Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Reading Dorian Gray

Picutre of Dorian Gray,

I read a lot. But I tend not to give myself credit for it. I imagine that people who are dedicated to being writers, like I am (even going to school for it) make reading their priority form of entertainment—the most common way they spend extra time. But it’s not that with me, I read some, probably more than most, but I watch TV far more than I read, I play video games, and I read about sports far more than I read literature. But, keep in mind that I’ve so far avoided having a traditional job, so this gives me more time than most.

I have a friend who is a painter who keeps disciplined hours in a studio. His painting is his singular goal. Its not that way with me. I write and I translate. I travel with USANA, I’ve spent a week of June in Mexico city working with my USANA group there. One week in June I spent in San Diego fleshing out the outline of a financial book I am co-writing with my father. I’ve got my fingers in a lot of pies, and frankly its hard not to envy my friend and his singular focus. But rather than loathe my multi-tasking—the way ADD makes me wander, I’ve decided to try and embrace it, to see if I can transfer any of the “qualities of disjointed thinking” over to my writing.

On that note I’ve been reading many books at the same time, looking for convergences in the disparate things I am reading, and letting my attention span wander where it will. Currently I am reading 5 books:

Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

North of Boston by Robert Frost (his second book of poems)

The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector

Fablehaven book V by Brandon Mull

And an indie guide book to New York called: Eat. Shop. NYC.

I just finished reading Chronicle of a Death Foretold my Marquez, so I guess you can add that to the mix as well.

Interesting things happen when you jump around in reading. Convergences. You read about the perfect, flawless youthful picture of Dorian Gray and then you put the book down and pick up the guide book to read about the hyperbolically described flawless charcuterie of an underground Brooklyn eatery and you realize that both, in reality, are ultimately unsustainable and tragically impossible ideals.

Or you find a quote like this in the INCREDIBLE author’s dedication from the Hour of The Star, talking about art: “and we must never forget that if the atom’s structure is invisible, it is none the less real. I am aware of the existence of many things I have never seen. And you too. One cannot prove the existence of what is most real but the essential thing is to believe. To weep and believe...amen for all of us.” And you contrast that with Wilde’s own introduction to Dorian Gray: “No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style....all art is quite useless.” Two different writers, expressing the polar opposite belief about art, yet ironically I find Wilde’s book to be the ethically sympathetic, from the gut, humanistic one, and Lispector’s to be the most “crafted” and “artistic”. But it just occurred to me that maybe Wilde was being ironic himself. He has a habit of swinging both ways....ZING!

Anyway, you find these sorts of things when you read concurrently. And I find them all to be beneficial for me as a human being. In fact, the more you read the more you realize that the experience of humanity is a shared one. There’s a Wilde like aphorism for you. I was in Mexico City last week, and like everyone should if/when they go, I went to the National Anthropological Museum, probably the finest museum in the world for Maya and Aztec (and Toltec and Olmec) artifacts. The wall you see as you leave the museum, huge and imposing, has a poem carved on it, whose basic message is “pay attention, you who leave here, for you are no different than them”. It is the same message as John Donne’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. I find it to be a very true message, and not in the nostalgic sense of mourning their lives as a way of fearing your own death, but in the sense that I can see their motives for action, or at least the best conjectures of their motives, and I can contrast that with my motives for action. Another convergence, and in this case, not a divergence. That gives me a great sense of community. And, if you have a belief system like mine that holds to an afterlife, a great hope at being able to realize that community one day.

But I have just finished Dorian Gray and I think it is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. I wanted to blog an exegesis on how I read a book like that, on what parts effect me as a human and then on what I take away as a writer, like a mechanic would if he were pulling apart an engine piece by piece to see exactly how it worked. But I’ve been long winded enough with this blog already. I’ll just say that Dorian Gray worked for me on all the levels. It made me want to be a better person, AND the quality of its technical craftsmanship, especially on the character development and allegory level, made my jaw drop in places as I read it as a writer. Everyone talks about Wilde’s wit and his dialogue, which is great, but I was amazed at the descriptive lyricism of his prose, of how he matches his metaphors with the scene to set the mood....but now I’m rambling and promised I would stop. Read it if you haven’t and notice how effortlessly he seems to set up the characters in the first 100 pages. When I realized the allegory I was amazed at how smoothly I had been brought there. I had to go back and read it again. And finally, I’ll say that critics are foolish, which Wilde often said. They absolutely panned this book, mostly for moralizing reasons, while anyone who reads this book with half a brain, even if they wholly disagree with its message, has to give credit to its technical ability. Bummer that it was his only novel.

