Friday, November 28, 2008
Night's come along, back to my apartment we listen to Spanish song. We drink champagne in crystal glasses, inhibitions fall to bedroom passes. Close the door, a lost fantasy lies, to the morning's truth I say:"Tortelli again with his movie starlet, this time Scarlett."
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I live these dreams of terror, of being leveled into a grey tomb of a government building made of concrete and breathless double plated glass. My coffin--an enclosed cubicle shut away from all humanness, all but for angry bosses, fiery departmental serpents, undertakers of civil service protocols made by electric mandarins of fire and ice. My cemetery-- a giant room of thin men in white shirts and skinny black ties, their eyes beaten, their slight reedy voices whispering away their quiet lives of desperation.
These two dozen nightmares flickering in the burning technicolor of timeless horror, of an endless emporium where sorcerers bid on moribund spirits. Gothic grave looters of the moonless sky. Soul stealers. Coffin robbers. Trade mark examiners of 4 by 4 inch black and white facsimiles of symbols, words, and designs that define secondary meaning.
What of my dreams, my harrowing hallucinations mixed with the night? I can't turn away and ignore them. I can't deny sleep like a quixotic Ponce de Leon making his despairing journey to the illusory fountain of eternity. His journey to moisten his dying lips with the nourishing, promissory holy water of eternal flesh and blood.
Here's the dream that haunts--working with thin men in white shirts and skinny ties examining trademarks till light escapes the day. Evaluating, assessing, examining, deciding, approving, declining, disappointing. Telling men over black as carbon phones the logo is a reject, the wording is plagiarised, the design is infringing on the minds of unhinged creativity.
They can't take the news. They can't take the news...Eddy Woo won't hear the news, his ears closed, his mind shut down, the deprecating bureaucratise of office men judging the noodle of his desire: too confusing in shape, scope, and colour to the design of his great rival Jimmy Wong. Jimmy Wong, who owns another Szechuan all night eatery with hanging barbecue pork and dripping duck in a steamy window. The smell of fried ginger and boiled bamboo shoots singing along the street and through an open basement window where a tong of gambling mainlanders, flatfoot Caucasian cops, multi-hued fire inspectors sit. Sit in a comity of subterranean multi-cultural criminality.
All this Eddie Woo knows, but his gun powder temper, his oppositional defiance arrives in a fusillade of fulminating Cantonese exploding with English crudities, the universal argot of common men: "U Yuckin ah-ho!, U Yuckin ah-ho!"
I hang up the phone--the jarring, bellowing, fiery, unforgiving voice baritone invective of a behemoth boss with bulging lips flapping like over steamed sausages, ordering, demanding of me: "Tortelli, get in my office, now!"
I sit in an office chair and look at his porcine solar red face with his boiled white eyes, pushed in nose, sharp and chipped yellow teeth rising and closing. I take what feels like bullet hits from an index finger pounding my breast bone at the beat of a Bartok piano concerto: 'I'm telling you for the last time.' A vision of my union rep coming to my aid like a flying superman, but he's been in and out of drunk tanks too often, as often as Kansas City condom salesmen finding sales in Nevada desert whorehouses with politicians and mainland gamblers, cops and Eddie Woo's accountants; ad men without ideas, thin men in white shirts and skinny black ties, exerting lonely expresssions of carnal desperation.
I flee to my desk, calm puncuated by my boss's yell: "Tortelli, I just been chewed out in Chinese! Come into my office, now!"
What am I? A minor victimized character in a Wagnerian opera of cold authoritarianism? Am I the rising Lou Reed guitar riff in Sweet Jane, taking flight in assertive crescendos of individualism and declarative liberation. 'Standing on a Street Corner. Suitcase in my hand....Sweet Jane.'
I bear into my boss's office and push my finger into his barrel chest and pronounce in revolt the lyrical anthem from an old rock 'n' roll song: "I'm not going to take it."
