THE STORY ARCHIVE 

AH CHILDHOOD

The park was a kind of ersatz childhood the writer had fashioned from the zany imagination he had been experiencing the past year. It was a condition that he had pride in, at the beginning, as if the Muse had chosen him out for great deeds. But now, he fled from her at every opportunity and sought out the quiet green to rest and watch nothing on days that were nothing under the sun that said nothing.

In the fine shade of space called nothingness the writer remembered his childhood. It leapt out one Sunday as though waiting for a propitious moment when the writer was not thinking about his potential fame or fortune but simply fearful that evil types were trying to capture his mind and use it; the reason which he couldn't quite make out.

The geometry of childhood flashed his head like an old puzzle he fit tiles of letters in to form words. Ziggurats filled with boys in the thrill of creek wandering where giants roamed and pirates hid behind trees. Octagons of discovery, polygons of dream. To run away into the infinite bushes that hid holes to China and paradisiacal hamburger stands. The heroes made of desire. The grand entrance of actors sure of themselves and their roles.

He rescued it in the park and slept heavily under his favorite tree with childhood running rampant through his brain until he could hear all the familiar voices, sharp cries, laughter, and taunting. There were the monstrous apes waiting in the trees with their red eyes following him down the narrow path.

When the writer looked up there was a man dressed in a suit standing above him. "You need to live in this world, among the living and put the past behind you." The man was totally unfamiliar and a bit sinister but spoke with authority as though the writer had committed a great sin. He chuckled and smoothed the grass around him with his hand and thought, again, of the great Newton and the world he imagined into being. The man in the suit carried a briefcase with an umbrella tucked between the briefcase and the folded paper that had a large headline the writer could barely make out. Crime was rampant and the world dying. Well, he already knew that. "I tell you this because I've seen you before and you are as I was." With that the man turned and made his way out of the park to the surrounding wood houses freshly painted in lively colors, with wisps of smoke serpentining into the gloaming sky.

The writer felt unnerved with bolts of feeling shooting up and down him followed by a hot dampness. He felt dizzy. From a distance he heard a jet arching high into its flight path lately taken off from the International Airport, across the Bay, and he watched it cross his line of sight and imagined the travelers and their tales and active will to go someplace.

There is an undeniable beauty, however grotesque and fleeting it is to machinery. It occurs mostly at night. Appropriate since machinery emerges directly out of the night mind. This machinery at night must be seen at a distance. There, it is night and a greysheen of clouds breaking apart and there is a cluster of lights above the silent city rising, banking, and rising toward one; white lights and red lights flashing in a haptic dance and soon the sound of engines muffle through the clouds. The object glides under the impetus of the lights. It is no longer a plane, it is an object transfigured by its movement through space, the depth of space between the eye and the object, the unending blackness above it, the ambiguous shape high-lighted by the light. For a fleeting moment it is beauty as the moon is beauty when the environment conspires to make it so. And it inspires a kind of reverent awe tempered by the knowledge of when the object rose, its other poses in the mind. The bodies own experience of the object at other times.

Yes, it was childhood; the story of his birth. Tell me the way you said it before. It was spring and I was late coming out and the women were weeping. The air so crisp and blue.

Tell me the tale of my birth, true in memory and sweet in the truth of growing sentience!

Tell me of struggles in dark places, bring me the strength to see the coming of life so lost in memory now I hardly hear the sound of it.

Tell me I was a child until I saw the stars and felt the earth below my feet. That I stood naked in the shadow of the hills until my name was called.

Tell me.......

"You were late in coming out. It was spring. A happy and sad time in the world of eccentrics and fat dogs. The women were weeping and the men were yelling. The Bible sat in one corner next to the window overlooking the busy avenue with its black cars and Catholic girls dressed up in white and green. Voices of the drunken Irish who could not drive and declaimed on the impotence of Jesus. The air was so crisp and blue and clean like when a rain comes and sweeps away the dust. Lonely women walking through the daylight of their dreams. The emptiness of tree-lined streets. And, of course, that drunk merchant seamen started it all with the glass and metal and blood all over. That's what happened. That was that dark story."

Memory, a delightful machine, worked furiously in the dark grass smelling in faint traces of dog shit and dew.

"Do you see her? Do you see the Queen of England?" The mother smiled wanly and waved her hand toward the screen, then returned to the kitchen as the boys watched the long procession continue down a London street toward the enormous palace that through the tiny screen looked as though it had come down from the clouds as in a fairy tale.

When the Queen had passed the boys turned the television off and went outside to play. The afternoon had been swept by a light rain. Tires rolled by with round sizzling tongues. The grey day settled on the buildings and houses that lined Alcatraz Avenue, with slanted lawns to the sidewalk where hung wet black wires from pole to pole.

Across the street was St. Augustine's with its yellow steeple and fenced playground filled with orange balls.

It was the darkness of the stairwell that led up to the roof where clean smelling sheets hung. The brothers threw pebbles over their shoulder to the street below, listening for the ping ping on the roof of a passing car. The brothers lay on every roof they could find. The school had a tar paper roof where they lay in the sun plotting their deeds.

He liked the roofs because it protected him from the dogs that seemed to roam everywhere looking for him. They waited until he stood tall then rushed him to knock him to the sidewalk, licking his face as if preparing to eat him alive.

It was on the roofs where his older brother told him what he had done before he could remember. "You were in the care of Aunt Tilly for the day. She had left a stick of lipstick on a glass table and you in your piss-soaked diapers stumbled to the table and picked the stick up and went to the window where you reared up like a wild Indian and began drawing on your pink flesh crazy designs with the tip of the lipstick until you were filled with red lines. It was like the Boston Tea Party. You stood there naked with your arms stretched out where people could see you and point and laugh. They laughed and laughed until you crawled back to the kitchen and got a big old knife. Aunt Tilly was watching TV and had no idea what was going on. You got the kitchen knife, made your way to the outside, slashing the air with the knife, painted up like a warrior. Well, they wouldn't let you get far. She found out you were missing and ran out into the street. You caught wind she was after you and ran to the gas station to hide when you ran straight into the arms of a big, black woman who said, "whoa child," and before long she carried you back to the court where they bruised your little behind."

He didn't believe the story but accepted it as true. Now they laughed when they told the story. Now they thought it was a fine thing. Just as they laughed when they told him of the dogs that chased him and knocked him down.

* * * * * * * *

The boys ran everywhere. They ran down into the dank and cavernous basement where the handyman lived. They never saw the handyman and were always in a state of fear and excitement when they entered and started to look for rats or old tools. They ran down the little court with its narrow sidewalks and white Victorians where the aunts lived. They ran into the schoolyard hoping the pack of dogs didn't show up.

They ran into the corner rug import store lined wall to wall with elaborate purple and green tapestries and wall hangings, smelling dustless and clean. The turbaned Afghan knew the boys and made a wild gesture with his arm. He spat out some foreign words at them. In return the boys made an obscene noise, then laughed when the Afghan gestured toward them from behind his cash register.

They loved to rile the store keeper. They had done it many times with their cousins; laughing or taking a roll of toilet paper and wrapping it around their heads to simulate the white turban he always wore.

The boys stood by the door and continued to razz the man until a customer entered and the Afghan smiled professionally and ignored the boys.

To the boy it was an infinite universe populated by dogs, cars, balls, sweet-smelling sheets, TV sets, little courts with giant white houses, school yards, bleating noises, cameras, strange smells, relatives, policemen, old women, shouts, dark hallways, odd pieces of furniture, street lamps, and glass figurines lined in the window of the old man who lived above the aunts.

* * * * * * * *

It came time to move from the city. They moved to where the pear orchards mingled with bird song and towering oaks. They moved where the streets were silent and empty of cars.

The town had been settled by Spanish soldiers who took to ranching after the Empire could no longer keep them. Before that, the Ohlone tribe had skittered in bands of a dozen through the little creeks. He learned in school that they crushed acorns in stone bowls to make a flour.

After the railroad came, after the Indians and Spanish disappeared, the town grew as people from the cities found summer homes or professionals and business owners built their dream homes.

