Wednesday, February 29, 2012

decalogue in blue

Judas Iscariot: It’s like, why don’t you go mix your concrete somewhere else, you know?

John Wilkes Booth: Sure it is.

Judas Iscariot: Noise. Hubbub. The soft white tails of tugboats on the bay. Flags rippled by wind’s bratty fingers.

John Wilkes Booth: Also, you could note the surroundings with pencil. Sketches, adumbrations, like wholesale buttons punched out of toile. Does this help?

Judas Iscariot: I’m getting a burrowing sensation in my nasal cavities. Somebody out there is blasting Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good from their convertible. It’s nearly lovely.

John Wilkes Booth: In The City is better. If you wanna give me my druthers.

Judas Iscariot: It’s survival in the city when you live from day to day.

John Wilkes Booth: Yep.

Judas Iscariot: In The City.

John Wilkes Booth: In The City.

Judas Iscariot: Hammering, the screech of high-powered saws, and the lonely nightmare of prettiness all for naught.

John Wilkes Booth: Beauty?

Judas Iscariot: Nah. Just a flash, a fad, a here-then-gone mode, a part-time thing.

John Wilkes Booth: A paper ring.

Judas Iscariot: A guy calls offering me home insurance two or three times a day. I don’t own a home.

John Wilkes Booth: You live wherever it is that you are. Home’s just a lack of creativity.

Judas Iscariot: Bullshit.

John Wilkes Booth: Sure. But who cares?

Judas Iscariot: Not me. Not in The City.

John Wilkes Booth: Great Lucifer! Zounds! Holy Holy!

Judas Iscariot: Yep. Boom my badda. Badda my bing.

John Wilkes Booth: Cartwheels! The doves are turning cartwheels in the sky.

Judas Iscariot: Those are KFC wrappers, dude.

John Wilkes Booth: More concrete! Less grass! More bricks! No more trees!

Judas Iscariot: In The City.

John Wilkes Booth: Yep. In The City.

Judas Iscariot: Bananas ripen quicker than your wit.

John Wilkes Booth: I’m at a loss for gestures.

Judas Iscariot: The mash and moan of hydraulic brakes.

John Wilkes Booth: Erring on the side of error.

Judas Iscariot: My past’s so bright I gotta wear shades.

John Wilkes Booth: Zoo animals have got a better chance at freedom than a couple duds like us.

Judas Iscariot: Duds?

John Wilkes Booth: Yeah. All smoke with no fire. Faulty organs of perception built of dream logic and temperamental delusions. Unmotivated rage.

Judas Iscariot: Bullshit factories. We smote wildly at thick air way back when we still could pass as bored teenagers in love. I’m not dancing here tonight. I’m not dancing.

John Wilkes Booth: Walk it off. Take a chill pill. Register as an undrafted free agent when the mangy mutts of war come knocking. Dine on a yacht.

Judas Iscariot: I walk these streets. I walk into terrible basement rooms. I keep my nose above sea level.

John Wilkes Booth: Take me to the zoo, she said, take me to the zoo.

Judas Iscariot: Right.

John Wilkes Booth: Like that. We take brain-dead chances with beach sand between our toes. Like all of this interesting passing of time, like being famous for a minute, like rescuing love from the barroom floor. We’ve been feasting on peanuts for too long. Give me a leg of lamb. Let’s set the controls for martini weather.

Judas Iscariot: You’ve got a plug to put in there for the sweat of relief that comes after vomiting up your inhibitions.

John Wilkes Booth: I’ll get to it. Carefully planning these things swipes the gold from the hills, those there hills, over yonder, the ones you’ve been dreaming of, or perhaps dreading.

Judas Iscariot: That’s enough. I’m getting behind myself.

John Wilkes Booth: Soup’s down. There. Did that take care of that?

Judas Iscariot: This?

John Wilkes Booth: Petty. I’m at a gain for silence, here, and you go on about this and that.

Judas Iscariot: Don’t you worry. I get tired just like everybody else. I get so tired. I get so…

John Wilkes Booth: Mouthing, “Hi,” to old buddies. No noise is good noise.

Judas Iscariot: Exactly.

John Wilkes Booth: First times squared by disaster. A portico for a squid to fly through. Ticked off minutes you’ll always get back if you keep your voice up about it.

Judas Iscariot: Elvis is the bigger God. Anyway, I’m folding. There’s too much ineptness out there to contend with. It’s like betting your life against a giant swath of argumentum ad ignorantiam.

