Saturday, November 03, 2007

Three Possible Starts

For Something Longer

1.
After a fire—the soot, the blackened charred brush, turning to powder when stepped on, the dead garden snakes, persistent flesh sticking to the near-naked bone, the dead baby rattlers, the desert tree immune to fire—reliant on fire—with its smooth, polished bark, a small, biblical, knobby tree, short and strong; the bodies of lizards with crackling skin, the footprints left in the soot—and the smell drawn up from feet dragging in the ashes, a spiced smell, organic—it draws upon memories of hearths and winters indoors, and in the dry air over the open, natural destruction of a brush fire, the synaesthetic juxtaposition of sense-remembrance with the immediate situation leaves one spinning and wondering wordlessly.

2.
Farmer’s market—bumbling people of all ages—a dichotomy of ages—the elderly pacing slowly and clumsily through the fruit-gazing crowds, dragging and shuffling in search of the perfect pomegranate or the freshest grapes with that great cloudy sheen on their green or muddy maroon skin, like fogged windows into the fruits’ juices. And there are the young couples, the young women, the young men, young and strong and as fresh as the fruit, some young and free enough to be impressed and compelled by all the small wonders that go unnoticed by those preoccupied, like the full range of colors in the wild tomatoes that go from soft apricot orange to deep bay-water green to the known red, or the joyous hard squeal of an infant in a far stroller.

3.
The saxophone player in the city, the light hitting his golden instrument hard from the low-hanging sun through the cityscape canyon of reflections and panes; his sound rolls and bounces and raises and falls away and up towards the highest windows and offices, and faintly falls back, half of one second later, falling in dispersion and uncertainty, like the skyscraper walls might be chiming in return, repeating each note and every sizzle of sound, every mistake and shimmer, back down to the saxman in the hard yellow afternoon sunlight, until the sound and the light fall and all go towards home and the saxophonist sole packs his bag and counts his tips and trudges along, down through the city canyon with the rest, towards home, towards rest.

The sax is his all—there is no consistency in his life beyond the notes created by the brass workings of his old horn. There is no wife now or family, there is no job to report to, no career to maintain and prune, no mortgage, no income to report, no bills to pay—aside from room and board and some meals and an occasional drink—there is nothing. There are the stars, which are not strong enough for the city light and the coastal fog; there is the sun, which shines as best it can through the clouds, and sometimes directly, hard on the panes; there is the moon, whose schedule the saxman never really understood; there is hunger and difficulty; and there is the reverberation of long, solitary notes from the metal tube that raises and falls with his breath like the tide, and sparks and pops and glows when he gets all the notes right, all the right length and strength, when straight and true music goes flying—there is the reverberation of his life in the saxophone, on the street, in the music.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

We're on a sort of hiatus around here, if you hadn't noticed.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Awkwardness of Writing

Anyone who has taken to writing fiction will attest to the eminent fact that there is no hobby more excruciating, self-divisive, and satisfying. This is because it is, most often, an absolute waste of time, grating on the soul like an obsessive-compulsive quirk, like incessant counting of steps or just-so arrangements of unimportant things, knowingly mattering not at all and yet deeply important to the single devoted person.

It is perhaps primarily a problem of readership: there is no reason to write if it will not be read, aside from the exercise of the fingers and heart that it gives. And there is no readership beyond whoever the writing is forced upon; being published is something that comes later or not at all, making the present writing feel like lonely navel-gazing and no more.

This post itself is a demonstration of the compulsion---readership, near zero, will be mostly people searching the internet for the phrase “lonely navel.” But it is not zero, and that is good enough.

I write down brief notes that may be useful later in a small black book. It is “not a journal,” I tell people. Or, maybe it is a journal with a cutthroat editor, subscribing to a version of the iceberg theory. This is the entirety of the past month:

Jun 5 - “something about gorilla suits’
Jun 10 – “a priest without a god; the depressing grey warmth of early June”
Jun 11 – “I grew a soul”
Jun 15 – “shooting star over senior dinner”
Jun 16 – “packing mementos in purple tissue paper; blackberry pie and white wine, pearish flavor”
Jun 17 – “champagne and donuts”
Jul 8 – “Honda Hill, dead crow; Church of Dawkins: Apotheosis of an Atheist”

Anyway, when you are alone, almost nothing feels awkward because there is no one watching. Writing is an exception. It is always awkward.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Last Word

My last word on Stanford is that it is expensive and has many fountains and I’ve a degree from it.

*
One day I was early for early for class, and sat at a big table in a small room to wait; one other student was there.

“It’s stuffy in the English department,” I said, ratcheting back and forth on a swivel chair.

The girl’s eyes widened. She seemed surprised by this statement, thinking I was criticizing the people of the department, rather than the air circulation. Stuffy. You see, I am simple and am often mistaken for more.

In her face, suddenly taut, I saw the ambiguity of my language. “I mean the air.”

“Oh! I’m not a very good…”
“Rater of climates?”
“Rater of climates.”

Then she asked if I knew some literary term that she was trying to find in the textbook.

“Oh,” I said, “I don’t really know anything.”

“Ohh.” She looked at me like I had just revealed a private handicap. More people came in. The professor was late and apologized, and said his office was filling with smoke, or something like that. “Strange air,” he said. I looked smugly to the girl, as if the professor was corroborating with what I had already said, but she was staring intently at her blank notebook.

This meaningless exchange is the sum of all things—I’ve hardly been able to comment on air conditioning without ruffling feathers, and I’ve hardly been motivated to discuss anything more or less profound than the indoor weather.

*
Once, I was sitting with some Communications professors, who were discussing how new technologies are always criticized for transporting risqué subject matter.

“I remember the telegraph controversy,” I said. “Really lascivious stuff going on.”
“Really?” one professor enthusiastically asked.
“Yes.” And then another professor told him I was kidding, adding that I was “the English major.”

After lying to him about telegraphs, he told me I would “go far.”

*
I overheard, one morning as I ate a completely decent brunch, some kid in Stern talking about how we’re all the future, and he’s damn proud to be part of it. Damn proud, he said. I felt sorry for the girl he was with, who listened voicelessly. Then, I thought, this blueberry muffin is surprisingly good.

We are the future! Date your oversized philanthropic checks accordingly. We’re the future. I hardly know what that means. Every person with a thumping heart is “the future.” Having a $180k education means that your own future might be beautiful and filled with neckties and Ikea furniture.

Some will use big words and small ideas, and some will say very smart things, and very little of it will matter to anyone.

You could say it’s all about image, as it takes veneered presentation to get into a school, and to get a job, and that the image does not have to run deep. I hardly care about that anymore.

The people who claim to be “the future” will likely be future leaders. The most sheltered people are the ones who will be in charge, because if you can afford to learn about the world, and about the difficult, unending trials of mankind, you can also afford to live away from those trials. The brave curious opt for a balcony view, or an IMAX film.

*
I was talking with a friend at one of the gnarled woodland tables of the Coffee House about who we would give money to, if we were to ever have large amounts of it to give away—the point being that I did not understand why people make large contributions to Stanford, of all places that need money. He said he’d give his wealth to the custodial and kitchen workers. I suggested a ridiculous twenty-story public library rising out of East Palo Alto.