Also, do you ever do this? but I love to match music to books. I was thinking that Dorian Gray would match perfectly with Rufus Wainwright, for his "baroqueness", but then I tried it and it didn't fit. What fit perfectly was Andrew Bird. So next time you read it try to have some Andrew Bird on in the background and see if it enhances your experience. It did for me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Translation reading and blogging from a plane

In the air on a plane from jfk to lax. On my iPhone. Pretty cool that I can blog from a plane. Eventually headed to Morelia Mexico. Also watching paranoid activity right now on the plane. Not a good idea. Just half saw the ending while trying to focus on this blog. Uhhhh. Bad idea.

Moving on: Ive been invited to read at an event for the Columbia Center for Literary Translation. I don't know if I've mentioned here that I've been in workshops and doing lots of translation from Spanish to English. So far I really enjoy translation. It absorbs my mind completely.

Apparently my teachers have taken notice of me and a few of my other classmates. They want me to read some translations and some original work and also to talk about how translation work informs creative work and vice versa.

I'll keep everyone posted on how it goes. I still have no idea what o read on both accounts.

But right now I think I'm gonna wake up the sleeping lady At the end of my aisle and make her talk to me so I forget about paranormal activity.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Big Reading, and some Sloths.

Hey Myself. (let's not kid each other here) :)

So the big reading at Columbia went down the other night. I was the last reader of the evening, which I want to think is an honor, but might just be because I told them I was going to be late. Whatever the reason, it worked out great. There's lots of free booze at Columbia, that's one of the things they do really well over there, so everyone was pretty loosey goosey by the time I read and I really think they enjoyed it. I got a lot of really serious compliments afterwards and I can't tell you how good that feels.

I was just talking with a friend today about how graduate writing programs are such dour affairs...We walk around all day talking about how much of a lottery it is to crack into the publishing world and "make it". It's really a downer to any kind of ambition. There's obviously a lot of reasons why it happens, among them pure capitalism and certainly a large measure of false modesty and self defeat. But it's pretty ridiculous when you think about it. My friend and I resolved to be more positive, to try and change the "suffering under the burden of our calling" mindset that roams the halls like a frikin ghost.

So, it was good to get some validation from my peers. Plus, I wasn't sure how the dialogue in the story would read out loud, and it went over really well. I read a slightly different version of Cameo, but before that I read a story called "Sloth" that I haven't posted up here because it's always been in a state of flux. But my workshop last semester loved it, and now that I read it again, it does a lot of things I really really like. I imagine I have to post it here now with the big buildup.

Note: No profanity! Yaay. it was beginning to feel like a shipyard in here.
Note #2: Lots of italicized dialogue that might not come through on this stupid platform. Should be pretty apparent though
Note #3: This story was taken from some interesting real life experiences,(namely being on a boat cruise in Brazil) and I used my name and the name of an old friend in it. I have this weird thing with authenticity, and even though none of the people in the story actually did anything near what happens in the story, when I just make up names it seems fake. Maybe I'm doomed to use the names of people I know and care about, even if the stories have nothing to do with them. Makes it easier to write for me somehow. Enough notes, enjoy.

Story #8


In the morning a wooden dinghy pulled alongside with a sputtering motor. It was two kids with a three-toed sloth. The sloth was cinched around the girl like a baby, ear to ear with her. It was as big as her whole torso with its arms around her neck and the fur of it greenish with fungus and matted and dark down on it’s back.

Gershon came out to the back deck and spoke to the kids. His portugese sounded quick and it was early. But it was warm and I was watching the kids. They smiled and the girl shrugged the sloth towards Gershon. The boy held the dingy alongside against the pull of the river. I went down to the cabin to wake Joanna. The sloth looked like something worth being woken up for.

I had a romantic plan to kiss her til she woke, but she was up, sitting up in the bed curling loose hairs between her fingernails.

When we came back up Gershon had the sloth and the dinghy was tied to the yacht with both kids standing in it, steady on their feet. The girl looked so thin and frail without the sloth in her arms and the boy smiled up at us, probably because by now he knew the trip had been worth it. They were dark kids, and short, and the boy had missing teeth.

When Joanna saw the sloth in Gershon’s arms she sucked in her breath,
Oh, is that what I think it is? Oh, look at its little bum!
It was part of her charm to always seem surprised. I had told her already about the sloth, and about the way it looked in the arms of the girl.

Oh, Gershon, can I hold him, is it dangerous?

No, it is super safe.

He reached behind his head to loose the sloth’s claws, to peel it off of him. It moved slowly. Everything about it was languid, like it was trapped in solution. Gershon too moved slowly when he took its arms from around his neck. He went up to Joanna and stood by her side, shrugging the weight of the sloth off of him, towards her. She took it in the same way. They both took their time in the exchange, both infected by the languid care the sloth seemed to give to the world. It was amazing to watch. The river going by regular speed and the breeze, and their delicacy with the sloth in a bubble of slowness that seemed to cover only them, with the sloth reaching one arm up around Joanna’s neck, and then the other, cinching to her torso in the same way it had held Gershon and the girl.

