Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Varly Frank Rides The Bus

The moon was low and big in the sky, huge, much larger than I’d ever remembered it being, and it was hanging there like a shield right next to the Transamerica building. The sun was washing the buildings in pink. I was riding the bus and this girl in very tight pants was standing, and let me tell you there were plenty of seats available, and she is standing there with her ass, which was nice and firm, jutting out into the aisle right next to my head. I know, right? And she starts doing these kind of maybe yoga-type stretching exercises there while she’s grabbing onto the handrail and her ass is going really close to my face, and it is one very nice ass. I feel like she’s smiling into the window, which is starting to darken with the evening and reflect some things, like her face kind of, and I really think she is smiling a little at me, but I really can’t be sure because I am like really trying to pretend that I am looking out the window and that I am very interested in the scenery or whatever. It was that time of day when the sun is just going down and the moon is starting to rise on the other side of the horizon, and, like I said, the moon was low and big and the sun was painting all the buildings in coats of gold and yellow, and the beige bricks of buildings were starting to fade into the pastel colors common to that crepuscular time of day. It was nice out. Picture fucking perfect. So, this lady has her posterior, which like I said was very firm and tight in those pants and doing all kinds of shaking and gyrating, right there next to my head, and I am just sitting there, towards the back of an almost empty bus with like plenty of fucking seating room, and I’m trying to pretend that I am like totally not at all interested in anything Ms. Ass-shaker is doing, but also at the same time not being able to help myself from glancing over from time to time, taking these flitting peaks at her performance. She would put a foot up on one of the plastic bucket seats, slightly bend over, and do this arabesque kind of thing, with her ass, yep, going out and banging around like a speed bag bumping along there, uh huh, right by my motherfucking head. I know. It was nuts. You can’t make shit like this up. So, this firecracker yoga chick is doing all these bends and…ow…shit. Sorry. I cut my fucking thumb on my shampoo bottle this morning and it hurts like a motherfucker. I think I need to change this Band-Aid or something. It’s getting kind of frayed there, look. Yeah. That’s some nasty shit. Aw. Fuck, that fucking stings. Shit. Okay. So, anyway, this freaky yoga chick is like really getting my prurience up, you know, and so I’m sitting there doing my best Mr. Disinterested/Oblivious impersonation, trying to be as surreptitious as possible, and this chick starts like rubbing up against one of the metal poles. I swear. I am not bullshitting you one finger-licking-good iota. This is not fucking speculative. I am not some fictional avatar, some goddamn fallible narrator invented merely to give you this slice-of-life anecdote so you can make your judgments and form your opinions and make yourselves all feel better about being the morally impeccable people that you can now imagine yourselves to be. No. This is just something that happened to me. This is not realism. This is not someone trying to carefully craft a make-believe world out of reality. I am not trying to control events. So, just listen. Okay? Damn. My finger’s killing me. So, so, so, so…Um. Where was I? Oh yeah. This girl is rubbing her luscious bod on the pole, not so much like a stripper really, I know that’s what you’re thinking. It’s more just like this subtly sensual motion, kind of sinuous and lithe, and she seems to be really lost in her own little space, like she doesn’t even know where she is really, as if she’s existing somewhere else and that none of us are around, that the bus itself may not even be there as far as she’s concerned. It’s kind of like she’s a mime performing a dumbshow in front of a mirror for nobody but herself. So I, of course, start to check her out a bit more. You know, I’m casting my eyes over there, looking at her in the window’s reflections. The windows by this point are starting to fill up more with darkness, and the lights outside are coming on, and this bus’s interior lights are starting to seem brighter, shining this very glaring white fluorescence all over stuff. It was harder to see things outside, but it was much easier to see people’s reflections in the windows. I saw an old man picking his nose. That wasn’t interesting to me. But, I have to admit, I saw it. It happened. I ain’t going to be bullshitting you about stuff. See? So. So. So. The bus was starting to feel somehow smaller, more of a world unto itself. There didn’t seem to be room for anything else in the world. I know. That seems odd. So. Anyway. This chick is getting real into her slithering dance there, holding onto the pole, sliding up and down and shaking that ass, and shit, I mean, shit, I know how that sounds, but really, really shaking that ass. What else can I say? There must’ve been music playing in her mind or something, because she was really rocking out, very rhythmically too, like she was moving to a beat, and her hands would slide up and down the pole and her mouth would be very close to the pole too as her whole body moved up and down and her ass shook, shook, and shook. You know, the pole, it was one of those metal grab rail poles they have on buses. It was pretty shiny too. Her head was kind of shaking around and I could see her lips puckering some when I looked at her reflection in the mirror. I felt like a damn voyeur, but I couldn’t stop myself from staring. And I was also starting to feel like she either (a) didn’t care, (b) couldn’t tell I was watching her, or (c) wanted me to be watching her, you know, like she was doing the whole thing just for my benefit. I know how that must sound, like I’m some real conceited son-of-a-bitch or something, or that I have, what, if not a, um, solipsistic view of things, you know, that I think I am the fucking center of the whole entire universe and that everything on this oblate spheroid only happens because of me, for my benefit, that it is I who am the one sole focal point of all the world’s eyes. But, let me promise you, this most assuredly is not the case. I won’t go into it here, but let’s just not take it for granted that I am a very un-egotistic individual, very munificent and kind to my fellow humans, almost completely unattached from this mortal coil that contains me, just a spectating specter drifting haplessly around the fringes of things, a silent impartial observer of the mundane and ordinary. Generally I don’t go in for such forays into the realms of logic and philosophical speculation, but maybe there is no precedent for this type of thing and I don’t want to get pigeon-holed into being something that I am not. I am not a bad person. Now, that doesn’t mean, you know, it’s not like I said that I am a good person. That would be something different all together. Just being not bad doesn’t make you good, per se. Um. But, there is probably something significant in the difference betwixt them. What that is, well, I just can’t quite understand it enough yet to be able to relate it to you in any kind of clear or understandable way. So my staring at her was something that was happening. It just was. That’s that. Sure, I would dart my eyes hither and thither, taking in the sights—the silvery sandpaper-like floor, the felt-pen graffiti all over the orange plastic coating of the bucket seats, the tiny letters etched into the windows reading, “Acrylic Plexiglas, Polymer Dot Shapes,” and the dual-purpose safety vent in the ceiling that was closed down and latched tight, thank God, shit, it was cold, you know. I was also doing a lot of yawning and sighing, and also this thing where I would close my eyes as if I were suffering some kind of sudden twinge of pain, a headache or something, and would rub my temples with my index fingers for a few seconds. It was all subterfuge, a distraction to take some perceived person’s attention away from me, or from the fact that I was so slyly checking out this yoga-bending-pole-dancing chick whose ass, let me remind you, was right in my fucking face. But who was this “perceived person”? Who was this outsider whom I somehow figured to be watching me? Was it her? Nah. I don’t think that was it. It was like I was performing for a camera, like I was trapped inside a part I had to play on a movie set and I couldn’t get out of it no matter what I did, it was all just a performance for somebody else’s benefit, and, yeah, it was the same with her too, shit, it was like we were both picking up on some a priori mode of existing, some fucking rubicund of the mind that once we crossed we couldn’t ever get back over again, back to the other side of perceiving things, and it was a place where we were both the observing other and the one caught in the gaze at the same time. It was a real motherfucking byzantine conundrum. There was nowhere to go with it. So I just sat there doing all of these things, making these motions to draw attention away from the fact that my attention was like really fucking glued on this chick, who was really not noticing, at least as far as I could tell, anything besides herself. I started to feel real stymied, like I couldn’t get out of this mold, this set-in-stone way of being. As for getting up and moving to another seat, or pretending that I was going to be getting off at the next stop and getting up to stand by the door, shit, forget about it. I was fucking buried in this moment. And nothing I could do seemed like it would ever exhume me from the moment that I was ensnared in. It was a lost cause. I just decided to try and wait it out, to see what would happen next. On the floor by my feet there was some gummy substance, kind of mucilaginous, you know, sticky, like somebody had spilled a coke on the floor, or something with a lot of high fructose corn syrup in it, and I started rubbing my shoes on it, and then scraping them against the seat in front of me to try to get the sticky shit off. It was stupid. I’d slide my feet over the stickum, and then try to scrape it off. I’d keep doing this, over and over. There was something very satisfactory about it, like I was performing some ablutionary act, some kind of cleansing going on. I don’t know. It was odd. But I kept doing it. It passed the time. It kept me busy. It kept my mind off the girl’s ass that was wriggling around by my head. The bus? Oh. You know. It was a newer bus. One of those one’s that are much narrower than the older ones. They don’t have as much aisle room for people to stand in. It’s hard to get by people who are standing when the bus starts to get crowded. You have to say excuse me under your breath and try to squeeze by without putting any of your body parts against the body parts of another person. It takes a good deal of contorting sometimes to negotiate the small spaces and finagle your way through. The end result is a lot of physical contact with strangers, much getting into other people’s personal space, and usually a pulled muscle or two. So, yeah, this chick’s ass was in close proximity to my face. And she wasn’t doing anything to put any extra distance between us. Me? Oh, well, I’m looking up at the vapid advertisements lining the bent space over the bus’s windows, you know, those long curved things that are kind of like gutters at a bowling alley, you know, where they slide all of those cardboard signs along? The ads just hook in and kind of bend inward in the middle, like what happens to a playing card when you palm it. It was just all of these insipid beguilements trying to tell me what to buy and what to wear and how to feel about things, trying to blarney me into doing something. It made me feel pretty damn miserable, let me tell you. I read all the words, as is my wont, and said them a few times in my head. Things like, “Text 566 to this number and get free games for your phone!” or, “Not everyone is lucky enough to have a companion. Help out a senior citizen or disabled person in need.” Just the kind of things they write on those bus advertisements. Nothing important. I kept reading. It’s hard to stop once you get started with something like this. There were these red stickers in the shape of arrows that said things like, “Please Move Back,” “Enter through front door only, Do Not Stand In Stepwell.” I started noticing a lot more of these stickers now that I was looking for them. Most of them were red with white letters. One of them said, “Emergency Exit. Pull red handle down and hold while pushing window out at bottom.” The red handle was right there and I found myself wanting desperately to pull it down for some reason. It was like having an itch you can’t scratch. But I restrained myself from doing that. I mean, it would do nothing but draw attention to me, and that was antithetical to what I wanted. Or would that be anathema? Um. Hell. Who knows? Anyways, there was another sign that said, “PLEASE HOLD ON. Sudden stops are sometimes necessary,” and another one I saw towards the front of the bus, which was blue with white letters, that read, “These seats must be vacated when wheelchair users need this space.” It had a white silhouette of a person on a wheelchair above the words. I liked that one a lot. It was unique. Oh, and, shit, there was this other sticker up by the driver that said, “Information gladly given but safety requires avoiding unnecessary conversation.” That was my favorite one. I liked how it said, “gladly given.” It was a very euphonic phrase. It made me think of cellar doors, and about all things alliterative, things that kept rolling through my mind and building on each other, one word piggy-backing on the next, and then a whole line of the them that just ended me up in this whole she-sells-sea-shells miry hodgepodge of gobbledygook mucking up my mind. It think I coughed into my hand at some point, I don’t know, some kind of tussive things to snap me back out of this trance I was putting myself in, and kind of, as they say, snapped myself back to reality, whatever the fuck reality is. So, well, um, really I guess I just didn’t want people to notice me noticing this girl. I was afraid of being looked at while I was looking at her. I know. It’s an idiotic way to be acting, but I was doing it. Shit. It was completely illogical, patently dumb and wrongheaded and preposterous. But I couldn’t stop it. I tried to think my way out of it, you know, by trying to reason with myself. But I was in an unreasonable state of consciousness at the time and wouldn’t listen to any explanatory rationality for why I was doing what I was doing, even if it was coming from myself. I decided instead to start to just think some odd thoughts, some things that would take my attention away from the shaking-ass-show for a bit. So I started contemplating things like the ephemerality of beauty, and how this ass being shaken in my face was one day no longer going to be so copaseticaly firm and taut, that eventually it too would go the way of all flesh, it would sag and loose its shape, droop, become wrinkled and padded with cellulite, and things would never be this way again. All would be lost. This moment would be nothing. All of these things would one day be gone. None of it mattered. We’d all be dust eventually. That ass would be part of a dead person some day. And then it would rot and decay, and worms would eat it, and soon it’d putrefy and shrivel up and probably become nothing but dirt in the ground. I didn’t like this line of thinking. It wasn’t getting me anywhere. I began to realize that all of this mental convolving was just another distraction, just another goldbricking attempt to avoid the situation that I was finding myself stuck in. I mean, what the fuck was I doing? Shit sticks. I was just trying to feebly, if not coyly, crawl out and away from what was happening not two fucking feet from my head. It’s absurd. I’m absurd. I’m a goddamn idiot. Why can’t I just enjoy things while they’re happening? Huh? Come on. Don’t just sit there looking so unattached, so prudent, all fucking circumspect like you’re some goddamn Penelope or something. I’m just asking you to care. Is that too much to ask? To ask you to care about me? To care about the life I’m leading and the way I see things? Isn’t this important? Stop looking at me like that. I can feel your rancor and your fucking do-gooder, holier-than-thou, righteousness, and your I’ve-heard-this-all-before, god-this-is-all-so-boring-and-meaningless, I’d-rather-be-watching-TV bullshit attitude. Come on. For fuck’s sake. This is all there is. This is all we have in this world. These things. Just like Walt Whitman, I have these things. No. No. Don’t go. Come back. I’m just kidding. Really. I’ve never even ridden on a bus in my life. It’s nothing. Come back. Like me. Like me. Please like me. I am a good person. Like me. I’m alone here. Please……hello?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Not Another Word

