Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shit Could Be A Whole Lot Righter

...Really I began the day
Not with a man's wish: may this day be different,
But with the birds' wish: May this day
Be the same day, the day of my life.
--Randall Jarrell, "A Man Meets a Woman in the Street"

Domino-like, one
"maybe" followed another
until...all fell down.
--Rachel Wetzsteon, from "Among the Neutrals"

Why didn't anybody tell me this shit was over? Couldn't someone have told me that I was climbing off one dying horse and onto another?

If you saw a man heaving one word after another into a casket wouldn't you have the courtesy or curiosity to ask him what the hell he thought he was doing?

No answers required.

No one blogs anymore, apparently. Or only old people do. I'm old, but I'm not that old, and God knows I'd hate to be quaint. There's still plenty of whippersnapper in me, but not enough to know what exactly the whippersnappers are doing now that they're not blogging.

At this point, however, I don't suppose I'm likely to find out.

I'm pretty damn sure, though, that the youngsters are not sitting around with their dogs listening to Bryan Ferry. Perhaps you'll agree with me that no straight man should ever listen to Bryan Ferry unless a woman is present. But there you have it: I am listening to Bryan Ferry. There is no woman present.

It's not the way I drew it up in the playbook all those years ago, but it is what it is.

Bryan Ferry is 65 years old. He probably has a blog.

Look, I'm not expecting a telegram anymore. Hell, I no longer even expect mail. I expect something, though. It doesn't look like the world can beat that out of me. I probably couldn't claim to have great expectations anymore, but I am still --I think-- expectant.

Actually, I can't say. I can't say, and I don't know, and I'm not sure.

Maybe you exist. Maybe you're actually out there, and this is some sort of connection. I'm grateful if you do, and if you are, and if this is.

I am, I can assure you, at least happy to imagine, and it is my one fierce hope that I will remain so, even if this shit is over. Which it appears to be.

If, in fact, you're real, I imagine you are good people, and I thank you and encourage you to persist in being good people. Hold your heads up high when you walk down the street. Say hello to the neighbors. Ignore the actuary and the clicking of his abacus. Seize every opportunity to defy gravity and amortization. And please find someone to dance with, hold them close, and speak some of your very best and most sincere words directly into their ear. Don't ever lie to the one you dance with.

Finally:

May you be seen and heard.

May you be known.

And may you never, ever be destroyed.

Sweet dreams.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Upon A Time, Once

I am listening to monk impersonators, but if you put a blindfold on me I wouldn't be able to tell you I wasn't hearing the real deal. That's how tired I am and how damn good these characters are.

Listening to the monk impersonators makes me remember the time I was walking along a road somewhere with my dog and heard monks singing. Real, live monks.

There was some sort of monk habitation there, and it looked every bit the part. I also recall noticing that these particular monks kept bees. Perhaps I'm imagining the bees, but I don't think so. I'm quite certain there were bees there, or evidence of the keeping of bees.

I may even have seen a presumed monk, outfitted in one of those bee suits (the kind that look like astronaut suits from an old issue of some science fiction magazine) and waddling across a field toward what appeared to be bee towers.

This, of course, would have been while the other, unseen monks were singing. Or chanting, which may be the proper term.

It was a lovely day in late spring. The windows of the monk lodging must have been thrown open for me to be able to so clearly hear the startling sound of the singing. I recall that there wasn't another soul in sight. I also have an image of blindingly bright linens --bedsheets, I think I surmised-- swaying gently from a clothesline.

Where or when would this have been? Somewhere in Europe, I suppose, in a time when my life seemed to be comprised of nothing but just such wonders and I as yet had no reason --not a single reason in the world-- to suspect that the wonders would ever cease.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fall On Your Knees

One day soon, if someone asks me I'll say I was never here. I'll claim the last five years never happened, because they didn't. They never happened. These words don't exist, have never existed. Whatever words did exist you won't find here, no matter how hard you look.

I'm not assuming anybody's going to look hard.

If there had been that much time I'd feel something, wouldn't  I? Wouldn't I have some memory of something having happened? But I don't feel or remember anything other than things that happened way more than five years ago.

I know time is supposed to fly, but it doesn't. I'm not denying that there are indeed some things that fly, just that time isn't one of those things. So, no, I'm not one of those flight deniers. There are, though, plenty of things that I'm prepared to deny, and I don't give a rat's ass what anyone has to say about it. If I haven't seen it or can't remember it, it goes right in the 'denial' column.

I fall down. I've fallen down. That's something that I won't deny, but I'm also not prepared to admit it as any sort of proof that the last five years happened. Maybe I fall down in some other dimension. I don't know, to be honest with you, but I do know that I don't fall down in what some of you people will insist on calling the real world or "the here and now."

I'm not going to deny that hamburgers exist, because I ate one recently. Ate the living shit out of it, and almost felt some small sense of gratification simply because a hamburger isn't soup and soup is mostly what's served up in Limbo, if anything is served up at all.

I realize that by admitting to the hamburger business I'm opening the door for folks to say that the very "fact" that I recently ate the living shit out of a hamburger somehow proves that at least ten or fifteen minutes of the last five years actually happened. It doesn't prove that at all, and doesn't have a thing in the world to do with the last five years. Nothing does, because the last five years never happened. The hamburger, the soup, the occasional serving up of something --these things all take place (which isn't to say they happen) in what I call the astronaut creases, these floaty, slow motion interludes that are necessary to sustain a body that is living completely outside of time.

You notice that not a single one of these clocks is in working order? See? That's what I'm talking about. That's exactly what I'm talking about. For five years nothing has even attempted to tell time. Everything has given up. Everything has stepped away from the car and put its hands in the air. Everything is waiting. Everything has stopped and will soon be over.

I'll never have been here, and even if I had been here, I can for damn sure tell you that I wouldn't have been one of those people who thought he was here in any kind of a hotshot, make-a-difference sort of way. You can certainly try to claim otherwise, but you were never here either.

You know that phrase "here and gone"? It means something.

At any rate, happy holidays to those of you who persist in believing that you're living in some sort of precious present, even though you aren't. Please don't think I'm not sympathetic to your delusions, because I surely am.
I can remember how irresistible that whole notion can be, and those memories and flashbacks are never more acute than during the Christmas season, which before the last five years never happened I loved unconditionally. Even in the bleakest limbo there's still something about it I love and cherish.

I can, in fact, describe almost exactly what it is about Christmas that I love, and love unashamedly. I love it for all the things it can still make me feel and remember (those feelings, of course, don't in any way discount my claims that the last five years have not existed; they are feelings rooted in memories of a time before the last five years never happened). And those things are so deeply rooted that I can now say that only the last obliteration of consciousness can threaten them. They are so powerful that it is even conceivable that they will survive beyond time. In a sense, of course, they already have.

I am, in the words of some writer or another, a self-made lonely man. Yet the rituals of the season (which I still faithfully honor even in my hermitage) continue to provide pure, narcotic transport. All it takes is the warm glow of the lights on the Christmas tree and an endless loop of the holiday standards of my childhood and I can travel even further out of time than frankly seems possible, given how out of time I already am.

There's something melancholy about these experiences and memories, certainly; the feelings they inspire, it seems to me, meet an almost precise definition of "bittersweet." They hurt, these feelings, but there is happiness buried deep, deep within them, and I remain grateful to have access to such a powerful store of memories and feelings. They are probably best shared, of course, yet they are so intertwined with memories of shared moments that there is some loveliness in them even in isolation.

I was truly happy once, it occurs to me, and not just once, but on a great many occasions. I was happy and hopeful and possessed of a certainty that there were people to whom I belonged, and a place that fit any reasonable definition of home. This season played such an over-sized role in nurturing my dreams and my imagination; it inspired my love of stories and music and community and ritual. It cultivated wonder. Even now, living in the no-longer present, I am able to recognize that I was blessed to be born into a family, situation, and time that honored such things and made them possible. As a youngster it was regularly made apparent that this was a blessing, and that there were people all around me and all around the world who were not so fortunate as I was.  A proper appreciation of our blessings required that we see these people, recognize ourselves in them, and acknowledge them with at the very least the offering of compassion.