When Joanna had it she tried to bounce it like a baby. You could see the sloth tighten on her with the bouncing.

It’s so warm and so strong. Aaron you’ve got to hold him. He’s squeezing me everywhere.
He probably thinks you’re a tree trunk.

No, he knows me. Then to the sloth, to the back of its head, You know me don’t you? You know just who I am.

I turned to Gershon,

Gershon, is it a boy or a girl? Will you ask them?

With certainty.

Then he turned to the kids, steady in the boat and spoke to them in portugese. The boy answered in Portugese and I could tell it was choppier for him, a second language. He made a gesture to the sloth and laughed and Gershon laughed too, then turned to us to translate.

It is a girl, he says. He says it is clearly a girl because it has no…you know…
Gershon looked sheepish and did not continue.

And where did they find it Gershon, will you ask them?

He answered me without asking them,

They live in the jungle all along the river, super high in the high jungle.

Oh, but will you ask them particularly where they found this one? This particular one?
With certainty.

Then he spoke again to the kids and the boy again answered in rutty portugese, making gestures high above his head and then pointing to the girl. Gershon turned again to translate,

In the trees near their home, he found it. It was very high and he thought it was a nest of bees on the tree trunk. He climbed up the tree and gave it to his sister. This is his sister.

I looked at the boy and the girl. The boy looked at me and was proud.

And Gershon, do they live here? Do they take the sloth out to visit all the charters?

Yes, they live on the river. They are from a village closer to Manaus, I believe. It seems that way from their speak, from the way they speak. To take the sloth out is a normal thing. Those that want to hold it give them a small money or pay them to take away the boat trash, the trash from the boat. But don’t worry, it is taken care of. Everyone is happy. Yes?

Joanna spoke,

I’m only happy if Aaron holds him. You hold him, hon.

Love, it’s a girl.

I know. Here, you take him.

It was also part of her charm to act contrary. To fight those little battles, and win them.

She came up to me with the sloth in her arms. She moved across the white deck surface of the yacht. She braced at my side in the same way Gershon had done with her. I could smell the sloth, mold like old pillows and the smell of the river and the tops of trees. It was the strangest thing when it touched me, the fur more coarse than I had imagined, and I felt a tinge of careful slowness in me in the immediate presence of it. Like a whim. Like the smell of the sloth brought from far away on a breeze.

Wait, Jo. I don’t think I want to. I know it won’t make sense but I think I’d just like to watch you hold her. I guess it almost seems sacred.

She stood to process this, the sloth still touching my side, the slowness of it all around us, like humidity. Joanna spoke down, to the sloth.

It’s because he knows we’ve got a good thing going, you and me. Don’t you think we got a good thing going?

The sloth didn’t answer. They stood there and I stepped away and Joanna moved across the white deck surface of the yacht to where the dinghy was tied. She moved like she knew I was watching her.

She made eye contact with the girl and the girl reached up for the sloth. The sloth, on its own, took her arms from around Joanna’s neck, one at a time, and reached for the girl. It must have known her by her smell. Joanna leaned down and bumped her hips outwards to give the sloth something to stand on as it reached. For a moment, with its arms around the neck of the girl and its feet on Joanna, braced, the sloth stretched between them like a conduit of slowness. Like a filament. Stretched between the two of them and in that moment, I swear it, a power was loosed, what I had seen with Gershon and Joanna, what I had felt when its coarse fur touched my skin. A languid bomb of slowness epicentered out from their connection to swamp that whole scene.

The river almost stopped moving, it slowly scraped its wide banks. The mud of it eternally churned the shallows brown in slow eddys. The million leaves of the jungle all along that corridor of water stopped oscillating in the breeze and instead moved like slow dancers, back and forth. A split tailed swallow hung in the air above the river.

You could hold this sloth and stop everything. You could hold this sloth and the world would stop. You could carry this sloth wrapped around your chest like a time machine, calming your blood, making your heart beat slow enough to live forever.

It was the most beautiful thing. The ageless kids in the dinghy smiling and braced imperceptibly against the not-pull of the stopped river. Gershon caught in a smile he couldn’t erase because it would take an eternity to do so. And Joanna, her wit and suppleness braced on the deck in all youth forever passing that kind talisman to the girl. And the smell of the river and the smell of the tops of the trees.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Manila, no envelopes

Call it reverse jet lag, my body preparing to go back to east coast time after two weeks of Malaysia and Philippine time (my father and I building our USANA business).

I should be so exhausted. Up 24 hours now after a text from a NY friend (not knowing I was in Asia) woke me up at 3am yesterday. Functions all day today with the USANA people in Manila. Such wonderful people. Tonight Bob (the venerable daddy-o) and I gave a presentation to a group of 150 of our newest Philippine associates. Man these people love dinner parties, 5 hour dinner parties, and they love raffles. And they are such a humble and incredible people. All travel opens eyes, but travel to countries like Malaysia and the Philippines, where most of the people live below the poverty line, is especially humbling, eye opening. Not in the ways you'd expect either, Not because I see poverty, but because I see so many people overcoming it through hard work, a work ethic that makes Bob and I cringe when we compare it to the standard American Work ethic. I mean, i've never seen people as hungry for success as they are here and in Kuala Lumpur. It's really stunning.