Two viewers sit watching a television set on which a very old man with over-sized John-Denver glasses on is talking into the camera, looking a bit to the left of the viewers’ gaze, as if he himself is gazing at something too, maybe a clown doll tied to the top of the camera. The old man’s eyes are distorted and enlarged by the thick glass in his frames, and his mouth is slightly drooping to one side. From time to time a thin line of spittle collects and hangs and then drops from his mouth. His ears are large and stick out like wings. The viewers are watching the video and sometimes one of them makes some comments on it, but mostly they just watch. They are both sitting on fold-up chairs and are sitting very close to the television set, which is small, probably about the size of a microwave. The camera doesn’t move off of the old man’s face. It doesn’t go in for a close up. It doesn’t pan out to show a wider view of the room. There is nothing else on the screen but the man’s face. The viewers can see every wen and bleb and stray facial hair, every last wrinkle and scar and skin defect of his face. His eyebrows are thick and bristly. There is something malformed about his nose. It is bent to the side, incredibly crooked, and seems to be pockmarked with hundreds of tiny craters. Thin strands of long white hair are brushed back from his large, protrudent forehead. His eyes tend to blink a lot. The viewers watch and listen.

There is something arcane about this willingness to love, the ability to love itself has become old-fashioned, and to make oneself vulnerable in a public place is a sin, as the goldening tree leaves fall in a picric heap on the sidewalk and get trampled underfoot, rived and shredded and mashed into dust.

VIEWER 1—Listen. This guy sure says some odd things. It’s, kind of, well, eldritch at least. Listen.

We are often caught up in blandishments, suckered or drawn in, inveigled by the “good deal” or the “bargain buy” and it is all only our loneliness and thanatophobia that is driving us to search out for these things, these desires ruled by the market place, dictated to us by the all-puissant driving force of the economy. Buy, buy, buy. That is all there is to know. Then, and only then, do we not have to worry ourselves with these picayune concerns, these thoughts of death and fear, um, I may as well throw in trembling too. Ahem. So, here there is a chance, sometimes, um, here…well as in here…I mean to say, in the here and now we can always choose to be present, to be awake, to be, what? To be, roused, lifted in our spirits, winking like Groucho Marx behind a dumpster, it is, or would be, at these times that we can take lightly, or not at all, or extremely seriously, the impression made on us by the soft ululating glow of an old neon hotel sign’s letters blinking down the side of a rotting wrought iron fire escape, um, let’s see, the flickering light casting coalfrescent shadows on the mood-swinging bricks, and one thinks of choppy waters and the foam on the crests of waves, and life is tall and free again.

VIEWER 2—A neon sign cannot howl. And Coalfrescent? He doesn’t always make sense, does he?

But this feeling, this, shall I say, unadulterated blessing that seems to strike one down to one’s very core being, that kernel of truth hiding away buried so deep, so lost, gone, gone away, yes…ahem. Anyhow, this feeling is not something that can be described, no matter what one’s chosen mode of expression is, playing cards, creating limericks, tossing magazines into a fireplace, writing songs, playing a lute, driving a diesel-spewing 16-wheeler across this oh-so-capacious continent, or even filming the event, with just the right technique, with all of the latest and most advanced audio and visual equipment at one’s fingertips, cannot even come close to the real-life way of experiencing the event. One cannot smell quite the same scents in the same way that were drifting through the cool breeze then. And one will never know in just the same way the feeling of that breeze brushing against one’s visage, spoiling one’s hairdo, blowing a lapel of one’s dinner jacket up against the chin. It will never be the same. Nothing describing the event will ever touch the actual thing itself. This is the true artist’s constant struggle. Looking with another pair of eyes is no good. The camera cannot see anything the way one’s eye actually saw it. And any other pair of eyes looking upon that same scene, through the filter of the camera, will be again further removed from the event, and will only see what they desire to see, or what they are told to see, and nothing...ahem…I say nothing will ever be the same again. We must learn to give our gifts freely. There is not room for the buy-and-sell attitude of the marketplace in true art. The gift we give, love, must be given freely, unabashedly, without hope of being loved in return. We must learn to become generous, thoughtful of others…um, magnanimous even, and still beholden to our ideals we can turn the gift, the art’s heart’s purpose at last, into a blessing.

VIEWER 1—He talks in a gallimaufry. Confusing, but maybe you’re right. Maybe there is something there.

The gift is hanging. The gift is hung-up. The gift is fragile, and it will not stand up to the barbs of the world of commerce. We must learn to protect the gift. It is a prayer for the non-believers, a coupe for the downtrodden and belittled and heartbroken, a little less than the lees of a rugged faith that has gotten to be so routine, so blandly quotidian, that it is no good anymore, and that things tend to shrivel up and die at this point too, don’t forget. But the strength of the absurd still holds up, it still puckers its labia superfluos entafada and labium inferius, scrunching up its ergotrid, squeezing the philtrum into a thin rivulet. Yes, in the face of doom the absurd still holds sway, the irrational can still make good on the seemingly slipshod promises of yesterday’s prayers. Incorporeal things showing some truculence in the face of the mind-boggling nothingness of eternity, we are daffodils waiting out the clouds for a chance at sun.

VIEWER 1—Something about this makes sense. I’m just not sure what it is. Why does he have to talk like that? It’s like it’s all some riddle or something. Who speaks Latin anyway? What the hell?

VIEWER 2—It doesn’t matter. At least I don’t think it does. There is something very intriguing about this old guy. He seems very genuine.

VIEWER 1—Seems? Well, anyone can seem genuine.

VIEWER 2—No. It’s different with him. I don’t know what it is.

VIEWER 1—I know. I think I know. No. I know. I know that I know. That’s true. I think.

We all need to feel this connection, this binding of the flimsy stuff of ourselves with others, this bonding with other souls like our own. But this reaching-out cannot come from a selfish urge. It must come free of restraint, without any expectations, and it must be given without regard for personal welfare or gain. One must not feel compelled out of guilt, nor be afraid of being duped out of something by a conniving other. It is always better to err on the side of generosity. There will always be those who take advantage of these gestures of kindness. Let us not become one of them. Give freely or not at all.

VIEWER 1—Do you want half of my sandwich?

VIEWER 2—What kind?

VIEWER 1—Roast Beef on Rye.

VIEWER 2—What’s on it?

VIEWER 1—Pickles, onion, asparagus, regetabes. Some crude oil I think. Just a hint.

VIEWER 2—Nah. I Can’t stand regetabes. Thanks though.

VIEWER 1—You are very welcome. Very welcome. Wow. That felt good.

VIEWER 2—You’re just relieved that I didn’t take any of your sandwich. You didn’t really want to give it to me, did you? Weren’t you secretly hoping that I would refuse your offer? Come on.

VIEWER 1—No. I don’t think so. But one never knows, now does one?

Self-worship is the most detrimental piece of hysteria one could ever perform on one’s own psyche. It comes from that part of us that is wanting to be loved, the self-centered ego-driven appendage of our emotional makeup, and it leads towards nothing except forever insatiable desires and emptiness. We have to become more than this. One must take a chance, put oneself out there, quite literally in medias res, into the middle of things, the things of the world, with all of its shame and drudgery and broken dreams…um, ahem…and beauty too, yes…one must strive to put oneself in a position to give the gift of love with no thought of a return on their investment. It is the absurdity of this that is important. It is the ridiculousness of this that makes it worthwhile.