Year after year the orchards came down.

* * * * * * * *

The hills became a refuge for the dreams of the boy who ran along the cow trails cut into the soft hillside, played soldiers with his friends, caught pollywogs at the pond at the bottom of a valley that stank like sulfur, hunted invisible animals by the tracks they left, stood imperial on the top of a hill and let his imagination soak in the wonder of the valley; its quiet emptiness and hawks. Here is where they threw stones at the lazy, scarred bull, played baseball in the field, rolled haphazardly through the gum plants until his head turned dizzy and the sky spun like a blue, flat top. Here is where they recreated all the famous battles of history; the Greeks at Thermopylae, the battles of Antietam and Shiloh, the defense of Bunker Hill preceded by the battles of Concord and Lexington.

The hills were covered with brown and green-brown depending on the season. Horses were penned in one corner. Occasionally, cattle broke from the top fences and wandered down where the boys would hoop and holler to get them back up the hill. His friends lived along the edges of the hill and joined him to make any excuse to fight or hide or cuss and when a new house was being built they wandered into it silently, in awe of its vulnerability, between its eerie naked frame smelling of wood shavings.

Town of boyhood; habitat of youthful adventures, sweet valleys, silent towers, croak of frogs, orchards with brown spattered leaves, and sound of bees.

It was where he learned to ride a bike and fly down the street, two and a half miles, to the ramshackle store operated by the old man who sold beer to the high school kids and was run out of business by Safeway and the cops. It was the opening of stores by local celebrities, balloons sailing skyward into the warm, dark blue days that contained all the happy smiles of children. A town of secret universes down in the creek. Boy dreams of the dark tunnel that separated the town from the city; the madmen and ghouls who must live between the solid barriers between the bores who only came out in nightmares.

* * * * * * * *

So it would be here for awhile. It would be here between bouts of school and long family trips. It would be here with everyone he knew. It would be here and nowhere else. It would be here among the willful machines and stealthy animals. It would be here with his brothers and their big plans to catch the mountain lion and run-away where no one could tell them anything. It was here with the pirates, apes, giants, slugs, cowboys, generals, soldiers, cartoons, odd characters from books and TV, airplanes, boats, legendary heroes of comics, skeletons on the wood pile, beasts from the sky, colonies on XygorX, 100 light-years from the nearest planet, in the perfect vacumn of space where a walk could last an eternity on the waves of children's dreams.

The father took the boys places; football games in giant, thrill-filled stadiums, their dark arches like an unreal parting of the darkness through a dream that enters the brightness and a field, lush green, with pennants floating through the air.

They had walked through the half-empty university watching frat parties along the leafy streets, pick- up football games, black boys selling papers, beautiful co-eds hanging over second-story railings with a drink in their hand. Sad, tumbling hair through blank stares, sudden laughter, movement behind the trees. The most perfect afternoon was played on fresh, green grass before crowded excitement, a clock, clean white lines, trees in the hills dotted with fans, and a thick chocolate malted.

There were trips on the train, the Ferry, and the car. On board the Shasta Daylight the boy and his brother pilfered lumps of sugar from the dining car while they watched the farmland pass; empty spaces and ugly little towns where no one wanted to live while the parents quietly observed the scenery on the fine leather seats of the train.

When he watched a train at a station he imagined it going so fast it would take off and fly through the clouds devouring the eagles with its noise. It would never come back and take him to a mysterious land where children were heroes. His gift that Christmas, his first asked-for gift, was a rubber, red train engine that he took in his hand and bent and bit to make it his own.

For miles the land separated into neat parcels of watery fields that above, in the air, he imagined would look as though a great hand had stitched the fields together.

* * * * * * * *

He loved the trains but the greatest adventure happened on the lumbering ferries that moved through the Bay like an old fish against the currents. The ferry was swathed in white peeling paint and red trim and the boy loved the feeling of the city that loomed closer like the opening pages of a fable. It was there! The great story. Dirty white gulls collected above the deck, sharp cries dancing on the ears of the boy and then a sweep toward the deck and peck, peck, peck among the littered crumbs from one end to the other. They landed in a cluster and pecked, hopped, pecked, hopped then whoosh up they flew away from the boat with hearty, menacing cries.

The boy noticed his father's hair beginning to turn white and became self-conscious of it though he couldn't tell himself why. His father was stout, athletic and played games with the boys, rubbing their hands over his unshaven face or opening a tunnel through his legs where they'd try and crawl before he clamped them shut and if he caught them he'd swat them gently with his hands.

The last trip had been to the ocean to find driftwood and saw it up to put it all around the new house out among the oaks and pine trees. He watched the waves as if they were the hands of friends lost now ready to join him; the waves circled and went flat out toward the beach with wide wings of resolve.

* * * * * * * *

The boy disliked his first teacher. She was old and severe and didn't like children. So, his friends and he yelled into an open vent to her classroom, "You're an old witch!" and ran as fast as they could to the ball field to disappear into crowds of children.

The second teacher was old but kind. She read delightful stories about magic birds that carried children on their wings to vast realms beyond the clouds. She would read when it rained and he always hoped it would rain and she would move to the neatly lined row of books and take one and read in a sterling voice the tales that children remember as real, more real than their own experiences.

His mates were a strange lot. There was the fat boy who stole his blocks and the half-crazed stuttering boy who warned everyone to stay away from him. "Quit pushin', quit pushin' me!" His pals always wanted something from him such as a silver dollar or a new toy he'd gotten. He had already gotten in trouble during summer school for ranting about the origin of Frankenstein's monster. He learned that from his friend Al Stein who had hordes of monster comics and who lived in an old house on a rise of hills. So, the girls always thought he was arrogant after that episode.

And often the rain would keep the kids in the classroom and they drew pictures. He drew battle scenes from the Civil War or variations of the sinking of the Titanic with three giant stacks bellowing black smoke and yellow crayoned portholes filled with stick faces frowning.

* * * * * * * *

At the edge of the Pacific Ocean, in the grand, grey city of San Francisco was Playland at the Beach, a maze of buildings both carnival and playground for kids. A boy smelled the inside of that place fifty years after the fact. And the specter of Laughing Sal was on the corner before you entered the maze, rocking back and forth with hollow, ghostly laughter. Was she laughing at the kids or the world the kids knew nothing about or with the kids?

She was dressed up in a floosy dress, a wicked smile and one tooth in her mouth while rocking back and forth laughing that taunting laugh. She scared him, she appeared in dreams, he talked about her all the time. To get into the main part of the building he had to walk across the "wave boards" that rolled so his steps were short and choppy. And immediately he knew he was in a place that was going to test him and throw him off balance. Then came the distorting mirrors, making him look small and huge, flat and curved. "The world is not what you think," his reflection as a bulbous object told him.

That took him into the large hall filled with clamoring kids, their sweat, dim lighting and old scary men who ran the rides.

First he had to negotiate the barrel roll and then wait his turn on the spinning disc. The idea was to be the last kid on it which he could only do by getting to the center. That meant fighting dozen of other kids and as the disc picked up more and more speed the momentum threw off kids with aplomb, the penalty for not finding the key to hold on. The hands would stick for a while but invariably he'd be pulled off into the padded mat, wondering why he hadn't gotten to the center. He never did. Sometimes a fight would break out between black and white kids and the scary men would break it up.

The ultimate ride was a long, steep slide with two or three slight bumps in it. He would pick up a gunny sack at the bottom, go up the steps to the top and wait his turn, for a brief moment looking out over a scene of crude, effective rides and the kids who were using them. He'd sit on the sack, pull it between his legs, hold his legs up but keep them where he could apply them as brakes if things got out of control and then whoosh down the slide. He always wanted a clean ride where his feet didn't hit the metal sides and slow him down. Once in a while he'd hear a kid crying because the thing had gotten out of control. He usually went with his older brother and two cousins, Richard and Janet. Eventually they would make their way out into the daylight, into the smell and sound of ocean and wend around the various booths with their cotton candy and sugar drinks. Organ music was always clanking away. Laughing Sal was hint in the distance, fading away until they were free of her out in the parking lot searching for the parents car..