Why do we have any antipathy? I asked. Because it claims to be something it’s not, he said. I suppose that’s true. I don’t know what it means to be. It is a school, and that is all. But to attract people with famous pasts, the university spends graciously on the aesthetics of its property, like a well-credentialed amusement park. If it did not, the people with famous pasts could just go to a prettier school with more comforts. And as a student, if you’re paying forty five thousand dollars for nine months of sitting around, that giant S flowerbed better bloom real nice and the blueberry muffins better be real good. It seems to be the biggest difference between a public and private school: the flowers and trees and the muffins.

*
I can see now that:

-My curiosity’s been blunted—but maybe that’s just age.

-Opportunities have been torrential, surely, and more often than not I’ve waved gaily as they passed by. That much has been my mistake.

-It is pleasant to walk across campus as the sun sets, when no one seems hurried, and the air has a sort of thickness as it cools, thick with the dull color of champagne. Sunday mornings are similar, but the colors of a morning are paler, and fresher. The shelter of Stanford can be appealing in this way.

-I’ve said my one success was my degree—that isn’t true. The degree is part of the big joke. My one success is that someone as curmudgeonly as myself has friends——

To those of you who have read anything I’ve ever written—thank you. Unread writing is like undeveloped film. It may have been fun to look through the lens but there’s hardly a point if no one sees the photos.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Where Ideas Come From

I must write to raise myself during in-between days, when I am waiting for no replies in the mail or calls to be returned.

I sit self-conscious next to a garbage bin and watch people going into Borders Books, but the view is limited and I’ve little to say for it. The view is limited enough to almost forget where I am, and if the fountain was on, I’d think I was in a small Mediterranean town. Though, truthfully, I can see the Apple computer store from here.

There’s a poster on the wall for some sort of atheist group—they call themselves Humanists. I suppose they gather to have discussions about nothing. To think! Corrupt atheists longing for organized hierarchies and fancy hats.

They were likely sitting outside, drinking wine in the June sunlight—on a Sunday morning no doubt—and one man named Carl or Merton said something like, “You know, we should organize some kind of group of people like us, people who believe as strongly in nothing as ourselves.” And another man agreed. Then they drank their wine and laughed gaily at the pretty church bells.

And then the man named Duke or Jacob said, “We should have some kind of hierarchy, don’t you think? If we organize?” And Carl or Merton agreed, and failing to decide who between them would lead, they played a game of dice, leaving it to random chance. Carl or Merton won. “Besides,” he said, “it was my idea.”

After hanging like sloths in hammocks for a few hours, they rose and designed a flier on a yellow legal pad, announcing a new group for atheists to gather and discuss beliefs. It would be a brief meeting, the flier assured in the last line, which was signed “Grand Presidentor I.”

“It sounds authoritative and respectable,” said Carl or Merton.

The other man proposed a logo. “It’s simple marketing,” he said. Duke or Jacob drew a thin, writhing dragon holding a hammer, on the letterhead of the flier. “It’s symbolic. Of justice, or maybe virtue.”
“Both!”
“Yes!”
And they made several hundred copies for widespread posting.

The first meeting went well enough. Five men stood in the parking lot between a bar and a restaurant. The Grand Presidentor had little to say to the small group.
“Hi guys. I just thought it would be good to organize.”
“I hardly believe it,” someone said.
“Believe what?”
“Anything!”
They laughed. Some went into the bar.

“Did you notice,” asked Duke/Jacob, that there were no women?”
Carl/Merton had noticed. He had not mentioned it as a reason for organizing, or for wanting to be the leader, but he had hoped to meet women who were as passionate about nothing as he was.
“They might’ve been put off by your logo, I think. Women don’t like dragons or hammers,” he said.
“Do you think the dragon should be holding flowers?” asked Duke.
“Why would a dragon have flowers? Is he going to the dragon prom?” The grand presidentor was becoming irritated by his second in command.
“Maybe.”
“That makes no sense. You don’t understand women like I do.”
“Then what should the logo be?”
“Let’s get rid of the logo for now. Let’s focus on a name. Something kind and gentle.”
“The Pillow Huggers,” said number two.
“That’s not bad, but it’s too unclear about our message. What do we believe in? Nothing but ourselves.”
“The Ourselvians. The People Huggers. The Humanazis.”
“Humanazis is pretty good, except for the Hitler thing. The Humanoids.”
“Too sci-fi. The Humanists.”
“Yes!” said number one. “That’s the ticket.”

And so the two atheist men had a name for their group.

“We should have uniforms,” said number two, “to establish ourselves as leaders.”
“Women love men in uniforms—they say that in movies.”
“So we should dress like sailors or policemen?”
“Something with buttons, yes, and maybe badges.”

A slow wandering journey through a thrift shop produced a blue boyscout shirt with patches that seemed vaguely militaristic, and a plain white button-up with the name REXCOM embroidered over the breast pocket.

“Who should be the boyscout and who should be Rexcom?” asked number two. Number one was quick to respond.
“It wouldn’t make any sense for the main leader to be a boyscout, right? Logically.”

And so it was decided.

“I’ll be Grand President Rexcom and you’ll be Duke the Scout. Or Duke Duke if you want.”
“Alright. I could sign it Duke squared, with a little two in the corner.”
“Sure!”

And so they had uniforms.

——And so I sit and decide what to do now that my coffee’s gone dry. Do I use my time for nonsense, or—well what else is there?

Monday, May 28, 2007

No Romance in Transit Centers

Modern train stations are not made with any sense of romance—that is a shame. I have been stranded a few times, for an hour’s time, at the Millbrae Caltrain/Bart station, which, in terms of the Bay area, is in the middle of nowhere.

“Please do not ride your bicycle while on Bart,” says a gritty speaker, somewhere.

Two years ago, maybe more, I was here at night, a reasonably temperatured night, and I was very hungry. I may have had a small dinner, but it had been at least four hours earlier. Knowing I had almost two hours before the next train would come because the late weekend trains are more infrequent, I wandered out into the urban neverness, seeking any kind of quick snack. There was a diner on the corner but I didn’t want to sit—it felt necessary to retrieve something for consumption at the station. Outside the diner and across the street, I saw a gas station with a convenience store, and went to it. The street was wide; it seemed like a dozen lanes in the night, like one of those giant black tracks through the unnatural land that acts as a slow urban artery—not the main vein, not an important one, but a thick one. I crossed it and went into the store and bought a candy bar with a bottled coffee drink. I used their restroom too—that was another motivator which I’ve just now recalled. And I came back to the train station with my candy and drink and unwrapped it, and ate it, quickly and lustfully. That word is a hair from what I mean to say, but in terms of candy and hunger, you understand fine. It was not very satisfying.

The station is all concrete and metal. I suppose all are. A French train station, like Gare du Nord or d’Orsay, which started out as a station, is also concrete and metal, but done right. Of course those kinds of stations are plentiful in America as well, I think, but not here; this is for business and those are for fun. Modern stations, or, transit centers, are made to work—and that is all.

That night at the station was as a little sad and a little lonely. The electric light is unfriendly, and the dead hum of the rails is foreboding. It had been a good day with a good friend in the city, and there was a nice kind of love between us, like we had been childhood companions, but weren’t. The day was over and the sun was down and I was alone eating candy in the cold of the train station with irritable strangers.

