Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Life Of Quiet Desperation

I want to tell you about something that happened to me many years ago, something that may or may not be relevant in discussing this so called “privilege of perception” issue. It might assist you in evaluating this internecine in-fighting that’s been going on between the lawnmowers and the landowners over in Gulliver’s Square, though I’m not sure if either side would listen to what I’m sure would be your most thoughtful and enlightened and well-meaning ideas on the subject. I’ll proceed anyway. It’s something to do besides the collecting of bugles and frog pillows and partially digested mints from the gummed-up and unmoving parts of AssembleLine machines. So, this event that I am about to describe to you, as best I can describe any one thing with words, is a thing that really did happen, an occurrence that was at once particular and corporeal and very lucidly trapped in the ever-happening prison walls of time, and yet was also eerie and surreal, more than just our common place occurrence, though it was a common thing, a thing seen and witnessed by yours truly who possesses all the ordinary tethers of sense which filter out much more than they take in and digest and are just as dull as anybody else’s. And it must be beared in mind that my particular faculty for making sense of what I observe, of putting those random accumulations of material brought brainward by my faulty organs of perception, as privileged as they may be, nonetheless are still only frayed and malfunctioning conduits that lose much more than they could ever transport untampered and pure into this dunder sopped and damaged jalopy of a head of mine. I cannot avoid biased and subjective observation. I cannot make any promises of these events being told to you in such a fashion that is not in some way clouded by my own personal makeshift, benighted, egoistic, figurative, muddled, cloudy, ill-conceived, boa constrictor like whim. That this story is true, that it sticks to the facts, doesn’t veer from the actuality of all that happened the way my brain remembers it happening (not, sadly, how I remember remembering it happening…for that would be something else all together for which I am quite unprepared and also unwilling to go into at this juncture, and anyway it would not assist you in this current situation, and so I shall not digress) is not important, though it is true, as any truth must have at least some hint of veracity. I can smell the corn oil cooking in the BellPot mechanical StoveStomachs and it is making me thirsty for BullyGrub and HastyMud. There is a certain temper in the air tonight. I will try not to let it invade my thoughts. So if I can be granted license to stray from the GrandMaster’s tempo for a moment, if I can let my heart swell with terrible things like memories and GunderFlies, if I can sew my SupperBeads a little prematurely, then I will attempt, in my feeble and mercurial way, to relate this tale to you from my past and give what I hope to be some differing sense of what it means to be a garden in these arid times. I was in a town that used to be called New Orleans back a few years before the turn of the century. My grandchildren will be sad to hear that the most exciting illicit substance that I partook of regularly was a cup of coffee at the old Coffee Shops that used to bloom all over the city like dandelions. I would walk the streets early in the morning, watching the sun start to spill all over things, splash on the French Quarter and drip down the walls of buildings, drinking my hot coffee from what they used to call Styrofoam cups. This was long before the ban. But this much is obvious. I was drinking caffeine for Obed’s Sake. But that’s not what we used to say. We used to say for Christ’s Sake. But those were much different times. Forgive me for the nostalgia. It is common to those of us who grew up during the first ClintonBush cycle. Those who came of age during the 2nd and 3rd cycles were much more inclined to think of the present as their everything. And now that the BushClinton dictatorship has evolved into it’s more hydra-headed, beastly, and all encompassing form, there really is no need for such sentimentality. The Now is The Only How. The Here Is Near. Keep Up Or Give Up. I know. I know. Such slogans are really very pleasant to such a euphony-loving old geezer as myself. The advertising industry retains a good ear for such things. Obed would be proud. But this was all long before the resurrection and BornAgainians and The Chaplainanots and so on and so on and all that jazz. Jazz. That was something we used to have. And New Orleans was filled with it. You could hear it coming out of windows, tearing up the floorboards beneath your feet, wafting through alleyways and pounding behind walls. I would go to a place called Preservation Hall and sit in a folding chair and watch a Dixieland jazz band play right there before my eyes. You could do such things then. Music wasn’t restricted by so many laws then, and people could assemble in places together to watch people play it. It was our right as citizens. Those were different times. People smoked cigarettes and drank bottles of beer and some even danced when the music played. It felt good to be there listening to that music, enjoying it with other people, feeling free and a little wild. It made you feel good to be alive. Oh, and at this my grandchildren’s eyes may widen and their lips may form giant rictuses, but it was in the evening of one of these days that I will begin this tale, and it will begin in a bar! Just think of it. A place where anybody over a certain age could go and drink all the alcohol they wanted. And you could get drunk. I know. It seems like some fairy tale, but I assure you, these places really did exist, and I was in one of them on this evening. An old acquaintance of mine was in town for a few days on business. This fellow wanted to get bibulous and to, as we used to say, let loose three sheets to the wind or tie one on, get soused or some ribald and equally unchivalrous thing. So we went to a local bar just off of Bourbon Street that was the habituĂ© of many local dipsomaniacs: out-of-work mechanics, sleep-deprived janitors, ex-cons, dirty bohemians, surly cabbies with most of their teeth gone, under-tipped waiters, unwed mothers, minor league infielders, ten-dollar prostitutes, pilots, trumpet players, euro-trash, hooligan night watchmen, P.E. teachers, and other such stool pigeons and lunatics. We sat down at the bar. Everybody was smoking. The air was thick with gritty and toxic gray smoke, which smelled like PonTreks or GullingDates. Now behind the bar you have to realize there was a bar tender, or barkeep, a man who was authorized to serve alcoholic beverages to the patrons. This man was built like a