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.


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.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

September Kind Of Sad

Remember? Remember standing on a gravel road in Vermont --along a big river in a Montana valley, on a dock jutting out into a lake in the Adirondacks, at the edge of the ocean in Oregon and in Florida-- watching as stars lost their grip and heaved themselves down the sky?  Remember squadrons of prehistoric birds so ungainly that they looked like God's grandest mechanical joke repeatedly wobbling through the darkness toward a crash landing in the surf? Remember standing in the damp country in Michigan, in Minnesota, in Iowa, in Illinois, watching fireflies wheel and tumble above the black fields? I remember. I remember the wind whistling through open car windows and the hum-thumpa-hum of tires on the pavement of dark highways and music carrying in the darkness and the bright lights of carnival rides whirling on the horizon and days and nights so permeated with wonder that they leeched the words right out of me and left every letter of the alphabet in fuzzed and uselessly abstract isolation fluttering from a clothesline stretched across the roof of my skull while backyard sprinklers shook their maracas up and down the block of my old neighborhood and I drifted all night at the margins of sleep.

(Photo copyright Masao Yamamoto, with a tip of the hat to somebody, probably either wood s lot or riley dog, both of which are always great)