this friendly yet taciturn stranger who comes in way too many weeknights to purchase the cheapest vodka on the shelf. Maybe they didn’t care. But as the years move on, well, I am sensing a shift in their attitude toward me. So, I tend to buy ahead of time more often now, and to make my purchases at the supermarket where I’m fairly sure none of the clerks recognize me. There are more of them, and they don’t last as long at their jobs. I try to pick out newer ones to go to, ones whom I don’t recognize. Still, I’ve recently started noticing some disapproving glances even from this larger and more random sample of humanity’s checkers. Then again, hell, it’s probably just some paranoid quivering part of my agoraphobic and anxious nature that thwarts my attempts at getting along well in social situations. I am always polite. But I tend to fidget and blurt awkward truncated responses to their smiley rote questions. I have trouble with eye contact. I sweat heavily. The liquor stores are open later though, and I know a few close by that stay lit until last call. So, well, I sometimes must resort to the folks who know me way too well. I wonder how many guys they know who are just like me? Maybe I don’t even stand out among the regulars. I guess I shouldn’t worry so much, but that doesn’t stop me from making it pretty much the most salient aspect of all the things that compose who I am and what I do. I point to the bottle. I pull some neatly folded bills from my wallet. I ask for a bag. I pay, cradle the bottle in my arms like a newborn, and walk briskly home.        

There is a gesture I use— it’s almost like praying— when lifting the shot glass. I used to think of whisky’s wonderful golden burn steaming down my gullet: the magical gift of a slight dab of poison’s risk, what the body instinctually rebels against on first contact. Then the warm trickle down into the gut. A glow that hums and soothes. I’d tip the shot glass a bit as I lifted it. First to one side, then the other. And soon this became a circular motion, though always careful not to lose any liquid on the way up. My eyes closed, the glass delicately wobbled its way to my pursed lips; and then, with a stern and stolid sniff and a jolt, I’d deftly snap the glass back and open wide in one fluid motion. The glass would then be set back down with a powerful thud as I swallowed and sighed, “Ah. That’s the stuff.” Now I just drink ice-cold vodka from the freezer. It’s not quite as dramatic, but it gets the job done, and I feel that the gesture is still extremely important. The routine is what matters. The continuity. The special order and control, and the almost appeased, beseeching nature of it all. I don’t know. It’s what I do, and it works.

A paucity of light. A mosquito’s sharp ear buzz. And I am swatting madly, then upright. I flip on the half-crushed lamp by my mattress and scour the walls and ceiling for that little fucker, picking up my favorite mosquito-killing book: Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos (Mostly because of its white cover, which makes it easy for me to spot the black smudges and bloody splats that convince me that I really have killed the bastards. Though now it is filled with so many scars of past victories that I might have to abandon it soon, or wipe it clean.) I taunt the hungry pest, vehemently: “Survival of the fittest, motherfucker. Come on. Show thyself!” I rattle the drapes and the blinds to see if it’s planted itself behind them. “Motherfucking pussy piece of shit…you’re going to die, you’ll be dead soon.” I keep up the vitriol as I scan wildly all across the room, attempting to pick up even a trace of its winged escape. I get a flashlight out and stand up on a wobbly chair amid the dirty clothes strewn like rubble across the small space of my room. My eyes dart over the wainscoting, the little dusty nooks and corners, as I swivel the flashlight in meticulous and deft patterns. I am thorough in my search, going from bathroom to hallway to kitchen and then back to the bedroom, sometimes fooled into action with a swat at an already dead bloodsucker from the past. I try to clean up the corpses, but sometimes forget and let their memories stay like some tiny dot signature on a gruesome portrait, perhaps serving as a warning to those who arrive next in search of a quick meal. Also, I’ve been known to squash moths and other winged insects by mistake, though not one I regret at all. I have a strict no-insect policy in my place. They know this full-well going in; yet they continue to take their chances anyway. I don’t understand it. The chair-standing is dangerous, as one of the legs is bent and almost buckles under my weight. I get down on all fours and start flashing my beam into small crevices between objects near where the carpet meets the wall. “Damn,” I mumble to myself, “I really need to start dusting down here.” The space behind my television set is like some long-ago bombed out city: all tangled with dust bunnies and ancient cobwebs, small pieces of things dropped down there who knows when or how, the cords from electronic equipment like gnarled power lines fallen and covered in thick layers of fuzz. Good getaway spots for a lurking mosquito, but my flashlight’s beam reveals none. After a few more rounds of inspection I head to the freezer. The vodka bottle’s still got plenty, and I pour two quick shots for myself and drink them down even quicker. This will help the jangled state of my nerves that’s been brought on by this nasty intruder into my world. There is nothing to be done for now except wait. So, I pretend to give up, lie down on my mattress, and turn out the lights. Feigning sleep with my eyes open, I wait for that all-too-familiar buzz, still gripping Witold tight by my bed in hopes of a murderous strike if Miss Culicinae returns.

