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I half nuked 5 medium baking potatoes, although half boiling or half baking them is better, then I sliced them into medallions and tossed them into a pan with a liberal amount of olive oil and butter in which already were sautéing a half a onion and two cloves of chopped garlic. The pan was heaped high, a veritable mound of potato medallions, and I had to be careful upon the tossing not to let them spill over onto the stove top, perhaps to be lost forever under a burner, to commune with other bits of petrified food like loose change under a bed pretending to be covered with mold that turns out to be, in the end, simply, dust bunnies.
I lowered the heat and went up to the bighouse to check my email. I had missed the hearty breakfast I needed and had eaten instead two cinnamon rolls and coffee. That had burned off before I even thought about going out to perform chores in the fifteen degree windchill. It was supposed to warm up a little so I would just wait on it some. I checked my email again. Responded to one or two.
It’s cold here. I later in the evening talked to a Canadian writer who will perform cat and looking after houses duties in my absence and she said the cold didn’t bother her until it got below zero but she was saying that in my living room with coat all the way buttoned up and toboggan still pulled low over her ears. I’m just saying.
Back at the caretaker’s cottage I checked the potatoes, thought they looked a little unpleasantly translucent like they do when you try to pan fry them raw, and went back outside. I rearranged the myriad garage objects and tossed several bags of garbage into the back of the truck and then went back inside. I checked the heat on the potatoes, stood staring at Miss December on the Stihl calendar just to the left of the stove top and thought how she didn’t look cold, and went out and started up the truck.
I got that windshield fixed the other day, after a year of driving with spider web diffusion right up in my face. The crack was caused by a hurricane that had land fallen at New Orleans and then traveled 999 miles (first dropping the hurricane tag, then the tropical storm tag, to become simply a storm named Isobel) to reach my trucked parked under an American chestnut tree in Virginia. The sixty mile per hour wind propelled chestnut projectile had caused the spider webbing dead center drivers side and I had momentarily thought it a bad omen but drove cross country to the American ghetto a couple of times over the next year to debunk that myth. And like you think New Orleans is the only place Lagniappe happens the local Rappahannock mechanic also fixed the electric passenger side window without charge or for that matter without telling me he had done it.
I drove over to Rock Mills to the dump, off loaded, and then drove back to the house. I tossed the potatoes a bit and went back outside. I backed the truck halfway into the garage and took off the camper shell, leaned it up in the back corner. Back inside the potatoes were looking a little forgotten so I turned up the heat and gave them a light chopping with the spatula.
I drove into town to check the PO Box but got blocked at the end of the driveway by SF. We got out of our vehicles and shook hands.
“Did your friend get that bush hog blade off?”
“Oh, yes, and she wanted me to tell you thanks a lot for the advice, you know, its good to have somebody who’s done it before…”
“Yeah, of course...did she sharpen it?
“Not yet, and we’re going south in a few days so she probably won’t get to it before we get back.”
“Do you have it here with you?”
“Well, I did yesterday, but I don’t now.”
“If you want, if you leave it up the shed while you’re gone, I could sharpen it for you.”
“That’s a nice offer, I don’t know, she may want to do it herself so she knows how, but maybe you doing it once would give her the look of it and that would be good, so, I’ll ask her.”
“Well yeah, just leave it in the shed back there…”
This went on for a good while. I was starting to worry about those potatoes. Forgive the cliché but real men don’t worry about potatoes. SF told me his son’s girlfriend was having another baby. I know the son. I can mess with him a little. And I can’t resist corn pone humor. I said,
“Well good for them. I’m just wondering though, has Jr. figured out what causes that?”
I caught SF off guard with that one but he chuckled and said he wasn’t sure.
I said, “Well, you send the boy over and let me have a little talk with him, because it looks like maybe you never had that talk with him.”
SF laughed. “I’ll do that. I’ll send him over.”
“Yeah, send him over, I worry about Jr…”
Jesus, what was going to happen to my potatoes? I tried a bit of let’s wrap this up body language. It didn’t work right away but after a few more topic changes we shook hands and I was free to go. I paused, thinking maybe I should back up and check on those potatoes, but…come on, don’t be a sissy. I drove the few blocks into town. The mailbox yielded some insurance papers and a couple of juicy offers to get further into debt.
When I got back inside the bottom layer of potatoes was predictably blackened. Perfect. Mission almost accomplished. I tossed them and cracked a couple of brown eggs into a separate pan, with butter. I grated some cheese. The potatoes, onions, and garlic, had reduced to about a third of their original size. I put them in a bowl and threw on top the cheese. The yolk of a perfect over medium fried egg will run between 3/8th and 5/8th of and inch, on a level surface. I laid my nearly perfect eggs on top of the cheese which was already melted on top of the potatoes, which I forgot to mention, were lightly salted and peppered. Damn, lunchtime already.
In the afternoon, properly fueled, I went to the Co-op, and wanting to go easy on my truck made three separate trips out of loading and unloading 45 bags of shredded pine bark mulch for the bighouse flower garden, and the new (anticipating spring) flower bed I recently dug by my driveway. When I’m tripping, you know, I just mean daydreaming, although truth be told, I do have lucid daydreams, I see flowers spreading like the growing fractures of a cracked windshield, all over this forty acres, with me being the mule.
I miscalculated by a good bit on that mulch. I’ll need 30 more bags to finish out that bighouse bed. It’s a little cold right now, but it should warm up some later in the day…
The Shenandoah National Park is open 24 hours so if you go through the booth at the Thornton Gap entrance and the ranger says, after welcoming you--the park is closing at 5 p.m., then you know something is up. It was snowing a little bit so Lorina and I presumed that to be the reason for the early closing. I said, oh we plan on being gone by then, even though 5 p.m. was only two hours away and that really doesn’t amount to much of a hike. We were getting a late start. People do hike at night but usually under full moons any time after the leaves have fallen. Under new moon, early park closing, and snow, it would be considered bad form to be hiking in the evening hours.
Lorina couldn’t think of the trail name until the last minute and then it turned out to be Stony Man. It was Sunday and therefore not as good, generally speaking, as midweek hiking, because during the week you run much less the risk of running into that most dangerous and sometimes frightful park animal, hah, the human being. But this was one of the first days of let’s put on long johns sort of weather and being the second week of December, most people probably are trying to stimulate the US economy with Christmas shopping. We only saw two other cars in the park, none in the Stony Man parking lot.
One of the more interesting bits of trivia regarding the Shenandoah Park is that the range, which goes under different names (Appalachian, etc.) to confuse people, was once, like before man walked the earth, much bigger, sharper, jagged, and taller than it is now and there is suggested the similarity between either the Rockies or the Swiss Alps. For me why this is a particularly gratifying piece of trivia is because the range is considerably less spectacular in the tall jagged sense but so much more pleasing in the round, green with flowing streams and waterfalls sense, even as it provides the ancient evidence of shear granite cliffs (for rock climbers, and geology buffs) of an age which is purported to be some of the oldest on the planet earth. So, what I’m saying is, whatever bit of slow moving apocalypse occurred here, implies a brighter future. I am not here advocating the use of atomic bombs in the Rockies and the Alps, for those who require instant gratification. That would not be a satisfactory shortcut.
We are hiking up the mountain a ways and the cold air hurts the lungs a little but the path is not so steep as to be painfully annoying. It is snowing soft sleet pellets and the trail is lightly dusted white. Lorina shows me the first four story cliff face and I can see how it might be climbable, even for a moderately athletic person, but I don’t even like roller coasters or other similarly safe thrills, so I don’t think I would climb this. I’m not sure I would be able to shake the memory of a casual friend of mine who a few years ago fell four stories during a rock climb. Even though, really, he doesn’t have hardly a glimmer of perceptible limp at this writing. I don’t mind listening to Lorina’s instruction though because people often change their minds and so should I ever find myself three stories up a four story climb, I would like to have as much knowledge about the sport as possible.