* * * * * * * *

The house was fit in a corner between two streets. One was a cul d sac with one house between his house and the street. The other was a steep, sloping street that ran over the hill down to Rheem Blvd.

Both streets were backgrounds for a lot of activities. There was a large pasture across the street that had cows and horses at different times. It was guarded by a barbed wire fence but he and his friends would get in and play softball or run around. He knew a family that kept horses there and they'd take them out occasionally. "Remember David, you control the horse!" The famous last words as the horse would run and stop, buck, and shake, then stand still for long moments of time.

A culvert ran under the street down by the driveway and when the rains came it could be a raging creek but when it was dry he would walk through it and get to the other side. Or stand in the middle of it and yell and cuss so the words reverberated. The creek itself was a center piece to all the activities as kids. They ran to the creek to escape the realities in the houses. There were blackberry bushes to pick from and bees and other delightful insects. The creek was small and meandered between the houses and Hall Drive. It widened out up a few houses to the extent that in summers they could build a dam and have a swimming hole. Then the guy in the house above the creek put up a tire swing and they used that to go from one side to the other. Up further the creek were damp, small caves where his brother and his friend Steve went to smoke cigarettes and cook sausages over a fire.

One time he got new neighbors who had a couple of kids the same age. They told them this fanciful tale that giants lived down in the creek and they wanted to be shown. They kept delaying going to the creek until they had set up a trap with the brothers and cousins who drew huge feet in the mud along the creek. At the appointed moment the girl cousin Janet, ran from the bushes screaming that the giant was coming after her. His other cousin was beating bushes to make sounds. And they all got hysterical and ran from the creek up to the street. They had them fooled for a while and that was sufficient for the time and effort spent on it. Big laughter about it later on.

* * * * * * * *

He didn't remember the house being built but saw pictures trying to be of help. All the family pitched in to help, his mom did a lot of work on it. His dad had to clear out tremendous amounts of poison oak that had grown along the creek and bankside. The dad claimed to have heard a mountain lion roar down in the creek. It's plausible because they'd been seen in the nearby hills. But they were like the rattle snake up at the grandfather's place. A thick rumor that never showed itself. The dad had great pride in that house and in pictures they looked like a happy family with his mom, his dad, older brother, and himself. A younger brother would come along shortly after they moved in.

He remembered the barren walls and empty rooms when he first moved in. The dad decided to show old football films with a projector and cast it against one of the empty walls. He remembered that because he got a pretty good shock from the damn thing. It's the first memory he had of that old house.

The father was very active. He joined his company's bowling league and softball league and would play in golf tournaments.

It must have been 1960 because once his brother and he noticed a big crowd by the Oakland Auditorium and went over there to see John Kennedy speak at a rally. The candidate Kennedy, along with LBJ. He remembered JFK wearing a big top hat they used to wear in 1930's movies about the rich. His dad was the same age as Kennedy.

Kennedy and the dad served in the same theater down in the South Pacific but he voted for Nixon that year. The mom was a big Adeli Stevenson fan. He only heard them talk politics a few times. The dad was a rock-ribbed midwestern formed Republican. The mom was more a feminist, liberal Democrat. It makes sense but was useless as information when he was a kid.

* * * * * * * *

The mother's family, the Ballous, came from original settlers in what is now Rhode Island. It was the Providence Plantation of Roger Williams back then. The original settler must have come in the 1640's. As best as he could figure out he was in the King Philips War, he married the daughter of the guy who sponsored him, and the Ballous stayed in New England for 200 years. They then migrated to the Great Lakes, Wisconsin area before the Civil War, my great great grandparents were both in the Civil war, as medical professionals, then after the war his great great grandmother came out west, ostensibly to give her daughter a chance to become an opera star which, she felt, was hampered in the Midwest. The Pacific Rim had many opera houses and singers could tour the whole thing. HIs great grandfather came out with a mining company up to the northern part of the Sacramento Valley and homesteaded up a mountain outside the town of Redding.

The father's family came from Norway to the Midwest after the Civil war during the great migration from Europe as the industrial revolution expanded. The Eide's married into the Fuglies and settled in Fergus Falls, MN until the great depression, then moved to Ulen and Ryder, North Dakota. It was a farming town, Lutheran, poor. The dad was smart enough to get into University of North Dakota where he took engineering but joined the Navy as soon as he saw that Nazi's were bombing civilian targets in England. He had learned to fly so suspended his education and went to Corpus Christi to train. That was 1941. Later that year he was swept up in the war effort, came to SF, and then flew out to Hawaii and the Solomon Islands.

The mom did not have a high school education but she had a voracious mind, a very sharp mind.

The household was many chaotic things given the fact that every four years a child was being born so they staggered through childhood at different stages of development. It could be a very chaotic place, especially as his older brother got into pre-teen years.

It was a physical family. They played football out on the lawn and wrestled with or without the father. They were always doing something and there was always movement in the house to signal that several electrons had escaped their orbits and were free wheeling from one end to the other. The world was the house, the cousin's house next door, La Sombra Court above the cousins house and Hall Drive that ran perpendicular past the house and into a majority of his friends. It was Del Rey School, Island Valley Intermediate, and Miramonte High School. It was the houses of the cousins in San Carlos and Lafayette, Chaps Hamburgers, Hound Dog restaurant, the local community swimming pool, Orinda and Rheem theater and all the stores that catered to kids in Orinda, Moraga, Rheem, and Canyon. Those places that had the candy and baseball cards and gums that they consumed like air. It was filled with sibling rivalry and rivalries between families, enactments, pets, board games, explorations.

* * * * * * * *

Somewhere in his mother's family there was wealth. The wealthy lived the most shoddy lives of anyone. The wealthy aunt married a wealthy guy and they took care of the mother's family during the depression. And her daughter, his mothers' cousin, lived well, He knew her as a kid. There was another relative who became wealthy by founding the first hospital in Carmel. She owned a little sports car and would drive his aunt all around. They were always known as the wealthy people but he never saw any of it. He couldn't remember them coming around too much on family get togethers. The mom and aunt would take his cousins and he up to the mansion they lived in but were never allowed inside. Her husband was a drinker, broken in spirit by his mother, who wanted him to live like an aristocratic richman.

There was an Irish faction in his family. The Killalea's. He talked one dinner with old Tom who told him how he came here from Ireland and went from the northeast, down the Atlantic coast, along the South and finally to the West looking for a place that accommodated Irish men. That family came from Sligo.

His aunt and uncle drove through Ireland and found the family farm there, high on a hill, still functioning. That side of the family married the Williams who came here from Cornwall and produced blacksmiths.

The Williams were in Seattle and bought land sight unseen in the Mt. Lassen area and moved down in the early part of the 20th century. This plot of land became family property and another target for family visits. It was the archetypal rural town of a few hundred with quite a few old retirees. It was out in the plains between Red Bluff and Shingletown and was punctuated by rich lava rock thrown out by Mt. Lassen in 1912 or so. A volcanic explosion the grandfather had famously photographed.

His extended family, for good or ill, occupied many levels of economic classes, from the poor to wealth. Most were lower middle and middle class. The mom and dad struggled into the middle and penetrated the lower levels of the upper middle class, especially after the divorce and remarriages. The upward mobility was a positive thing but took its toll on people who were used to scarcity and the rural life.

The dad was exemplary in his care of family and doing the right thing. He was startled a bit, grateful for the good life he enjoyed. There was only one income in the house. Property was fairly cheap, land around the cities plentiful. They had the momentum of winning the war against the mighty fascist armies and it gave them immense confidence.

Once the economy converted to a peacetime consumer economy fortunes rose.

He was happily unconscious of the differences between people, lived in a rough house, male dominated household. His poor mother could hardly deal with it. However, the pressure of young boys forced her to find out what she really wanted to do and what to become.

