Friday, February 3, 2012

a union card and a wedding coat

The sign on the empty store window said, “For Rent. Call Paul.” It listed his phone number too. So, the next morning, I called Paul. After hello, he said, “Alcatraz is a boat. It’s camouflaged to look like an island, a rock. But don’t be fooled. It’s a boat in disguise. You can quote me on that.” I hung up the phone.
What did any of this have to do with renting an abandoned former liquor store? I wasn’t sure, but figured that it might be worth my while to know. I unburdened myself of my pajamas for the day and strode out into the great wide emptiness of the world.
I walked down to the empty storefront with the For Rent sign in the window. The sun was bright. A few birds were singing We Three Kings. It was cheery out, but with a hint of dismalness in the air. Everything smelled like laundry.
Pretending that I was in a barn, I yawned and thought about hay--baling it, sleeping on it, feeding it to horses, lighting it on fire, burning the whole barn down. Would Paul understand such things? I doubted it, but hoped. Paul would most likely be driving around in a convertible with the top down and the air conditioning on, blasting Tom Petty, checking out the world from behind a pair of dark sunglasses, driving too fast for the conditions. He might be smoking a Swisher Sweets cigarillo.
The sidewalk had some graffiti on it: red spray paint that read, “God is arrogant.” I looked into the empty store windows. There were shelves in there, a deli counter with a large double-faucet basin behind it, and a section that had a sign over it reading: “Video Rental.” A lot of dust was on everything. The tiles were brown and gray diamond shapes with cracks in most of them. I felt like dancing but restrained myself. Instead I used my finger to write the word “BACON” in the windowpane’s dust. It had been a successful venture out into the world. I headed home and called Paul again.
I got Paul on the horn.
“What’s it that you find yourself doing most these days?”
“Boiling the water for oatmeal.”
“It’s tricky?”
“Not completely.”
“Apparently your brain is operating from great heights.”
“Depth is labeled: For instructional use only.”
“Pair me. You’ll get half the difference.”
“I’ve got to stop living in the future.”
“The principal player in the game of your life might just be another.”
“Well, it’s less than a dangerous one, no?”
“We go much less than way back.”
I hung up. Paul was probably taking a vacation from himself, I figured. We could talk over some figures in the near future, if at that time it suited us. I have my hunches about the vagrant nature of these forays I get involved in. Also, as if it matters, rumors around here hint at my destiny: salting spinach, changing channels, cursing the sirens of fire trucks, and cleaning the tines of egg yolk-encrusted forks with a toothbrush on a daily basis. Open a window. Shut the oven door. Make horse stew from a Breeders’ Cup runner-up. I’ve got my willpower set on stun.
I’ve got ways to make time pass: drilling holes in old shoes, tossing masking-tape bound dolls towards the ceiling fan, dirtying dishes. The saws of peace slice through the warring factions of my afternoons. Sanding down my rough edges, all-at-twice, doesn’t a happy camper make. I imagine Paul’s lively enough to be mean whenever he needs to be. I’d almost respect that if it weren’t for what I suspect are his tool-belt wearing habits and the construction-paper sombrero he probably dons at odd hours.
It’s very nice inside today. I don’t feel as if a venture’s really in me today. I draw drapes and take pictures of oranges. There is a greedy vole in my hardship garden. The fumes I dream to death are draining me of my mettle. Somebody is lighting matches around here. The wind is scented with cow urine. It is time to place another call to Paul.
“I must open up shop soon. I want shelves to be stocked full. There are influences we can’t imagine on the hastening of timing’s worst job.”
“Look, I’m not going to level with anybody. Renting is optional, and you can’t buy what nobody owns. Let’s level the mountains between us with partial agreements and bootlegged small talk. I am too sudsy to be hung by clothespins from the warped line of your demands.”
“Paul! Paul! Are you dead? Are you really dead, Paul?”
“Lonely are the brave, mostly.”
“That’s it?”
“I am making a gesture which means: ‘Huh?’ Ride fervently through these bonds of ownership/retail fanfare while giving pleasure’s likeness a standing ovation in the loggia of your worst mood. Make a dash for it, at least.”
“I know things about you.”
“Just because.”
“Will you being paying in cash for your monthly rate that I am not charging as of just yet?”
“Me? I am going out walking. There. I said it. I will report back at a time to be determined by out-of-tune sirens and whistling policemen.”
Reporting back went like this, sort of: “You go out on pier 7, and you feel like you’re on a boat, all that water around you, the wood and the benches. And the city’s flaring up behind you. You spin around and the bridge is swinging out into Yerba Buena island, the San Francisco Belle’s there anchored and swaying, some seagulls are perched on the railing-- very contemplative and refined. I lack these qualities; I shoo the birds away. This makes my soul grow wings. It is neither pleasant nor uncomfortable.”
I was speaking into a voicemail. Paul may have been on a lunch break. From what? Lord knows. Likely from his nastiest habits: spilling hot coffee on his socks, singing the refrain from Betty Everett’s You’re No Good in his sleep, smearing chocolate doughnuts on shop windows. Hanging up a phone had never felt so wonderful and edgy.
I am not heading anywhere on foot just right now. I pretend that Paul is here, and that I’m conversing with him.
“Let’s bite our tongues and pretend it’s spring. It’s not a bother, if it’s you who’s created this vindictive stink. The broken-down cardboard boxes stacked outside the liquor store, the window framed in tacky x-mas lights, ordinary: red, yellow, blue, and green. If I don’t turn the lights on, I won’t see any of the mess.
“Let’s go down to the automat, get ourselves some pie. We dream differently with the heater on while we sleep. Park between the palm trees. I am plating heroes. I am bunting over a miscreant.