question on a positional geometry exam, or as we used to say, a study of circles. He was wide as a movie screen, corpulent yet sturdy and stout, built like an old tank or a CrunchWail machine. His face was like tooled leather and his beard grew all the way up to his eyeballs. I had to shout my order to him. My progeny will again swell with pride when they hear that their grizzly, white-haired atavist made a request for two beers. Now, beer was not anything like the BoozePlus that so many of us swill down now. It was rich and deep and frothy and made you think of Oregon in the morning when the air is crisp and windlessly cool...Oregon in the morning when the year still has a number attached to it and it is the time before the wars, before the refashioning and reshaping of desires and the dulling of dreams and the complete restructuring of the world that you thought would always be, a world you thought you knew, and maybe even cared about, when one still could care about such things. The bartender took two pint glasses and filled them up from a spout or spigot which drew from a large wooden keg somewhere below. He plunked the glasses down in front of us on the bar top, a head of beautiful white foam on each one, and we paid him with paper money, with actual bills, greenish gray papers that were once called buckskins and greenbacks. These bills were tough and had a texture like dead leaves or a worn chamois rag, and long dead once famous men were on them, leaders that people had maybe voted for in an election, when they still had elections, when they still had people to vote for. The bartender took the money and my friend and I drank our beers. One of the most salient side effects of beer drinking is the need for micturation, and because of my smaller than average-sized bladder, which quickly became, shall we say, replete, I very soon had the urgent and pressing need to use the facilities. I bid my friend adieu for a moment and went on to find the bathroom. This was a place like a SeptiLounge, though much more base and frowzy and open. The public ones were especially grime laden and sordid. I found the bathroom in the back of the place behind a pool table. The table’s wooden rails were chipped and worn and its baize billiard cloth was badly ripped, kind of shredded with a lot of divots in it, and there were no nets in the pockets. Nobody was playing pool just then. I went in the bathroom. There was just one toilet, in the old fashion, white porcelain style with a flush tank, and this toilet was right in the middle of the room. There were no barriers, no stall walls that one of these toilets would usually have around it for privacy. It was just plopped down there right in the center of the room. A black midget was sitting on the toilet with his legs sticking straight out in front of him, extended at a perfect 45 degree angle from his body. (Such terms as “black” and “midget” may or may not have been acceptable at the time. It is sometimes hard for an old duffer like me to remember. Neither can I recollect what the correct term would be under current official guidelines, of which I am fully aware that I am flouting, so I will continue to use the anachronistic ones here.) This diminutive dark-skinned soul was squirming around a little on the toilet seat with his pants around his ankles, his black cowboy boots just hanging there in the air. He was smoking a giant cigar that was propped and sticking up out of his mouth, like what people do with toothpicks sometimes. His eyes were big and his arms were straight at his sides. He was straining. His fists were clenched. I looked right into his eyes and he looked right back at me. He just kept straining and pushing with his abdominal muscles and biting down hard on that big old cigar. He had a green hat on that was very long and conical, like a dunce cap that came to a point at the top where there was a gold bell. I just stood there staring at him and he just kept staring right back. The whole thing reminded me vaguely of a sequence in a cartoon, or maybe it was a comic strip, little boxes of lines and color and bubbles filled with words. Now that we live in more fastidiously controlled and manipulative times, amongst abjurations of free will and pleasure, in the structured confines of worship and mass conformity on a scale so vast and all encompassing that it seems tacitly eternal, it is hard to imagine such things, but let me tell you, they did exist. It was an extremely complex situation there in that bathroom, one of which I am almost at a loss to explain, as it was painstakingly difficult to grasp the dimensions and whirling patterns of time and conceptual space that were so lightly and indifferently and continuously happening and also not happening, that were ricocheting off of every last quark and lepton in little pinpricks of flashing momentum and also much hidden microscopic brilliance I’m sure, and were also scabbing and scarring empty space, leaving spindly gashes and willowy wens in the skein of now, a now that was impossible to categorize except to say that it was a moment that hadn’t yet happened, would never happen, and yet would always be happening and had always been happening. There was something odd gestating at a molecular level, some faint stirring of strings, the very low whiff of a thin breath on the reed of a fingernail-sized clarinet, a lisp only heard by grasshoppers. We are not good enough for such things. We are not built to interpret these puny gestures of life. We are monsters too enormous to see and too loud to be able to listen. I could only intuit this event or I might have just almost detected a lump in the rhythms of myself, discerned a pale and unthinkable luminosity, a brief levity of being that seized me with horror and awfulness. There was a sense of failure, a keening tryst with doom, a bowling over of my concrete conceptions of consciousness, a raft of newly awakened incisions in the thinning crust of my own hemispheres of sorrow. Things were not as they seemed. And this made me sad. Sad not in our manufactured way of being sad, but in the old way of being down and out and weary of the world. That black midget was staring at me and he was not a clown and he was not an angel and he was not an illusion or some manifestation of my own diseased fantasy and he was not a child nor a God and he sure as hell wasn’t a human being at all and we are all lonely for something real in this world of made up things we all are lost and drifting and don’t even know that we don’t know this and I am going to tell you something real now and I am going to make you feel something and that something is all that matters and that something is…

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Afternoons To Throw Away Like Old Napkins

The small flies and the large flies
fight it out on my windowpane.