It is better today at the station, perhaps because I began the day alone and nothing was lost, and it was still good; the sun is not down and is kind with warmth—not the bad heat the can sometimes come in California, but the gentle sort of warmth of later afternoons. The station is still ugly and dead like a skeleton but I was smart enough, this time, to bring paper and pen for the empty minutes.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Personal History of Epic Failings and One Success

“It is youth's felicity as well as its insufficiency that it can never live in the present, but must always be measuring up the day against its own radiantly imagined future—flowers and gold, girls and stars, they are only prefigurations and prophecies of that incomparable, unattainable young dream.” - FSF

I think back to my views of school and college and life, and all that lay ahead, when I was a sixteen year old high school student, sending applications to a few universities with some sort of epic grandeur in mind. I enjoyed the constant flow of brightly colored solicitations in my parent’s mailbox from schools wanting my attendance, or my money, or, from a more egotistical standpoint, my mind. Princeton had an orange coat of arms on their informational packet, like a tiger-skin shield; I liked that, but did not think I had the kind of academic and far-reaching background to be qualified for such a place. Financially—who could know? Middle Americans afforded tuition somehow. My parents reminded me, when choosing schools, that my father might be laid off soon; I ignored that, preferring debts and dreams to grounded realism. But I was bound for a UC school, anyway. It was somehow implicit.

Stanford sent me a postcard. It had a picture of archways and flowers. That’s all I’d seen of the campus—some arches and some flowers. I remember a sort of dimly lit scene that I now think might have been imagined—a scene of a stone balustrade over roses the color of dried blood, foliage deep green like moss on the shore of a freshwater lake. There was a soft mist, and a soft mold growing on the arched pillars; it was sort of Celtic. It must have been imagined because all photos of Stanford are full of sun and sandstone, and, not particularly Celtic. I didn’t really perceive the strange old mission/art nouveau style of architecture that covers the campus until I visited in the spring of ‘03.

I replied to the postcard, and got an application. It had only recently learned that Stanford was in California—in the MTV film ‘Orange County’, Jack Black drives from southern California to the Stanford campus in a matter of hours, and burns down the admission office. I forget why; Tom Hanks’ son is trying to get admitted, and trying to become a writer. And so I learned that Stanford was only a few hours up the Pacific coast. It was only somewhat misleading.

I applied, nearly furtively. I don’t think my parents knew until I asked them for the $75 application fee. There is something embarrassing about ambition when failure is so readily expected.

The mailman incorrectly delivered my admission packet, giving it to a neighbor with big hair. She brought it over and said congratulations. I wonder if the mailman did that intentionally, based on a nearly forgotten but deep-set resentment from thirty years passed.

That’s the short of it. I had no particular academic ambitions. I thought I’d study something with computers, something with animation and design, the neat things that fascinated me. I don’t know why those ideas did not pan out—computers become a pain when you get into real work. But then, most work is a pain. A few years later I had a degree in English. With a creative writing focus! I did that, truthfully, because it was the easiest thing to do. When something is easy, you probably have some talent in the area. Unfortunately I had never written a story, and wrote some pathetic stuff to get decent grades; you really only have to show up to a creative writing class to get a B. Academic papers were the same.

At the end of high school, on the AP English test, I wrote an essay on Pride and Prejudice and got full marks; I’d only read a third of the book. A couple years ago I wrote an essay on The Sound and the Fury, the Benji part, and did well; I’d only read a third of that book. I found, later, that the remaining two thirds were really good; I never finished P&P. These are two victorious moments in my history of minimal effort. (Rather, my effort is put into unquantifiable things that satisfy and interest me, like this writing). More recently I wrote a paper on Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, and received the only A+ I would ever get in college. I have no idea what that book is about; something with fireworks and India. When no one understands a particular subject, anyone with confidence can be an authority.

That is my one success—I have a degree in English. As far as the epic failings, well, I have a degree in English, but that is all. What else would there be? Some kind of enlightenment? I really don’t know.

There still exists a scene, on a campus that doesn’t exist, in the shadows of a low fog along the rose bushes and the balustrade, where something cinematic happens. Something like a parting kiss between two lovers in the forties, off to war and death within months. It’s a sort of appreciation for what is and what has been, in knowing the present is as solid as a haze of soon gone cigarette smoke, up and out in bluish wisps, and in knowing the future is only its imagined shadows. It’s some sort of epic grandeur that exists once you acknowledge your failings and reach for something just beyond reason. That's the ticket: something just beyond reason.

The wind-sounds and the coffee make me sentimental, you see.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On the Curve of the Coast

just a single scene:

“Let’s go on one of those walks—one of those walks around the town led by a village boy.”
“I don’t want to walk around.”
“It’s—it’ll be delightful. Like a real tour.”
“I could walk at home. Too many hills around here. Too hilly.”
“You don’t walk at home. You sit.”

The two sat in the open air dining plaza of the hotel, set far up on the hilled land, and looked out to the curve of the coast and the white-lipped waves scrapping onto the beaches, and at the small houses covered in pastel Mediterranean plaster, houses built with the hill and with each other in organic construction.

“It’s my favorite hobby. Sitting. Let’s just relax for a while.”
“Garçon!” she called. A young man in a clean white linen shirt came to the table.
“Jus d'orange, si vou plait. Garçon,” she added, as he stepped away, “promenade avec moi?” She walked her fingers across the table like little legs and smiled. The waiter looked to her husband and laughed, and stepped away.

“That’s nice,” the husband said.
“He was wearing the same shirt as you. Did you notice? You’re dressed like the help.”
“It’s a good shirt.”
“It’s very white, don’t you think?”
“Let’s not talk for a while. Let’s enjoy the breeze.”
The waiter came with cold orange juice in a thin, tall glass.
“Whiskey, si vou plait,” said the husband, “with a little water and a little ice.”
“This early,” she said with no question mark.
“Let’s enjoy the breeze.”

The large umbrella overhead leaned back, and forth, slowly teetering like a thin palm, and back.
“I was thinking, when we get back, we should hire a gardener.”
“You don’t like doing the gardening yourself?” the wife asked.
“Not really. We can afford it.”
“But I thought you like to do it by yourself. With the electric tools.”
“It’s very hot in the summer months,” he said.
“I don’t think that’s a new development.”
The waiter brought his drink.
“Merci. Some would say it’s annual, the heat. It’s very tiring, you know. I want to hire someone.”

She took a long drink of the orange juice. “Fine. But would the gardening people use your tools or bring their own?”
“They’d probably bring their own.”
“What would you do with the mower and the other stuff?”
He took a drink. “Just keep them, I guess.”
She tipped the glass of juice up fully, to empty it and get at the bottom pulp, her head back and her neck long and exposed, and her eyes closed to the high sun.
“You should give the tools to Arthur,” she said in a soft, reserved way, knowing he would be displeased.
“I’m not going to give away my possessions.”
“Would you sell them?”
“I don’t know. I’d rather not. I’d rather keep them.” He finished his drink and took a long breath, and felt his chest and lungs full and open.
“You don’t need them if you hire someone.”
“I might.”
“For emergency weeds?”
“For whatever. Maybe you’re right about the walk. Let’s go for a walk.”
“Let’s for a swim.”
He placed money on the table from his pocket and sat the empty glass on top.
“All right.”
“All right!”

