Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Brief Portrait Of An Associative Disorder


Autumn was the sound of drums. A swimming pool was a tin whistle and a cry of general alarm. A cheering crowd was an old man rolling slowly down the sidewalk in a mechanized wheelchair. The distant siren of a fire truck was the over-whisper of sprinklers swaying in twilit lawns as the lights of an ambulance swept again and again across the walls of the bedroom where a little boy cowered. An accordion was a silver balloon twisting in the bare branches of an elm tree. A toothbrush was the sound of breaking glass –every single time he took a toothbrush in his fingers he would hear glass breaking, followed by a shriek and then a dull thud.

And so on.

That was the way it was.

He had lived in sixteen different towns around America. He did not own a single photograph of anyone who was related to him by blood.  

Arrows were the sound of crickets on dusky nights in late summer.

He loved buttermilk and sitting in public places watching strangers going about their lives. He needed to imagine that these people were happy, that they were not lonely or suffering.

Since he was a boy he had dreamt he was a rabbit sleeping under a bush. Perhaps this was the way his brain felt when he actually slept, which was seldom. He didn’t know, but there was nothing about it that disturbed him.

The first time his mother had taken him to the beach he had watched, fascinated, as an orange was rolled back and forth in the surf. Forever after the word ‘ocean’ called to his mind an orange and whenever he broke the skin of an orange or caught even a vague whiff of citrus he would hear the toss of sun-shattered waves and the frantic skree of seagulls, and then he would see a gravestone standing alone in a forlorn cemetery in Ohio and he would cry and remember. And what he would remember was everything, and he would have a feeling that he had had, on and off, his entire life. And that feeling he had once described thusly to the one person who had ever asked him what he was feeling: He felt as if he was being slowly eaten by America.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Eight Days In Ohio, During Which I Joined A Moose Lodge

I'm just wrapping up ten days on the road with photographer Alec Soth and a really terrific assistant, driver, and all-around good guy named Galen Fletcher. We were driving around Ohio talking to people and taking pictures as part of a larger project about community in the 21st century.

I know that sounds impossibly broad, but if you're curious I wrote a bit about what we were up to on the live blog we kept as we rambled around the Buckeye state.

You can see the whole shebang here.

Right now I'm completely wiped out, but stay tuned; I sense that we're probably not finished.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Can't Imagine


I've gone by a lot of different names over the years, every one of them, I'm sure, transparently phony. I now recognize that I was laboring under some fairly serious delusions, and harbored the misguided notion that these names I'd choose --and choose carefully, I might add-- demonstrated a certain flair. What they actually were, these names of mine, were red flags, and only served to cast underserved suspicion on my behavior and  motives.

You might remember me from the period when I was representing myself as Corporal Bryce Chaparral, and was trying to make a living as an auctioneer here in the Twin Cities. I later tried my hand as a private detective in Sioux City, under the name Aristide LeRoi. I went so far as to take out an expensive advertisement in the yellow pages, and tried to speak with an accent that I imagined sounded suitably French, or at least French-Canadian. I paid a good deal of attention to my grooming in those days, and walked with a cane. Regardless of my qualifications --or lack thereof-- I discovered that there was little market for a private detective in Sioux City. I did manage to pick up the occasional insurance job, which generally involved trying to capture video footage of people with purported disabilities taking out their garbage.

For a brief period I was also (as Lance Waterhouse) a black jack dealer at a casino in Oklahoma, but nothing came of it. I have no idea what I thought might come of it, but I certainly never imagined I'd have to pawn virtually everything I owned, including a Civil War chess set I'd inherited from my father.

You might be surprised by how easy it is to become anyone you want, at least in strictly bureaucratic terms, especially when people don't much care who you are. It is more difficult, I've discovered, to truly become someone, to make up your mind, as if the mind were a bed, or a bedtime story.

Make believe --there's another useful (and useless) analogy. Also: Wishful thinking.

You can't just go to Home Depot and buy an ax to break up the frozen sea within you, if, in fact, you sense there is a frozen sea within you. I liked to think there was, once upon a time, if only because it seemed like a convenient explanation for certain troubling aspects of my personality.

I won't go into that, though. Live and learn, I guess, which is just something I'll say because it's something people say.