I am in limbo now, but I can still feel and remember all those old wondrous things, and can still recognize and acknowledge those less fortunate and offer what's left of my treading heart to them, and also to the old memories and rituals that once made me such a happy and dreaming boy. A boy with a present, and a future. A boy who hadn't yet fallen.

The world was better and more whole (holier?) once, I believe, before the last five years never happened, but perhaps, in truth, it is only I that was.

Monday, December 6, 2010

In His Dreams He Built The First Ladder

In his dreams, the original creator believed that putrefaction was the beginning of all life. That before there was any living thing there was rot; decomposition before there was composition; that death preceded life and made it possible.

All of his life, for as long as he could remember, he had been blessed with visions.

The first creation of the first god he created was a compost pile that covered the entire earth. From the great compost pile grew the Tree of Life, and from the seeds that fell from the Tree of Life there arose from the earth --fertilized by putrefaction-- all manner of other plant life. And from the larvae and maggots and other blind, squirming things that were born in the putrefaction there grew flies and frogs and other creeping things, as well as, eventually, flying things that would perch in the branches of the Tree of Life and eat of its seeds and fruits.

On rare occasions the head of a raven that nested in the Tree of Life would turn snow white, and from that point on any common brush or shrub on which the white-headed raven alighted would bloom with flowers as red as the blood that would one day flow in great rivers throughout the world.

The original creator believed that the souls of evil men were reborn in flies, that flies were incubators and propogators of evil. These flies were the ultimate cause of the rivers of blood that would overrun their banks and flood the planet, and each time the floods receded a new age of putrefaction would commence and lay the foundation for another cycle of life.

He knew chaos, and believed in chaos, and saw in it both a source of wonder and the origins of order and all beauty, all ugliness, all good and evil. In his dreams he built the first ladder, which allowed him to escape the worlds he created. He recognized that the end was swallowed up by the beginning, the beginning swallowed up by the end. He was androgynous. He was lonely. He was no one. He was a dreamer and a dream, a dream born in the first clouds.

He saw everything, including the first moonlit night, the death of millions of planets and stars. God was born in him, and died in him --again and again, over millennia-- and with each new birth He was a new god, wiser yet more cynical, with a new host of tricks up his sleeve.

But he --he in whom God was born-- was still lonely. In time he got lost in creation; it had gotten too vast, too teeming. He missed the first world, even as the putrefaction seemed to be once again rising around his feet.

He lived in a basement apartment, worked in a copy shop, and kept a large glass tank swarming with hide beetles. He carried plastic sacks in his pockets and would collect road kill --squirrels and rabbits, mostly-- that he would bring home for his beetles to scour right down to the bones.

When he turned sixty he sat down one afternoon and willed himself to stop dreaming, and when the dreaming ceased he was carried straightaway back to the clouds, where his soul became snow and fell all night, steadily and unnoticed, over the North Sea.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The People Who Learned To Hide

The girl who was never asked to Homecoming. Or any other dance. The girl who had never danced, period. The girl who would get up every morning and dress so carefully, anguished, long moments in front of the mirror, turning, scrutinizing, thinking: nothing she did would matter; no one, not one person, would notice her, would see her, would do anything but look right through her. The girl who never liked what she saw in the mirror. The girl who finally let a boy hold her down and fuck her, a boy who left bruises on her breasts and never spoke to her again. The girl who never learned to speak what was in her head, never learned to sort it out, to give voice to it. The girl who never raised her voice, who didn't dare. The girl who wished she could crawl into her old dollhouse and live out her days without ever moving again.

The boy who learned to hide. The boy who had his books knocked out of his arms hundreds of mornings and afternoons at the bus stop. The boy who was always picked last for teams in gym class. The boy who was always the last to undress and shower in gym class. The boy who never raised his hand. The boy who sat alone in the lunch room. The boy who loved Tarzan. The boy whose parents never gave him a baseball mitt. The boy who threw like a girl. The boy who lived in fear of the dodge ball. The boy who sat alone in his room each night filling notebooks with words or sketches nobody ever saw. The boy who looked longingly at the moon from his bedroom window and longed to live there some day. The boy who hoped to be spared. The boy who was not spared, or who was entirely spared.

The single woman mourning alone the loss of her cat. The single man who walks by the playground each day and feels a hole in his soul. The single man who is afraid of actually engaging any of the children he meets for fear of being suspect. The single men and women who stand outside the Super America at ten o'clock at night, intently scratching away at lottery tickets. The single men and women who go through the drive-through at McDonald's alone at midnight. The single men and women who drink alone. The single men and women who wish they were not single, who wish they had children, who talk to themselves or their dogs. The single men and women who believed in fairy tales. The single men and women who no longer care what they look like and no longer listen to music and no longer believe in love. The single men and women who can't think of anything to say to the people who aren't there or the people who are no longer there.

The old man who lost the love of his life and his connection to the world. The old men and women who never found success or satisfaction in their work. The old men and women who no longer dream. The old men and women who eat canned soup for dinner. The old men and women who no longer feel like taking their pills. The old men and women --and the young men and women-- who will spend Christmas alone.

The fifty-year-old man with the newspaper spread out on the floor in front of him, circling unpromising and in all likelihood hopeless job advertisements.

The stutterers, stammerers, and mutterers. The lonely and blank and broken. The angry and disenchanted. The unloved and unseen. The people for whom hope has been reduced to a persistent and almost entirely unpleasant instinct that grows more acidic by the year, yet which remains on some sad human level ineradicable. One connection, one real conversation, one person they could claim as a friend would be encouragement, if not a triumph.

They're everywhere. They feel like they are hiding. They feel like they're invisible. See them, why don't you? See them as they are, but also, if you're able, as they might once have been and --most importantly-- as they've always dreamed of being seen. Because this world is killing them, and they are killing the world, and every time we look through these people we are --all of us-- complicit in one of the greatest and most unpardonable crimes in human history.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Missed Opportunity

Offered the opportunity to be an Okapi, I declined. I didn't even have to think about it twice. The city in which I live has a zoo, and a few years ago this zoo was the staging ground for the birth of an Okapi. Everywhere you went they were talking about the impending --and eventual-- birth of that fucking Okapi as if it were some long-awaited prophet. The local newspaper had a contest to name the damned Okapi and once the thing was born you'd see photographs of the actualized Okapi on bus shelters, billboards, and taxi cabs. It was an unsightly creature. I'm guessing the zoo decided in the end not to play along with the whole newspaper contest and just sold the naming rights, because, unless I'm terribly mistaken, the Okapi was branded in the end. Honeywell, I think it was, or perhaps Outback.

At any rate, I did not want to be an Okapi. And I had zero interest in being a fish, no matter how "big and magnificent." I could have been a fish, though. That offer also was presented to me. As was the opportunity to be a bird. I'll admit that I gave the bird notion a bit more thought. I could, it was explained to me, be an exotic bird --a talking bird, even, or a bald eagle. The problem, however, was that once the offer was accepted it was not rescindable. I suspect that I would, at least for a brief time, rather enjoy flying, but wondered about the dietary aspects of the avian life, as well as things like life expectancy and predators.

I was mildly curious about the bird opportunity, is I guess what I'm saying, but ultimately not curious enough to give up being a man, even a deeply unhappy man.

Eventually the genie (I'm guessing that's what he was, even as he looked like an old man who had worked in a post office for many years and smoked too many cigarettes) extended his offer in ever wider directions; I could be a cheetah, a bear, an elephant, a chimpanzee, an otter, a pine marten, a hippopotamus, or even a rabbit (a rabbit? This was when I began to suspect that the genie was mad, although I had been presented with convincing evidence that he had turned Ray Wilson into a horse, this after Ray's wife left him for Pete Mickelson, the local State Farm agent/Lothario).

The thing was, this character, this genie, had just started showing up at my door one day, almost like one of these guys who's intent on feeding you the Book of Mormon. It was a very bad time in my life, and the genie clearly knew it, although I could never figure out how.

"Face it," he'd say, "You're no great shakes as a man. Humanity's got nothing more to offer you, and it's a two-way street in that regard. Yet you've still got all the stresses and burdens of trying to survive as a human, and it's clearly not working. You'll never be free in that human suit. This is your one chance."

