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Shut Your Eyes (Doe je Ogen Dicht)

“Doe je ogen dicht,” my mother invariably said whenever a breast came onscreen, evercruise_mcgillisif silhouetted; she’d say it, as well, when a Hollywood kiss languored for two seconds too long.

Dutch for: “Shut your eyes.” And obediently I would.

Except that I always peeked. Having been already exposed to a bikini-clad Princess Leia; also the long-legged Gillette model that, at every General Hospital advertisement break sank sighingly into a bathtub of shaving cream; my libido was already and irreversibly informed before graduating first grade.

This wasn’t, mind you, warning of any precocious or untoward sexuality, rather proof of a normal one.

Regardless, I did get into trouble once with the playground aide. She blew a whistle on my particular wrapped-leg negotiation of the monkey bars, and she glared at me with an aspersive contempt generally reserved for vicars and Victorians. victoria_4I was banned to the classroom for the remainder of recess, and I was confused for years as to what crime I’d committed, why my head was assigned to the desk.

“Doe je ogen dicht.”

Sexuality is a long-formed identity, not a swift and overnight maturation. Science class had us watching time-lapse films of seeds erupting into germinal tender, then flowers, then back to seed. It was all bad metaphor and precursor to the later conversations we would have about sex, that puberty blossomed as eruptively and quickly as the fast-forward flower on a science reel, that it needed be addressed as such.

Sex-ed was hidden beneath the innocuous term ‘Family Studies’, a pronouncedly sixth grade thing. It was a class to explain the suddenly sprouted hairs and the sudden need for hygienic pads, a week-long discussion only.

One week, then we’d return to the regularly scheduled program of dissecting frog bellies and discussing transitive properties. It was The Talk, school-sponsored, parental signature of approval necessary.

I remember my principal, Windsor-knotted and blazer unshed, responding to a group of playground-sweaty kids. He pulled pieces of paper from the lottery of anonymous questions.

“How does sex feel? Well, it’s nice actually,” he intoned.

The principal used the words ‘wave’ and ‘pleasure’ with little elaboration, unenthusiastically, even; he cleared his throat, then wandered rhetorically back to the idea of ‘responsibility’ before pulling a second question from the lottery. It was about puberty. He seemed more comfortable with the second question: scientific, anatomical, a do-able. Meantime, though, there were kids burgeoning adolescence, wondering, “What do these combined things mean?”

Birds and bees could’ve buzzed the room and landed in the rafters. Meanwhile, we just learned sex was pretty ok and that menses had to do with uteri. There was also something about Eve.

‘Take the Talk Home’ was the suggestion, in which case my dad unearthed his college textbooks and laid them out on the dining-room table every night after dinner. I got The Talk.

The textbooks, they were gross-anatomy textbooks. At the age of nine, and in eye-opening detail, I learned well before most nineteen year olds–the sweaty and unversed drive-in breast-petters–where exactly everything is located. There were glossy and colored diagrams, lines pointing to the mons, all the majoras and minoras, frenula and deferens. femaleanatomyI knew all this years before ever seeing a tri-fold spread. My dad took The Talk seriously. Brass tacks, learn the Grey’s version of things, black and white, before the bees began buzzing too loudly in errant bee-direction.

He was beyond clinical though. It’s something I’ve held onto all these years and where I’ve always been hugely impressed with my dad. Over the cracked textbooks, my dad talked about sex as practice; as an expansive and loving act; not just a curiosity or an anatomic locking of A into B. We talked about sex as function, sex as expression, sex as technique. Imagine Percy Sledge’s ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ paired with an instruction manual.

My dad did beyond well. He could have an emeritus in Family Studies.

I vowed I would do this, too—This Talk—with my own and eldest son. I was nine when I was allowed to open my eyes and understand that blossoming happens in slo-motion, that tender shoots need informative direction well before bolt and bloom. I have sons, not daughters—just like my dad—and I was prepared to pass on my dad’s wisdom.

Except I didn’t get the first chance.