* * * * * * * *

He was in love with Robin. He wrote her poems in acrostics at the bowling alley and presented it to her as the gift of his love. She was thin and blonde and he lied to her about being from Minnesota so he could tell her about kissing games the boys and girls played in Minnesota. She laughed at him and didn't come to his birthday party, held on the patio, over shadowed by oaks and a fine blue spring day. The dozen children were going to San Francisco later in the afternoon, to the Planetarium in Golden Gate Park, to watch the sky-show. Now they were laughing and playing like frisky dogs, running up and down the path that led to a creek and wanting to follow the trickling water up to the caves that the boy had bragged about. It was where his older brother smoked cigarettes with his friend Steve. And when they got to the caves it smelled like slugs and rot wood. He waited until there was quiet and then he told them great fibs about his father; how he had shot down the famed Japanese admiral Yamamoto and sank submarines and boxed against fellows with nicknames like Spider Web and Long John.

He repeated the stories on the school grounds when he felt feisty and wanted to challenge his pals so they would come up with their own stories, about their own fathers, who fought in their own wars.

His love for Robin diminished as he listened to his friend relate to how Robin received his love letter up in the camp, in the Sierra Nevada's. "We were all around a campfire and got our mail and sat chatting. When she got your letter she opened it and read it, she paused for a bit and then ripped it up and threw it in the fire. Everyone laughed or, at least those who knew what it was." That was the end of Robin. Pretty Robin, the daughter of the lawyer who lived up on a hill with a long steep driveway walking distance from his house. Robin. A peculiar feeling of shame drove through him, a feeling he was not used to. He felt hot. His heart plummeted. Robin, oh Robin.

He slept in a sleeping bag with the big-boned girl who lived down the street. They would lay out in the hot summer nights and look at the stars and tell each other things. She loved horses and wanted a horse more than anything in life. She wanted to ride all the hills surrounding them. She wanted to take care of a horse and provide it with love and care.

There were the Beth's, the Kathy's, the Ellen's, another horse lady who gave him a large box for Xmas and when he opened it it contained more boxes down to the last box that contained a red rubber ball. "Thank you," he said. And he bounced it hard on the pavement at school and in one giant leap the ball ended up on the roof of the school. Forever.

* * * * * * * *

They had this one car, a Buick with vents along the side, blue and he thought that car was going to last forever. His brother, cousins and he used to play in it. One of them would sit behind the wheel and pretend they were driving off somewhere distant.

"Where do you want to go?" "Japan."

So they would play at going to Japan and describe things along the way. Everyone got a chance to be the driver. Once he got in the car by himself and somehow released the parking brake. The big, lumbering Buick backed over the little hill the house sat on and slid down toward the creek until it hit a tree. He didn't remember any of it but it was a tale told many times in the family. What he did remember is being held by someone and looking into this mean-looking face that was a cop or fireman. He was certain he was going off to jail.

He learned to drive in his dad's Corvair. It turned out to be a dud and the subject of a study by Ralph Nader that said they had a tendency to roll over and burst into flames. "Dangerous at Any Speed." He drove that car all over. If his brothers were with him they'd tease and critique his driving. One time he drove the dad up to Napa for a golf tournament. He was driving up a hill and the dad started barking out commands. He got flustered and put the clutch in and the car slid backwards into a fence. The dad cursed and told him to shut the engine off. The dad never cursed so he knew this was a problem. It turned out to have a dent in the bumper. The dad got in the front seat and turned the engine on to see if it still ran then insisted he get into the drivers seat and continue to drive it. The dad was angry and every chance he got he criticized the son's driving until the son wanted to leap out of the drivers seat and go somewhere else. Japan perhaps.

* * * * * * * *

The family always considered themselves "poor" in comparison to others in the community. The wealthy judged them as so because their fathers had to work for a living. That was the joke at any rate. Most of the men had been raised in a different part of th" country, were educated and engaged in a profession but on the upward mobile path from their poor roots. The kids were always told, "get an education or you'll end up pumping gas down in the crossroads." So that sort expectation was baked into the area. They were rich in nature, with trees, creeks, and hills. That was their wealth and the kids used it well.

The mother put pressure on the dad to make more money and that created some tension. He had been raised in the poverty of the Depression and the scarcity of WWII so the consumer culture of the 50's and into the 60's was a godsend to him. He was very happy with the way things turned out.

The men and women of that generation had won the war, the most cataclysmic war in history and benefited greatly because of it. This is par for the course in history. Win the war, share the booty.

A bicycle was a prized possession. You started with a plain bike with no gears to one that had three gears and, finally, the head of the class, the ten-speed bike. They went all over in those bikes! A favorite ride was down Moraga to Glorietta, up Rheem Blvd,, down that steep hill to the Rheem shopping center. They would stop for goodies or would continue riding down Moraga Way, over the bridge and toward the little town of Canyon that became a fabled hippie hideaway in the 60's and 70's. There were great redwood trees lining the two-way highway and lots of little hills they took without a problem. There was a post office and store a mile or two down the road and they'd stop there and stock up on candy of one kind or another and then bike back. They never wore helmets. Going down Rheem Blvd was a great rush of wind in the eyes and hair flowing around and going fast, real fast for a bike. Hall Drive was another superb hill for kids and their bikes..

* * * * * * * *

They were just a young family growing up next to other young famiies. The older brother and two cousins formed a band and did a lot of things together. The brother usually took the lead. They were quite a gang. And, of course, the whole area was their playground. Space was the key word. The hills were golden and the cattle roamed to make nice paths to follow. Salt licks were in the pasture. The pollywog pond was half a mile down the main cow path. All was silence but for the excited voices of kids who tried to rile up the cows.

Softball was played down on the flat area when the pasture was empty. It was very midwestern and the dad was very happy about it.

The mother wasn't too happy but that's another story.

And then the band broke up and they found their own friends and activities. His friends were up along Hall Drive. New friends, new families and new homes. He couldn't help notice that the homes of his friends were kept nicer than his own. His friends liked coming down to his house because they could run riot. The mother could be overcome with these rambunctious young boys she had in the house. "Go outside and play," she would tell them emphatically, sweeping them out with an invisible broom.

They tried to run away a few times. One time they decided to walk over another aunt and uncle's place about six miles away. They told the mom they were going to take a hike. They walked down Moraga Way, got on the freeway #24, walked a long way to the Pleasant Hill turnoff, went up past Acalanes High School, up and over the hill and down to the cousin's house, hoping to get there before The Wonderful World of Disney came on. Aunt Lil was quite surprised to see them and eventually the parents came over to get them but they did watch the Wonderful World of Disney.

Then there was trouble with the parents and they decided to run away down to the creek and in heavy bush cut out a little cave, a little nest they called the L&M. It was right above the creek. They had comic books, a bit of food, sleeping bags, and playing cards. They spent most of the time playing Canasta. When food ran out the older brother would go down to Moraga Way and hitchhike to the downtown area and buy hamburgers from the hunchback in the food truck.

Once they snuck up to the backyard and waited for the parents to leave. When the car left the driveway they sprinted down to the front door and got inside to get some food. Little did they know that the dad had put a slip of paper in the door because he knew they were still around and would try to get in and needed to convince the mother that the boys were ok. She was a wreck, couldn't sleep, cried. This went on for a week and finally the boys were sitting in their comfortable nest and it suddenly was invaded by the dad and uncle. So the jig was up. And he had the suspicion the cousins told the adults where they had run off to.

Another time the dad got after the brother for something and he vowed to run away. The brothers got their little red wagon and packed it with food and suppllies. They were headed for the top of the hill where there was water and oak trees. They took the dad's machete because they had heard rumors that a mountain lion was up that region. Beautifully packed wagon! So up they went and got half-way to the top of the hill when the dad's Corvair pulled alongside. He took the boys back home after packing the wagon in the trunk of the car. The older brother said later to the younger, "I think dad kind of admired us for trying to run away."