I don’t even know where they come from. I put up a screen on my window on those rare occasions when I open it to the outside world. There’s no standing water, except in the bucket catching drips from the kitchen sink; but I empty the bucket quite often, at least enough to be rid of any larvae that might lurk in there. There are no leaks to the lobby that I know of. Do they sneak in behind me when I enter before I can close the door? Are they spawning in the toilet water? Where do mosquitoes go to when they sleep? I can’t find any answers here, so I just keep plugging away with trips to the bottle and the ugly earliness of these late nights. And I still wake up with a few mosquito bites at least once a week.

The wine gnats take their time here. They wallow near the sink, sometimes sunk to a drowsy flight or plunging erratic darts in odd ovals, like a mime trapped in an invisible box. Guessed to pinpricks of precise indecision, they eventually drift off to other wafts of despair, searching for the scent of alcohol, even a drop, perhaps spilt on the tiles or hanging around in the bottom of an unwashed glass. They hover and circle, waiting, perhaps holy in their attempts to hang on. More so than mine.

Daytime TV, with its catalogue of droll images: the chippy car commercials, upbeat cellphone provider jingles, promises of low insurance rates, the plush blandness of addiction recovery center and weight-loss ads, the sitcom reruns, the talk shows. The 24-hour entertainment cycle. Always hankering for more: foaming, bright, luminescent, oily. Flattering the viewer for sponsor-paid attention. Faster food. Discounts and bargains galore. The droll flat subterfuge of an invisible sarcophagus that bathes and encompasses the viewer in the addicting pleasure of complete surrender, of not having to think or behave, of just simply being entertained to no point or reason or understanding. A spoiled grapefruit slowly caving in and turning to mush. Fifteen minutes can save you five-dollar footlongs based on the bestseller moisturizing wash no money down free quote no APR loan our operators are standing by.          

I needed a loan, some resourceful nagging that’d buy me a favor, and nobody was writing me back, or calling me back, and the menace of another night surrounded by commercials, by bickering channels of escape, of myself dropped completely flat and dull to the bargain of being entertained by half-assing it morons, was not a thing I wanted involvement with again. I’ve been spurned by all the publishers, all the editors and agents, the magazines. I can’t even get a pen pal. It’s real big-time stuff I’m involved in, let me tell you. A very stupendous way to be making my way through life’s finest glazed parchment.    

There was banged-up furniture right out on the sidewalk being given away. I didn’t need any. I had no use for objects. I wanted unrefined delights to put in beautiful places. Sense? I left that up to the tense captains of industry with their taut roped-off seasons, their categorized assaults on decency, and the pastors of profit margins. Pull up to the curb. Dust off the top. Feel for grooves and nicks, and test for strain and wear. Shake gently. Be polite. Get nothing accomplished. Leave. Go on waiting for the rain to come back to town.

It was time for a new lamp. I didn’t have any ad jingles in my head just then, so any ideas I could’ve gleaned from the hampered remnants of my mind’s personal effects were just puffs from imaginary worlds. I had time, then, or just about then. I took it. There was a lamp to purchase. There was some ideologue’s violence to peacefully protest. I put on shoes. In some minor haste I took what heed I could, shoved what was left after room-and-board into my pants’ pocket, and headed towards a light.