Waking up in KL every morning at 6 when the Muslim call for prayers would come blaring across loudspeakers from the mosque at city center park. Something powerful and sacred about a call to prayer in a language you don't know, the singing and intonations fuzzed and partially muted through the walls and windows.

Sneaking a break with My dad during a seminar last monday in KL, in an abandoned conference room. Him passing out on the floor and me on a set of chairs, just totally worn out from work and from so many goodwill dinners and functions arranged by all our generous hosts. Then waking up with a perfect set of memories of a cameo factory I visited in June on a vacation. Like I had dreamt it. But I hadn't. I wrote it all down on my Iphone and then revised it a bit, took it away a bit from the direct personal level of experience and, tadaa, a short story. Timely too, cuz I have a huge reading for all the columbia writing students/faculty on the thursday I get back, and I was beginning to despair at having new stuff to read. We'll see if I like it after a full night's sleep. I'll post it here, Enjoy, -Aaron


In the bus heavy with old people, with the potholes bumping us all along. And out the window where I was looking the light blue of the water and the breakers and the coral flashing by like an old filmstrip, broken by moments of thick banana leaves and the raised capillary roots of banyan trees.

We stopped in the gravel parking lot of a roadside cameo workshop. It was on the tour. The sound of gravel under the tires when we finally stopped. All of us getting gingerly off the air-conditioned bus and the blast of humidity. And most of us then shuffling into the cameo shop to be back in the AC again, but there was none and then men fanning themselves with their tourbooks and women taking off their straw hats with floral patterned bands and fanning them.

The owner was happy, he had a deal with the buses I guess. He met us in the lobby and directed us to a table in the corner with all the shells laid out on it. Conch, snail. In pinks and greens and indigos. Then standing behind the table with cursory waves of his hands over the shells, and the being in the family for generations, and the shells laid out in front of him in various stages of preparation, some full cameos, some with half formed women’s faces peeking out in profile from the smooth surfaces. And some of the women, the ones that lived wealthy lives, who had really traveled, peeling off from the margins of the crowd before he had finished.

Then with a sweep of his hand turning us to the showroom where what must have been his grandaughters were waiting behind the glass display tables. The air moving with hats and tourbooks and the spinning of an off balance acacia wood fan. And throughout that afternoon the glances of old women at mirrors to see themselves peeking out in profile.

When we came out the driver sitting on the concrete parking curb saying yes, yes ready to go? Yes. And putting out his cigarette on the concrete before he stood and looked us over to see who he could name. Mr Thompson. Miss Shirley.

Back to the air conditioning and the potholes, the gentle curve of the island road that, if you took it long enough, would eventually take you back to where you started. That was where the tour ended. But before that, the looking out the window at the banyan roots and the banana leaves and every once in a while peeking out, on cue, the indigo blue of the lagoon and the deeper blue beyond the breakers, and the women that bought cameos swearing they looked just like that when they were young.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Folk Bloggin' and Eubelio's Story.

When I went to Guatemala as part of my MA Thesis research I spent a lot of time collecting stories from the muchachos, the local workers of the archaeological site I was at. They weren't just stories, they were myths and tales and aphorisms; they contained the combined wisdom of their lives I think. Very deep stuff shared in a simple format.

I tried to compile a few of them with my own poems and stories and that became my master's thesis. I just re-read it the other day for the first time really since I turned it in (Aug 08). Luckily it still was something I could be proud of. That's a good feeling.

The thing that was so weird about my experience in Guatemala was that, despite my most earnest attempts, there was no way I was ever going to be anything more than an outsider to those muchachos. Their stories weren't my stories, and never could be. So even though I recorded them, there was an inevitable distance in my retelling of them.

I'm almost finished with my first semester now in Columbia's MFA fiction program and one of my classes has focused on Faulkner and the Latin American writers (think Boom) that came after him and named him as a major influence. That class has proven to be an interesting synergy between the myths, tales, fables of Central and South America and the Americana myths and folk fables of which Faulkner is the master. It seems that one thing Marquez and Rulfo and Vargas Llosa (and others) really found liberating in Faulkner was the literary permission to dive into their cultural psyche, and to do so with a deep level of experimentation with technique.

And it's been a revelation for me too, my experiences with the stories I heard in Guatemala, and now with these novels I'm reading has opened up a serious creative can of worms for me. I find myself wanting to write about my myths, as a way of using a simple form to get to deeper things. Everybody has a lot of history, things in the cauldron that deserve a churning. Among other things I have my Mormonism, and though its a relatively young religion, it claims a restoration of some ancient cultural concepts. Plus, it already has it's exodus story.