* * * * * * * *

Now a great trauma occured. That was the day his older brothe decided to fill an empty gunshot shell with matches and then hit it with a sledge hammer. His teacher had warned the class to stay aawy form this activity, an apparent fad by the older borys. The explosion ripped up the brothers arm and in a second he was on the kitchen floor writhing in pain, with blood just spurting out. The mother now came in and was hysterical. They got the dad and uncle and they took turns trying to stop the bleeding, then the parents took the brother to the hospital. He was lucky to be alive, lucky to keep his arm. The boy was left back at the house just shivering with panic and fear and crying because he was left behind. When the brother came back home he had to stay out of school for a week or so, his arm was bandaged up and he got all these get-well soon cards from his classmates.

The older brother was always a few classes ahead. That gave the boy cache with some of the people but always a stink eye from the teachers. "Are you -'s brother?" "Yes," he would say with pride. There was always a negative expression by the teacher or a small shake of the head. The in-group always let the boy pal around because he had his older brother and, apparently, he had done things that the boy never knew about. The brother would tell him about fights he got into with groups from the black high school way off down the freeway. He also was a member of the Knights, a secret organization that initiated its members by making them roll a tire up Moraga Way in their underwear. The street would be lined with students cheering and laughing. It was not a sponsored club on campus and they got in fights at bowling alley. Some of the Knights had hot rod cars, the kind the brother wanted. He idolized the car designer, Ed Roth and had a model of one of his cars with RatFink driving on his polished barrel. The Knights were all 17 going on 25 and had excellent macho energy.

* * * * * * * *

They read books. They read comic books. They read the kid classics like Treasure Island and A Christmas Carol. They read superhero comics and Jughead, Archie, Veronica comics, Mad Magazine, Sport Magazine, Boys Life. The dad was a great reader and kept books around and used to take his kids to old bookstores to pick out a few items.

They watched science fiction and read Tom Swift novels. They loved stories of astronauts on some forbidden planet running into the local aliens. They loved ray guns zapping bad guys and robots of every description. They loved kid movies like Old Yeller, Swiss Family Robinson, Darby O'Gill and the Little People, Westward Ho the Wagons, epics like The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, Samson and Delilah, Jason and the Argonauts. They loved Song of the South and all the Disney classics like Snow White, Cinderilla, Bambi, and so on.

They played all their parents albums, usually showtunes like the Music Man, Oklahoma, South Pacific, the King and I, My Fair Lady. One of their favorites was "Music From Around the World" and featured a cut by an African tribe pounding on drums and chanting what they thought was a cuss word "Tu futta tu futta tu futta."They would laugh and laugh about it. The dad hardly swore at all but the mother was quite good at it. And then the older brother started getting his own albums. Teen Dance Party music with the Everly Brothers and Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. The boy listened to instrumentals like Telstar and that great clarinet solo Stranger on the Shore.

They watched TV like the morning cartoons and the Sunday sermons by evangelicals who they laughed at. They watched Family shows like leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, My Three Sons and Doby Gillis. They Always watched the Disney program hoping to see an episode of Davy Crockett or the Hardy Boys. There were two movies on TV they waited days to watch. They watched them in the kitchen of the aunt and uncle next door, on a small TV perched on a countertop. One was King Kong and the other was Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Both scarred the living daylights out of them and they talked about those movies for days and days.

They watched TV but they also played out in the hills and down in the creek. They read books, comic books, and went to the movies. They collected baseball and football cards and played lots of board games. They organized fairs and plays and circuses for the entertainment of the neighborhood. .

* * * * * * * *

His favorite teacher was a tall man, in his early thirties, who would peer with alert eyes over the faces of quiet children expecting a response from a question he had posed about American history. "Who was the general who defeated Robert E. Lee at Antietam?" He posed it again and again before he turned to the boy who answered "McClellan" because he knew about the Civil War. He would watch the rain and as it fell he saw a field with rows of corpses, blood-tinged earth, shouts and gun-fire, neighing of horses and blast of artillery. He thought of the last Christmas and the book his father had given him wrapped in a way his father never could, in clear paper, a hard-back by Walt Whitman, "Walt Whitman's Civil War with Sketches by Winslow Homer." And he carried the book everywhere, showing it to his friends, reading to them the poems and showing them the sketch of soldiers, at ease but hard-eyed, as though they'd just shot someone as an act of duty. And he thought of other gifts his father had given to him, models and books. Neither the dad or teacher liked what they called "daydreaming" but when it was raining hard and he could hear it pounding on the roof, it was hard to do anything else.

His oral report on the Monitor-Merrimac civil war battle impressed the teacher Mr. Blevins, and so he pressed him to give the Gettysburg Address to the parents, teachers, and students in front of the school while his classmates lined up behind him humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The boy practiced a great deal. It happened on the day that Alan Shepard went up in space, the first American to do so and Mr. Blevins had the class march around the hallways of the school chanting :USA USA USA". That offended one teacher, the tough, rotund English teacher who informed students during Greek-myth class that Amazon women cut off one breast so they could pull the string back on their bows. But now she was upset because Mr. Blevins had disrupted her class. So that set the stage for the boys noon- time recitation of the Gettysburg Address.

The day was clear and bright. The circular parking lot of the school was filled with everyone he knew and more, including parents, teachers, and janitor staff. A guy in the class named Mantel told him he was going to try to make him laugh during the recital and stood just barely in peripheral vision when Mantel started making slight gestures with his hand and making funny faces. It almost worked but he got to the end and soaked up the grand applause from the crowd and felt good about it for a while.

* * * * * * * *

He loved standing on the running board of the old black car and being driven up the driveway. He loved building a solid fort of wood in the creek area, loved building the brick fort with his cousin Richard. He loved seeing how high the little creek would get in heavy rainstorms. He loved making fires and cooking sausages in the caves up the creek near the big tree the tire swing hung from. He loved climbing the three trees. One in the front yard, another along the driveway, the third down along the bankside. There were endless hours of climbing and hiding.

Meanness did flow from older to younger. They were all victims of it. The older brother and the boy began picking on the younger brother at some point. There was no reason for it except to be mean. The brothers played a lot of football on the lawn in front where the pyracantha grew.

* * * * * * * *

He always thought of his mother as the "prettiest woman in the world." He had pictures of her with her smile and vivacious self that made him proud. She was a wild mustang of a thing who was beyond the control of the dad. She must have been 17 or so when she got married. It was not unusual for young teen-age women to marry during the war. But her motivations were more to escape her family. All during her life she kept pushing her boundaries. When they first moved into the new house she was very happy. Happiness seemed to prevail for a few years. They took trips, visited relatives, and played games. She did not like her role as housewife. That was a cause of unhappiness.

The dad could be a stand offish type and didn't like emotional involvement. She wanted the dad to be more ambitious and climb up the ladder at the water company where he worked. It was a municipal utility, not exactly a place for that sort of ambition and the dad was quite challenged and satisfied with his work. So that created a problem.

The boy heard crying from the bedroom. And it increased during the next decade until she moved out later on. He didn't know about his brothers but he was exhausted of the whole thing by the time the dad told them she was moving out. The only real emotion he felt was embarrassment when he went to school hoping none of his classmates would find out.

She was treated for depression at some point and encouraged to get into painting. This she did do with the help of the dad and for some years they were involved in art shows and had books on aesthetics and artsy friends. She depicted the "abstract fluidity of mind," with vivid colors and thick paints. Perhaps among her professional art friends she was considered a "primitive" since she didn't have a professional education. She enjoyed to party and socialize.

She had a fierce sibling rivalry with her sister, who lived next door. In fact the two women decided who would have which property after the lot had been split in two. One lot led up to a little private court, and the other lot down to the main highway and creek area. For some reason they switched lots after thinking about it over night and so that was that. The boy's young destiny was on one lot and not the other and it may have made a few differences. The aunt was much more orderly and conscious of appearance. She made the nasty little kids check their shoes for mud every time they came into her house. The mother was not as disciplined, didn't care too much for appearances. The kids in the neighborhood loved the house because it was always a mess and they could throw things around. The mother was not cut out to be a housewife and cook. A mother, yes, she was tender and understanding, although her brood of young boys nearly drove her nuts. It certainly made her re-think the whole idea of staying in the house. And they were terrors, the brothers and he. They romped and threw and banged and broke with abandon. "You wild little animals," the mother used to say.