My wife was driving, and my son was eight. From the backseat, and while Mama was navigating the roads, my son described something his friend had shown him. It wasn’t as if the boys had discovered a musty cache´of National Geographics in an attic somewhere, had tittered nervously over the photographs of tribal breasts, or milk-feeding women in Scandinavia–natural, beautiful anthropological pictures, women with mammaries, not ‘tits.’ They had found an internet cache´ instead, involving derogatory terms, crude hashtags, explicit video.

It’s how you as a parent fear so much easy access. What do you say, when The Talk seems usurped by broadband? The trick is—and it’s not a trick—you keep talking. You talk talk talk.

My wife was driving, so the conversation was necessarily obstructed by means of a headrest.

“That’s not exactly Love, Sweetie. That’s fake,” and my wife had to look into the rear-view to make her point, worried, and with hands gripping the wheel all the more tightly.

“That’s people pretending they’re in love.”

I tell Cayde later, “It’s ok. There’s a lot to learn. We’ll keep talking.”

I have to tell him sometimes: “That’s to yourself,” and I never chastise him, though now he knows how babies are made and his bath-time is his.

At the Home Depot, Cayde plays a game of ‘Hot Lava’, and he occasionally hurls himself onto a pile of fertilizer, the concrete floor something imaginarily magma. There are rows of plants, perennials and annuals, and I explain the difference.

“The perennials seed but keep living; the annuals don’t.”

He sits on a bag of compost.

“I never choose annuals, Kid. I don’t like ripping out dead flowers. The annuals only last a few months.”

“This,” and I finger a bladed Strelitzia, “This lives, right?” When you tap the purple on a Bird of Paradise, the seeds get exposed.

“Seeds, Dude.”

He smiles.

“These make more flowers, Kid.”

He nods; he literally sits on manure, but his feet are clear of lava.

“You and me, Kid, let’s pick out some more plants.”

He runs off.

“Hey! The ones that haven’t blossomed just yet!,” and I roll my fingers to rid the seeds and they drop on the concrete.

He picks a flower–a phaelonopssis–with a stalwart stamen and a bit something Georgia O’Keefe. The Talk, then, must continue. orchid

 

There is an incredible online resource now with videos that aid in The Talk: amaze.org. Great and accessible videos, which can help you with what is, always, a difficult conversation. You can follow the Amaze parents for #MoreInfoLessWeird on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AMAZEparents/ I have been compensated for this post, but all the views are my own, particularly the admiration I have for my father in doing The Talk well, and in hopes of continuing the same conversation with my sons.

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Plank Pose

plank-right1“You will need these blocks. No, no. Beneath the shoulders. This one, your hip.”

She taps my waist without permission, and suddenly I’m suspended on blocks in a pose I used to be familiar with–one I could do by myself–but now I’m pilloried by Styrofoam bricks. It’s a bad day when your yoga instructor has seemingly forgotten that breath is the most important thing and instead positions your legs and arms A, B, & C; when she positions you like a wayward starfish in a recessed tide, and you’re left holding your air in a darkened studio.

My wife does a headstand against the mirror. She used to be a hundred pounds heavier, a weight which has somehow transferred its molecules to this part of me which doesn’t show its gain, but sits heavy regardless.depression

We change poses and the instructor is relentless. She slides a metal chair my direction because she thinks my Downward Dog is somehow inaccurate. All I want to do is breathe, so I can continue breathing, but she keeps making me stop. My diaphragm holds a hitch and I try not to cry. We’re not in Child’s pose after all. Can we just Shivasna already?

She positions my hands on the chair, and it’s embarrassing. She murmurs, half to herself, “You’re not having a good day,” which is superfluous because she’s having me plank on a folding chair, telling me to straighten out when one look at my spine would inform her that I’m completely and irreparably crooked.

“Better?” she asks.

How do I say, ‘no.’

“Sure. Better.”

At the front of the class, Ann demonstrates a perfect and unsupported headstand, a straight and poised line, and I want to be her for just a second, in order to feel some sort of alignment, which my body can’t seem to handle at present.