But I'm also part of the deep but dying culture of Americana, and I'm finding myself drawn to explain that as well. For example: I found an online archive of Arkansas folk songs, most sung without accompaniment and all recorded in the 50's to early 60's. You can find it at if you're interested. These songs are beautiful, most of them are lost. Everyone who sang them is dead. Most of them are expressions of faith, or admonitions on how to live. There's got to be at least 300 of them.

There's that part in Odysseus (another simple tale that touches on the deepest things) where he goes to Hades, and he meets Tiresias, and Ajax, and finally his mother comes to speak to him. They all admonish him and mourn with him. That was my favorite part of the epic. When I listened to a bunch of these folk songs I got the same feeling, eerily so as they are sung without accompaniment. I got the sense that I was being admonished, and pleaded with, but most important I felt like I was able to communicate, commiserate in the ephemeral nature of humanity. I think the best stories get to the heart of all those things.

So, I've been writing stories with those songs as a touchstone, and I'm really loving it. Hopefully it will coalesce into a project where I can use the songs, their tone and even meter to inform stories, and then I can build a connection/accretion of similar themes across stories in a collection with the songs. It's interesting. I'll post some soon. Right now, to end this Mammoth post, I'll paste a story from my MA thesis. It's the part I think held up the best. It's a verbatim story I heard from one of the muchachos, and I think it illustrates how strongly they believe in myth. I've come to really envy that conviction. Beware: Language.

Eubelio, tell me a story.

We are inside Pinturas, refilling a tunnel with stone and mortar. I need a running distraction. Eubelio has a body odor so horrible. Like every sin he ever committed was distilled into sweat and now leaks out his pores. He begins,

Here is a story. In a village there were two secret lovers. They met in town and the man said "meet me at the secret pool in the jungle at dusk." "But we must go separate to the pool" the woman said, "so the village doesn't notice. If you get there first, wait for me, and if I get there first I will wait for you."

When the man got to the secret pool he saw his lover from the back. She was bathing in the water. He moved close to her to heat her up, because you know, when you are with your lover you first have to heat her up. So he is heating her up and whispers "lets make love" and she says, "not here, not yet. lets move a little further into the brush" you see, she is not his lover. She is la Llorona, you know, the crying woman with long hair and the face of a horse. Maybe you do not know. He is in her spell and they move deep into the brush and he begins to make love to her. Suddenly he breaks from the spell and he realizes he is making love to a pile of cow shit. Thlop, thlop, thlop he is fucking this huge pile of cowshit. And that is how he died, with his dick in the cowshit.

Eubelio, what is the moral of that story?

It is not that kind of story. It is a true story.

Tell me another true story.

OK. When I am drunk I always end up at the cemetery. My woman is there, in the ground. When I am drunk I bring her candles and I lie on top of her grave. One time it was so dark and I got to the cemetery and death was there sitting in the branch of a tree. Death was hideous, with a black face, horrible to look at. You know how to save the life of a sick loved one? Remind them how ugly death is and they will be too scared to die. So I am drunk and even with death there I lie on top of the grave and I say to my woman, "woman, do you want me to spend the night here with you. do you want me to lie here with you". Suddenly I hear this moan "mmmmmmmmm" and I ask again, "woman, do you want me to spend the night here with you...." and again "mmmmmmmmm". One more time I ask, "woman do you want me to spend the night with you my love"....."mmmmmmm" and the sound was so close I got frightened and ran from the cemetery to my mothers house and cried when I told her what happened.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Story # 6

I'm in Waterton and I'm loving it. I'm writing a lot and reading a lot. Since I've been up here I've read a lot of Brian Evenson, a lot of Ben Marcus. I've also read most of the old school paperbacks lying around the cabin, including Frank Herbert's Dune and an awesome old country paperback called "The Badge and Harry Cole". That one was my favorite. There's a lot of Brian Evenson in this story (think violence) and there is also profanity (warning for the weak-eared). I struggle with profanity. I don't swear a lot myself, and I don't swear much in omniscient 3rd person, but when I'm writing a story narrated by a crazy drifter I don't think I can censor his dialogue, because this dude would be swearing if he were real. Note, the formatting never comes out like I'd like it to, even after previewing. Dialogue is supposed to be italicized. If it doesn't come out then use your imagination.

Without Further ado:

Story #6: BUDDY

“Me and my buddy came apart in New Mexico. For my part I was all laid back in the passenger seat, looking out the back window where little raindrops were sliding across, lit up bright white from headlights behind like they were stars or something. A whole universe just sliding across the back window where sometimes a big drop would form with others, and then it was a huge asteroid sliding wild across that universe and taking galaxies with it off the edge of that black window. And I was all laid back watching it peaceful and sleepy when those white stars turned red and blue in a flashing way like the big bang end of the universe. But that turned out to be the cop car lights pulling us over.

