Tuesday, May 3, 2011

some more from "The Breakneck Speed of Time Present"

At least I can blow my nose with impunity around here. These arrestingly red and mousy brown shapes keep yesterday’s makeup in check, like lipstick on the sip-spout of a coffee-cup lid, always there, attaining something, getting rid of circumstances, minding business, or splitting the difference between preciousness and endearing charm. A reprobate who wonders aloud about the condition of what he dons from the hurricane of clothes on his floor. That’s clingy and self probing. You made yourself think stochastically in the résumé style of fathers without sons. Last New Year’s Eve I screamed custard to the cicadas. Got away with it too. Playing the horn now. It’s bed posts made of glory, blindingly high, sofa’d to myself, crossed out with permanet marker, in a bind and worn with pride. Organ music in the shadows weeping towards light. Attaining is crucial to being rid. Gold and gray. Rust dripping from clouds that are like mashed thumbprints smudged on the dishwater sky. All the peasants were busy buying houses while the rich drank their souls for aperitifs. I don’t blame the poor for income gaps, and we’ve got discount retailers to keep in mind. Fair enough to the weather, at least. Bluffy overtures blinding a tincture of horizon that sponges and kicks dirt. A distressed algal bloom. We make pies out of pieces of American bones. Let me get finished. There. It’s a moving time that we spend dressed in letters. Troughing through thoughtlessness in the bristling chill of winter’s worst. Make-shifting the campered homes of born-again loyalists and hardened pamphleteers. I am comforted by ill will. Advertisers are buying space in my dreams. Slow in getting up, the flowers cotton-candy pink and drooping, referential rain spoiling the taste in my mouth and underhanding pebbles at my knees. I’m calling bluffs and wheeling mercy-first into the slow lane. We’re just people, and we’ve only got so much space to loiter around in or linger out into. A reach for something that’s long gone. Mornings were for motorcycles and garbage men. Showerings of petals swarming and sailing in spirals like some lavish Busby Berkely dance number. Best were the least lonely times. We must’ve strained the last of whatever mercy was left. It’s soppy and brisk. The days were dummy bullets shot from an air gun into the non-existent face of good cheer. Freedom faced itself in the mirror and promptly passed out. We held tight to restive motions, badly recorded happenstances, and the cured air of sliced rhubarb pie. A grappling hand set itself into a weaving gesticulation that seemed off and somehow disappointed. Overhead we overheard a private conversation between God and a used car salesman. I copied their instincts down on the back of a supermarket receipt. I instructed myself to see beyond the spell of tomorrow’s stench. The boys all spill their guts to the girls with a toetap of Morse code. A plainclothes elevator operator made eyes at a few secretaries on their way to an oyster bar for lunch. Mansions sank. Let’s move to a spaceship and live in outer space. I believe that champagne has the ability to laugh. The grass in my head is greener than green. Lend me a courtship and I’ll kiss the gravel in your voice. Curls of spit hung like bougainvillas in your heart, too. Just a strange urge to exchange moods with the shorter haired among us. The glass spills out cloudy moonlight. Safes break and crack themselves. I muster the hassle to hunker down once again, until the rain comes. It’s not just one thing, and it’s not just wrong, and it doesn’t belong only to you. A blown call comes down through the wires, and we all pass in the slow lane sometimes. Fly back home. An ingression. Good enough to be home. Walking home alone in the rain. Homely stakes that pay off only when you’ve left for good, and then it doesn’t matter, ugly enough for now, and the moon’s iris is open for business as long as the sailors pick up the tab. Nobody’s bad at everything. Broken windows show what remains.