I recognized the truth in much of what the man said, but the idea of being either predator or prey spooked me, and I was no big fan of the elements.

"Couldn't I be a dog?" I finally asked. "The pet of someone loving and lovely, someone with a kind pair of hands?"

"No offense," the genie said, "but you're not good enough to be a dog, and I couldn't turn you into a dog even if I wanted to. That's God's work, and strictly a posthumous option. You have to die to come back as a dog, and the selection process is rigorous to a fault. Dogs hold an exalted place in the Angel Guild. So, sorry, but in my line it's strictly hands off so far as dogs are concerned. I could, though, do a cat, but between you and me, most human-cat transformations end rather unhappily. Cats are easily bored, and tend to develop an opinion of humans that's even lower than your own."

I chose --perhaps unwisely-- to remain a man, but you will understand, surely, when I tell you that from the day that genie disappeared from my life my dreams have been about virtually nothing but flying.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Consolations Of Philosophy Are Precious Few

When you push it this far night after night you start to lose the battle with chronology. The story is what? Too many scraps and loose ends. Too many stray words.

Plodding. Bell burst. Black sky. Blue angels, kneeling. The man with an empty tower on his neck crawls across the long table and takes the flowers in his mouth. Bundle of ankle-bound bodies dangling upside down from a helicopter. Blind woman on the wall raises her chin, mumbles something about God. Not menacing: Puzzled. Pleading.

Sky, sea, land: layered like a '70s gelatin dessert. Fragments of a broken clown. Hanging man, upturned chair. Still, dark waters. Rock tumbler. Forlorn sign at the water's edge, no longer legible yet unmistakably a warning. Patch of tiny white flowers in the deep shadows of a dead oak. Rolling house, carried away on wheels with an old woman rocking a crying baby on the front porch, brown smoke billowing from the chimney. Fat man in a top hat tiptoes across an endless heap of skulls, wobbling, eagle-armed like a tightrope walker.

I can hear Chopin --or Arthur Rubinstein-- in the playing of John Lewis. I see the influence of John Singer Sargent in Francis Bacon. I believe that Maurice Sendak cribbed from Philip Guston. I could pick Steve Lacy's soprano saxophone out of a line-up. I have a radar for broken and neglected things, including people and places. I am able to communicate with animals, most keenly with dogs. I can parallel park like nobody's business and have a way with potatoes. I can go days without eating or sleeping. If you dropped me in the middle of nowhere I believe I would survive. Give me a job to do and I will do it reasonably well, or at least to the very best of my abilities. I have a high tolerance for pain. I am on occasion driven to tears by the abject posture and clear suffering of a stranger on the street. I have never had a decent photograph taken of me, which leads me to conclude that I am ugly. I am a hazard when bored. I can see in the dark, even when I do not like what I see.

I howl.

I can't tell you what you are looking for.

Now, again: the spy way the night feels, intrusive, the way it claims all sound, transmutes, muffles and swells.

Empty fountain. Bulldozer with wings. Dreaming rat in a drainpipe.

Too late: the lucid moment has dissolved.

Welcome to the Sacred Garden of the Sweet Dreamers.

Destination beyond this? Can't say. Can't see.

Waiting once again for the light to fetch me.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

You Were Always In A Hurry

Where were you going when I passed you walking on the opposite side of the street the other day? You always did have that purposeful look about you. Even as a little girl you seemed like you were in a hurry to get somewhere.

I knew how important it was to you to be on time. Even when you had no particular place to go you liked to keep a tight schedule. It was as if you feared being late for some vague assignation that was loaded with hypothetical possibility.

I suspected you liked to keep moving out of the certainty that somewhere --someplace other than wherever you found yourself at any given moment-- was something you couldn't bear to miss.

But what am I saying? I never understood what was going on in that head of yours. I certainly did find you fascinating, though; there was always something happening in and behind your lovely eyes, and there were an awful lot of nights where I laid awake trying to imagine what the hell you might be thinking. Every once in awhile I'd get a little glimpse; you'd choose to reveal something. Those moments felt like offerings to me, and I used to collect them and try to piece together a portrait of who you might really be.

Sometimes it felt like I was getting close, but then you'd give me some new fragment that didn't fit.

And you never did stop moving, which made it hard to keep you in focus.

I eventually had places to go myself, of course --no place special, really, when all was said and done. My destination was ultimately just the sort of constellation of bland compromises that constitutes most people's ultimate destination.

I can't decide if you were lucky or not, but you were one of those people for whom all would never be said and done. You'd say so yourself, and I can still hear you say it: Never, you'd say. Never, never, never.

Friday, November 12, 2010

From The Landfill: The Breaking Of Ezro

I slid unwelcome into this world,
battered by the disappointment of those
to whom I was delivered.
I clawed my way up from out of their
unhappiness and learned to believe.
I found a place to stand
and kept moving.

I had one man's words and flung
them like stones at the world.
I cried in the moonlight beside
damp fields. I was a young man,
and heard the midnight dogs of your towns
as if they were monastery bells.

You cannot imagine how lovely your world
looked from the outside, how moved
I was to hear radios playing at dusk.

My ignorance was immense. The weight
of my little life made me a bowed spectacle.
Your libraries were sanctuaries, a refuge
from the puzzle. I let myself go too far
beyond what you could make an effort to
understand. I knew I was a reminder of
something, shambling among you,
dirty because your world was clean.

You yanked your children around me
on the sidewalks, invented your own
strange versions of what you saw as my
disappearance and not my journey.
But your children never forgot me.

My message was how far I had traveled,
how far I would travel still, how easy 
it was to disappear when no one was
looking for you. My message was that a
man could so believe, that he could stumble so
long with a slim lozenge of hope dissolving
so slowly in his mouth and the truth snaking
its way slowly through his mute, plodding
heart and slithering even more slowly
toward his tangled tongue.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

After Dark

 Photos: Blind Child/Stop For Crazy Man/Police

There once was a dead man with a dog. The dead man, the dog, and the dead man's ghost all lived together in a cluttered apartment.

The dog seemed to have equal affection for both the dead man and the dead man's ghost, but the dead man and his ghost bickered constantly. They couldn't agree on anything. They argued about whose apartment they occupied, and contested the ownership of every single possession in the apartment. They disagreed over whose turn it was to exercise the dog, what music to listen to, and whether or not to watch television. The dead man would accuse the ghost of hiding a Lester Young CD or a book by Fernando Pessoa. The ghost would make petulant inquiries regarding a missing pair of sunglasses, and the dead man would wonder aloud whether it should be "pair of missing sunglasses," or even just "missing sunglasses," since a "pair of sunglasses," missing or not, seemed like a ridiculous expression.

On the whole the dead man spent a lot more time bitching and moaning, mainly because he could still feel things. What he mostly felt was pain. Pain and sorrow, although the ghost would claim that this was as ridiculous as "pair of sunglasses," since sorrow was obviously just another type of pain. The dead man would lament his inability to be more precise, or even to make sense of what he thought of as his predicament.

The ghost would at least allow that the dead man did indeed have a predicament on his hands. The law of things maintained that the dead man should have been gone; the ghost clearly had the law on his side, as well as a small and glum cohort of angels that kept coming by to check in on things and see if the dead man had been successfully evicted yet and driven into permanent exile. The dead man, stubborn for reasons he could not understand (he was reluctant, he supposed, to abandon the dog), refused to go.

Neither the ghost nor the dead man ever slept.

The ghost eventually became fed up with the whole shitty arrangement and went to live with the dead man's ex-wife in a house full of happier memories. And there, on lovely nights when the windows could be thrown open or on cold winter nights when lights glimmered on a Christmas tree, the ghost and the dead man's ex-wife would dance to the dead man's favorite records, including the Lester Young CD that the ghost had, in fact, stolen.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Isn't a Man Sad?

But when he came home there was no one to tell what he had seen --and if he picked the flowers and brought them home in his hands, there was no one to give them to. And when at evening, past the dark blue shape of a far-off island, the sun sank under the edge of the sea like a red world vanishing, the hunter saw it all, but there was no one to tell what he had seen.
--Randall Jarrell, The Animal Family 

Is anything sadder than a train
That leaves when it's supposed to,
That has only one voice,
Only one route?
There's nothing sadder.