My buddy said my name a few times to snap me up and I sat up and my seat up with me. He kept saying I wasn’t speeding, I wasn’t speeding and he said it with an edge to his voice like he was going to challenge the cop when he came up. He sure was on edge. End of a hard trip, I guess.

So the cop gets out of his car and pulls his hat down against the rain. It was just a drizzle, but I think he knew we were watching from the mirrors and it made him look more rugged I guess. Big dumb hat though, with a round brim all the way around like a park ranger hat and a brown cop shirt and olive pants coming at us in that cop waddle from being too overburdened with instruments. Big ol’ cop. He gets up to the window and my buddy reaches down with his left arm and rolls the window down. And the cop says something like I got you for speeding and my buddy says I wasn’t speeding. He says it real quick and just in the same way he’d said it to me. The cop doesn’t let it go. He says back 77 in a 75. That’s speeding, and my buddy looks at me and real loud says gimme a break! Just like how you’d point out an idiot to your friends.

This same trip we were around Memphis, just starting to head west, and we stopped at this bar right on the side of the highway, quaint little place that fancied itself a dance hall. Checkerboard floor and on the outside it had portraits of 50’s stars going all the way around the fa├žade like some frieze on a temple. Buddy Holly and Elvis and Chubby Checker and the whole gaggle of them. Worn down though, so you couldn’t tell the Richie Valens from the Little Richard. So we go inside to sit down on something that isn’t moving and we sit off a ways from the dancefloor. And there’s this guy on the dancefloor moving like it’s still the 50’s. Just this middle aged guy out on the dance floor doing the twist. It must have been 3 pm in the afternoon. Nothing in that bar but this guy and us and that black white checkerboard floor. My buddy laughs right at him and turns to me and says the same thing he later said to the cop in New Mexico. Gimme a break he says to me, real loud and with a hard edge and in a way that made you believe he’d press the button to erase all the sad sacks in the world if you just put it in front of him.

We’ll this cop put it in front of him I guess, cause he got mad at my buddy for saying gimme a break and ordered him out of the car. So he gets out of the car, but not in a meek sorta way at all. He get’s out of that car like a shot and he slams the door and gets right up in that cop’s face. And that big old cop is bigger than he is, towering over my buddy with that park ranger hat brim keeping em both dry, so if you rolled up on the scene without knowing you mighta thought the cop invited my buddy close just to converse out of the rain. But you wouldn’t have thought that if you stayed. My buddy gets right up in the cop’s face, he’s bumping bellies with him, saying that 77 was bullshit and he wasn’t speeding. And this cop must have been from the old school cause he was bumping him back instead of going for his gun or pepper spray or whatever else was strapped around his waistband. Real man to man they were spitting it out right there on the shoulder, like baseball players sometimes argue. Then my buddy starts acting real crazy. He starts just screaming at the cop. Arms flapping and nonsense words and blowing out his tongue at the top of his lungs, with the spittle just flying into the cop's face. I think when the cop saw my buddy just go ape crazy is when he got a bit scared, cause that’s when he went for his gun.

Bout two weeks before this we were outside Corpus Christi, still heading west. We were in pretty bad shape. My veteran pay couldn’t find me on the road and my buddy’s disability is all used up. So he’s standing in front of the gas station asking for dollars so we can fill the car and keep going west. We’d been at it about an hour and I think we had something like 4 dollars. Anyway, this couple comes walking out of the station towards this astro van, and they’re dressed nice and they look nice. Husband has these lean glasses and dark hair, wife has big hair and big ol pads on her shoulders. I approach them solely so as not to intimidate them with the two men and I tell em what I tell em and they say, we’ll do you one better than a dollar, we’ll buy you dinner. And as they say it they look at each other and you can tell they’re some kinda Christian because they get that charity look on their face. Now my buddy and I ain’t no bums and we don’t usually take charity unless it’s the government’s and that's for services damn well rendered. We’re just looking for some gas, but we were hungry so we said yes, also partly because that couple looked so damn happy to be giving us their charity.

Off we go to a McDonalds and we’d just as soon taken it to go and went back to the gas station, but they insisted we sit down. I think their plan was to preach at us, and truth is I wouldn’t a minded it, but my buddy’s pretty far gone past Jesus and I could tell he was winding up to have none of it. The husband starts in about Jesus being the way and accepting him and the straight and narrow path. They’re good Christians and that wife sure looks handsome with that big hair and high shoulders, but my buddy’s had enough. He stops the guy when he’s talking about the 10 commandments and he says to him, I still remember it clear, he says, sirs, theirs only one commandment and I’m going to tell it to you once so you’d better listen the hell up. My buddy stands up from the table and he’s got a fry in his hand and he starts shaking it like a gavel for emphasis. Only one Goddamn commandment!, he says and he eats the fry and pauses and the couple looks pale beyond death and my buddy says real loud, I don’t care who you are, you’d better fucking run away from crazy people. People that bait a boobie trap with their kid. That’s fucking crazy and I’ve seen it. You can think your way out of all other jams on earth except when people get damn crazy and then thinking don’t work, just running the God Damn other way is the only thing that works. And if Jesus we’re here right now he’d say amen to that.