His eyes roll back in his head, his Jackie Gleason pirouette, he drops to the floor like a large felled hairy animal. The men in white shirts fill the office and proclaim: "The king is dead!"
They hoist me to their shoulders and chant in a glorious unison: "Long live the King! Tortelli, King of the Trademark Examiners!"
Dreams, Dreams... I can't take these Dreams. Spellbound by uniformity and responsibility. Let the Piper Play. Let me sleep through a dreamless night.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Maybe I'm glorifying the writer while being unfair in suggesting other artists are too elitist. That's for another day. For now, I'm with the thrift store novelist.
Is that what you see me as? Is that what I'm worth?
Do I have a squirt bottle in my hand? Do I spray blue cleaning liquid on stained table tops? Do I clean and shine them, in the process stripping away the layers of dignity I earned from surviving?
Do I take it from him? Do I listen emotionless to his bigoted, racist, assumptive, anti-immigrant voice ask: "Speak English, eh?"
Do I listen to his condescending laughter, his oversize belly jiggling under his oversize Tommy Hilfiger cotton cable sweater? Or should I say: "I've been speaking English since I was born. Don't you think I speak it better than you, asshole?"
Am I right? Am I right to take my squirt bottle and spray a thick stream of liquid on his face and wipe away his smug smile like a giant mustard stain with my dirty rag hosting germs from the remains of Taco Bell fast food?
Is my vision good? Out of the corner of my eye can I see an onrush of security guards? Am I fast enough to escape their fleet feet and apprehending arms? Can I make it down the mall's corridor and turn into the super market? Do I make a last stand in the fruits section? Do I throw like a silent era comedian apples, oranges, pears, and bananas at the dodging faces of the security guards? Do I get blindsided?
Do I get dragged semi-conscious out of the mall and hurled into a snow bank encrusted in dirt and street salt? Does my winter coat get tossed over my body, ripped and torn? Did the thieving guards steal my change, my bus token, my kit leather gloves from when I afforded top stitched hand wear? Did I twist my knee, limping away, two miles from home? Am I one of the bedraggled? One of the beaten down? One of the broken spirits? But is there hope? Is there hope to marry a woman, famously rich and wonderfully desperate?
Monday, November 24, 2008
We met at a donut shop and I saw she had enlarged herself to twice her normal size. I would have hugged her, but not even Michael Jordan with his elongated arms could have held her comfortably.
When I think of the loss of her beauty to fatness, I feel as I do when I hear of the loss of a great work of art to the nefarious hands of a deranged vandal.
Alas, that night when I returned home I assessed my looks in a full-size mirror. Far from being thin, I spent an energetic hour on my stationary bicycle. I counted my sit-ups and push-ups. The next day I would count calories and practice exercise as a religion, praying I would remain thinner than the old belle gone to pot.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
They say fighters get the meanness beat out of 'em. That was true of this old bloke who I liked a lot. See, I've always had a soft spot for those who live near the edge of so called civility, especially for those with indomitable spirits and jabbing hearts who struggle life long to be champions of their own dignity.
I've seen fighters succeed. I've seen fighters fail. Over time I've seen so many winners and losers retire to their shambling lives, their minds and souls as old and punch drunk as the Englishman's. Pity, I suppose.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Twice the First Shipman Cries:
The Island Turns,
The Island Welcomes,
Children Hold Mother Liberty's Gaze
The Island Sinks,
The Island Endures.
The Island is them. The Island is us.
The New city,
Home are the people
Mother Liberty Holds her Gaze
Sunday, November 16, 2008
"Charles," I asked. "It's after midnight. What are you doing here?"
He took a deep swig from his whiskey bottle and said: "I got this sleepless turmoil and tumult going on."
"Shouldn't you be in heaven?"
"There is this new roommate of mine up there. He's a soldier who died in a jeep accident. Only problem is, he was a straight-laced bugler in the army. So every morning at 5am he's up playing revelry until I can't help but jump out of bed. The whole thing is putting a damper on my eternity experience, if you know what I mean."
