Friday, February 25, 2011

where my crazy hair's a crown (part __ of __)

And all because I’d found a notebook. This 100-sheet, college-ruled, 1-Subject, spiral-bound notebook with a purple cover. So, well, all shelled to hell, here we go. I guess it starts like this: a bird chirped like a car alarm. Streaky skids of sky, and also that little rectangular cut of Market all the way down the hill, in the perceptually skewed distance where it seems the freeway is just above that cut of buildings south of the slot, a frame-of-film like thing, are what my attention’s grappling with at that particular moment. Well, that and cursing the stoplight under my breath. The fucking light there at the top of Mason, with the Cable Cars’ breaking-bones trundle and hack giving the red for way too long to us pedestrians, mostly fucking tourists and assholes of that ilk. I was fucking pissed off at some meager bullshit, probably, I don’t know, it’s foggy sometimes when I look back at my ire, but so I was distracted to all hell, and probably trying to skim over something in my head that wouldn’t leave me alone. It’s fucking bullshit the things I put up with in this life. Always a windstorm up there too. Shit. Gotta hold on tight to the lamppost or you’ll get sent shitter-over-Annapolis out onto the glinty shine of the Cable Car tracks there on California. It’s a fucking big deal, man. I don’t care what you hear. Put you in a bad mood three Tuesdays from hell, that’s sure for fur. You can pin the tail on the turkey, call me a shit sniffer, and sing Jingle Bells till the cows come home. I don’t give a quarter of a damn if you do. Or don’t. Just me. So, well, there’s a slight hint, maybe just a fucking brushy inkling at that, of jasmine in the air, and it makes me think of springtime things, puddlewonderful stuff and the likes, and I’m mushing through January still, at least with my gutter-soaked socks sloshing around in my much-less-than-stellar condition brown Oxfords, and so this is like a lotto ticket with 3 out of 5 winning numbers to my mood. Not quite good, but good enough for the time being. Me? Fuck. Well. I’m shit-heeling along, tugging at the sag in the wrinkling crease of things in general, and I don’t give a-fifth-of-a-shit about all these asinine smiley types who are all like giving serious credence to the phrase Mickey Moused And Unaroused. Nothing but cotton-candy souls stuffed into refrigerator bodies. I’d had more than I could handle of ‘em, and you know I got down on my knees and gave much and more thanks to the lord when the Disney store called it quits last year. Still, there’s things we’ve still got. We’ve still got the multipurpose-room big of the sky, the rustled cattle of the clouds like dishrags tossed in a pool of crème de cassis, or something relatively similar. We’ve got things, still, to get us, you know, through the day without losing what’s left of our fucked-in-the-ass minds in the honkings and congestion and heatless dryers and digitized ephemera of the world. I grow weary with ringtones. Mold gathers. I dust off the best suit of myself I can muster in the bleeps and blips of daily life, under the spell of non-ionizing radiation and microwaves counting down. I am a brand logo smoked on the sky. I am returned goods. But, whatever for the fuck of whatever, I keep shallowly cussing and making general vituperative noises in the hustling busload of what we keep for some fuck-nuttered reason calling civilization. California’s all jammed up with idling cars, like some deranged ragtag motorcade for a famous bank robber or something. Or should I say infamous. Or is there even a fucking difference, really? I don’t know. It’s just more of the changing that stays the same as far as this fucking bastard yours truly is concerned. While this yours truly, you know, stands there all alone and brooding on the street corner, dodging faces, cashing in on the meager blandishments others might happen to deck out for the likes of me, as I weep over the doddering steps of sad old men in suspenders, palsy stricken, no teeth, haunted by ghosts of long-dead loves, lettering their assumptions with inkless sweeps of pen, nodding off on benches, rugose rosaceous faces tilted sunward, arms stiffly crossed, all drowsy smiles and heavens-to-murgatroyd sadness. Oh man. Ah hell, shit some Hoffco and shine a shoe with it. It’s a fucked up world of woe, and I just do my part to keep myself living along in it. So there’s traffic, and I’m ignoring things, standing there with my hands shoved deep in my coat pockets, mumbling fucks shits dicks son-of-a-bitches motherfuckers like a sailor’s uncle, and nobody around there is noticing a damn thing anyway, well, because no fuck faces notice a damn thing anymore, and we all just yep at it and move on and over it all. Yep. Yup. Uh hu. And so I bandy around my sight’s receptivity, girls in raincoats, false modesty, a whore’s clean kitchen, the misinterpretations of Emily Dickinson and questions of her having been banged or not banged by some mysterious gentleman caller with an initial for a last name, and I gander up a few deets here and there in the moon-bought clearness of what I might just sooner than later be calling the crepuscular circumstances of the denouement of the day’s tale. A note of dog shit buoyed on the scruff of a treewell’s weeds. Hard-hatted hammering men on scaffolding high up on the Fairmount Hotel’s exterior. The sparkle of a bracelet. Moldish, rust-like, algae-green, possible fungus-type substance teeming about the caduceus swirl of the concrete laurel leaves of The Flood Mansion’s fence. A cat sunning in a window of the high-rise apartment complex on Sacramento. Splotches of ancient dried gum-spots polka-dotting the worn and pocked graying cement of the sidewalk, torn rubber lids of juice bottles, dead leaves, rubbished papery wrappings wadded up and waddling away with the breeze, a clogged up sewer drain, a manhole with the light still on underground where there was a ladder leading down into the concrete subterranean realms of urban alligators and rats with teeth like chainsaws and unimaginable rivers of human defecation. A man with slightly glistening hair still wet from the shower walking his wiener dog on an absurdly long leash, leaving the man behind to smoke his pipe and wave hello to strangers. A certain mushy sensation was calling bingo in my head, and I recall, almost absently now what with all this fucking time crammed and crinkled between me and what it was, the way it seemed a certain crush of clouds were, like some kind of creampuff monster, about to eat the just-risen moon in the east out towards the loop-roped span of the Bay Bridge, out there, down the steep hill, away, but, again the distorted depth of vision that comes from seeing things at a distance, a fucked-up perspective, you know, outside of things, so objects blend and merge and appear closer than their actual farness, well, that there motherfucking bridge seemed like it was close enough to just walk right over to and say what’s it to you bridge, huh? Luck assails me and I’m bad at it. Well, you know, just put a mail sack over it and beat it with a baseball bat. Well, you know, cream the corn and forget about the spinach. There are looks of love we’ll never get to know. But that’s low-balling culture. That’s tilling the tendentious gardens of staunch ambivalence, if you ask me. But nobody’s asking. So. Well. I’m coming around the mountain here, you know, that proverbial mountain that curries your favor with the promise of lazy, do-nothing, non-committal, zero-effort, contaminated luxury. You can graze on those hillsides for only so long, pastorally omniscient in the lassitude of your doings, what small-world-view patch of ground you hump your dreams on, there, sojourning bored and inefficacious, naysaying, sluggishly camping out with TV shows and armored-car cares and cured dissassociative disorders and off-the-shelf manners shipping themselves to the grunts and sighs of less-than-noble savages. I’m fucking indifferent. I don’t give a fuck. So, I’m shopping my eyes all over, and I like espy this fucking notebook lying next to a mailbox by the curb. I lollygag over and pick it up. It’s this fucking purple tattered notebook filled with ink-scribbling on college-rule lined paper. It’s ring binding is rusted, and there’s like a goiter and some blistering up on the cover, the tear and wear of the weather, being outside, exposed. It’s not in great shape. But it’s still held together, and the pages are all there, and the pages, well, they are fucking covered, completely packed to the gills with words. It’s un-fucking-believable. This tiny handwriting, this scrolled print, all these little letters dotting the white with black ink. No smears. It’s all perfect. I mean, not legibly perfect in that sense. It’s not like it’d win any fucking calligraphy contest or anything. But still, it’s like the print never varies, almost like a fucked-up typewriter or something. Scratchy and a bit sloppy, but always constantly so. And no smears. That’s the part that really fucking gets me. I mean, I don’t know about you but whenever I write with a pen, which is probably a lot fucking less than most, as I have like a god damn out-and-out repulsion to putting down words on paper, but whenever I do such stupid, meaningless things as forming words with ink, well, my fucking right hand gets all ink-stained, you know, on the side on that fatty edge of the palm, and the paper gets wet with my hand sweat and, well, you know, the words just fucking drip and bleed and smudge all over the place. But this stuff was like pristine, like somebody put a lot of fucking effort into it, into making it precise in this deranged sort of way. And the actual pages, when it comes to the condition of the paper, what with it being out in the fucking cold, hard world for lord knows how fucking long, being out in the elements and what have you, well, the damn paper’s in pretty tiptop shape. So I’m just corner standing, leaning on a mailbox, leafing through this raggish thing rather absently, you know, just kind of skimming and checking for pictures, which there weren’t any, and that pissed me off. I hate having to read something without any pictures. The way I like to read is like this: “Boring, boring, boring, oh wait! Pictures! Boring, boring….” You know. All those words. Who needs all those fucking words? It’s just a bunch of prolix hoity-toity hot air taking up my precious time, you know? Fuck that. Anyway, I’m starting to get rather more than a pinch interested in what all these almost-microscopic scribblings were trying to say. It seemed, I don’t know, fucking important for some fucking reason. I was compelled, fucking overwhelmed with a need to understand. Maybe it was some kind of fucking black magic or something, somebody casting a damn spell on me. I ain’t got me the foggiest. But nonetheless, for whatever inane shit-or-shinola reason, I nabbed the fucking vermillion-covered journal, pocketed it in my coat, and slunk off with it in tow. There wasn’t much farther than a block to go until I came to the cozy confines of Huntington Park, where the naked stone angels catch the slipping turtles on the fountain, and where every dog within a mile radius gets walked and shits all over the place, where people lie sunning on grass-laid beach towels, where tots swing and go down slides and monkey around on jungle gyms, where grizzled old men with no teeth in 40-year-old pressed suits lie fast asleep and snoring on benches, and where I, on rare occasions, like when I’m stumbling home drunk after a long night of debauchery at some femme fatales abode, have been known to drop trou and take a grand old whiz in that grand old fountain of the naked angels and the slipping turtles. I thought this’d be a nice place to try to piece together these neatly crazed and jumbled journalings. It turned out I was correct. Well, also, you see, at the time, I was trying to out-of-sight-out-of-mind this girl. She was like off seeing this other fucking guy, and I didn’t really like get a whole lot of fucking pleasure from cogitating this situation. It wasn’t something that’d make me glad and smiley and want to play a game of hoops on hot blacktop with prison rules, that’s for damn sure. Well, you know, you can crap in a urinal and spill your guts to a crossing guard, but you ain’t ever going to change things. Women will always wield this excessive amount of power over me, this take-charge controlling bullshit tendency to take my heart and just fucking jet with that crummy worthless piece of shit. Fuckin’ a, and b and c too for that matter. I just never feel like I’m important enough in their lives. You know, it was the same ol’ situation. Same ol’ ball and chain. She used to be mine and then she wasn’t and then she was his. Nothing I could do about it. It was fucking infuriating. What I wouldn’t’ve done for a distraction, and now I had one. This journal. Fuck. I needed something. She should’ve been paying me rent for all the time she spent in my mind. Every damn thought would just lead to thoughts of her, and it was gnawing the fuck out of my soul, making me dismal and loopy and lethargic, creeping around with no desire to do anything except sleep, which I couldn’t do because my head was such a fucking mess, all gooped and bored through with nags of should’ves and could’ves and god-fucking-damnits about the whole shameful dog’s breakfast. So, there I was, slump-backed on a bench, sun at my back, legs crossed at the shoes, creasing and folding over that sun-blotted purple cover of the notebook on those rusted little coils, holding the page up close to my face, so my nose’s almost scratching it, to try to decipher that devil-awful miniature handwriting. Well, beat an egg and call me Lassie, but this was my lot in life at the moment, at least that’s what I felt like at the time. So, my meaningful encounter with the written word had begun. Call grandpa a sissy boy and shit a pinecone. Yep. I was on to something at last. There was some kind of fucking chinaberry tree or something there by the bench, and as I was reading I stomped a shitload of berries that were spilled all over the ground. They made this crunchy, mashing-popping sound beneath my shoes, and I liked it, the way it sounded and felt smashing those fucking berries like that. I soaked up all those words. I crunched berries. It started out like this:

A siege of herons gumdrops like a feathered sigh from the frowsy blue as January fiddles its way towards fizzling out. Rows of weeping brick buildings smuggle smiles through the broadening of porous horizons, chimney-smoked, lurkish, lavender and maroon. A jogger stretching his calf muscles. I’ve grown accustomed to the accostings of strangers. With an eye patch grossly magnified beneath the thick lenses of coke-bottle glasses, a man leans on the service entrance door to a hotel kitchen and smokes, leering, two top shirt buttons gone, squinting his one good eye through the fog’s hubbub. Durability seizes calmer slouchings, gusty, in the felt of almost-weeping sky, hatless, just having some fun. From sleepy grays to blue-green hospitality beside white spatter and cuts of red-bricked hurt, glum and hard to swallow, chancy in the worn-out fists, staffed with sighs, and then the grumble of buses leaves you standing broken hearted at street corners waiting for the light to change. A nixed spell of boredom that’s dabbling in loneliness, and then I am shuffling thoughts, clefted to a standstill, holding doom hostage for curiosity’s sake because things that are damned mostly stay that way forever. So there go a few ctenoid strips of cloud, stranded, faintly famished, overly hinted grayings, and slack cables slung with lighted globes wrestle their way through like slips of a lost love, possibly mine. Something sings meek into my loomed bones. Weeks go by. Nothing is lost or gained.

The sun was delivering grape juice daydreams to lazy faces, and there I was, later than arriving, with a mood to match my socks: gray spotted with blue and black. Everybody there was of the picnic table variety. Things were checkered red and white. Hallway standing was par for the party’s course, and most of us were bleak enough to partake, though Reynolds Wrap covered jars and Tupperware containers-- also, rubber bands were used to keep the seal tight. Boats were parked on the sidewalk. People drank rum from hollowed out watermelons while reclining in comfortable deck chairs. Proximity to others was important. We took turns rubbing shoulders. Some people were wearing osnaburg. A computer croaked in a digitized, arrhythmic monotone, “Outside there is sky. Inside we only grow a crop of emptiness.” The sound of the fan in the bathroom was horrible, like an end-of-the-world sadness. It was a monotonous whir, a dull thudding that spoiled hope and destroyed joy. It curdled something inside of you, left you morose and unfit to go on. I wasn’t thinking about helicopters. I was thinking things like this: ‘a swoosh of quietude. wiry tree branches like needles pointed in the general direction of heaven. a steady, curled brush of wind. defeat stored up in packed silences. a stowed feeling you know you’ll need again one day. never rears its best fly-over shapes. all these windows are never high enough.’

