Monday, June 11, 2012

of human knickknacks

“You want to keep our love private, baby. You want to keep it to yourself.”  --The Crags

from chapter 7

            It was right around the time when cilantro started to taste like soap. I’d always loved cilantro. We’d had a wonderful thirty-plus year relationship, and now it had come to this. I was devastated. It was like losing an old boon companion because of creative differences, and I fell into a state of despair and despond. The taste I’d once cherished and courted had gone bitter and astringent on me. It was rough. There was nothing I could do about. My taste had irreparably been hampered, never to return.
            I couldn’t find time for things that used to seem important: mopping the floor, doing dishes, taking out the trash, watching TV. It all seemed a sham. What was worthwhile? I suddenly had no reasonable answer to that question.
            Humming became a hobby. My only one, really. There was no shared space to question. Dweebs of thoughts went and soiled my wristwatch, and this crane-necked willy-and/or-nilly perspective was something I kept daring to not come true. Varnishing the same old ideas, wobbling about with both hands clasped behind my back. Yes, or almost it, I wasn’t planning a routine.
            I borrowed some time from a parking attendant. He told me to pay him back in two-hour increments. There was electricity in his hair. I bowed semi-deep, brushed a stray hair from my sleeve, and made a promise I had no intention of ever keeping. Be that as it may or may not, I was solid in my dedication to the pursuit of falsehood. You see, out of doing very little, I emerge.
            Voracity tells one thing while a skidded destiny slyly holds its nose. I think back to a time-- not a simpler one at all-- when my wife would pick salad shrapnel from her teeth with the pointy end of a tiny umbrella she’d snatched from my tropical drink. The birds groan. In the backs of my knees a careful stinging ache starts. My medicine’s a steel mug of brandy that’s been boiled with nickels and flypaper. Don’t get me finished. Thinking back spills death like hooligans from a broke-down limousine. I’m just in time to be late.
            Cigarettes read lips. Olives soak up gasoline and tears. Worries and bland music kick college radio stations off the air. And as far as my ripped-at-the-knees pajamas go, that’s the same story. No class. No contender. Just a bag of dustless bones kicking out the lights.               
            I used to work for the Gopher Sign Company out of St. Paul, Minnesota. We had a good run. The signs sold themselves. Parking signs, No Parking signs. We produced our own scrap. We took cover when the cooks retired. On off days I’d collect ticket stubs with my birthday’s date on them. People would bring them to me from odd corners of the city-- rummagers, fledgling hat saleswomen, boycotters, label thieves, poncho hawkers, and blubber-fed postcard aficionados. I opened my mail only on odd-numbered days. Once in a while the night watchman would play the warped piano in the warehouse bathroom. It tinkled and jounced the atmosphere with a grainy death sentence. And sometimes, if things slowed more than normal at the factory station, I’d grow even less garrulous than normal, sink my chin down into my chest, rest my elbows on my desktop’s edge, and think about Ida Lupino singing One For My Baby in Roadhouse. That job didn’t last long.
from chapter 11