After walking around like Napoleon all day in the sun, with one hand inserted between the two front buttons of my topcoat, I decided to find a dark bar to hide and repair from the weather in until the blasted sun had gone down and things were more livable out. This was not an easy proposition, as it was only two in the afternoon and most of the bars I deemed suitable for this activity did not open their doors to the public until at least four. Some tourist in shorts was staring at me as I was pondering all of this on a street corner, in the shade of a bramble bush. I barked at him, “Why don’t you not take a picture, go back home, and put some damn pants on.” He walked briskly in the opposite direction of me. Finally, something good had happened. I’d needed it badly. It was the Ides of March and already hordes of people were traipsing around dressed in green. It was bullshit. I kept myself from telling them all to go to hell as groups of them went by, giggling and shouting nonsense like a bunch of yuppie sissies, which, really, is what they were, so I needn’t have pointed that out; but the hell with it. I’m done with small talk. I’ve moved on to the medium-sized stuff, in my head at least. There were few options for me there, standing around like some dope with a hand in his coat. I opted for finding a place to empty my bladder, which was petulantly whining to be drained. “Curses,” I muttered to anyone within muttering distance, “This is bullshit.”

So, I ended up strolling over to Russian Hill, the very top of it, and glanced through some shrubbery at the view of North Beach. I sat down on a stone bench cut into a wall there, and soon got bored of that, and got up and walked to the other side of the street. I was having quite a time.

A few pigeons were staring at me. I kicked some trash their way and they fled. It was a grand occasion. A movie should be made about it all. Really.  

I’d somehow forgotten about my urgent need to micturate. It seized upon me suddenly, and there were no two ways about it. I scurried off into the outer reaches of things and events beyond my control.

My foot on a stool. Something careless in my attitude, something touched. A noise like lips from a cigarette. The creases are so worn in my act, the holes so gaping in the gaps of my mind. I want to sit and have a comfortable beer in relative peace. Apparently that’s asking too much, still. Over there, a place where I used to stand so well, stand all of it, or so I thought. Just pushing by it all maybe, making puddles of thought instead of seas of action. I just sat there and held on tight to my beer. There was nothing left to wish for.

Watching the streetlights pop to life one by one as evening hurtles down on us, on the mush of what I’m pacing myself through. The amber’s gone from the floorboards. The sun’s away for the remainder of the festivities. I pour sweet foamy life into myself. I find the time to stop thinking. My tired face in my hand, I allow myself to relax and not care who’s looking. The barman’s scrubbing glasses and humming the theme song from Naked City. I’ve been erased. I no longer care to exist. A man no longer in search of meaning. It is a mistake: everything.

The night started. The blue bled from the sky and spit its way into a vermilion meshed dark. A barstool fell over. Somebody said, “She only wears her hair that way when she’s drinking. Shit. We are all so damn reserved. I only scream ‘Jesus Chirst’ when I’m taking a leak. Why do I drink? So I don’t have to think about the answers to questions like that.” I felt safe at last, tucked away in that dark dingy bar, harboring my best sentiments under the perpetual and/or proverbial radar of my gutless satisfaction. The barman was quick with his “another one?” and I appreciated it. I was in a “keep ‘em coming” sort of mood, and it’s good to have the guy behind the bar on your side when you start out.

The lights dimmed. The music got turned up. Bodies crushed their way in and crowded up the place. Many folks were wearing green mushroom-like hats and had necklaces of green beads and green-rimmed sunglasses on. One girl had a neon-green afro wig on. Everything smelled of urinal cakes and bad perfume. I didn’t like any of it. I ordered a shot of rye and another to wash it down with. I tipped one glass and then the other down my gullet. After a few minutes I felt well enough to get up and walk out of the place. I got up and walked out of the place.