The rearview was bent crookedly, and it dangled a Polaroid of two scruffy women in cowboy hats. They looked worn and tired. Dents and scuffs and scratches pocked the dash’s PVC surface. The red leather seats were shoddy, sporting wens and blebs, rips and tears stitched up like wounds with white thread. Into the brown tufted carpet fibers of the floor mat were engraved the rubber white letters: S O B. The girl liked how it felt to trace the letters with her shoe’s welt. There was a smoothness to it, something that ran counter to most of what was left of what she had to feel or know now. A crack was spiderwebbing out from a stray rock’s pit in the windshield’s glass. The radio was playing Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin by Ernest Tubb. The man driving was not paying any attention to the music, or the windshield’s crack, or the floor mat, or the girl in the passenger seat. He was giving all of his attention to the road, which snaked and whipped and skidded the tires of his pickup something rare and complex as he loosely handled the wheel from the bottom at about 7 and 4. He thumbed the radio’s knob until it quit making noise. The chassis plunked and bucked along with a steady vibration that never really quite started or stopped. He flicked the vents down, and they trickled a sickly whine as bugs kept up their constant assault, one by one splattering their bodies onto the glass. The small pickup drove on.


The smell of melted plastic bags, dried nacho cheese dip, a few burnt-out scented candles (of the Cire Trudon variety: tuberose and orange blossom), day-old cereal mush (Frosted Flakes gone soggy in sour milk), wood rot, rancid beef in crusted stiff noodles, a whiff of mildew and musk, mush-imploded apples, old board games, a trashcan overflowing with snot-caked wads of toilet paper. I move with a pebbled texture. It’s like those building-facade squares carved beneath tinted yellow-orange windows you’d see in a lot of 70s-style architecture. That’s really the only way to describe it. I’m moving gingerly. I’m sliding here and there and being slick about my motion. It’s grainy though, as I’ve said, and I’m doing it out of respect for the living. The pungent sting of foot odor: a thick, cheesy vinegar-- almost ammonia-like. Creeping around, but doing it smoothly, as the task requires, careful not to disturb the contents or occupants of the place. Telling time by the quality of the shadows smothering the kitchen wall where grease splats and oil marks abound, pocking the painted-over-too-many-times surface like a Mark Tobey. Listening is also essential here, so I am trying to hear. It’s not as quiet as I would’ve expected. Hoses going somewhere, a sizzle in the wires outside, pattering feet skipping by on the sidewalk too, and in here it’s rumblings from above. Somebody upstairs with a dog that likes to scamper back and forth, trapped in a small studio apartment. Juice containers popping in the fridge. I am kidding myself still that I can do this. It’s my battle against ennui, drowsiness, lack of motivation. My feet will not shuffle; they will smoothly slide instead of skid. The hallway’s carpet’s gray-pink, neat, tiny, hard spirals littered with fingernail clippings, crumbs, dust. I scramble up against the wall there. I try to blend in, make myself a one-dimensional shadow, a thin ghost who does not really exist; not here; not this here where I am. It doesn’t work. I am going. I am going. Nowhere. Nowhere. Look. This is my expression. I am wearing it. I am losing it. I am standing here in what’s left of myself. Worn away. And out. Look. Look away. To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow’s still today. Still. Sometimes it’s more suitable to be clever than wise.


The leaves of the potted plants, ferns perhaps, were fluttering in a slight breeze coming through the propped-open door of the Chinese restaurant. Henry was dining alone there. He was sipping his tea, poking at a piece of soy sauce-soaked broccoli with one chopstick, and staring absently at nothing with his head slightly cocked to the side like somebody in the throes of deep concentration or study. But Henry wasn’t thinking about anything. He was just staring. The waitress swooshed by delivering dumplings to another table where two violently old men were lunching. A certain character of puce was tasseling from the table edge in a deliberate swirl, and the chairs, which were a stiff violet and hearty, reflected skips and horns of light from their silver legs. Corncob yellows were pestering the grease and shoe scuff of the floor’s morganite pink ceramic tiles in splintering arrays of dyadic clumps and lilt-bent streaks. Settling into one of the potted plant’s dirt was a very large fly, which was almost the size of a june bug, and Henry watched it bounding about, its wings’ sound an electric motor’s pule. Barely audible, Henry mumbled not quite to himself, "Everything about my life is humdrum." This thought was shortly scuttled, tossed into the deep airy place he’d carved out of his soul to bury such things. He rubbed a hand over his flattop, thinking of how it had a similar texture to a toothbrush’s soft bristles, thinking this and then not thinking it, again, and just intuiting it, the thinking of it, in a way that didn’t involve thought, which process almost guaranteed more thoughts to come that would help him think his way out of this and start not thinking once again, therein producing more thoughts and thoughts about those thoughts delivering unto him ways to hold off thinking for what he now could conceive of as being a thoughtless state, though such a state would doubtless be something he’d be contemplating while he was in it, as if spying it from the outside of his brain; the impossibility of which would tangle and grind his thought patterns to a fine dust of dullness.