We walk on, the trail is pretty much level at this point, and Lorina suggests we turn around because my truck is rear wheel drive and way too light in that rear. The drive down the mountain, with no other traffic to melt the snow, would soon be, or could soon be, treacherous. I agree we should turn around, but let’s walk just a couple hundred yards more. So we do that, and then pause. The snow/sleet is not falling anymore. Lorina nods up the hill and says, wanna hike off trail for awhile? I say yes and she leads the way up and I just follow, in most cases, the same indentations left by her boots in the rich, rocky soil, occasionally having to grab onto a tree trunk or a chunk of granite cropping to pull myself up. After the trail proper has become a memory I ask if she is pretty sure about bisecting the trail again by this off trail methodology. She is sure.
I feel pretty good and it’s not windy and I have a lighter and there is lots of dry wood on the ground. I like it here. I could live here for one night. Probably wouldn’t sleep much and I didn’t bring any snacks and the park ranger would wag her finger at us if she ever got a chance but people get lost, it happens all the time.
We were lost for awhile but as a follower I felt less the mild panic than did Lorina, who had to deal not only with finding the path but with that distraction of emotion related to diminishing certainty. She’d been reading my mind for about a week so instead of talking I just thought, its ok Lorina, we can sleep here, it’s cozy. I’m glad we didn’t have to though. We changed directions once and I thought of that Blair Witch movie, lost in the woods going in circles and all, but in the end there was a white streak ahead of us. Instead of yelling out, there’s the trail, I just kept walking because the streak didn’t look that different from the dusting of snow along a foreground streak caused by snow on a fallen log. Shortly, Lorina said, there it is, and reaching it ahead of me got down on her hands and knees and kissed the sugar coated earth. I said I bet that is only partly in humor and she said goddamn right. Not being lost is only to be properly appreciated after being pretty well lost on a potentially snowy night. Although, back on the trail, the happiness related to comfort and certainty is somewhat tinged by a sense of melancholy which is connected to the memory of that ecstatic freedom of being truly lost and disconnected from all things familiar. I hope to get back out there before driving down to New Orleans on Friday.
The Pink Lee Press On Nail
I’m painting the walls in the basement while these two black guys speaking French are putting together the pool table. We don’t talk to each other that much. Their job requires a certain level of expertise and mine really doesn’t. I could actually talk and still do an adequate job and truly they probably could too but it doesn’t seem like we have that much to say on this particular day. Honestly, I’m not even talking to myself that much. So it’s cool, we’re working peacefully in this room together except there’s really no reason they should have to smell paint fumes in the course of their job. I’ve got a couple of windows open and the outside entrance door too. They don’t complain about the fumes, unless they are doing it in French. I don’t speak French but I used to speak a little Spanish and I’m getting the idea of some their words. When they laugh I don’t assume they are laughing at me, but they could be. I am not without humorous content. It seems more like straight French rather than that totally poetic sounding Creole that the Haitians speak, with whom I am somewhat familiar from my days in New Orleans. I could ask them where they are from, because I am curious, but I am also tired of predictable questions. Hell, maybe they’re from France, or Canada.
One of the guys asks me (in English) at a certain point if he is in my way and I say, no, not at all, I’ve got plenty to do in other parts of the room. It is a large, finished basement, easily bigger than the house I live in. I start picking up the minutiae of five year old boy treasure and transfer it from its chaotic placement around the room, into a short sided cardboard box. Then I move a low, free-standing bookcase or knick knack shelf away from the wall. I throw down a drop cloth. I climb a six foot ladder and paint with a brush where the wall meets the ceiling. It’s called cutting in. Then I climb down and paint with a brush where the wall meets the baseboard. Then I get a roller and dip and roll it around in a five gallon bucket half full of paint, lift it up over the bucket, turn it around a few times by spinning the roller handle, and then put it to the wall and roll until it’s dry. Repeat. I’m working slowly now because I don’t want the pool table guys to think I’m waiting on them. But I am.
There are Ritz cracker crumbs all over the floor but I didn’t do it.
The five year old comes down and wants to help but I tell him he has to change his clothes. He goes up two floors and comes back and I tell him the pants are ok but the shirt is too good, change it. He leaves and comes back later looking as blue collar as he’s gonna get. He’s a barefoot painter like me. I lay down some extra protection against an already painted small section of wall; give him as much instruction as he’s going to take and presto, instant painter. He makes a few mistakes like all the five year olds I’ve employed but his work ethic is solid and he doesn’t talk back. Although, at five, he’s a little too literate for this type of work. He asks at one point—will this paint dry quickly? I want to grab him by the shoulders and say, boy, you can’t use adverbs in this line of work, but I don’t. He wouldn’t get it. It wouldn’t be funny to anyone but I and I don’t even think it’s that funny. After awhile he gets bored and goes back upstairs.
The two men finish the table and the bubble on the torpedo level is true blue so I initial here, here, here, and here, and sign here. As a duly appointed agent of the owner I tip the guys forty bucks and they take off.
I start painting the last long wall, the one closest to the brand new six million dollar pool table. Somebody upstairs, and I’m not going to say who, thinks it would be a good idea to let run free down here with me the five year old, the eight year old and his precocious friend, and the five year olds’ three and a half year old girlfriend. There was in attendance a young, polite, perhaps college freshman, perhaps Yalie, I’m not sure, but he made five people sharing the room with me at the end of a long day. He did reign the kids in sufficient enough for me to feel less the need to duct tape them all in a screaming ball and toss them out into the cold gray drizzle, so his attendance is not to be underestimated.
But before the perhaps college freshman came down the eight year old starts racking them up. Truly as little as possible but sometimes I treat other people’s children as if they were my own, and here let me not be remiss in mentioning that I have no children of my own. I do not in the least little bit pretend that this temporary treatment of other people’s children as my own is a good thing, but to me, watching a child with his full store of post school energy, stuck inside because of the rain, start to do something that to me seems like a bad idea, well, it is just as if I were watching him put his hand in a roaring campfire. And here do not let me pretend that I’m all about the altruism because part of me wants to let him put his hand in the roaring campfire as the quickest path to the hard earned, and therefore well remembered, lesson.
“No, you can’t do that now.”
You know he’s petulant. He says, “why?” with all the grating confidence of five Lee Press On Nails across a chalkboard.
I’m good for one “why?” I explain how it is that I’m painting the wall right by the pool table and how I need to finish (so I can go hide somewhere away from screaming children). By implication of my demeanor I am also saying—I was here first, I am bigger than you, and, I am meaner than you. I am an ogre sure as they are in fairy tales and after I’m done eating you I will use one of your rib bones for a toothpick.
The eight year old backs off a little bit. But is soon to be joined by his precocious friend who is to my present state of mind, for all intents and purposes, a giant Lee Press On Nail. A pink one. The two of them start talking about playing kickball, which is one of the main activities that go on in this room. There was even talk of putting the new six million dollar pool table so close to the wall as to render it useless, just to keep it out of the kickball base path.
“No, you can’t play kickball now.” (Large, freshly painted, still wet wall, and bouncing kickball, and 4’X8’ six million dollar horizontal surface.)
The Pink Lee Press On Nail says—“why?”
(Circuits sizzle, little puffs of smoke are emitting from out of my ears, and nose, and corner of my mouth as it cracks open on one side in grimace. I hear as if from down a long tunnel the words—why don’t you all go play down in the basement.)
Before I even know I’m saying it, I’m saying it. I say—Just because.
If you were ever yourself a petulant kid you know that was one of the things you swore to God you would never say to your own kids, because, it makes no sense. To a kid, anyway.
The Pink Lee Press On Nail says—“that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yes it does.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“What you mean is, is that it isn’t a complete sentence, and it’s not, but it does make sense.”
All these kids, they go to schools that don’t employ the use of heavy wooden paddles with holes drilled in them.
“Look kid, its idiomatic shorthand for—‘you’re about to get my backhand.’ When an adult says to you ‘just because’ you had better believe the words have meaning. In a world where parents have evolved to a point of not smacking their kids anymore the words ‘just because’ could possibly mean that you are about to be made an exception of."
“You ended a sentence with a preposition.”
“So did you.”