* * * * * * * *

There was a mock election in 1960 that tried to get ten-year olds involved in politics. In the boys class Kennedy got exactly one vote from the shy girl who had to have special menus on Friday because she was a Catholic. All others voted just as their parents did for Nixon. Early in the year he]d been to Youell Field in Oakland to watch his dad play softball. The older brother was with him and they noticed a big crowd in front of the Oakland Auditorium, adjacent to the field. They made their way over railroad tracks to see what the excitement was about. Standing on a plaform were John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnsn, both with black top hats like men wore in movies from the 1930's. They couldn't hear what was said but it made an impression on the boy. He started reading about politics. He couldn't grasp what a president was but they had stature. That night in Oakland they looked regal and without taint.

And then in '62 or '63 President Kennedy came to Berkeley to speak and the boy followed all the local radio and TV coverage He didn't see him anywhere but on the TV.

Kennedy was the first president that stuck in his mind. Kennedy had promoted a physical fitness program the boy used in Boy Scouts. The President seemed to be on TV every week at a press conference.The world stopped when he was shot. It was beyond the boy. What was death? But for a year everytime he saw a picture of the late President he felt a twinge, a glancing blow to his developing emotions.

The weird thing after that happened was that the girls were showing up in class with buttons on their sweaters. "I love George," or "I love Paul." The teachers finally asked them what the buttons were about and so he first heard about the Beatles and before long, especially after A Hard Days Night, all the boys wanted to play guitars and rock and roll music. The boy stuck with the clarinet but gave that up when he got to high school. Also in '64 the older brother joined the Navy after a horrible fight with the dad. The older brother had been his hero and leader all through childhood and with him suddenly gone, it was a different place.

* * * * * * * *

They were a little creative tribe, a tiny band of warriors. That is, his brothers and cousins. They made movies, put on plays, put on a circus, put on carnivals, played a lot of ball on the street, had grass sliding expeditions, and Halloween gangs. They played a lot of board games. They used to collect coins, comic books, baseball cards and stuff them in jars and bury them so the others would have to find them. Walking in the hills, along the creeks, watching for cows and horses, it was a rural existence. But just a short drive from Oakland and SF.

One of his prized possessions was a transistor radio that he suspended above his bed somehow so he could retrieve it at any time.He listened to reports of the Watts riots on it, Warrior basketball games with Bill King, sports roundups, Ira Blue, Coyle and Sharp. Ira Blue was a smart, liberal guy who got angry on the radio and always made sense to him. Coyle and Sharpe would do absurd man-on-the-street interviews, posing as fictious characters or asking absurd questions. He shared a room with his older brother. It was for all intents and purposes, the brothers room. The boy had his transistor radio and a bed. The older brother had his model cars on a nice, polished barrel, hubcaps on the wall with tape on the back so he could keep stuff like money, photos of all the movie stars including a famous actress who he tacked to the wall, positioned so when the door closed the knob would hit the nipple of her left breast.

* * * * * * * *

He had a little Smith Corona the parents bought for one of his birthdays. he loved that typewriter and protected it with all he had. He pecked a few articles on the little portable. One was about the inclusive nature of sports. And the other was "why Wilt Chamberlain is the Greatest and not Muhammad Ali/Cassius Clay." He submitted that to Sports Illustrated and offered in his cover letter, to be their full-time basketball writer. Perhaps they got a few laughs and smiles up in the offices in New York. He felt good about it, even the rejection sent a thrill through him.

Soon after he started his first novel, "The Wheelchair Coach," about a star player who gets in an accident and is paralyzed so has to go into coaching and leads a small college to the national championship. He got 100 pages on it before he abandoned it.

Sports were dominant in his youth. He was a decent athlete and loved the thrill of competition.

Wonderful, massive fantasies followed him as he started to write. He would win the Nobel Prize by the time he was 25. He would appear on talk shows and offer his wisdom to the masses. He would have women adore him. So it burned in him.

He typed out the beginning of other books but always quit because he found better books than his in the local library. It didn't matter no one knew of his writing ambition. He would write despite them all! He would search the thesaurus that his dad kept on the bookshelf and find a more sophisticated word. He would make corrections in the margins in pencil. Alongside that book was another he consulted all the time. "Anecdotes for Any Occassion."

* * * * * * * *

For most of the 50's, his first ten years, he spent on LaSombra Court and Ardor Drive. There were a lot of kids at that time and they all played together or visited each others houses. They used to play croquet at a fancy house on the street. There was that day he heard on the radio that the Russians had sent up Sputnik and rushed over there to tell everyone. They seemed non-plussed about it. Perhaps that was the time they had turned against him.

It was a middle-class, professional neighborhood. He went to school with rich kids. He wasn't conscious what that meant in childhood. The dads went off to work, moms stayed home taking care of business. Kids went to school and played. That was the shape of things during those days.

His relatives on the Peninsula would come up at least once or twice a year and they'd have big BBQ's on the patio. It was very festive. He played with his cousins and watched the adults get a bit drunk. He liked his aunts and uncles quite a bit. Uncle Will, Ralph, Orlin Aunt Dorothy, Lois Ann, Corrine as well as his cousins Doug, Kathy, Nancy, Barbara, Cheryl, Nancy. Sometimes his aunt and uncle would drive from Montana with their kids and join in the fun. Both the parents were deaf and the dad knew sign language but mostly they wrote each other notes.

He didn't spend much time socializing with the neighbors, that is the adults. The kids all played with each other. His mom became friends of a woman who lived a few houses away and they would, at times, drink together. And of course the mom's sister lived next door.

* * * * * * * *

It seemed like every summer the family drove up through the Sacramento Valley and visited the grandparents outside of Redding, up in the Trinity Alps. His great grandfather had been a mining engineer in the upper mines of Shasta and local natives told him of a patch of land on a stream up on the mountain. He homesteaded the property and eventually brought his family up to live. It was isolated, snow bound in the winter, with rattlesnakes and bears in the spring and summers. It was completely off the grid so they owned their own chickens, grew crops, used candlelight or kerosene and would drive down the long, winding road to the little town of Igo and pick up supplies. His grandfather had stayed with his grandmother in San Francisco as he was going to college. She had been a nurse in the Civil War and was an artist, a well known feminist, quite a character. He was living there when the SF Earthquake and Fire hit in 1906, was deputized to guard a jewelers store but the fire took everything, including the college he was going to. He came back up to the Redding area working for a local power company and eventually owned his own lumber mill. That closed due to the Depression and he split from his family and escaped up to the mountains where his father had homesteaded. He spent the rest of his days there.

So, the family would drive up the five hour freeway. Always at the end of the road, the grandparents would come down and swing the big gate open. The boys always played on that gate. It had a wide, sweeping motion that entertained them for a while. There was always the stream to play in, the mining equipment and gold pans to try their luck at finding gold. Up the path from the house the stream became a waterfall and that became a fishing pond and swimming hole. That was always an excellent adventure for his brothers and he. He always had a bit of awe and affection for the grandfather and his second wife, Mable, who was considered the grandmother.

They lived like pioneers, were very self-sufficient and always had things to do. Mable, who had been a teacher, had this viewmaster and she would always bring it out and let them play with it. Or, the father and sons would would go up with the grandfather and clear out the forebay. Whenever he read about the early pioneers whacking away in the forest he'd think of that experience. There were neighbors but they lived down the road. In the early days the creek had been lined with families until a large flashflood took everything out. All was surrounded by trees and manzanita brush.

His brothers and he stayed in the second house, a cabin, that had a thousand old National Geographic's. Behind it was a yard and chicken coop, with a swing that went over the yard and onto the chicken coop. Sometimes the stream was roaring down below, sometimes it was a trickle. It depended on the snow melt. Later the grandfather installed a water wheel on the stream that generated electricity. He also had a shop where he did his wood carvings of manzanita; bowls and cups mostly.