I’m not going delve into all the sad reconnoitered bullshit crusting the edges of my perception of what was like giving off serious superficially sad vibes and making me murderously dull and fucking morbid a great deal of the time then. Let’s just hit the ditto button and let the machine crank away with the rest. Only, well, only, it was only, you see, only, a cup of crummy daylight in the abyss. And I mean only. Fuck. There it was, all smoke and grief, and there wasn’t a damn crap thing I could do about it. Perfume from a fucking dress making this motherfucker digress? Fuck that. Fuck it. Shit, even Montaigne knew that empathy neurons are affected by spatial proximity. We need to be physically close to people. Can’t just email or text your way around that. Polish off a Rueben and kick a mailman in the nuts. What good’s it going to do? I’ll tell you. Jack shit. That’s what it’ll do. Nothing lodges something so irredeemably in your god damn memory as trying your damnedest to forget it. Getting over things is better done when it’s not done on purpose. My interest was like fucking peeked though, with all this scribbling, and so I thought, ‘What the hell. I’ll keep reading.’ I didn’t have a whole lot going on. The pigeons were swarming breadcrumbs by the benches, and the fucking sound of their wings flapping all around was like a thrashing disaster to my eardrums. I tried to ignore everything around me. The pages wrinkled between my fingers as I read on:

I was on a train with a bunch of deaf people. Turpitude had its holster empty, and they were all forming sign language to each other with those graceful, quick, snapping gestures of the hand. There was a female specimen on the train who looked just like Ed Sullivan. Her face had a droopy quality that was hard to pinpoint at first. The lips were puffy. The mouth wide and long. I thought about the phrase, “long in the mouth,” and wondered if it would be applicable in this case. Sagging skin, wrinkles, the face had these things too. I was hardly enjoying myself enough. My indifference was just magnified laziness.

Being a human it is hard to tell, but I put on my elevator face and made the best of the situation, which is at best a qualitative judgment about the whereabouts of others’ inhibitions, or lack thereof. Steel on steel scraped and skidded below. A raspy hissing sound, high-pitched and scream-like, was slowly rising in the train car. I placed my two index fingers over my ear canal openings. It helped. Aural occurrences were muffled. Space seemed numb, vacant, and puffy. The baying relented a tad. A few crumpled index cards lay side by side on the seat across from me. They encouraged a morbidly astute attitude to emerge from my misled demeanor. I was a bun-less hamburger drenched in kerosene.

Radios play the part. They muscle music for ears to combat with plugs. Then you start to ramble in your head: “February freezing your breath and watering your eyes. Shoulders cold. Evenings drawn in parallel lines. Vanished and grim in the parlor’s lamplight. Cause a ruckus. Feel out a misdemeanor.” Some things come and others go away. The carpet is flattened, scabbed with gum, light gray spotted pink and blue, cut with cracked ragged lines skewing out in all directions. Friction on the soles of my shoes. Electric shocks. A man who speaks the language of old movies.

There were these fucking poems in the notebook too. The handwriting got better, like they were written slower, or the person was trying to take their time with them, or maybe copying them down from somewhere else. I don’t know. What I know about poetry is not much jack and even less shit, let me tell you. It’s all an amphigoric crock of shit to me. An imaginary chest bump for the egos of lonely assholes. But, anyway, these poems were there, so I read them. I figured, whatever the head-shoulders-knees-and-toes crap was going on, well, I might as well give it a go. I was, you know, like sucked into this notebook. It was unbelievable. Me. Reading poetry in a park. Shit. That’s the kind of stuff that’ll really ruin your rep. Anyway, I read a few.

geared up for the sun’s sometimes

if it were never’s shadows

or a wig to wear for a wish’s hair

plagued open to even the odds

ordinary gets weary too at

the corner of heartache and miss

or parking meters and windy hairstyles

leave with the territory

much as many does

with nobody’s nose caught between fingers

forcing a then to sleep with a when

on the nails of now

for as short as it takes

to more than matter

in the lost less

of gone’s long time


if I were a cowboy in


I’d do nothing but lie in the


on sunny afternoons and dream of


I’d wish I were home

not in Paris

not in the shade

on a sunny afternoon

but in my bed at


maybe drunk

under my blankets

lying all alone in the dark at


without a dream in my head

but really

I’d just be a cowboy in Paris

lying in the shade

on a sunny afternoon

that’s all


Badly gave up and steamed Lonely

until Enough became

Not A Damn Thing

Hope feathered Reason with Far

Begin fell into Never

while Ruin spilled Over into Keep

and Jesse James shot a mouse

Better ran off with Sleepless

Could leaned a shoulder into Would

and Brazen screwed Lovely

for a song


i knew this girl

used to sing billie holiday songs with me

past the wee hours

and drink until the bottle was done

holding hands at midnight beneath the starry sky and all that

nice work if you can get it

you know the story

i knew this girl

in the best way you can know a girl

how she laughed in her sleep

how she dreamed in deep-sea colors

how she buried coke bottles filled with coins in her backyard

and we spent what we had before we knew we had it

all the time

both knowing

of course

that it couldn’t



of course

but this didn’t matter

and shouldn’t’ve


you look at it

we both came out


like this

though sadder for it

in ways that we’d never’ve known

if we hadn’t

clung to each other in this inept way we had

for however long

it lasted


subletting the lilies in my brain

goosed by the loneliest of the lates in nights

(drum roll)

got an economy-sized thought

giving boiled eggs to salad dressing dreams

brave and lettered in radio waves

funner than Massachusetts

flipping the f to an a with an m

tiptoe all you like

shut the jalousies of your tenseless future

render boredom obsolete

grousing in shades of topaz

with barrel-stave thoughts built shy-heavy with roses

like the grayed almost-lichen undersides of dead leaves

scrunched and brittle and broke

pushing 75 under brighter lights than this

in headier cuffs of ordealing with crazed car alarms

and hurtling towards a misplaced then

just because


is never going to be


It was mostly shit like this, and I got bored of it. It made me feel like a pansy. I closed the notebook and hawked a few luggies, cracked my neck, you know, made nice with the bench and the world around me. The shrubbery of some dangerous thoughts was slopped on my brain, and it was making me stink like cabbage, and I didn’t like feeling so groggy and danced-out and kind of playful too at the same time. The sky was clubbing clouds around like cottontails and drag-assing them through swirls of blood-colored mud. My eyes were being shifty. I couldn’t count on them like I used to could. Making amends for my less-than-true ways of pattering and scattering myself around through the slingshots of love wasn’t getting me anywhere except a here that I didn’t want to be involved with. I knew I was going to have to change my life. I just wasn’t sure how. I kept reading. That furiously scribbled script went on and on. I was fucking delirious. The berries crunched and crunched under my shoes.

The Green Street Mortuary Band was playing a very slow and somber rendition of Amazing Grace out on the street where people in black suits were crowding around, staring and bowing their heads, and I was leaning against a staple-ridden telephone pole across the street, feeling bad about things in general, but good about the scene, the way things were unfolding there with the music and the people and the cars with funeral stickers on their windshields and their headlights on, all lined up and ready to go. The day was lulling. It was fall. Everything was soft wind and the trickle of leaves.

My father was a mean indomitable little man with hunched shoulders who swore a lot and had a thicket of black curlicue hairs all over his cheeks. When he died they shoved him under the earth without much ado, just a few relatives stifling tears, probably more from being reminded of their own mortality than sad over his passing.

I didn’t want to walk away from the procession. I wanted to watch it occur. For the cars to slowly start to trail off down the avenue, for the band to lead the charge with their tubas and horns and drums. But I had to be on my way. There wasn’t time to just stand around contemplating such things.

I’m the first to admit that I am a misfit. I dawdle and stare too much. The streetlights hold more allure for me than television. But there are times when I find myself wishing that I were in the midst of things. Often it is in times of quiet contemplation that I suddenly find myself roused to do something—anything—normal. Though what that means I have little idea. If it means slumping my shoulders, looking all woebegone, and walking around in a downcast way, looking at trees and buildings and birds, well that I can do. In fact, my constitution is very suitable to that sullen demeanor. But I fear that this is not the case. Normal things are what normal people do. And I have no clue what it is that normal people do with their time. They drive cars I guess, watch movies, make dinner, have conversations with other normal people. I am really not at all sure.