I'm sorry, I can't imagine. I just cannot imagine. I was thinking last night how my head felt like one of those snow globes where the little confetti blizzard never settles and the quaint miniature village never emerges from the storm. It almost broke my heart, but then I got to thinking...Oh, good lord, I can't for the life of me remember what I got to thinking. It's entirely slipped my mind.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

First Great Mysteries Of Science


There are plenty of things you whippersnappers take for granted that were nothing but dreams and mysteries to those of us who were responsible for digging up so many of the earliest answers. We had to get to the bottom of all manner of monkey business, and  to say that we had limited resources at our command would be the sort of understatement that was pretty much our stock in trade in those days. We didn't dare to overstate.

Some of our discoveries were pure products of curiosity or confusion, but there were also speculations and  necessary innovations that were literally life-and-death matters. We had people dropping like flies who'd barely learned to walk yet, and had to learn to feed and clothe ourselves in a hurry.

Those were dark, cold, brutal days. The Dark Ages were a period of positive enlightenment in comparison. We had no idea how our bodies worked or what our business was on this unforgiving planet. God? God? We weren't nearly that crafty yet. You could say we were savages, and you wouldn't be missing the mark by much.

The nose and the mysteries of its purpose and productions was one challenge, a relatively minor piece of the puzzle, granted, but important all the same. The responsibility for this undertaking of discovery fell to me by virtue of my natural scientific inclinations, although we certainly weren't yet equipped to think of it in quite that way. Everything I say in this regard is thus hindsight, and a literal case of 'relatively speaking.'

Truth was, I didn't know my ass from a hole in the ground, but compared to most of the others I was an advanced  specimen. When I first got started on my researches I didn't --or we didn't-- even have any sort of basic understanding of the sense of smell, and we certainly didn't connect it in any way with the nose. For all we then knew, what we now think of as odors may well have been perceived through our mouths or eyes, or even our skin.

I spent years on these labors. I probed and mulled and hypothesized. I like to think I made some progress. I was, I'll admit, entirely flummoxed by congestion. We didn't have microscopes, of course; we didn't even have the most rudimentary sort of magnifying devices. I smeared more snot on rocks than I care to remember, and sat in the dirt studying it, moving it around with a stick and trying to make sense of the damn mess. Was it, I wondered, some sort of delivery or storage mechanism for odors? Or perhaps, I hypothesized early on, it was dead matter being sloughed by the brain and evacuated through the nostrils (by this time we'd dabbled a bit in rudimentary forensics, and had cracked open more than a few skulls and studied their contents).

I never reached any satisfactory conclusions, I'm afraid, but I'm proud  to say that when I officially retired they appointed five men --a damned committee-- to carry on my researches, and that pack of sub-literate baboons never got anywhere either. It wasn’t until they put a couple women on the project that they started zeroing in on some genuine answers, but this, of course, was widely resented by the masculine louts, and proved a disastrous setback for both the enterprising women among us and our pursuit of ultimate knowledge.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Day God Called It A Day


The day the world ended, God sat quietly alone in a huge room, alternately dozing off and turning the pages of an immense series of fat scrapbooks. Some of these scrapbooks were filled with nothing but images of puppies, other baby animals, flowers, and even stones (He’d always been pleased with the foundations of His creation). Others featured photographs of crying children, some of them starving to death, others merely spoiled. He had many, many photographs of rich men –a great number of them overfed—and He was eternally puzzled by these photos and these men.

God could remember everything, and this no doubt both saddened and confused Him. He was exhausted.

Far below Him there were, here and there, people floating in boats and  still --many of them, anyway-- imploring. There were also a number of people, those who had spent years planning and waiting for the end of the world, who were holed up in places where the water and the destruction had not yet arrived. Some of them were high up on mountains or hidden away in caves deep in the earth. Like the people in the boats, these others were given additional time to puzzle over the position in which they found  themselves.

Much of the puzzling could be boiled down to a simple, bewildered question: Really, God, this also is your handiwork?

It was more and more difficult for any of these survivors to think of this additional time as any kind of blessing, yet still the most desperate --and they were all, of course, desperate-- yearned in their terror for survival. They still wanted to live.

The purest among them, of course, pleaded for forgiveness.

One man, alone in a valley deep in the mountains somewhere, managed to live in ignorance, and then denial, for a number of days. When he finally realized the momentousness of what had occurred, the man ventured out into the valley, where there was still plenty of green grass and patches of bright flowers. And there in the middle of this valley the man eased a kite up into what was left of the sky.

Seeing this --the man in the high grass, backpedaling slowly beneath a rapidly disappearing sun and gaping with a smile of unmistakable joy on his face at the ragged kite rattling in the wind-- God's heart stirred.