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Finn’s Eyes

brushfieldIt’s said the first person to live to two hundred is alive today, the wonder of science and this constant clamber for the New Methuselah. Why you’d want that kind of misery, I don’t know, but I’m just happy that my son has a new life expectancy, that the triplicate 21st chromosome doesn’t mean he’ll be living an antediluvian life-span before having his forever exeunt.

He’ll have eyes open sixty years at least, with eyes that are beautiful.

The nurse first noticed his eyes, his eyes being first notice. Awake and watchful in the recovery room, his orbits were wells of blue constellated by circles of concentric and white spots. Brushfield markers, cholesterol scars ringing his turquoise irises. It is the inheritance of his diagnosis, to have his eyes tattooed in quartz, like the face of an iridium watch.

And his pupil in the middle a wide and expanding thing, to take in the world while the stars keep watch over the incoming light. His eyes are the universe contracted, the necessary beauty of a confused chromosome, and Findlay, what do you see? When the images pass through these cerulean gates and before they hit the brain, these irises fantastic?

It’s said the first person to live to two hundred already walks the earth, but the immeasurable and infinite already exists beneath blond lashes, and when Finn sleeps, almond-eyed and innocent, the universe, too, sleeps.

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How Phil Got Cancer

scapegoat-Jesus-570x340He fell, his machine finally stopped, with the clamor of a mess tray and a final tintinnabulation of cutlery. A fork dropped at Phil’s feet and came to rest at the heel of his boot. Phil looked down at the fork.

The kid dropped to his knees as if in some final act of contrition, then slumped sideways with arms akimbo like a discarded marionette. The mess hall grew silent. Private First Class Dicknose was dead.

“Motherfucker,” someone behind Phil said, either a last epithet, or commentary on what had just happened. Phil looked at Dicknose and nudged him with a foot. Dicknose’s body moved slightly, but remained prone.

“Shit.”

PFC Dicknose had a mustellidae face, weaselly, with a broad forehead yet a needly and aquiline nose. The DS had given him the unfortunate nickname, likening his delicacy of feature to a a teenage boner, but his real name was Arnie. Arnie Armstrong, hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, bluegrass country. He didn’t stand a chance in the Army, wasn’t even deployed before the other men had made him a punching bag for their own and varied frustrations. The coroner would find Arnie’s torso beneath his shirt a  long and continuous bruise, one that extended from below the collar line to just above his kidneys.

He already had pneumonia, which would be his downfall. He became the goat cast figuratively into the desert, the one for Azazel, starved for compassion and left to die among the sands of the training grounds. With the pneumonia, he couldn’t keep up with his platoon and was the cause for numerous push-ups.

“Thanks, Dicknose,” the soldiers took turns punching the shit out of him nightly back in the barracks. “Fuck you, Dicknose.”

And PFC Arnie Armstrong died among the spilt mashed potatoes and with a glassy look of dead-goat motherfucking defeat.

The entire platoon was courtmartialed, Phil included though Phil had always been light with his punches. “This’ll hurt me more than it does you, Buddy.” Phil even saved Arnie a few times like that time Arnie was locked into a locker with a buckful of fulminating bleach, when Phil like some fatigued Simon, released him from his misery. (Phil received a few punches for that one himself)

The platoon, duly courtmartialed, never saw the bush, but were instead relegated to an arms factory where for a few years they rubbed phallic missiles with lubricants and noxious chemicals, the better to shoot you with was the joke, Turns out the chemicals were far more toxic than even the Orange deforesting the Nam countryside. Breathed in, breathed out, the vapors lined Phil’s lungs and set upon deforesting his alveoli with a vigor that later invited the cancer to set in. He would survive the War, but penance killed him, killed his fellow soldiers, like they killed Arnie, and with the crashing of a mess plate, the day the scapegoat died, a whole country of men signed their own death warrant, to rest in pieces in their own beleaguered manner. Somewhere, Arnie lies content.

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Magnus

I meet Magnus today, who resembles at first Jonathan Franzen, were Franzen to be the unofficial fifth member of ABBA. And, as it so happens, Magnus is Scandinavian who just flew back from Sweden the night prior. He’s the librarian (“of sorts” he’ll be quick to add) at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur. We both agree that flying is strange.

“This may be lore,” he says as introduction.

“Go on. I like stories.”

“Well it was during the Eisenhower years, chieftains of the Lakota tribe were flown into DC for a meeting over land. It’d been their first time in an airplane, right? When they were summoned to meet Congress, the chiefs said ‘we can’t talk or pow-wow right now. In six days, once our spirits catch up to us, then we can meet. That’s how I feel right now.” I laugh.

“That’s a great story. I don’t care if it’s true or not.”

Magnus has a cup of coffee and a slap-happy look suggesting that this noontime may as well be midnight.