John Wilkes Booth: Swanky. Rustic. Out of touch with the marginal mind. We who sit and watch billboards grow mold. My eyes have gone on seeing way past their expiration date.

Judas Iscariot: Saffron bubbling up through busted sewer lines in the way we go about our business. Tell me about yourself in the second person.

John Wilkes Booth: He or she is mindful of how his or her actions affect the lives of others. He/she is not a copycat.

Judas Iscariot: Slashing is quite hip, isn’t it? Keep it up. Let’s leave no cliché unturned.

John Wilkes Booth: Me/you is/are going to breakfast/dinner at/in a/the cannibal/vegan club/fortress this/that evening/mid-afternoon.

Judas Iscariot: Okay. Stop. I’m bored.

John Wilkes Booth: Figures. These trite à la modes tend not to last in the de rigueur of a constantly fast-forwarded time present.

Judas Iscariot: Fuck my life.

John Wilkes Booth: Yep. Just like that. See? It’s all a marvel of circumstantial b.s. fluttering through the grates of our senses, of our conceptions of who we are at this dabbed finger of a confectioner’s latest and flimsiest treat in the whole mixing bowl of our thoughts and fears and lies to ourselves about what’s to come, and, also, what’s now occurring.

Judas Iscariot: The miniseries of my nightmares marches on. I keep telling myself, “Okay, just wait a little longer, just a smidgen more, and then I’ll start really living my life the way I want.” As if there’s some payoff just around the bend if I keep diligently chiseling away at these boulders that I can’t muster the Sisyphean gumption to roll uphill anymore.

John Wilkes Booth: The clanky rustle of sheet-metal dreams being hoisted up farther than imagination will allow. A small part of me is willing to join the fray, as long as it’s an idyllic one, something that’s a bit easy to believe-- but just a bit.

Judas Iscariot: Close off the borders. Shut down the factories. Make shoulder pads for the bereaved, swallow-it-whole, recently insane out of misguided sympathy and neon yarn. I will not be just another Red Vine in a heat-lamp-melted pack of Red Vines.

John Wilkes Booth: A crises of disbelief. A suspension of nonjudgmental attitudes in the face of a preemptive doomsday.

Judas Iscariot: Ze Plane! Ze Plane!

John Wilkes Booth: Precisely.

Judas Iscariot: The mechanical girl plays supply’s demanding guitar, and this morning a lot of sun hurts almost everyone. Spun backwards, busted, made lithe with contrived strokes of too-easily won harmony. I am a machine-made machine. My brain is worsted, almost gangrene in the clutches of over-stimulation’s dull lull.

John Wilkes Booth: Tightrope walkers of the wavy green line make way for the mundane variety of a life lived sitting in a car parked in front of a fire hydrant.

Judas Iscariot: Loosely based on real-life almost-true events.

John Wilkes Booth: I went to the vicar, and the vicar told me, “Son, you are not the picture of sickness.”

Judas Iscariot: A funeral procession passes, all the cars’ headlights dim in the daytime, and motorcycle cops are blocking off the streets for it, and I’m left here pinching myself, testing the wind’s flavor with a spit-wet finger, and attempting to recall the great catch phrases of 80s TV sitcoms. “Whachu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” “Norm!” “Whad’a ya think’s in the burger?” “I love it when a plan comes together.” “Na-nu, Na-nu.” “I kill me.” “Don’t be ree-dick-you-less.”

John Wilkes Booth: Cravings come and cravings go, dude.

Judas Iscariot: Being myself is getting to be a bit difficult. Perhaps I’ll stage a mugging, use my wits to get by, and coach a 2nd grade soccer team. I will go by the name of Nikoli Shafter and wear purple corduroys with yellow sweatervests. People will be delighted by my presence.

John Wilkes Booth: Shacking up with the Holy Ghost, I see. Well, there’s plenty of dabbling still to be done. Try comminuting the shards of your broken sorrow into a fine powder of hope. Maybe see what you don’t want to see, your own faults, the lost perspective of shinier times.

Judas Iscariot: There you go, vindictive stink and all, prating on about dissatisfied pluck you used to be so used to owning. I bet you’re operating on touch-and-go mechanics. I bet you’re fiscally unaware. I bet you have peony petals littering all of your so-called roads less taken. I bet you’re not often lost in thought.