He filled his mouth with more chips and talked of his great plan of Godly escape: "You can go AWOL for a few days from that big distillery plant in the sky before they send a couple of spirit bounty hunters and ship you to that eternal furnace down below. See, that's an elevator I can ride. They must have some pretty wild composers running around there like Mozart. And Mahler was a bit of a prick, so he's gotta be hangin' with the devil crowd himself. My kinda people, I'd say."
I could tell crazy booze braggadocio in a ghost as much as in a regular man. So I told Bukowski he could crash on my couch and we'd talk after he slept it off.
Late the next morning I took from my fridge a pot of Irish Stew simmered in a Guinness stock and scooped some into a giant Zip Lock bag. I sent off Bukowski with the food package on his trip back to heaven. As much as he was a giant pain in the neck, I expected I'd be seeing him again soon, and I'd a been disappointed if I didn't.
Friday, November 14, 2008
So that’s what the day manager does. Mr. Dylan fires me and says he thinks white teenagers are lazy cusses. Of course it doesn’t occur to him that he’s white and was once a teenager. But then again he was almost fifty and a day manager in some greasy spoon with old heavy waitress in short dresses that don’t flatter their figures. So I guess that makes him lazy too.
That all happened last year. In the twelve months since, I’ve gone from sixteen to seventeen, and I got a lot of maturity happening. Like I got grown up enough to drop out of school in May and get me a good summer job cutting grass in a cemetery. I’ve stuck this out for a couple of months now, never missing a day. In the fall I don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll shovel snow or go up north and become a lumber jack or railroad man, or maybe I’ll learn to drive a truck, even though you got to go to school to learn that, so I guess that doesn’t appeal to me much.
In the mean time I got myself enough money to afford a room in a flop house where I stayed before I moved out. I didn’t socialize much with people there. In fact I didn’t talk much to anyone, except to the owner who lived on the bottom floor next to the kitchen. She was pretty kind most times, making me breakfast more than once. Although she could be real strict like when people come home drunk or use cuss words. She is an immigrant from Poland, who kept telling me her husband died in some war.
Like I said she is just about the only person I talked to in the house, since the other guys there were a lot older and some got real problems, like I would say being lonely and sad and maybe drinking too much or being in trouble with the law. The cops took one guy a way for some crime that he did in the Big City. According to Mrs. Gadinsky he killed a man. All I know is he went away real quiet.
Death doesn’t scare me much. I’m used to it, and not just from cutting lawns in a cemetery. My parents died in a car crash when I was fourteen. Except for living with an alcoholic Uncle who used to hit me, I been pretty much on my own, this suited me just fine. Who needs people anyway? If you’re going to the north and becoming a lumberjack or railroad man, you don’t want any commitments or nothing getting in your way.
So I guess if you don’t mind death, then a cemetery is a good place to work. The grass cutting can be hard, pushing around a shaky mower for eight hours. I remember on the first day the sun was burning real hot and I must a got heat stroke, because I felt faint and staggered into the shack at the end of the shift. I drank lots of water and felt better, but still felt like I was hung over, even though I never really drink much liquor.
The guys here are okay, even though I don’t talk to them much. I just say hello to Mr. Rawlins and go off all day to my section and cut grass around tombstones. I’ve been told I’m real good at cutting the tall grass that grows along the base where the tombstones meet the ground. See I don’t use any kind of special weed cutter. I get on my hands and knees and pull. All of the other workers think I’m crazy, even the illegals. So I guess they don’t want to talk to me much either, because who wants to talk to a crazy man.
What I do is work real hard, something I learned to do since my bus boy days. I get the grass cut faster than anyone else. Then I get on my knees and spend the last few hours of the day pulling at the tall grass and weeds. I guess I got an eye for detail. Maybe the people that come here to visit the deceased appreciate it.
