[W r i t e r' s N o t e b o o k]
Sketches of Those We Have Known:
Tough old George lost his hair prematurely. He watched the process in the mirror, in his cubicle fit with bed and bath along the long avenue. Not yet thirty and losing his hair. Bald!
He had quit seeing women. On the weekends he'll catch the 52 line and sift through the blooming growth of the park; the trails with bikes and walkers, laying couples off in the bush, balloons. Goodness, he always thought, balloons of all colors, some with ads on them, rising rising with twirling string, headed it seemed, as he tilt his head back and shaded his eyes, right for the big blood egg up there ninety-three million miles away.
He went past the stone grey museum squatting there on the grass.
"Ninety-three million. Long way for heat to travel," he thought, "especially through all the ice." He'd been through the edifice before. "Nothin' but stuffed Indians," he thought. He'd seen them being stuffed while he worked on the 31st floor; a short dark woman dressed like a Dutch doll he'd buy for the daughter he'd always dreamed about, Anna he would call her, who moved the arms and legs around cautiously as if they'd fall off at any moment.
So this woman comes to the window he's been working on, waiting for his squeegee to clear the view out of the fog now clammy on the roofs; smiling, waiting patiently as George nodded his head, flipping it up with a grimace and cautious urge.
"Stuffy in here," she laughed, looking out past George. "It's really covered today." And George smiled as he stared at the pink coral walls of the office.
In that damn park he had picked an oleander leaf that sprung from a bush off the path of crushed rock. Reflex in the peppered salt air diffusing through the day. "One broken leaf has so much power", he thought. "They're always playing drums in the park! Stoned savages, gas station attendants, admen, and bums."
"Duum Duum Duum Du Duum Du Duum Du Duum." Foreboding and ecstatic.
The sound diffused through the conversations and whoops of children, the shouts there, there and over there, behind the row of bush laying high and low along the path old George had stopped on.
"Hioh Hioh Hioh Hioh..." Indians dancing around a corpse. Crowned knitted feathers, a scepter at the side of the sad one; birds frozen to the limbs of oak, their tiny ears perked to the waves of "Hioh Hioh." All eyes closed. The sky is a spear with its circular markings of red, blue, and green.
"Well," he says, "I'd rather be a leaf than a window washer." It's a cheap job. No one wants it but the fools at the bottom of the totem pole. "All right, I says, it's a crucial job all the same. One guy peddles porn, another skims from the dope trade, I clean the windows. I treat each one like a dear little thing and give them names."
He had climbed the buildings. That's what he'd tell them. "I climbed the buildings." The only time he felt a failure was when he lost his hair. "Not a bottom," he kept muttering, "but only a beginning. After all, it is I who looks straight up into the depth of the blue sky feeling all that space crunch between my teeth and so I forget the stack of humanity that menaces me, even on the 47th floor."
Now he sleeps.
"I am in bed alone without a light," he ponders. Through a closed window come street sounds like the rushing of water through a mountain flume.
A fat Chinese woman is laughing. She has hips round as granite. I know she's smoking on the porch, rubbing the drop of a long grey ash onto the pealing rail before she picks up her beer. Her man will return in an hour and she'll become silent. I should return the book I borrowed from her; a mystery. She will invite me in with those thick, hairless arms.
"I will never hurt anyone. This is a resolve. And yet the stasis of waiting for something makes an unmistakable picture here in bed."
Old friends dress like women inside some private room hung with paintings and quotations.
I wonder if sleep is an observable instrument? The last time I had sex I dreamt of science.
The mountain rose between the building in a fire-bird city and they rose without violence. Nothing toppled in the ineluctable push of vegetation.
The sky has broken into grey-fibrous clouds and between them a measurable amount of stars has appeared. Sixteen.
"It all happened one day. One day I was one way and now I am this way. This way is far more tolerable and I'll never return. I say it all happened one day and that is literally true because one day I woke up from a dream and things began to change and when I went to bed later that night everything imaginable had supervened as if I wasn't going to bed after all but was going to another land; no, not the land of dreams. And then I woke up the next day and everything had changed."