Dogs are forever showing magical powers so if one looks at you when you are leaving, all uncharacteristically sad like, it makes you wonder if he is forecasting your imminent demise. Doesn’t it? It did me at the time, a few days ago, and then later, which was this morning, it did again as I remembered it after escaping by seconds the high speed rear ending of my truck into the carpet van on 66, returning to the bucolic Rappahannock from the less than bucolic DC area. I had been daydreaming towards the left, amazed by the rush hour into DC, on the other side of the highway, 37 miles out.
I survived it though, and that’s all that matters, end of story.
A couple of days before the dog implied my premature ending I had almost died of fright or had a bad case of shoppingphobia in a Charlottesville, VA. Shopping mall, buying a somewhat sub semi-formal outfit for a semi-formal party, which seems a contradiction of terms (formal party, and for that matter, jimlouis buys outfit), but isn’t, and this the many of you who leave your homes to attend soirées on a regular basis no doubt know. I had tried on the sport coat, semi-formal all the way baby, and elicited a veritable whoosh of you so hot from the attending Lorina, but me and Perry Ellis could not agree on the 300 dollar price tag. If my so-called salesman hadn’t been as hopelessly lanky and unable to find clothes in his own store and also been hands off in his approach I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did. I picked up a cashmere sweater and dropped it like a hot cashmere potato when I saw the 200 dollar price tag. Except for at the Thrift City next to the Rock n’ Bowl in New Orleans, I haven’t done any actual clothes type shopping in, uh, going on thirty years or so, and that would I guess extend into the past beyond New Orleans but I can’t pull up the cities or the names of the thrift stores for you, beyond the obvious, Goodwill and Salvation Army, and Poughkeepsie (which is a joke because you know I never lived, or shopped, in Poughkeepsie.)
I may go into Culpeper and if I see Perry the Hobo I might ask if he’ll sell me his jacket for 25. Other than that though I’ll just go jacketless, and besides, who’s got all this disposable income to be getting caviar and red wine stains out of 300 dollar jackets? I know what you’re thinking. 300 dollars? My socks cost more than that. Right? And, Perry Ellis? Where were you shopping, Walmart? Just leave me alone.
But it was a long day, with more shopping than I mentioned, and, Charlottesville is not just around the corner from here and that was a round trip on a day we also were round tripping to and from DC to hear The Magnetic Fields at the Birchmere (in, actually, Alexandria.) It was crazy in Charlottesville with all the manic Christmas shopper energy and that per-capita higher than normal number of assholes in the Lowe’s parking lot (I was one of them, I admit.) Also in the parking lot Sponge Bob’s best friend, Patrick, was up 4 stories high in one of those bucketed fire rescue cranes and for the life of me I could not think of his name. Lorina wanted to know how, without a TV, I am so up on this Sponge Bob character (“What?!!!!,” I challenged, “you don’t know Sponge Bob?). This was before, after, or in between one of the times I wanted to merck her as a result of me not handling the stress very well. So if I couldn’t remember Patrick’s name then how come I can now you may wonder? I have a five-year-old friend and yesterday I asked him, twice. “Patrick,” he said, each time, with little, or no, incredulity regarding the scope of my ignorance.
But sure, later I got to go drown my manic depression in the dilaudid-esque well of Magnetic Fields. Which probably would have worked fine if not for the giggly group sitting behind us, who made being depressed not at all enjoyable and more like being in the Lowes parking lot all over again. So we got up and stood but the bouncer said we couldn’t stand, had to sit, and if I pointed out the offending parties “he would take care of it.” No thanks, I smirked, and we went to find seats, next to the only (I swear) other group of happy people in the room. I mean, you can’t really begrudge people happiness, but it is a thing, I think, that can be inappropriate to certain times and space. That bouncer would have been better employed in kicking all the happy people out on their asses. Smiling would be allowed but prolonged head-bobbing and quirky happy chatter would get you thrown out. If voted for, I will run. If elected, I will be an asshole.
Sitting And Traveling
The thing about today is that for all the so-called daylight hours there is only one moment. There is no progression of time. There is no tracking of the sun across the sky. There is only the one monochromatic lighting scheme and there is only the same fifteen or twenty drops of water tentatively leaping from the gutter edge to certain death in the bushes below. Except there is no death for them because they are running on a loop. Instant reincarnation. The rain can be described as falling only in the sense that it does appear to be coming down from up above. Really though it is almost floating, heavier and thicker but clearer than fog. There is only one moment and we are in it. Doing this, looping.
Two days later and now is the time to ask after one another. How was Thanksgiving? Ya’ll go ahead and do that amongst yourselves…all right, good. Did you eat too much this year? I ate a whole pie.
I am not positioned to see The Peak, which is the name of a specific part of the Shenandoah range, and can be seen if I stand up, walk ten feet, and look out the window to my left. In the other room is playing Double Nickles on the Dime, Minutemen, which I got turned onto by a hitchhiker I picked up in Utah 15 or 19 years ago. He was going to Oxnard, CA. or thereabouts and I was going nowhere. We speared rib eyes with sticks and cooked them over a campfire in the desert off the road a bit. The next evening we were outside Dodger Stadium and he was procuring tickets for us from a scalper. He could tell where the seats were just by glancing at the ticket so we weren’t taken advantage of by scalpers who might have imagined he and I had just fallen off the turnip truck. Not that they could see the truck I was driving but parts of the body were tied on with bailing wire.
I remember him telling me that Dodger Stadium was so clean you could snort coke off the bathroom floor and although I would never try that, and could not on this occasion because neither he nor I had any, the stadium was indeed a shining example of cleanliness.
After the game he suggested we drive down to Hunnington Beach for the next days’ national surfing competition, and so we did. It was late night or early morning when we arrived and we slept in the truck and got eaten by mosquitoes, parked on a residential street a few blocks from the beach. Mosquitoes are not a thing I generally think about when I think about California. In those days I traveled to and slept outside in California on several occasions. I only remember mosquitoes in Hunnington Beach. Once in San Simeon, sleeping on a construction site, I was awakened by construction workers at 6:30 a.m. and once in Santa Cruz young lovers snogging on the steps above where I was trying to sleep woke me up because the pitch of the male lover’s begging was similar to that whining pitch of the female mosquito. The whirring of a cheap circular saw might sound like a mosquito on acid but I didn’t wait around for that on the construction site. I gathered up my worldlies and crept off to the nearby road, where I was picked up by hippies in a station wagon offering windowpane. A year prior, in the tramp jungle near the train tracks in Yuma, Arizona, I was awakened by the groping hands of a hobo who was going for the buck knife I would never use but kept resolutely and foolishly strapped to my side anyway. He was unsuccessful because he mistook my mild grumbling as a near consciousness merely one step from him receiving my buck knife the hard way. He did not know how unlikely that was, which speaks well for the power of implication and/or near consciousness. Yuma, Arizona is not in California, obviously, so really doesn’t belong in this paragraph about mostly California but I was just thinking about it so here it is. I am not going to go on and on about it in such a fashion that would justify it having its own paragraph. Not that the tramp jungle in Yuma doesn’t deserve its own paragraph, it really does.
The thing about getting up early is…no, forget that. The thing about The Peak is…no, I’m a long way from being able to describe that because it requires so much compression of time/space and a vocabulary more specific to art. It was purple again this morning and the undulations were richly described by shadow. That’s the easiest one. How was it for you?
Later, on that same trip, I was in Winona, Minnesota and picked up my own copy of Double Nickles on the Dime. One last thing:
The day of the riot at my elementary school was, excluding the riot, much like any other day.
Full Moon Memories
Some cussing in this one.
Lorina was driving me and a mutual friend through tens of miles of late night fog to attend the ballet at a university in Virginia.
God bless Lorina for her social sensibilities and dedication to friends, even casual ones, for it is that sensibility and dedication that had us driving in zero visibility through winding mountain roads crossed frequently by deer and bear and sometimes cows. No kidding to Lorina, it is such effort that makes life richer, even as it increases the likelihood of troubling events.
