Tuesday, December 30, 2008
But Mr. Keane had a dark story from his past that he didn't keep secret. See, during the war he was an ensign in the U.S. Navy working out of a ship in the South Pacific. He and his buddies got drunk one night and missed their boat embarking from a harbor. It might be easy to see where the story goes, but the ship got hit in some major naval battle and every crew member died.
I don't know why, but Mr. Keane's life was never filled with bitterness nor guilt nor did he try to hide from his past. It seems as if he was a better man because of what happened, and now, after all these years, I think I know why. Maybe to make his own life livable he decided to be the best person he possibly could be, always treat others with kindness, generosity, and respect. Maybe this was his way of honouring the memory of those who perished, at the time young men just like himself. I guess all soldiers should just miss out on war. But if they did, there would be no war at all. Imagine that kind of world.
Friday, December 26, 2008
The old man stops digging, steam leaving his mouth as he answers ruefully, "You wannabe writers think to much for your own good. When this job is done all I want is a belly full of hot coffee and some warm bread."
His words make the young writer think of Hemingway. But these thoughts give way to a feeling of emptiness in his belly, and he too craves hot coffee and a warm slice of bread.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
She said, "You can find me on page 917 in the phone book. First column, third name from the top."
Was this a wanting tease, or a clever brush-off? I'd been there for both in the past, but I was feeling vulnerable these last few weeks, not really sure if I could handle any type of rejection. I put off looking for her name in the white pages for a couple of days until curiosity got the better of me.
Best to use a pay phone, I thought. I opened the phone book, found the page and column, and counted down three names. With my lucky index finger I pushed the silver buttons.
After three rings I got: "Leonardo Pizza."
"I'd like a large Hawaiian, but go easy on the ham."
"Yeah, you know an attractive blond with long legs, a nameless flirt who plays with a man's heart?"
"We got one of those. Is that delivery or pick-up?"
The bluesman John Lee Hooker once sung:
"Serves you right to suffer, serves you right to be alone, you can't go on livin' in the past, them days...is gone."
Thursday, December 18, 2008
"Tsk, tsk. See your X-ray. It's out-of-sorts, like a de Kooning painting. No real shape or form that the eye can easily discern. The colours are fine, but little else. In short, you have a defective heart of the formless modern man. As much spiritual as physical."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Ah, the spiritual part, that's for you to determine. Let me just say you are in some danger if corrective measures aren't taken. Just last week I had two patients. One had a heart that looked like the mad strokes of a Riopelle, the other like the furious drippings of a Pollock. Both died within days."
The physician presented me with another x-ray. "See this heart. Perfect, just like a Modigliani painting. There is much lively interpretation of the human form. The shapes are wonderful, the colours bright and healthy. The kind of cardio-vascular system you should develop."
The good doctor told me how I had to change my diet, exercise more, control stress, lose weight, and try to see beauty in a more usual way.
I always do what doctors say, even though sometimes it goes against my intuition of what's right. So I did try my best to follow his instructions; less fat to consume, more greens to eat, longer and brisker walks to take. And I must say I kind of dig this Modigliani cat and I wouldn't mind owning a heart like one of his paintings. But I did find an artist at a gallery whose work appears more suitable to my spirit. These are the paintings of Marc Chagall, the rich colourist with his recurring goat. I don't know much about him or what any of it means, but I think it would be kind of cool to have a goat running through my veins and arteries. I'll have to check the fat content of goat and see what the doctor says. Hope it's OK with him. Wouldn't want to end up dead like a Riopelle, overrated like an oversize Rorschach test.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Although as rare as it is, I am happy with this reverse condition. It keeps my legs strong, my heart beating at a healthy pace.
But there are downsides. Take, for instance, work. Should I sit at my desk too long-- day after day, weeks on end--I become agitated, slipping into a state of animated delirium. Recently, while working as a clerk at a trademark office, I rose from my swivel chair and gave a primal yelp: "Yeeee,heeee." I then cried out: "My name is Tortelli."
With my unsteady legs I moved to my boss's office. I said, "Forgive me, Mr. Beam." I then proceeded to knock the toupee off his round head.
There was no work for me the next day, so I moved to other employment in an actuary's office. But soon the variant of motion sickness overwhelmed me. "Yeeee, heeee," I cried again. "Miss. Baxter, forgive me, but your a$$ is fat." I then knocked a box of boardwalk fudge off my supervisor's desk and left the office, never to return.
But a cure has come to me in size 91/2 re-soled leather boots. Not to forget a long smooth bindle stick I hold with my barest of belongings tied up in a cloth at the stick's end.
Today I began my hobo's journey. My feet are steady, my life once more in balance as I move from place to place.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Nah, this is going to be a rant for the times we live in...I live in. And if you think the story rings false, so be it. If you think of it as allegorical, you are entitled to your own literary allusions. Because I don't care what people think. See I'm on the edge. What that edge is, I won't say. But sometimes it feels sharp, and sometimes it feels dull. And sometimes it feels hungry. Draw your own conclusions.