Out on the street there were already mobs of people forming outside of the bars. Some had lines stretching around the block. Things were bad all over. I plowed my way through the scrums. I took a toothpick from my vest pocket, danced it around in my mouth for a while, and then dropped it in a treewell. I finally found some space for just me, and I stood in it, in the dark between two streetlights, and I leaned against a green wall, trying not to think, behaving rationally to the untrained eye, and I buttoned and unbuttoned my coat a few times, and I checked out a sycamore there like I was ogling a lady with nice legs. I told it, “I’m not a teenager. I am not the sky. There are bruises all over my emotional makeup, and scars and rifts that’ll never meet again. All I want anymore is just a good place to sit. I don’t know why I’ m saying this to you; maybe I thought that as an artist you’d understand.”

I leaned there like that for a bit more. I’m not sure how long. No people walked by for a while, and I felt thunderously calm and triumphant too. I don’t ask for much in this life. A nice place to sit with a decent view. A girl whom I like who likes me back. Perhaps a stiff drink and an avocado-sardine sandwich every now and then. A roof over my head in case it rains. I don’t believe this is too much to ask for, God. So, well, you got a minute? I’d like to bend your ear about it some. Whadda ya say? Huh? I’ve got loads of time on my hands and I don’t think I will be going anywhere for…well, perhaps I won’t be going anywhere ever again.



The folks upstairs are upsetting my quiet again. The music’s awful and blaring. And it’s like they’re dropping bowling balls on the floor (my ceiling) up there. Wild shrieks. Howls of dumb delight. Stupid scrawny laughs. Perhaps a few ladies who can’t handle their liquor and a guy to see that they won’t. I imagine them spinning each other around by the arms in the small apartment, like some grade-schoolers at recess, throwing each other into furniture when they let go. Whatever it is it’s not dancing, and not cruel or real enough to be a fight. The phoniness of the whole situation stinks. I want to go up there, pound on the door, and when they open it loudly shush whoever it is who opens it, and briskly walk away. My night is ruined.

Who are these people? I know so few of the other tenants here, and rarely know in which apartments the ones I see in the lobby dwell. It’s not a large building, maybe a dozen or so small units, but I don’t get out much, and I keep odd hours. Perhaps it’s that large Salvadoran girl who wakes me with her ritual rumble down the stairs most mornings, way earlier than I’d ever wish to be awake. Or the needy and overly social Korean named Sam or Maury or something who’s always trying to get me to go bowling with him. I always try to scuttle through the lobby as quickly as possible, but he always seems to be checking his mailbox or tying his shoe or something, and tries to converse in a very energetic manner with me. But no, that pugilistic nonsense doesn’t seem like his thing. He’s small and odd, and seems anxiously aware of his surroundings. He wouldn’t want to bother others with those sort of theatrics. His are the moves of the magician: short and quick and hiding just a little something from everybody, before he brings it out at the last moment to surprise them. I pray that when he does it is benign.
 
I give up caring about the amateurs upstairs. Their noise is minor league, and it dribbles down to a low roar, tempered by longer and longer moments of less-talk, less-rock. Let them damage their own little galaxy of despair. I’ve got enough of my own to last well beyond any lifetimes they could imagine.
 
Now they are squealing and moaning sex through the bleat and thud of the music. I am out of toilet paper. My penance down here, it seems, is never done.

It’s too early to be alive. Some morons are pounding nails into the walls downstairs. It’s a perfect way to reenter the waking world: the intermittent thrashing of your brain between dry-mouth teeth-grinding nightmares. I lie in bed unable to move but also unable to quite get back into any sort of sleep. My throat’s a lost cause, filled with mucus and scratchy. I feel about as bright as burnt-out light bulb, and my back aches in about twenty different places. Of course I’ve got a headache. Why wouldn’t I have a headache? And there’s a tingling sensation going all the way down the back of my left leg. It’s a good show all around. I thank god for the blessed life I get to lead.

It’s too hot to move, to even wink. Really. My eyebrows are sweating. Turn off all the lights. Lie still in just swim trunks. Insert head into freezer and count to eleven. It’s too hot to think.