The large ones sit on the outside of
the glass
hovering and landing and hovering again.
The small ones are inside and
do much the same,
only faster.
They don't seem to like each other.
The large ones jealous of quickness.
The small ones wanting size of course.
I don't exactly envy them
and their little lives
played out in a day there on the pane of glass,
gazing either forever in
or forever out,
never quite satisfied with where they are.
Always buzzing around
but never going very far,
just moving
from one little spot on the glass to the next.
I try to kill them every chance I get.

Joseph P. Cardullucio Finally Opens Up To His Shrink (Part Three Of Seven)

--So, this, incident, you speak of…
--Yes. We were driving. She was driving.
--The girl.
--Yes. I was sitting in the passenger seat of her car. It was the time right after my parents split up.
--Four, five years ago?
--No. More like ten.
--Yes. Is that so long of a time?
--No. It is…it’s not I guess. I just thought, well, that we were talking about something more…recent.
--Maybe I make things seem that way. But, so, I was sitting there, and she’s driving along through the streets. I don’t remember what we were doing, where we were going, things like that. But she was going on about the guy she was dating…
--Going on about. Interesting.
--Yeah. I mean. No. Not like that. It wasn’t like she was being petulant or whining or anything. She was just really upset. And she was talking about all these things, all these bad and sad things that were happening to her.
--What things?
--Well, that’s just the thing. I wasn’t really listening to her. That’s what I’m getting at. I was just sitting there staring out the window, feeling miserable about my own self, my own worries and tribulations.
--Tribulations. You don’t hear people use that word too often.
--Go on.
--So I was just so obsessed with my own little world of sorrow that I, like, I don’t know, I couldn’t conceive of hers. I couldn’t make myself care about her problems.
--You had no empathy.
--Yes. No. I don’t know. All I know is that I was just kind of zoning her out. I could hear her voice but the words were meaningless to me. And she caught on. And she says, “You don’t even care about what I’m saying,” or something like that. And she goes on to tell me that she feels like she is just bothering me, that I’m making her feel like her problems are just minuscule, that they are bogus, that they’re nothing, stupid, worthless.
--Interesting. She caught on. Bogus. Go on.
--Ok. So, well, the thing is, I just didn’t say anything. Or I don’t remember saying anything. I mean, we were good friends, close, had talked on the phone every night during high school, gone through all the teenage melodrama and malaise and ennui together. And now here we were, like, separated by miles of emotional distance. I was completely gone. I think I just sat there and like grunted or something. And she maybe started whimpering or crying or something. None of it seemed to matter to me. I just stared ahead all steely eyed and trapped inside my own head.
--So the wall was up again.
--Yeah. This time it seemed palpable. Like I could see the outlines of the bricks, feel their grainy and rough texture, knock my head against them if I wanted to.
--What happened after this?
--I’m not too clear. Like I said, this was about ten years ago. I was about twenty or twenty one at the time. I was a totally different person.
--You know what I mean.
--I do?
--Well, I don’t know. I was just thinking about how much everything’s changed. But, I mean, there’s something Steinbeck said once, about growing old…something about years not changing a man, just adding more sorrow to him. Maybe I haven’t really changed at all.
--So I think she just drove me home. And we didn’t really talk anymore after that. We became like strangers or distant cousins who met once and then went their separate ways. I don’t know what happened. We just reached some kind of breaking point, some kind of…
--Sorry. But just so as we are on the same page here. Is this the incident that you were referring to earlier, the unprecedented lapse in the peripheral structures of time and space that let you see, how did you put it?
--Into the “it” of things.
--Yes. That’s right.