Walking into a crowded diner by yourself is unnerving. I should know. I’m pretty much an expert when it comes to being unnerved. There are not too many situations in which I am at ease, comfortable in my own skin. It costs me much labor to move about in the world. Just crossing the street can be an adventure, a difficult exercise in willpower. There are not too many things out there in the world that do not intimidate me, make me skittish, rattled, and send me scampering away to lick my imaginary wounds.

When my father beat us it was always with a large wooden cane, which he called Thaddeus. He was a very tempestuous man, with a soft spot for pecan pie.

They are screaming on the street today. I can hear them. I know the world is out there. Whether I am waiting for it or it is waiting for me I cannot be sure.

I moved away carefully, some would say gingerly even, from the telephone pole. It was a graceful, languid movement, one of the things I do well, a slight peeling, like a shadow becoming unstuck, or something smooth, liquid even, a lithe tickle like something the sky might do to showoff. Violins were singing in my head. The curb was just something to fall off of, something to be stranded by too, to slip from and go pell-mell into the curve of the world. I thought about granite. I thought about macadam, storm drains, fire hydrants, gutters, mailboxes, the green tall bodies of traffic signals, manhole covers, and polka dot socks. I walked across the street, saved by the magic invisible walls of the crosswalk, and then began to saunter some. Not too much. Just enough to feel alright about myself.

Errant strides, a brush of wind, something lush possibly, a way to go that leads somewhere else, snuffling and cloud-bound, there are many emotions tied to a breath of fall. The park benches seem to bow and creak differently under one’s weight. The surface of things becomes irregular, like windows and candy wrappers and jewelry. Every slip that shadows its way through one’s perception is shaped by the blemishes of weather and clipped by airy thought. Bow ties hang a bit less snug from dew-heavy collars. Every wilt that is washed in the colors and slurry of the day becomes a whirling melt in the mind. Relaxing carefully in gentle calm like chartreuse on the horizon, the fading of lost is looking everywhere for a smile. Mussed hair. Left-handed scissors slicing out comic strip boxes. Hardware stores closing. A certain drooping in the sky. These are things that happen.

Upon seeing an elderly gentleman in blinding-white Nikes and a dented mesh hat scrounging around in a garbage can, I stopped walking. I watched him going through the motions of his life. His hair was scruffy and wild and matted underneath the stitched web of mesh netting, and I noticed a large bruise on his cheek, like a small ocean nestled there storming as he rigorously chomped away at nothing with his dentures. He was just scenery. I was taking it in. The way his hands moved inside grimy garden gloves was fluttering and erratic, jerky like a small bird trying to pick a Corn Nut out of a crack in the sidewalk. Not noticing me watching him at all, he expertly picked his way through food scraps and other excesses of everyday life, salvaging soda cans and rescuing glass bottles from a trip to the dump. The large yellow and green striped canvas bag he was placing his exhumed treasures into was almost full, and must have been heavy for him to heft up and carrying around from trashcan to trashcan as was his wont. It did not smell good. He did not smell so swell either. I watched him as he walked away, done with his doings for a moment, bent over, walking a bit crooked, tending to his wares, hunched and stinky, undeterred and clever, following the jagged lines of his underground trade, waddling a bit with the giant canvas bag of recyclables slung over his shoulder like Santa, just trying not to be noticed too much. It made me thankful in an odd way. Thankful for being able to walk around as I wished, free and easy, without having to lug anything around.

If the window is open air can get it. Baseball games in October can be tragic. The teakettle whistles when it is done. Pajamas should be the most comfortable thing in the world. As children my brothers and I would put books in our pajama bottoms to protect our backsides from the ire of our father and the sharp sting of his belt strap.

The kind of day when you can’t get a good shave. When the weather’s misbehaving like this. Something pluvial in the air, but not enough to bring about that rainy-day atmosphere that might lift the spirits into a lightening melancholia, something that rushes the gutters and splashes away from car tires in soothing waves. Even the way birds fly is different on these tenebrous graying days, when the wind picks them up randomly and tosses them about like newspapers or plastic bags, boomeranging their flight patterns, chasing their feathers, spinning the slight tilt of their sleekness. This was a day for moping around, clopping with heavy strides the unrelenting ponderous glut of the pavement. I can walk great distances on such days. I can span the entire length of the city without noticing. The stars come undone at night, unwinding furls of powdery light, and they blink at me like a constant shimmering reminder of my own temporariness. A quaking blast shudders me as the foghorn bursts and resounds and then fades mooing off into the night. It is comforting and sad and unsettling at the same time. It leaves my stomach a churning gulch of queasy unsatisfied loss.

Poorness must count for something. The quality of it. Not just the meager burp behind dead eyes that starves unnoticed. A value should be attached to it. Wrestling it to the ground would be something, but not enough. A place must be made for it in the failing trap of time’s wayward warp. Gliding from the steps, unguarded, mistaken, laughed at, or climbing disheveled and hurt towards the abyss of humanity’s forgotten, it makes its own mark in the echoes of the world.

The evenings grow to become a part of one’s mental state. Things that might have occupied a frenzied mind during daylight hours might become unimportant, tossed away like broken pretzels, and a preternatural calm may find itself settling in on the way one comes to see the things that one tends to see. The lights of the houses on the distant hills are like flashbulbs in scrub brush, beckoning curiosity with a calm forgiveness. An arc of glimmering speckled dust coils its way through a deepening indigo darkness, some galaxy probably long gone from the cartography of the universe, and it reminds me that I am nothing but a dot in the innumerable matrix of things. Shade vagues and dies and becomes all there is. Thoughts scamper and ululate and shed skin. A remote control glows. A contrived greatness of ideas might grow to some illicit fruition, a premature birth of a sort, and could convince one of the glory that is often overlooked or mistaken for the mundane, though this abundance of gumption should be sought after still, for it is the precursor to the possibility of transcending the dull short shrift of daily doings, a chance at a small abundance of good things. A cat mewls. A potato boils. The buses scream down one-way streets.

Some burly men were tarring a street downtown, with all their heavy machinery and their orange vests and white hats, and the smell of tar was intoxicating, clearing my head, exhuming the parts of me that had turned mossy and wilted, and I brushed them off and washed them out and gave them some glad-handing, welcoming them back to the fold. Something akin to hope ran a few laps around my head, leaving me dizzy and thoughtless. Careers in pavement, enchanting as they seemed, were not what I was aiming for, though I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at operating a steamroller, or digging a deep hole in the middle of the street with a pickaxe and a shovel. Who knows? A hardhat might suit me. The buildings were seesawing back and forth, going liquid in a blink, their windows rolling like waves, and the sun was melting like butter all over everything. A hairless doll with no arms lay in the dry gutter. Her dress was ripped. It seemed indecent. I picked up the tawdry thing and placed it in a garbage can, feeling that I’d done something prodigious and moral. The intensity of the way things were happening was buckling my better half, and some absurdist silage was cursing its way through my veins, leaving me enervated and malcontent, but also quiet and still, as if I had no power to even care about such things. I let myself down easy onto the curb. Knees bent, hands grabbing ankles, head down, I sat there and didn’t let one thought enter my head. I closed my eyes.

My father often chewed ice. The sound of it was grating, obscene, a crunching that wound my nerves around barbwire and made my soul bleed a little. We were not allowed to build forts out of pillows on rainy days, but we did anyway, losing ourselves in a maze of leather cushions and darkness.

Skies like salmon, layers of fading color before sunset like a jar of grease, thin strips of yellowing yolk, a wider swath of creamy bruised blue running into the darkening shades of vermillion hues, on into the polished sheen of the moon’s glow hanging up on the other side of the horizon like a shiny button stuck in black mud. These are the sights around here.