Except perhaps a cart horse,
Shut between two shafts
And unable even to look sideways.
Its whole life is walking.

And a man? Isn't a man sad?
If he lives in solitude a long time,
If he believes time has run its course,
A man is a sad thing too.

--Primo Levi, "Monday"

A man went out to his car one night, started the ignition, inserted a Chuck Berry disc into the CD player, and drove off into the darkness in search of space. He wanted to get out from under the street lights and the general overglow of the city, out beyond the tangle of freeways and the noise of rising and falling jets.

It was an old habit of his, to just pack his bags and go off in search of the unfamiliar. He'd been running from things most of his life, and had become expert in the art of retreat. He could by this time find the dead spots all over the country without an atlas. He knew how to follow rivers and find large bodies of dark water. He could feel the darkness drawing him like a magnet, and knew that where there was darkness there would be silence and space and, eventually, light.

There would be little towns thrown down in the middle of nowhere, towns where every home and business shut up early for the night. He'd roll down his windows and any music at all --Hank Snow, the Four Tops, Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed-- would sound like the most abrasive punk rock washing out into those dark and empty streets. There were forlorn motels in such places, motels where he'd have to rouse the owner and could pull his car right up to the door of his room.

On such nights and in such places he was almost capable of believing that he could still be anyone or anything, and that was a feeling he was trying to hold onto for dear life.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fumes, The Memorious

Embracing my shoulders for an instant with his dovelike wings, the angel pronounced a single word, and in his voice I recognized all those beloved, those silenced voices. The word he spoke was so marvelous that, with a sigh, I closed my eyes and bowed my head still lower. The fragrance and the melody of the word spread through my veins, rose like a sun within my brain; the countless cavities within my consciousness caught up and repeated its lustrous edenic song. I was filled with it. Like a taut knot, it beat within my temple, its dampness trembled upon my lashes, its sweet chill fanned through my hair, and it poured heavenly warmth over my heart.

I shouted it, I reveled in its every syllable, I violently cast up my eyes, which were filled with the radiant rainbows of joyous tears....

Oh, lord, the winter dawn glows greenish in the window, and I remember not what word it was I shouted.
--Vladimir Nabokov, "The Word."

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Letter From My Old Friend Ruckert

Zellar,

The calendar rolls over. When I stumbled outside to take a piss at two o'clock this morning the first snow was falling. This, of course, is traditionally the cue to dig out a copy of my beloved Jackie Gleason Christmas album (I own several, as you know). From now until the icebergs begin to recede from the fields out back, Gleason's deliciously bleak and narcotic masterpiece will be the soundtrack to my nights.

I don't look forward to the icebergs, which I assure you are very real. I had one last year that was the size and shape of one of those buildings designed by that cultural abortionist masquerading as an architect; I forget the fellow's name, but I believe you once wasted my time by taking me to see some museum he created there in Minneapolis.

I await the night when one of these bergs (to use the parlance, I think, of the old explorers) heaves its way through my fence and obliterates the house along with me in it. At this time in my life such a fate would not be unwelcome.

At any rate, I like to think that you can imagine me here, abjectly slumped in my green chair, once again pondering Jackie Gleason's motives for creating this Trojan Horse of a Christmas album --what kind of sadist would attempt to deliver holiday cheer with a series of kidney punches and low blows? It would of course be wrong to claim that this record gives me any real comfort or --God forbid-- delight, yet it is nonetheless dear to me. The copy of the record I now have in my possession originally belonged to my father, and once upon a time he saw fit to write his name on the album cover, as if he actually feared someone was going to steal the thing.

I still remember the old man sitting down every evening after dinner --unlike me, he'd generally wait until after Thanksgiving-- to listen to Gleason on the hi-fi he had there in the living room. The lights would be turned down, and the stringers of colored bulbs on our hideously flocked Christmas tree would look like tiny Cambodian fishing boats lost as sea and laboring through an impenetrable fog. And there my father would sit, his third or fourth or fifth drink of the night sweating on the lamp stand next to his easy chair, listening to Gleason and staring --like a man being coerced to sign a confession-- at that album cover in his hands.

You've seen the cover, Zellar. I'm sure I've showed it to you. It looks like a crime scene buried under several feet of snow. There's a photo of a rural mailbox, a mailbox wrapped forlornly with a red bow. There appear to be gifts stuffed in that mailbox, but they are almost certainly gifts that will never be opened, because something terrible, something unspeakable, has occurred in that house at the end of the driveway. I'll never forget the look on my father's face as he listened to that music --which as a child I couldn't even begin to recognize as Christmas music, so thorough was Gleason's bleak deconstruction of the old carols-- and stared into that photograph, which I now like to believe allowed him to stare into the bottom of everything, to see the inevitable disappointment on his children's faces come Christmas morning, to see his own failures and disappointments, to see the endless dark winter stretching beyond the holidays, to see the passing of things, the unstoppable passing of everything, everything, everything. As he stared into that photograph it's entirely possible that he could even see his own neglected tombstone in a snow-swept cemetery.

I know what you're thinking, Zellar. You're thinking, there goes poor Ruckert again, projecting. And perhaps you're right. I seem to have powerful powers (powerful powers?) of projection these days, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

Believe it or not, I didn't write you to discuss the lethal, slow-acting poison of Jackie Gleason's Christmas album. No, I intended to thank you for sending along a copy of your hideous magazine. I thank you because I am your friend, and gratitude seems expected, however unwarranted it may be. In this case, I'm afraid, it is entirely unwarranted. I am, I suppose, happy to hear that you are employed, Zellar, but I can't imagine what you are thinking. Nor can I begin to tell you how much consternation I experienced while paging through that goddamned magazine. Time and again I found myself shaking my head and pining for the consistent stimulation provided by the Highlights magazines of my childhood.

Still, I did read the thing from cover to cover, even as I wish I had not. If nothing else the experience convinced me that my retreat to this miserable hermitage was necessary, and must never, under any circumstances, be reconsidered. Someday, if and when you ever again manage to pull yourself away from your odious duties long enough to pay a visit to your old friend Ruckert, you'll have to attempt to explain what the hell it is you people think you're up to.

I'm sure there's a great deal I don't understand, but shouldn't one really desire to leave a large carbon footprint, if only to demonstrate to the mutants of future generations that giants once walked the earth? How can I possibly believe in a green world when I live in a place that seems to have been created by a God who owned nothing but various shades of brown and gray crayons and hadn't yet learned to color within the lines? But the snow, you'll say, the snow, Ruckert, is white, to which I will answer, no, Zellar, the snow is in fact gray, and will get grayer by the day.

I can assure you that, spurred by much of the nonsense I read in your magazine, I am more determined than ever to leave a carbon footprint that would be the envy of the giants of the Old Testament, a carbon footprint that would swallow both Paul Bunyan and his fabled ox without a trace. Everything I use is plastic and disposable --utensils, plates, cups, immense jugs of caffeinated beverages-- and powered by gas, oil, and aerosol; all manner of contaminants line the shelves in my bathroom, kitchen, and basement. Recycling in this godforsaken place is the exclusive occupation of ragged penitents, hermits, and the homeless (you might, however, find it interesting that the place where this pitiful army is rewarded for its garbage is called a "redemption center").

If global warming finally succeeds in driving this snow from my doors and ridding the frozen fields around me of icebergs I would be nothing but delighted. And if somehow I could also manage to leave a giant carbon footprint as well? I'll be damned if that's not a dream worth living for. What have I wanted my entire life but to leave a lasting message to the world I'll leave behind?

And what does that message boil down to, Zellar, and with what words is it most succinctly expressed? RUCKERT WAS HERE, ZELLAR! RUCKERT WAS HERE, AND THE SON OF A BITCH LIVED LARGE!

Engrave those words on a monument, bub, and erect it at the edge of my gaping carbon footprint, where future generations of wheezing pilgrims, outfitted in hemp and organic cotton grown in underground bunkers, can pause and --anemic with envy and delirious with meat cravings-- ponder with wonder my lonely and heroic existence.

I guess this is my version of a Christmas letter, Zellar, and so I will sign off with as much holiday spirit as I can muster: Ho-ho-fucking-ho!

Ad astra per aspera!