I draw up a plan to somehow survive this class; I draw up a plan, and it takes me a few days to find my breath, but part of the plan requires not quitting.

yoga2

 

 

 

 

 

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Erased

The morning is meant to begin somehow, a reckoning, or change in birdsong. When the mockingbirds finally quiet, and the doves murmur apologies, that’s when Andy throws a cord of wood into the pit’s smoker, which sits like a galvanized submarine at the end of Thorn St., a black matte thing, cylindrical, and neatly welded. It belches smoke before the neighbors can crack their windows, else—if windows are cracked—the smoker still acts as a pre-dawn and somehow undetected something, just part of the morning, like the first pour-overs of coffee, else the rustle of corvids sounding like sheeted plastic when grubbing for palm nuts in the fronds.

Scent is the furthest sense away from our notice, but the first to conjure memory. Which means I will not forget this time nor place though I ignore the mesquite, the early waftings like fire in milky brush, the sap having to sizzle away before the wood burns correctly and without any startling snap; you don’t hear it except when nearby stoking the fire.

You have a sense of smoke, but that’s also the sunrise rising, and everything dissipative in the morning: the steam off a cup of coffee; the new clouds which the night made old; the water heating the brass fixtures, the brass heating the shower.

It’s the crickets that you realize have been ceaseless—for how long? They rise and fall in volume, yet exhibit a particular algebra when they saw legs, when you want sawn logs, and when there is nothing of difference.

It’s morning, and you smell it, morning and mesquite, both the same.

“I have this idea,” Chris suddenly says.

Chris is dead. So is Italo. In different ways, they are dead. Italo, though,–he crafted a monkeywood sculpture that still sits at the local Thai place. Italo had the clever idea of soldering chain-link so that it stands forever upright, so it never collapse into coils on the floor. Has its place next to the monkeywood sculpture. This is cunning immortality, if you think about it.

The chain stands frozen next to a five-foot pillar of a statue, a human figure with limbs still congealed in media, arms frozen to hips as with alabaster chessmen. The whole thing’s done up in tempera. Italo liked tempera.

“It is stupid, tempera.” He’d lean in. “The Acropolis was a whore. Painted up with color thousands of years ago. All this garish egg paint. It’s white now,” he’d say dangling a demitasse from his pinky. He used fresco recipes to slapdash whatever sculpture he could unfinish, knowing that the tempera was bound to fade. Apparently some Rembrandts, the deep dank Rembrandts, are still wet beneath six inches of oil redux.

“I order all these monkey-men from a warehouse in Tibet. I say, ‘Give me all of them, give me all the monkey-men.’ I love them, my little soldiers,” he scratched his temples, the seemingly only well-groomed part of him. “Let the monkey-men turn white again, then people will think I’m genius.”

He said, “Here, here,” to me and Chris, “I love these cranberry bagels. Have some. You are my protégés. We share coffee.” We sat in a grove beneath old-growth eucalyptus that still had paper-thin bark.

He wagged a finger and spoke quietly, “The Parthenon is an ugly thing because it became beautiful by accident.”

“Make things ugly first, on purpose,” he gnawed a half-bagel. “Make ugly things.”

“Tempera,” he points suddenly and inexplicably upward, “I use it. It is the best disappearing ink.“ Chris hooked half a bagel toward himself and chewed laconically.

Chris disappeared in Czechoslovakia, when ten pairs of Levis could afford you decent digs, and when Prague was advertised as the city of spires and bridges. All these cantilevered and beveled constructions, romantic in their concrete and wire defiance of physics, leaden exercises in suspension.

“Hello from Praha,” Chris would at some point write to me, a postcard done up in dumb paint with scrawl on the back. He had an upcoming art show. “In beautiful Czech Krimsky R—-“. The R— word was illegible, else cut off, because he was dead before the postcard arrived Par Avion. He was found face down in a bar, supposedly having slipped on ice outside the absint establishment, which placed a half-pour in front of him as subterfuge before the coroners could collect him. The bruises, though, were obvious on the soft of his neck, two heady whacks to the brain stem, which loosened up the passport from his pocket and left Chris without any ID, which had him shelved for three weeks as John Doe in the morgue before his parents began their Transatlantic search.

“I feel…,” he said before the blue set in beneath his eyes and cyanotically discolored his cheeks.

“I have this idea,” Chris says, leaning against the porch railing. His idea was more an observation that, like loosely drawn curtains that can either be open or closed, didn’t solidify him in any tense except the soon to be preterite.