--Well, kind of. It wasn’t until many years later that I spoke to her again. We were living in the same city. I think it was five or six years later, maybe more. She looked me up, as they say, and gave me a call. Her place was only about ten or so blocks from mine, on another hill, the hill right next to mine.
--You both lived on hills?
--Yes. She was married by then, didn’t have any kids though.
--That’s good.
--What? Why is that good?
--I hate children. Don’t you?
--Well, yes, sort of, but…wha…?
--Just go on. We’ll come back to this later when we are discussing your childhood. Now. You are living, um, on the next hill over from her, and…
--And, well, she calls me up and we make plans to get together for a beer or something.
--Just like that? No awkward getting-back-to-knowing-you stuff? No, I don’t know, jitters? Cold-feet type behavior?
--What the hell? Um. No. I mean. We just picked right up were we left off, I mean before the car-ride thing. It was like talking to an old friend.
--It was talking to an old friend.
--I know. But, I mean, it was just normal, you know? We got along fine. Just made normal conversation like normal everyday people make. Chit chat. Shooting the breeze. Where are you working, how’s the folks, that kind of stuff. The changeless weather of day-to-day existence.
--Interesting. Changeless.
--So we make these plans, and I’m of course pretty nervous about the whole thing. And I’m sure she was too. But neither of us were letting on. Just keeping everything…how do they put it? A white elephant in the room?
--Something like that. Go on.
--Okay. So the day comes and I go out to this bar where we are supposed to meet. It’s called Charlie’s. A little divey shack by the waterfront. Just a few drunks at the bar and some wooden tables and stuff like that. They’ve got a dart board. I got there about half an hour early. I wanted to make sure I was the first one there. You know, sit down, have a beer, look calm and at ease and in control. Let her walk in and find me.
--Makes sense.
--So I go in, and I can tell right away something is off. Like, I don’t know, there’s just something in the air. Some kind of imbalance in the atmosphere, like the air pressure is maybe not what it’s supposed to be? I don’t know how else to explain it. It was very strange. I’d never felt anything quite like it before. There were a few greasy looking guys at the bar eating peanuts out of little paper cups and drinking beer from bottles. They looked like maybe they were bikers or some other kind of tough guys. Maybe they’d just escaped from a chain gang or something. I just got a bad feeling about them. They looked angry and kind of gave me a mean look when I walked in. The bartender was a ratty sunburned old geezer with scrawny arms and a giant white mustache. He had really worn out tattoos on his arms, battleships and hearts and World War 2 type of stuff. It looked like somebody had taken an eraser to them…
--As if the were drawn on by a pen you mean?
--Yeah. Like they were fake and had started to wash off I guess. That’s what time will do to you.
--Like getting washed clean of your sins?
--No. Not like that. It’ll just smear them into your skin deeper, so they are more inside than out.
--I don’t think I follow you there.
--He made me think of a retired cowboy for some reason, all worn down from too many summers out on the range.
--On the range?
--Yeah. Rustling cattle or whatever. He didn’t seem to care for me much either. He kind of spit down onto the floor next to him when I came up to the bar. His eyes were like black marbles dug into the deep pits of his skull. They stared right through me. And his eyebrows were actually arching. These big fluffy white eyebrows just arching into an actual V.
--Wow. That really happens?
--It did then. So I got all my courage up and said, unfortunately rather meekly, “Could I get a beer please?”
--You said it like that? To this burly, eyebrow arching, sunburned old character?
--Yeah. It was very unfortunate.
--To say the least.
--So of course this guy wants like absolutely zero to do with me. And he just kind of stares at me, stares right through me really. It was like he could’ve burned a hole in my chest.
--I’ve heard of that. I think.
--So I kind of, of course, became a bit uncomfortable and started kind of hiccupping around and blinking a lot and making tiny imperceptible movements with my fingers, little taps and stuff and snaps and, well, I don’t know, just stupid stuff I do when I get nervous and can’t keep still, probably cracking my neck a lot and maybe even letting out a few yawns too.
--Busy guy.
--All these multitudinous gestures of unease.
--So what’s the barkeep doing?
--That guy. Well, he just keeps standing there and staring at me. He’s a real gnarly old dude. Finally he’s like, “what that?”
--What that?
--Yeah. And I’m like okie.
--Okie? Who are you, Raymond Chandler?
--Okay. So I try to toughen up a bit and kind of snarl a little and say, “Just a Bud there.”