              Drinking coffee, reading the paper, selling things that nobody wants anymore. I’m moved by the sound of sirens. Ambulances of every nation have a unique sound, just like the mumbling of junk-shop owners and the bark of dogs. The array of deceit in my current residence amazes me: the stink of steamed cabbage curdled with thoughts of one wiping the ass with the cheap stuff again, wandering the deserted floors of an abandoned Woolworth. I don’t want it to come down to a pair of high heels dangling from a crooked chandelier. If looking down is necessary, well, here we go. The rusted torsos of a few tiny robots strewn among empty Raid cans and rust-speckled mousetraps; pumpkin seeds, cut hair, and granola; a legless Charlie Chaplin doll. It’s a risk just being yourself sometimes. And to think I started it all with nary a broom to my name. Outmoded and discarded things just bloom out here in the dust. I mean, you take some stock of your life at some point; you look around and see nothing except emptiness and clutter. I do my moaning through a copper bullhorn with a sun-bleached sticker on it in the shape of Porky Pig. Lucky though, ‘cause lord, that tuxedo-top-with-no-bottom look really gives me the heebies and/or jeebies, even just thinking about it. I don’t scream, “Curses!” anymore though.     
            Gizmos break down around here all the time, when they don’t show up that way at least. I crank them, shower them with oil and WD40, throw a few at the wall and see what does or doesn’t fall out, see what makes them rumble and row, tick and traipse, and who knows, maybe figure a way to bring some sort of a semblance of life back to them, or to me. There are stairs too, in the back, if it comes to it. I do what it takes. Squinty chops of motion, sometimes quick seizures of breakneck speed, or just hunches of twitch-and-jerk mobility. These damn toys ruin themselves, collapsing in defeat before they’ve given it a real go. I should take the useless ones and expel them to the funeral-pyre heap out back, and sometimes I do, but it’s hard to give up on them. I don’t want to be the one making the last call. Rusted bolts and tough stringy wires, heads with no top, stray arms and strange plastic parts with no semblance of anything even resembling…well, anything. So, I’m left with more and more useless things that won’t even go bump in the daytime.
            So many stacks of calendars gathering dust. Calendars of frogs, harlequin romance covers, scenes from Basic Instinct, anatomy charts, losing presidential candidates, Kentucky Derby runners-up, to name a few. The years are all long gone. I stare at a hundred Januarys, the boxes all X’d off, and wonder about the winters of my life: all that time spent huddled in corners next to heaters, worrying about soup and sandwiches, cowering under heavy blankets, craven and dismal in the dark, unable to imagine even crossing the street or shaking the hand of another person. Everything’s luck in this world, and it seems mine turns richer towards the worst of it. I grow slunk and lean towards the shadows.
            It is going on later than usual. It is past the rayed returns of dim beams, the beak-pocked boards in the rafters strung with webs and the gonfalons of defunct sports steams. A second coat of dust gathers. My head’s festooned with scars slashed long ago, like an old dead tire cracking and crumbling into small sun-baked bits. Russian knows my thoughts by heart. Officious mumbling gets me through it, though, and I keep my customers close enough to satisfied, for the most part. But hell, don’t get me finished-- when it comes to the bottom of the coffee pot. I’ve got restriction’s livid temper to deal with still, and right about never I ditto a sucker’s pluck and hurl my sentiments from the upstairs bathroom window. That’s my way in, or out, if you’d prefer to think of it that way. I do and don’t. And then there’s me, here, fuming about some general disturbances in the twist of my not-so-personal, so-so space. You’ve got to do something to keep yourself company. That’s about it. Somewhat-done crossword puzzles littering the carpet. Crumpled sacks filled with the torn yellow pages of formerly waterlogged magazines, their covers even still a bit glossy-- out of place in a place where nothing shines much. I’d pack my bags but they’d just fall apart before I even buckled them shut.
            In the morning, before the coffee’s ready, before my head catches up with the rest of me, Arnold comes in and starts pushing stuff around, toying and schmoozing with little tchotchkes he finds amusing. My eyes are too heavy to focus properly, and the best I can do is growl a meek, “Hey there, Arn.” It’s enough to keep him at bay. He knows not to approach me to hastily first thing after daylight. I’m a man of slow, cumbersome motions in the a.m.. Just leaning on the counter’s enough to kept my busy.