VIEWER 2—This is getting boring. And kind of redundant too. Hey, maybe I will have some of that sandwich.

VIEWER 1—Sorry. Too late. It’s gone. I fed it to a crocodile.

VIEWER 2—Damn. I guess I missed my chance.

VIEWER 1—Yep. Too bad. It was good too.

VIEWER 2—I bet.

Two Pulled From The Typer's Teeth

Billy The Kid’s Lament In Wintertime

going south faster than the Rio Grande
I fall asleep to the sound of old Chinese women screaming
on the street outside
while the sun glints off windows and spills
like golden lava onto my floor
my horse has strayed and lost his way
my aim’s a little off
and my hand shakes like a guy with Parkinson’s

but I can still hold a tune
and enjoy the way
the small moths flutter across my room

some things don’t change too much with time
and sometimes
like say on a rainy afternoon with nothing to do but smile
they just keep on getting better


we live in small rooms & go unpublished
our lives are squalid and dull
we make music with typewriter keys and
go days without eating
our clothes are held together with safety pins
and our hair is almost always unwashed

we have holes in our shoes & holes in our teeth & giant gaping holes in our souls

we spend days memorizing long passages from Paradise Lost
and nights drinking whiskey until we black out

this is the life we lead
as invisible scratches in the surface of the world
those of us who don’t give a damn
about dollars and success

we live quiet lives of solitude 
and just maybe
at certain times
a little desperation too

Thursday, December 11, 2008

One For The Wastrels, The Drunkards, and The Lechers

                                      (A Summer and Smoke pastiche)

So Tennessee thought of you, with a drawl and a yawn, on some July afternoon, a dashing cavalier at work on a Model-T, sweeping sweet ladies off of their feet, un-fit pieces of a puzzle on a TV tray, strangers and kindness and just surviving, drenchings with a hose held over one’s head, long hot afternoons, patience, castigations and customs and calling on neighbors, the last flickering spark of civilization, readings and refreshments, a bottle of apricot brandy. Anything goes on Moon Lake. Everything reaches up, straining for something out of the reach of human fingers. Look up. We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Chasing the bluebird of satisfaction. Traveling salesmen playing poker. The facts of life. A doctor would know. Spying, standing behind a curtain, in love with some trembling tacky thing with a Z in her name. She and God punishing the devil in you. No cigarettes, bad manners and self-indulgence. Tied down. Old maids who are still young. Unkind. Spreading out one’s life like a rug for her to step all over. A catfight broken up by a preacher. A hat torn from its plumage. A couple of white tablets dissolved in water. Trust. Heart like a drum, that little red fist that keeps knocking on that little black door, unable to sleep or get through the summer, one day after the other, a deep breath, another, soon you will be much better. Time is only one side of a tesseract. Pearl buttons on her blouse. Breathe. Breathe. Hold your breath. The soul is not on an anatomy chart. Love is what you bring to it. A little voice saying, “How does your blue space in running clouds go, Mr. Williams?”

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Verbatim Excerpt From The Deliriously Drunk Man's Speech On The Subway

…when we get back to my house I’m going to show you a couple of things that I never told you about before, I’m going to go back home and get a loan on a cheap car like maybe an ’88 Mercury station wagon, only a couple hundred of bucks I bet will get me through the winter because it’ll have to somehow, until I get back to thinking about just where it is I really want to go, where I want to go from here, until I start a new life where my floor isn’t covered with old books and broken glass and dead dreams and years of dust and beer stains, when we get back, when I go back, when everything is just the way it should be and we steal our electricity, I want cloudless lazulite skies and whiskey in my coffee and an alarm clock that never wakes me up and calendar pages that never turn, but in the meantime there are bad haircuts to get and days to wade through like bath water, always moving just to go nowhere once again, I just want to walk in the June afternoon, want to feel free, sing, laugh, maybe even dance a little, throw all my possessions into a bonfire, run naked on the beach, be happy too...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

universe of discourse

Nothing that’ll kill you kid
Nobody that’ll care
When you break a few dreams trying
And smash your ambition into a telephone pole
It’ll all wash out in the end
Trust me
When the mask you wear is all worn out
And the moves you make
Are only cheap imitations
Of who you once thought
You might be
It’s nothing to worry about
It’s nothing 
That doesn’t happen every day

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Famed Tippler Spills Himself Another Soliloquy (Barroom Boys, Act III, Sc. ii)

It’s like I’ve got diarrhea of the soul. Everything just keeps flushing out of me. I can’t control it. It as an almost completely unintelligible maundering, an effluvia of rambling like pocket lint or grime under the nails. It as an intimating at nothing besides emptiness. It comes to define me. It is more than what I am. Sometimes, when the weather is pluvial and the wind howls like rocket ships, I feel as if I am living on a movie set, that I am never quite alone enough, and the night comes on brandishing my nightmares like objects devoid of meaning or purpose. Stratification would be a solution. Fletching arrows to slings. Far away out-of-tune trumpetings of surrender. Gobbling Almond Joys in the backseat of a car as fishbone clouds shoot by out of the sky’s smoky black belly. Terpsichorean joy, spinning, even over fault lines, flat-footed waltzes, pulling the tiny rusted metal handle from a drawer’s escutcheon, falling for somebody’s deceptive ways, clipping toenails, putting on socks, boiling water, deep sea fishing…a firm grip, groping lost…always people ambulating by outside on cue, cutting hair, signing checks, balancing with the toes on a curb like a benighted out-of-work funambulist. The leaves rot and fall away, are disposed of, sun-burnt offerings to the sidewalk’s uncaring whims. Garbage bags hefted over the shoulder. Juniper trees and catspaw having staring matches that last until the sun goes down. More susurrations crawl through the night, pawing their way through thick tenebrous clouds, uncannily mowing down unsuspecting motorists who are caught underneath the umbrella of their days, immense trash-can-emptying days. The sky turns eccyhmotic in a sudden flash as the xanthic light sneaks away behind lucent glowing mountaintops, which could probably be described as majestic. Dust motes can be feverishly counted, the geometry of their swirling paths is differential and could be described quite easily by somebody like Bernhard Riemann. I was hitting a buck fifty in Double-A ball when I found out that the Coefficient of Restitution of a baseball with 126 red stitches is .5, and that’s when I decided to become a carpenter. The lighting in the small room was what you would call ambient. It had a lambency to it, a type of lilting effulgence which soaked everything in amber, a rich fulvous casting of strange shadows that infused even people’s faces with a kind of deep melancholic hue. My soul feels all used up, gone into desuetude, locked from the inside, hibernating. Nobody is keeping an eye on me. The shades are all pulled down to keep the light out. Say hello to the little children for me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

William Bruce Rose Jr. Decides To Forgo Singing In A Church Choir And Heads Out For Los Angeles

I’ve had enough of the Bailey Trio. The cops want me out of town. Indiana’s got nothing left for me. I’ll change my name for a song. Cigarettes are my only companions, and I smoke them with style. Strutting out to the west coast, kicked out of my house when I was just a kid, because I wouldn’t cut my hair. I want things to be more fucking easy.

Sometimes I wake late at night, my fists clenched, drool puddling on the mattress pad, red hairs in my mouth, and I see her eyes that are like the bluest skies; I see them so clearly, never thinking of rain. I smoke cigarettes and watch the neon lights splutter and wink outside my window. Careful not to forget the scars my father left on my body and my brain, I scream at his memory in a high falsetto, and then follow with a decrescendo all the way through my vocal range, which sinks through baritone and bottoms out in a barely audible and garbled bass. I dream of a warm safe place I would hide out in as a child, music overwhelms me, and I dance in my troubled sleep. This tattoo on my arm reminds me that I am no longer a part of him. His name is only an initial now. My life is transformed with a moniker.

In L.A. people try to rip you off. If they think you’ve got something they’ll try to take it from you. I learned this early on when a couple of guys tried to hustle me out of my leather jacket. I was just a small-town whiteboy, a hick with his thumb in the air. My life was packed up in a rattlesnake suitcase. Standing around, my natty long red hair blowing in the wind, the pushers and the pimps and the low-life degenerates riding the NightTrain would give me shit and spit at me. I had to learn the streets.

It was almost Christmas when I left. It doesn’t snow in L.A. so I don’t really feel like Christmas ever came. Just one long dry season of pushing past junkies and prostitutes on the sidewalks as I make my way to Tower Records on Sunset. Izzy is still around. We’re going to smoke cigarettes for money in some bullshit study by some dicks at UCLA. For now it seems like it’s nothing but shitty jobs and bands that never go anywhere. I thought about Michelle yesterday. She might get what she deserves just yet.

Walking these streets at night, all the crowds hemming me in, I take stock of myself, the life I’m living—nothing’s changed but my name. But I don’t have time for all that pain anymore. I tease and blow dry my hair, caking on thick layers of hairspray so that it frizzes out and stands up like some hooker’s bouffant. Jon Bon Jovi can suck my dick.

With a name, which is not really a name but a way of forgetting, I can attach myself to something that will be like a rocket blasting through this shit-headed world. Late at night when all the lights are off in my place, and the cars are still scurrying by on the street outside, their headlights making my windows glow in quick yellow flashes, I gyrate my body with a serpentine slither, rocking my hips back and forth not unlike Elvis, and crack my heels against the floor, singing into a broom handle by the light of my muted TV set. It is in these moments that I am truly alive, when music pervades everything and my heart is buoyant, when I am reckless and wild, and feel a freedom that I’ve never known before. There is nothing better than this feeling.

I’m crazy. That’s all that I’ve figured out in this town. If things don’t change soon I think I’ll pick up a gun. I’ll be a Rose in L.A. with a gun. Something about that appeals to me. I’m not sure why. I’m fucking crazy.

Axl’s gone so I’m using their name. Mr. Brownstone may be here to stay though. The rain hammers the roof all night long, pounding away like a hundred drummers up there, and it plops down through the airwell, and taps against the windowpanes like fingers. I wasn’t made for nights like these. Nights when the rain comes and never lets up, making garbage into bolus-like heaps, drowning the world, this unrelenting thrashing, a barrage of water coming down, crashing on rooftops, pickling sewer drains, spilling all over the streets and denting parked cars. Some old guy with a voice like Aldo Ray told me once that all things aspire towards the conditions of music. The rain is its own music, and thunder breaks my heart.