--What an odd thing to say. I mean, if you took that out of context…
--And he stares a little more and then turns around and swings one of his arms down below the bar into a little fridge or something and grabs a Budweiser bottle out of there and sets it down really hard on the bar. I’m surprised the thing didn’t like break apart and explode into a thousand slivers and shards of glass. And it’s like over flowing all over the top. I take it and lay down a five dollar bill. And the guy grabs it and makes some kind of disapproving grunt or some such type of noise. The register is really old, like one of those ones you’d see in a drugstore in an old movie, a soda fountain type of place, you know, like it was made by James Ritty himself. An ancient obtuse contraption with big old levers and keys like on a typewriter. It made all kinds of noise when he hammered on the thing and when he shoved my money in there and closed the drawer it was like a medium-sized earthquake had hit the place. I figured I needed some change and I also figured I wasn’t going to get any. The beer had spilled all over the bar top. I made some kind of feeble motion with my arm like a keep-the-change kind of thing and winked at him.
--You winked at this guy?
--It was a kindly wink.
--I can’t see this guy interpreting a wink.
--No. He was none too happy about it. If I’d had my druthers this would’ve been it for me. I’d have jetted. But I had to wait for this girl, you know?
--I almost forgot about her.
--Me too. I just stood there trying to drink the beer, which was really foamy, and then I thought, shit, I should just go on and sit down at one of these unoccupied tables and start my waiting. So I went back and did just that. The bar tender had stopped noticing me and went back to doing whatever it is bartenders do when they aren’t serving drinks. Maybe taking a towel and wiping out shot glasses. Like, making them really shiny. Mainly nothing I guess. I sat at the table all by myself and drank my beer and looked at the scenery. There were a lot of mirrors with beer advertisements on them. A few fans were spinning slowly on the ceiling where there were a lot of pennants of minor league baseball teams and gonfalons from colleges I’d never heard of and some tacky artifacts from another more joyous and unfettered and freewheeling era of beer drinking for this now defunct mostly desolate place. I just sat there and kind of ruminated on my now precarious position in the world, in this particular tiny corner of the world that I was now calling my own, this lonely and insecure place I called being me, this place that was now being somehow threatened by this unexpected intrusion from my past, like a door I thought I’d locked but hadn’t and that had now let in a thief to try to steal away or intrude on my solitary and woebegone existence.
--So you were not happy about this.
--No. Not at all. Well, not exactly. It wasn’t that I was upset at her. It was more like I was just upset at this sudden turn in events that had now brought me back to this more primordial form of my development as a full fledged member of the human race.
--Put you back into a now ill-fitting past version of your self.
--Yes. Brought me back to this “me” that I thought I’d left behind. And now here I was going to have to face all of this again. And I didn’t want to. At least I didn’t think that I did. Maybe I thought we could just talk around things, get over it, not have to really jump the proverbial hurdle. I didn’t want to go back to all that fear and pain that had been suffocating me way back then when we’d taken that last car ride together.
--Would you describe your pain as existential?
--Then? I don’t think so. I was really in a bad way back then when my dad split. But, at the same time, it was like I was putting up this kind of shield that was deflecting the reality of the situation. A kind of border that I wouldn’t let anything cross. I was inside and untouchable and everything else that could hurt me was outside and couldn’t get in. I made myself safe and unaffected. But at the same time I knew that I really should be feeling bad about the whole thing. About my mom’s nervous breakdown and my father’s perfidiousness and my own bleak moneyless situation and slow march towards alcoholism.
--You were an alcoholic?
--Later. Another time, ok?
--So I just lived inside this bubble, rather carefree I guess. Do people still say fancy-free? That was more like it. I was feigning all of this lugubriousness and madness because I wouldn’t let any of the real thing touch me. But it was there and I knew I should have been feeling sad. So I pretended to feel the way I should have been feeling anyway. But I really wasn’t feeling that way at all. I wouldn’t let any of that stuff inside my sphere of emotional space.
--Sphere of emotional space. Did you just make that up?
--I don’t know. So here I was acting the way I thought I should’ve been acting if I were really feeling the way the things around me were supposed to be making me feel.
--Sounds rather convoluted.
--It’s no way to live. Let me tell you. Existing in the constantly devaluating currency of your own made-up consciousness, and subconscious too for that matter. I had to pretend to have all these subconscious motives for my behaviors.
--That doesn’t really make any sense. You can’t control your own subconscious like that. Then it would no longer be subconscious. It would be a conscious effort to be…um…go on.
--I guess my pain, in a way, was really just existential grief. I was not feeling anything concrete. But at the same time my faked pain was based on real pain, um, it was a pain I felt I should have had, but it wasn’t there. It just wasn’t. I had to make it up to believe in it. I had to play make believe with my own emotional state. It worked though. I tricked everybody around me. Maybe I just wanted people to feel sorry for me and now here I had my chance. I had a reason I could use to make everyone feel bad for me. I had a reason for acting the way I was, for moping around and sitting alone in my room and staring at the walls and going on long walks all night long and into the morning. All of my life I’d always just wanted people to leave me alone, and now, finally, they were, and I guess I was really happy about that. Damn. It was such a mess. Because I was really feeling guilty about that. Imagine sitting up all night and listening to your mother crying herself hoarse and also feeling good about yourself and things in general. I knew I shouldn’t have been feeling that way. But I couldn’t help it. I finally had a reason to feel morose and devastated and I loved it.