            The windows start to fill with light, a little, and I squint out towards a break in the clouds: a frowzy, piss-yellow scuttling on the horizon’s yawning mug that seems to be mocking me and my sluggish puddles of ambition. A sudden blunted dourness overcomes me, and I feel as if I won’t ever escape these walls of overloaded shelves. Arnold’s flicking the silver flags of two identical miniature    rocket ships with a finger of each hand, making them spin around and around while he whistles When Johnny Comes Marching Home. I try not to pay attention. Instead I listen to the coffeemaker sputter, wheeze, and eventually drip to life. My gaze is gauzy with sleep. There’s no telling how far I’ve strayed from the calm of rest. Very little comes easy to the flutter-singed mind of insomnia’s early-morning dementia. I find myself giving up and in a little more with the arrival of each new day. As one might expect, intruders, like Arnold, who scramble into my pre-coffee daze with their shambling theatrics, are not a welcome sight. I close my eyes and try to dream my way out of all this and all the way back home. It doesn’t work.
            Drizzling on about the commonplace, I make up for gained time. A real stickler for the uncanny relief of settling in. I’m cursed with petty annoyances wherever I go. It’s layman’s terms my memory’s coming to, in the tact of being considerate to what fortune holds aloft, gone or lost just the same, from what reality’s not very good at understanding. I don’t get to see myself from the curt perspectives that others take. Not that I’m one to get all sentimental over thrown-away things, but still, I’m not the sort who takes these things with a bashful shrug and moves on. My taste may change, but my will is still solid. Fuck salsa. I’m making a break for plain tortilla chips soaked in butter.
            There’s a guy I’ve nicknamed Pockets. He’s shifty with a wild stop-sign red crop of hair, and comes in here twice a week or so, but never too early to be a real hassle to me. But he’s here this morning, and starts paling around with Arnold. I hear Pockets mumble something about disregard for understatement. He’s off-the-charts rifle-happy while the radio plays Roy Orbison. Arnold shudders. I don’t blame him. Pockets can be quite a handful when he gets this way. Ostensibly I make to be ignoring them, but my eyes are watchful enough. Who knows when one of these homegrown bastards will turn to a filch. It’s better to play dumb. 
             Some folks come in searching for the holy grail. It’s like they’re saying, “Hello, Lady Darkness. Always welcome in my home.” They’d be better off dreaming up toilet paper slogans, if you ask me. They ride the swale between the tules of sleep and wakefulness, and they forget their hats on a bed. Buckboard moans and shakes under their stride. I am not giving in. I tell them to keep up with the bad fight, for the good of it, or whatever good it’s going to do any-old-one in this sheltered maroon-lost place we keep telling ourselves that we’re alive in. It’s Bunk. I know it. And I’m shoving off. It’s all I can do that’ll do. Better than mooching around with all of this forgetfulness. But I do. The nuns have all gone on attack. And I do.
            A crowd is scrounging around through the junk by noon. Sheila and Nellie, the Harmon twins-- who both do more than scratch at the surface of ugly-- are ranting and slandering around as usual. They’re both pushing fifty, and don’t like it. The rolls have gathered at their middles; their thighs shred tights like junk mail; faces like car wrecks; yellow hair shot to stringy split dry weeds; and there are more than a few boll weevils in their less-than-verdurous fields. I enjoy their conversations immensely.   
                  Sheila pipes up, “My son, he’s a miscreant. And, to top that, a weeper too. A real master of the old waterworks spiller. Yep. Can’t get him to handle much without a bawling jag coming over him, and then, well, forget it. It’s all done in. No way to get to him, through and in. It’s over. All the theatrics, sprinklers, and then some. I just let him go on. It’s all you can do. That kid. He’s a lost cause.
            “But you got to love your kid, right? Your own fleshy bloody thingy, and all that. It’s up to you to find a way to accept the shit licker into the folds of your life. But please, don’t think that it’s easy, especially if your own’s making up for lost time by smearing his milquetoast crap all over the sappiest parts of your personhood. Loopy as they come, I tell you. Wish for a muzzle. Maybe you get lucky. Well, at least it’s something to do in the drained thick of it.”
            Nellie isn’t talking, and there are scrunches her face gets into that it seems it’ll never recover from. She’s a real squinter. Hard to tell if she’s happy about anything or even ever content. A purple scowl boils on the thick painted grease of her crusty mug, and, hell, maybe it’s about time we all get better at deciphering our own moaning. Maybe I’m just the same, whining on about nothing much, nothing much at all. We’re all just as boring as being bored. When I get around to choking somebody, it’ll be with both hands.
from chapter 22           
            The crickets and the howls of coyotes scrawl tattered wrecks on the evening. I’m not lonely at all. My voice is deeper tonight, deeper than wild violets, and it threshes fallen leaves, and it cracks and falls, while I too am shallower in its depths. We all need a nice calm place to dream from. There, of course, is nothing to be done. There never is.