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Failed Experiment in Gonzo Journalism

We sat on the back porch of Sunnytown America, hazed in the soft smoke of cheap cigars and cloudy clear plastic cups of homemade sangria and Pimms—free sunshine juice of a few gold old boys in a big cooking kettle for all or none.

“Fuck all!” someone said. “It’s all clogged with orange rinds and mint leaves!”

The poor man’s tall glass was stuffed full with a farmer’s market worth of chopped vegetables from the Pimms.

The northeastern woman in her bold northeasternness reached over and smacked the bottom of the upturned glass, as the poor man slanted it up like a dump-truck headed to TJ, through his mouth and down his throat.

“See!” he said to God, or someone else in the sky. He looked cross-eyed at the vegetables crowding the base of the glass.

“Tap it!” the woman shouted to the poor vegetable man at her side, and once more she pounded the bottom of the rear-up glass.

The veggies went forth and the poor man gagged at the fiber.

It was all routine to someone like me—grown men gagging on cupfuls of alcohol-soaked vegetables—because I was a graduate of college and a student of observation.

“A ha ha ah HA!” laughed the Anglo man with the gratis cigarillo. He had wide dark sunglasses like a star-filled night in some national park where the city couldn’t reach in and fuzz it all out, and when he bent towards you with a wolverine grin of small human teeth, and you saw some goddamn imposter of yourself shining flat in his wide shades—you wondered at it all. Was it just a reflection, or was it the damned phantasms summoned again through cheap melted-Legos plastic of polished Wal-Mart sunglasses?

Something like that will give you a quick little stroke. I polished my eyes with the backs of my eyelids for a few seconds. Just got to breathe with a rhythm, always remember that. Always breathe with a good rhythm.

I wasn’t a man who drunk much because I knew I needed it with desperate urgency, the way a slug in a pie-tin full of beer needs it—cheap beer that you leave out for skunks and raccoons. It would be a real natural show. I was dressed like an impoverished Key West pimp and reached for another cup because it was the only thing within reason worth doing.

Secondhand cigar smoke it an acquired taste. The northeastern woman smiled and laughed because she hated it. It reminded her of something vulgar. She thought it smelled like a naked old man dying in a recliner sofa, crusted over with happiness and bubbling inside with cancer and depression. The woman didn’t say as much but a laugh at the wrong thing says more.

I told her it smelled like history and breathed it in.

At some point I remember a dark-haired tattooed woman with a supposed black tongue walking out onto our porch with a novelist. The novelist drank from aluminum cans with retro-futurist lemons painted on them and complained about the cigar smoke by fiercely ignoring it. When the caterpillars started to fall from the sky, he said “dammit!” and blew insects that no one else saw from his arm. That rotten lemon fizz is finally getting to him, I thought.

But he was right. The novelist was just the first to notice because he was lucidly sober—always. I had a similar school of thought but lived by soft rules during hard times, and these were hard goddamn times.

The caterpillars came slowly. Not a blitzkrieg. Pure and sluggish carpet bombing. They came down from the sky on invisible silver threads. I’ve heard that the Chinese make flowing shirts and ties from this caterpillar ass thread but thoughts like that made me more fearful than just the caterpillar invasion. No one knew their intent. All they seemed to want was to descend and explore your body like a teenage lover with their thousand feet and back mustache. If you fought them they’d pop—little kamikaze fuckers fallen directly from heaven with seedy intentions.

We did fight for a time and tried to burn them by thrusting cigars in the air like torches at Frankenstein, but there’s only so much you can do against fallen Chinese angels before submitting. The poor vegetable man grabbed one in the air and threw it like a grenade into the bushes. Goddamn valiant but we were covered over by commie fur slugs within the hour.

——I remembered, just then, being kicked out of a store full of men with ponytails and banjos for having no money to spend or talent to use. Jesus, how many hours ago had that been? Only God and his little dog knew. I was caught by the music store’s rhythm lemons—maracas of agricultural shapes. Peppers. Cucumbers. Colorful little rhythm eggs were in a different cardboard display. I shook one and got glared at by a dozen Woodstock children and casually dressed investment bankers. It was Friday, after all, and they wouldn’t take any of my college-boy shit.

The tall Anglo was depressed by the music store. “Hats!” he said, once we were in the little black hedgehog-shaped car. “We need to get a bucket hat and a cigarette holder. Like we mugged Audrey Hepburn.”

The poor vegetable man was driving—it was his hedgehog—but wasn’t yet vegetable-ridden. He took us to Wal-Mart.

I think there was another. The guitar physicist. He approved of the trip like a calm father teaching his children to drive and pressing an invisible break with the tip of his toes.

We parked in handicap spot and pretended to limp, all four of us. We started in unison but it looked like a Broadway show, and someone might become suspicious, so we ran the rest of the way.

There was a little Wal-Martian holding coupons and giving free salutations at the door. She smiled at us from down there. The small woman was on to us. We had to be fucking quick! We had to find the hats to find the dream! For those of us with no sincere religion it was a search for a new god, and for the others, it was a cheap hat errand.

The hats were so goddamn economical and ugly that we all needed them. But the shirts—Hawaiian, Aloha, Acapulco, or whatever—weren’t gaudy enough for everyone to wear. The Anglo found a blue one with swordfish. He thrust a red shirt at the reluctant vegetable man—who I think is probably Samoan, but knew not to ask about this fact. I grabbed an eggnog yellow shirt covered with sailboats and palm fronds. Not perfect but it would have to do.

We had to look like idiots and were right on our way. The guitar physicist acquiesced only to a blue three dollar Panama Jack hat. Good enough for now.

The little cashier women suspected nothing until the Anglo shouted at us all, “Gummi-Worms ninety-eight cents!”

I grabbed the worms and knew that was it, the last mistake in a series. Security would come falling from the ceiling, hanging by invisible silver threads and would take us in on nameless charges. They knew my name from some online fun I had over the years and wouldn’t be afraid of using all that they knew of me to justify the buzz chair. I knew it—Texas style.

But I played cool and slashed at the electric machine with my credit card until the Wal-Martian woman handed me my bag. Yes! Freedom and the dream!

It was all nearly lost when we were escaping threw the asphalt fields that surrounded the corporate bazaar and the guitar physicist got hit in the face with a Gummi-Worms wrapper. Right when the Anglo went for his worms like the fish on his shirt and let the wrapper fly back, hitting the guitar man’s face, a giant shipment truck accelerated towards us. There was madness in most directions. The black hedgehog driver expected stops where there were no stops and the Federal Express man had deadlines. It was an albino elephant stampeding towards a melatonic rodent and only accelerating with the fear. The dream nearly ended then. The hats would have been for nothing and the Gummi-Worms would be strewn through the car and over the bodies, giving the image of sweet little decomposers doing their thing in a Wal-Mart parking lot around four o’clock in the afternoon. “What’s with the hats?” the coroners would ask each other—and they’d conclude that four men wearing made-in-China hats and Hawaiian shirts while eating Gummi-Worms was a cursed combination.

But somehow the hedgehog scurried through the albino Fedex elephant’s feet and we made it home.