A crab in a fish tank at the back of the place was up on its hind legs, dancing and waving its claws to the x-mas music cranking out over the restaurant’s speakers. Henry was sitting there (one of three persons eating at the establishment), now sipping some tea (jasmine green) and staring at the pictures of birds, winged emperors, and the thin spindling-out tree branches on the wall next to him. Across the way was a wall all of mirrors, which was smudged up high, strangely enough, and he wondered how somebody’d got up there to smudge it. Henry thought about how the owner of the place was a slick type. The guy must’ve really thought he was foxy. He had white hair and a big pink smile, a well-ironed stiff-collared button-down white shirt, pressed black pants, pointy bowling ball-black shined shoes. He knew what he was doing. He took orders and bossed people around. It wasn’t a bad gig. Henry was not slick or foxy. He thought of himself as being, well, humdrum and lazy.

“There must be certain restrictions on freedom lest people become too free and therefore unable to make decisions which paradoxically will leave them less free. Nobody wants to be forced to do anything, but also, it turns out, they wouldn’t want to be forced to make a decision on what it is they want to be free to do, which inversely affects they ways in which they’d opt to be free, mainly from or of, whatever it is they’ve now got way too much freedom, and too many ways, to choose.”

He wasn’t exactly speaking. More like puffing words softly, to nobody. His tongue lumpy and thick, expression blank, eyes like saucers. Everything in his persona was deliberate, done only after much forethought about the matter; even the tilt of his head was planned meticulously in advance. Struggles ensued with shelving items one at a time, in the orderly way he did it.

“Most people want to be liked so much by others that they overdo it, this act they put on to make others like them, and therefore are always disappointed in who they are, this “self” that they put on like a clown suit, around other people. It’s almost like they have to lie to themselves that they’re not doing this in order to trick themselves into being okay with doing it, as if that thing they become around others is really just an extension of who they really are on the inside, when in reality, if they really noodled about it, they’d see that this is most absurdly not the case.”

The tiles on the ceiling were keeping Henry entertained enough. There were red mazes inside of blue and yellow circles, and some intaglioed fancy stuff glittering like rhinestones. He hadn’t been able to find a newspaper available for purchase nearby, so had been reduced to this feeble state of staring at the objects around him while he attempted to stab the broccoli and lift fried rice to his mouth: a forest of hardback chairs growing wild around the plates and napkined chopsticks of empty tables, fish tanks of thick-lipped fish producing burp-like gurgles, a dusty old fan teetering on its last legs back and forth, a waitress scribbling numbers in Sudoku squares by the back desk, the thick maroon hair of dust-deviled rugs covering various oval spots on the floor.

Gushed to a glaze’s spasm, almost bent to shape, there, and so he burped a change into the guilloche of plasmal considerings lured to an understanding that was hedged at best (he knew it; like always). The situation worried itself out, and Henry, who was still engaged in a fencing duel with the épée-less broccoli, now was, for some reason that eluded his understanding and powers of explanation, imagining his brain as a Jack-in-the-Pulpit producing poisonous thoughts for berries, all enclosed in a spathe of tedium browning towards worry. He couldn’t stop eating the berries.