Ruckert, in exile.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pardon My French: An Encounter With The Soup God

Late last night you were out for a walk with your faithful dog Sneaky Pierro when you ran into a guy who was so drunk he looked like he was riding a surfboard in an old Rock Hudson movie.

This was a guy, it turned out, who made a hundred fucking gallons of soup a day. And you have the nerve to ask if that's all he did? You got some fucking nerve.

All right?

Listen, shit burger, nobody makes soup like this guy. N-O-Body. There's people that drive all the way across town every single fucking day just for his tomato basil.

Don't ask him; so far as he's concerned there's nothing special about that one, but what does he know? It takes him like ten fucking minutes to put that one together. Easiest soup in the book, but the fucker's so popular he has to have it on the board every day or people have a shit fit.

He does six soups a day --five plus the tomato basil. He's the best soup guy in town, ask anybody: they'll tell you. He's the fucking soup god. He could stand right there on the sidewalk and name 100 soups, he's not shitting you. No fucking problem. You think he can't? You want to hear him name 100 fucking soups?

No, thank you. You believe the soup god. You do not want to hear him name 100 fucking soups.

If you gotta have a job, it turns out, making soup's a decent enough one. Did you ever have one of those chemistry sets when you were a little fucker? It's kind of like that. Oh, and hunting grouse? There's nothing else like it. Hunting grouse and catching bass, that's pretty much what the soup god would be doing if he wasn't making soup every fucking day.

He lives just around the corner, by the way. Just in case you didn't know that there was a soup god in the neighborhood.

People keep telling him he should open his own soup place like that guy on whatever the fuck that TV show is. But do you think he'd have any time for hunting grouse if he had his own place to run? No way, partner. The soup god will make his fucking soup, take his fucking check, and haul his ass out of there, thank you very much. If the place burns down in the middle of the night that's somebody else's fucking problem.

And then the soup god bid you good evening, curtsied to your dog, and said, "And a fine evening to you as well, my lady."

You felt foolish when you told the soup god that your dog was a "boy."

The soup god, of course, was having none of that. "No, no, no," he said, waving his hand like a drunken soup god aboard a wobbly parade float. "All dogs are ladies."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Now And Later

Right now, right this moment, you'd like nothing better than to sit staring at the splendid moon floating in a shallow cloud-saucer of milk right outside your window. There's a nice breeze, and surely memories are moving on it. You might even discover that a few of them are actually pleasant, if you could manage to shut your head down and sit still long enough to properly investigate them.

You don't have time to sit still, but you should find the time. Because you should know this: it's creeping up on you. One day in the not so distant future you'll go to sleep or fall down and you're never going to get up again.

If you're lucky, when that happens you'll end up aboard a slow boat going up some fog-swept river in light that looks like autumn dawn. It's just that there won't be any sun rising, no moon, no planet beneath your boat, no bottom to the river.

It's okay. Trust me, you'll get used to it. You'll be in a better place. Your days in front of the television will be over, but you won't even notice that. So many of the things you think you'd miss you won't even remember.

You will, though, still get little taps and touches from the place you once inhabited with so much desperation, confusion, or whatever: the feel of someone's hand touching the small of your back or brushing the hair from your forehead; a finger tracing your closed eyelids or your lips; your legs tangled up with those of another; the whisper of a familiar voice, the bark of a recognizable laugh, the sensation of your nose pressed right up against the back of a sleeping dog's ear.

Once a year, generally on a fine day in the spring, you'll be able to see clearly something or someone precious, and you'll be allowed to shed real tears for the life you left behind. It's a sort of holiday in the place you're going, and pretty much everybody learns to really look forward to it.

The rest of the time, for the most part, everything will work all right and you'll feel just fine.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Planet Of The Apes: The Return To Eden

No animals were harmed in the making of this film. All sets, props, and costumes were made of recycled materials. Everything consumed by the actors (both on and off camera) and crew was prepared using certified organic, locally-grown ingredients.

The equipment necessary for the production of this film was powered by wind and solar energy, with the exception of the motor vehicles, the majority of which consisted of the most efficient available electric or hybrid models. Unfortunately the only helicopters we could find were real helicopters, and we needed them to film the explosions.

A team of conflict resolution and anger management counselors was on set at all times to insure that no egos were bruised, feelings hurt, grudges nursed, or instances of arrogant transgression committed. The director of the film --who had a prior reputation as mercurial, erratic, and frequently abusive-- behaved at all times like a perfect professional and a gentleman.

The screenplay, though fundamentally flawed, was treated with absolute respect and fidelity to its author's every word and intention.

If money was squandered (and it was), it was squandered in exclusively virtuous ways. For example: a guild of artisans from a Vermont craft collective was flown in to create all of the costumes from recycled hemp. The dyes used to provide the vibrant (or, in the early apocalyptic sections of the film, muted) hues of these costumes were prepared using natural materials acquired while foraging in various wooded areas no more than 45 miles from the site of production.

The robots were created from scrap materials by underprivileged children at a local magnet school.

An A-list actor and Academy Award nominee was dismissed early in the production for repeatedly bringing a can of Red Bull to the set and refusing to use the composting outhouse installed behind his yurt.

Smoking was strictly prohibited.

We are proud to claim that what you are about to see is the greenest film in Hollywood history. It is our hope that in seeking to reduce the carbon footprint of what has historically been a profligate industry we are also, as individuals, reducing our collective karmic footprint.

We hope you enjoy the film.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Oral History Of The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics: Part One

Brad Zellar: I remember we were watching the Opening Ceremonies and I turned to Ralph Meers and said, "So now everybody has to come up with some version of the Flying Guy? I mean how many versions of the Flying Guy can there possibly be?" And then there were people with lights all over their bodies.

Ralph Meers: Mr. Zellar just kept saying, "Good God!" Several times I encouraged him to turn off the television.

Brad Zellar: It was painful listening to Bob Costas and his flunkies trying desperately to provide color commentary on all that monkey business. I actually felt sorry for them and kept imagining them smashing their heads with clipboards and saying a lot of things that included versions of the word "fuck" during commercial breaks for Chicken McNuggets. I actually thought I might die when they trotted out the bearded, beret-wearing "slam poet" "discovered on YouTube." I doubt that anyone will ever forget --or perhaps remember-- his rambling poetic tribute to Canada, delivered with the obligatory hand flourishes and awkward sort of Tai Chi movements. He was a beefy Canuck, so I don't think it's unfair to say that he wasn't particularly graceful.

Ralph Meers: Mr. Zellar was increasingly agitated, so I would occasionally leave the room. But then he would inevitably bellow and summon me back. He would shout things like, "Oh, my God, get in here, Meers, now there are a bunch of ragamuffins doing some sort of clog dance in logging boots!" At one point I ate a grapefruit. Mr. Zellar mentioned that he was not "a grapefruit sort of guy."

Brad Zellar: Some white guy got up there and said, "Tonight the longest domestic torch relay in human history arrives in this stadium, inspiring the kind of magic and awe that touches millions of hearts all over the world and causes dreams and imaginations to soar." Something awful like that. Then there were displays of aboriginal people in various native costumes. Then, as always, the French geezer had the final word, babbling in virtually unintelligible English, and then fucking k.d. lang sang "Hallelujah." and I wanted to throw something at her. Something heavy.

Ralph Meers: A lot of the female mogul skiers were cute as a button, and I observed that many of the speed skaters looked like eccentric old gentlemen in age-inappropriate clothing out for a brisk stroll. It also occurred to me that one didn't tend to see so many spectacular wipeouts in the summer olympics.

Brad Zellar: I'm prepared to swear that I saw a female Russian figure skater hock a big loogey while being spun around in the air by her partner, a fellow who was wearing a costume that suggested a bluebird that had been ravaged by a fighting cock.

Ralph Meers: At one point Mr. Zellar inquired, "Who the hell are these paunchy geezers, Meers?" To which I replied, "That, sir, is Rascal Flatts." "That or they?" Zellar asked. "That," I said.

Brad Zellar: It remains my opinion that the ice dancers are murderers of the Olympic spirit. There is no gulag harsh enough for them, nor for the buffoons who design their costumes and choreograph their routines. No man should have to watch a rousing game of ice hockey and then sit through a half dozen ice dancing routines.