It started out friendly enough at the mutual friend’s house, Kalvin, who stays with his parents and was once, at least in the hopeful eyes of Kalvin’s mother, a suitor of Lorina.
I try to be mature about these things on account of I have a relatively mature amount of years under my belt but at the same time I can feel Kalvin’s mother wishing I weren’t there. In all fairness to her, it had been my first inclination to decline this trip, but I’m trying to be less of a homebody and not make Lorina feel like getting me to do something social is an ordeal of teeth pulling magnitude. Even though Lorina has admitted that she likes pulling teeth.
So on the couch I tried to disappear into the college football game while we waited on Kalvin, who I think in the twenty minutes we waited was shotgunning possibly three or four more beers, on top of the case he had already drunk and not including the multiple shots of vodka he had tossed down earlier in the afternoon. Kalvin had started his first suit and tie job a month earlier and was limiting himself to one day of drinking a week. He was not a happy drunk but was loyal to the idea that it might ease his much held onto pain. He’d been at it for about four hours when we came to pick him up at five p.m.
Lorina was designated driver and was declining drink offers and expertly chatting up the parents while I tried to be ignored. I had some Haze in my pocket just in case the fog lifted. Many of the ballerinas would be beginners.
Kalvin’s parents gave me a delicious nut and dried fruit assortment to munch on the road, and we were off.
Kalvin and I had spent a little time together in the months preceding this trip. Once we had gone out together to hear Lorina’s punk band play at an area venue. We were turned away at the door because the club was full and neither one of us could see either one of us persisting with—“but we’re on the guest list.” Lorina was somewhat disappointed in both of us but if she is going to persist in befriending social retards then she will have to expect some of that.
Kalvin and I had both once lived in the same southern city and had some overlapping experiences that we felt bonded us. We knew things, we thought, that no one else knew. We knew poor kids who lived richly but depraved lives. Kids dropped onto the planet, onto the streets, with historical baggage imprinted with travel decals from all the wrong places. Kids so underprivileged that it seems wrong to cast all the blame their way when the some of them do wrong. At the same time we both agree that all persons must be accountable for their actions. And you can’t just cast a blanket of forgiveness over armed robbery, rape, and murder. It is a difficult thing to consider. I’m always trying to dumb it down for my own self, so that I can black and white an issue that has a thousand shades of grey. Here is a cliché that I like regarding all this. If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. And as part of the problem your complaining and whining are little more than self-loathing and you should take that to the closet quietly, or to the office of a professional, or frankly, internet writing can be therapeutic. But don’t let me hear you because I have absolutely zero tolerance and only slightly more maturity than that so whereas quietness will be my first response to you it will not be my last. Even at the risk of sounding smug I will discount any thought that does not consider movement towards solution. I afford equal respect to those who just keep their fucking mouths shut.
To discuss the problems related to impoverished Americans, intellectually, is one thing, but to complain about it, or to cast blame or point fingers at the few but legitimately frightening wrong-doers and say, with the exact words or just by implication, that bad people should be done away with, should not exist, should just stop being bad, and that you resent your tax dollars going to benefit them, or some other infantile phrasing from the infantile mind, is inexcusable, ill-advised, or simply idiotic.
I have had something approaching close contact with the people who are trying to be part of the solution, and from these people I have heard harsh words which hold all fuckups accountable, regardless of their beginning station in life. From a person who might be camped at ground zero in the harshest of ghettoes, I respect this harsh sentiment. Because on that person’s floor on any given night of the year might be camped a sizeable number of this country’s forgotten youth: some of them being the people for whom we are building prisons because that is the fullest extent of our forward thinking on the issue of crime, and what to do about it. This person offers to high risk youth her own food and shelter, and school supplies, some clothing, occasional gifts, an incredible amount of her time, and does all this in her spare time, before, during, and after her two jobs. She helps many even as her so-called success rate might be deemed rather low.
I don’t think a person has to be that selfless, or to give that much of themselves, to be in the arena of problem solvers. Any effort is laudable.
I know of some of the bad shit that resides within Kalvin, but not all of it. I don’t why he was being so unrelentingly hateful towards large groups of fellow humans on this night, stating that most frightening opinion (but as fact) that these bad people in America were bad for the gene pool. I don’t know why I just gave up and started calling him a motherfucker and a neo-nazi, first in the car, then in the bar after the ballet.
We had been so deeply into it that Kalvin, in his rabid state of disgruntlement, had fallen down on the job of directing Lorina to the university and we were late and had to beg to pay for standing room seats because the room was sold out. We had just driven two hours, we cried. I said nothing about Kalvin’s ethnic cleansing ideas. I was really heated up, I apologize for that now. It was Lorina who said we had just driven two hours to support our young ballerina friend. Wanting to make up for my lack of effort at getting into her punk gig the month before I said, yeah, is there standing room available? The woman looked at me and said, who are you? I don’t particularly approve of that phrasing and wanted to shout back, I am a human being, who the fuck are you, bitch, but realizing that overcoming immaturity is a lifelong process, I just meekly said, uh, I’m uh, I’m with them. Even though that partly felt wrong, because for the past two hours in the car I had most adamantly not been with Kalvin on anything.
Standing near or leaning against the exercise bar for two hours in a poorly ventilated recital hall was uncomfortable. In addition, Kalvin said a bunch of negative and scary stuff to the young ballerina we had come to see; spoke, or sang, during performances; audibly tapped his feet on the floor or his hands on the exercise bar along to the beat of introduction music; made a callous comment regarding the young man with long hair who collapsed to the floor next to him; turned to me occasionally and said—you’re wrong, and finally, after being reprimanded several times by Lorina, just lurked by himself in the corner, going pale and trying not to fall out like the young man he had just criticized for falling out.
The young ballerina we had come to see was a joy to watch and for those few minutes of her performance all bad was washed from the planet.
Lorina asked me should we stay and give our regards to ballerina friend. I felt and expressed the adamant opinion that we should escort as quickly as possible our mutual friend, Kalvin, from the premises. One of the things I like about Lorina is that she does not resent me for occasionally being right, and even applauds me for it. She presented no argument against the faux pas of leaving without a word and we bolted for the exit two floors down.
We went to a bar for one drink and it was as Lorina promised a nice place. Kalvin sat down and asked me to clarify my position, interrupted me each time I started, prattled on about his superior experience with the subject matter (his one month association with troubled youth to my ten years worth), and generally underscored his belligerently drunken personality with one hateful idea after another. As to his assertion that I was wrong I am only too ready to accept that, about everything I know, except that the ethnic cleansing he was very close to proposing, is wrong. It was at the bar that I had to inquire didn’t he see the similarity between his ideas and that of the neo-nazi and shortly after that I just started calling him a motherfucker, repeatedly. As a person of German descent he really didn’t like the nazi reference and as someone who lives with his mother, I guess he took offense to me calling him a motherfucker as well.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been caught so off guard.
At the bar, Lorina had tried to express an idea similar to mine, against Kalvin’s, and since he had admitted to me in the men’s room at the university that he thought Lorina and I were ganging up on him, I interrupted Lorina and out the side of my mouth told her not to help me. I was banking on the high probability that I could explain that particular insult later. She went and sat next to a woman at the bar and tried successfully not to bum a cigarette. She left me with Kalvin and by the time she came back ten minutes later there was very little coming from my mouth that wasn’t profanity. When she cheerfully asked would we like to get another drink I said, quickly and adamantly, no, let’s get the fuck out of here. She seemed to immediately forgive me that bit of rudeness too. I am not so needful or desirous of friends that I will be missing this one but I still feel bad about it. All of it. His ideas, my responses, his reasoning, my lack of understanding.
On the way home I was finally able to bow out as Lorina took over with calm and reasonable responses to Kalvin’s insane interpretations. Sometime during that he had changed subjects, away from ethnic cleansing to world politics, to mollify Lorina, and began talking about one of this country’s sworn enemies. He used an epithet which I honestly didn’t hear but which Lorina scolded him for and later told me was sand nigger. I was listening when shortly after that he verified the part of my nationality which accounts for half of my blood and I said, yes, that’s correct. It took me until the next morning to realize the epithet had been for my benefit but no real harm done on that one since I had literally called him a motherfucker perhaps a hundred times that night.