I snapped back to it then—the porch, the sagging sun, caterpillars and cigars. Jesus, maybe I had a stroke, I thought. Maybe a caterpillar had gone into my ear and was humping all the nerve endings. At some point I sat down.

There was a game of shirtless middle-aged volleyball going on in a renovated minefield just across the way and some of us gawked hard at them. One of the players was a Russian bear in little red running shorts that they’d probably imported as a ringer. I understand a clown can train those bears to do most anything with a rubber ball. We watched this bear and discussed Aztec sacrifices.

A small angry woman came from inside the stucco log cabin and complained about the smoke. She was belligerent and spoke fast loud words but that’s what I’d gathered. Then she shut the door and ran away. The poor vegetable man knew it smelled like history and propped the door open again—taking it to be a sort of victory for Feng Shui, I think.

I saw a thin man in lime green and rainbow sunglasses talking on the Sunnytown porch. Likely a spy, I thought. Spies with rainbows are never suspected but I knew better. I was a graduate of college.

No matter! A pleasant girl explained that the free horse bus was arriving imminently! Some of the men ran from the tire swing and sucked the last of the cigars. We all poured cups from the liquor kettle and ran away, as careful as a dime butler not to spill anything. I hadn’t planned on having more but found it was easier to run with an empty cup than a sloshing cup, and so I consumed for the good of my speed. Besides—no cups on the bus! It was against the law!

We sang Jewish folk songs on the bus to throw off any tailing Feds and chewed Gummi-Worms.

I tell you the rest is unclear. Some of us successfully looked like idiots and we went to a cartoon Italian restaurant. There was pizza balanced on empty tin cans and there was a plasticine head of the late pope on the corner booth table. Goddamn it, man! How do you get the pope-head Vatican table? Who do you pass a Hamilton to? Aaron the waiter? No, he had no weight. Who knows what man or woman has pope-head table authority in this town. The only thing within reason worth doing was drinking more wine.

Later I was in a blue car with a giant glowing clock display, going fast down the palm-lined road. It was barricaded totally with the frond trees on both sides, and they could fall inwards at any moment, it seemed. I advised the Seattle girl to drive real fast. We talked about fungi and I ran away to shower it all off—the worms, the caterpillars, the giant cartoon meatballs I had seen somewhere, the spaghetti sauce under my fingernails, and the intrusive cigar smoke.

The smoke had learned to open door handles and was tenacious—it wandered through all the neighborhood houses within a few miles like nuclear wind, and anyone with the right kind of nose could stand in the thickening air and smell it, the history and the Gummi-Worms, and the singed hairs of the dive-bomber caterpillars too impatient to wait for their turn in the air as free brown moths.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Little Excerpt From A Story About Fish and Love and Death

real fresh from this morning's coffee:

Then Willy came in with a pair of lobsters. Crustaceans are another kind of creature that are hard to sympathize with. Real ugly I thought. It was kind of funny. The tank was near the entrance to the aquarium and it looked like we were running a high-class sea food restaurant. Exotic food too—you could get some sand rays, morays, a few little gobies, maybe some tartar sauce. I even made Willy laugh with a bad French accent I did when we were trying to get the lobsters in their tank.

Magnifique!” I said. “Willy—get me zeh buttar!

They were a real pain though, the lobsters. The two of them were in a five gallon
bucket and I had to get them out with a small net on a pole. They were wild lobsters, as lobsters tend to be, and they’d snap at me if I tried to grab them.

Getting them out of the bucket wasn’t hard, but getting them untangled from the net and into their tank was the tricky bit. They were prickly-shelled with delicate antennas, and all that would get caught up in the net, and I couldn’t thrash it too much without hurting them, and I couldn’t reach in and untangle them without hurting myself. So I stirred them about in the big tank like it was a boiling pot and the net was a ladle, until they fell loose, and we laughed about their ugly faces. Willy seemed to be in a good mood, warm despite the cold outside.

The same day, one of my last days there, I found another horn shark egg, same brown corkscrew drill-bit, but different. It was thick and ripe and full. It was clear that it was a real egg with a real shark in there—a beautiful little spotted fish, full-futured. Willy held it up to the light the way you’d hold an envelope with a letter you weren’t supposed to read, or maybe a vegetable you were sizing up at the grocer’s, and he smiled, all of him, and his mustache danced I swear it, and his pea-soup green eyes flashed, and we both laughed the way you might laugh when you get some real good news, or you see a precious old face of a friend from long ago, and you just laugh because what else is there to do, and because it’s the purest happiness you’ve known.

I’ve been meaning to go back and count how many horn sharks they’ve got now, because I strung up the egg just right.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Currently

Currently reading: manuscript of I Quit My Job for This?, a collection of essays from a tired stay-at-home mom; manuscript called Nineteen-foot Tide, about an Alaskan fishing village, and Without Papers, about a Mexican-American woman; Spring issue of Zyzzyva, as well as the most recent 'Onward!' rejection letter from Howard Junker tacked to the side of my bookshelf; Spring issue of Zoetrope, even though I only bought it for the Woody Allen bit; craigslist job ads; The Love of the Last Tycoon when it arrives in the mail; Till We Have Faces, except not really because I got bored.

CoHo currently full of: prospective law school students?

Currently feeling: full, from discounted rabbit-shaped chocolate.

Currently listening to: clicky keyboard and strangers' conversations.

Current productivity: lacking.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Mechanical Man of Meyer Library

Why are there surveillance cameras in the 24 hour Meyer study room? And why are there so many Asian people in the said Meyer room? Not American people of distant Asian ancestry, but people distinctly from the place. Numerous cultures of that continent are represented in this study room, in proportions not representative of the university's overall makeup. It's true, it is! If you find offense in this, you are clearly choosing the wrong things to be offended about.

It’s an absurd room--- the intentional grouping of wood slats on the walls, bleak rectangles of soulless balsa lines, look like the result of misread blueprints. The tables are a random, incohesive assortment of misused surplus, the hand-me-downs of better furnished buildings. And that damn red light tickertape display mounted high on the wall--- so high that it acquires a sort of divinity when you gaze upwards at it. WELCOME--- TO THE--- **24 HOUR**--- STUDY ROOM

I suppose it is to remind people who have passed out, and have reawakened in confused dazes, where they are and what they are meant to be doing.

It is here that I see the Mechanical Man. I know a man who is a robot. Secretly, a robot. Others have agreed with my assertion, perhaps only to placate me, but I am quite confident about it.

He moves like a robot--- it’s very hard to accurately describe. Not particularly like the robot dance, you see, which is based on an outdated robot model, but in a still preprogrammed, predictable way. He walks with an unfortunate bounce, hands in his pockets, face forward and stern. It’s the bounce that gives away his roboticism, the consistency of it. No mortal man is so amazingly unfailing in his placement of foot and rhythm of step. Only a purely mechanical man can do that, with his gears and motors and gyroscopes measuring and calculating the length of each gait.

He even stretches his arms like a robot. He sets down his mechanical pencil--- of all writing instruments! aha! he finds its mechanical nature soothing---- he sets down his pencil and fully extends his arms--- slowly, as the gears ratchet into place--- and in perfectly mirrored unison, reaches and pulls at invisible targets. I do not know if it is only to further embellish his image of humanity or if his synthetic mecha-tendons require stretching. Either way, he does not fool me.