John Wilkes Booth: Bragging gets you somewhere, I guess. Not sure where though.

Judas Iscariot: The tact of a prescription pain pill, you’ve got.

John Wilkes Booth: Wait. Listen! The rain’s tapping out a few secrets in the Morse code of cloud-riddled skies about that special gray sheen that smooths slick overhead. Flat bottoms. Fluffy tops. I am growling all about it in the colors and fuzz of moss on tree branches. Hear it? My cordovan overshoes slop through it. My heroes dye their wool badges of honor with beet juice and vinegar. Should I protest laughter in the face of brave octopi? Does that quite do it for you?

Judas Iscariot: It’s like, well, sort of like if Jimmy Dorsey’s Tangerine moves you, well, I give it 33 stars out of 47. Not bad, but not quite good either.

John Wilkes Booth: The bourgeois believes she’s a…blah, blah, blah. Close the door so I can leave. Close the door. There. That tears it.

Judas Iscariot: Okay. So go about your busy playful collecting of barnacles and sewing needles and alto saxophones. I’m all gushed out of likes.

John Wilkes Booth: Crowd me in. I just burped and yawned at the same time.

Judas Iscariot: Yeah. Sometimes real life just gets in the way. You’ve got to shower, eat food on occasion, and wear clothes. There’s TV to watch and rubber bands to snap at co-workers. You’ve got to lose to win sometimes, and sometimes, well, sometimes you get rain when you want rain.

John Wilkes Booth: My babies all dress in black and blue. Versions of sunshine come and go. We are speaking on the record. We are singing for the fresh-water cretins of the shallowest manors in the pale viridian sea. The past is drifting away, out to the International Date Line of my demise. I can’t catch its drift. I am left groping for favors.

Judas Iscariot: Snap. Snip. Snap. Snip. The warbling barber is crying, “Cassandra!” in the wilderness. There’s a rankled pitch loudly punctuating the silence between his roars. Every appetite whets another.

John Wilkes Booth: Consider my grits kissed.

Judas Iscariot: Will do, pal. Will do.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