“These vans that go by,” and we are near the University, “They have ‘Information Destruction’ written on their sides.” And he half-heaves himself over the railing, anchored by his elbows. He lands back on the concrete in soft sneakers.

“What if they actually vacuumed up everything?”

“You sound high. They just get rid of all the files and shit.”

“No, no. Like, wherever they drove, everything just disappeared.”

Chris scoots a geranium pot from one side of the porch to the other with a scraping sound and does the same railing trick, just backwards this time.

“Like, gone,” feet landing on the ground again, “And you could drive one of these vans and get rid of stuff, just erase everything.”

“Yep. You’re totally high.”

He twirls against the railing. “They’d play ice-cream chimes. Minor key. And, <shwoop>, no more dog-walkers. No more cars. Complete takeaway of information.”

“That’s not what the trucks mean.” I pause, then nod approvingly. “Still it does sound delightfully sinister.” He lights a cigarette.

The crickets are forever chirping because the house is situated over a crawlspace and it’s easy for them to seek shelter up through the pantry and into the warm corners behind the fridge. You get used to them, eventually, just like you get used to the mockingbirds so much that you no longer notice when they become doves; or when the juncos start their flitting and antemeridial search for bugs to feed the cowbirds crowding their nests, the children that don’t resemble them but which the juncos take care of anyway.

Chris was maybe 5’7”, short of average and with forever-sleepy eyes that seemed sleepy as affect. Always the thrift store cardigan, the threadbare canvas shoes, and unkempt hair. He was unpolished to perfect blemish, insouciant and under-eye bruisy. He was from Santa Cruz, and pincered his cigarettes accordingly. Chris boiled water for tea thrice daily in his kitchenette.

“Tea. You?”

“No, thanks.” I have my coffee.

“Fixes nothing, you know, you Degenerate,” I remark.

“It’s not supposed to fix anything,” he smiles, “But why not pretend?”

And the cars sit monumental, temporarily stopped. Andy throws the first logs into the fire to stir the air, which in actuality is just contribution to the morning, a new piece of the fabric. If the fire weren’t there, the morning would be incomplete. If I stopped waking up, as Chris did, the world would cease.

The mockingbirds of recent attention have stopped mimicking other birdsongs. They’ve taken to reproducing ringtones.

Hanging above the tea cannisters is a painting in unlikely color, something Chris has tacked to the inside of the cupboard. The woman depicted is ugly, else the painting is, and the fingers are prominent.

“You’re obviously not DeKooning, Friend. ‘The fuck is that piece?”

“Karen,” Chris says stirring honey into his tea. “Her name ‘s Karen. She presides over the Darjeeling.”

“She’s goddamn ugly.”

Chris taps his nose and acrobats onto the counter with a brimming mug, barely a slosh.

“But she’s got mighty fine fingers,” and he pats his crotch.

“Oh, shut up.”

The cars will sit for another hour, motionless, designed to look in motion even when stopped. It’s like a car can’t even be parked anymore, aerodynamic to the point of improbability.

Chris dangles his legs over the bar, the tea a medicinal effluvia of wet twigs. He scratches his scuff.

“Knew her in Santa Cruz. She’s down here now. Thought things could work out.”

He shakes his head. “Didn’t work out, but…” he trails off, touches his chin to his chest and rubs the back of his head. He moves his hand to cover one eye, then looks up to grin impishly, holds the tea cup at chin-level.

“Whatever,” he finishes. He inhales a laugh, which has him just rocking in his perch briefly, and he ponders a sip, rubs the side of his nose.

“Whatever.”

Italo would pace the classroom, and on unexpected days, he’d replace his belt with a braided rope. Always the same corduroys though, with wide waling and three colors of brown flecking the pants, the cuffs ragged at the bottom, and burnt marshmallow loafers.

His studio was set up in an abandoned water tower, a literal cylinder where you could walk literal circles around your work. It was junked up with monkey-men and chains and salvage-yard finds.

“That is DOPEY,” he’d berate a student occasionally. “You’re not dopey. Why do you make dopey?”

He’d walk across the room to readjust a needle on a turntable.