I have a memory from when I was a kid, when I had a mother and a father, when there was always a bed to sleep on at night and food to eat when I was hungry. The moths still hover like dust mites, they float and flap their wings around a dirty bulb, going nowhere, circling endlessly over a light that they can’t ever get close enough to. It reminds me of this memory, watching them, this thing from my past I can’t quite recall well enough to know for sure if it really happened, or the exact details of things, but it is there just the same. I can’t do anything about that. If I tried to forget it, pretend it wasn’t there, that these things hadn’t happened, well, then that would be something. But I can’t. It isn’t going to go away.

I collect dimes and pennies and nickels, junk mail, credit card receipts, old records, liquor bottles, used shoes, discarded furniture, wads of balled-up paper, music magazines. The spiders in my bathroom are fat and lazy. They spin their webs right next to each other, and they just sit on them there all day not catching anything. I kill more insects than they do. I’d rather sing than do most anything. Indiana seems a million miles away.

Lately I feel things coming to me, this consecution, this building of diseased harmonies and melodies, odd assortments of texture with unfettered rhythms and lost wailing timbres. Great things are happening in my head. I cannot put it into words. A jungle is growing wild in my mind. I do not know where life will lead me next, and I do not care.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

TwoSevenFive (1-27-01)

It was a rough one out there on Turk street that night.
It was cold,
And the first hadn’t come yet.
I saw a guy chasing people around with a hockey stick.
He was on roller skates.
There was a man dressed up as a Friar
Walking in a zigzag pattern across the street,
And a woman with no teeth was trying to fix her hair
In the rearview mirror of a parked car.
Somebody was yelling at somebody about a pencil being stolen.
And that somebody yelled back, very loudly,
“Nobody be tellin' me what to do 'cept my boss at my job!
And I ain’t even got no job!”
Trash trucks were idling for hours making all kinds of noise,
Digesting garbage and masticating things with metal teeth.
People were shooting up under streetlights.
Never saw a cop car go by.
A naked man did run by quite a few times
Wearing only a pair of high-top Converse sneakers,
And screaming, “San Francisco you will burn MOTHERFUCKER!”
A rooster was crowing from the corner at Leavenworth.
I fell asleep to the sound of a fire engine’s siren,
And woke up to a television crashing on the pavement
From a window somewhere up above,
Falling from Heaven maybe,
Like Lucifer.
Only it didn’t end up in hell,
It just got smashed to hell
And exploded there on the sidewalk,
While scavengers tried to salvage its pieces to sell as scrap
On that same sidewalk the next day.
But my building didn’t burn down,
And the guy next door hadn’t murdered his wife
I remember thinking how good a thing it was
To be alive.

Monday, October 27, 2008

CURRENT EVENTS (an ongoing series)

a- Anything about your micturition?
b- I wish I had better aim.
a- Oh. Yes. I see.
b- Does that help?
a- Very much. Is your hair growing thin? Would you dare to eat a peach?
b- Not at this very moment. Not at this particular moment.
a- Good. Now that is taken care of. So, this is better than rubber buggy bumpers, of course.
b- Of course. Don’t think I’ll repeat that. No. Not in mixed company.
a- Is this a poem?
b- No. Never. Nothing like that.
a- Good. I hate poems.
b- Who doesn’t? They stink. Yes, I truly believe that they are rotten. A bunch of bull.
a- Petering out I am. I walk past an old beat-up station wagon. A good old early 1970s model with fake-wood paneling and peeling verdigris paint. It is stuffed full to the gills with cardboard boxes. Some are broken down and flattened out and stuffed inside of other boxes. Some are filled with stuff. All kinds of stuff. I am prettier today than I was twelve weeks ago.
b- We get born at such odd times, don’t you think?
a- Yes, but we also get tired and angry and annoyed and hungry. Timing is everything, I do believe.
b- As do I. On this we do concur. Oh, and I also get grumpy sometimes. Sometimes I don’t.
a- That is just as well. Just the same. A small thing, really. A good thing? No. Not such a good thing, is it?
b- I’m okay with it. When the rivers are swelled with the wine of youth we go running stark naked, streaking that is, through the pastures of Heaven with boundless joy. Something like that. Yes. I am certain of it.
a- Let us try a synecdoche, if you please.
b-Could I make you a list?
a- Yes, but I only want you to include the number 8 and 9 items on the list in your response. Is that understood?
b- ‘Tis. Quite. I can only think of seven right now.
a- The other two will come. And they will be the only ideas that matter. Use your head. The first seven are the generic random ones that everyone thinks of. The last two will show your originality, if you have any.
b- I do not think that I do.
a- We will see. And no metonymies please.
b- I will attempt to do so, for a man must test his mettle. He must show his temerity and not be jejune and cowardly in his actions or he will falter, and will never kill himself with climbing to reach the stars.
a- Yes, there are benefits and bored buffalo and detrimental things too that come with the purchase.
b- Now, that price you quoted me earlier. When I asked how much these things ran…
a- And I said that they would run quite a ways if you didn’t catch them.
b- Yes, that was very humorous indeed. But, all joking aside, that price was…?
a- Eight hundred billion buckskins and zilch on the centavos.
b- An estimate?
a- An exact figure.
b- What’s the catch? I mean, excuse me but it sounds a bit on the too-good-to-be-true side there, if you catch my drift, buster.
a- Keaton? Poindexter? Brown? Or could it be that you do not think I am as affluent as I present myself?
b- All possibilities are endless. Do you feel like singing?
a- Yes! Let us try this. Moon River, wider than a mile, I’m crossing you in style, some day.
b- You dream maker, you heart breaker, wherever you’re going I’m going your way, two drifters off to see the world, there’s such a lot of world to see.
a- We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ round the bend.
b- My huckleberry friend, Moon River, and me.
a- Now. That sure was enjoyable. We can enjoy these things still.
b- Do you still drink water?
a- Do you mean when I am parched or just any old god damn time?
b- When the tap’s running with hot-water dreams and ghosts flit through the shadows of this dead movie set.
a- Oh. Then my answer would be no. I drink only limeade and cherry brandy.
b- We’re just two fellas having a conversation, that’s all.
a- That is all.
b- Sometimes when I close my eyes I see entoptic floaters. Sometimes, like say on a pluvial afternoon of washing dishes and taking out the trash and bending over to look at the dust bunnies between the crack made by the side of my refrigerator and the molding on the bottom of the wall, I cry.
a- My fingernails grow too fast. It seems I’m cutting them every other day.
b- Isn’t it strange to think of yourself as a skeleton covered with all of these muscles, and fat, and skin, and hair. And the only reason you are alive is because some bacteria find you useful.
a- My thoughts unburdened of care sluice through my head in a tidal wave of useless patter.
b- I wish I could play the harp.
a- They are speaking and the things they are saying are enormously important. Their voices are more than susurrations, more than billy clubs and boxing gloves, and they carry on the wind as if amplified from bulldozer-sized speakers. I have never owned a pet, but I once played the violin.
b- I don’t have jumper cables or pencils or a frock coat.
a- Things are never simple. Complications arise. Changes come. People never turn into fruit flies.
b- Stop grousing. We are not that far gone into anomie yet. Hope is something that still can spring now and again, though it would make a pretty pathetic campaign slogan.
a- I cannot tell if I am becoming neophobic or cainophobic, or if I am just existing, inside of my inner distance, in a horror vacui of somebody else’s imagining. That is all that is relevant to the current situation. Religion is the only campaign slogan.
b- Fear is its own slogan. It wears a balaclava of intimidation and, unmitigated, it horsewhips your sense of purpose. I am no longer eating raw pancake batter.
a- I do believe that complacency is gnawing away at the herringbone stitched fabric of our meanest, most base nature. Fortitude is a lost cause. We are trapped in this fin-de-siècle. I am not hell-bent on doing or not doing anything.
b- Lawdie, lawdie, lawdie…
a- Kiss my grits.
b- If one would or could even catch a phrase like a raindrop on the tongue, or become fashionably depressed, or covertly go gray, or shuffle off, winking, o’er the deep blue sea while mermaids do or do not sing for thee, well, it might smell of bleach.
a- A crash course in living the life you want to lead: Many things including but not limited to (a) crafting a misunderstanding between what your mind says and what your mind hears itself saying, that is self deception in its most nefarious state—a usurpation of the mind’s central mechanism for making up its own sense, (b) doing what one most wants to do the most that one can, (c) singing, (d) walking around late at night thinking about black & white movies like The World’s Greatest Sinner or Proust or Chipmunk songs, (e) recording the sound of one’s voice saying strange things over and over, (f) trying not to fall off of bridges.
b- Bored people sitting alone in kitchens of despair. These are the kinds of things I see when I look out of my window. I point my finger and it shoots.
a- Hey, don’t aim it at me, you Tom-Dick-Harry son-of-a-bitch!
b- Ah. A tableau of my private hours strikes you as vicious, or shall I say bellicose, threatening maybe?
a- Strikes me? You’re off your nut!
b- I’ve just got a bad case of the old unguis incarnatus, that’s all. I need to purchase some new shoes. My clothes are becoming threadbare and I’ve got missing buttons on all of my shirts. The streets get so dark at night. I can’t seem to find a good haberdashery that will stay open late, just diners and 7-11s.
a- Tell of some other things.
b- Stop signs are octagons. Most windows are rectangles. One Way signs are irregular pentagons. The Pentagon is the headquarters of The United States Department of defense, located in Arlington County, Virginia. As a symbol of the US military, "the Pentagon" is often used metonymically to refer to the Department of Defense rather than the building itself. Stop signs are retroreflective, which means they have cat’s eye. A plane crashed into the Pentagon once. I wasn’t born then. The arrangement of windows in a building is its fenestration. If I jump out of a window that is defenestration. I am not too smart. Going the wrong way down a one-way street can be a bad idea. Any new idea is like a light bulb. Breathing is important to staying alive. In the morning when the sun is bright it is easy to see spider webs in the trees.
a- Okay, you can shut up now. That’s quite enough of that folderol. Now, let us make some sugar water and sell it to the kids as bottled energy.
b- We are so mediocre. We are stunted. We are stifled. The television talks and we listen and obey.
a- This is a good chance to be somebody. I will tell you that this here caplet, this combination of a capsule and a tablet in a chalky white teardrop shape, is, upon digestion and what we believe will be an almost one-hundred percent absorption rate by your gut, going to take away your fears and sadness and your inability to feel empathy for another human being. And, after you come to believe the truth of what I am saying, which I am almost assured that you will, a preternatural desire will pervade your inner-consciousness, and will usurp your most basic instincts for survival with an obsessive, overwhelming demand to have more and more caplets. This will all seem normal. You will pay with tiny, lesser-used parts of your soul at first, but eventually you will resort to hawking your most cherished memories for a fix. This is a good strategy to keep the shareholders happy, happy, happy.
b- I don’t sleep easy. I stare at the ceiling. There are no easy answers. Nobody cares.
a- The price of gold is stabilizing.
b- The cost of breathing is going up. The profit margins must be shrinking. I place my complete trust in corporate wealth. Once there was a way to put words down onto paper and have them mean something.
a- That’s not true. That cannot be true. I do not believe such things. I am slowly turning into an idiot.
b- That is all there is to know.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nobody's Home (An Imitation)