them shiny things

I got a letter addressed to Iago Smith in the mail recently. I opened it. This is what it said:
“Dear constant speaker of the phrase ‘Go forth old lad!’,
“I am not sorrow-filled. I am not struck bellyached with grief. Do not send me empty lighters, and do not send me crushed velvet smiles. I am not, I repeat, not made of thumbtacks and horsehair. Stuff me with the oil of whales; I am diffident for the most part. I am not asking, dear sir. I am tempered above a plea.
“Wish to shake it off? I dare say that Moors have tempted better than I to resuscitate war/love efforts. But who am I to be grieving over such trifles? You, my lordless, are the tree’s trunk of such matters.
“Sure, you can count battle scars until the cow’s milk's run dry, but who is to blame for the longest vowel in matters of trust? Ah, but I am not one to question the nature of truth and justice and evil doings. Sometimes we’re just born into this way of gesturing through our affairs, and we are all merely behaving for somebody else’s benefit, are we not? People betrayed still can do wonderful and original things, can they not? They must at least be capable of them, one would hope.
“I am not suspicious. And a simple smothering will not do. I am sure one can find better uses for pillows. I am blinded by Venetians. I might not be the pancake mix; but you better believe that I am the batter. I also realize that basing one’s life on another’s personal experience is not of the fashion currently.
“Now, if I were to offend you somehow, by not ‘being in touch’ as often as you would like, or by mushrooming the omelette of your pride with my hopscotch farewells, then it would be considerate to consider my condolences offered in any of these times that try men’s soles. And yes, your boot bottoms are wearing thinner than your hair, I do hear. You might recall my thaumaturgic instincts when it comes to footwear. Think of speaking before you speak of thinking, sir. The heart is a magnificent lockbox.
“Are we not cutting ourselves just to draw blood, just for show, just for the claim of, ‘I told you so.’? Well, there are a few passport photos still to take, my ill-esteemed colleague. Let us leave it at that.
“Ships miscarry the duplex of our days. Trembling leads to broadswords in the back. We who cannot swim refresh the pages of our destiny too often. Lug me around in your portmanteau. Ship the shape that I am in to all senders. There is not a waft of jellyfish in the vicinity of anything you’ve ever tried to unabashedly love.
“I am not laundry-sick. I am not purring around mad dogs. Do not worship my undoing. Please, pretend to keep a striaght face when the soldiers march through your gates. I will be upset, but not angry. Get me a motor in the back of this Honda, please. For now it is just bits of apple stuck between my teeth.
“Remember, all mothers tuck the pillow below their chin while slipping the pillowcase on. We learned this the easy way, and now? Well, now we pay the fiddler off to set our bodies in motion. Forge your willpower; it will be ceaseless and unerring. I know Permit Reply Mail all too well. Set your sights on fire; the past will not burn so easily.
“I am living through the hotel days of my life, the tortures of banishment, the caterpillar-soft gropes through webs of deceit. Make this my horoscope: He will do unto others as other have done unto him.
“Don’t you remember that I mistook harlots for walruses? And it was a bright summer day. God’s hooks, you know? That’s the crumble of all cookies. I read by flashlight now, and the streets are shiny with thieves. My cash is in your hands, though you are not what you are, for the best of worst’s better. You see, I am, rudely, rude still in my verbal techniques. My will tends the vile fruit of too many concrete gardens. Let’s not squabble over stitched porch light. The Turks are drowned no more, and we who are left with dull blood only prattle out of fashion. Remember, my fair devil, do not stake your reputation, idle and false as always, on what outcomes may foolishly light sunken paths to death’s dust. See? I’ve still got a speck of that old hogwash in me.
“With the delicacy of a mocking green-eyed monster, my appetites are running their course, and the garbagemen are making their rounds, and the newsboys are all hollering, ‘Desdemona!’ on the dark corners. Don’t speak to me, my old vile dog (man’s best, you know, but never bested by or a best man of), of lust’s blood spotting sheets, or of crooners who wake jealousy from its neutral slumbers while being gondoliered across the river Lethe. Things could get downright ugly if we let them. But we don’t, do we? We make nice for the cameras; and we hold our heads lower with each passing to-morrow. Alabaster smooth swings the scythe of love, and from ledges some leap to one long last farewell. Ah. Not wisely but too well? There you might find ways for a fellow to say such stuff about death and kisses, hearts weighted with the melt of moods, and lonely pearls worth more than all your days swindled away to poor shores of a fate never counted on but always outliving both honor and honesty.
“I wish to be spared, if hunger’s blindness could spare the wisdom of apples, though to you it is no matter of distinction to be hurried off, to be rushed to the gallows before there is even a small chance to sing. My song was not cherished by crows. You see, I shine less and less all the time in this pile of rubbish I find myself scrounging about in. To be king, there, pale in your eyes. Never. There will always be something sparkling from the treetops, something beholden to dying branches, nests of trash’s discreet plumage and the coruscating bits of safety pins and tinsel. I will find a home somewhere, almost where you’d never glance. Perhaps in the closeness of the moon’s error I will be smuggled safely through the arms that once held me, and my swords shall all be bright and free of dew-inspired rust; and, then, I just might stumble upon the mouth of a graveyard, blue-eyed and worry-free, ready as never to rediscover what was never mine to begin with.
“Take a tad of care, you who are fortune’s most unfortunate fellow.

“Yours with close to utmost sincerity,

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

down for you is up

chapter 1 (in which some things about the nature of existence are explained, but not very well or thoroughly)

I wonder if Lucy’s right about the sky spraying. Something strippled up there, a busy orange, a leftover watermelon, a reconsidered clothespin. Gazing is a good guess at it. Versatility slinks off. Cool and at large, we coddle the darkest part of our deepest cloudiness. People sometimes do dangerous things with scissors. Us? We drain the grease from the frying pan, if we’re stricken by the mood.

Aerial sprayings. That’s what she says. Something metallic on the tongue. We used to draw dinosaurs. But there are no more crayons. And to top it all off, my eyebrows are going gray.

Lucy asks me in the ongoing bluntness of given-up personal space, “If you were a ewer would you pour tangerine-flavored rainwater on the lawn?”

Me? I answer when I’m able. I say things to her like, “Refrigeration is not always necessary, but it helps.” Veritable strutting. I know. Qualities that grace the lack of other controls. I am sneaking up on myself.

A raft of for-sures gathers and glowers about for a bit, and then I’m calling myself names, aspirating monosyllabic puffs of irked indignation over what’s bordering on never being mailed. Shit. That’s a roundabout of dead courage, there, peeling tinfoil hearts from cardboard smiles.