Take yesterday and my last apartment meal. I scavenged my closets, finding an old cellophane bag with one serving of stale Captain Crunch cereal. What else did I find? A can of coconut milk. But not just any can, a dented one with sentimental value. See this was the can an old Thai girlfriend threw at me when I came home drunk from a strip bar with a strutting sex on demand attitude.
Those were the days. Yeah, back then there were dependable buddies you could drink with at girly bars, watching their nimble pole dancing. The days when you could come home late, staggering drunk. When women of all levels of exotic styles were to be chased, and sometimes made yours. Yours as either quick rolls in the hay, or longterm chicks like ones who throw cans of coconut milk at your head. But those were also the days when you were young and fast enough to dodge deadly tin projectiles and make crazy demands of Thai ladies you should have treated better.
Why treat 'em better? Because they deserve it. You deserve it. Because life changes fast. Guys get older and get caught up in their own families, the lives of their spouses, kids, and careers and the kids sports leagues. And you don't even know what they think because you haven't seen them in years because most of them have moved on. And you think that because you're doing bad they must be doing well. But you don't know for sure. You'd look 'em up and talk about the old days, but what good does sentimentality do you? Especially when you're hungry. Especially when Captain Crunch and a four year old can of coconut milk is your last best meal for awhile.
What of changing your condition? What of making a stab at the world of employment? Of finding some job on the internet? How about the free stations at the library when you have to sit next to some poor, down on his luck street miscreant who reeks of stale cigarettes. The smell burns your eyes. The smell scratches your throat, but your ass in the chair is steadfast because you don't want to lose your chance at employment, any employment, longterm employment, brief employment, employment to tide you over another month's rent.
You look at the emaciated, smelly tobacco guy and wonder how far he is from starvation or from being found in some snowbank frozen like a lost sausage in the back of some rich guy's walk-in freezer. You also wonder how far you are from his fate. But you got knowledge, too. You know something rich guys can never quite figure out: the economy is like a rug, it can be pulled out from under you at any time.
Mistakes, mistakes. Like when you run into that old Thai girlfriend and she looks beautiful, like she hasn't aged a day. She tells you of the money she's making from the chain of beauty salons she owns and how she's married but wishes you didn't have those dark parts of your character. Because if you didn't she'd a married you and the both of you would be happy together. You pass it off as a joke, but it hurts 'cuz its true.
So life's travails go on. Finding food, hoping never to smoke, hoping to find a Thai woman who you will treat better next time. But if there is any lesson in life it's this: Value each can of coconut milk you own because some day they'll all be gone. Out of spite they'll chop down all the world's palm trees and then all you'll be left with is yourself and small bowl of stale Captain Crunch cereal.
Finally, I left a sleepless bed and wrapped myself in a woolen overcoat. I topped my head with a tweed cap, tucked a warm scarf into my coat, and put my hands into leather gloves. I went out into the early winter air and walked and walked until my steady legs took me to a children's playground.
A dome shaped Jungle Gym was constructed in the centre of the park. I climbed the structure's criss-crossed aluminum pipes and sat atop it, as if I were king of this small world. I would sit, I said to myself, until in this winter air a life affirming clarity came to me.
I began to untie knotted memories with the hope of releasing myself from what was, when a gentle snow began to fall. Large flakes melted into small drops of moisture on my woolen clothes. Soon the playground was covered in a white sheet. A slight breeze had begun to blow, a creaking sound arising behind me.
I turned my head to see a swing swaying, and for a second I thought I saw a man sitting in the swing. But it was an illusion, a night shadow shaped by the light of a tall lamp post that half illuminated the playground.
A minute or two later I heard a second time that creaking sound, but this time it seemed to be accompanied by a the music of an Asian flute. I turned once more to see the apparition of the man. But it was my eyes playing a trick on me, for under the tungsten light he was once more that night shadow. And the strange Asian music I heard had come from a window where I saw someone flip over an old vinyl album.
But was there more to what I saw and heard? Was this my Ikiru moment?
Ikiru, the great Japanese character in that memorable existential movie of the same name directed by Kurosawa. The story of an old civil servant who is waiting to retire is told he has incurable cancer. We see that his life has been wasted, so he concludes. In his own mind he didn't create a personal narrative that mattered to himself and others, and most of us know he is right, because we see ourselves in him.
But this is a movie of redemption. So in his final days he fights bureaucracy to have a children's playground built. And in one of those memorable movie endings he dies contented, swaying slightly back and forth as he sits on a swing. A beautiful Tokyo snow is falling as we hear his singing of a Japanese song, non-melodious but passionate. We hear his singing until he falls into his final sleep.
Was this my Ikiru moment, in this children's playground, the snow falling, my life in existential crisis? It is my Ikiru moment, but only if I make it as such. That was the life clarity I sought.
I descended the Jungle Gym and began to shuffle my feet along the playground earth, moving snow, trying to uncover anything dangerous that could hurt children.
My bed awaited me. I went home and slept wondrously, my mind contented for the first time in days. Meaning isn't what you discover or what's handed to you, it's what you make.