--But the guilt was still there.
--Yes. Of course. Because I knew that the way I was feeling was all wrong. So I felt very guilty about what I was doing and I’d get really pissed off at myself and started drinking a lot to numb the pain. But the drinking just made me feel better about my suffering. It gave me a gilt-edged and glorious shining coat of armor to wear around it. I would go off with a bottle of whiskey and break into my old high school, jump the chain-link fence and run around on the football field and baseball diamond. I’d play entire games of baseball all by myself. And I’d lie down on the blacktop of the outdoor basketball courts and stare up drunkenly at the stars, all those damn myriad constellations up there, and the moon too, that big old orange-yellow eye up there staring down at me. I talked to God a lot lying there like that. I’d stretch my arms out and cross my feet pretending that I was Jesus. Those were some good times.
--You seem to get a lot of joy through suffering.
--Is that perverse?
--In your case? I’m not sure.
--Joy through suffering. There’s something to that.
--So what happened with the girl you were meeting at this bar.
--Oh. That. Well, she was rather late. I think I was on my third beer when she finally showed up. They bar tender had warmed up to me a little. I’d put some songs on the jukebox by this point and I was getting a little nostalgic. Music has always had a big effect on me. I’m easily affected by such things. So I was sitting there drinking my beer and feeling good and melancholy and enjoying the sad songs I’d put on the jukebox, existing in my own little world of sorrow. I almost forgot she was coming. And then there she was. It’s odd when you haven’t seen somebody in a really long time and you have this idea of how they look, that isn’t really how they look, or how they ever looked, because you know your memory can do all kinds of things to a face, as if you ever really remember a face anyway, besides just the miracle of recognition, this ineffable thing that makes you attach a person to this set of eyes and ears and teeth and hair and cheeks and mouth and all these other very undifferentiated things about each individual person, things that are really so similar it is amazing that we can tell each other apart.
--Human beings are very good at this I hear. Face recognition.
--It’s incredible when you think about it. Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror for a really long time? Just kind of let your eyes go fuzzy and stare and stare into your own eyes until you don’t know which side of the mirror you’re on? It’s hard to remember what you look like. It’s hard to tell what these things are that make you the person that you are.
--This isn’t going to turn from digression into lecture here, is it?
--Probably not.
--Good. We are limited by time here. Go on.
--So I do recognize her, though she looks different, older, more mature I guess. Like a woman and not a girl. Not the girl I used to know and like so well.
--Oh. Was there some kind of romantic involvement? What type of intimacy are we talking about here?
--What? No. It was a very platonic friendship. Though she was very attractive. Sometimes that happens between two people. You just get to know each other in a different kind of way, as people and not objects? That’s not it. Something like that I guess.
--You know what objects are to Germans?
--People. I know. What I’m saying is we knew each other in a way that was not tinged by any hint of sexuality. We were just, friends.
--Okay. I get it. Nothing like sex to get in the way of companionship and a rich and pure relationship.
--Pure? That’s interesting that you would say that. I guess. So I waved to her and got up and gave her a hug, less self conscious now that I was a little drunk, and we smiled and said how good it was to see each other and all that.
--You seem to have a predisposition for keeping people at a distance. For maybe pushing them away before they get too close.
--You’re quick doc. You had to go to college to figure that kind of stuff out? Why don’t you tell me something I don’t already know?
--Would you like to continue?
--Isn’t our time almost up?
--Oh. Well. I guess so. So, we can continue next week. If you’d care to.
--Maybe. I’ll think about it.
--Good enough.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

THE MEADOWS (Excerpt #1)

This here is a sneak peek at the beginning of my new book. It is a work of fiction based on make-believe people and events. It has yet to find a publisher, so don't go looking for it at your local Borders any time soon. I might put some more of it on here in the coming weeks though, if people show an interest. This part here may end up being the first 5 or so pages of the book. The action takes place about 2/3 way through the story. Our weary, drug-dazed protagonist and his companions have been in Las Vegas for 3 days and are now trying to check into a fancy hotel.

The back of Scott’s head is on the check-in desk at the MGM Grand hotel. He’s laughing and shaking his head back and forth like a cuckoo clock gone berserk. His eyes are even laughing, and his legs are wobbling like faulty table supports buckling under a heavy load while he arches his back, as if almost wanting to attempt a back dive but not quite being able to extend back all the way. There’s something fizzy and maybe froth-like in his mustache, which I take to be some sort of illicit substance, or maybe just foam from the warm beer in his dangling left hand. The desk clerk pays him no attention. Erik’s trying to check us in this whole while, and I decide suddenly that I need to take Scott away from the desk. He seems spry and reckless. Something about the whole situation seems dangerous, like at any moment something will just crack and send him over the line, or over the desk maybe to strangle the attendant or baggage handler or the lady in the suit holding a clipboard to her chest who keeps eyeing us suspiciously. So I grab him and mumble something about a cigarette. He jumps up like a break-dancing Gumby and high kicks at the domed glass ceiling way above us, tearing free of my grip and darting off into the Byzantine ornamentation of the lobby. I follow.