Properly sentimental, when the need be, for second-time-around miracles, and dodging through traffic on a bright Sunday afternoon when even the birds have decided to nap. Treacherous techniques of gluing come in handy when the sky promotes itself in the colors of 3 Musketeers bars. Lucy is making all her times the last. Perhaps a maybe-garden of palm trees and hula hoops. A fiasco of colored pencils and the scattered litter of scissors. We make ourselves into what we are not.

Basically, in the hospital light, we all adapt to the conditions of somnolence around us-- in the hospital light, that is; and we are flustered by the gravel of demands; and we take ourselves lightly. Glue drops on my socks. Monty Clift caught in magnolia branches. Lemonade stands for sale. The lines outside of who I am are being colored in by the dumbest of dolphins, the kinds of hunters the heart makes. Lucy is more serious than she lets on.

Vacating the promises, the ones we made on tiptoe, tongued over tinges of peppermint and cigarette ash, the moon and the Quaker’s beard, and Shemp Howard’s the even one in. We drink hot water on cold nights, shake the spiders from their webs with the nimble delicacy of a sheik on vacation, and shade yellow and green the borders of our thoughts. The art of escape eludes even the subtlest of debt collectors. The grind and whir of the garbage disposal is the background noise of the 7-days-at-a-time botany of the rushing months.

Patches of Coca-Cola tacked to vanilla-extract walls. Lucy pleads with cough syrup connoisseurs for tiny drips of sugared poison-- just enough to bring a halt to the make-believe milkman’s rounds. Growling first, Lucy tells the ceiling, “Dash and dream and dot and dash and dot, dash, dash, dear. Today will be either excellent or dog shit, dear.”

Abundance, worries Lucy, is too fashionable, and, also, life is too long to drink bad coffee. I prefer to remember these declarations if and only if I am sacheted in the bowery of my existence, or when Tuesday nights turn into Saturday afternoons, or-- also an only if-- when I am left mumbling, “Lemonade, lemonade, lemonade for sale…something like a nickel’s worth, I guess.” We need slight things, parts of parcels nobody notices, tweaked things that leak in through the limestone: a Marvin Gardens trickle of lost imagination, the pasted pained yellow stick of heartfelt need, a moon’s chin, a toothpick routine worn thinner than dental floss. For now a détente has been tongue and grooved between the yardsticks of hope and the deranged moonlight of courage. We muscle japery from capuched heads and tuck strangers in. Something around here smells like dynamite and hyacinth.

“I am not made of madness.” Lucy’s rummaging through what’s yet to happen, and then trying to remember what it was. I forget to tell her that we are all made of past and past alone makes us. “Plunder!” she screams at the clock radio. “And I am telling what’s not going to happen to everybody if you don’t just shut it!”

I feel I must respond, even though she’s as far away as electricity. Softly I susurrate, “There is an aged lady with a camelhair coat always on who stands in the street 9 feet from the curb and she makes gestures with her hands and talks to the wind and the garbage cans and she goes to the same place every day there in the street no matter what cars might be parked there and she stands and gesticulates madly at lord knows what in her Chinese sandals with her stringy hair that hasn’t seen a shower in weeks gone thin and scraggy over the pruned remains of her face while the asshole construction workers tear the morning in half with their saws and hammers and she makes motions almost like prayers while the buses tear by as she stands in the same spot there in her ripped pants and safari shirt gazing at her feet and she makes more sense to me than anybody else around.”

Lucy’s retort goes something like this: “No. This old lady? She’s milling around with her stroller and her cigarette, feeding the pigeons Ritz Cracker crumbs. Her top hat’s a halo. Her hair’s a million bucks burning up in a golden fire. Remember, there was a dime-store scent crushing everything that day we left for Mobile in the rain. Pawned our coats for gas, with only a suitcase to my name, we left just the same, without music or a lucky penny left to hold. Gregory Peck would’ve known better, or maybe Mozart, but we use what we’ve got and that’s all there is. Ask my mom, or Roosevelt, or Mae West if you’re curious. But that old lady? She’s fat in the head. I swear. And she’ll get hers one of these days, one of these days.”

The sky’s splashed with birds like tildes. Gazing gets us nowhere. We are left with bills we’ll never pay and invitations to the moon. We get songs stuck in our heads to pass the time. Velvet snails arrive in cardboard carrying cases. Federal requirements force us to divest the formalities of taking out the trash, but loquats are still considered “mailable” items as long as the proper postage is affixed to their skin. If this is a contradiction in illicit guidelines at least it is not on the level of a marshmallow placed in the tailpipe of one’s quality of existence. Locals only, you know?