He speaks like a robot. I used to work alongside the machine man, you see, and that is how I know these things. His voice is quite comparable to Stephen Hawking’s; I suspect it relies on the same, but more advanced, inner workings. The technology is impressive--- most people really don’t notice that they’re conversing with a robot, despites his un-emotive, halting way of speaking. I believe it’s a system based primarily on pronouncing syllables instead of whole words; he occasionally stresses the wrong ones, you see, but what he can do is still quite a feat of engineering.

I bare no ill will towards the mechanized man, but I am suspicious of his purpose and his origins. Where has he come from and why is he here? Perhaps he is from another planet. Robots are better suited for the dangerous, long space journeys; his super intelligent creators knew this and sent him to be an undergraduate, to study our technologies and social dances. They’ve tried before but underestimated the acuteness of our perceptive abilities. The prototypes have ridiculous silver skin and kazoo voice boxes, and can be seen atop milk crates along the waterfront of the city, dancing for nickels, and gorging themselves upon the precious metal coins at night.

I will continue to watch the mechanical man as best I can, waiting for the opportunity to expose his true nature. I think if he is forced to do something that requires thought beyond the logical realm, like writing a poem, his inner gyros and processors will overheat, resulting in a quiet end or a surprising bang, depending on the volatility of his mysterious power source. In due time.

Monday, March 19, 2007

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P1050232a, originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Problems of Young Writers

This is not the venue for this sort of thing, but no matter. It is a brief essay directed towards young writers, with problems.

I have seemingly been critical of my peers in the past, saying that their writing has often failed to impress or compel me, and that they bring a great amount of seriousness to it, not in content, but in attitude, that they cannot yet justify. I’ve had a deal of trouble articulating what it is that I take issue with and will try to write out, which I suppose is distantly ironic. What validity or significance does my opinion have? Only what you choose to give it.

The simplest problem with a young writer is that they have no sense of what is good and what is bad art, in a very general artistic sense; general by necessity of the trade. Writing workshops are based on this premise, that no one really knows what they’re doing and that good fiction can only emerge once a group of peers read it and critique it. This is a process done at all levels of creative writing, at all institutions with such a program. The highest levels of the department will tell you how necessary it is, and how writing is inherently a social, communal activity. I can disagree with them easily because I am a self-important, opinionated jerk, or something to that effect.

The amendment to their claim towards cooperative writing needs only be that the communal nature of it is essential to new, young writers who don’t have much to build on, and who are trying to understand how the form works, but not to the experienced writer who wants to go beyond what that process offers. The process of understanding can take years, decades, depending on dedication and other more uncontrollable, intrinsic factors. That’s part of why workshops are considered necessary at all levels; the process can be so long that it is not clear when the workshops are no longer needed. Understand that a writer is never finished learning from his work and from the work of others, and that the workshops are training-wheels, essential for only as long as the individual feels they are, and are eventually a limitation.

In workshops, if you do not know, a work in-progress is given to the other writers to read and critique; they make recommendations on how to strengthen the story. This experience is necessary to the young writer because you learn from the stories that don’t work and the ones that do and it’s really quite pleasant. Once you get into it, after a few years, you must learn which advice is good and which advice is bad, and if you don’t learn when to ignore advice, your piece will lose its sense of authorship. Or I suppose you’ll lose your sense of authorship over your piece. Ignoring the wrong advice is essential, and I’ve personally found at the undergraduate level, where writing for many is an occasional, cathartic hobby, that the creative judgment of my peers cannot always be trusted. I will expound on this in a moment.

There’s a fairly specific form of the short story that we are taught to obey, in dealing with orienting the reader’s expectations and guiding them to a specific, surprising peak, at which point they are made to sigh. But it is only an abstract necessity rather than a needed, practical form, and often workshop can force a story into a methodic form, superficially pleasing and pleasing the ‘graders’ of the story. (I certainly don’t mean to downplay the instructors; they are usually very talented, but talent cannot be taught). It is like baking cookies, and holding the notion that all good cookies are circular. Your squiggly-shaped cookie can work just as well, and can perhaps work better if the crevices allow for more chocolate chips, but for practical reasons you are taught that circular cookies are the ‘correct’ cookies. This is not the first time I’ve thought of writing in terms of cookies and professors have never really embraced this mode of discourse.

Occasionally I have seen some very talented people understand that the structure only needs to function on an implicit level, and write some darn good stories. Unfortunately I cannot articulate what the ‘form’ or structure that I’m purporting is advocated in workshops really is, not because we have a code of silence, but because it cannot be generalized and discussed outside the context of each individual story, unless you get into a Hollywood-esque discussion of plot points. The form is useful for inexperienced writers but becomes limiting later on.

Consider Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, which is essentially devoid of plot and so potent in all other inarticulatable things. It fits nowhere into the realm of story-telling that I’ve been taught. I’m no good with the mechanics of it but know that story to be something that succeeds greatly and could not come from a workshop. If it was workshopped, people would make all the wrong recommendations and ruin it, if the writer didn’t know to ignore it, because you cannot just trust the creative of judgment of people willy nilly. I think later on when you’ve invested much of your energy into your writing, and you still like to workshop, like so many published writers do, it might be to elucidate what the weak points of the piece are, to yourself. But because of the nature of our undergraduate workshops, in which we, the inexperienced, make recommendations in order to get credit for the class and to fill the space of a page, the critiques are done haphazardly and excessively. In the Hemingway story, young workshoppers would read it and ask, who are these people? What is their contextual situation? Where are they coming from and where are they going and why are they the way they are? What matters is answered in the story with precise ambiguity and what doesn’t matter is left for you to fill in. I’m half joking, as the story would probably be appreciated for what it is, but I thought I would mention a famous story so as to have an air of class.

Another problem with the young writer’s indecisiveness or ignorance of what is good or bad art, in the context of short stories, is that they do not know whether their own writing is of any sharable quality. This splits the young writers into two groups, not including those who simply don’t care about this sort of thing: those who assume their writing to be of worldly importance, containing profound truths, because no one tells them otherwise, and those who assume nothing of their own writing. The worldly group enjoys sharing their writing and often travels in flocks, and does public readings and that sort of thing, regardless of the quality of what is written. The second, more reserved group shares their writing only when they feel they’ve hit a good note, when the quality might be there. They are both perfectly good groups of people, you understand; the first group just doesn’t know better. A bit of self-advertisement is necessary no matter how humble you are, because a writer has no reason to keep going without readers. It’s a difficult paradox; you need long bouts of solitude to write, and yet afterwards, you desire the largest audience you can acquire for your work.

Trying to produce some good writing can be close to a full-time job, which means that college is a rather unfortunate time to try to make a lasting arrangement of words. You rarely have the opportunity to write because there are too many other deadlines to be concerned with. Of course outside of school, there’s virtually no way, financially, to pursue it as more than an after-hours hobby. I suppose you just have to manage work and play quite well, or consider prison, which would allow for the necessary time and solitude. But then I’ve read some limp manuscripts from incarcerated men as well.