“The TSA harassed me, you know. Said what was my occupation. I said ‘librarian.’ The agent looked up at me, put a finger to his lips, said ‘shhhh’, and handed me back my papers.”

I like Magnus immediately. And he has a quiet befitting of a librarian just without the air of taskmastery. There are flying mobiles and posters and books all around us, and this is the place where purportedly ‘nothing ever happens.’ But we continue talking, and at conversation’s end he hands me a card and says: “Send some of your writing to the Henry Miller Library,” and I am honored and glad to have met him. Things do happen here.

 

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How Phil Got Sober

old-big-book-white-background-bible-52328831Spooty lost a tooth that day, and it was in the back of Phil’s head. A black Lincoln, leather interior, T-boned in an intersection. It wasn’t Phil’s fault, but he was drunk, so he’s the one that went off to jail. Spooty was a cocker-spaniel/dachshund mix, long-hair black and white, and she was thrown from the backseat into Phil’s skull and dislodged a canine. Phil was wearing a Nike T-shirt, swimming trunks, and flip-flops and was set on picking his wife up from work. Pilloried, he never made it, and Tammey bought pizzas that night; she cut the pizza slices in half, carefully, and stored them in the rented freezer. She would have pepperoni and sausage, September 7, 2001.

“Do you want to stay in my house?” Tammey’s friend asked, while Phil langoured in prison—a six month sentence—and Tammey agreed. This was in Ypsilanti, MI when the factories were closing, and dilapidation was relevant. The house was terrible, but Tammey had pizza.

On a phone call, trying to settle legal matters, Tammey was cut off because that’s when the second plane hit.

Phil had to move off of general pop because he was mouthy, a wordsmith and wordy. His fellow inmates couldn’t figure out his insults, in return threatened to just kill him instead.

Ypsilanti was a town populated by Muslims, and the mood was tense. Hate everywhere and accusing eyes. Tammey lived in a slum-house and when Phil kept calling her for cigarettes, dry-drunk, and demanding monies, Tammey just eventually unplugged the phone. Money had run out.

Spooty was ok, but minus a tooth.

Spartacus: And what does one dream of when he’s longer a champion?

Phil was released when it was snowing, Christmas Eve, committed to a 90+90, and Tammey picked him up outside the walls; Phil was released in the clothes he came in.

  1. A Nike t-shirt, hot pink.
  2. Swimming trunks, drawstrung.
  3. Flip-flops, black.

They ate at the Coffee Manor for X-mas Eve, and it was alright.

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Mr. North Park

His name is Dennis, though I refer and have referred to him as Mr. North Park for years. I see him everywhere, riding Kermit on his bicycle with spindles for legs, often clutching a walking cane in defiance of his ten-speed, and sometimes an umbrella in defiance of the weather. The other day, there was a slight sprinkle, but the umbrella that he clutched was ultimately beachy, like a tasseled parasol, and he pedaled his bike with one hand, his shillelagh on point.

Dennis always wears a felt beret, either green or burgundy. His thin but longish hair coils out from beneath the hat like greying payot and sometimes he smokes a pipe, though it’s usually an itinerant cigarette. When I met him, the fact of his tobacco was obvious in his dearth of teeth, the remaining ones brown-tinged and worn, like miniature ice cream sundaes in his mouth.

“Hi. I’m Thom—” I offered, “What’s your name?” Dennis was cooly smoking a Nat Sherman on the street corner with a paperback novel tucked under his arm. He wore his typical moustache, which was Burt Reynolds minus the Grecian Male. We shook hands.

“Dennis.”

“I see you all over town. Thought I’d introduce myself.”

Because you see, I’m also Mr. North Park, the neighborhood being my peripatetic beat and I can quote to you all the architects that built this town in concrete slab and inspiration—the Requas and Gills and Meads. I’ve been to every establishment, and everyone knows my name: from Dougie, the homelass man who lives by the Qwik Stop; to Tomaso the acne-faced kid at the defuncting coffeeshop; to Timothy the fire-pit boss at the BBQ joint. Gabe, Lauren and Mike; Rose who mixes my ras el hanout at the spice shop; and Tony, who like Dennis, has worn down teeth at Holiday, just from eating too many sunflower seeds. He can be caught speaking Aramaic on the phone, heatedly, with his who-knows-who friends, but Aramaic was the language of Christ.

“I’ve lived here ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper,” Dennis said, in which case both he  and the grasshopper have grown—just like the city—and we talk about looming gentrification. We talk about the ashes of old establishments gone the way of the dinosaur, and the new eggs which have appeared in their stead.

“So long as it doesn’t become downtown,” I complained.

There, however, is a concept of amor fati, in which case you wouldn’t have it any other way, the idea of eternal recurrence, and looking at Dennis’ semi-myopic eyes, we see each other for a second, and shaking hands, Mr. North Park meets Mr. North Park and I walk back into the city.