from chapter 5
             You ask yourself, “Where am I going to eat? Am I going to put socks on? What does a ringing phone sounds like?” But in the end it’s all just decorative, arrangements you’re making within the outside. I don’t regret the sinking I’ve done in (or out) the slouched course of my wandering. For the charge, the brunt of it at least, I go screaming Yiddish down the halls, again (or over and over), and then it’s a placated smile planted sullenly on my curt way of handling business. Sense doesn’t make me hard and gruff; it flows cussed and ribald, crooked to bend the stream better where something’s resisting more than a tad. But, hell, there I stop and go all self-absorbed and hollow. It’s better to just paint yourself behind the burning bush, I’ve found, and let others make distinctions for you. I’m done with chasing and being chased. Somebody cue the mood music, please. There’s no time like the present for hiding out and waiting for the future to arrive.

from chapter 9

            Stacks of CDs, most with cracked jewel cases and scratches cobwebbing out on their no-longer-shiny bottoms. I flip through them, wondering about why somebody’d bought them in the first place. Horrible titles and pictures: Little Handy And The DewBirds; Blithe Retreat; The TableTops “Platter Up”; Joe Nixon and The Blind Hunters; JizWeapon. It’s sad. All this wasted energy come to such a meager end, gathering dust now, never to be played or handled by expectant fingers again. Barney Koulfax and The Barroom Baritones. Gordie Takes Manhattan. It’s a fool’s hell disguised as Eden, and I don’t want to give in to it. I want this music to exist again, to rise to the rafters and fill this small room with everything it’s got. Somewhere in the dizzy realms of schmaltzy wonder lies a place for all this god-awful noise we make, this attempt to show the world that we are alive, real, and more than just another body taking up space and wasting air. I nab a CD from the pile at random: Louie Chalk’s Singing Flowers Back To Bloom. It’s still got the shrinkwrap on it. Never been opened. This makes me indescribably sad. I check it into the store’s CD player and hit PLAY.
            A slight maundering mixed with the pulse and throb of a rumbling bass, and then some scraps of guitar, flickering and distorted-- almost a squeal. A voice chimes in, discreet and saccharine, with a falsetto croon: “If I were a little petal, afloat upon the wind of your breath, then I’d give my heart a merry chance to wink and kiss and undress.” It’s horrendous. Worse than that. My whole body flinches. It’s like the world has suddenly gone off key, my brain’s out of tune, and the windows are rattling with the dire urge to escape. Everybody in the place has the look of surprised terror suddenly flash on their faces, and I lunge at the CD player to hit STOP. Silence ensues. Relief fills the room like cotton candy, and we all sigh through it.
             I used to know a guy named Presley. He’d wave at mirrors. Crowds never gathered, but he addressed them anyway. His hair was always slicked with pomade and smelled like vanilla. The way he walked was inimitable, like a cowboy drenched in kerosene doing the mambo. Red shirts and bandanas around the neck. He used to play his 33 LPs at 45. Little Sister at this rpm was amazing. We danced to it, pounding the floorboards with our sweet mediocrity. I enjoyed his company quite a bit.