Then he was dreaming of Sir Francis Drake. And Drake was muttering, "Hell-darke nights, mercyless fury of tempestuous storms, mm..." And he was bent over his charts, spread over the scarred table in his cabin. His round, marble eyes separate out the jagged jut of imaginary shorelines and intuitive depth readings; his ship creaking and blustering along the mysterious ocean. "Light, light soon and calm..." And soon Drake is thinking back to the stink streets where he arose. A flashing knife gleams in his mind but it was only a play. He breathes in, sucking oil and salt into his lungs, then pulls out the six-pence his friend, M. Sidney, gentleman and poet, had given him as a goodluck piece. In the harbor Drake had scanned the bog of his home. "Unreal," he murmured, lifting the coin to the sun and smiling.
"Mercyful Father, ere this day of gloom be done spread your white wings and show us the land."
And the coin burned in his hand. There were times when he wished nothing more than to be sitting in the Tavern on Greene Street, with a few friends. "You see, starting from the mother country, one could circle the globe, whole, to return again, here."
"Ah, Francis, the world suddenly 'comes large in that fruit."
"Indeed...makes the isle cornered like a privy in the palace."
"Sure 'nough, it's frighten'."
"Ah, but men, you don't notice that ye return to the navel."
"Top of the world!"
"Imagine all the gold and silver restin' in the ground like conies there with nothin' but red savage folk to land them."
"And from what I hear they know not a wit 'bout its value. They make anklets and statues with it...I've seen them."
"Investors! Francis Drake of Her Majesty's Service will bring ye the world on platters of pure gold and silver! We will follow sun, moon, and the starry heavens over the vast lay of water.Water friends! Dost ye know what it means to a sailor man? The Earth may be Mother but the Sea is sex. Even the heaviest man-o-war can not penetrate but through her rising white clouds of mist. Think! Of the divers life as far down below as the moon above. And there we ride it for the Queen!"
"God Save the Queen!"
There was love and laughter and then dim light over the pale blind.
The women cried when he was born. It was right before the coronation.
The women cried because he was a boy and they cried again because he was nearly never born.
In the spring men were at war. In the spring he came crying out from the wasted cleavage of hair and tissue. "Wy! Wy! Wy!"
Light had been a breathing fluid of grey.
Weeping preceded the coming in of the cold light and pain.
A darkened scar, dark fluid, and blood.
Under the moon ululating swarthward.
"But love and laughter and dim light on pale blinds."
Gorges of blood into the hand before the head.
Brittle glances on the dark-stained hour.
"Can I help you?"
He turned and looked at the tall, ruddy man behind the counter; erect with a white beard peppered along the deep wrinkles of his face. Behind him was a row of crystal lamps and miles of tenuous line which became barely visible when pulled below the current of the river. Below was a shelf crawling with enormous worms twisting their bodies against the glass of the jars like dancers in a dream.
"Help? No, I was thinking this was a bar..." And the white-haired man pointed in back of him to the door slightly open from which he suddenly heard conversation and ice falling into glasses.
Now George turned past the tight daisies, brushing his eyes as he tried to find the girl who had teased him; she was a slight, brown-tinged naivete who had laughed at his growing baldness, covering her own lush hair with her hands as he fell towards her.
The bar was dark. There were a few at the stools drinking heartily and talking quickly among themselves about lust, guns, and snow. They were old. This was an old town cropped in the middle of a vast plain of lava rock, red dust and manzanita. Twenty miles away was the great white volcano, now a mere hill after the last explosion. The three at the bar stopped talking when they saw him. Their sunken eyes burning open among the smoke. There was a pool table in the corner around a pinball machine in the other corner and George sat at one of them while the bartender peered over
"And what's your need?"
George was used to the provincial attitudes of these small-towns. The poor buggers did everything in life to make it to the small town of one hundred and any intrusion was met with ice.
"A beer. I want a tall glass of beer. A frosted glass if you've got it."
The bartender looked at him for a moment then reached down and pulled a beer out. This was a hell of a place to stop, he thought to himself. He was no fisherman, plus the sight of the old wooden jail along the side of the road had intrigued him, so he'd stopped to look at it closer. A dummy had been propped in the portal of the jail and there was a sign hung around its neck which he couldn't read.
It was a hot day. A day for salt and chilled beer.
As he drank the beer the three at the stools measured their conversation. He watched their backs slouch and bend not paying attention to their words. Above them, across the counter, was a large mirror like the one in westerns which stretch the length of the wall. The faces of the three were bowed but he would see their foreheads bouncing up and down, along with their noses.
"I climb buildings but I am free to go places," he thought. "Maybe I wanted to be an explorer, maybe I wanted to run with tribes of redmen long ago. Maybe I am filled with the fantasies of all who I pass through but I climb the buildings. And I grow old. But I climb."