A few times the dad got a plane and flew them up there and the grandparents were always at the little airport in Redding ready to pick the family up.

It was very similar to the life of his first people who came to the Providence Plantation of Roger Williams in the 1660's or thereabout. They lived in the New England area for several hundred years and then migrated to the woods of Wisconsin and, after the Civil War, migrated out west. Like most Americans they were not urban folk and grew up with disdain for the city. They became men of God, writers, pioneers, a few of them helped develop the Unitarian Church and co-founded Tufts University. There was a bit of nobility in that family but they were always pure democrats. Democrats with high expectations. One anecdote came from the Revolution when one the ancestors joined a militia and was at Bunker Hill. He wrote in his diary that he pointed his gun up in the air and shot it, hoping it didn't hit anyone. After the battle he went back to his farm in what is now Rhode Island. So it was said.

Sometimes the family stayed in the upper cabin that was up the path in a meadow. It had a wood burning stove and a few tables and chairs and several mattresses. And so the story was told, that the mobsters from Los Angeles stayed in the cabin, the ones who married into the family and needed to leave the LA area for a period of time. The story was of the grandfather hearing gun shots up at the cabin and he went up there and told them to leave. Later he discovered the mobsters had used toilet paper to mark off their ventures into the woods to relieve themselves. That was the Dragna family from southern California.

* * * * * * * *

The cousin lived next door and they became like brothers. They crossed blood-fingers in a pact and spent time playing in and out doors. The older brother was getting so he didn't want to consort with his younger brother and was finding his own band of brothers. Richard, his cousin, was about the same age. They both played musical instruments and would play for the parents. The cousin played a trombone, the boy played the clarinet. They used his backyard as a vast playground for Tonka toys like dump trucks and cranes. They made a satirical magazine by cutting out pictures from Look, Life and other popular magazines of the day and making-up funny captions. Richard loved the incidental music from Peer Gynt, Opus 23 and would play that all the time as they lay in his bunkbed. Then he would play a narration of Tom Sawyer and the two would go out later and enact the characters. They were truly clever as kids.

The cousins and older brother and the boy hung together for a period of time. They put on circuses for the parents. They put a carnival on for the neighborhood kids. They made a movie staring the older brother as a cowboy hero. The boy was the drunk and the cousin Richard played the villain. They played a lot of board games like Monopoly and Uncle Wiggly. Clue and Sorry.

Then one day they decided to turn against the boy, as the youngest. They made up songs to taunt him and treated him very poorly. They exaggerated his gestures. He finally complained to the older brother when he was in the bathtub and the older brother sincerely listened and told him to shake it off so he did. They started to break up as a gang after that. He had his friends up Hall Drive that he hung around through high school. The brother and cousins had their own communities of friends.

In the summers he signed up for little league baseball. The teams were named after professional teams like the Giants, Yankees, and Cardinals. He was a pretty good hitter. He could hit line drives and one season kept a record of all his at-bats and strikouts. He had a rummy arm but threw one guy out at home plate with a long, looping throw from right field. He watched as if it were slow motion as the ball came to the catcher right before the runner slid into the ball. If a ball was hit too high and far he had trouble finding the right spot to run to in order to catch it and it usually ended up being a home run for the batter. He also played flag football and plenty of basketball during those seasons. Sports is what most of the boys did. If they weren't playing it they were watching it, collecting cards, playing board games, going to actual games or talking about it. Boy culture during the 50's and 60's. They were also interested in war and battles. Books too, science fiction and adventure books like Hortato Hornblower and the Hardy Boys.

Space was a great place for boys.

He joined a book club in his teens. Some of the books he bought included a biography of Robert Oppenheimer, who taught at Cal a few miles away. Theodore White's journal of the 1960 and 1964 elections was another. The parents knew his intersts because they got him a year's subscription to Atlas Magazine. It came out monthly and was a collection of stories and cartoons from newspapers and magazines from around the world, mostly about the US and the cold war.

His parents had a bunch of books around on personal psychology and novels by Steinbeck. They also subscribed to a magazine that tried to penetrate and do away with popular myths about America. Stories about Lincoln's sex life before he became President, for instance. They were two aware people seeking their own identities away from the mainstream. They went out one night and in the morning told him about their adventure in SF, going to a club to see a new group called the Jefferson Airplane. At the time he was listening to James Brown and the Dave Clark Five.

Part of it was that his mother had become an artist and ran around with the artsy crowd. What characters! They were well-known in the Bay Area like Freda Vreda Paris and Jean Lockhart. It was a wild time in the Bay Area. There were parties. One morning he came home from a friends house and the parents warned him or teased him that "a homosexual slept in your bed last night." They were taunting him or making fun of him and he exploded with anger. "How could you do that!" It turned out all right. They were having marriage poblems at the time he later found out.

* * * * * * * *

He got used to walking up streets with houses on them. Impressive wood and glass houses with two cars in the driveway. His house had a one car garage and his pals made note of it, as if he should be ashamed of the fact. He was. He thought his family were the poorest people on earth. Between the streets and houses was the ravine and little creek overgrown with poison oak and blackberry bushes. The older brother used to lead him up the creek as far as it could go. It seemed to go on forever but it was really only a hundred yards or so.

The creek filled his imagination! There were also the hills, several were accessible to them and they romped in them when there were few cows or horses. The polliwog pond was over the rim, along the cowpath and down into the valley. They collected specimens and brought them back home, stink and all, in covered fruit jars

* * * * * * * *

The dad wanted to continue his pilot days so he enlisted in the Navy Reserves. Those memorable, miserable mornings when he'd drive the brother and boy over to Alameda Air Station and they'd stand in front of the flag as it rose in the early morning and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The kids had the run of the place and used to check out helicopters in the hangers and climb in the dirigibles parked outside along the air strip. Eventually someone would get them out and they'd have to go up into the lounge area and watch the field. Watch the beautiful jets taking off and like graceful birds

The boy used to look at photos of the planes his dad flew: the PBY, B-26 Marauder, and J-2 Duck. Pride and fascination would fill him as he saw his dad in his flying helmet and goggles, in the cockpit, managing these huge and powerful machines.

He admired his dad and wanted his approval. He would read his war college texts and feel proud and curious. Once he got a manual the dad had about jets and laboriously copied out the schematic of a jet engine, worked hard on it and when he showed it to the dad he gave it back to him. "Next time do it all yourself." He knew the boy had traced the diagram rather than written it out from memory. He took his hurt pride and never tried to please him again. Later the boy wrote him a severe letter warning him of "my militia and how it will attack you if you don't increase my allowance". The boy claimed he had thousands of adherents and the dad should be worried. The dad did laugh quite a bit at the note and the boy got the allowance.

The dad liked playing with his kids. He would take their little hands and rub them along his cheek stubble until the boys were laughing. Then he would open his legs and send them through on their knees swatting their butts as they went through. Or wrestle. They did that quite a bit. He would take them down to the high school baseball field and hit grounders and fly balls to them. He insisted they do their homework and was eager to help them. He taught the boy the gift and love of reading. That itself was enough to negate some of the bad things that happened as he was growing up.

* * * * * * * *

Space and space travel captivated him. He went to the science fiction movies with his pals and brothers, read the super hero comic books, watched the science fiction programs on TV and wanted to be the first human in space. He was curious about the sending up of monkeys to test their endurance in space. He was in awe of the early astronauts like Shepard and John Glenn or the guys who walked in space outside the capsule. Space took his out of whatever provincialism wraps up a kid and projects the mind way outside his kid-like frame of reference. He wanted to see space not as a fantasy, but as its own reality. Getting pictures of Earth from outside itself was compelling and had a long term effect on him.

At the same time he was interested in the ambiguity that was the past. One year it was Julius Caeser, another time it was King David and Thomas Jefferson. He loved reading about the Roman Empire and one of the first books he owned was a history of the Roman Empire. The Civil War was another compelling event from the past.