My parents, they’re buried in section 14 under a tall tree. I think it’s a maple, or maybe an oak. I don’t know so much about trees. Nobody knows that I got folks here. Doesn’t mean anything to me that there here. My thinking is, once you’re gone you’re gone, so there’s no point in crying over something that you can’t get back, like spilt milk. That’s why I never visit their tombstone and do that crying stuff. I guess I don’t want to be like Mrs. Gadinsky thinking about dead people my whole life.
You get used to funerals working in this place. At first I felt guilty when someone died and got to be buried, but now it doesn’t mean a thing to me. Lawnmowers can’t be running with all their noise, so you got to turn them off and just wait until everyone gets back in their cars and drives off. If it is a hot day, or my arms feel tired, it is even a relief to see a procession come by because it means break time. I wonder what all those sad people would think if they knew we were happy to see the procession come by because it means we don’t have to work.
One time I felt sad, that’s when Mr. Dylan the restaurant owner died premature from a heart attack. He was just fifty or something. All the workers came. The waitresses honored him by dressing a lot better with none of them wearing clothes too tight. It was kind of ironic. There was Mr. Dylan always complaining about illegals, saying they was lazy. But if not for a couple of Mexican guys he might not a been buried.
There was this thick tree root growing in the deep in the ground where his casket was supposed to be put. Well you’ve never seen guys working harder than Javier and Miquel. They were working for a good hour or two with axes breaking down that root. Sweat was pouring off their backs. I wonder what Mr. Dylan would have thought knowing that a couple of illegals saved his last day above the earth. I learned once this is called irony, when you believe one thing and then another thing happens.
One of my teachers who I kind of like comes up to visit me once in a while to talk to me. His name is Mr. Colford. He is old too, maybe about Mr. Dylan’s age, but a lot healthier, and he doesn’t get mad so much. Unfortunately, he has this idea that I should be doing something that I don’t want too, like going back to school. He keeps telling me I got talent as an artist. He says I’m a good colorist, with a good eye for composition. Then he starts talking about this guy named Chagall and his goat paintings. One day he brings me a book with his paintings. I suppose I have talent as good as his. My old teacher knows this because one day he brings an old classmate of his who is a curator from some famous museum in New York. The guy was dressed real fancy. He was saying I got to do something with my art, that I’m a prodigy or some word I’m not sure of.
I just say I want to get out of town. I tell them that painting comes easy so it doesn’t mean much to me. Working all day pulling grass is hard work so it gives me more satisfaction. Well the curator guy looked real disappointed and said I was young. He gave me his card and told me to call if I’m ever in Manhattan. I lied and said sure, I’d look him up, but I knew I wasn’t going to any big city. I wanted to get out of here and go up to the North Country and be a lumber jack, maybe try my hands at mining.
Something I didn’t tell no one, that I left Ms. Gadinsky’s house. I took all my belongings, including my sleeping bag and moved into the woods on the edge of the cemetery plots. Down in section 14 there is road that leads to a break in the woods. That’s where all the oldest tombstones can be found. The tombstones go back a couple a hundred years. Well at the end of the patch of graveyard they got some thick woods that no one goes into. That’s where I put my belongings.
At night I sleep there and nobody knows, not even the Rawlins brothers. It all works out for the better, because I’m getting real obsessed about this place, trying to keep things all in order. I can put in extra hours pulling at the weeds, and taking hedge clippers around the bushes. Sometimes I take a flashlight with me and work under the stars. It makes me feel peaceful working for the dead.
Funny that I always stay away from the tombstones of the people I knew once, like my dead folks or Mr. Dylan. I wonder what that Chagall guy would think about that. I liked his goat pictures. Maybe when he was young he wanted to be a miner or lumberjack.
Mrs. Gadinsky said she was sorry to see me leave the house, but like I said I have this compulsion. I’ve got to make my body tough, and that doesn’t happen by sleeping in a comfortable bed and having scrambled eggs for breakfast. No I got to be on a small diet and work until my muscles get filled with a burning ache, that way I build up the body.