That’s what he said to the Christian couple, but I think what he really meant was that he could be or act crazy and get away with anything he wanted, cause people really do fear when someone just goes loony. I mean, he wanted to be out of that McDonalds, and he got it. He reached over and took that couples’ food as if it was his and marched right back to the station, me following him, and we left before anyone could blink an eye. Only had four dollars of gas though, and that ran out real fast. We had to hitchhike into McAllen, and I swear that Christian couple passed us hithcin in their big astro van and didn’t so much think about stopping. And that was just one time. I’ve been all across the countryside with that man and I never could figure out it he was crazy or if he was just playing crazy so that people gave him what he wanted.

Until New Mexico, that is. Then I guess he proved he was crazy. Cause when that cop reached for his gun my buddy went quick as a cat with an open fist and punched his palm right up into the bottom of that cop’s big round nose. He went from crazy spitting to some type of ninja, fast as you could blink an eye and the cop didn’t see it coming it all. I’d never seen my buddy use that move, but it sure did work cause that cop just went right down on his side and blood just started coming out of his nose like you’d turned on a hose. My buddy’s laughing and screaming and saying, Hit em right with the death punch. Right into the fucking brain. And he’s saying other things too that make less sense and I get out of that car quick and come around the front of it to hold my buddy back and somehow get us the hell out of there. And this whole time the cop is down on his side and he’s trying to reach for his gun but you can tell something is shit wrong with the guy cause he looks like a mouse with one half caught in a glue trap, legs trying to run away but doing nothing but spinning him around a bit on the pavement. And he’s making weird noises through the blood. My buddy says, let me help you with that officer, and reaches down and takes the cop's gun from its holster and fires two shots into the side of that cop’s face. When the cop stops moving for good my buddy pulls off that big rimmed hat and puts it on, with the hat all bloodied and the back of it covered with matter. Then he tells me to get in the car and I do and we head out down that road, still going the speed limit.

I wasn’t afraid. I’d seen dead men before and been responsible for it too, but I knew I wasn’t responsible for that big ol cop and within ten miles I told my buddy to stop that car and let me out. He looks at me like Gimme a break, and I can tell he’s on the verge of crazy again but I’d seen shit loads of crazy in my day and I wasn’t scared. Things kinda slowed down for me and my head started working. I said, this is where we come apart and I told him to shoot me in the leg to make me less of an accomplice. He looks at me again like Gimme a break and then he gets real quiet and then he starts to cry. I’ve been all around the countryside with that man and I’d never seen him cry. The car’s just stopped now and I say it again real slow to shoot me in the leg and drop me off and he looks at me with tearful eyes and says something about betrayal, but I don’t hear all but the end of it cause I’m getting out of the car. I say goodbye in a real solemn way then I scream again at him to fucking shoot me in the leg. So he shoots me and I think he shatters a bone in there and then he drives off.

I’m down on the ground putting pressure on it but knowing that it’s bad news if it nicked the big vein and the rain’s coming down good now and sooner or later I end up on my back. And there I am again laid back tracing stars except this time I can’t look at em good because the rain keeps coming into my eyes. I must have been there for an hour before I saw the first cop lights coming at me sideways, red and blue. I crawled halfway out onto the shoulder and that’s where they found me. Propped me up and asked me where the other guy was headed and I told em and they asked me his name and I told em and then I guess I kinda slipped off the edge there into unconsciousness. And when I woke up the doctors told me it was a week later and that I was lucky. Then the cops pushed past the doctors and started asking me more questions about my buddy. I guess in that whole time they hadn’t seen a hair of him or that car, which means I guess that he got to where he was going.

Friday, June 26, 2009

MJ, then story #5

They say you never forget where you were when you first heard someone famous had died. With Princess Di I was camping with some friends in the mountains behind my house, and with MJ I was coming home from dinner on a cruise ship floating off the coast of France. My sister and I were both pretty shaken up. Some of my first memories are connected to his music. The first thing I ever wrote in school (1st grade) was a story about how MJ came down in a spaceship from visiting Mars and he had lots of new songs to sing.

Sad to see him go so relatively early. He was certainly a very very troubled soul, and might have done some horrible things (see "jesus juice"), but there was always the hope that he could turn it around and become something similar to how amazing/talented he was when he was younger. Very sad.

This story is about death. Written last week. Guess it kindof fits the MJ news, which feels weird.