October raises its fists, then surrenders. I mosey on out among the fallen leaves that are like decomposing corpses littering the streets and sidewalks, clogging up the sewer drains and scattering in the wind. Soon nobody will remember them. The streetlights flicker. I succumb to a weary anxiousness, cough into my fist, and travel back inside my tiny cramped apartment. A moth weaves a diagonal path around the outskirts of my room. A coin plops and then rattles around in an otherwise empty mason jar. I behave myself. The slosh of car tires through the rain-wet streets is comforting and remote. Crackers are consumed. Extensities arise out of moldy air, and time withers a bit. The bathroom trashcan is full of crumpled tissues. My smile is a lopsided frown. Opening a can of sardines is enough exercise for the day.

In the morning the sunlight will fill the windows behind my closed blinds. The sky will be cloudless and bluer than the kind of blue that makes your skin tingle. The leaves will wave to me from the tree outside my window—the few that remain gone all goldenredyellowing and barely still going about their business of drooping. I dream of piano keys. Tinkling abounds. The chill in the sun-drenched air moves like a widow through a flower garden, and I keep pace with chimney smoke and the slight sniff of creosote wafting gingerly through half-remembered streets. A place to put one’s foot down. A view of a deserted room. I scrape the grout from between the shower’s mildewed tiles with a steak knife.

From atop the hill above my apartment building I can look out at the bay. The flushing foamy trails of skimming sailboats lather the cobalt blue water like wispy white beards, and the wind speaks in a ribald chant, acting as a curator to my senses, leaving me half caught in wonder and half in the midst of a humdrum yawn. Wherewithal is something that leaves before one comes to know it well, if at all, and I stand flat-footed and eager, waiting for nothing, nothing waiting for me, as the now turning steely blue water chops, as the wind sends screams from mouth to mouth, as birds peck and waddle and dive and dip and seem to also drown in the far off fern green and tidewater blue of whatever is passing for distance out there, somewhere deeper than a flower and wider than pants. People wander and loaf. Traffic stalls and retches and sputters onward. The stranded music of life pauses with a clipped caesura and heaves. We are not doors. We are doorknobs.

A man barrels along, steadily, with head bowed slightly and hands shoved deep in the front pockets of his hooded sweatshirt, lending him an almost holy aspect, something ascetic and unassuming. He walks along the sidewalk, weaving, in his barreling way, among holiday shoppers wrapped in overcoats. A parking lot attendant in a red jacket, smoking on his break, stands in front of a garage, leaning against the wall, posing languidly with his legs stretched out, as if pondering the way petals or leaves fall. There is a fluidity to him, a natural nonchalance that is at once complacent and purposeful without a hint of arrogance. The barreling man pays the insouciant parking lot attendant no mind. His movement are jerky, and he shifts his weight hurriedly as he walks, as if stalking some miscreant or elusive prey. They are both just two more strangers plowing their way through the world on separate courses, which might happen to cross at some elegant angle, but in the end, have nothing more than a hair’s breadth of meaning between them.

In the mornings my father would pound the walls of his bedroom. It was much more than your garden variety griping. He would scream calumny about god. They were absolute seizures of fury. Apoplexy at its most intense apex. The house would shake as his fists slammed away, as he wailed, and many things went crashing to the floor, breaking into pieces my mother would hide in a special drawer she had for such things—broken things without homes.

As I walk the streets, as I go gazing at buildings—their windows tempestuously sparring with the elements, their stories stacked around flights of stairs, their woebegone exteriors counterfeiting majestic elegance and integrity with grit and endurance—and sidewalks, and trees, and fire hydrants, and lichenous grates of sewer drains, and cement-encased trashcans, and billboards, and flashing digital clocks, and belfries, and the glass walls of delis, and graffiti, and crosswalks, and unlit neon signs, and sprawling shards of disaster awaiting around corners and down blind alleys and over the trusses of pedestrian bridges. I check my vitals. I am still alive. The world is swimming along limply with me. There is nowhere I have to be. The churning charge of the lunch crowd saps me of my mettle, and I sink like a railroad tie into the abyss of a gray-green muck some might call the swamp of my heart, but which for me is only a watery grave. I am defeated by their perfervid hunger to do unimportant things, to pass the time, to want nothing except to be entertained constantly, to never want to have to do anything meaningful or important with their lives. I am still alive, but what is the use? There is nothing I can do that would make a difference. All I can add is a little more grass to be thrown into the trough. I would rather sit still and watch things. I would rather not be noticed. I walk the streets, and I am hid from everything, and I pretend that I do not exist. I walk the streets, and I watch everything around me, and really, I do not exist. This meager way of faking my way through the days is the best I’ve got for now. I maintain attuned to its proffered uses, and I avail myself of them as much as I can, as I need the proclivities of their habits to get by.

A yeasty whiff of a Chinatown alley, a clubbed punch in the gut from the sewer’s blocked stench too, and I am walking with a limp—as is my wont at such times—trying to abandon my own regrets over circumstances beyond my control, and my dreams warp and slither around a lamppost. The blue of its green is darker than any deepness I’ve known; the paint is dwelling on itself, it concludes things and steeps the permanence of the tall slender steel in fortitude. The light at the top is impossibly far away. I cannot know it. Watching the lights blink on one by one in the skyscrapers, and the streetlights are coming on too, as the sun sets, as the nights settles in, as people wearily shuffle by, faces stuffed with the droll stuff of life at day’s end. Somehow a mood is determined by a TV set and an alarm clock, by fashion and industry, by dollars and a weatherless interior where time is spent, not had. I walk under the low beaks of dirty, torn awnings, passing by the stalls of warm vegetables and dead fish and unbelievable bustle—elbows sharper than swords lowered at my nether regions by accident, one supposes at least—of small moving things all astir with rabid, festering energy, a swirl that tosses and rends bits to pieces and then puts them back together again, and then again, and then again, only to start and end on the same note every time: nothing. The neon signs are sputtering and prickling to life, canopies are being taken apart and folded up, footsteps clatter resiliently, my mind strays. I watch wash lines hung with wet underwear through the Crisco-smeared windows of tiny 3rd story kitchens. I look to the fire escapes where men kneel and smoke. The cars back up along the narrow one-way streets; pedestrians crowd the corners waiting for the flashing green signal to give them permission to walk between the magic lines of crosswalks; the moon washes its pale face in the horizon’s spilled drink; a band of pigeons circles and swoops and fumbles around in the bleak distance—all together, all alone, all performing the same winged dance in unison, all lost to themselves, on the hunt for small snacks, diving down and bobbing their heads while scattering around, independently digging their beaks in the cracks between the street’s tar and the gutter, wrenching cheese puffs from each other, squabbling over a peanut shell. Everything is a mad game, nonsense, lusterless and cheap one-foot-in-front-of-the-other insanity. I walk by store windows of gewgaw-and-knickknack sadness, of relative mercy on the skids, of fake flowers and plaster-of-Paris statuettes and first-name license plates and souvenir-penny machines. The flush of low-priced fantasy fails to fill me, and I wilt, drown in my own undeniable desire to be away, gone, anywhere but in the midst of these things, but at the same time in love with the imitation of life surrounding me, in me too, and also, above all, a thing to be prized in the last warm draft of the dying afternoon air.

On good days my father would let us play outside. We would gather our toys. We would want to excel at all costs. We would throw footballs at the ivy-covered brick walls that surrounded our house. We would bury action figures in the dirt beneath the cypress trees. We would punch each other until blood splattered like confetti over the freshly mown grass. On good days we did such things.

A tangled mess of thin leafless tree branches, all gnarled, crooked, withered beyond belief, crackled and crunched underfoot, under-shoe really—a hard-soled thwacking of sudden snaps and brittle death. I danced upon it like an unlit pyre. The twigs cut into my ankles. I leapt and did a bit of soaring, not too high, and with a great deal of courage I let my shoelaces come undone, uncaring as to whether they’d snag a branch and stumble me to doom. It was the act, the unthinking act, that was important. The instance of me dancing there, cavorting around like a drunk out-of-work juggler, happy as a shell-less snail, on shore leave from my life. There was a singular buoyancy to things in general. The air was thick with a shuddering emptiness, a hollow cut into the void, into the skin of space, a watering down of joy and triumph that made me succumb to walking away empty handed. There was nothing more to do. Saint Vitus didn’t have anything on me. I leapt from the rubbish heap of sticks, and immediately began to run away down the sidewalk, dodging my way into oblivion.