Mr. Colford came by one hot day and brought some paint brushes and paper and said just in case I had the urge I could paint. He showed me once again that Chagall painting with the goat. That night I took the brushes and painted a goat that wasn’t so cheerful. Thing is, it started to rain and ruined the paper. Lucky I got a little pup tent that keeps me dry.
I think I’ll give up on this art thing. Once I’m up in the North Country working in a mine or cutting down trees, all this art stuff should leave my head. Maybe there will be a lot less tragedy and sadness. Just yesterday they came to bury Mrs.Gadinsky.
It seems as if one of the men in her house got drunk and went crazy and stabbed her a few times until she died. Most of the people who lived in her rooming house at one time or another came to the funeral. Must have been the longest procession of the year. Maybe a hundred people came. Nobody was dressed in fancy clothes, but everyone looked real sad. I guess I was just about the only one who didn’t follow her in that line. I watched from behind one of the tombstones with the mower tilted on its side so no one could see.
That night I couldn’t sleep, because I was thinking about all the death. There was a star I kept looking at and wondered if there was a better planet that went around it. I decided I wanted to be a miner more than a lumberjack. I figure when you are down in the earth it has got to be more peaceful. Less people to give you a hard time.
It’s been close to two months since I left school and worked at the cemetery. The money I’ve saved is pretty good, almost $1,000. That’s enough to get me a good pair of working boots and a hard hat. I’m sure I’ll need that up north. Maybe I’ll even buy me a pair of thick socks. The mines up there must be real cold. Tomorrow I’ll buy myself a train ticket and then go. I’m little bit excited because I’ve never been on a train. It should be real exciting to see the countryside. I expect I might even see my first mountain.
Poor Mr. Colford will probably miss me. I guess he’ll even be surprised since I never told him or anyone else about my plans. Maybe I’ll send him a note saying what I’m doing even though I don’t write all that good. I guess I’ll even include a little painting of a goat with paint he left behind. He’d like that. Now that Mrs. Gadinsky’s dead he’s just about the only one in this town I kind of like.
I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know I’ll be happier being a miner. I’m hoping anyway. Like I said, art comes easy, work doesn’t, and so why not do something that makes you stronger. It’s better pleasing yourself than anyone else. If I want to work underground where it’s dark, then that’s what I’ll do.
He was thin, without much muscle and week of character. His hair was cut short and he wore turquoise coloured horn rimmed glasses. A man of fifty, he worked as a clerk in an accounting office and was still derisively called Bobby by the young interns.
But Bobby had grown weary of his life. He was tired of his wife using him as a training dummy to hone her wrestling moves. There were the painful scissor-grip holds, the pile drivers, the rubbing of his forehead along the ropes of a home made ring.
One day he read the story of Samson and Delilah and a light went off in his head: her hair, yes her hair. That night, while she slept soundly, he took scissors he had made razor sharp and cut off her long black mane.
The next morning she awoke physically weakened, her personality was demur and fearful. Emboldened, Bobby walked away from the marriage and quit his job and moved to California where he successfully sells herbal male enhancement remedies on the internet.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
But he knew of her story. Friends had told him as much. The young man was being kind without any romantic intent. He was at the age when he needed to decide on a career, and maybe it was to be a social worker or psychologist or some profession where he could help others.
But soon her romantic ideas became clear. He didn’t know how to handle it, to let her down softly. So one day he said he was going off to college in another town and he would send e-mails and call, let her know what was happening in his life.
She went home that night and wept in the dark room inside her head.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
In my state of mind I was as calm as a deep breathing swami on ativan when this blind guy with his agitated mutt marches straight towards me. Adroitly I moved to the outer edge of the sidewalk, passing lightly in front of the dog and his sightless master.