“If I had the chops to like guess at what was porridging up in that head of hers there, well, that’d take a better kind of guy than I’ve ever been willing to be. That’s not, well, that’s not saying that, like, I don’t care or have a inkling to it as well, but, or, well, if I could like count on my instincts for things of this nature it’d, well, it’d make a clown out of my emotional being, that who-it-is that gets to tell me that who-I-am for the time I’m allotted here for being this person that I guess I’ve sort of like grown into being. That guy? This guy? He’s an asshole. He’s a pussy.”


The days carried sun along with them for bit, shopping around for decisions with a basket of leaves and migraines toted too for what representationally at least could be called living, or would be if it weren’t for marginal stakes in the blurted suddenness of things. Why weren’t more people capable of showing love to each other? It wasn’t bad. It was this longitudinal error in the murky loot of what wasn’t being stashed or stowed away for days less bright and burgeoning as this one that seemed to heft the tragedy of closeness and arranged (though borrowed) togetherness of the lasting (for spurts) sort. Oracles told bees to shut the hell up and get on with honeymaking. A red and gold plaid suit was rended to shreds by two line cooks who were having an argument over who’d make a better Best Man for one of their buddy’s wedding. Mist was all over the place in the mornings. Strange moods were occurring over breakfast. People began taking longer showers. Phones rang only twice before triggering to voicemail. Conceiving of other people apart from one’s own perspective of who those people were became ordinary. Politeness fadded through various styles and phases. Awaysickness dumped childishness like rubble from a CAT excavator’s claw. More chumps; less change. Walls of ketchup-red. A man leaning against his bicycle which was leaning against a cement wall told a cop, “The rhetorical device of telling somebody, ‘Don’t take this personally,’ rarely means that, and in fact usually means the exact opposite.” The cop, whose mother had been The Bearded Lady in a circus sideshow, was not offended at all. Disappearing into one’s own sloth, carreled in lazy filth, not reading, unable to dial the phone, customarily deadened to the world, liable for wasting the day’s light, all accounts unbalanced. Two-night stands went on for a week, and sleeping was no longer an option. Trouble-shoot through an inevitable happenstance, with small talk and unaccountability and a freedom to be wrong more.


Calamity Jane, the Heroine Of The Plains. That’s what was going on in her head. She was singing it. In her head. Singsong. That would describe it. The rhyme helped. It swam undulant through her mishmashed thoughts, shredding tumbling breakers of thoughtless foam, and she skimmed over the surface of the opaque, aquamarine-tinted glass of a memory that was willing itself up from a muffled roar stowed somewhere indistinct, lost, and closer than comfortable all at once. She was nauseated. Not nauseous. She knew the difference. It wasn’t what made you sick to your stomach; it was the feeling of being sick to your stomach. It didn’t do any good though. Knowing things like this. It wouldn’t help that horrible feeling to go away. It’d stay stuck in her gut no matter what she called it. She started humming the song aloud, or maybe it was more like muttering the song, just a tiny light drawl of a voice barely above a cantor-like whisper. Calamity Jane, come heal my pain. It was almost a canticle. Something to soothe her, to make the darkness a tad more light, a temporary joist to keep disaster’s ceiling from crumbling, allowing the soot and scattered mess of her temblored past to come raining down on her as she lay lost in the minutiae, the unalterable fact of being aware of the smallest precise details of every last thing happening around her, even in the spheres of dust molecules that could be like galaxy-sized things to some creatures, for all she knew, and didn’t know for that matter, about such less-than-microscopic events. Something in the realms of M-theory, perhaps, might mitigate the current situation allusively peening around the inside of her skull, tinged, as it were, with the dust of forgotten moments like the gaps made by fallen or somehow disintegrated sections of a bridge, a crossing she wasn’t quite prepared to make anyhow, like this, shaky and uncertain, though one it seemed as if she were always now in a constant state of preparing for, if that made any sense. Come steal away the rain, Calamity Jane.