from chapter 3

            Courtesy goes a bit longer of a way around these parts. I give it a go-- just easy-does-it, for the most of a while. I’ll get my share of jerks and bad-mouthers in here. It goes with the territory, and I put up with it, as far as my temper will allow. I let them have their blurts of frustration, and maybe take a bit more than I should, but it keeps up appearances around here, and that does me better in the long of it. I keep to monosyllables. Curtness goes a long way to keeping things easy. I dust myself of others, and the static cling of them keeps me honest and irritated.
            It’s like missing something you’ve never known. Sniveling over a ubiquitous riot that’s been quelled in your heart’s fondest corner-cleaning ways. A rutty pinch of light knifed blazing through troubled waters, momentarily, and then all’s calm and slow again. I can’t fuss over my own finger-pointing. Guessing glazes over and stultifies my finer points. I, somehow, get by without much gruff. Vulpine and a little less free with each passing night. It’s plenty.
from chapter 14
            A girl’s leaning against a lamppost, thumbing through a paper, dangling a cigarette from her lips as she goes. Her eye’s not there to be caught. It’s a slight wish of a thing, taking truck with fallen trees and gopher holes, and it plays itself straight ahead, burly and overreaching too, but I’m too sly for it. Maybe it is Beverly Sills, caught between an aria and a hangnail. I doubt it. I do my looking somewhere else. My eyes stretch skyward, as is their wont, and I catch nothing but a few wind-tugged bodies of flimsy clouds and long vast stretches of bowl-you-over blue taking more space than even emptiness could. The window’s smeared in places, chalky in others, and I gaze over the flinty ruins of old dirt paths no longer cut so distinct leading away from the road. I drag my eyes all over the place and get nowhere. This is always the decisive part of the day for me. There is a place that’ll turn one way or a hundred finite others. It plays havoc with my motivation, rues my milled volition, and steps brawny and curt on my dreams. There is nothing to do or be done. I have discovered only false tenses in today’s strips of hope. In the meantime, I cut my whisky with maple syrup.    
            There was an encoignure on the sidewalk. The sun was doing a number on the wood, baking it to a scarred velvety texture, a scaling rust-colored patch of scabby shreds. It was gutted: the drawers were gone, and some dead leaves had settled their way in the bottom. It no longer matters how much money it might’ve fetched. It’s resilience is for not. Love’s last trickle has dried up. The world erodes it and takes it back, slowly, into the caldron of undifferentiated mass: a place where destruction is creation, and the rules no longer apply.  

from chapter 87

            Jed counts the steps as he goes up the stairs, lumbering one by one, dazed and rocking some, hesitant too, and willfully sated with the journey. Like dead leaves swept up by a heavy gust of wind-- a crinkled sound that scrapes and rustles and lifts-- I hear him stepping his way towards where I am, tucked away in the attic room here, trying not to be bothered. It’s no use. His gangly gait is soon shuffling too close to keep going without me opening the door to let him in. There’s something princely about my undertakings, and I succumb and go to the door to unlatch it. There he is, face pawed at and pocked under a swash of black yarn-like whorls, chipped front teeth jutting out crookedly, and his aimless eyes slumped under droopy upper lids. Of course, he is invited in, and soon we’re kicking up our feet on various footrest substitutes and, while gandering around in feigned ambivalence, grinning at the unbearable, waiting our turn to speak.
              The clouds sneak on up over the hills. The chumps don’t even put up a fight. Touched restless. The sweet, bubbly thrill of her voice gone for good. And for me, now, it gets loneliest in the afternoon. The day shrinks away, dappled and dreary, from my wherewithal. The stuffy things that arrive, the crank and wheeled brunt of them knocking around in my skull, have the most staying power while the sun’s getting on past straight overhead. Can’t blink these exudations away as they roost to brood. I cut my coffee with snake oil. Time just goes and goes and goes.
from chapter 1

            A deeper voice, more rich, almost a baritone, drooling and raspy just a lick above the plunk of a warped piano. A wise way to limn the necessary from monotony; nothing like the rash spate of today’s culled deliverance. It wakes one from its noon slumber while the strangest thoughts chip and dart through my warped brain, like being attacked by a butterfly. A weighty stroke of another hour upon us, lazily strangling me, and the music’s boring holes in the bleakness with a softly lulled timbre. The teakettle is whistling. Yes. I still find time to pour some tea in.
            The days bury themselves in under-priced jewels. The light remains intact, skidding on the dirt-streaked window glass. The trees shave your uncle. The jasmine distills. We are just reflection of our own reflections. I keep thinking she’ll dive her way out here, here where all I do is miss her. Forenoons tarry with bounded reasonableness, lasting painfully enough. Once, the cartoons were all in a foreign language, and I just found myself staring at defunct neon signs, doing trivial things with my time, and pouring grape soda over salted ice. There is a rich valor in the roses here, a steep unhurried hinge of newness that swings easy in the straddle of the days-- the floating absurd days that flutter by, not really like petals falling at all. Not really. Carved apses of reality lapse and lurk like timid frowns. The sling of curves, the crop-hungry wilt of barren love, the optimal dose of languid spaces spread through drowsy-thick harbors, a creep that’ll clutch at whatever winds up around. I think of her more often than a lot. Yellow digs. The mustard fights. Potatoes peel themselves. The days here are just shattered glass from a one-way mirror without her.