The dog must have thought I was on the attack. Or maybe he was just a canine asshole looking for a sorry excuse to put his incisors into human flesh. He lunged with his biting teeth at my arm. Luckily the wool in my duffel coat sleeve was thick so his attempt at a bite was little more than a grazing of my skin.
His owner jerked the leash, shouted the dog's name, and moved on without saying a word of apology. Even blind people can be rude.
Not only did this episode jar me out of my bliss, but it planted a question in my head I'm unable to answer: So what is it with seeing eye dogs? What did I ever do to them?
Monday, November 10, 2008
"Play some Mahler," I ordered the bar keep. "This is the writer Charles Bukowski. And serve him up a whiskey sour."
Despite his ethereal shroud, he looked much the same as he does in his book jacket photographs. His face was pock marked. His hair was oily and combed back long. His yellow teeth were well beyond Crest White Strips. Then there were his eyes. They burned with that peculiar lonesome and observant intensity that belong to the great chroniclers of the dispossessed. Didn't Zola have such a gaze?
Finally I spoke to Mr. Bukowski. "I know you've been dead all these years. So what have you been doing with your time?"
"I been up in heaven hanging around the beats," he replied. "You know, Ginsberg and Kerouac and that wild guy Cassidy. I still write in my boarding house while spinning Mahler and in the evening I go the track and drink and watch has been horses go round a badly kept track. At night sometimes me and Hunter S. Thompson chase some cute winged angels."
He took a sip from his whiskey sour and asked me: "So what are you doing with yourself, kid?"
I told him I look at files all day, digging up dusty school records. But I blog a bit and watch late night TV. Sometimes I have the occasional beer.
"That's it," he said.
"Well I had a colourful great grandmother who died before I was born. During prohibition she made bootleg gin in her bathtub and could cus' out anyone. A real character for the time, they say."
"I know your great grandmother. She's the one who sent me."
I grew embarrassed enough to change the topic because I knew what he was getting at. I told the old dead writer I was a big admirer of his and I always kept his poem The Laughing Heart in my vest pocket.
"It's that line of yours I like the most: in life you can't cheat death but you can cheat death in life, sometimes."
I turned my head and put my hand into my blazer to draw out the folded paper with the poem. I turned back and he was gone. All that remained was a billow of white smoke, like a cloud from a slow burning cigarette.
"He does that all the time," the barkeep said. "Either him or his alter ego Henry Chinaski. You going to pay up?"
I paid for the drinks, left behind a generous tip, and made my way home.
It's just now as I write this I figured out what happened that evening. The good God of Get Off Your Ass sent Bukowski to tell me to get off my ass because heaven ain't what most people think. It's not some permanent airless euphoria of endless bliss. It's really a mixed bag. It's a shadow world of what happens on earth. What you do here you do there but for ever. So if you look at files all day it's your eternity. Anyway, that's what I take from the ghost of Charles Bukowski.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
I've liked the rhyme pattern he spoke so much I associate the expression with Detroit almost as much as I associate the city with the sounds of Motown. Life is funny. "Money talks, bullshit walks."
Thursday, November 6, 2008
"Where you going with that?" he bellowed.
"I bought it, and I'm taking it home."
He looked at me for a long moment, his chubby face inches from mine. "I don't believe you, I think you're a terrorist. I can tell by the way you look. You got that glint in your eye. You got that pigment to your skin and a crooked step to your walk. I betcha you got a grandmother with a funny middle name."
I was taken aback because I never knew a terrorist. Like most people I hate terrorists, and if their were any justice in the world they would pay seriously for what they do.
"Yeah," he said, "We're going to rough you up, pour water over you, get you to talk."
"Bu..but you can't waterboard me. Barack Obama is president now. Besides I'm innocent"
Officer Johnson rubbed his name tag and thought a long time. "We got other ways. We'll get the fattest a$$ed women in New York City and make 'em real hungry and mean and stuff 'em in your jail cell."