The hallmark of a scoundrel masking his duller tendencies in chimes and blooms and clumps of dead-end history. Dusting up on my routine.  Hints of sunset lingering salmon-laced shadows across drowsy brick old-hotel facades. Licks taken. Screaming, “Shut the fuck up!” at the mirror. Good moods last for a limited time only, and then it’s off to blowy rooftops; leaning wistfully against stanchions, rusty lawn furniture, mistaken weathervanes; sharp, hard pebbles to kick around and off the ledge, to send to the street below where they crack and patter in some lonely splintered patois. “One for the ages.” If there ever were a day for it. Probably be another year, gone, and then nothing sticks yet everything stays. It just stays and stays. It’s always nothing. It’s never something. I don’t want my life to become some store-bought, commercial thing. I want to crawl up out of the woodwork, bloody and scarred and hanging on by the skin of my teeth, and scream, “I am alive! I live here, damn it!” And if that gets taken away from me? Well, I am well secure with my destiny. I will do what I can do. I can wreck more havoc than you’d ever believe. I don’t give a shit. Let my moment pass. Let ‘em all pass. There’s something seedy and raw warring around in my head, and I’m pushy as hell too. History won’t care. It just won’t. Leave me be or you’ll get sautéed in the distance. Put that in your thoughts and see how they come out.

I believe in a god who knows how to dance.

Sitting at a dark bar, alone, in the late afternoon, staring at myself in the barroom mirror, wondering at this crudely dismayed image staring back, making these bogus motions: tugging at my collar, my sleeves, my tufts of disarrayed hair, rubbing my hand across the mist of a glass of beer, twitchy gestures and all. I’m getting too predictable in my behavior. Some Thelonious Monk is playing on the jukebox; it’s helping my mood adjust and plunder a bit of satisfaction from my current modes of behavior. I don’t mind it a bit. Being dim in the darkness suits me. I find it helps the mind to heal. There’s a retired drug dealer at the other end of the bar having a sneezing fit, and then he’s growling nonsense at the bartender, blaming the small television above the bar for his troubles. The bartender nods in some sort of sham approval and skims a newspaper.

The beer’s hitting me quick, as I haven’t eaten all day and am going on three hours sleep to boot, and my head gets blurred and mushy. I start to feel as though I might tip over, capsize, and lose all control of my proprioception. Somehow I manage to stabilize, shaking my head some, like I’m mildly in disagreement with somebody.

The artifacts of the bar step out from their blending into the scenery on the wall. I take short sips from the beer and let my eyes roam. There’s a row of extremely dust-ridden model airplanes hanging on wires from the ceiling, with the exception of a lone ancient hot-air balloon or airship of some sort. Some toy soldiers are gathering grime on a shelf along with bowling trophies, some featuring headless and/or armless bowlers on top, and a viola with only two strings left on it lies on its side between two bottles of gin. The ceiling’s got the rafters showing, something I’ve always admired in places, and there’s a Schlitz-themed clock leaning against the bar’s top shelf set 15 minutes ahead. I only know this because the guy at the other end of the bar has just screamed, “It’s a quarter past four! My good fucking god! A whole damn quarter! I want my money back! My change!” before slumping back into a woozy stupor. The bartender didn’t even look up from his paper.

My left palm on my chin. Right elbow on the bar. Making faces at myself. Pulling at tufted wisps of my hair. Squeezing my eyes tightly shut at sudden intervals between narrowing my scope of the surroundings and craning my neck. Another Sunday afternoon in the universe. The thicket of dull bottles behind the bar start inveigling me from my pondering, as they are wont to do, and I begin to ache for a dousing of my sordid ratiocination. A sharp sense of loss slaps me a good one. I am lonelier than a phoneless phone booth. The lord made very few creatures as weak as I. The bartender, who’s got thin white slicked-back hair and a good solid chin on him, strides down and asks me how things are. I tell him things would be a lot better with a tumbler of bourbon in me. He pours. I drink. I tell him that I am suffering from a distressing bout of transient global amnesia. He pours me another, on the house, and walks all the way down to the other end of the bar where his newspaper awaits.

A badly dressed man comes in and takes the stool two down from me. I wince and look the other way, towards the street, where a guy in a yellow safety vest is sweeping the sidewalk. I know the inevitable inane conversation is lying in wait for me, but I want to put it off for as long as I can, at least until the bourbon hits. And then, just as the golden elixir begins to swirl in my head: “There was a ship!