I had a conversation with a blind man. He’d swatted me with his long silver cane after I’d accidentally ran headfirst into him, knocking him baffled to the sidewalk. I apologized profusely. I helped him back to his feet. He stunk vaguely of patchouli. We spoke of armored cars and smoke signals. The owner of a liquor store came outside and kissed the blind man on the cheek. This was very unusual behavior for one of the denizens in this guilt-wracked woebegone city of ours. I was at once touched and disgusted by this singular act of kindness. The blind man secured a weak smile on his face. People pushed by eagerly on the sidewalk, eager for something unreal, something they were most likely unaware of—some ambiguous lithe tickle in the pleasure centers of their misused brains. The blind man looked at nothing. He swiveled his head. He gaped. He spoke of the dead loves of his life, though he mentioned that his love—the capacity for it I assumed—wasn’t dead, yet. I told him my love had died in January, along with the canary down the hall from me, and the old lady who used to sell me almonds and pistachios at a small stand by union square. Now I only feigned love in spotty patches of infatuation. We both agreed that all good things wore off and grew cankerous with time; nothing worth staying ever did. We shook hands formally and parted ways. His cane clanked and banged away behind me. People parted for him like the red sea. I kept thinking, “Pray for rain. Pray for rain.” I have no idea how that thought got there, but I couldn’t get rid of it. It just kept repeating like that. After a while I began not to mind it so much. It made a little peace cut away into the anxiety-ridden nature of my pieced-together circumstantial ways of existing. It wasn’t bad. I put a spring in my step and skippingly fled.

The top of some ancient architecturally wondrous skyscraper, with its freshly rubbed concrete spandrels and fluted ornamental moldings, shooting up like an elaborate candle, its windows screaming sun, its baize sides like a coat of ingrained dust, antennas sprouting like weeds from its jutting tops, as I stand and waver there on the sidewalk looking up as high as I can look, as black-bottomed clouds bemoan and hang heavy, as I blink and try to keep my gaze from straying, nervously swaying, spilling my guts silently into the moodiness of being me. West of here something is stipulating concern for the somewhat marvelous mess I’ve crawled my bitter way into and out of and back towards again. The idea of champagne sipped from a rooftop garden, possibly clearing my throat from time to time, and spuming my gaze out over the cumulative meaning of what it means to be there, whatever “here” that “there” might be, and the streets cut up into blocks and crossing each other in a massive hilly grid and the churches and parks and rows of telephone poles and the dismissive hoot of car horns and a sprinkling of trees. My thoughts derail. Every purpose one can concoct is its own message of loss. Dignity falls from the curb and into the belittled curve of courage. I walk upon the glittering specks of dust in the sidewalk, looking everywhere to avoid looking somewhere. The font of a liquor store’s sign peters out in a corrosive mesh of hangnail-like scrawling. A helicopter whirls lazily above, humming softly, almost a purling, and it slips my head into a charmed somnolence, and I almost float with a stippled bounce, a dotting of round things, a levity of being alive that is like trampolining my soul upon some inflated cushion. Comfort abounds. The spans of cottony webs that thread my head together in this loopy nonchalant way are growing wild with helium dreams and the childish musterings of an esoteric patting. A man shoves a shopping cart into a parked car—a slamming metallic crash that kicks me from my safe redoubt and back into the clustered doings of the world. Fixated on the event, though also almost unwilling to give in to it, to its significance, its role upon what my life currently happens to be, I try to swindle myself back away with a leap that is almost churlish in its toboggan into some illusory now. The tides shift. A heinous cry rings out. Moorings come undone. The traffic light changes. I dream of sleep.

There was a shifty upswing draft minting the evening with a charged ebullience, an athetosis of being that came sweeping through a panoply of curious things, like clumps of broccoli or saxophones wailing from a crowded café. The lobsters were clawing the glass walls of their tank in a Chinese Restaurant. They were alive, but didn’t look too excited about it. Above the cash registers were these red and yellow paper lanterns that were swaying in the air conditioning like buoys bobbing on the water. I stood in the doorway watching things in there, toothpicking at my teeth, mumbling to myself, running a hand through what was left of my hair, listening to the constant chatter and clang of harried movement in close quarters. A short squat woman of an indeterminate age with long graying strands of wispy charcoal hair flanking her square face, went from wok to wok, stirring things around, jiggling the handles, wiping loads of sweat from her brow, and squawking at her coworkers in short tense spitting plosives the whole while. Nobody knew or cared who I was all gutted and re-stuffed with emptiness standing in their doorway looking pitiful and sad. The waiters ran around in their red bow ties and maroon three-piece suits, efficient and smiling, focused and restrained, carrying impossibly balanced trays of chow mein and fried rice and tea. The patrons sat at large round tables and chatted and clinked their silverware or snapped their chopsticks, mildly going about their masticating ways. It was all a sea, a swimming, an irreconcilable fleeting charge of feckless momentum, a thing composed of satiation and ribbed with small niceties that would do for the time being, but which would never be enough on their own to carry on to anything significant.

The world is sepia-soaked. An unusual coloring that swims in between storms. A bronzy bash of shoveled sun. A hankering of pink swirling in clouds like salmony afterthoughts dissipating and creeping towards ampersands and shapes of fluting. Openings stirring eddies of smoky, smudge-wracked, fleeting and forever going glimpses at things newer than “not yet” but older than “never was.” Streetlights are waking up from their bulbless dreams. Movies are showing.

Plunking raindrops shell the eaves. Plowings of car tires shush form the street. The city dons grays on rainy days like these, drapes itself in a foggy mist as buildings blink open their square yellow eyes and model the latest fall colors. There’s something wrong with me. I can’t do anything except cry. Outside the world is there. But I am not there. I am here. And there’s no escape. Red bulb light hankering in splotched, glazed moons around dark curtains like when we come to know things in our joint-account way, and have these fantasies that are tame by most usual standards. But, alas, there is no we. There is only I, alone here, pecking away at the patina of a stubborn grief that holds me captive in its careful arms. I smell cinnamon on the horizon.

Monday, February 21, 2011

bats in the belfry

"If in a cluster of grapes there are no two alike, why do you want me to describe this grape by the other, by all the others? Our brains are dulled by the incurable mania of wanting to make the unknown known, classifiable … It is pointless to add that experience itself has found itself increasingly circumscribed. It paces back and forth in a cage from which it is more and more difficult to make it emerge … Forbidden is any kind of search for truth that is not in conformance with accepted practices…" -- André Breton