They both were born on the same day, Beltane, and also it was something in the cognomen that made her identify with this lady sharpshooter of the Wild West who may or may not have been romantically involved with Wild Bill Hickok at some point just before he became a decedent one fateful night at a poker game in Deadwood, S Dakota. It had something to do with Jane’s homeliness, an aspect of her character that was dirty, tawdry even, the rough and tumble sort, if you will, and it was all packaged in a tidy carefully cultivated persona of a tomboyish scrapper who wouldn’t back down to any old anybody ever. It made her happy to hold Miss Calamity, or at least the idea of who this lady might have been, in her thoughts. She thought of Calamity Jane as a crusader for wildness and freedom, and against slogging through the rote banausic day-to-day doings of life. Everything about her was heroic and large on the grandest scale, reigning across the planes, Calamity Jane, almost in a cartoonish way, to the girl, she rode through the country in search of adventure, kind of how the girl envisioned herself, a modern-day adventurer, saddled to a dream, bucking trends and spurning conformity, hopping trains and hitchhiking, leaving a trail of wrecked lives in her path; though hers, at times, included in the wake too--of being wrecked, that is.

A speed bump or pothole, something to disturb the delicate balance between awareness and that away feeling she’d get that meant she wasn’t quite part and parcel of this body, a renter and not an owner, and which she’d think of as “hovering”--such a state that was rare and unique and that she never wanted to think about too deeply lest it fall apart and never return. It was like those times during Social Studies when her head felt limp and light, and she’d nod off at her desk, chin on the glazed fake-wood surface, hair pulled over her face, a carefully placed elbow set to impede the teacher’s sight and make it seem, at a glance, as if the girl were taking studious notes with her head very close to the open notebook next to it. It was as alone and as safe as she could ever remember feeling, outside of everything, the teacher’s voice just a blur like in The Peanuts cartoons, all the pencil-on-paper scratchings and scrunchy movements of kids fidgeting around in their desks, the purr and drift of the air conditioner, the feel of the institutional fluorescents glaring from above with a slight buzz and hum that was in some strange eerie way comforting. The girl took great pleasure in being able to return to this state, though it was becoming more difficult now to make the transition, as if the further she got from it the more abstruse and hard to connect with it became. Well, it seemed, now that she’d re-emerged into wakefulness, that they were in the bumpy rattling process of being shepherded through a carwash. The splash of water from sprinklers, the thwack of rotating robotic arms brushing the windows, foaming and soapy, as the swoosh of the mitter patters by, the obstreperous grind of the conveyor track below squeezing the wheels, and the surprise plunk of the high-pressure nozzles’ spray. It was all rather like being thrashed awake in the sudden throes of the pandemonium of a war zone. The girl didn’t feel well.


I would walk around then wondering constantly about what I should be doing in my adult life. What was being an adult? What should an adult be doing with his time? I had no idea what it felt like to conceive of myself as an adult; I’d never seen myself in this way: as a grownup, a responsible citizen, a person who was a working part or cog in the valued estimate of adult society. I was more of a malfunctioning child, or had a childish attitude at least, and the general conception of my worldview could be summed up as being juvenile and abstractly vague. I felt what I did had little effect on who I was, or maybe it was more like how I was seen by others was of more concern to me than the way, or how, I saw myself. Everything about the way I was living was unsustainable: working just enough to make rent, using safety pins to hold my clothes together, stringing along girls in ways I knew wouldn’t make them last long, and drinking heavily almost every night and a lot of the days too. None of it would last. I didn’t care. At least not enough to make any decision that was capable of changing anything about the way I was floundering through life. Just gambling along wherever chance might take me. That’s all I let myself be capable of, and being severely underslept and hungover most of the time didn’t help my prospects of having even the most meager amount of energy to do anything useful with myself. I just wanted to crawl back into the womb, warm and cozy and safe, and stay there gorging on junk food, bathed in the light of TV. Everything was beyond my control.