Finally, after being calm and reasonable an unreasonable amount of time, six hours into the evening, Lorina said, can we just not talk anymore? Can you only talk if you give me one pleasant thought to end this night? Kalvin truly couldn’t and shut up. Right before we dropped him off he was able to pull out one of his stock memories--driving at night with lights off on a thin ribbon of black asphalt through a bucolic, snow-covered Virginia, under the full
Mike, The One Mockingbird
You can only wonder is it the rumored conviviality of its occupants that brought about the events of this morning.
It is something I wonder about. Is there more than one mockingbird? Everywhere I go I keep seeing the same one.
Last night, nodding off, the rabid fox, which I haven’t until now mentioned, made demented, near death fox noises, in the woods outside my window.
I don’t know if you can hear it from where you are but there is a light tapping on the bay window by the kitchen table in the other room. It is loud enough to hear over Townes Van Zandt, who is singing a ballad about not being loved.
I know you’re going to tell me that birds sometimes fly into windows by accident and it is my responsibility as someone who purports to be sensitive to hang streamers in front of it or some other visual marker so the birds won’t be tempted to fly into my kitchen.
I don’t think you understand Mike, the one mockingbird.
This isn’t the original paragraph that goes here, that one got eaten by the ibm thinkpad, which, similar to Mike, crashes, but not into windows, into itself, unless you want me to mean Windows, which probably is the culprit. Now the whole window concept is sort of tainted for me. I don’t feel good about it. But also, you ain’t missing nothing from that original paragraph, except the one allusion to Rudyard Kipling and one tired Heavy Hummingbird alliteration/metaphor.
I can still hear him though, Mike, in the other room, now tapping along to Willie Nelson singing Rainbow Connection, which I think is a cover of that Kermit the Frog song.
I cut some cask strength bourbon in half with water and offered it to Lorina so she would have something to drink while watching Fog of War, which I think is the most chilling anti-war statement ever made and also lends perspective to current events in the sense that what this country has survived just in the last sixty years is pretty remarkable when you are able to realize it through the lens of a condensed timeline. I mean if we can survive WWII and later a team consisting of McNamara, Johnson, and LeMay and not too long later survive a Nixon/Kissinger clusterfuck, and then 8 years of Reagan, well, we should be able to survive whatever comes, except, you know, the end (and here I would like for all you fundamental Christians to at least consider the possibility that your near salivating in anticipation of an Armageddon every time—and only when—the US is involved in some world conflict near the middle east, is sort of creepy, and perhaps indicative of mental illness, which is treatable. I am not speaking to the entirety of your value system as represented by the words of JesusChrist, which for the most part I aspire to myself).
What history shows is a balance of insanity and reason. Speaking of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the voices of reason that ultimately prevailed, Lorina expressed her fear of this current administration being faced with a crisis of similar magnitude. I got pretty good cred for wallowing in lakes of futility but I am breathing clean air with my head bobbing above that these days. I have tricked myself, I have told myself and believed me, that wallowing like that is a colossal waste of time and forgive me but I usually have to punctuate the sentiment with—you punkass crybaby bitch. Anyway, and also, I tend to feel the need to look contrary to popular opinion, regardless of the opinion, and why imagine a desolate future when there is so much of it you can experience in the here and now, if that is your cup of tea. So I said to Lorina—we can’t know for sure that such a crisis would be handled poorly by this current administration. Even though they may be lame ducks, there are voices of reason within the administration. I offered the obvious. I said we still have Colin Powell.
Lorina is a talented musician and spends time each week with talented musicians so she has a sense of timing and beat that overlaps into her everyday living. You don’t really know that a pause is pregnant until later but that’s what it was, that quiet space between me saying we have Colin Powell and her saying, oh, he resigned today. Well then, good thing Castro has been marginalized.
Lorina's ex-husband plays with plastic sharks in public pretty near, in proximity, the place where Lorina performs one of her seven jobs. I'll come into the public place and nod at him and he'll, taking a break from the positioning of plastic sharks, nod back.
I would not say there is a growing lack of amity between us, yet, now that the words are out here, let's at least suggest that there is. There's only about 500 people you would have to know around here to say that you literally knew everyone so it is probably counterproductive to make snap judgements, or quick enemies.
Lorina's ex-husband goes by the name Spencer, although Lorina says the name on his birth certificate is Morton. I pondered the why-fore of such a thing until finally, coming up with nothing, I asked Lorina. I said, "If his name is Morton why doesn't he go by Morton, or Mort, or Mortie." Lorina nodded sadly, but with the crease of a smile on her red lips, and I, sure that I had asked a stupid question searched my database of limited knowledge for the obvious answer before she could give it to me. I did not want to seem too dense on the subject of why a person would change names. But Lorina, who was only midway through the one act play comprised entirely of facial expressions, entitled, Why Morton Calls Himself Spencer, simply raised her eyebrows, blinked her eyes (first concurrently one with the other and then sequentially), scrunched up her nose, puckered her lips, sucked in her cheeks and finishing with an impressive neck roll and a punctuating cluck of the tongue, said, "I really don't know."
So for now some things will remain mysterious. There are questions that will remain unanswered.
I was at a basketball game yesterday at the MCI Center in DC. There was a miniature but fully operational blimp floating around the stadium doing, to my knowledge, the only thing blimps are capable of doing, other than floating and steering, and that is advertising a product. The product was, nah, uh uh, psyche.
They now play over the sound system abbreviated arrangements of popular hip-hop and rap tunes throughout the game, instead of just at the breaks.
Right before the game began fireworks shot up from hidden cannons mounted on top of the goals. The smoke did not rapidly dissipate. About twenty minutes into the game the person sitting to my left, obviously so distracted by the ongoing spectacle of the modern day professional sporting event, and having forgotten about the fireworks said, "Is it smoky in here?" This guy, the guy seated to my left, is someone who, like me, is old enough to accept unpleasant possibilities as explanation for anything that may occur in life. Completely forgetting the fireworks he must have been accepting the possibility that life for him was going grey. I do not know if my answer was enough to pep him up from the potentially unpleasant reality he was facing, going blind in the middle of a professional sporting event, but he did, like me, upon receiving my answer that it was indeed smoky, fireworks be blamed, wonder just what the hell are they doing shooting fireworks in an indoor stadium. The fireworks did not even spell out the name of a product.
It was kids' day at the stadium and I got a portable basketball hoop and ball to enjoy in the comfort of my own home.
Do not get me wrong. I love the spectacle of professional sports. Even though I would fire whoever is the chief in charge of courtside priorities. I would replace those two pimply teenagers who get to sit practically under the goal so they can wipe up from the floor the leaking bodily fluids of professional athletes, with the entire cheerleading squad, who have somehow been most ridiculously delegated to the outer wings of the stadium. I would of course justify this change in terms of dollars and cents and not by the implied whim of some antiquated sexist mind-set. You know what I'm saying? Butt cheek product placement.
There was a baby race, an air guitar contest, a best smile contest, a kiss your girlfriend contest, a little kids slam dunk contest, a shoot around the world contest, an entire elementary school amount of kids singing the national anthem (off key), and of course the obligatory cute and quirky mascot. The cheerleaders had the floor for a while as did a dance team. There was a guy dressed up like a superhero who with the aide of a trampoline and landing mat executed some high-flying slam dunks, one with a full flip included. The same guy later shot t-shirts into the upper decks from a strap on device looking like a flame-thrower but which was instead a type of bazooka.
A tall guy from one team attempting to score against the tall guy from the other team became entangled with his competitor but scored anyway and to punctuate his prowess under the basket, after landing, spanked his opponent on the ass. His opponent became angry, but nobody cared, or paid him any attention, so he just went about looking confused and sullen for a few more minutes, before being taken out of the game for a rest, or to apply salve to his sore ass.
There is a huge TV screen hanging from the rafters in case somewhere in the middle of the game you realize you would rather be at home.