      Gloria was better at saying things such as, “The dichotomy of the earth,” than I was. We would drive around a lot, smoking a lot of cigarettes too. The radio was always playing. There wasn’t a whole lot to say. Back then things were simple, but also complicated too, if you know what I mean. We’d pretend that we didn’t know the names of the streets in our neighborhood, that we were lost in a strange country where nobody spoke English and all the houses were for strangers. The radio would play and we would drive around and around “discovering” things that we already knew. I never had much money. She’d pay for the gas. But gas was cheap then, only like a dollar or so a gallon, and it didn’t seem like a big deal. Nothing was very important.   
Things were just kind of stale and it always felt like I was drifting, like maybe I would just drift out of my body if I weren’t too careful. I know, that sounds strange. But that’s just the way things were.
We were both about twenty-two. That’s a pretty young age to be. We didn’t know that then of course. It just seems young to me now I guess, now that all that time has gone by between then and now. One morning you are standing there brushing your teeth, looking in the fogged-up mirror and imagining things about what the day will bring, and then you suddenly realize that nobody is going to care if you leave toothpaste stains in the sink. That’s how things go sometimes. 
If we got hungry I’d steer the car over to In-And-Out and we’d go inside and eat hamburgers and French fries and drink soda. I always got mine animal style, which meant they put all the fixings on it and their special sauce too. I never liked the fries that much. She would eat most of what we got, and she’d always dump a bunch of those salt packets on them. We’d drive home afterwards, or sometimes I’d park the car by the train tracks and we’d smoke cigarettes and watch the trains go by.
When we slept it was out of sheer exhaustion, that tired feeling that you can feel crawling up the back of your legs and making your head go soft and numb. There was never much to argue about. We’d just crawl through the days, kind of stunned and dopey, filling up empty space I guess. I’d cut my fingernails or drink ice tea or turn the pages of a fashion magazine or work on my card tricks while she read out loud from all these books we had all over the floor. They had a lot of dust on them, and she’d have to take a rag and wipe them down before she started in. We didn’t own a TV or have a pet. The days just went by.
There was a man at the door one day. I heard him knocking while I was lying on the couch eating crackers. I didn’t have a job and just spent most of my days lying around like that, listening to things, trying to hide away from the world. I kept the shades closed and tiptoed around in my socks.
Gloria had a job working at a hospital. She was a nurse. It kept her busy while I was doing my lounging.
I tried to wait the knocking out, but it kept right on. Just these tiny fast raps, and then nothing, and then more of the rapping. It went on for quite some time. Finally, I decided to get up and see what all the noise was about. I crawled slowly towards the door, trying to keep my body below where the person at the door might be able to see in through the window that was in the top of the door. The floor was really dirty and a lot of dust got all over my hands and pants. I smelled burnt coffee coming from the kitchen. I hate the smell of burnt coffee. It was hard to concentrate on what I was doing with all of that dust all over me and that stale, sour coffee smell in there too. But I kept on.
I saw a daddy-long-legs go by on the floor. It wasn’t interested in me. The way it walked reminded me of a guy on stilts, or some kind of noiseless dance, a way to move that seemed natural and unaffected. Without much effort it went on up the wall, and I stopped paying any attention to it.
The knocking kept happening. A bunch of mail was on the floor there by the door. The mailman just slipped it through the slot in the door. We didn’t have a mailbox. It was an election year and there were a lot of flyers telling me to vote this way or that on certain things that I had no idea about. A lot of smiling faces with very white teeth, their arms around small children who were smiling too. It made me feel depressed to see all of that mail there. I’m not sure why.
I stopped crawling and just stayed hunched over there on all fours like that. My knees were starting to hurt, but I tried to ignore that and stayed very still. I remember trying to convince myself that I was in a war and was deep in enemy territory, and that if I moved or made any noise somebody might shoot me. I didn’t want to be shot. The knocking stopped for a bit.
All kinds of crumbs and other stuff were on the floor. A lot of those square plastic tags that keep the ends of bread bags tied up. I picked one up and looked at it. It had “$4.19, OCT.12, P 27422” stamped on it in ink. The ends were sharp. I put it in my pocket. The knocking had stopped by then.
I went down on my stomach and inched my way towards the door. When I got there I slowly rose, holding onto the doorknob and sliding my back up the door. I looked through the peephole when my head got high enough. Outside the world looked like a fishbowl. A man in a suit was standing on the sidewalk with his back to the house. He seemed to be looking at the house across the street. The wind was blowing some papers around out on our grass. They got caught up in a mini-cyclone and started flying around all over the place. I wanted to know what those papers said on them. For some reason I got really tired and didn’t feel like standing there anymore.
I went back to the couch and lay down on it. I decided to wait for Gloria to come home before I made any decisions. There were a few crackers left in the box I’d left there on the cushions. It felt good to just be lying there on the couch, eating those crackers, staring at the ceiling, and not thinking that much about anything.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Flu Shot Line

If there were some kind of ersatz Statue Of Liberty in the lobby of the Geary Street Kaiser Hospital waiting room, on its plaque would be engraved, at least during Flu Shot Week, “Give me your deformed, your cranky, your morose patients botched beyond all repair.” I would keep the part in Lazarus’s poem about them being wretched refuse. And maybe add something about them standing in a line that snakes all the way around the building and out into the street, where some of these expendable masses narrowly avoid becoming the latest statistic in pedestrian mortality reports. The prophylactic promise of the flu shot, though it may just be a psychosomatic panacea, has become matter-of-course each October for these hypochondriac folks, most of whom are either pushing eighty, strangely disfigured, dripping snot and saliva or other unrecognizable types of bodily fluids from every orifice, suppurating ad nauseum, and who share the same bitter, maligned facial expression of abject resignation. They come in on walkers, in wheelchairs, electric Rascal scooters, and hobbling along with canes. Crotchety, scowling, crookedly bent over, hacking up a lung, drool hanging from their dentures, they stand in these block-long lines and wait for their prized flu shot. Kaiser has a Flu Shot Clinic that they run for a two-week period every October. All it really is, is about five or six nurses armed with needles at fold-up tables. An ever-alert security guard monitors the lines, sending the next patient to the next available nurse as they are freed up. Usually there are two lines of people waiting on the half-dozen nurses giving the shots. Why there are two lines, and what is the difference between the two lines, are subjects of much conjecture and debate among those standing in the lines. Often times fights will break out between members of these lines, which are only divided by about ten feet, and the poor security guard will have to step in and separate the warring factions. In actuality, nobody really knows the reason for having two lines, but I assume it has something to do with making the wait seem shorter, as having them all stand in one line may send the thing all the way out to Ocean Beach, and Kaiser doesn’t want sand being tracked into the antiseptic environment of their hospital. So people stand and wait and curse their luck, chewing their gums and shouting at the voices in their head to shut up. A certain sanity is severely lacking in these valetudinarians. Facial tics, unsightly wounds, limbs shaking with Parkinson’s, outrageous Tourette’s-like shouts and coprolaliac jeers, random acts of selfishness, and mayhem abound. Watching the people in line is not a completely unpleasant way to spend an afternoon. In fact, it can be very entertaining, for those with a more sick sense of humor. I once saw an octogenarian woman spit right in the face of a morbidly obese man sitting atop a high-powered Rascal—fully stocked with dual front coil springs, mid-wheel drive, shocks, and power brakes. The guy glowered at her and screamed, “You will be dead by the time you reach the front of this line, you fucking whore!” while the sputum was still dripping off of one of his numerous chins. The old hag just leaned on her walker, which had cut-in-half tennis balls attached to the back legs, and gave the corpulent fellow an icy stare while contorting her haggard and bird-like features into a horrendous grimace. The fat man’s face got red and bloated, more than it normally was, with many veins throbbing and a few white boils looking as if they were about to pop, and I thought he might buy the farm right there, but the spry and fearless security guard was quickly on the scene, and diffused the situation by offering the over-sized Rascal rider a free bag of doughnut holes from the bakery next door. This security guard is a man to be admired. He has the Herculean task of keeping the warring nitwits in the line, well, in line. And, remember, he also is the one who controls the flow from the front of the lines to the nurses with the needles. This is no small job, and I think he is well underpaid for doing it. He doesn’t complain though. Mostly he just stands there signaling people and shouting, “Next!” each time a spot opens up. How he regulates both lines at once I will never understand, but he makes it work. The lines both keep moving at a pretty much constant and equal rate. It is a thing of wonder. I stand there in the hospital lobby on long autumn afternoons of dim sunlight and breezy susurrations of wind, and I watch them, the botched, the lame, the undignified afflicted, stand in those lines and wait. By the time they make it into the actual lobby they’ve already been standing in line for quite a while on the sidewalk outside. Their hair is tousled. Leaves and trash are attached to their clothing. The skin on their faces is rugged and sun-chapped. Small children, come only to keep their grandparents company, have hit puberty. People’s dogs have died. It is a long and torturous wait. It always amazes me how patient these people will be, waiting all that time in line just to get their precious flu shots. These same people who probably hit the gas through yellow-turning-red lights; who might make mad dashes, using their shopping carts like Bumper Cars, at Safeway to get to the checkout line first; who run across the street against traffic to catch a bus that is just closing its doors; who waggle their claim check in front of my face in the pharmacy, complaining that they just don’t have time to wait, “In that big old long line,” and screaming at me, “Just help me, come on, all you’ve gotta do is just grab my pills and give them to me. I cannot wait! I want to talk to your supervisor!” Most of the time they aren’t even that nice about it. All I know is that they spend a hell of a lot more time waiting in this flu-shot line than they do in the pharmacy’s line. But, for some reason, they all seem to have the time to do this absurd thing every year—to stand there in the flu-shot line through rain, sleet, and, well not snow in San Francisco, but any other kind of inclemency of weather, and they hurl much less acrimony at the nurses than they do at us pharmacy clerks. It baffles me. I don’t question such things though. I just stand there and watch them as they come in through the propped open doors of the hospital lobby: the deformed, the cranky, the morose; as they come in single file, knees buckling, faces straining and burdened, arthritic hands holding on for dear life to the bars of their walkers and canes; as they come in from the street, strabismic, looking lost and craning their necks to get a peek at what they think might be the end of the line, the place where a nurse trained in the delicate art of phlebotomy will have them pull up a shirt sleeve, wipe down a spot on their upper arm with an alcohol pad, ask them if they are allergic to eggs, and finally will give them that shot, that injection of a killed influenza virus that they believe will ward off sickness, and maybe some fear and trembling unto death too. It is not for me to say that they are wrong, that they are suffering from a delusion forced on them by a government that is only interested in making money for drug companies, that they are lonely and scared and are just looking for something to give them comfort during a period of hopelessness and uncertainty. I just stand there by the wall, eating an egg salad sandwich on my lunch break and trying to whistle, watching them come and go and come and go, this steady stream of people, all of whom are spending their time in this way, waiting, waiting, and waiting. It is a very important thing, their waiting, and it is profound in the most basic and everyday sort of way. It is something to be doing with this time that you are allotted to be alive in. Waiting. No different from me. No different at all. I stand there against the wall in the lobby of the Kaiser Permanente on Geary Street with my sandwich in my hand, and I smile.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Letter To The Editor