I have many years left in me. The Ikiru moment should be a long one, indeed.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Hey, Alien. What's up? Haven't talked to you in awhile. Some strange stuff has been happening on earth which explains why I haven't been emailing you. Nothing that has been keeping me too busy--heck, I'm unemployed--it's just that there is a big planetary problem that has kept me and about 4 or 5 billion people preoccupied with worry. You know what it's like; it's like when that star of yours collapsed and you were getting sucked into that black hole. Lucky your politicians were smart enough to build and send those planetary escape ships to that planet with those hot one-eyed women with the fish net stockings.
Enough of that. You should see what's happening down here. There's a giant crack in the sky. That's right. It goes from horizon to horizon and it's jagged edged, kind of like a broken egg shell. You know eggs, that slimy stuff you liked to eat raw when you and that fat cousin of yours came to visit a couple a summers ago.
Anyway, this happened in June, and as you can imagine its caused quite a commotion. Nobody can figure out why. All the scientists say it goes against any known scientific theories. The religious people, well they're fighting with each other--so what else is new.
From land the crack looks about four or five inches wide, so its got to be big when you send planes up there. Which is what the governments have been doing. You would think this would bring these governments together, but forget it. They are still fighting over which space stations get to go up to investigate. And of course they're blaming it on each other. So typical: its the Russians fault; its the Americans fault; its the EUs fault. Heck, I even heard some people are blaming the Danes. Its all that crazy human nature stuff. Lucky you Aliens get along up there. Just tell that fat cousin of yours he still owes me twenty bucks and I had to burn the bed sheets after he stained them with that slimy tongue of his. Stunk up half the neighbourhood.
So anyway, wars have started to break out. And every one is worried about the crack getting bigger or some nuclear armageddon happening between armies. Oh, and the terrorists. Now they're even fighting against each other. I guess you aliens find this funny, but your asses aren't on the line.
But here's the weird part: that crack in the sky hasn't changed a damn thing. The weather is just like it was before. Crops are growing just fine. The air quality is in its usual bad shape, but it hasn't got worse. Heck, propeller planes still buzz in the sky, steam trains still rumble along, and tug boats keep chugging through the harbour.
Just wanted to let you know that we humans might be extinct down here mighty soon. So this is a head's up to let you Aliens know that if you want to leave that planet of yours, earth can be yours for the taking. I'm assuming that you are immune to radioactive fall out. It's not a bad planet, at least until you find something better. I know the oceans are shallow for you and the mountains seem kind of small, but you'll be able to ride those one wheel motorcycles of yours across the prairie regions without any people getting in the way. A friend of mine hit a deer once. It practically killed him and totaled his car.
So if you want to come and visit, it would be great to see you. Just double check before you leave to make sure we humans are still here.
Anyway, hope the crack thing corrects itself and we can get back to normal. Doubt it, though. I'll keep in touch as long as I can.
P.S. I might be getting a job as a trade mark examiner, just like that fat cousin of yours. Like I said, it all depends on what happens down here with all that human extinction stuff.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
The most recent of these women was named Maria and they were to marry on a beautiful June day. But she dropped a note on his dining room table with the story of her double life, of how she would run off with a syphilitic slam poet from Sao Palo.
The next morning, Tortelli sat in a doctor’s office waiting for a Wasserman test and swore off women, except, of course, for the steady diet of slatterns and ten dollar a pop hand job queens.
But then, as he had always done, he fell for someone a few weeks later.
But she was different from others he knew. By anyone’s measure she was kind, considerate and attractive in a self-respecting way without the wildness of crazy dames in fish net stockings.
He had never fallen for this type of woman so his love was really an infatuation based on a couple of brief conversations and a promise to go on a date.
Tortelli wanted to present himself as best he could, but since he was fired from his deep fryer job at the Salvation Army Kitchen, he was short on dough, even though he was expecting to be hired as a trade mark examiner.
So he went to the Thrift Store and picked up a European cape and homburg hat and a pair of English shoes that he squeezed his feet into with a steady shoe horn. But what of the flowers?
He had this idea born of a who would know deviousness.
There was a cemetery near where he lived, so why not hop the stone fence and purloin a single flower from a number of grave sights so nobody would notice and the desecrating crime would be minor at worst.
That night that's what Tortelli did. He hopped the stone fence and stealthily went from tombstone to tombstone picking up single flowers till he had a dozen roses.
The next evening he was finely attired from a Thrift Store standard and went to meet the girl with only a slight nervousness.
He knocked on the door and it opened. The young girl broke into wailing tears which Tortelli mistook for joyful surprise at his gentlemanly appearance and dozen roses. But she cried: "That pink rose looks just like the one I planted at Grandma McGillicutty's grave site."
She made her hands into fists and turned them sideways and beat his chest and angrily said: "No, No, you can't be mine."
She slammed the door. Tortelli walked away with a dejected heart, his hand dropping the bouquet of flowers on the sidewalk.
He sat on a curb under a baleful moon and said mournfully: "Of all the graveyards in all of the city I had to steal a single rose from the tombstone of Grandma McGillicutty."