“My mother might wake to find herself living a perhaps dream, a deciduous breath pulled from heavy organdy curtains, a shower’s share of warmth. Moment’s link to when he left her: some abstruse definition of loss that doesn’t grant its own necessity.”
I write this on a napkin I stole from the St. Francis Diner:
“A room at the top of the Fairmont Hotel
I do think would suit me so very well
I’d eat apple pie while lying in bed
And never mind what the rich folks’ve said.”
I lie down. I unmake my mind. I don’t want to work for any man. I don’t want to work at all, anymore.
There I am, there, in the sleepy almost crazed-useless expressions of apartment buildings, their flat tops gravelly and cold, box-window eyes lit here and there orange-yellow in the sappy twilight. Steel vents like ominous robot sentinels poking their heads up over gutters. Rotting wood boards of scaffolding draped in black sheets and opaque plastic, metal bars paint-drop stained, yellow caution tape like a ribbon tied loosely to the bottom near the sloping sidewalk. Shushings of cars going by, the hum and clank of trolley cars, rattling manhole covers, pigeons scuffling over scraps on the hood of a rusting Buick that’s squashed between two shining silver hybrids and is in bad need of a wash and a new transmission. That special thrum and sizzle of the bus wires, the long white poles clanking and wobbling along. Smoking chimneys on the horizon puffing drowsy luck. I am not here.
Paul’s special. He runs his luck like a bad carnival show. He records himself on a handheld device. The tape plays his voice: “I believe that the penalty for people who drive the wrong way down a one-way street should be death by firing squad. Also, people who toss cigarette butts into the sewer grates should be strangled to death by a circus muscleman. Just a few things. Don’t mean anything impolite about it. Just a nice satisfactory end to the lives of those who irk me in some ordinary way. Cuss about it under my breath, though, is about all I really do. Ah, go yank the stuffing out of the turkey while you’re at it. I know. It’s plain and tipsy and lost. Derail my happiest birthdays. Sink my best song’s ship. I’m out of gravy. Spoiled like this, see? Putty in my toes. Born to be hacked away at. Grimmed to outlast any damn smile. All in to any old out. Go ahead. Spit. See what I care. It’s best to be not much, I guess. Stuck retching to the sound of rockets’ red glare. Tore the pockets from my jacket, kicked my vest to the curb, and then tumbled over a few trashcans. Vimmed out of a fortune’s hard knocks. Oh, the nails jabbing through my wrists ain’t so rough. This cross is rotten, but it’s a nice place to hang out. A nice ‘with’ to have, again and again, and it never lets me down."
I understand what I don’t about it. The tape plays some more. Stuff like this: “I phoned up the mayor the other day. It wasn’t the pits. He didn’t answer, so I left him a message. It went something like this, ‘So, well, shit, you see, I hear you boys’ve been spraying shit on us citizens from way up high in the air, from airplanes. That’s what I hear. Heavy metal. Something. Or something. Shit. What’s going on? Let’s catch a drink some time, you know? Call my people and they’ll be yours.’
“Fall’s scrappy this year. It’s handed me my ass a few more than a few times, that’s for sure. I’m past the point of harmonizing with the weather. Clinging is about all I’m good for. I’ve taken to repeating, ‘He knew no new news,’ over and over. It’s a sad business, and people continue to like dumb things. It’s all that what-dream-I-had business rearing its concupiscent head. It’s doing the dishes. It’s capitalizing on defects in the surface of oblivion. Everything taking too long, and it gets late, and you’ve got nothing to show for yourself except a burned-out head and a misbehaving heart. Likewise is the only answer to it, maybe. Let’s hound-dog the moment, folks, and get around to catching rabbits before supper, too. Ho-motherfucking-ho. Tutti the goddam frutti already, please. Tell me all about a neurosis, and I’ll get around to catching it soon enough.
“Oh blarry gosh, it’s trying to be sunny out, here, there, wherever. Scolding the pots. Killing the pans. Nearly at a decent temperature. While it gushes. While it all lasts. Very soon we’ll all be screaming the national anthem over the noise of Weedwhackers. Some of us’ve gotten used to having poor hearing, you know, a constant ding ringing. A dip into the punch bowl of aspirations, I tell you. Caw caw caw. Beds for the wetters.
“Doomed to sway in the saddles of paradise’s lesser victims. Bowing lower each day. I am murdering my time. Level with the boundaries; stick to hurling stones; bid farewell to the sound of marching bands. From here on out the drinks are all on me. Don’t worry; it’s satisfactory. I dream myself between us like reading actors’ lips in silent movies while cranes idle louder than bombs.
“The air’s more open in the garden, which lowers one to contemplate what one should expect from the coming moments, and the blast of sun, almost dagger-like, scratches one’s skull, dull and prickly, into a state of mundane abandon. For the fresher aspects of refurbished likelihoods, all in few, there are, well, days like this. Not a very good connection to what’s all around. Somehow seeing a thing is less important than being seen looking at it. We truly are only what we like, what we choose to be observed paying attention to. It’s waiting to wait. The sound your name makes on my lips. Mapled in this uneven struggle, I get to going.”
I no longer want to rent anything from anybody, especially this Paul person. Construction work follows me wherever I go. But I do not own my wants, as of lately, and I take the bus and chew too much gum. Nobody listens. That? That’s as it should be, at least. That? That’s something you can count on. So, join the parade. I’ve got my hardhat on, and the morning’s jackhammers are just getting started. Let’s feed Paul to the sharks while we swim around in envy of the whole marvelous disaster we’ve made out of an ordinary life.