A guy came right up to my seat offering beer and peanuts but I figured there was probably a catch to it so I declined his offer.
A famous tall person looking slightly ill at ease in his clothing was projected onto the big screen and after seeing him on TV people nearby wanted his autograph even if they had no idea who he was. The famous tall person took more than a little time with each autograph, as if he had suddenly realized this was the time to begin that novel he had always wanted to write. He would write and concentrate and write some more. He would then look up and see the little kid who had given him the paper or ball to write on and he would smile apologetically and say a few words of explanation as to why these particular autographs might seem more like novellas. None of the children complained about this.
Penultimate does not mean what you think it does. If you think it means top of the heap you got another think coming. If someone told you it means top of the heap that person was at best making a common mistake and at worst telling you a bold-faced or bald-faced lie. You can’t slink around life with bad information. You run the risk of waking up one morning and having your life tossed asunder by one vocabulary word. Committee, referring, occurring, recommend, are words that no word processor will let you misspell so you can skate by comfortably ignorant as a bad speller. But what if someone said you were the penultimate member of a group and for twenty years you had thought they meant you were the best when in fact, whether they meant it or not, what they were saying is that you are, as pertains to your grouping, next to last. Next to last? Is that using a horizontal scale of measuring where next to last would be located almost to the far right and be by implication a better thing than next to last on a vertical scale which would implicate you near the bottom? What kind of word is so careless about its meaning and what are you going to do about this? If you were the suspicious type you might start with any number of bone-headed assumptions and move on from there. For example, perhaps twenty years ago penultimate meant best of best but shortly after that the word was co-opted by a radical group consisting of linguists, librarians and dictionarians, who in numerous acts of cunning malfeasance drugged everyone in America while they went about changing the typeset or digital equivalent of all dictionary publishers in the world while at the same time they gathered up and threw out all volumes of written material which would show the word to be in any way complimentary to me. Is that too farfetched? How many misunderstood words would a person have to have under their belt to be totally wrong about everything?
I was hiking up from the caretaker's cottage to the bighouse on a gimp knee caused by too much hiking and a smidgen of yoga. So clearly I know where I am, which is a qualifying statement meant to juxtapose interestingly with the statement I don't really know where I am. If I had to guess though, and now typing I'm pretty damn sure of it, I am in the South as defined by the Mason-Dixon Line, which is a statement meant to juxtapose interestingly with my assertion that I saw Northern Lights three days ago.
Some people around town, those that saw it anyway, are calling it the Aurora Borealis, and others are calling it a solar flare phenomenon. I'm calling it northern lights. By removing the beginning capital letters I am hedging my bets, because what I saw was an unusual lighting scene taking up most of the horizon between true north and northeast, and therefore, by anyone's definition, it was a humdinger of a thing going on, northerly. Although let me be clear about one thing—this thing in the night was not as spectacular say as a boy riding a bicycle across the sky framed in circular fashion by the full moon.
So I'm walking up the gravel driveway between the two homes on this property. To my right is the northern horizon back dropped by a chunk of the Shenandoah Mountains or perhaps not per se Shenandoah but only a geological relative. What I’m saying is—there are various names for things that are actually the same and what makes it more confusing is occasionally you run up on something that has only one name but is in fact several different things. There is specific truth and general truth and if you came for the specific you may as well just back right on out of here. There is none of that here. Actually, I was limping. That's as specific as I'm likely to get. It was my right knee; I'm ok, thanks for asking. It was near about 7:30 in the evening and the sky overhead was pitch black and dotted profusely with specks of star and planet. I recently climbed up on my roof and corrected the weather vane, which was prior to my ascent all caterwomped, so I knew more or less the points of the compass as they relate to the property landmarks, and something was awry with the sky.
Too much light to the north. Starting at true north and running towards the east for about 50 degrees that whole part of the sky looked like it had sunset afterglow except there weren’t no colors involved—it was just white light or white blue to be true. Bracketing this unusual but in no way spectacular light, about 30 or 40 degrees above the horizon, were two rather large splotches of red. Red that was not pink and was not crimson but could have been a blend of those two or you know it could have been any number of different versions of the red school. Evidently the phenomenon went away for awhile and came back near to midnight and some other people saw it and I believe the colors were different which is not meant to de-emphasize that so too were the people who saw it and very possibly their pharmaceutical content.
The splotches I saw took up an amount of space in the sky that could be represented if you held a basketball three feet in front of you angled up to the wrongly lit night sky. You would have to have very long arms to do this. I don’t mean to imply the shape of the red splotch was like a basketball because it wasn’t. It was the shape you get when you give your 4-year-old son a two-inch chunk of crayon without the paper wrapper and the kid draws a diagonal splotch using the crayon on its side. He does it twice, once on the left side of the paper and once on the right and you remark to anyone who will listen or is skilled at pretending to listen (head bobbers) that isn’t your son remarkable in general and specifically artistically because the two splotches are almost mirror images of each other and if there is anyone listening to your proud prattle they might remark seriously on the well balanced nature of the two sides of your son’s brain.
The next night I was over visiting Lorina when her ex-husband called to ask had she seen the Northern Lights the previous evening and that cinched it for her because I had mentioned it earlier and now she had to see for herself. She started gathering up enough winter clothing for the both of us to live an indefinite period of time in the wilderness but I should be more specific about the indefinite nature of the time period as implied by the quantity of clothing gathered. It would be a period of time longer than I wanted to be outside on an evening that was predicted to bring the season’s first hard frost. I had been gearing up for a little hard boozing, light doping, and relaxed movie watching. Of course one of these activities does not necessarily preclude the other but…it was getting late and was, my brain calculated, the exact time period between the previous night’s two sightings by various people in the community. There was the sense for me, unfairly yes, paranoid yes, that her ex-husband was conspiring to fuck up a relaxing evening for me by spurring on Lorina’s general nature—which is to live life to the fullest. I could see him in my minds eye, smirking, as my skinny ass froze. My feelings towards this imaginary version of Lorina’s ex-husband are not hard ones, I’m just saying.
While we stood there, Lorina and I, and I played with the convertible mittens she had provided for me, wondering was I really a stick in the mud or was I justified in feeling totally tossed asunder in my own little prescribed time-space continuum, a meteor as bright as a halogen lamp lit up the sky right above us and traced itself in 2.5 seconds a distance of what?—ten miles? A hundred? A thousand? If you put a basketball in front of your face tilted up to the night sky it would be about equal to the distance between the two poles of the ball, except you wouldn’t be able to see if the basketball was that close to your face. It wasn’t what we had come to see so it wasn’t but nominally remarked upon. Until the next evening, when it was again mentioned, briefly.
This guy with his teenage son came up to me in the White Oak parking lot yesterday and asked me was he in the Old Rag parking lot and I said no. I was wearing the old style large headphones over a black knit skull cap because the ear buds have been bugging me and I had on wrap around shades. I may have looked a little freaky. And the ponytail and few days worth of grey speckled beard probably added to my "this is the guy we'll ask as last resort" ratio and even without the headgear and shades and throw in a haircut/shave if you want I pretty much don't have some of the more typical hiking gear and so look more like a guy wandered in off the street hiking rather than a guy who really hikes. I like hiking but I'm not all that good at it. I get lost and disoriented (only partly on purpose) and take not asking for directions to such an extreme that someday I may find myself disoriented too far away from help too long after dark and I'll die of exposure and/or get eaten by a bear and by all rights the words on my tombstone will be--"He wouldn't ask directions until it killed him."
The guy and his son were athletic, clean cut, and good looking by the most basic standards--in that they did not have any freakish proportions or unusual growths front and center--, and they appeared to have good teeth. Also, their healthy exemplary attitudes seeped from every healthy fresh scrubbed pore and no doubt advanced them in whatever ventures they attempted. People like them don't suffer after fools so when I went into evasive maneuvers and philosophical hem and hawing in response to their more specific questions, they wrote me off as a nincompoop and without saying by, see ya later, eat shit, or thanks for nothing, they just turned away from me and went to ask for help from the fresh scrubbed young woman who was now getting out of her car across the lot. At least she knew how to dress. I don't have any enmity for the young woman, she was just being herself for godsake and had not even a tiny bit of cognition regarding her role in making me look like a nincompoop. I'm really not the person you should ask for directions. I readily admit this.