After consoling him with a smoke we stumble around an extravagant flower planter in the middle of the lobby. A good-sized, gold-coated statue of a lion is perched on it, supposedly guarding things. It looks bored, like a lion in a zoo, ready to yawn and waiting to be fed. The planter is an elaborate, well-kept garden filled with diverse plant life of many petals of vibrant colors, and shapes of stem and leaf, a wild collection of flora and inflorescence from all over the world. Scott starts ashing in the flowers. And then there’s a moment where I glance up and see the suited clipboard-hugging woman coming over to us and I just know she’s up to no good. I try to grab Scott but she beats me to it.
She snarls, “You know there’s no smoking in the lobby.” Her thin and uptight tiny lips, which are crusted over with some brown flakey matter, barely spread wide enough to let air pass through. “You can only smoke over there on that side, where the red carpet is.”
We look over to where she is pointing, trying to find some rigid, insuperable non-smoking parapet, this supposed bulwark of the lobby’s pristine atmosphere. It’s only about twenty feet away. We don’t see any physical barrier there. It’s just the place where the red carpet ends and the lobby’s tile floor begins. This strictly enforced regulation makes no sense, but maybe the smoke can’t penetrate the tile floor’s zone of smokeless air. Maybe an invisible wall emanates from the carpet’s edge and is made of fibers too porous and resilient for any carcinogens to pass through.
Scott arranges his face in a serious manner and, with much savoir-faire, deeply inhales on his cigarette. As he blows the smoke out he says, “We are deeply sorry. Our most sincere and humblest apologies to you and the great lords of MGM Grand. Though what you say makes absolutely no sense, we agree, we acquiesce, we concede that we are most egregiously wrong and will sashay over to the carpeted area to partake in our nicotine indulgence.”
We begin walking away as he continues talking in this odd way. The lady just smiles and nods and holds her clipboard a little tighter to her chest. I start to wonder what the hell is on that clipboard. If I could just get it away from her. Maybe it contains secrets of the universe, or maybe the only sure fire way to win at Black Jack, or good recipes, or maybe just the names of people that MGM is keeping a watchful eye on. Maybe my name is on there.
Scott is now smoking on the carpet and wandering around checking out all the slot machines, his arms circling like the broken blades of a windmill and his head cranking around energetically looking all over the place at once. I come up behind him and stick a finger in his back. “I told you not to ash on those fucking flowers. You mindless twisted shit-licking idiot!” Scott puts his hands up and tilts his head back nodding from side to side. He finishes his gesture with a crippling flourish, a frazzled cadenza of his limbs like the last surge of motion in a windup toy, and then every twirling thing comes to an abrupt stop. He stands there frozen in a very awkward pose, his arms hanging out like thin, crooked, gnarled tree branches. A bent and squashed cigarette is hanging out of his mouth. He seems to be chewing on it slightly. Somehow, through all of this, he has managed not to spill a single drop of beer from the can that he is now crushing in his left hand. He looks like the Tin Man, all rusted in place before Dorothy comes along and oils him up.
I try some more abuse, “Come on man. Keep it together. We need to get into our hotel room. We can’t make any more mistakes. Just look. There’s Erik over there trying to convince that damn clerk to give us the keys. Look at that poor fuck.”
Erik is gesticulating madly at the clerk and seems to be having quite an animated conversation. It worries me and I decide, in a sudden epiphanic flash, that he needs some succor. I grab Scott’s chewed and flattened cigarette out of his mouth and put it out on the plush red carpet. Directing a hushed stern voice towards where his face is I say, “Come on man. Look at Erik. He’s in trouble. He needs our help.” The ends of his mouth turn down making his mustache droop like a black hairy caterpillar. He glances lazily towards the lobby. I take the hush out of my voice this time. “And wipe that spume off of your mustache. It’s making me sick.”
So we start running like purse-snatchers over to Erik at the desk, which is longer than any football field, like a baggage check station at an airport. We speed by the long marble countertop with only a few clerks behind it who are busy punching keyboards and looking at computer screens. Erik is all the way at the other end.
