Tuesday, July 31, 2012

the grouchiest piano player on the west coast

            I’ve always said Miniature Golf. Some people say Put-Put or Mini Golf. But I’ve always called it Miniature. I don’t know why. Then there’s that derelict woman who wanders around Polk in high heels and miniskirts with rouge smeared all over her white face paint. Oily arch pigtails, a lazy eye, and a penchant for heliotrope. And the wind’s delivering the paper. Yes or no. There’s a choice. And it won’t make itself.   
            “Quaf! I cannot believe this! Quaffy quaff quaff.”
            “To shoo. Dearly. Dear. My. Oh.”
            “Well, wear a wristband then.”
            Was that dialogue? Who’s talking?
            There are problems probably happening right now. People probably having them. They are there, the problems are, to be either dealt with or deserted pretty much completely. It’s probable. That’s for sure.
            I am paying tribute to you, asshole.
            “Please use the proper punctuation when speaking or being spoken (do not insert preposition here).”
            Comma, dash, ampersand, ditto mark, exclamation point, ellipses, maybe a period or so, and then a passenger boards. Only at the last minute maybe the passenger, this passenger being used as an example of a passenger in this manipulation of a paradigm, maybe the so-called passenger is not really going to be going anywhere at all. Just maybe. Hyphen. Quotation mark. Apostrophe. Some guillemets. A pilcrow. PS- “The train’s at the station.”
            Values are reassigned at this point.
            “Come on, man. I’m a buddy. I’m older. I’m palling around with the likes of you. Man.”
            There we don’t go again.
            “Pesky. Grumpy. On the rocks. It’s teething, pangs of aging.”
            Wow. I am certainly decades gone on lightweight techniques of glassware options, let me not tell you. All about it, yet.
            We are estimating. Only.
            Casserole recipes notwithstanding. The noisy clucking of seagulls. “Grass fed?” “Only, no.” “Fat’s on and off about it.” “Call me a sucker then. Go ahead.”
            Stayed drunk most of the time.
            Zoos are closed. Getting streaky with umbrella luck. “Trust me, Alan Oppenheimer will be making my speeches for me.” 
            Walking everywhere-- in the movies, for certain. Deeper knee bends still getting us plowed with forgiveness. All’s dismissed.
            Fair game?
            “It was the leanest and meanest of times. It was easy dying. It polled well. We stuck around to be sick with it.”
            “Don’t go raining me out. Don’t get a bush-league terror raging in your pantry. Bluer skies than these, it will be, or it won’t.”
            San Francisco after midnight. It deems itself. If by match light. If by moth or mouse. A step up from taking a stand. To. The. Something something something. Commas not included. 
            “Capital letters are back in style.”
            Veer that away. Envy seeks other envy. Bound to old bindings. I am still, more so than office buildings and festival lights.
            “Listen. Somebody’s waltzing. Over here. Listen.”
            “Smells of burnt rubber overcome one in times like these.”
            Heartburn by the number.
            “You can’t be an alcoholic. You wear a tie.”
            People call it bathroom tissue now instead of toilet paper.
            I started karaokeing at a very young age.
            “Pictures! Pictures! Move it or make some sense!”
            Wiser guys than this-- well, what’ve we got here --, because or due to (while a hint of sautéed envy leaks through the potato-salad factory) benighted circumstances well within the means or disservice of control, will stay put short enough to be gaped at. A little more turns into a little less, only without the pretense.
            “Suppose I were to wear a where in my hair? It’s daffy. See?”
            Barn’s stormed. Let’s eat Fritos and be bad. Talk about our hangovers over the phone. Squash the moon back into the room with our thumbs. Since it’s chancy, so say it, it is not borrowed like time. It is a ruler’s length.
            Just a minute or two to glance outside through the window and dream into the street while the fingernail-clipping slice of moon tilts and wavers in an inky sky above the dilapidated brick buildings.  Our lives led in other Renos of badly parked cars. With the espresso cream clouds sputtering overhead, yep, we stole the evidence that beauty had been here, something like twenty thousand years before, and made short work of trophy cases with sledge hammers and spray paint. Too cerulean for weak eyes like these. Bend it around forty times, for starters, and then come speak at me about microphones and preproduction codes. I am forgone but not concluded to be out of style for as long as possible. Let the possums eat rats.
            “So, we’ve got meddlers to deal with. Well, sweep the bastards off the roof. We’ll make a musical loosely based on the lives of postal workers. I’d like to see the riflemen go without bullets for a week or two. That’d stamp out what’s left of them.”
            Putting on the skids.
            “Did, you, just, say, something?”