“And, man, I woke up and was in a hospital. It was a complete blank. The whole night. Apparently I’m an epileptic and had a seizure. Thank god some Good Samaritan lady found me like out on the side of the highway. I could’ve died, man. I was just out there wandering around like dead drunk in my boots and I passed out or had a seizure or both. Hell, I don’t remember any of it. A complete fucking blank. Shit. I need a beer. But I can’t drink on the medicine they put me on. At least that’s what the doctor says. But this medicine, I’ve got to take it like five times a day or some shit, and it makes me all groggy and I can’t take it at work. So now it’s like, I don’t know, take the risk of having another seizure or not work. And my money’s so thin you could feed my life savings into a vending machine and get like a Snickers or something out of it. Shit. Did you know they named that particular candy after a horse?"

I know he wants me to offer a drink to him. He stinks of Lysol and holy water. I scratch at the back of my neck some and slowly shake my head.

“That’s a raw deal, buddy.”

“You telling me.”

“How abouts I stand you a beer?”

“Ah. That’d be just about excellent of you.”

After purchasing him the said beverage I begin to feel the rumblings of an intestinal dilemma, the likes and scopes of which far outweigh any nonsense happening at the bar. I know the sorry shape the joint’s bathroom’s in all too well, so I decide to make my egress, with much celerity and little aplomb.   

My eyes didn’t want to adjust to the bright world outside after being dim and half closed most of the day inside the bar’s dark. But I squinted my way along good enough, and eventually made my way to a hotel that I knew had some of the best facilities around. What was stewing and going rancid inside of me wanted out, and soon. I clenched and rushed through the lobby, narrowly avoiding death about half-a-dozen times. Menace had seeped into the checkered gray-blue of the carpet’s twill. Aspersion was being cast, towards me, from all sides. I had no idea what this hotel lobby had against me. Even the baffle lights wanted me banished for life from all doings on the premises. And I wasn’t in the mood for taking one for the team; and more importantly I didn’t have the time. I gathered some swiftness and took a no-nonsense approach to the business at hand, preparing for what might soon develop into a minor catastrophe. No employment opportunities were coming my way, to say the least.

In fear’s dangerous grip I held on to what was left of my good sense while my innards heaved and slushy brown liquid roiled its way out. The bathroom was crowded with conventioneers in lanyards, dawdling about, making inane chatter, whooping it up a bit, and not washing their hands nearly well enough after lacing the urinals with unreal amounts of tepid urine. My stall-bound splashes were minor league. I flushed twice before getting up to wipe, and then again afterwards. It was a small disservice to the drought-like conditions, but a necessary one. I decided that instead of drinking water I would only imbibe vodka for the rest of the day to make up for it. I washed my hands thoroughly, sang Happy Birthday to the mirror, dried my hands in the wonderfully efficient Dyson Airblade hand dryer, and slunk back out to the lobby. It felt almost decent to be alive— almost.

There was a smattering of pedestrians out hoofing it through the early evening’s lush reign. Some streetlights were starting to show signs of life, and the traffic picked up, and I, of course, found myself wandering into a bar. It was a cute place all done up in pink and white: Formica tables and plastic chairs, velvet portraits of lingerie models on the striped walls, a Naugahyde cushion over the bar ledge, and two small TV sets at each end of the bar showing a loop of vintage porn while the sound system played a steady diet of 80s pop trash. It was like some posh, horny lunatic’s wet dream, and I was smack dab in the midst of it with little hope of making it out alive, at least until those first few drinks went down.

I ordered a double vodka, iced, and a can of Hamm’s. The lady behind the bar had a pink Mohawk, a face full of piercings, and some dragon-like tattoos on her arms. She hated me guts, immediately, but took my drink orders quickly and then left me alone. I decided things weren’t such a disaster. Not a bit. I swilled my way to more excess and left the place a much happier camper than I’d been before. Pink and white? Nothing wrong with it. Nothing at all. I went out to walk the streets, briskly, wonderfully, in the haze of another joyous night amongst the horror and doom of this damned human race.