I suspect an additional common flaw among young writers is our ignorance of past writing. This can be considered a flaw of the creative writing focus of this specific university. While reading published material occurs in the workshops, it isn’t much, and it’s usually contemporary stuff. There is a single class in the major devoted to reading short stories. Outside of that, there is no time for most young college student writers to read classic stories, and so we are often, in terms of past writing, blind mice with pens, monkeys with typewriters working at an invisible something. Some people do read a fair amount of modern writers, but using the contemporaries as the sole ingredient in the foundation is the same as walking through a modern art museum and then saying you know the history of art. It depends on what you want to do next, but there’s a bit more to it and it’s best to understand the past before moving on to something new.

In simpler, sparser words, if you are a young writer, read as much as you can and write as much as you can, and only share a bit of it.

If you choose to scoff at the thought I give to these sorts of things, then this essay does not concern you; if you wish to know about me and my own writing, well, I’ve not much to yet share with you, but I’ve some free time coming up.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

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P1050223a, originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Saturday, March 03, 2007

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pano_a, originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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photo_bball_a, originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

Friday, February 23, 2007

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photo_mirror1_a, originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Eggs, Envelopes, Et Cetera

I am not in the clear state of mind that is required of focused, topical writing, but I am in many states of mind, and so I will provide you with a list of which the only cohesive factor is me.

1. I hate when someone sitting next to you, or in front of you, yawns and stretches, stretching so fully and satisfyingly that their limbs contort and their toes curl, and they grow nearly an inch; you see, they wave their arms about and smack me in the face. If you are quick, you might be able to dodge the stretching arms, but I am not quick in that way. And when you have been slapped, it is best to pretend that you really don't mind at all, if they offer apology. It isn't a big deal, it isn't. If anything you should have smacked my forehead harder. I was going to anyway, later today I think, so it's good that we got it taken care of.

2. Carrying a tiny umbrella makes me feel effeminate. The kind of mini mini compact umbrellas that are NASA-engineered to fold away into almost nothing, the kind that women carry in their purse. The kind that's in my man purse right now. It's a laptop bag, really, but it rarely carries my laptop.

I imagine real men--- lumber jacks and army rangers--- carry old fashioned three footers, or beach umbrellas, or just trudge through the rain, because it's the closest thing they'll get to a shower. There are easy phallic jokes for you to make. I've set them up for you; giggle with your friends as you please.

But I love toothpick umbrellas. This should not surprise you if you know me well. It should not surprise you if you don't know me well either, because it is not an interesting fact to begin with.

3. I was pointlessly licking a self-adhesive envelope the other day, the kind that has a peel-away sticker across the flap. I hadn't realized; it seemed to me that the glue had aged. I licked furiously. I made out with the envelope to no avail. But just as I was going to ask someone in the office for glue to seal the ancient parcel, or maybe a hot wax stamp, I realized the error of my ways and peeled the tongue-slathered wax paper off the sticker and closed the envelope. All's well that ends well, so long as you don't get a paper cut on your tongue.

4. I don't much like large sunglasses, because they so obscure a person's face that they impede upon vital nonverbal communication. The eyes say so much, but behind excessive designer-brand space goggles, I can't tell if you're scowling at me or just scowling in my general direction.

5. I find it difficult to order eggs at breakfast, or brunch, or whenever you might order eggs. There is an assumption made that you are well-versed in cooked-egg nomenclature, despite the inevitable fact that no one ever teaches you about the different ways to prepare an egg. Poached? I really have no clue what it means to poach something. I though poachers hunt tigers and rhinos; I don't think poached eggs are hunted and sold on the black market. I am not aware of the difference between hard boiling and soft boiling; I did not realize there were different ways to boil. Sunny-side up? What the hell does that mean? Is this what I missed by attending public schools? I suppose the yolk is the "sun," in a sprightly culinary metaphor, and I can picture what 'sunny-side up' might mean. Can you get an egg sunny-side down? Is that a nighttime egg? Can you get an eclipsed egg? A supernova egg? Or is there a limit to the functionality of the metaphor?

It's such nonsense to me that I don't order eggs for the inherent difficulty in it. But I have never been a large fan of eggs. I'm tired of the pro-egg agenda of the breakfascist Denny-stapo and their purported grand slams.


I will leave you with these thoughts, knowing that you face considerable difficulties in your time, and knowing that my head will pop if I don't transcribe my own.

Monday, February 05, 2007

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photo_stocktonellis2_a, originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Thursday, February 01, 2007

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photo_neworleans2_a, originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cold Pop Tarts and Flannel

I have an inadvertent adeptness for attracting the attention of fringe thinkers. When I walk down a street, people with pamphlets and alternative theologies flock to me, selling their gods and conspiracies like Chiclets. They can tell from something in my eyes that I will listen to what they have to say, and I often travel alone, making me more approachable than most flocks. And I do listen to what they have to say.

Yesterday I spoke with a homeless man who grew up in New Orleans and now is just “trying to survive” in the city. When he was younger he wasn’t concerned with his health, drinking carelessly and spending many nights with many women. “It was probably the women that did it!” he said and chuckled, holding onto his walker.

In Berkeley, a man without a shirt approached me and, knowing that I would understand his dilemma, sighed and said, “Man, I don’t have a shirt.” I realize that the normal thing to do would be to ignore him and move on, but I stopped, and advised him to get a shirt. He asked where, and I didn’t know; he was eyeing mine, so I left it at that. I also understand that Berkeley is some kind of epicenter for these sorts of people. I imagine they hold annual get-togethers.

So, my willingness to listen is easily perceived. I enjoy the conversations in a sort of arrogant way, like a physics professor enjoying a child’s explanation of why the sky is blue.

I speak of it now because a man in flannel just sat with me and, as I was reading, told me that Middle Eastern people are illiterate, on the whole, and that I will soon be drafted into a nuclear war. I won’t describe his whole outlook and strategic plans because I’ve already forgotten, and besides, it’s not like a nuclear war would require that many troops anyway, right? He also said it was “Hitler all over again.” I didn’t fully comprehend the analogy, it was just over my head, you know, but I nodded as he stepped away, and with a false sincerity that comes to me naturally, said, “Yeah, really.” Yes, brother man friend, I understand. I understand you and all of your problems. It is… Hitler, all over again. Eloquent, man.

I was caught by what a sad man he may have been, alone in his stained white undershirt and warm flannel, his bookbag holding some grocery store paperback. He flipped through a small notepad while I tried to read, and he tried to make a phone call. When no one answered, he chuckled and nodded his head. How typical of her, he thought.

He is always eager for conversation. I’ve seen him before. I suppose he works at one of the Tressider Union businesses---I can’t really tell. He doesn’t look or sound like an academic, and he is not a physical laborer. He likely sits in a small office from nine in the morning until the late evening hours tracking photocopy transactions at Kinko’s, and when he finally gets off from work, he passes through the coffee house for a brief, warm cup, and a conversation with today’s up and coming academics. “I guess I sat with the reading club,” he said to me, watching everyone with their noses between pages.