Dear Sirs,

After perusing your latest findings ("An Introduction" [Wonderings, September]), and I must say much intense lucubration on my part, something odd has come to my attention. Though obfuscated as your article was with misconceptions and deconstructivist folderol and hokey shenanigans of razzmatazz and questionable merit, I still stared with gawky haste, incredulously, at the page when the whole roundabout hatful of solecism ended on the inglorious note of, “Grande Geoffrey And His Bestial Micro Media Flash Dancers.” I could not help but wonder, what in the world? Is this some type of code that I am not aware of? An acronym in disguise? And also, excuse the excoriation, but nobody reads Branch anymore, and just as many acolytes of Wellmeyer exist as kids there are who still play the original silver-box Nintendo Entertainment System. Referring to their findings in any but a facetious or sardonic, if not even mordant sort of way, just seems plain silly, even to an old timer like yours truly. Next time maybe you should just use Rudyard Kipling as your scimitar to slice up these unanswerable questions into little nuggets of frass, to give one even the remotest (dare I say foggiest?) notion, or your basic bare-bones rudimentary understanding, of this thing we humans do called being alive.

Yours Truly,

Dearest YT,

Thank you for your kind words. We here at Autotelic Monthly wish to congratulate you on your speculating, and though you do intuit some of the substance of our meaning in the correct portion of our piece “An Introduction” [Wonderings, September], you do not completely comprehend the exact nature of your correct surmise, i.e. that the terminus of the aforementioned work is a type of acronym (actually a backronym, though of a rather bolwderized sort, just as a book is a Box Of Organized Knowledge according the late great Mr. Burgess.) So, at this time we would like to congratulate you on your Brobdingnagian accomplishment, and also reveal to you the initialism’s exact meaning, though some erudite pedants might refer to it as an alphabetism. GGAHBMMFD. Yes, that is it. That good old mnemonic device for remembering the notes on the magical scale of imagination. Or, as many of you may be more familiar with it, “Good Grades Always Have Been Making Me Feel Good.” Thank you for your interest.

PS—Rudyard Kipling was a pussy.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


A variance in individuals, who when asked to communicate in a show/tell fashion, ergo reveal things about what it is to be the person who they are, in this resolute and at times highly articulate way, has been established with an aberration rate of less than .013 times the previously held acceptable “norm” for behavior in such individuals, i.e. those who are exhibiting these “anhedonial” or “hybrid lugubrious/ennui otiose/torpid inclined” symptoms (e.g. staring at leaves until they fall from tree branches) such as those ere thought to be classified into (of course in a streamlined all-or-nothing take-the-cake-and-eat-it-too type of way) obsessive or egoistic objectivism coteries, or also, even though never penetrating a façade of no-bullshit-warped-impression-illogical and untenable deviations from the baseline rate of change, give or take a couple decimal points worth of distraction (e.g. kids playing video games and acquiring what was years ago commonly referred to as “Nintendo Thumb” with symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to almost total immobility of the opposable digit rendering such child unfit for accomplishing even the most basic of tasks necessary for his or her survival, which of course would include properly gripping a doorknob or tying ones shoes, and also, needless to say, putting the prospect of playing said video games on hold while the child was “laid up” and nursing his or her affliction, therefore exhibiting a marked increase in attention span for this N.T. period, very similar to a shortstop going on the 15-day DL with a bum elbow and, when he does return to take some tentative B.P. realizing that he was over-swinging on changeups and is actually a better hitter when he doesn’t try to do too much and just tries to be patient, stay back, keep his front shoulder in, and make solid contact, where as the child has less to divert his or her gaze from the simple velleities of their little lives and in this NT phase the child will tend to lessen his or her “distraction rate” to a degree very semblable to the one proposed for our purposes here) there is really no evidence either way of said individuals fettered to this mindset modifying his or her actions or reactions to comply with the “mores” of the cadre whom they happened to be grouped/involved/immersed/tempered in or to. Assuming an omniferous and constant rate of change in a subject’s modality (said subject being the before mentioned “type” and also being held in thrall by the sway/aura/menace of his or her specified “others” or coevals residing in his or her same grouping) and that he or she are even slightly amenable (slight=.0001% of the lowest common known rate of change versus rigidity as defined in the Lungst-Foreman analogy where the snake is not the mouse but is, by happenstance, inside both snake and mouse at once, i.e. nobody knows what the hell to think anymore so just forge on ahead and shut the hell up about it already) there happens to be a picayune, though not always diminishing, differential in the subject’s patterns of accepting/rejecting his or her status as a human being. Now, if we take into account the Darwinian nature of this survival/fitting-in pattern displayed so across-the-board or ubiquitously by these subjects when placed into what we believe to be their proper cadre, there often times seems to be a bifurcation in their previous modes of making sense of what they ascertain to be their idea of the world, though not the typical Branch-Wellemeyer sort of splitting (presuming that this paradigm-shift-incipient, and some would say insidious, formulaic, if not fatidic, dispelling of held notions, indeed has some validity, spuriously flim-flam and debatable as it may be) that we have observed in the flippant/irate field tests w/r/t parameters 6 and 14 of their so resilient, sanguine, and unyieldingly adamantine way of conducting these experiments, though I am not here today to belittle their findings by making disparaging, uncouth, gauche, or otherwise sinister remarks about their means of attaining them, i.e. slash, burn, burn, burn, slash, burn, burn, slash, um, oh yes, burning bright in the forests of the…no, that is exactly not correct, but, well, you get my point. It is too uncomplicated to be rationally explained or expounded on with tedious palaver by the likes of me, and for all of our intents and purposes here…well, that is not for me to say. So, let’s move on then. Okay. Now, this being assumed as tacit, this bifurcation of thought process that occurs in the subjects in these very specific instances, we can now look upon a symptom as being a thing apart from the condition that engendered it. We can make up our own sense, or own innocence in a sense. We can make matter matter before we pay the mind any mind. In a more simplified way we can winkle the sickness from the shell of disease, take it out and start to comprehend it, get our hands around it, and begin to make those cooing noises so often associated with post-coital bliss or speaking motherese to an infant. It is in these things, and in these things alone, that we can place our trust for building a truer and more shining example of what it means to be a human being living in this world. This is our goal here, right folks? So, without any further ado, let’s bring out the next act. I think you are all really going to enjoy this one. Hey, I think I hear them now. That tinkling of bells, the steady hum of the dishwasher, the faint buzz of the television set. Yep. You guessed it. Here, all the way from the smoky valley of Bulloondurf nestled in the steep foothills of Brymtin Canyon, where the houses are all flanked by movie screens and the rivers flow full of gasoline and the flood lights shine all night long…Yes, they’ve come a long way to be here folks, and you know what? They are really quite charming in person, just the nicest and most polite young people I’ve never met. Really. I just can’t say enough good things about them. So, come on folks, let me here you out there. Let’s make some noise! For the first time in National Bandwidth history, live and in all their hi-def glory, I give you…Grande Geoffrey And His Bestial Micro Media Flash Dancers!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Cracker Eater (circa 1998)