Ralph Meers: While we were watching the snow boarders Mr. Zellar declared, "There is nothing I can do about it, Meers, I am highly suggestible." And then he dispatched me to McDonald's to fetch some Chicken McNuggets.

Friday, October 8, 2010

And Yet

Still. All the things that word can mean. Motionless. Stationary. Remaining in the same position or attitude. Quiescent. Habitually silent or taciturn. Subdued, soft; not loud. Making no sound. Having an unruffled surface (of water). Free from commotion. Unattended by wind; gentle; quiet (of weather). Not sparkling or effervescent (of beverages). A single image (of photographs).

Dead before birth. Inanimate.

Constant, continued until now, continuing.

A calm.

(Is the word somehow etymologically related to steal? And what of one of the oldest definitions, the noun connoting the apparatus used to distill liquor?)

Also: to subdue, allay, relieve (verbs). To stop the movement or activity of. To appease. To lull, soothe, cause to cease from weeping. To silence.

Without change, interruption, or cessation; continually, constantly, invariably, always. Indicating a continuance of a previous action or condition. In a further degree. Notwithstanding. Yet. As ever.

Are these various and seemingly contradictory definitions somehow related?

And yet. Even so. All the same.

Still.

Now as previously. Up to this time.

Paralyzed. Unmoving. Stuck. Etc.

Constant: yes. Always: yes. Without change or cessation: yes. Remaining in the same position and attitude: unquestionably yes. But calm? No. Free from commotion? No, ma'am. Appeased or soothed? No and no.

Always, yes, always, as ever, notwithstanding, all the same: Yes. Yet: still. Even so: yes. Even so: still.

But still. Still and all. Stillborn. Still life. Be still my heart.

And yet, all the same, even so: Yes. Always. Still.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Where There's A Road There's A Way

I was driving across Michigan's Upper Peninsula and do you think if my life depended on it I could find a decent fucking Indian restaurant? Did these people seriously believe a man could live on nothing but smoked fish and fudge?

Up the road from Manistique was a town called M'Alyce, and I wondered if Paul Weller had stumbled through this space at some point or if there was another such place in the world. Somewhere in the rear view mirror: the World's Largest Soup Kettle and a redhead who wore a sailor's hat well past the age where it was cute to wear a sailor's hat. A redhead who could swill Pabst Blue Ribbon like no woman I'd ever met, and who drove a beat-to-shit Nova with a bumper sticker that read: "Keep Moving Until You Fit Or You Stop Moving."

One night this woman --who was way too old for such monkey business-- showed up at my motel room with a couple cans of Krylon and said we were going to tag the living fuck out of Escanaba. It didn't quite work out that way.

"I've thought about this my whole life," she said, and then I watched her spray paint "Your Satisfaction Is No Concern Of Mine" on the cinder blocks of the Tidy Wash. I took this as a message pitch, and so took the paint can from her and tossed it in the blue plastic barrel out front.

I like a woman I don't know a damn thing about, but only to a point. That point came when we were driving around one night after I'd bought her a steak dinner and she directed me to pull off at a pay phone. I sat on the hood while she dialed a number and said, "Now what the fuck?"

There was a pause on her end, and then she said, "You know as well as I do that there's a goddamn world of difference between 'shot himself' and 'got shot,' so which is it?'" That was it right there. Weird is good. Weird can be fun. I don't like spooky, though, and I told her as much later as I packed my car.

I would not grow old gracefully. That much seemed certain, and was all I really seemed to be able to grasp of my fate, if in fact that's not too dramatic a word for what I was driving blindly into.

Every story has a 'then what?' and I suppose a truly satisfying story has a number of 'then what?'s to keep the reader moving along.

There is, unfortunately, only one 'then what?' left to this story, and it is this: My mother was dead, and she had a house in Ohio --and a shitload of shit-- that needed to be dealt with. I'd been procrastinating. It had taken me almost two months to make my way from Sioux City to the U.P. I would, I'd decided, finally knuckle under and head to my mother's, would get the matter taken care of once and for all. Who knew? I thought. Maybe I'd end up living for a time in the tiny house in which I'd grown up. Maybe after all the years I'd been gone there was finally something there for me.

There was nothing for me in Lorain, Ohio. There had never been anything for me in Loraine, Ohio. My mother's last hand of Solitaire was still laid out on the TV tray in the living room. Her bed was unmade. There was a refrigerator full of items that had long since become reeking science projects. Every clock in the place told a different time, and every one of them was lying.

Long story short: People hear gunshots and they call the police. I can't blame anyone. Gunshots in the middle of the night are startling. If you hear them, you're supposed to call the police.

I was just blowing off steam, I guess, talking to myself so people would hear me. Shooting out lights and reflective surfaces, trying to obliterate any sort of personal revelation. I felt like being in the dark. I didn't want to be confronted with any more images of myself, even as I fully intended to leave the photographs alone. Those were something else, something else, some other time when the light didn't feel like such a hostile interrogation. Still, I inadvertently ended up shooting up a few of those as well, and taking out a handful of other things --trinkets, I suppose you could call them-- that had a bit too much painful resonance.

It got out of control in a goddamn hurry, I'll admit that much, and it was a noisy, disruptive business, a textbook example of disturbing the peace.

So, yeah, the police were called. The police came. It was the middle of the night, and in the middle of the night when gunshots are involved you aren't going to get just one cruiser pulling up to the house. No, you're gonna have cop cars lined up all the way down the block, sirens flashing, radios squawking, and officers crawling around and crouched behind car doors with their own guns drawn. A sorry incident right out of Cops, to be sure. The sort of dust-up that wasn't going to go away for a long time.

Right away, looking out at that scene, I knew I was in deep shit. I knew there was a good chance I was going to get my face shot off. I knew that neighborhood would never again be home. I knew I needed a lawyer. These were the thoughts --or at least some of the thoughts-- that went through my head. Short term or long term, this was going to be a tough mess to get out of.

I put the gun down, went to the door, and stepped out onto the porch with my hands up, just like you're supposed to do. They weren't going to give me a chance to explain just then, I knew that. They were going to come rushing at me, all of them at once, yelling at the top of their lungs and swinging their night sticks, and they were going to stomp my ass and truss me up like a hog while the neighbors watched from their sidewalks and living rooms. And, sure enough, that's exactly the way it went down.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Nothing Next


I was into Tim Horton's last week and he comes in there just as skinny as he could be, skin and bones, a lost child we always said, well over six feet tall and pedaling all over town on a tiny little boy's bike, never wore a shirt if he could help it and more wild-eyed by the day --his poor mother-- and he always had a shiny silver mask from where they said he put the bag to his face and his hands were all coated with paint as well.

God help the boy, I'd think every time I'd see him, and when he was into Tim's that day I just wanted to buy him a donut or some Tim Bits but you didn't dare talk to him, you just didn't anymore, you never knew what you might be getting yourself into.

He would apparently sniff anything, he would smell anything if he felt it would get him wild-eyed and his mind rolling. He carried a dirty rag in his back pocket for just that purpose and any sort of paint or aerosol or mineral spirits he could get his hands on he would soak up in that rag and he was constantly pulling that rag from his pocket and putting it to his nose and breathing it like he was sobbing, it was like, almost like a man trying to pull his last breath.

He'd only come into Tim's to use the restroom and Tina who was the manager there said he was in and out every day looking for air fresheners or disinfectants, anything of that sort that he could add to his sniffing rag. They tried to hide things from him, but of course such things he could get his hands on all over town in one place or another.

He was living in Ray's motel, which is where the council kept a few rooms for the hard cases, his mother, poor woman, simply couldn't bear to have him under her roof anymore, and when they said in the paper he was missing we all knew of course that he was dead.

Friday, September 24, 2010

From The Scrap Heap, Exhibit 151b7: Convention


There will come a day when every conceivable human disappointment will make its way to a giant hangar somewhere on the outskirts of Topeka, Kansas. Every dashed dream and broken heart from all over America will converge there to mingle awkwardly, stammer, and avoid eye contact. Just as in Las Vegas, there will be no natural light and no clocks, and the only way to mark the passage of time will be by studying the exhaustion in people's eyes.