I see immense cream-colored drapery suspended from a gold banister. I stop and stare at it. It is lovely. It is flowing down in all kinds of folded egg-white textures. I am lost. My head is melting in meringue. There is no escape. This body doesn’t seem to be holding me inside of it anymore. I want to reach up and grab all that fabric, let my hands run all over its milky marshmallow skin and then pull myself up into to it, hang from it like I’m catching a ride on a cloud, kick my feet in the air and laugh at all the middling creatures twittering and bustling around below me. You don’t need a body to do these things. Mine will be alright without me. Let me just get out of this skin here and…There is no place to put things here. There is no here here. No space to be in. Drowning in drapes. No air to be…can’t be…falling…down.
Damn. I can feel my toes again.
I start back up with the running.
Scott beats me to Erik by a first down and puts his face right up in the Desk Clerk’s face. “Is something wrong here what seems to be the problem gentleman can I be of any help here?” He breathes it all out at once with his last puff of smoke just before I show up. Shit. I’m too late. This could get ugly. I try to stand very still and quiet. I try to make my face look resolute.
Erik seems calm. The Clerk seems okay. I can’t figure it out. I give Erik a confused glance. He just smiles and says, “Oh. We were just talking about this blind girl I work with and how fast she types, and how the computer screen can’t even keep up with her and it just goes blank.” Scott and I just look at each other and then we stare back at the Clerk who doesn’t look even slightly amused by anything happening. Nothing makes sense, but soon we have our room key and some oleaginous guy with a pencil-thin mustache comes over and puts all of our luggage onto a cart for us. This is good. I don’t feel like carrying anything up to the room.
The mustachioed bellhop is like a crane, gaunt and towering over us. He is all knobby elbows and knees, with Nile-long, skinny drumsticks for legs. Scott pulls me aside and whispers in my ear through a cupped hand, “This lummox of a man is filled with paranormal activity. He’s a walking nuclear waste dump. Don’t follow him too close. We could be sprouting ears from our necks soon. He may be an apparition, a slim poltergeist, some sort of lost figment of the ether spiriting around this place like a… ”
A sudden severe and mechanical look from this gangly fellow stops Scott mid-sentence. Then the bellhop smiles, again rather stolidly, and I push Scott away from me, trying to distance myself from his lunacy, and Erik is walking up ahead towards where we are told the elevators are. The skeletal Bellhop stretches his long arm out for us to go on ahead with Erik. This seems like a good idea. We go on ahead hoping the guy will come up with our luggage behind us. There’s no way to know for sure.
I start imagining ways to grab that irascible suited lady’s clipboard away from her. I mumble to myself things like, “Got to just…burglar it away…somehow…burglar the damn thing. Just have myself a little…looksy,” as I swivel my head around like a blind man playing the piano, casting my eyes her way. She’s still standing in the lobby behind us, which for some reason has gone all out-of-focus. The planter, the ceiling festooned with lines of many bright light bulbs, the tiles glinting under them, the golden lion baby-sitting the planter, and a thousand other stippled explosions of gold and coruscation are all just a woozy blur.
Everything is mashed-up. Some kind of flocculation going on. Not sure. I start to say something resembling the word, “quicksilver,” but all that seems to come out is a dull moan. Am I here? Where’d my…how’d I get to this…walking? Walk. Yes. I must walk to the…Damn! Clipboardhuggingwoman…now if I keep this…watch out! Buttons…el…E…Vador? Numbers and lights, murders and fights, lumbers and nights…well, well. Hello there Mr., um, W.A. Spooner I presume? Stop it! Got to keep things…that thing, that giraffe, that thin man pushing that luggage cart…got to keep him away from me…he’s stealing our…clothes? Just the clothes on my back…Run! Run you fool! The carpet needs a shave. A mow…needs to be mowed…mowed down…lower its damn ears…toast popping up, a fire alarm, a dial tone, a blip, a beep, a bong on a gong…time’s up…soup’s up…order’s ready…somebody’s at the door…no! The opening of a tomb. Get in that little room. All aboard. Cram in there. Hold the door! I’ve got to go…Up…Up…and…away…
This is not then. This was now. Either way I start to, started, I start, I am starting, I will be…I started yodeling.
We got a place up on the 20th floor. We are strangers here. They gave us keys. They were given to us. There we are, and there we were, walking all together, lost in stunned disbelief as we ride up, then, in an elevator, now. The room was, and probably still is, a fucking miracle of air-conditioned splendor. Immaculate. I am content at last. I was content then. When is it now? When is then? What is this now? Where are these things, this television, this incredible view of the Las Vegas strip, New York New York out the window? Is there a now? The beds are huge and luxurious. Is this a Sunday? The bathroom is clean and large and I want to shower in very hot water for a very long time. There are clean glasses and an actual ice bucket. I appreciate every last beautiful detail of this clean large and plush room. I was there in a when that seems like now and there are many pools below and maybe a tropical paradise and 110° heat. Cool air, clean air, a remote control, a large metal tray of unknown use, my face is no longer melting off of my face. This is nice. This was nice. This will be a good thing.