Whew. I wasn't too keen on the idea of having famished, ravenous women with fat a$$es smothering and biting me, their teeth well sharpened, their layers of fat sagging in my face. I had better think of something to save myself from being torn apart like a human gazelle.
I saw he had a bit of a gut himself, so desperately I appealed to what I believed to be the darkest angel of his nature.
"Officer, I said. Why don't I donate this TV to the Policeman's Benevolent Fund. Also, I got a backpack full of chocolates and boardwalk fudge. Maybe you can share it with your wife."
Johnson took the bait. I left him the TV and goodies and made my way once more along the Flat Iron Building. Then I heard again the bellowing of his voice: "Hey!"
I turned and listened to him. His voice was quieter: "You know when I was a boy, I had a friend. We were like brothers. I was white, he was black. One day they tried to kill my friend. He was riding his bike when a convertible car drove up beside him and a man screamed that N word and knocked him off his bike with a powerful fist. Luckily he fell on a patch of grass or his life would have been lost. Now Barack Obama is our president, every one's president. I never thought anyone could change me so fast, but he has."
"Bu..but what about that torture cell with the fat a$$ed women?"
"I made that up. Besides, tall, short, skinny, fat, black, white, or what ever your religion, it doesn't matter. Most people are good."
I took what he said as the truth, and decided to ridicule others no more.
"I guess hate gets in the way of making things better."
"Yeah. You look at what's happening to this globe--war, disease, terror, famine, financial markets tumbling. You look at Bush and Cheney. And now you see Barack Obama is President. So maybe it took eight years, or maybe it took two hundred years, but in the end Lincoln was right: America is the last best hope on earth."
"Is that why so much of the world cheered when they said: Barack Obama, President of the United States of America?"
"I think so," he said.
He put down the TV and backpack and walked a few steps towards me and stopped. The cop never aked my name. But he addressed me no matter, as if I had been away for a long time. "Welcome home, America" he said. "And ready your hands. We got a job to do."
Sunday, November 2, 2008
A tantalizing egg noodle dangled loosely from her chopstick.
“So what’s your name?” I finally asked.
“I’m not going to tell you,” she replied, sweeping the noodle gracefully into her mouth.
“What if you knew me for a hundred days, would you tell me then?”
“Even if I wanted to I couldn’t. See, I have no name.”
She put down a box of fried shrimp, gulped her food slightly and said: “I’ve got something to show you.”
As if by magic she pulled an oversized envelope out of a slight pocket and handed it to me.
“Open it,” she said.
I tore carefully at the envelope and removed its contents—nothing but blank documents.
“This is a birth certificate, but all the boxes are blank. There’s no dates, no place of birth, no parents name, nothing.”
I looked through a drug card, a bank card, a student card, a credit card. Nothing was written to tell the barest facts of who she was.
“So what’s with you?” I asked.
“I have no name, no identity, nor place of birth I can state. I know their faces—my father, mother, brother and sister. I close my eyes and see my childhood friends. I recall them all, but I can’t name them and they can’t name me.”
She pressed soy sauce out of plastic packet onto some fried rice.
“Pass me a napkin,” she demanded.
I gave her one and then she grabbed my wrist and turned over my hand.
“Now watch this.” She daubed a droplet of soy sauce on my thumb.
“Press it against the napkin…see you leave a print. Watch me.”
She too placed soy sauce on her index finger and pressed it against the napkin, but her finger made no print. She then broke a plastic pen and smeared ink on both her hands, then rubbed them hard into her pale yellow jeans but left behind no stain. The ink on her palms evaporated in bluish wisps into the night air.
“As far as I know I’m not from a distant stretch of the cosmos. I wasn’t touched by a shaman, ordained by a God. I was born this way. I leave behind no trace of me, just memories that never get told.”
I told her I was a writer of fiction. I could take was true tonight and write it as such but claim it to be a story that came to me in a dream. Not a publisher, not an agent, not an editor, nor a reader would doubt it. I could pass off fact as fiction and the two of us could be the better off for it. The memories she had finally to be told.