But I stewed over it a bit and wanting to limit my exposure to any possible future human contact, I vered left at the first fork and ended up on a trail I thought I knew but turned out was unbeknownst to me until it was named about a mile or two later by a German tourist with a map. He also did not mean to underscore my nincompoopity but he surely did when in response to his question how far is it to White Oak trail I said you mean this isn't it. It hit me all of a sudden that it certainly wasn't the White Oak trail because I hadn't seen a waterslide the last time I hiked and here we were--me, the German, the English dude, and about 20 frat guys doing a polar bear thing by stripping down to skivvies and doing the slide, which is a gradual slippery drop over smooth moss covered rock for about 100 feet. There is a small pool of river water at the bottom. I'm on an "isolated" nature trail and there is over 20 of us congregated. I just kept going up until I hit Skyline Drive (which to get to driving, from where my truck was parked, would have taken about 25 miles and I don't think this could have been more than 4) and then turned around and hiked back to the parking lot, climbing down instead of up. I was hiking for about six hours. I got lost in my mind towards the end and backtracked to the guy looking like Seinfeld's, Newman, who told me I had been going the right direction and so that added another mile and a half to what was easily my longest hike thus far, maybe 6 or 8 miles of moderately steep hiking.
Today was perfect early so Loretta on her way to work (she didn't have anything to wear so she was today going to perform her job naked) showed me another trail, one known to far fewer people, and I hiked again, trespassing a little mostly because of the signs telling me not to. Back on the trail proper and I've always wanted to do yoga so I was doing some on a hill above the trail, with my shirt off, until, the combination of my calm station, and, rib bones prominant enough to imply cadaver, inspired six buzzards to circle in for a very close and somewhat threatening looksee. I stood up and they acted like they couldn't believe I wasn't lunch and even though that could be considered an insult I was pleased to see them fly away from me scared. For awhile, the natural order which implied my superiority over the beasts of the earth seemed somewhat skewed, and I felt small, and insignificant, like one of those MacDonald's cheeseburgers.
There was a forest within the forest, in a deep valley below the trail, and without leaves you could see alot of other birds and especially those bigger, red-headed woodpeckers, there were lots of them, and lots of still standing rotten trees suffering from apparent shotgun blasts which were really just round holes caused by voracious peckering. I'd never seen so many woodpeckers in one area and thought up the name Forest of Woodpeckers but later changed it to Pecker Woods.
I returned a rented movie to an area rental place last Sunday and one of the owners, whom I haven't seen for a year, and was then just where I had seen her last, out on the sidewalk raking leaves in a windstorm, called me by first and last name, which startled me because I think we had met only once. She said she was hoping to run into me today because she wanted my opinion on something. A movie I had rented last year had been checked out next after me by a person who came 25 miles to get it and when that person got it home it was cracked, from the center hole towards the outer edge, about an inches worth. She made me come inside with her so I could see for myself. I didn't really have anywhere to be but I was beginning not to like the direction this was going. First off, to show me the thing she basically proved the culprit of this crime not to be any one individual but instead the overly tenacious gripping ring of the DVD holder's plastic case. In fact her own machinations which resulted finally in getting the disc out of its cover were so severe in nature, so thoroughly was she bending the DVD, that when it did finally come free, and she turned it over to the side without the title, showing more clearly the crack, I was tempted to cry out--hey, did you just bust that? But I said instead, oh yes I see, and just offered to pay for it. This overly simple solution was met with disdain and a not overly convincing assurance that she wasn't trying to get me to pay for it, she just wanted my opinion on how to deal with such a thing. I offered several, most of which required more work, and one which simply wrote such matters off. She did not seem satisfied with any of my rather stellar suggestions and continued to remind me that it was just my opinion she was after. As I had given her the full range of my opinioneering, I was at a loss to discern just what it was she really wanted. So I offered to pay for it again, or make a donation, or accidentally drop a twenty on the floor the next time I came in. When enough time had passed I decided, rather all of a sudden, that I did have other places to be, and said ok, see you later. She said with no little vehemence that she was sure I would. I saw her again just last night at the community theatre but pretended I was someone I am not--that new guy who really doesn't know anybody.
Unrelenting Quality Of Quality
I got an email from one of those friends from that ever lengthening distant past. One of those people whom--you don't realize, at the time you are first meeting them--are setting the benchmark against which future friends will be measured. She sent me one of those comical American maps depicting a not so comical rendering of the religious diversity in America and which suggests that Canada might be a better model. Once I was up near that town in Washington state where Raymond Carver spent his last years and I saw signage for Canada and another time I was in Bonners Ferry, Idaho and saw signage for Canada. I was both times sort of afraid of what kind of illegal matter might drop from the crevices of my being and did not want to bother the border guards with it. I'm sure Canada is a fine place and does not suffer from my lack of attendance. I guess I would be more interested in knowing what Canada does suffer from before I held it up on too high a pedestal. I had already received or viewed this map from several different sources. I did not consider this map the meat of the email, although perhaps my friend would not have sent me a message at all if not for the prop value of the map. So, I am not without some regard for GW Bush and his ability to bring people closer together. Likewise, this same friend checked in with me after the fall of the NY towers, even though I was nowhere near them (in New Orleans) and she was nowhere near them (in Los Angeles) and so I must retain a similar regard for Osama bin Laden. This isn't me making lemonade from lemons because I have relocated to a place on the east coast where if I want lemonade I can walk into a quaint village and buy it for five dollars a pint. I don't drink a lot of lemonade.
I witnessed Fall colors this year, in both Pennsylvania and Virginia, of the type that inspires calendars and coffee table books, and I at times became uncomfortable, resentful even, of the unrelenting quality of the quality. Which probably only proves that you can take the malcontent from the ghetto but you can't take the ghetto from the malcontent. Responding to her email with map attachment I tried to break down the inexplicable nature of my discontent, referring to the coloration experience as a month long acid-trip. I suggested past experience which allowed me to consider such a thing as undesirable. She emailed back and suggested that I get ready for a four year acid trip. She was making a political statement.
There are drugs for dealing with drugs (Thorazine will often cancel that acid trip for you) but I honestly cannot recommend any of them and would be remiss in not mentioning that many drugs on the market today have side effects which include death. Of these you should be very careful. Because life, I think, is very good. Not despite all the shit but because of it. Sometimes, and I mean only sometimes, sobering up is a good thing. Is everyone sober now? Don't you feel good?
Do you ever get confused about what good feels like?
I have stood on streets in America listening to the pop bang of hand guns and the ratatatat of machine guns and I have been discouraged by the sound of it but not so fearful that I ran inside and hid.
Last night after a day trying to figure out why the light is all wrong in the sky I drove an open jeep type vehicle onto my back porch and heard on the other side of the hedge the rustling in the leaves of scared up deer. I turned the engine off and sat and listened. The sound of heavy hooves over dry leaves continued. It was pitch black. My fear switch clicked on. I had to think fast, my life depended on it. My first instinct was to jump and run but I gathered my wits about me and in a blink or two prioritized my movements. First, I grabbed the unopened Guinness from the drink holder in the jeep's console, and then I jumped and ran. I nearly tore the screen door off its hinges getting to the breezeway but jumpin' jiminycats, this thing coming towards me wasn't going to be held back by some twig-like wood framing and brittle, dry-rotted screen. My heart was pounding as I reached for the door to the house. Would it be locked? I never locked the door. Why would it be locked? Why would I do such a thing, on this day of all days, with the sun off course and all human endeavor teetering on the brink of uncertainty? I put my hand on the knob, and twisted it. It opened. Of course it opened, why wouldn't it, I never locked it.
However, once inside, I did lock it, which proved, which removed any doubt whatsoever, what it was I was dealing with here. The boogeyman had come to visit me up on this hill in Rappahannock.