Among those who will make the discouraging trek: the man who once upon a time dreamed of becoming an astronaut and grew up to become instead an unhappy insurance adjuster. The woman whose naked body was never seen --let alone touched-- by anyone outside a doctor's office. The failed writer of science fiction novels who lived with his mother and raced remote control cars up and down the sidewalk in front of his childhood home. The brides left at the altar and the broken, bitter bachelors. The boy who asked for a Dukes of Hazzard pinball machine for Christmas and received instead a Slinky, a seemingly small and isolated disappointment that nonetheless planted the seeds for a lifelong pathology of disenchantment.

Also present: Beauty pageant rejects, disgraced public servants, neglected children, actors that never got a break, persistent writers of ignored doggerel, misanthropes and alcoholics, those for whom an adolescent crisis of faith became crushing and permanent, brooders, pipe smokers, solitary chess players, stalled middle managers, the perpetually startled, permanent orphans, third-string quarterbacks, cheerleaders who grew old gracelessly, bankrupts, scores of shattered refuges from Nashville, Hollywood, and New York, and all manner of neglected or utterly talentless musicians, artists, and philosophers.

You can be sure the sleepless will be there, standing in zombie clusters at some remove from the shapeless huddles of the pathologically shy, the socially awkward, and the chronically fatigued.

There'll be quite a crowd, to be sure, and you're virtually guaranteed to recognize all sorts of old friends, neighbors, and co-workers, all of whom will bitch ceaselessly, provided they haven't been made entirely mute by their disappointment.

God knows there will be plenty to bitch about: It will rain every day, the food will be lousy, the accommodations substandard in every way. Entertainment --for lack of a better term-- will be provided by an assortment of some of the worst garage bands, barbershop quartets, karaoke singers, magicians, mimes, ventriloquists, and baton twirlers you've ever seen.

As the evening wears on a bullhorn will be passed among the conventioneers, and each person will be allowed to shout out one sentence or declaration.

It's interesting, if pointless, to speculate what those present might make of this brief opportunity to express themselves. How many do you suppose will use their moment in the spotlight to merely blurt terse, general condemnations laced with profanity? How many, however disappointed, will declare some enduring love or eternal regret? You can certainly imagine that there will be a great deal of stammering, and many will attempt to articulate some already broken promise, ineffectual apology, or last impossible wish. Others, of course, will have absolutely nothing to say.

Should you or I find ourselves there in that awkward crowd, what words would we find to speak to the assembled? What might we say to the better, happier people we --all of us-- should have been? And do you suppose there will be even one among us who will have enough remaining courage or faith to utter some small message of hope?

Finally, at some point in the endless night, black and white helium balloons will be distributed, and on command they will be released. This gesture will mean different things to different people, and to some it will mean nothing at all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Brief Associative Slideshow For The End Of Another Long Day





























It's true that I have ridden an elephant, 
but I have never ridden an elephant over 
the mountains or into the darkness.

I am one of those who can look at maps all day long and convince myself that I've actually gone somewhere. For a brief time, anyway.

Now let's talk about shadows and monsters, if you have a spare moment....

I want to be a dog,
when I die--
a dog, a dog.
--Robert Creeley, Hello, A Journal 13
(via Wood S Lot)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

World Of Wonders: A Taxonomy For The Curious

Etch-A-Sketch. Invisible ink. Pig pile. Hangman. Pandemics. Poison pen. The quiet hours. Cannon fodder. Unsung heroes. Dead trees. Turn it up. You tell me and we'll both know. Prophets. Pariahs. Pardon me. Hold your horses.

The annotated desk. Doll house. Don't go changing. Land of the lost. Passport. Pro-Am. Pick your poison. The brier patch. Running water. Running scared. Running on empty. Convergences. Folk song. Final words. The natural world. Fifty states. Fragments.

The American Guide. Scenic byways. Miniatures. Discards. True or false. Phone Book Hitlers. Body image. Broken promises. Obituaries. Vandals. Mongrels. Strangers in the night. Missed flights. Bad science. Broken clock. Quaint notions (e.g. "cultural literacy"). Stray dogs. Scrapbooks. Keepsakes. Herdentrieb. Heavy metal. Redemption center. Wrecking ball. The foreign desk.

Fixed income. Underground. These colors don't run. Sad museum. Shadow puppets. String theory. Skinner's Box. The Repugnant Conclusion. The Tortoise and the Hare. One hand clapping. Art house. Vision air. Dancing bears. My space. Trick bag. Alchemy. Hermeticism. Hog wash. Vernacular. Zeitgeist. Sacred texts. Cartography. Libraries on fire.

Talking heads. Logos. Trademarks. Broken records. Bus stop. Cab fare. Brave new world. Brink's job. Class warfare. Class clowns. Populuxe. The price is right. Edge City. Street level. Private dancers. Fool for the city. Cat and mouse. Self service. Artifacts. Anachronisms. Archaeology. High times. Life of Riley. Anatomy of melancholy.

Founding fathers. Foundlings. Lost and found. Dead letter office. Destination unknown. Caste. Castaways. Talismans. Dream journal. Analyses. Crack in the sidewalk. Jackhammer. Wishing well. You don't miss your water. Divining rod. Dancing in the streets. Rent party. Ransom note. I don't hear a single. Death penalty. Poor, huddled masses. Parking spot. Three-legged sack race.

Shrines. Soul train. Entry level. Plumb Bob. Bootlegs. Bumper stickers. Celebrity roast. Earnest goes to camp. Profanity (inanity masquerading as profundity). Peep show. Penitents. Quixotes. Sisyphi. The Annals of _________. Analects. Analecta. Invisible world. Photo booth. Fact or fiction? Medicine chest. The new Bob Dylan. Bottle rockets. The Dark Ages.

It made Bud wiser. The Mendoza Line. Moral victory. Can this marriage be saved? The armpit fart. My boss is a Jewish carpenter. Pay the man. Somebody's daughter. The grindstone and the garden. Look, ma, no hands. Your guess is as good as mine. Redemption song. I love you this much. Abracadabra. Sticks and stones. Cosmetics. The bully pulpit. Last picture show. In my room. Close, but no cigar.

Flesh wounds. Moral combat. The Ballad of __________. Who's the boss? Night comes in. The Hegelian dialect. Horse feathers. You and whose army? Swag. Jet set. The secret drawer. The hidden door. Homeland. What's for dinner? Wherefore? Whither? Sick bay. Forensics. The Fountain of Youth. Guess again. The Donner Party. Knock, knock. Not in our house.

Elegies. Clue. Writ large. Silent screen. Exposition. Night stand. Night school. Black box. Trap door. Face book. Booby trap. Full-frontal. Foundations. Missed connections. Some enchanted evening. Icons. Per diem. Mixed messages. Monopoly. The varieties of religious experience. A word to the wise. Sideshow. Revival. Stitch in time. Ballroom. Blood sport.

Parlor games. Crazy Days. Etiquette. Predators. Step right up. This is only a test. Dissection. Dollar Store. Swap shop. Flea market. Gargantua. Colossi. Mores. Dispatches. Big deal. We can't wait. Rogue's gallery. Shrine of the immortals. Rackets. Greener pastures. Confidence men. A lonely business. Nice work. What's the big idea? Sweet dreams.

Wait, there's more.

You will not be sad in this world.

This is your life.

Further.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Magi Of Soho

David Rathman, "Always That Old Fear."

I drop things. I lose things. I leave things behind. Some of these things I'd like to pick up, find, or go back and retrieve. Some I'd like to remember. Others I can't forget.

For instance: what happened to the three Magi I encountered all those years ago in Soho, unfolding themselves, one strange apparition after another, from the inside of a cab driven by a man of my casual acquaintance who happened to be a chess master from Algeria?

They looked like a billowy dream on that windy night in September, outfitted in their sacerdotal vestments --flowing white robes with ornate brocade-- and towering felt hats.

They moved into the building next to mine, and I saw them around pretty much every day and gradually got to know them a little bit and become familiar with their habits and routines. They were exiles from Persia, where they were descendants of the tribes of Medea. At night they prowled the streets and alleys of the neighborhood killing rats, and they built a primitive temple on their rooftop where they kept a clandestine fire burning 24 hours a day.