Nothing good ever happens in February. The Romans knew this, and dismissed it as part of the month-less winter. Strolling doesn’t come as naturally, and Lucy fouettés around on cement trapezoid shoes while I speak in the solecisms of Homer Simpson. Wash, repair, drink diamond-flavored soda water, chuck typewriter keys at the ceiling fan. Some routines are already old before they begin. Odd jobs get us through. Me? I sing the sign I’m painting, “In the lateness of Sundays and bored afternoons, we hold ballroom dances in the basement room.” Nobody sings along or reads my sign. Lucy sneers and sells brandy-spiked lemonade to detention-bound teens. The chitchat of strangers blows the fuse of things I’ll only read about in the paper. It doesn’t matter. I’m pursuing entropy full-time.

chapter 2 (in which the highest bidder for a relatively smooth transition of narration gets slapped in the face with a magical glittery glove)

Photographs of narwhals adorn the cellar walls.

chapter 3 (in which some ugliness follows)

Such a thing as happiness eludes where we stand, here, in the much-maligned muck of Pacific Standard Time. Lucy’s skyward sway leaves living in reality up to my imagination, the only reality I can depend on, almost olive-slimy and drenched in fresh water. What makes something real to us? Lucy would say it has something to do with the tides, with face soap purchases, with handy movie recommendations, with the circus leaving town, with the products we use to make ourselves more appealing to others, with thin slices of lunch meat, with sideways stairs, with Eugene O’Neil. Reality? I’m not sure I believe in it just yet, but Lucy makes a fairly compelling argument for putting up with it in the meantime. The skew lines of her revolutionary surface are the vertices of my humanity. A pine tree digs in for shelter, niched between the jelly of coplanarity, a few scattered scalar monuments, and a sacred oath that goes something like this: “While the eagle’s dick burns for Amerigo Vespucci, I who am thought to think speedier than most cheetahs sprint, will, before, hence and after, channel the changes of tallied hope in the dreamy weather of never-collected tolls, bilge water, and the tucked crannies of characters you’d be better off not associating with. Also, I will play with fire while singing Goodnight Irene.”

Some ugliness follows. It appreciates in the dusty beam of my flashlight. I am hunting for breathable air. They sky’s tilting. Powdered sugar dusts the edges of the horizon. From here I can’t see where it is I’ll wish to never have been before. From here I’m gilded with cocoa mush and stars. Who will we be in the future’s spindle? Maybe we will all be two places at once. Kidney-bean skin, oniony breath, a mild case of hubris. We go unlucky into the sad fragmented circumstances of aluminum particulate, between the being of fragments. Lucy and I have measured the distance of our time and space together, and our measurements have been noted, though we never speak of the results. Something pretty awful good-looking follows.

chapter 4 (in which we learn of a place where nothing ever happens)

Memorizing my face in the mirror.

chapter 5

There is no chapter five.

chapter 6 (in which skyscrapers are built on landfill)

Plausibly we could imagine things differently. We could plant reproductions of ourselves in spare offices, places of repose with framed pictures of submarines lined up on the teal carpet and leaning against the wall, waiting to be hung from nails that haven’t arrived yet. Teal carpet gives the window installers headaches, so we’ll have to remove it or suffer windowless nights. Blasted carpet. I knew it was a mistake.

“The sky is the color of steel-cut oats.” Lucy’s standing on a street corner, sky gazing with her feet close together and her hands behind her back. It’s a major intersection, with a traffic light and everything. “The meal of the century, and they’re spraying it with pesticide. I give up. From here on out it’s chocolate sheet cake for breakfast for this girl.”

Eggplant seeds fall all over it all like crumbs for dead pigeons.

chapter 7 (in which an elderly caribou gets his comeuppance in the form of sling-shot Raisinets)

Bad thoughts still count.

chapter 8 (in which some rising action descends)

We have been sorely misdirected in the shelving of records, and an airplane’s thunder ships our souls off to a land of drool while we make cartoons and swing loblollied through slumber and repose. Indirect hits happen just about enough. Windup toys plug unsuspecting bridegrooms into the grid. Dancing razor-beaked birds fish for us beneath or below, wherever the shadows end up. Don’t bother me. I’m disrupting the meditating horses. So, don’t bother me about the sky.

chapter 9 (in which an ugly poem occurs, twice)

The distance we’ve covered (in and out of time) is only remarkable because (jazz-less) we’ve traveled with the gamesmanship of troublemakers. Leaving here’s messy-- like always. Cornets sound a fluttering call to unarm. I am (sort of) listening.