I’d often find myself lazing on a bench on afternoons when the weather held some warmth in it still. The afternoons almost killed me most days, and I tried to sleep them away as a bloated orange sun exacerbated my self-absorbed and enervated condition. They’d come on slow and burn away any ambition I might still have to do something with myself, which I had very little of anyway, and I’d get to feeling that life-deadening malaise that pins your soul to the ground until you’re forced to give up, to give in, and nothing you could ever do seems to matter at all. You’re free to do whatever you want but it’s just that you don’t want to, and you maybe are too free in this sense, in that all’s allowed yet nothing ever happens.

Being the kind of guy who’d break up a marriage? No. No way. That wasn’t going to be me. With my expired credit card and my heart with rue laden. I hadn’t even mastered the art of bagging groceries. There were lessons to be learned, sure, but was I going to get anything out of that? No. The vultures were circling.


“There can’t be quality enhancements at this stage. We craft these fuckers from snowmelt. Give ‘em the old crush and weld, that’s ‘bout it. Nothing special. We understand lasting. We know what it means to scratch livings out from the rusted clunk of dreadful experiences. Believe me. It’s taken into account. Immediate results. Besting you at it still. Sliding along on the slubbed silk of it. We pay attention to what we want to pay attention to. That’s our meager conception of it. Turn the channel, you know? Turn the volume up. Go ahead. Weed out some umbrella-sedge. Give a rat’s ass. Why not?”


“You’ve got a bad case of l'esprit de l'escalier, huh? I can tell.”

His hands were not being kept to himself.

“Lest we forget…”

The girl strummed the air vents in the dashboard with a few fingers. If she did it fast enough it sounded like baseball cards in the spokes of a bicycle, like she used to do, she used to, do.

“Give up.” His smile was like something etched into hard plastic, something permanent and completely devoid of emotion. “And the dust gathers…”

Her eyes shaped the swerve of the road, the white dashes streaming by, blurred and streaking into each other, and the monster-head polygonals of the road signs and the clear white letters on big flat rectangles of green and the next-gas-forty-miles and the mile-counters like hogtied scarecrows, and she heard the hushed hustle of the wind speaking to closed windows as she bit a big-knuckled finger harder than she’d ever bit anything.

The man screamed like a little girl. It made the girl laugh. The man slapped his hand around and screamed and called her all the usual, ordinary, and to-be-expected names the situation called for. ‘Originality is sorely lacking in this individual,’ thought the girl.

“Young love. I make you out to be indifferent, but I’m a bullshit machine.” The man was crying. “I was paying attention and distracted at the same time. You didn’t notice. You never notice. I could immolate over here and you’d just keep going about your business. Look, we’ve got starts, stoppings too, I guess, and then there’s all that stuff stuffed in the midst of things. It’s time now that we took a leap in there and started flailing around in it, together. Don’t you think? From these shores. From this perspective. This seeing. Well, don’t you? Don’t you ever, think?”

The girl rolled the window down all the way. She stuck her head outside. The stars were getting all over everything up in the sky’s sludge, runny slugs of sparkle and dipped flashes whirlpooling into and out of and all around each other, blips and beeps gone pulsatilla in fast, tight circles, without edges or separation, more like a thousand tiny stirrings in a vast pool of mud, sight’s tremolo on the grandest of scales. They were all that mattered, and her eyes gushed towards tears in the gusty assault on her face as she spun her head and looked directly up, her hair gone Bride-Of-Frankenstein wild to the side. Nothing else was happening. This was all there was. There were no hands on her legs or middle, nothing pulling her back inside, no panicked hook and weave of the vehicle she was now hanging almost all the way out of, but for something holding her, gripping her as tight as it could, hands, a body in there, a thing, in there, a place that wasn’t warm or safe at all, not like out here, in the wind, something vibrant in the sky, in the stars, out here, alone. No. She’d just stay here. She’d just stay. It wasn’t hard at all. ‘I have this,’ she thought. ‘This is what I have.’ It rattled around like a crushed beer can in her head.