Well, it just so happens that I was eating Triscuits this morning when I had what Walt Whitman would refer to as a special revelation. I was sitting there at the table and picking crackers out of the box two and three at a time, breaking them in half, and then eating them. The salty taste on my tongue was pleasant as I chewed them, and the grainy texture felt good in my mouth as they broke up in there. I started staring at the box for some reason, reading all the words on it, just to do something, just to kind of pass the time I guess. I’d just woken up and I was kind of lightheaded and still caught up a bit in sleep. Everything started coming to me in a fugue. Every new thing that came to me, or at me, kept building slightly on the last thing. I read: “BAKED WHOLE WHEAT CRACKERS” “Improved Wheat Taste!” “Not for nibblers!™” “NET WT 9½ OZ (269g)” “NABISCO®” My eyes just kept reading everything. It all seemed really important and super interesting. The top flap on the box had this little recycling symbol on it, you know, with the arrows going around in a kind of triangle in the black circle, and it said on it, “Carton made from 100% recycled paperboard.” And under that in this really tiny print it read, “Minimum 35% post-consumer content.” I had no idea what this meant, but like I said before it all seemed extremely important. I decided to make coffee. I began to wonder about how the wheat taste had been improved. The crackers didn’t taste any better than I’d remembered them tasting before, but I really couldn’t be sure. Maybe the taste had been improved. It seemed really important that I figure this out. I wanted to be very sure of this fact. I grabbed a coffee filter from a box of coffee filters sitting on my table and put the filter, which was a superior quality brown-colored filter, into the top part of the coffee maker where the filter goes. The box of filters had these words on it: “Flavor Pores,” and, “FEEL the quality…Taste the difference!” and also, “FOUR TREES are planted for every ONE used in the production of our filter paper.” I wondered about these trees. Who was planting them? What kind of trees were they? Where were they being planted? How many trees does it take to make a coffee filter? Well, I scooped the coffee grounds into the filter with a little measuring spoon that I keep in the coffee can to measure out my coffee. I closed the tray with the filter and coffee grounds inside of it, and set the glass coffee pot under there to catch the drips of hot coffee. I poured water from my water-filtration pitcher into the back compartment until it went up to the 5-cup line on the thermometer-looking measuring device on the side. After doing this I sat back down and grabbed a few more Triscuits. I noticed that on the tab that keeps the box closed after it’s been broken open for the first time it read, “To open slide finger under the flap and loosen gently,” and under that flap it read, “To close insert tab here.” I inserted the tab and the box stayed closed. I was extremely pleased by this. Turning the box around I read the side of it where the nutrition facts and ingredients were listed. I wanted to find some significance in these things. It read, “No Cholesterol” “Low Saturated Fat (Contains 5g per serving)” “Good source of Dietary Fiber.” It also said on it that one serving size was seven crackers. I wondered who had come up with the number. Why not five? Or Ten? There was some deeper meaning there. Something spiritual. I read the ingredients: “Triscuit crackers are made by a unique process from whole wheat, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt.” It seemed odd to me that there was no, “and,” in there. I felt that it should have said, “and salt.” So again I pondered things. What was so unique about this cracker making process? Were there actually people specially trained to make these crackers? Did they go to school? Did they have a license? And how the hell had they improved the whole wheat taste? It seemed a mind-boggling mystery of infinite depths and immeasurable longitudes of thought. I listened to the coffee drip and gurgle, and watched the steam rise from the coffee pot. Then I turned the box of Triscuits over and looked at the bottom. It read in really tiny black print, “This package is sold by weight, not by volume. Packed as full as practicable by modern automatic equipment, it contains the full net weight indicated. If it does not appear full when opened, it is because contents have settled during shipping and handling.” For some reason I thought of all those bags of chips I’d opened over the course of my chip-eating life, and how there would be a popping sound and sometimes only like five chips in there when you opened the bag. There was some esoteric kind of language being transmitted in all this. All these words, all of this language being used. I felt like I was deciphering some kind of code, some kind of hidden world of symbols and wonderful mysteries. Why else would the folks at Nabisco go through all the trouble of putting this stuff on the box? It didn’t make the crackers taste any better. It didn’t change my opinion of the crackers. I’ve always liked Triscuits. I probably always will. And even if they keep improving the whole wheat taste, I’ll probably continue not to notice. I started to think of all the words on all of the boxes and bottles and crates and trucks in the whole world, all of that language out there being wasted, beating against deaf ears, all of this noise and distraction going unnoticed. I started imagining this giant cartel of word smugglers going from one town to the next with their cereal boxes and their ammunition of slogans and fine print. They’d go unnoticed just like their words. People wouldn’t even see them. They’d be overlooked. And they could communicate to each other through paper products and box tops and commercial jingles. Only they would know what the words really meant. And nobody would care. They could do as they pleased. Just what would they do? Who knows? Maybe nothing. But as I was sitting there this morning it seemed like I was on the verge of some miraculous breakthrough. Like I was at the mouth of a river of endless possibility. I fell into this delirium, this foggy muddled kind of state. I read the bar code on the bottom of the box. 04422903. The coffee pot stopped making coffee, and it kind of whistled like it does when it stops making coffee. The numbers made no sense. I turned the box over and over in my hand. I read the address of Nabisco: East Hanover, NJ 07936. It said that when writing to them one should enclose the top flap with the printed code on it. My mind flashed. That was it. That was how they did it. Finally, I felt like I was on to something. It was more than just words. Maybe the words were just a distraction. It was all bar codes. What else would they have all of those numbers for? They were communicating with box tops and cardboard flaps and numbers. But who was doing all of this communicating? Then it kind of just came to me. We all were. All of us who bought things and sold things and felt like we owned things and lived out our lives so cut-off from each other. We had found this new way to get our messages across. It was more than numbers and words or even symbols. It was more than blips and bleeps and digital beeps. We were talking to each other, comforting each other, and sharing our lives with one another in this new and profound way: by buying things. We were all partaking, as consumers, in something larger than own tiny selves, fitting into the whole, becoming a member of society, fulfilling our duty as a proud citizen of this nation. And we had somehow invented a new way of doing all of these things, of spreading our culture, of making ourselves feel like our lives were more worthwhile. It seemed really epiphanic at the time. Something like the essence of God was around in that kitchen there. So, I got up and grabbed my coffee mug and I poured my coffee into my cup and I blew on the hot coffee as it steamed there under my nose. I stood there sipping my coffee and staring at the clock for a long time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

From 'The CIA's Lost Transcripts'

Woman enters kitchen and finds man sitting on chair facing a pot of water. Pot of water is on stove directly in front of him.
She says—What are you doing?
He says—Testing the theory that a watched pot never boils.
Woman laughs and looks at table where they usually eat and tries to pick up a napkin from a stack of napkins in a partially ripped plastic packaging. Napkins are powder blue. She ends up lifting three napkins out of stack.
She says—Why can’t I ever get just one? They always come off in bundles.
Man continues to watch pot of water on stove. He does not say anything, nor does he move at all.
Woman stands with arms crossed. She holds three napkins in her left hand.
Man lifts his right arm towards the table. He continues to look unwaveringly at pot of water on stove. His index finger points to package of Top Ramen. Top Ramen is beef flavored. His gaze is steady and unperturbed.
He says—Hand me that please.
Woman looks at package of Top Ramen lying there on table and proceeds to pick up package and then hand it to man.
He says—Thanks.
She says—That pot is never going to boil if you keep staring at it.
He says—We’ll see.
Man places package of Top Ramen on sink counter with right hand. He does not move from his seat nor does he look away from stove. He breaks apart Top Ramen noodles in unopened package with his right palm, crushing noodles into tiny pieces. Then he sets now crushed and still unopened Top Ramen package on his lap while continuing to stare straight ahead. He opens package at one end using both hands and takes out silver flavor packet. Flavor packet has red letters on it: Beef Flavor. Setting flavor packet on sink edge with right hand he creases his brows as if in deep concentration. Package of crushed noodles still remains in his lap. Package reads - Cooks in Three Minutes - on front under picture of cooked steaming noodles.
Woman sighs deeply and rolls her eyes.
She says—I got a raise today. You know that? They finally gave in.
Man continues staring ahead as if nobody has spoken to him.
Woman pushes out lower lip and frowns sullenly. She then puts on a fake smile and pretends to light up her face with happiness.
She says—That’s great honey! You really deserve that! Good going! Yipee! Let’s celebrate!
Man is unmoved by woman’s playful sarcasm.
Woman walks away.
Man looks at her go.
Pot of water starts to boil.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dhammapada Idioticus

I’m just not intelligent enough to be that profoundly depressed, to know what it is like to not be able to take this life for one more moment, to not believe that other moments will follow, other moments that may or may not be good, but, most importantly, have that chance to be good. I don’t know. I’m basically a low-skill-level idiot. I just bide my time between despair and hope. That’s about it. There’s not much to me. We are all, basically, defined by our actions, by what we do, not really by what we think. Though what we think does determine to a large extent who we are and that in turn creates what we do as people in this world, you know, this place of things that we exist in. So, yes, we are what we think, but also we are, more so then, really, what we do, right? So, as I was saying, I am not smart enough to have all these engaging viewpoints and grand thoughts about things, and I really don’t exert any effort into making myself into, well, something. But what the hell is that something? Can you really be anything but who you are? And what the hell is that? Who you are. That seems like an absurdity. I have to know that I am me all the time to exist, right? If I stop being me then I stop existing as this thing, not only the abstract notion of what it is to be this person who I am, but also the real meat-and-potatoes part of what that constitutes, what that thing is in the flesh and bone, you know? So, I am always aware, you could say even hyper-aware, of what amalgamates into this temporal cohesive structure that I call myself, or would that be meta-aware? Anyway. I know that I am me. I am very sure of that. I walk around in this body and I know whom it belongs to, who is making it function and do the things that it does. All of these myriad parts making the whole that is the person I constantly can identify, and do identify, as being me. We all have to be aware of this at all times, sensitive to this fact that we are this person who is moving through time and space in such and such a way, in a very specific type of way too, and that helps us define this sense of our selves, this entity that is separated from all else. We have a self awareness, we have to, a self consciousness about us, that is just one continuous stream of thought saying over and over, “I am this.” It is always ringing somewhere in there behind our eyes. I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not too bright. I say, “nauseous,” when I mean, “nauseated.” And I use, “further,” sometimes when I’m talking about physical distance. But mostly people don’t care about such things. They’re all too busy saying, “I am this,” over and over in their heads. I do it too. It’s okay. It’s all going to be alright. I will do these deeds, make these acts upon the world while I am in it, and that will be who I am. It doesn’t matter. Sure, I fashion myself, but I don’t claim to be wise. Just like a bunch of trash piled up on the side of the freeway could have a nice smelling flower sprouting up from it, I could rise up and do some good stuff in this wrecked and diseased world. I don’t have to talk about it though. I’ve just got to do it. Just rouse myself I guess, shake my feathers a little. It’ll be okay. Everything will work out. Don’t worry. I get sad and scared sometimes too. It’s all just part of this thing here, see? We’re all in this together. Here. See? My hand? I am this. I am this.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Forever Undone (PARTS 1.5-2)