            Productivity comes in bunches. And, also, of note, to wit: “I know what it’s like to walk around with shorts on, while it is sunny out, while the wind’s just a mild breeze. The feel of it. The smell. The way trees bask in it and the girls all look like freshly washed and detailed corvettes, and the slim and shiny pluck of undecided directions gives away dockets for moving through life’s shushes and terror. The lists are made of lavender laughs and steam. Fan me into the worst fire’s got. I will celebrate more than necessary.”
            “Asian-carp hotdogs for sale! Goldfish jerky! Trout sausage! Ground salmon! Get your deep-fried minnow snack treats here!”             
             I’ve already left the building, Mr. Presley. Now it’s your turn. What, that? Oh, that’s the sound my mailman makes.
            Budding hack. I’ll burn my own rib eye, thank you. And would you put some goddamn quotes on? Seriously, it’s indecent.
            “A new lease on lesson-learning, I guess.”
            “Ah, now that’s better. Not so bad, huh? Gives you something to squirm around between, feel out your dimensions, extend to the barriers a bit.”
            The stuck clouds, the ones that weren’t moving, behind the fast flight of the lower ones as if they were part of the sky itself, just white scruffy patches on a blaring lapis lazuli canvas. I wanted to reach up and tear them off, send them fluttering back home to wherever it is that clouds come from. As usual, though, there was nothing to be done. I punched a newspaper instead.
            My bartender Steve Garvey didn’t say, “The city struggles to know you, deep down, as its banks of millionaires offer a surface clean, and you weep to the thrum and rattle of the cable car tracks.” But maybe he’d wanted to say it somewhere in his own personal deep-down, or to say anything except for the usual stuff he says, stuff like this: “Unlike most folks in here, I remember the exact moment in time when I completely lost my mind. It was a balmy October evening, and I was out walking around. I couldn’t remember why I was where I was, standing on the sidewalk and looking in the window of a nice restaurant, ogling all the people in there dining, having a good night out, and I thought, ‘I’ll never be one of them, ever.’ It seemed a very natural thing. I wasn’t suspicious of it at all. It was like, ‘Oh, well, there goes my mind,’ like it was supposed to happen, and it was almost a relief when it finally did, like I’d been waiting for it for so long and then finally, there it went. It didn’t worry me in the slightest. The streets were tar and macadam, long sleek things, black and steady. Car headlights came and went. A pigeon poked at a beer bottle. Nobody noticed me standing there in the middle of the nowhere that I’d suddenly become. And, for the first time in my life, I didn’t care.” Or maybe not. Maybe he’d just go on saying stuff like, “I just got tired of using comedy to make me feel good about myself.” Or, “My nostalgia is getting nostalgic for itself.” In the meantime I am drinking less than responsibly.      
            Pointing to foul territory, in a determined distress, while riding the bus, faking a cough into my fist, something about the angle of light daggering in through the high trapezoidal windows, the stingy ones you can open by pulling them sideways, horizontal, a challenge at times because they get stuck and it can take some serious grunt work to get the job done, something to be done while standing and not for the less brawny among us. I am wincing at people’s faces. There’s a rubbed raw hue to the persistence of vision. Colors are warped. The fabric of whatever seems like the nature of my current reality is shredded and threadbare. Some of the advertisements close to the ceiling are stretched, the elongated pictures and words pulled taut and thin, and somehow I feel like something will snap suddenly and nothing for me will ever be the same again. But nothing ends. There is no finality to any of it, and this fills me with dread and terror. The phrase, “I got treble in my mind,” flickers through my thoughts. I know something is wrong there. It’s close, but not right. I can’t figure out why. Something is wrong with me. The pinball game of my head is permanently tilted. A scream longs for a mouth. A small Chinese woman, whose feet are swinging high above the grip-tape floor, sits eating a lychee fruit on one of the facing seats at the front of the bus. Her smile is crooked, something skewed about it. I can’t bring myself to look at her with more than a general glance in her direction. I feel as if I am being expertly watched, and I don’t for some reason want to make any mistakes, though I don’t know what would constitute a mistake in this position that I’ve found myself in, whatever that position might be. What’s put me here? It’s as if the world around me is appearing to whatever’s passing for my eyes at this moment to be some sort of drafty Phenakistoscopic vision, something playful and lost, and I can’t make this fluidity of botched movement stop, even for a second. Everything is just flowing, bright and dull, in exasperating shivers of kinematic sadness, a strobe-like flickering paired with torched remnants of stop-and-go animation, or perhaps things being continuously carved into cement that never dries. There is no me here.
            “Refrain!” “I cannot.” “Do misuse the wisest particles of…” “Stop it!” “Yes, sir.”