“There’s something wrong with me.” He heard it while walking. “Something’s gone haywire in my circuits.” It was conducive to the plunger-toting toilet officers. “Nobody makes collect calls to themselves.” Hopping mad. “Spaghetti hits the fan. Lead-heavy surroundings prevail.” Picture me on a sidewalk, pacing, remiss, soul-looted. “Every single gesture builds on all other gestures, and a hand goes over a mouth, and I am not safe inside my skin.” If it requires sleep. “Operations manipulate themselves. There is this, but whose this is this? My services are no longer necessary.” Driving along the highway late at night. Think of it. The way the lights make you see things. Windshield bugs. Something pleasant, like windows rolling down, or a rummaged investment’s true odor. “Dogs baying: ‘I’ll take you dancing on mars when you’re done counting down the days.’” The smell of bleach and cigarette smoke. The putter of motorcycles. “And then if you come to feel morally bankrupt.” The joke’s punch line was missed because the door squeaked open. “It’s just prodrome, old buddy pal. That’s all it is.” Avalanching thoughts. “I’ve been hearing their voices outside of my head.” Now it’s Borodin. “There’s something wrong with my brain.” If you can figure out what it is then you can either figure out why you’re doing it, whether it’s out of laziness or being stubborn because you might actually like what it is you’re doing, and try to either stop doing it, or come to grips with it and do it in a way that makes you and other people more happy, but ignoring it ain’t gonna help a damn thing. “Moments have stopped connecting to one another. The boundaries between fantasy and lived reality have become too porous.” Carole King was playing the piano with a staple gun. “Voices carry.” Getting slung over a shoulder. Filled with rain. Tumbling towards steps never taken. “Out-of-whack. Leaking. Drops that won’t drip.” He heard it while lying down, while playing records, while grumbling about his job, while cutting his fingernails, in the shower, over the office intercom, beneath moans and over panic. “Italicized prayers, and that’ll pound the dent out of dreams.” No conversations were completed. Broomed and mopped and older still, um-teenthed through plowed concrete, trust puts a bandage on. “Invisibility wears off.” Othering choices middle-distanced and welded in daily installments of poise. Every last appearance made up for with white wine and vinegar. “There are a lot of somethings not right with me.” If one wishes to partake in the applied industrial mechanics pertaining to the physical aspects of boredom there must be some pluckiness involved, or so say the moose-eared around here. “South Korea is not in this room. Close the open. Get old.” Mistakes are sprouting, and climbing is not partial, so there is an observance period where things act differently and empty pig bladders are blown into balloons. “I don’t know which me to be.” The lessening of the survival instinct tends to weed the grief gardens in the more copasetic lairs of the brain. “Time is warped.” The total collapse of a moment. Instants that won’t start or end. Engraving choices in neural pathways with violent scratches of consciousness. “Fairly backing-up-truck type noise, an unending chorus of voicemail beeps, chinking daylight’s armor.” He moped in his stubborn way, checking mirrors, caressing bricks, swaying around lampposts. “Hooked up to brighter electric lights than this, bullied by my own head into hiding, carefully indoors, unsought, behind drawn shades of anxiety.” Order fades. “I am mischief cheating itself out of feeling free.” It’s just emotional mascara, praying before you kneel, or a flywheel for your dreams. “The ovoid mouth of opera screaming wide, loud, and long.” A sitting ovation. Values smeltered or calendered into wish-thin sheets of hope. The pursuit of glibness. “If there’s something wrong with me does that mean that there is ipso facto then something right with everybody else that I for some reason unknowable am lacking in?” Left with less of a now to spend a lifetime in, pandering to used-to-bes, and bound with a rainy disposition. “I’m powerless over me.” Without anything nice to say all that is left is silence. The Wah-Watusi was playing in the supermarket as the old lady felt the oranges, examining their skin in her hand, its texture and resilience, squeezing them to check for plumpness, and she soon scowled, then yawned. Offering condolences to one’s self is no good. “Golden cars smell factory-made, but the silver of insulation wears off, and bronze windows crack when the dead-air nightmare comes true in the static of another fumbled chance.” Raining on the inside, as the drizzly sky plays the slide guitar, and life descends. “It is too cold to be nice.” Implications notwithstanding costume changes and expenses. “I’m just some guy looking for my brains. I’ve grown tired of living in my own head. I must ask myself to leave.”

black & white daydreams

I met Charlie Chaplin on the street today. The years had left him rather heavy, but he still had his trademark cane and mustache. It was around 9th and Market-- what some insist on referring to as The Armpit of Market-- close to high noon, and the crowds of lunch were dispersing to various channels of consumption. Being ambushed and lacking efficient energy to do anything constructive with the next hour of my life, I decided to have a little chat with the old timer, if he’d have me. His black dress shoes were rather clownish, the toecaps bulbous and scuffed, and his general appearance-- sloppy suit tails, shredded soup-stained tie, baggy shoelace-belted trousers, bowler hat and all -- could be succinctly summed up as grubby. His hair had grown a bit long and was curling out in thick, black tangles from under his hat. He was walking towards me, and I dead-in-my-tracks stopped and began to walk along with him in the other direction. At first he was silent, only giving me a few hat tricks and gestures of cane and eyebrow twitches to communicate his present situation in the modern world. I didn’t mind. I’m used to being the one who does most of the talking.

Now, I’m not somebody who looks good in short sleeves. I’m a long-sleever until the day they plow over my grave. I believe Charlie feels the same way about such matters, and this may be part of what made us comradely towards each other. We both were enjoying a rare splash of sun on the face as we walked along Market’s north side just before the shadows of afternoon took over and flooded the streets. It was a pleasant way to be passing some time, and Charlie seemed content to just dawdle along for a bit, poking his cane at things, tap dancing around fire hydrants and pedestrians, and making faces in the storefront windows as we went by. His newly acquired girth didn’t stop him from goofing around; his heft was still straddling the lithe side, and he twinkled on his toes more than most-- though it was, at times, a tad labored, and he probably huffed and sighed more than he used to afterwards. It’s possible that his gestures were more compensatory than before too, but this wasn’t but a meager surface claim or a dollop of scuttlebutt to toss into the mixing bowl of his personality’s quirks and elbow grease. His habits were intact, the ticks and hooks of cane and fake trips and all, and he even blew a few young ladies a kiss from behind a white daisy safety-pinned crookedly to his lapel. Nobody seemed to pay him much mind. His theatrics were not enough to distract people from their gizmos: tiny phones and portable electronic devices pumping music into their ears. I asked him what he thought about this colorful age of information. He flapped his lips with his fingers and, with his patented overdramatic flare, rolled his eyes and tossed back his head. It seemed I’d found a kindred spirit. We both pretended our legs were made of rubber bands and limboed back as far as we could. Walking in this absurd manner, as if being blown down by a hurricane-force gale, was great fun for us both, and neither he nor I cared what anyone else thought about it.

A man walking by offered us a color television set for 25 bucks. I told him we preferred ours in black and white with the sound off. The man kept walking. Charlie eloquently turned up his nose, squatted, and stuck out his rump in such a way as to show that humor and style trumped technology and money. Watching his eyebrows wiggle around like electrocuted caterpillars was a sight nonpareil. We both turned and, in dramatic unison, stuck out our tongues at the traffic going by. A bus honked. Charlie flipped it the bird. We walked on.

We strolled by the head shops and the hawk shops, the cheap food vendors, the retired movie marquees with missing letters, the abandoned buildings and the wrecked lives of those who squatted about. Charlie passed out some coins among the homeless, and performed a smattering of legerdemain for some interested passersby. I faked a trumpet solo as he pranced about like he was a robot with many screws loose, showing off his poker face, beset with a trembling demeanor, hyperextending his soul. It was fun to watch. He’d spit on his hands, wind up like he was going to hurl a fastball at you, stop midway, turn around and tap an unsuspecting cop on the shoulder, then duck when the cop turned around. Sometimes he’d spin while holding the foot of a bent leg in one hand, his cane held tight beneath the other arm, bowing and doffing his hat when done. I admired his poise. We walked on.