I would have never guessed when I replaced the back porch flood lamps yesterday that they would become so essentially handy so soon.
I flicked them on, now ready to see the deer, the deer goddammit, not some hooved half human, half goat. Oh crapshit. Goatman. Goatman was here. After nearly twenty years free of him, now he was back. I had forgotten. Not only that, I couldn't remember. Did I anger Goatman that last time in those Texas woods? I vaguely remember a pact. What had I promised? Had I kept my promise? Was he coming to collect something from me? Was this it, my ending, all creepy, and scary, and alone?
About then, Herman, that displaced Brooklyn street cat, whom I adopted, or whom was thrusted or hoisted upon me, came waddling around the corner of the hedge. I had been pretty sure, all along, that it was him. I hadn't really been afraid.
Later that night I awoke screaming, crying out like a little boy as fingers brushed across his face in a dream.
Four More Days
If you wake up in the middle of a primordial forest with bird calls all around, consider that your screensaver might also have audio.
Damn if it didn't seem like there was a .wav file in my living room last night.
The likelihood of there being hawks, cardinals, morning doves, pheasant and a few other to me unidentifiable winged animals in my house, is small. Still, I wholly believed in the idea of it for many of the hours of this most recent night because I didn't know about all the features of that new screensaver.
I took off the week previous to this one and just let time sluice on by. I didn't hold onto time. Neither did I put a premium on accomplishment. Might it be that one person's accomplishment is another person's waste of time?
What do you think about the idea of living life to the fullest? Is there too much vanity involved with the idea of that? How about all that stuff you are holding on to? Is it heavy? Or do you become so strong, so muscular with the practice of its weight that you don't even know you are carrying it? And if so, is it still really there? Should you carry more weight? Is there good value with the weight? How many mistakes are you considering as accomplishment?
I want to move away from questions today and consider the idea of breakfast while stating something from the rote of my worldly wisdom. It is always darkest before the dawn. I have a friend in California and he is practicing optimism. He has taken up a chant (it's hard to keep a Californian from chanting, they must all give into it eventually) and the chant goes like this--Four more days, four more days, four more days...Do you get it? This same guy likes to refer to the ruling body of the world's number one superpower, collectively, as fucktards. This is me getting the vote out, preaching to the converted, stating the obvious, being optimistic, having hope, seeing the future as I want it to be, while hoping my absentee ballot arrives in the mail soon enough to do any good.
Oh, see, there it is, the first glimmer of dawn, creating white shadows on the pine boughs (no, that's a big leaf magnolia), to imitate the idea of fresh snow on a school day.
I have friends who jog early in the morning.
Light becomes day becomes commerce.
Commerce becomes ambition.
Ambition becomes whatever it can.
It is rainy and cold and this is a test
Kittens And Squirrels
He was reading the comic Russian novel, Oblomov, in bed, while waiting for her to return from a rock and roll sponsored political meeting. He didn't necessarily find anything laugh out loud funny about a guy who doesn't ever get out of bed but he was thoroughly enjoying the phrasing (even if much of what he liked might be attributed to the translator), and he was in that good space that the well written novel will take you.
He could not help the wandering of his mind which had him speculating if she was at that moment interacting with her ex-boyfriend who was heading up the politcal meeting. Everyone should have their fun was a thing he tried to convince himself of and politics can be fun. Not that this wasn't a serious meeting, because it was, very serious, and during a time in history when when politcal meetings should be taken seriously. But still, in between each scenario which had Oblomov turning down one social invitation after another, he wondered if maybe he himself shouldn't try to be more social.
She came back, not at all too late, but with that level of intoxication that results from meaningful social interaction, and he put his book down, knowing he would not be picking it up again this night.
He didn't want to go out for drinks with people from the meeting to the place that had once overcharged him for a cheeseburger but suggested that she feel free and she responded that she did feel free and would stay in with him. He put Oblomov on the nightstand.
He knew that at this particular point in time if he were an item on the drive-thru menu at a fast food restaurant, she would not order him. He could be, and had been in the past, a really juicy item but he didn't feel that way this evening. And he was beginning to worry about the sequential frequency of his less than upbeat demeanor.
She suggested they tell each other stories and he suggested she bring the two of them a slug of hard liquor. She told her story while they drank and he hoped providence would allow for him to not to tell his. Her story was whimsical and funny and somewhat postmodern and he rooted her on as one of the squirrels in her story burst into flames. He didn't like squirrels and this she knew.
They laughed together even as he plotted the best way not to tell his story and finally when it came time for him he just threw out a crappy, loosely slung together tale that was derivative of hers, with squirrels that have no sense of family even as they lived together on a country estate but none of that matters because as soon as he could phrase it he had them, the squirrels, each obliterated by meteors. The last sentence of his tale was a fragment and she booed him for it.
They talked about other things, under the covers, and he mentioned a news story from the town in which he used to live. A man had been arrested for killing two kittens, there had been a 500 dollar reward for information leading to his arrest, and that was all he could remember. She did not want to be so predictable as to always root against the kitten killer so she suggested extenuating circumstances that may have accounted for the murdering of two kittens.
She was getting sleepy but he had become wide awake, thinking about kitten killers. He had a true story he wanted to tell (he later lied that he had made it up) about a three-year-old boy in a southern town with hundreds (let's hope its only hundreds) of boys just like him, and how the boy had been sytematically torturing a kitten all day and then how he, the man, and his girlfriend (although she mostly hated him by then), had rescued the kitten and cared for it a couple of days, trying not to look too closely at the left eyeball which practically hung from its socket.
The kitten died at the vet but before it died the girlfriend had seen the little boy on the street and the boy asked after the kitten. She explained very gently, but honestly, to the point, that the kitten was very sick, that he, the boy, had almost killed it and that it might very well die. The three-year-old boy in the southern town with we hope only hundreds like him, said--"can I have him back after he dead?"
He was laughing sort of maniacally, or hysterically, when he delivered that punch line. She had, afterall, asked for a story. He was full of them like that.
In the morning she woke up crying, said she had been haunted in her dreams all night. Could not in fact tell when she was dreaming or when she was awake, just feeling bad. That's when he told her he had made it up, and was sorry for making it up.
The Skull Preceding Winter
These sequential days of cold, damp and drizzling make a person want to cry out in angst about how hopelessly winterlike it is getting as that person--clue, its me--gets ready for his first real winterlike climate in twenty years or so.
I lived for ten years but not anymore in New Orleans--I'm east coast--and in New Orleans you didn't really think about winter except on those two really cold days every year. Sometimes you would think about winter after it was already in the past and think how that wasn't much of a winter, if indeed you could even remember what winter was like in places that have real winters.
People talk about early snow this year and I have pinned one predictor down to--by mid November there will be a first snow.
You ever heard that Gil Scott-Heron tune, Winter in America?
I washed the dishes in my sink yesterday. They were props of domesticity. Some were dirty and some were clean. There was some mold. There was a little sludge-water in the bottom of some glasses. They had been acting as props for what is very possibly three months. But as a baby step towards genuine domestic behavior I went ahead and cleaned them up and put them away, yesterday.
I am still holding on to a few elements of suspect behavior regarding the idea of a man taking care of his business. I suspect the doing of those dishes (and the unpacking of some dishes that were wrapped in paper sitting in 30 gallon trash bags in the garage) was an act of self-prodding, which is different, more constructive, than self-flaggelation, and that other one, self-deprecation.
I'm just sitting here, off the clock, doing nothing really, as a caretaker, which is my current station in life (being a caretaker). Being a caretaker is complicated and takes careful consideration. I consider things on my own time though. I don't charge for it. No one could really afford me if I did.
I was in a used bookstore yesterday that priced its books as things of value themselves. Like first editions, even of common crap, were more expensive than reprintings. I bought a used paperback for five dollars even though that is approximately ten times what I would generally spend on a used book. I had touched the novelty skull on the wall and set it off screeching or laughing for a period of time that would be my best example of an interminable length, and as much as anything that was why I spent five dollars at the bookstore. I was being penitent more than I was being supportive of a local bookseller.