            It was kindly just a row away from being apart, lurking wakeful, and interspersed dutifully along marched lines. Oh, and westward to wagons we go, again, here. Flubbed and regarded. Testing out a string of compositional theories. Gussy me up with optical illusions and starve the lions in my heart. Helicopters be damned, this was going to be a stripped down version of playing dumb. And I was just a drunk playing dumb for the crowd. But all I really wanted was to manage my way to the top of that tall building that was always in my distance, to get up there with that palm tree doling out some shade on the roof, and to just lie there and gaze into the clouds and at the palm tree, to just relax there, calm like that, for as long as I possibly could. I had flypaper wings from my grandmother’s medicine chest, and there was hope, just not for me. That palm tree was always too damn far away.
            God, we were restless then, floundering away in obscurity, needing a break from being ourselves.  
            We had a good go of it, though. Flipping off cops and all. (“If I am not mistaken, that was Wild Bill.”)
            (“Sure. And then we’ve got Shoeless Joe, in his own words.”) And the best of us are taking naps through the remainder of our lives.
            (“Tod Browning never said,”) San Francisco, it gets windy, sure. But sometimes, well, sometimes we push back, right?
            A banana for your thoughts. (“Who said that?” “That’s Thomas Jefferson, I do believe. Also…”) A cash donation for your dreams.
            Panama Joe pipes up, “Lon Chaney had the most graceful hands. You could recognize him just with a glimpse of those elegant fingers delivering a letter, or lighting a match. It wasn’t dancing, but it was close. He had his own makeup kit that he made out of an old toolbox which he used to create all of his one thousand faces, and both of his parents were deaf mutes. His last scene on film is of a girl gifting him a carton of cigarettes by the side of a train. He died of lung cancer a few months later.” Nobody is listening.
            A life lived in quotations marks, the soundtrack scored with apostrophes and odd glyphs like interrobangs and up tacks. It gets chalky and dismal. A sparse place chipped out of the heart with some buffoon’s sand-wedge obliviousness. An internal fan cranked to life, its sad racket all that’s left to hear.

            The soup kitchen was all out of napkins. Everything smelled of train smoke. Widows were all lined up on the sidewalk, gawking at the milk trucks and the horses. The sky was wedding dresses floating on a charcoal bed. Wendy lost her favorite gold coin through the sewer grates. Even Lionel wanted one last wish, and he’d use it to get one more look at his lovely Lessie James. A stray dog pissed on my last cigarette, which had fallen from my vest pocket and into a treewell.       
            He said, “I’ve loved so many room where I’ve lived, always something there, like something that blued the walls like sky. Something like that.”
            He said, “Blanks into the chamber and then checkered my head with ploughed courage, graciously at least.”
            He said, “The fresh chilly air felt so good to breathe. That’s just about when I started to cry.”
            He said, “You were nothing but a rain check waiting to get spent.”
            He said, “Feeling sorry for yourself is the best indoor sport around. Ask any bartender.”
            I don’t know if anybody else heard any of it. My internal wiring had gone rogue. There was no way to tell what was really happening from what my head was constructing in the peripheral margins of my consciousness. Ifs were shattered by measly thens.
            A recitation occurs, in a here’s possible there, if of-courses could frown, of course, then the tangle of it shapes iron and slag into a departing bloom, and he, unpunctuated in some other somewhere, says, “Abandon all hope (alcohol may intensify this effect) nobody here is neutral abiding in some marshy cemetery sockets leaking there’s a cost as always you know we’re just holding up the hallway walls we’re just panicked over waving hello have a right to way over estimate and the papers all tell it like it ain’t everybody here is joking we’re what fun makes us all instances all jumps unsecured to what makes us jump to root unnecessary behind the cloudswept groans very much orbiting what makes us sit alone all day the weight of phone calls the photos we never took or whatever’s burned up in the fire while the crab grass in my memories takes up the space you should’ve made tassel it to me with a shared smile as signals suck up the darkness because to wait is what it all is.”
            Other voices in the same room: “Dear sir, to be a failure at such a young age takes a real depraved sense of self-indulgent, egomaniacal rage. Under most of these conceptual banners we find envious jerks taking wayward swipes at the more successfully achieving ones out there in the charred fields of commerce. There is a certain fear attached to what makes one appear to be better than those outdoing one, as if the struggle to achieve is somehow more important than the achievement itself. Heckling the brightly risen meatheads who stand on stages reciting their stilted misgivings for a few laughs, the snide business of remaining in hock while others take the cake and smear it all over their faces, it leaves an ache anchored to the failure one snuggles up to and dreads with the same bated breath. Just as a class action lawsuit against jealousy would reward nothing except loneliness and despair with more grainy faux-confidence and fodder for bigheaded fantasies, nobody can compensate one for the loss of one’s mettle. Reality will be slingshot at the moon, and nothing will cast your shadow for you. Nothing. Pushing on, unheard, just a coulter for others’ plowshares, one writes one’s name in the fresh furrow’s dirt and moves on.”