I began noticing things I’d never seen before, like they’d never been there and had just arrived to say hi to me. Colors were somehow different than I’d remembered them being. A white carnation appeared to be floating on a heap of copper wires. Curls of clouds were splitting blue lips, puffed to life, floating lazily and twirling in a slow pinwheel of white. Resting in a sun-drenched window of an old redbrick tenement was a chubby cat that seemed to be made of the same stuff as the clouds; it yawned and swatted at a fly. Slightly crushed aluminum cans, a few crusty melted AA batteries, a pecked on carrot strung with weeds, a dead lighter, spilled popcorn, the remains of newspaper slushed in the gutter. I spotted an abandoned umbrella spread half-open over a newspaper dispenser. A few of the support poles were bent savagely, as if they’d been thrashed in a brawl with the wind, and the fabric of its skin was torn and crumpled. Charlie picked it up, crushed it closed, and began using it as a sword, performing a little dance as if he were fencing with a ghost. He’d spin and twirl, and toss the umbrella from hand to hand, sometimes flipping it around backwards, sometimes catching it behind his back. There was an ease to his motion, a soft effortless ease that was swift and precise, yet also gentle and, in the way of any lost art, profound. It was like watching a mime perform ballet. When he was finished, with a delicate fling, he sailed the umbrella perfectly into the metal mouth of a garbage can. I held my applause; I sensed that clapping would have been inappropriate.

As we came to the Civic Center fountain I noticed that Charlie had wandered off. I spotted him standing on one leg on top of a bench, almost tipping over. He kept leaning farther and farther forward until he was delicately perched there like a crane doing ballet. He stretched out both arms beside him as if they were wings. His head tilted skyward. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more wonderful sight. I stood there and watched him like that, holding statue-still with the makings of a slight smile on his lips, and I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll just stay here. Maybe I won’t ever leave.’ The water in the fountain stunk of urine. A dog had a bit of diarrhea on the grass behind the benches. A junkie vomited on the BART station escalator.

Melting strands of melilot gushed and forged sweetness through the evaporating puddles of Charlie’s now blurry and crackling silhouette-like image. I scratched my head and swept my eyes, which had turned to green in my sleep, and let the dust fall where it may. Something was gone away for good. In the limelight a clattering spool was spent. The reel caught and snapped off a last frame of film, a dull thudding over and over, a final clunk. Rolling over under the covers, I threw a rock at a window. Nothing shattered, and the radio’s weak signal sang along with me. Over time, and under it too, I had many days left to wander around in, and the coffee was only going to stay hot for so long.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

olive the seal

-- Dad. I’m bored.

-- Only boring people are bored, honey. Just look outside the window. You’re bound to see a traffic altercation.

-- But daddy…

-- Come on. I saw a great one yesterday. A man in a Volvo was screaming at a woman in a Jeep Cherokee. He was listening to Layla really loud. Blasting it. The original Derek and The Dominoes version. The woman was going berserk. Raging. Her arms thrashing around. He was really giving it to her though. Quite a fracas.

-- I don’t like that word.

-- Fracas? Nothing wrong with it, honey bear. Like the Italian Fracassare: to make an uproar. Give it a chance. It might grow on you.

-- People in cars act stupid sometimes.

-- All people act stupid sometimes. It’s part of being a person. But some people will act smart on occasion.

-- Like the president?

-- No. The president is smart. He doesn’t have to act.

-- But then why do you always call him a dunder head?

-- Well, you see, smart people still do dumb things. Everybody makes mistakes. And I don’t care for the way he’s always stuttering and umming.

-- Umming?

-- You see, um, well, um, it’s, um…

-- Dad. Stop it.

-- It’s just a personality flaw, perhaps.

-- He’s the president, dad. People voted him to be the leader.

-- Doesn’t mean he’s up to the task. Maybe he thinks he’s got what it takes, and that’s something, but still, maybe he’s wrong.

-- Daddy. That makes us all wrong, right?

-- Wrong. Not true, honey bear. This man wants power. He wants to lead people to their destiny, or what he thinks is their destiny, whether they agree or not. Things don’t work like that though. Look out the windows. See what’s happening. There’s always something.

-- Daddy. When I grow up, you know what I want to be?

-- What’s that sweet?

-- An old man.

-- An old man. Huh. Is that right? Well, what would you do?

-- I’d walk slow.

-- Walk slow. Ha. I think that’d be great, sweets. Fantastic.

-- Yeah. And people would treat me nice and sit and talk with me. I’d sit on the porch in a rocking chair, and I’d wear nice old suits, and I’d eat banana pudding.

-- Of course. That sounds grand. What a splendid way to live. But, what would I be if you were an old man?

-- You’d still be my dad.

-- I would?

-- Yeah. But you wouldn’t be an old man. I’d be an old man. You’d just be you.

-- Just me, is that right?

-- Uh huh. And….and…daddy?

-- Yes honeybear.

-- What makes somebody a grownup?

-- Well my dear, I think that being able to answer the question, “So, what do you do for a living?” is what makes somebody a grownup.

-- Daddy, what do you do for a living?

-- I’ve really got no idea.

-- So you’re not a grownup?

-- Guess not.

-- That’s okay, daddy. I still like you, even if you’re not a grownup.

-- Thanks sweets. That’s very generous of you.

-- Uh huh. And you know what, daddy?

-- What’s that?

-- I’m a grownup.

-- Are you?

-- Uh huh. Because I do something for a living.

-- And what might that be, honeycakes?

-- I play.

-- That you certainly do. And you do it very well, I might add.

-- Uh huh. It’s my specialty.

-- Very true. Now look out the windows sweety miss. Let’s see what you can see.

-- I see a man walking a donkey. It’s painted like a zebra. It’s got stripes. Oh, and he’s got on a top hat and those shoes like clowns wear.

-- Big shoes?

-- Yeah. And he’s got a pipe, and he’s walking the donkey, and he’s pulling it along with a leash.

-- Wow. That’s super. I like that.

-- Yeah. And he’s feeding the donkey little bits of donkey food.

-- What’s donkey food?

-- It’s like little pieces of peanuts and grass and stuff, like crushed up clamshells and baking soda and mints and cookies.

-- Hm. Sounds delicious.

-- Yeah. Donkeys love that stuff. Can we get a donkey, daddy?

-- Not sure about that, sugarspice.

-- Oh please, please, please. Come on, daddy? I’d take care of it and feed it and take it out on walks.

-- Would you clean up its donkey pooh?

-- Yeah. Yeah. I swear, daddy. I swear and cross my heart. Please, please, please, daddy, please. Can we, can we, can we?

-- I’ll give it a pondering.

-- Please, please, please….

-- Little miss. Look out the window. Come on. Tell me what you see now.

-- Um, um, um….Oh. I see dolphins.

-- Dolphins?

-- Yeah. They’re swimming in somebody’s pool. Oh. I wish I could ride a dolphin. I’d ride it like a horse and it’d take me all around the world in the ocean.

-- But how would you breathe?

-- I’d just wear a snorkel.

-- Oh. That makes sense. So, where is this pool with the dolphins in it?

-- Um. Well, you see, it’s kind of…over there…kind of.

-- Hmm. I don’t see any pool.

-- Oh. Well. I don’t know. I kind of made it up, daddy. I’m sorry.

-- That’s okay. I thought it was very swell. A pool of dolphins.

-- Me too. Can we get a pool and have dolphins swim in it?

-- Sure thing, miss. I’ll get right on that. But where would we get these dolphins from?

-- From the ocean, of course.

-- Oh, well, don’t you think that the dolphins would miss the ocean?

-- Um. I don’t know.

-- They might not like being stuck in a tiny pool all the time.

-- But maybe we could make it a really big pool.

-- How big?

-- Like the ocean size.

-- Wow. That’d be too big for our backyard, don’t you think?

-- I don’t know. Hmmm, maybe. Hey, I see a bug. It’s flying right by my window. Oh. Now its gone. It flew away. Daddy, I want to mumble.

-- Let’s hear it. Let it rip.

-- Mumblemumblemumblemumblemumblemumblemumblemumblemumblemumble.

-- You’re quite the mumbler, dear.

-- Mumblemumblethankyoumumblemumble.

-- Mumblemumbleyou’rewelcomemumblemumble.

-- You’re silly, daddy.

-- I know. It’s just the way God made me. Nothing I can do about. Still bored?

-- Um. I….I…um…I don’t know. Kind of.

-- Just kind of? Well that’s an improvement.

-- Uh huh.