Lucy tells it like it could’ve been: “Missed the journey’s long end. Slumped on the pillow, choking on paint fumes, rear-ended by the past. Full of it, mostly. Gar--den! I am not a whistler. Play the apt part of the stark-raving, drop-dead humble punter who’s gone out to breakfast with the placekicker’s wife, and, for a kicker, pours much more than your average amount of maple syrup over his stack of huckleberry pancakes, if you tug the tail of this ass-pinned donkey about it. I’m over and out, through with the time-tested and the shopworn. Sure, somebody’s out detailing the specifics of temporary eternity in piña colada shades, but I’m hard-pressed to find a taker for catafalque-shaped swimming pools. Float, float, float, and my vines they are gnarled and gritty and irked and pestered and empty, gone, done, lost. Very soon it is now. See? I’m sentimental too. The rain tap dances away through Chinatown, a lulling, a how-we-used-to-be feel to it, carved out of a small place in my heart. The alleys, the civety garbage stink of it all, and the livid eyes of surly chefs smoking against soot-begrimed brick walls. It’s not the rats or the postcards or the cheap souvenirs. The air is crowded with disdain and boredom. Firecrackers are penciled in for the early evening. Don’t get me right.”

I (this one’s not the cool guy I’ve never been) get fusty and cantankerous, growing young, and splendor doesn’t always elude me. (headlights in the daytime) (be cool!) Crying’s never been so tough. Valentines from 1954, never mailed, stamped, lost in lamplight, shuffled, (stencils of loss) growling less than thunder would, (we) have notices from higher places ordering (us…) to vacate the premises, at once. Of course, nobody cares. And us? Well, we (petals gone from the rose) laugh, take a drink, unmake the bed, and save the longest walks for the way home.

Lucy’s sewing razor wire into the sky’s belly, and we putty hearts and brontosaurus bones into the lining, the hem that lights and cracks bedlam right about at the swing of things. All-at-once-but-one-at-a-time, we go forth into the moon’s trickle of salvation, and it doesn’t kill us much at all, really. I (who am pitted-avocado brave) am saving my temerity for an occasion’s special almost. Whipped strands of (cool it, now) egg white sugar the troposphere’s rim, and we (who are rhyme simple) save the blended arracacha drafts, stained boysenberry mush, and the (hogless, but wild enough) hope that we too can make less of our lost time than…

chapter 10 (a pop song, sort of)

…we are to be continued. We are luck against the silver cup. We are neon signs come crashing down. And I, who know your sound so well, get to be lightly taken in. Without a crash or whimper’s crush, we are bonded beyond the maddest of dogs. We are under read and overfed, and at times, we tend to think too much. We land without ever taking off. We are better than what we’ve got. We’ve got concrete parking blocks. And there’s the each that goes with the other, and there’s more ahead than we’ll ever get to leave behind. Grocery stores and radish leaves. Stationary-bike machines. Duck in closer. See what you’ve made out of me. When you weren’t looking, I stole all your keys. Let’s get even with odds we’ll never take. Let’s roll up our pants down by paradise lake. We are optioned. We are set down too. We are giving. We are out of the way.

chapter 11 (in which the end is nearer)

Contest # 142.

The Rules: Don’t forget your swim trunks, kiddies! I am not loafing around. It is jersey time, and we’re all going to stick a bit more than together. Lick your thumbs. Get the hair out of your eyes. All deposits of ore should be left at the counter marked “For Unconditional Use Only, Dears”. Under all circumstances you will not be forced to behave, but options of behavior that might pass as acceptable include, but is not limited to the following:

1. Leaping from the branches of a tree that resembles the famous tree in John Knowles' A Separate Peace. Though leaping into some sort of body of water is recommended, it is not vital. Please refrain, though, from shouting, “Bird dick!” or, “Eagle dick!” while in midair.

2. When the going gets tough, you find yourself becoming rashy with soul: a deep baritone of soul that scours the worries from your personality and ticks off the jelly doughnut of your bad side, and you wash your eyebrows in the ocean, and then, well, then you find other things to do.