An eerie gust came in an instant. I dropped my head, closed my eyes and waited the seconds till it passed. I opened my eyes but she was gone…gone somewhere. Round the corner or up some stairs, I couldn’t say. Or maybe she truly came from an outer stretch of the cosmos. Maybe she ascended, rising nameless to that great Chinese Take Out in the sky.
I collected what the wind had swept—the napkins, the chopsticks, the plastic wrappers. I put them all together in a box and dropped the box and its contents into a metal trash under a city lamp. That is I threw all away but one fortune cookie wrapped in crinkly cellophane.
I crushed the cookie and read it; the advice coming too late: Beware the here and there. Beware a mistral angel.
Tomorrow I’d cook chicken Chinese style, a Hainan bird in a bubbling broth of onion and ginger. Or maybe I’d try French style—a coq au vin in a dry white wine. Or maybe I’d combine the recipes in a giant crazy dish and sit once more with my white ass on a hard grey curb and wait for an angel.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Over and over the ceiling fan turned round and round. Its wobbly, unsteady blades blew no cool air—just a noisy breeze that didn’t quiet the storm of sleeplessness inside of me. Then the phone rang.
It’s one a.m. Who has no regard for a man’s repose?
The voice on the line spoke vaguely, wanting to reclaim an old acquaintance at a bar named Vic’s. So we met. I watched the old acquaintance steadily drink whiskey sours while I sipped a Mexican beer and a quart of cold ice water. Reluctantly I listened to his reminisces of our childhood. He talked of baseball, of hitting sliders, of running bases, of shagging fly balls like the great Red Sox players—Yazstremski, Petrocelli, Mike Andrews and the young Conigliaro brothers. He spoke of Friday nights at Kelly Field and the heroes we watched, the semi-pro teams who strode the shortened grass like giants. But we knew they weren’t the biggest of giants. None could play left field as did Yaz, nor throw a fastball with the speed of the great Fenway pitcher Lonborg. The old acquaintance spoke of those long ago days as the time of our living dreams.
He took a sip from his whiskey sour, made a bitter as lemon face, and revealed how sad and lonely he had become. His wife had gone mad. His daughter had run to the hills of California, cut-off in a faraway cult.
I knew the type of person he was; the type of person who believed in the interconnectedness of humanity. To reconnect with me was to reconnect with youthfulness, to toss away his sadness, to reclaim those living dreams. In his eyes I could see his desperation, the wanting of my kindness and sympathy. But all I could give him was nothing because I felt nothing. I too had seen madness, the madness of war—dying men; dead men; crazy men screaming, exorcising the last of their vaporous sanities into hot sweltering nights.
War shakes you up. It freezes you. It turns your nerves into reactive overdrive and numbs you at the same time. But I knew none of this. I had never donned a helmet. I had never trundled knee deep in thick jungle muck, my precise eyes on the look out for snipers and poisonous vipers whose bite can infect you with madness and death.
This was my make believe. This was my lie to keep at bay the truth—the hot sleepless nights when I hear voices through the walls, when I sense burning death rising through the dark cracks in my splintery floor.
But that too was a lie. I hear nothing. I sense nothing. Just as I feel nothing for an old acquaintance who needs to reconnect with me and to reminisce about times that never were. He could see all of this in my face.
"Do you ever just want to lie down and let yourself die?" he asked in exasperation.
On a razor’s edge. I wanted to say.
It was 3 a.m. Time to go. I put aside his protestations and paid for our drinks. Together we made our way back into the heat of the July night. As we walked I dropped a coin into an outstretched hand. I asked the beggar if knew of the vagaries of life, like summer becoming winter? His lips muttered insensibly. The old acquaintance walked with me for a few steps and then we parted. By late morning a cold front had come. Sleep came easily. I felt normal again.