−−Tell me some more about the bricks in those buildings downtown.
−−I think I was talking about the Mills building at some point. The shadows creeping up its yellow-buff brick walls that have all of these very intricate designs done in terra cotta. The bricks just look old, kind of ochre colored, weathered I guess you’d say. But the bottom part of the building’s façade is all white marble, I think it’s from Inyo County or something, and the entrance arch is really something. It’s very high and grand, very Romanesque, with all these Doric pillars or columns and there are also these intaglios, or maybe etchings in bas-relief all over the top of the entrance, I can’t remember exactly. I was going to have the character walk around for a while just noticing things like this. I was going to have him walk by the old Pacific Stock Exchange building, which is now an Equinox gym, and sit around on the steps for a bit, maybe have him walk down to check out the Newhall Building with its rich red brick piers, the ornate cream terra cotta decorations, the eagles in the spandrels of the top floor, that wonderful Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation designed by Mr. Lewis Hobart way back in nineteen hundred and ten that is still standing ten-stories tall on the corner of Battery and California. Maybe he would start to wonder about what had happened to all those years, all that time, all those things that had been occurring for almost a hundred years on these streets and in these same buildings, all of it gone yet at the same time still there. Maybe he’d go and sit in St. Mary’s Square and stare up at the tall buildings that seem to be hemming him in from all sides. Maybe something would happen to him while he is sitting there, or he’d go off and look up at what he believes to be Grim Reapers glowering down at him from the 23rd floor of 580 California. Or he’d remember about Muriel Castanis and her ideas about “Corporate Goddesses.” He’d wonder about the certain way the sunlight would strike the windows across the street from his house, for just a moment, at a particular time of the day, so that he’d be suddenly blinded from where he sits and watches TV, and the way the sun had, as it was going down, of stenciling an ovoid shadow on the wall with the shapes of shutters that were like the bars of a jail cell. Or about how echoes just sound different downtown, car horns, the delivery trucks making all their noise, and the deep bellow of traffic and wind and rumblings from some mysterious place down below where sewer rats got fat on the leftovers of subterranean alligators.
−−I wish you had a better memory. You seem kind of hazy on details. All this limning. It’s kind of skimpy.
−−Well, you can’t put everything in there. You’ve got to leave a bunch of stuff out. That’s really what writing is. You spend most of your time paring things down, filtering out the unnecessary, separating the chaff of experience from the grain of life. What’s left is just a tiny remnant of what reality might once have been, a tiny pebble on the sands of experience. And if you’re lucky what you are left with will be maybe one hundredth of what you wanted to be there when you started off, and that’s if you’re lucky. It’s a very low percentage game, like baseball I guess, but even lower. I was even thinking of having the character wander into the Cala Foods on Hyde. The roof is so strange. It seems like it’s really warped and caving in all over, with all of these depressions or indentions of some kind, dimplings of the concrete like craters. It seems porous, or muddy, like wet plaster or stucco or something. Is there such a thing as mudcrete? I’ve always imagined that walking on that roof would be like walking on the moon. And the giant wall of the place on the north side with all of those rectangular windows arranged on it. He was going to kind of go into a trance staring at the those windows in that giant wall on the north side.
−−Oh yeah. All those rectangles lined up like some kind of, I don’t know, checkerboard?
−−No. But yes. Those windows. They kind of remind me of a bad piece of modern art you’d find on the walls of a dental office or something. You can see these rectangular pieces of the houses and buildings across the street through them. It’s like somebody’s been putting together a puzzle that is a photograph of the buildings over there when it’s done, but they’ve only been able to put together these rectangular parts and the rest is just the white of the wall. Does that make any sense?
−−No. Not at all. I just don’t get what you are trying to do with these diversions. Do you expect the reader to follow all of this nonsense? Who the hell is Muriel Castanis?
−−I’m not really sure. I guess it’s just something to pass the time.
−−I’d rather pass my time getting dragged through the street tied to the back of a speeding car by a chain.
−−If you had your druthers.
−−I’d rather.
−−You’d rather. D’rather. Druther. Get it?
−−Yeah. I don’t either. I think it has something to do with Bret Harte or something.
−−What the fuck are you talking about?
−−Nothing. Nobody cares.
−−You’re right about that.
−−So this character was going to go into this trance, start contemplating things, thinking some really odd thoughts. E.B. White type of stuff.
−−He wrote about a tree once. Which tree was it from the corner? The third?
−−No. The second. Anyway. He’s standing there in the vegetable section, you know with all of the tropical storm sounds going off and the mist coming down, and he’s starting to think about things like who invented the doorknob? Where do the pigeons sleep at night? What do lice sound like when they eat? When am I going to die? Do streetlights look like alien eyes at night or iridescent pearls on the long necks of headless swans? Where do all of my dreams go when I’m awake? Is the butterfly effect lepidopterous? What’s the greatest pop song ever written?
−−Okay so he’s thinking about all of these odd things, asking all of these stupid pointless questions. So what? Sorry for all the caviling, but I still don’t get what’s so great about all of this. It seems so unexceptional. So mundane.
−−It is. I guess that’s part of the point. Something for the botched and bored, the expendable masses, the grocery clerks and the janitors and the delivery boys and bellhops and the garbage men, the people who sew buttons all day and repair fire hydrants. Nobody wants to be reduced to a chemical reaction or a system of random particles, a hodgepodge of events happening for no discernible reason. Life is various and endless in all of its so-called jewel boxes. We all want to be real, to be something more than just ourselves, more than this person that other people see as being us, this fleshy thing that goes around wearing our name like an epaulette. I play along with other people’s assumptions about who I am, pretending to be this thing that they see and talk to, and in turn I expect them to feel a certain way about me, this “me” that is really just this thing I create, this social construction that I try to give these attributes to, this fake “personality”, this unreal person that I control like a puppet, though not in an unattached way, for I am an acting player in this game too, and sometimes it is hard to tell where my papier-mâché souled self begins and the reality of being me ends. People only see what I try to make them see about me. I am what I’d most like to pretend to be. I lose my self in the creation of this false self, and in doing so I somehow find a new self, a part to play that is the real “me” at the same time that it is nothing but emptiness. So I end up spending time cultivating this idea of being me, this image I create and that I imagine to be me, that is and is not me at the same time.
−−I am what I am.
−−What does that consist of? Money in your bank account. A nine-digit number. A job that defines what you are, that is what you do. You are what you do, right? Or are you more than just that? Let’s see. I think there was something I wanted to say about Alexander Pope. Something about how hope springs eternal because we are never blessed, but are always going to be one day. A soul must be more than the sum of its parts.
−−Words, words, words. Heaven. Earth. Philosophy. A world of words making a world of things.
−−It gets to be too much. I have all of these things that I keep on the inside because there is no place for them out in the world of things. So I dwell in squalor, live in isolation, collect junk mail, and keep making up this person whom I wish I could be. I was going to somehow use this poem by Cavafy in the story. It’s called As Much As You Can.
−−Oh great. A fucking recitation from memory. This should be fun.
−−Fuck you. This is important. It goes, “And if you cannot make your life as you want it, at least try this as much as you can: do not disgrace it in the crowding contact with the world, in the many movements and all the talk. Do not disgrace it by taking it, dragging it around often and exposing it to the daily folly of relationships and associations, till it becomes like an alien burdensome life.”
−−So, let’s say you just stay in your room. Sit around like Pascal and stare at walls waiting for your afflatus to come and galvanize your imagination. Stop taking yourself out and schlepping all over and exposing yourself to the world or whatever the fuck you call it. Is that really living? Is that what you want to do with the time of your life—this short thing we do while were alive? Fuck that. There is no being healthy and happy and kind and all of that Saroyanian shit you are always going on about if you’re just locked up in your dingy little room all the time. Hiding away from the world is no solution. You’ve got to go out into that D. Thomas night and burn burn burn and all of that shit, right? Just like your man Ehrmann says, with all of its drudgery and shams and broken dreams, it is still a pretty fucking beautiful world to live in.
−−I don’t necessarily agree with that. This lust for life, this joie de vivre, this hedonistic I-wanna-rock’n’roll-all-night-and-party-every-day attitude, it’s all just a front, a diversion, a compensatory gesture to ward off the demons lurking under the bed and writing their names on your back in the dark. There’s nothing golden about suffering. For the most part it isn’t even bronze.
−−Hey. I know that last part. What is that?
−−Just my faulty anamnesis. It’s a paraphrasing of something from Somewhere Else Rather Than Here Is Where The Horses Chase Rain. It’s from a poem called “The Eyes Of Pistol Pete” about the old basketball player Pete Maravich.
−−Now you’re getting all mythopoeic and self-referential. I can’t take this anymore. I can’t exist inside of your imaginary world anymore. You’ve got to let me out. Let’s at least go back to talking about buildings again.
−−You know the name Timothy Pflueger? He’s the guy that built the Castro Theatre and the Paramount in Oakland, among many other gems of the thirties and forties like 450 Sutter and the white terra-cotta-clad tower that is the Pacific Telephone Building at 140 New Montgomery.
−−Sure, he built the YMCA building down by the Civic Center, right?
−−Yeah. He’s one of the great architects in San Francisco history. A. A. Cantin actually did a lot of the designs for the Pacific Telephone Building, but he worked closely with Pflueger and his company. Sometimes I go down to New Montgomery and sit on a bench across the street from that building and just stare at it for hours, taking in all the street sounds and people walking by not noticing things. I just feel like there is all of this beauty all around and people just choose not to notice it. Nobody ever looks up, and if they did I feel like it would significantly impact their lives, bring about a real change in the way they see things and the way they feel things too.
−−Hold on. So what? Big deal. People don’t notice things. You can’t notice everything. Distractions are everywhere, and you’ve only got so much time to just go around staring at things. And even if you do notice something, and you are able to somehow appreciate the beauty of it, which is probably a-whole-nother problem, what the hell are you going to do with that? Where can you put that in the suitcase of your life experience? You see something and you enjoy it in some way and then it is over and you move on. I don’t really see what it matters. To-morrows will still keep coming and flushing out the yesterdays and pushing them farther and farther away into the dustbin of your past. What’s it going to matter if you were plodding along down the street one day and happened to notice the old sooty verdigris opaque windows in the archway of an old building? Where are you going to put that? Where does it go? You just can’t do anything with it. You might as well just keep staring at your shoes.
−−I don’t know. You’re probably right. For some reason I just find these things extremely important. Maybe I’m just overcompensating for other things that are lacking in my life. Anyway, so I go down there on New Montgomery and they have these nice benches attached to the building across the street in front of these plate glass windows. Sometimes I think all I’m really looking for in life is just a good place to sit. And so I just sit there and lean my head back against the glass and stare up at that old Pacific Telephone Building that still has BELL carved into the floral decal molding over the entrance. The building is closed now. I don’t know what’s going on with it. There are a few tattered curtains in some of the windows still and there is a handwritten sign taped up on the front door that says the building is closed. I think it’s going to be turned into a five-star luxury hotel or something. At least it’ll be preserved.
−−No wrecking ball for now. What else do you do for fun?
−−Sometimes, like say on a Wednesday afternoon when the weather is agreeable and I feel hearty and hale and like walking around, I’ll just go around aimlessly ambling all over the city, running my hands through my hair and pulling it up in the front like Stan Laurel, just basically trying not to let the way the wind is blowing affect my mood. Maybe I’ll get a song stuck in my head like some guy in a Saroyan story, you know, whistling The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze and all that, or I’ll pretend I’m Philip Marlow out snooping around and looking for a lead. It’s not a completely uninteresting way to make time pass. Sitting on benches and smoking cigarettes is also a good show. I love watching smokestacks puffing up gray clouds behind brick buildings, and those silver cylindrical ventilation tubes that run up the sides of buildings, and the few remaining water towers all rusted and smashed and lonely on top of old tenements. Just stuff like that. Ordinary things. Things everybody does.