“I love Phillip Glass. All this modern jazz —no return to theme. Like when I first came to New York. I thought: why does everyone in America like yellow so much? Yellow is the worst color, so distracting, and all these cars. Yellow. Why?”

He slapped Chris upside the head.

“Dopey.”

Chris grinned, and ducked accordingly.

“Just exploring the media, Prof,” as he squished clay into another unrecognizable mess.

“They were taxis. I thought everyone just liked yellow cars. You people. I like the UPS trucks, you know. THAT is a fantastic color. Should all taxis be like that.”

“Was kidding about Karen, y’know,” I tell Chris.

“Oh, I know.”

Wet twigs make for bad perfume.

“Sorry—didn’t know she was your girlfriend.”

“Yeah.”

The crickets chirp, now I realize in chorus with the ceiling fan, the thrumming of regular noise, which by its constancy, fakes a rise and fall in pitch. There is actually no greying of white noise; it exists as an operant singing through radiator vents and conduits. The fan pulses, less helicopter than suggested; it’s the inconsistent buzzing of a light bulb fritzing out, the grinding and electric noise of insecure things. The fan swings on its swivel.

Chris ponders his tea, and points.

“Rauschenberg erased that DeKooning canvas, remember?”

I nod.

“Made it his own by erasing it.”

“Balls.”

“Erased DeKooning,” he announces, as if having erased the canvas himself, stupid art student.

Chris died on the street; in actuality he died in the bar, but his life escaped him on the street, that moment he crumpled and wondered, on hands and knees, what had hit him exactly—what was fastly deleting him. No blood, just a purpling contusion that surrounded his brain stem, which made him less likely to breathe, more likely to sleep.

When you don’t what’s hit you, there’s nothing to struggle against. It’s the cheapest, least fulfilling manner out.

Chris taps the overhead lamp; it’s flickering. “Karen—I really like her. I’d really like to be with her.”

“I don’t doubt you, Dude.”

“Wanna beer?”

“No—‘m good.”

Chris hit his head on the bar once, fell bodily, pulled himself up a second time and managed a drunkard’s posture with forehead against crossed forearms. He turned his head to exhale and let his right ear fall against the recess of his elbow. Cleared his throat.

The end of the bar was hinged, south of a football jersey stapled against the wall, red and black, the colors which shifted as Chris nestled deeper into his forearm.

Red. Purple.

Green, green with one eye open, the outline of the jersey in luminescent green as his pupils penned.

Please, back to purple, please, not green, please, back to purple, don’t. The number three, no eight, please don’t

“Buddy. BUDDY.” The bartender nudged Chris’ shoulder and Chris’ head slipped its hold, his nose falling bent against the bar. His mouth fell slack.

Green.

Chris was served an absinthe, on the house, while his cheeks turned blue.

“Yellow,” Italo announces, and seeing Chris’ gaze, “No, no, no. Have some more bagel.”

Chris picks at the crumbs, dislodges a cranberry for inspection.

“Yellow is dopey. Make nothing dopey. Yellow is the worst color, hard to erase. I like green, but that is me,” and he situates his coffee cup next to a small plate.

“Still–it must be erasable.” He crosses his arms. “There are colors you can’t forget; to be forgettable is the way to memory.”

“Do you ACTUALLY believe yourself, Italo?” Christopher asked, smiling, flicking the cranberry to the floor.

Italo leaned back in his chair. “I remember all the taxis,” he laughed, “But also I don’t. You see?”

Andy stokes the fire pit, and the embers match the orange sky. He rakes the coals to either side, watches them wither from black to white. There is the snap of mesquite releasing its hidden syrup and the brushing of the grill. There’s waiting for the fire to extinguish and the subsequent delivery of smoke, the smoke that eventually wafts past the porch and lingers in the gable as parcel to the morning. The mockingbirds have stopped; now the juncos, now the crows.

Karen told me that Chris was gone, years ago, a postcard of regret, a condolence, her fingers touching my shoulder.

“His parents were a wreck.”

“I imagine.”

I always have a hard time remembering his face, and the crows pick through palm nuts as if imagining there’s food buried deep within, their feet losing traction on slippery fronds. Cars are stopped, there is the scent of tea; there is signal of a present tense, and the morning begins and begins and begins again.