3. Soliciting shyness from silence.

4. While treasure hunting you might be persuaded to pause and rest. This, in turn, will lead you, quite possibly though not for sure, into the realms of piecework while humming the Rolling Stones’ Dear Doctor. After doing this you will be not changed much.

5. Selling candy and bluebells to shelter workers.

6. Singing that part in Far Away Eyes that goes, “I ran twenty red lights in his honor,” while holding a kewpie doll of Charlie Watts.

7. Using sign language to tell bag ladies where the nearest restrooms are located.

8. Hanging out in the parking lots of gas stations.

9. Very often, it is known now, one can become disgusted by one’s own inner thug, and if this were to happen while sitting on the toilet seat, well, that’d be okay too.

10. Ever to ever, sweet to the touch, out the door, a sweep of green, you use your instincts for a table setting.

11. Ventriloquizing midgets.

12. Carefully construing the ways atoms can be smashed or not smashed.

13. Getting drunk on gin and pistachio juice.

That’s it. Contest time! Go!

The kids dive in. It’s neck and neck. A close call. If only somebody had water. Anybody? Dear God. There’s no water! It’s bone dry. Somebody get some water! STAT! On the triple! Those kids, they’re being mass-a-creed! Oh, well. This not going to end well. That’s the way the tattered window shades pull closed.

chapter 12 (in which she’s lost control)

“Let’s dance like Ian Curtis, up on pedestals, while riding trains, in the center of the city at night waiting, waiting, waiting for...”

Lucy squares off against the night. She’s wielding freezer-stored Fritos. Her lips are dangerous. I might get in a cab and tell the driver to drive around her in circles. I might tell her to dance-- to dance, dance, dance to the radio. I might stay put and scrub the moonlight from the TV screen.

A scatter of sunlight, and we do not know the enormity of this spot of clouds, this lingering drift of fluff and spooled thread. Our overhead is limited. I’ve lost that vocal range to eclipse properly the way we were. Perhaps the selkies around here will sing for me. But the selkies around here all look like station wagons. Under these conditions, I fair better in green sweaters.

“Deposit my sentiments in your emotional-distance account. I am burly with nays and yeas. Get back. Get back. Get back to where you’ve never once in your whole life belonged. Get back.”

I don’t do what I can’t.

Lucy proclaims in a stout whisper, “Veil me.”

That figures.

chapter 13 (in which the nearer becomes the farther)

The corner’s all help’s wanted ever after; and if we’re crooked, at least, par’s off; and the course is running. Feet step off. Body goes. Let’s party, suckers. Let’s take the dive. Feet wiggle. Balance is gone. Shields, white nights, and start like help on the way. All the crazies still care. All the crazies take the plunge. The basic cable of our appetites is going off the air.

Shoes. It’s the shoes.

Take my name and run with it. I’m your escape. There is no spoon.

“A crashing hoax?”

Lucy is timing the lulls between incidents of sky spraying.

“It’s clearer now. Scratchy, just a lack of angels, and we get bombed slowly, over and over, all the time. You can’t give up when you don’t know what it’s like to fight. It starts as a tickle. Sometimes it never gets worse. Are we being tricked? I’ve got scars whose eyes are longer than any sword. Don’t dig around too much, kid. You’ll only find out the softest way what it is you’re going to be too scared to find anyway. Fit the bill. Get me to a filling station. I’m rounded for listening use only.”

An ugly pall spreads its licorice-black tentacles through the shimmered crest of sunset’s dying fuse. Restored to disorder, a pan’s flash, gold and yellow, and life happens; and then, just as quick, it’s gone. Sewn shut. We are never seen to be believed. That is the treasure of our escape.

chapter, um, wait a sec….oh, the hell with it.

“The way you sip.”

“The curl of your hair.”

“The way you write my name.”

“All the cars around here, they all roll over and wreck. The raccoons, they all have heart attacks.”

“The sound you make when you’re asleep.”

“Nothing. Nothing much at all.”

“I used to be able to jump over trash cans and parking meters.”

“I used to be a genius.”

“We get conned into being this way, the way we end up. Did we ever have a chance?”

“No. But there’s music still. There’s still music. Cheaper than clock radios. Cheaper than egg salad. More expensive than a wedding ring.”

“I am a figment of my own imagination.”

“You don’t meet nice girls in Laundromats.”

Friday, February 3, 2012

a union card and a wedding coat

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