Story #: It Wouldn't Work Unless She Was Perfectly Still

The young girl waited until her mother left for her second job, then she put on her black dress, wrapped her ponytail in a black silk tie and lay down on her bed, on top of the covers. She folder her arms across her chest and closed her eyes. She let slack the muscles in her face and neck and tried to breath gradually, horizontally, so that her stomach made no visible movement up and down. She thought herself perfectly straight and rigid. It took a while for the young girl to be satisfied of her stillness, and only when she was satisfied did she begin to pray.

“Hey big buddy. I’ve been missing you. What’s new with you over there?” She waited. Then she imagined she heard, or maybe she did hear, a response.

“It’s like being caught in a drying machine getting spun around and everytime you think you’ve figured out which way is up you get tossed again and can’t figure out how to steady yourself. It’s like that, except you don’t get sick or tired or need to breathe. You have endless energy and concentration to keep trying to stop the spinning, except it never seems to stop.”
His voice wavered and was dampened, like someone calling from inside the walls. She was calm and kind. She had to be for him. She prayed,

“Don’t worry booger, eventually it will stop. Nothing’s ever permanent. It’s probably just part of the process. The rules of the game, you know? I imagine it’s real tough on a soul to be free after so much time rooted in a body. Don’t worry. “

She put all of her calmness into that last “don’t worry”, as if sympathy and assurance were tangible, and could be floated out to her brother on the air of her voice. She heard or thought she heard,

“Have you ever been standing with your back to a wall, and you just knew the stones in the wall behind you were making faces or turning into gargoyles and stuff right behind you, but when you turned they were just stones again?

“Yeah. I know the feeling.” She thought hard for a way to describe it so that her brother knew she understood him. “Like someone is standing behind you ready to put their hand on your shoulder. ”

“Yeah, except I can’t turn around and check. I can’t turn around. So all the time it feels like someone or thing is just about ready to grab me from behind. It’s that feeling, or the drying machine feeling, or your voice. Sometimes all at once, sometimes everything is happening at once. How long has it been?”

She despaired a little to hear him sound so lost. She summoned more energy into her stillness and prayed again,

“It’s only been three weeks. Buddy, you should stop worrying about time and stuff like that. I don’t think it matters much now. All that matters now is getting you comfortable and figured out. Do you hear anyone else? I mean, someone that’s been through it maybe? Grandma maybe?”

“Once I heard mom praying for me. But she’s like you. There is a sound like combined voices, lots of them. They sound reassuring but I can’t make them out. They just combine and murmur in the background and it makes a constant noise. Sometimes I catch myself thinking it’s a heartbeat, then I remember. This place is weird. Even though it’s not a place at all. It’s hard not to feel scared. Oh, sister.

“I know, I know. Please be strong.” She wanted to cry out and hold him, but knew she couldn’t, so she kept talking. “The fear must be part of it. Maybe just the first part. Remember how scared you were to ride your bike at first? Maybe bud, the trick is to stop trying to make the fear go away, or make the drying machine stop, or pull yourself together. Maybe the trick is to let yourself come apart.” And she heard his voice in answer, she was sure of it this time,

“Thanks sis. Will you keep speaking to me? You make it easier. ”

“You know I will.” Then she paused and made a joke to keep from saying goodbye, “But you’d better find some heavenly way of returning the favor.”

“You bet”, he said, and then she heard her dead brother laugh.

Eventually she fell asleep and her breaths got deeper and vertical and moved her chest up and down in a steady rhythm. There were overripe lilies on her nightstand and she dreamt of rejoining cut stems with planted stalks and watching the flowers grow backwards to the buds and then down into the soil again. Her gardening hand fell away from her chest as she dreamt.

When her mother got home from work it was very late. She knocked softly, querying at the door to the bedroom, then opened it and stepped inside. She saw her young daughter lying there like some drugged Juliet on her bier, the nightstand light soft and angled on the black of her dress, with the lilies from the funeral drooping in the simple bedside vase, their overripe smell embalming the still room. The sight stopped her and she lost a breath to it. For a moment she felt as if in a holy presence, naked for her bare shoulders and ashamed for her work sneakers on the carpet. Instinctively she grasped for a rosary she hand’t held in her hand since she was a girl. Then she saw the steady rise of her daughter’s chest and knew her as a daughter and was filled with love for her, and mercy, and unimaginable pity. She moved to her and kneeled both knees at her bedside. She unfolded her daughter’s other arm and place it at her side. She took a spare blanket from the foot of the bed and laid it over her legs. The young girl did not wake or stir. The mother whispered, cooing, “it’ll be alright my bumblebee girl. It’ll be just fine. You just hang in there and one of these days you’ll wake up and it won’t hurt so bad. It’ll be better.”

She had said the same thing to herself too many times, and right then was the first time she believed it might be true.