They were very old men, handsomely bearded, but no matter the weather one of them was always making the long, slow climb up to the roof to tend the fire.

They worshiped the elements --all of them, but fire most of all. Because of this they had determined that the dead could not be buried, incinerated, disposed of in water, or permanently interred above ground. To do any of these things would represent a defilement of one of the sacred elements. And so, when Melchior, the King of Light, was the first to die, they erected a Tower of Silence on the rooftop, where Melchior's body was laid out to be devoured by crows.

I remember standing at my window and watching hundreds of crows massing from every direction, black, moving clouds swirling above Soho and descending in a loud frenzy on that rooftop, where the birds spent days battling for a position on the transverse beams that supported the final resting place of the fallen king.

Eventually --it didn't take long-- the crows once again dissipated, and I recall seeing Gaspar up there in the middle of a snow squall, tending to the fire and dismantling the Tower of Silence.

On the day I moved and left New York behind forever, as I was hauling the last of my possessions out to the rental truck, I saw Gaspar and Balthazar going off down the sidewalk with their tackle boxes and fishing poles, headed for the Hudson River. I remember that they were walking right into one of the most beautiful and blinding sunsets I had ever seen, and I stood there for a moment and watched them until they were entirely swallowed up by the light.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Before The Ice Age


The old nights were different,
anchored in a small room crowded
with all it seemed you'd ever 
need. A dog in a green chair.
One lamp that gave off nice light.
Answers lined up on one set of shelves;
sounds --answers of a different sort--
huddled together on another.


The black plastic spun all night long,
the miracle of the process a gift
you never took for granted.
The lovely silence as the tone arm
rose slowly and began the graceful
horizontal glide to its cradle.


Then you'd move. Always, though,
a plan for what was next. A list you made
each morning. If there was confusion
it was happy, the warm variety,
open-ended and saturated with wonder.


The static between your ears was then
a kite zagging all night in your skull,
sky writing or just emblazoned with
one thought or idea waiting to be
resolved. Sometimes just a word or image
that would sail so high that you could 
no longer make it out and had to let it go.

Eventually, though, the kite would rattle
back down, beautiful still but blank and not
yet broken, and you would send it back
up to try to stir some more words from the
sky. On really good nights the sky
would be full of kites outlined against
the full moon beneath your hair.


Every summer has a song, and you
remember a year when perhaps a half 
dozen cars would pass by on the late-night 
streets beyond the bug-swarmed screen, 
"Gettin' Jiggy Wit It"  blasting from the
windows of every single one of them.


You would sit up all night through
the old nights, focused, tranced, your
back against the green chair, the dog right
right there behind you, breathing with you. 
A blue-eyed keeper of vigils, creature
of shared routines and rituals. 


You believed your brain was a rock tumbler.


Many nights you would take one of the
shoe boxes full of index cards with scrawled 
notes, bar napkins, photographs, business
cards, quotes, birthday cards or letters
you had found in books, and other
strange things you had clipped or saved.


These things you would feed like driveway
gravel into the rock tumbler to let them roll
around all night just to see if they would emerge
as material beautiful or interesting enough
to make a necklace for the one you loved.


The one you loved, who was sleeping
while you were flying your kites, the one 
who was the only one you could possibly 
imagine wanting to make anything beautiful for. 
Ever. The one who would get up each morning 
and immediately sit down to read whatever 
tangle of words the night had left you with,
and who, doing so, sometimes wept.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Last Summer Of The Rapidan Children


I'm sure no one would disagree with me that the term "unique visitor" has a lovely ring to it. I would like to believe that all my visitors are unique, but there may be no more unique visitor than the lone person who paid a visit to Your Man For Fun In Rapidan on Sunday.

It's possible, of course, and perhaps even probable, that Sunday's one unique visitor was simply passing through while lost on some internet wild goose chase. I certainly wander into more than my fair share of places I don't necessarily want to be.

Regardless, I am grateful for the visit.

In the event that another unique visitor might stop by today, I may as well add some more words to this confusion, if only to create the impression that, at the very least, my visitor has stumbled into a place that is still carrying on as if the local kids were still flocking to the old Sunset Drive-In, or, truth be told, as if there still were local kids.

If you've made it this far, I have potentially distressing news for you: there are no children here.

There were, though, until quite recently. None of the little things are little anymore, yet somehow they all seem to be diminished. That's harsher than I mean it to sound, but I don't at the moment know how to make it sound any other way.

I was one of those children who was easily distracted in school and spent most of my time drawing pictures of dragons and exploding trolls and naked women in my notebooks. I assembled a large collection of Famous Monsters models, which I still have and once exhibited in the crafts building at the local fair. It was a small town and I didn't fit in, so there wasn't even anybody for me to play Magic the Gathering with. I always had the sensation that everyone was floating but me. I developed a precocious taste for expensive Scotch and Lovecraft. My father owned a liquor store and had a large library of strange books, and he was such a zombie that it wasn't hard for me to steal either his liquor or his books.

When it snowed I went sledding alone late at night. I had an imaginary footman (his preferred title; I wanted a butler) named Ralph Meers, but he did not like going out in the cold. He was keen on the idea of fortresses.

I also had a transistor radio that was shaped like a Phillips 76 oil can, and at night I would sit in my bedroom and try to find music that did not sound like Tony Orlando and Dawn. Sometimes I would manage to dial in a station from Little Rock, Arkansas or Detroit, Michigan, and this induced in me an approximation of wonder. Other than in my imagination I have never danced, but Ralph Meers would dance, entirely uninhibited, and I would watch with admiration.

But this isn't really about me. I am remembering tonight the last summer of the Rapidan children. It was a season of storms. The skies always seemed to be gray, and then it would rain for days at a time, hard rain.The annual barbecue my parents hosted was a bust, and my mother was hospitalized for depression. There were a lot of bugs as well that summer, even more than usual.

There was only one girl in my school who ever treated me with what seemed like kindness. Her name was Josie Higgins. Josie dated a football player named Todd Rangel. Todd was a year older, had gone off somewhere after graduation, but was back for the summer.

I have been an eavesdropper all my life. One day I was at the library and I heard that Josie and Todd had broken up. They had been parked in the Dodge Charger Todd had restored in Auto Tech class. I imagine rain beading and trailing like tears down the fogged windshield. Tony Caple said they had been out along Toke Road, and that Josie had gotten out of the car and walked home in the rain. It was the middle of June, and Todd had only been home from college for a little over a week. I imagine Josie thinking, "There goes the whole fucking summer." I'm sure she thought he'd met someone else at school. And maybe she thought she'd go right out and bang Mike Wagner the next night just to get even.

That's purportedly what happened, at any rate. They were in the backseat of the Wagner family mini van (a Galaxy, I think, or maybe a Voyager), right in the parking lot of the now-defunct Dog N Suds drive-in, where other kids were hanging out and probably swarming around them and mirroring the behavior of the moths (or whatever they were) that were always orbiting the light poles in a manner that had always fascinated me when I'd parked there alone.

So, at any rate, Josie was a slut, or was at least regarded as such by whoever spray painted "Josie Higgins is a SLUT" on the big rock outside the high school (now closed). This act of vandalism was inexplicably allowed to remain on display for almost two full days, until Josie's dad drove over there and attempted to scrub it off. A video of this frantic and mostly failed attempt showed up on YouTube the next morning, by which time Mr. Higgins had succeeded in painting over the offending proclamation and replacing it with a phrase that unfortunately did not fit on one line. First line (very sloppy, but intelligible): CHICKENS. Second line (larger letters and perfectly clear): HIT. 

Almost immediately this phrase became a wildly popular Facebook page, and within days began appearing all over town on anonymously printed t-shirts. The last time I looked, the Chickens Hit page on Facebook still had over 2000 fans. 

I don't suppose it was a coincidence that the Higgins family moved away that September, about the same time that I started noticing the gradual --and eventually rapid-- disappearance of all the children of Rapidan.

For the record, Josie Higgins was my biology lab partner in ninth grade, and, though I obviously had no real way of knowing, I was never of the opinion that she was a slut. Not that I could change anyone else's opinion or do anything about all the things that happened, but I always thought she was smart and nothing but nice.