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What People Leave Behind

wet raccoonMind you, I’m not a hoarder. I’m a friendly little junkman like David Sedaris says, collecting stray pieces to tell stories.

And forgive me, Jenny, I bring things home like a wet raccoon with a half-eaten frog in its mouth running across the bed. I collect things from the back alleys I walk through, to marvel them momentarily, before returning them to alley pasture. These things I find.

It’s like looking through jeweler’s loupe with one eye squint shut. Yesterday I found an abandoned photo album: a leather-bound volume with pictures, water-stained, of a 1970’s trip to the Carribean, followed by a trip to the LV desert when the buildings were rare, but raised high by the roofbeams.

I found a 78 rpm that read, A-side, ‘Girl of My Dreams, and the B, “A Man Comes Around.”

I found a spilt bag of cosmetics and a brassiere at a bus stop, as if the Rapture had happened to a 36B.

I found a box of books today, and collected twenty; there were pictures in there, of a daughter lost: an abandoned frame with a little girl, maybe eight, and a grip of high school portraits. I pocketed them and hung them on my wall. I took the books.

I found a flower growing in the sewage; I found a contrail that grew suddenly bright pink as the sun rose and it made an arc across the sky.

 

I found me.

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Restless Heart Syndrome

I have a few friends with restless leg syndrome, which is in reference to Willis-Ekbom disease It causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them.

Not me. Although I have the urge to walk everywhere, I have diagnosed myself instead with restless heart syndrome.

Over a prosciutto and gruyere sandwich, I espy the bookstore—Verbatim—where I have looked for Denis Johnson to no avail and where a man offers me a leather coat to sell at the Hunt and Gather.

“I’m looking for forty—if I get $40, I’ll give you twenty.”

“I can try, Man,” I say, “But I’ll just give you the $40.” He has no identification because most likely he has no address. I try and sell the coat for him—he found it on the street—to no reward, and I walk on.

People with faces—it is Sunday—and like a moving Seurat painting, they dot the street, faces moving with hats and without; it is cold and people wear coats.

I am overdressed. I wear a blazer, a chartreuse shirt, purple tie, and olive peacoat. I deny the weather for the sake of being dandy, dressing for a clime not my own but boasting grandiosity as I carry the whole of the world on my shoulders. The coffee was excellent, and I am sober. Roses, they are thrown for me.

How to describe this? This feeling. When it is, you discover the combination to a lock that has been locked for years—click—how to describe this?

I write funny words in my head: penguin dust and roman coin soup; I call my friends with abandon and kiss the old ones, Gidget who has visited with sleeves rolled up to reveal her sleeves, ink of phoenixes and naked women.

Mhuah,” she kisses me on the lips and I say, ‘Thank you,” for it is Sunday and there’s no need for coins in the meter and my sponsor has called me.

He wears a creaking leather jacket and an Unwritten Law tee-shirt: “it’s the law of eternal recurrence,” he might’ve said,” which is amor fati, and the fact that you wouldn’t have it any other way.

And I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You use active, not passive voice in writing, and I write in present active in denial of the past, my restless heart my restless heart.

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How We Can Die

Frankie had asbestositis, terminal, but he told all the nurses, “See I still have all of my hair!” And he had a full head of fine black hair, coifed despite his pillow-rest.

“And all these are mine,” he said smiling counting the teeth in his head.

He was a dancing man, but was bed-bound. His nurse climbed into bed with him the evening before he died, and she flung her weight up and down on the bed so that Frankie could dance again, and one last time.

He died the next morning.

This is a true story.

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How To Put Down Anger

Anger is my sometimes default mechanism. Generally speaking, I am patient. Comes from having to stare at hospital walls for so many hours. But I can be angry, and a few days ago I let my anger out. On the mechanic. My car has been put in the shop and has remained so for nearly a month, which is absolutely and fucking ridiculous, but.

Marcelino, who runs the shop, is a kind man. I trust him. It used to be that we were just transactors, interlocuters, but now—as he said—“We arefamily.”

I got mad at Marcelino.

“Prioritize this,” I yelled, pointing to my car. “It’s been a month.”

And he took me into his office and closed the door so we could talk.

I told him that I need my car for my recovery, that I need to make it into meetings. That I’m tired of walking everywhere. I walk so much my feet are blistered and my thighs chafed.

“I need my car, Marcelino.”

He responded by saying to be positive. He has had a mechanic who has fallen ill, and another one with a busted hand. My car is being worked on by a one-handed mechanic.

“You see this?” and Marcelino lifts up his shirt to show me his scars. He was literally gutted by cancer the other year, and had his insides lifted out and put on his person while the doctors scraped away the disease.

“We need to be positive.” And he thanked me for the patience I wasn’t in the moment demonstrating and for my compassion.

I wound up thanking him, for I don’t want anger as my default mechanism, and want only to be kind.

We hugged, with his shirttails untucked.