I think he lives alone or with someone he doesn’t love and who doesn’t love him. When he gets home from work he complains that there is nothing in the refrigerator. Warm food would be a godsend and he realistically doesn’t expect it. She tells him, as she watches Deal or No Deal, that it isn’t her job and she didn’t have time anyway. He inhales deeply to raise his voice, but it’s been a long day and there’s no point to yelling anymore. He grabs a silver foil package of Pop Tarts and joins her on the couch, watching Howie Mandel and thinking back on the university kids he met earlier in the day. “I don’t know how you can eat those things cold,” she says. He doesn’t respond and wishes they were strawberry instead of cinnamon. They don’t speak to each other until the next night when she tells him that there is half a cheese pizza in the fridge, and that tomorrow is trash day so he better not forget to move the cans to the curb. They agreed he would take care of the garbage as they divvyed up the domestic responsibilities early on, but neither of them ever followed the so-called ‘rules’ with any consistency. In recent years he has become obedient to most of her demands; she really doesn’t ask for much but he doesn’t realize it. He does know she is a good woman and that the woman he married is somewhere there, still. She works early hours at a hospital with no room for promotions or aspirations and has grown weary of the daily routine, and the dreadful complacency of the lower middle class. She still loves the man he once was; memories of happiness, really, as well as financial convenience, are why they are still together. He is a red-faced, balding man with desperate grey eyes and yellow teeth; she is fearing her rapid age, worrying that her best years are past, and that ‘this is all there is’. She has been wearing thicker make up everyday and tries to emulate black and white photos of 1920s flappers by using bright red lipstick. They both know they will not be better off apart.

Tomorrow will be like tying old shoelaces, unconsciously simple, and at the end he will have to look at the calendar in his small notepad to see if another day has actually passed. It is Hitler all over again.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It’s like a month away

There are two things that I often write about in this venue. Holidays and espresso. But the Coffee House is as uncomfortable as ever, and there are no major holidays coming up.

Oh but there is! Anyone who’s been to a Starbucks within the past few weeks may have noticed the Valentine’s Day themed mugs and bears and things that are available for your convenient purchase. Valentine’s Day! It’s like a month away.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that it is perhaps the least meritable of themed days, invented for commercial reasons. Well, it’s been around forever really, since Romans and all that, but there’s certainly been a commercial push behind it. Sure, all major holidays have corporate backings, but Valentine’s Day as we know it was nearly invented by a mystical gathering of CEOs in crisp suits with bright patterned ties holding tight at their double chins. Balding, gray-haired, round-bellied corporate executives are the most romantic of people, and appropriately thought that love itself deserved a day of celebration. Not that peace-on-earth, Full House kind of love either--- it’s a day for purely freaky love, the kind that happens somewhere between dark alleyways and Parisian boulevards. Arguably the two defining characteristics of humanity are true love and true hate--- Hate Day will come soon enough, I guess.

But I am besides myself and besides my points to be made. The best Valentine’s Days, I think, were in grade school, when everyone exchanged candy and cards with everyone else. The cards, coming in those perforated sheets of nine thin cardboard cards, with little envelopes, were always an immense decision. They came in all kinds of cartoon or movie character themes, and you simply had to find the correct cards to capture the true essence of your personality. I can’t remember what I specifically chose, but I think there were Looney Tunes one year, and probably Ninja Turtles before that. We decorated paper bag mailboxes and passed out sweets and notes, and at the end of the day we all had weighty bags of mutual appreciation. Those were thaaa days.

In second grade, a girl gave me an entire box of chocolates. Specifically, they were those chocolate-covered syrupy cherries, which I now forever associate with that grade and time. In truth, I don’t remember if those chocolates came on Valentine’s Day or on a more arbitrary date, but that doesn’t matter. I was astounded--- a free box of chocolates, all to myself! She must have been smitten by my seven year old witticisms and academic prowess. You have no idea how many times I was Super Citizen of the Week.

The long and short of it is that it’s all been down hill from there. You knew I was going to say that!

In many regards we are all after the simple and pure joy that only the worriless, unfettered, underexposed and over-dependent childhood mind gave us, and the freedom which complete dependence allowed us, through chalky heart-shaped candy and pink teddy bears and white chocolate cupids. Oy vey.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

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P1030446a
Originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

Monday, January 15, 2007

According to my viewer statistics, someone recently got to this blog by searching on google for "feminine pee."

I'm really sorry for not meeting your expectations, pee-searching person. But I did in fact use the words 'feminine pee' here, so hopefully yo weren't entirely disappointed.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Monday, January 01, 2007

Promise Fulfilled, High Five

A few nights ago a friend turned to me and said, “Promise me something.”

“For you, anything,” I said, wiping the sarcasm from my lips.

“Write about this night.”

So I am writing about that night. Which is unfortunate because nothing of a particularly mentionable nature occurred. Different people have different measures of what is mentionable and what is not. Writing is editing the world down into a few mentionable sentences. I guess bad writing is the same, but the wrong sentences. There are many to choose from.

When I visited the restroom of the restaurant, a young man slammed the door open from within just as I reached for the handle. “Sorry,” he said. Alright. I guess he was talking to the door, or apologizing to the restaurant in general. Like when the Incredible Hulk throws a school bus at a liquor store because he got a parking ticket, and just can’t control his raging green self. He was apologizing because he couldn’t control his rage against the door. He must have run into some problems at the toilet.

I talked to a friend from a while back who was recently hit by a car. She was not in a car, you understand, but was hit by one regardless. Like Wile E. Coyote. She broke a couple of legs and a few other things, I think. You must respect someone who laughs at broken legs and slight brain damage. But the brain damage was probably why she was laughing. It’s temporary damage.

There are two possible reactions to getting hit by a car. You can depress yourself at the absurd lack of luck in it, and harvest pity like ears of corn, or you can laugh, and once you are no longer comatose, joke. You can react with the blunt and simple realization that reenacting Frogger does not benefit anyone, but is sort of funny. And while it is an unfortunate occurrence, it is only one occurrence among many, ending nothing and starting others, as long as you are still living. That’s a small detail. She will be forever plagued by metal detectors bleeping at gears and widgets within her leg, but that is all.

There is no new year moral here, but happy new year.

Oh, I remembered something relevant to that night. My lack of respect for the ‘high five’ gesture. I’ll be brief so as to not unconsciously quote Seinfeld.

A victorious slapping of hands? Like cooperative applause for oneself? Okay. No thanks. Worse than any single high five is a repeated five soon after the first, for whatever reason. For scoring that three pointer or getting to level 99 on your electrogame. It has a diminishing value. It’s barely a high one if you’ve already high fived in the previous 24 hours.

Once, when saying goodbye to an acquaintance at the end of a quarter, I was high fived as the culmination of ten weeks of extensive work. It was as if to say, I don’t know you well enough to hug you, but I do wish you the best, so swiftly feel my hand. Fast like a sniper handshake.

Another time, working late in a bookstore, my coworkers and I were done cleaning early and ready to close shop. The manager wanted to do some midair chest bumps to celebrate our efficiency, and proceeded to. I did not participate in that. It is essentially a full body high five. Though I wanted to maintain a haughty dignity about myself, I also feared that my glasses would go flying and shatter into dangerous shards of Lenscrafters plastic. I don’t remember what I said, but I surely glared at them with a proud evil eye, assuring them that I was far too civilized, nearly royal in a delusional way, to voluntarily collide.

The only real appropriate use of the high five is to anyone who is less than five years old, as they may very well find value in the five. Sarcastic high fiving is also an allowable usage. High five.

P1050020a


P1050020a
Originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

...YOU HAVE REACHED

the end of something.