            The green is shaved short, spotless, groomed to a neat trim, nary a divot to its name. A slender chance putts chrome-washed dreams towards the hole. We all go home less than hungry. The windmill’s cranky whine, the clink of a knight’s rusted armor, and swoosh of disappearing motion gone leafless in the lateness of the day.
            And now Boris will play his glockenspiel because Eleanor is now living with him. The crowd whose heads stick out from apartment windows overlooking the alley is no longer hushed. Cheering is back in style. Everybody throw your dirty laundry in the air. We are all kings here. We are all everything. Look. It is the accordion stretched taut, pulled apart until it rips, and we cause our own demise all the time. Everybody sing. Everybody. It is all so easy. Sing with me. Sing. With the dead dogs and the press and the hard-hatted and the root-beer tramps and the drywallers and the pickpockets and the cardboard collectors and the paperclip throwers and the barkers and the beat-up old cars starting and the breadlosers and the retired former lightweight champions of the world. Sing with the voices of marionettes, with box-top collectors, with the hungry and the bored and the lame and the tired. We are all here to be sung and to sing.                    
            Dear Patricia Plainsong,
            As the day rolls to a fold, and mother’s hanging the wash on the line, some foreboding leads me to ask, “Are you very sad these days after what the fire’s done?”
            This is not a question of arguing balls and strikes. It is luck’s handout. (Yes, you’d say, hand it to the scratchers of lottery tickets; they’ve got a mold to keep, and they keep it.) And this while folks like us sit here staring at Rorschach blurs in the trees, doing less than something, shuffling thoughts and stifling motivation for, well, escape. White socks and a forgiving temperament, we strain (yes, my dear, this includes me at last) to youthier flights of contemplation.  
            Famish the flies and we shall dive less deep into the wealth of our circumstances.
            Amplitudes deceive me, less than charmed on an engaging frequency, so I take truck with muskrat suppers, gorge on vole nuggets, elephant shrew stew, and rhinoceros steak. There are those eager for material gain who would have you believe I have taken an ill disposition, and that I am feckless in the defense of my daily strife. But what fires be put out but those started by the selfsame fools in the first? Though, well, I needn’t persuade you of any disquiet that may still smolder hot-coal bright in your heavy heart. For, as of late, the green grass of home is for all of us still a misstepped lunge clung to self-pity and withering endurance. Remember not to be always shaped by what shadows you. If mother taught us anything in the doomed cusp of her wilting willpower, it was this.
            Now the hours spread out instead of reeling in, and I pause happily at the interlude of calm’s shuttering, stumped and loping in place: a rare breed of insolence.
            Mother rolls her sleeves. The sunset dust settles. Somewhere somebody is frying eggs. But not for me. Consider my fingers crossed.  
            When was it that we knew how to hide our voices? Oh, but adults don’t speak to each other like this, and we go on acting like little children. As complainers we stay sturdy and corrupt, yes? Bashful as being stricken with laryngitis would make us, it isn’t ordinary to be singularly fascinated by worn, unlit neon bulbs. And yes, we are merely what our choices make us at times, and the chew and call of missing things erodes a somewhat already fabricated existence, yet we continue imagining our lives lived in other ways. In the past tense we were washed out without a worry to our name. Dreary bastards of chance, we ran past the king without any clothes. The crows didn’t want us then (not shiny enough), until early rising left us glowing towards what we should’ve guessed. Remember? It was song that went, “Make my bed only to wreck my dreams.” Something differs to the iffy lurk of lost loves still, perhaps? Would it were so.
            Beer in the afternoon. Scotch in the evening. Bourbon highballs all through the night. I am under-eating, as always, for the nights come upon me too quickly. Laminate the sky with me; I am jerry-rigged with defeat.
            The cathedral bells are tolling Luck Be A Lady. A careful gust of courage escapes me. Mother is uneven in her approach to roaches, and they seem to roam free for the most part. Somehow the breezes here do not soothe me anymore. I am too departed from the gentleness of kisses on the ear to be of any use to anyone. I do my praying on the toilet.    
            In the boxy sense of saying what’s on loop in my head until my number comes up, in that citadel of anxious decambering, shrieking in nightshirts, apprehended with a matronly sensitivity at last, I try on all the red dresses around and tiptoe past the fireplace. Do not regret the timeliness of my ways. Do not shave the recently deceased. Behave, if it is necessary. Mother is not curling her hair. The ante is forever upped. All is sapropel of memory, and we do whatever it is we must to chin-up our way to the finish line, and then past it, or over it, and then farther, and then farther still.
            Hank Mayberry Livingston III