He didn't have profound religious feelings. He didn't know what they were talking about but memorized the pslams and prayers he was asked to memorize. The family went to church, the Lutheran church down Moraga Way in the home of the minister. It was just a place to go every Sunday, whether they went with the parents in the car or walked down the street. There were the films, epics, based on Bible stories that always captivated him. Some of the more memorable included The Ten Commandants, David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah, The Robe, and Ben Hur.

Of course he didn't know what Presidents or history or generations meant either. He absorbed all the solicitations for his loyalty and played sports. All beyond he and his fellow kids was a huge shade that could mean anything or nothing.

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OZONE-A BEGINNING

We smelled and tasted nothing but the ozone that rose off twisted metal and melting iron. We were sick, sick to the pit of our stomachs with the blackened feeling that bent everyone toward the ground. We were without humor. We gathered together around the ruins and argued without heart about what had happened. We all had opinions. We were all stupefied by some natural law still operating in the offal of doom. Suddenly I rose and announced that we were to leave, leave and start again. I had no enthusiasm but realizing my destiny I had no choice and watched them pick their knapsacks, utensils and meager belongings from the gound. We began a climb up a slope, leading to the great mountain. The air became pure. We breathed once again and felt joy for the first time in a long time.

We knew there were others. We didn't know where they were or if they were, even, "good." After all, it was explained, "those who we haven't found as yet may be those who started the nightmare in the first place." And for all their explanations of why they did what they did, they were always dreaming up the next scheme to destroy things. And if we met them what would we do?

We would test them. "If they viewed us as heroic or substantial that would be one thing. If they ripped us, ridiculed our escape as chicken or somehow less than what humans should do, we'd think something else." They left it an open question. It was out of their hands. They hadn't met anyone and for all they knew every living creature was dead. Perhaps all around the world was nothing but death and burning.

It was only later that we realized we were in a fortunate position, especially if we were the only ones left. We began to realize that with a certain oppression lifted from us we could be exactly who we were meant to be. And because our spirits weren't in constant competition with objects and scurrying-around-humanity we could live with a delightful variety rarely experienced on Earth.

It took a long time to get to this point because no one could leap up and out with joy at the fact that everything and everyone they knew was gone and dead. And then, almost at once, they dedicated their energies to everything and everyone gone and not alive and tremendous energy surged through them with such power that they immediately trusted each other and themselves.

That was the beginning of it of course. It wasn't a movie we were in. There were no cameras. We treated it like a dream so there was no pain really, even though life at every step was arduous. The painless state was such that each movement was graceful and quicker. Every gesture seemed meaningful as though we were the soldiers on a victorious battlefield where the dead still lay where they fell. It was as though we had been awakened to a new world we had never seen, even though it was the same old world. We stammered at first and pointed. Then gave names to the objects that already had names. We gave them the exact same names but we did it with authority as if now the names were real and would stick. When we lay down to sleep we were full of strange sounds as if we were entering a new territory, as if we were vulnerable for the first time. It rose out of us to a crescendo and mimicked all the animals we were familiar with. Then utter silence. And we woke for the first time out of an endless dream. And eliminated with curiosity and laughter. And someone said, "I am hungry," but we didn't know how to catch any food. We admitted to our faults, our limitations and went into a profound mourning for our lack of knowledge, even the simplest knowledge.

It was the idiot who never said anything who had a vision of catching food. He set out his dream and when he was finished we acted the dream out and killed a few small animals. We told the idiot, "keep dreaming and tell us what you come up with." And for seven nights he related dreams that led us to the "doing of things" that had proven difficult. He even told the dream of a pregnant woman and how she gave birth in the stream. An so it was. One guy got jealous of the idiot and tried to do him in but we stopped it just in time. We gave the idiot a special place and he was very happy until he realized he had to come up with a significant dream every night. I knew he made a few of them up, elaborated some of them but that was cool because the results were productive. We survived and started our next round of memories and a lot of what we thought was lost came back.

After a time we forgot about that time and lived as if tomorrow never existed and found what we needed right in front of us. It was literally a matter of thinking it was so and "poof" there it was.

Our thoughts always came back to the events leading up to the catastrophe. The idiot told us we should remember through as many generations as we could back to the earliest time possible. Only a few could do this. They would lay out sticks and every stick represented a generation.

And every generation stepped forward and played itself out, dressed up in its snazy clothing and weird hair styles. Some sticks were shorter than others. Then they would conjure a personification of the generation by the memory they had of it or some aspect of their brain that contained that information. A few got talented enough to have different personifications to "talk" to each other or reach out and shake hands across the generations. There was no talking of course, everything was done in a delightful telepathy.

The generations always provided clues to our dilemma. "It was there from the seed," one commented. Sometime the seed was hidden out of fear or shame, other times it was out front and center, umabiguous and throbbing with potential.

The generations paraded around until they finally disappeared into the woods. We had had our fill of them and even though they were fascinating, in the end they were of little use. "They are a reminder that we must continue, that we must fill out our part in this play of generations." So my old pal and fellow skeptic told me. I took it that way and smoked my cigar and looked over the meadow we were in, encircled by the woods.

A few of the survivors were stirring now from their crude huts made from tree branches, lean-to's would be an apt description. Most of us slept out in the open and kept a fire going to provide some heat and ward off wild animals. My thoughts always wandered off to the loss of humans the planet had suffered. During the day I saw it as a great advantage and we all had fun jumping around and gesticulating and exposing ourselves and shitting right out in the open because there was no one left to judge us. There was no one around to make us clean up our acts. Theorically we could roam the whole globe doing whatever we wanted to. We could use the left over technology for our benefit. It was this propect of using the world of gone-humanity that prompted one to say, "We should get going and head in a direction and find a city. In the first city we find we'll ransack it for all useable items and ensure our survival." We all agreed that was a sound plan. The idiot boy was silent and faced away from us looking into the woods. Something displeased him but I didn't want to bother him.

At night there was a ritual mourning and wailing for lost friends and family that were no longer on Earth. Such sorrow in dead men and women! And I called them dead because we had no future, no matter the great ability we still had of making up stories to convince us that "it was ok." After the wailing they would get down in the dirt and grass and depict or personify those very relatives and friends that were no longer with us. Some built figures out of grass and bent them to indicate motion. Others took sticks and carved out faces in the grass and dirt, would huddle over the drawings and try to make the reproduction as precise as possble. It was amazing what some were able to do.

During the day we walked toward the horizon hoping to run into an urban center where we could scavange what was left. "Even a pan or a few plates," someone said casuaully as we walked, sometimes in singlr file, at times disorderly and spread out, no one seeming to belong to the group at all. I used to name them in idle moments when the sun was fetching high in the sky and it felt like outings I took as a kid, with my parents and brothers, up into hills where the old collapsed house was populated by thousands of bees. We could hear the distintegrated house from a distance and when we reached it stood off to the side just to watch the magnificanet bees swirling around various parts of the downed house. I felt transported for some reason. I felt this sharp slide in my brain and it made me refocus so I was intently aware of the bees and that they posed a threat of some sort, even from a distance. We would leave the bee house and find a nice spot for a lunch and spread the blanket. My brothers and I would run up and down the path with my mother whooping encouragement. So I was in a state and started to name the people. "Mumble Man," "Flippant Guy", "The Wanderer", "Sexed Up Guy", "Scairdy Cat Woman", "Stinky", "Mr. Uncle" and so on. I would laugh to myself and make sure I would never make the names public. I also entertained odd questions such as, "Is it ok to have fun when the world ends?" or, "Who owns a dead Earth?"

One night a radiant moon suddenly appeared above us. For the first time I can ever remember, the moon looked alive, it had a soul. I could see right through it. It suddenly became an object of desire, I felt I needed to get there, stand on it, revel in it and actually live on it. My mind became crazed with notions of how to get there without a rocket and all the support necessary for such a thing. That night, I swear, I left my body and zoomed up to the moon and walked around. I can remember looking back on Earth with such longing, such sadness it was overwhelming. I told myself to wake up and struggled to open my eyes only to be staring up at the Moon. Now it was an object, it was away from me, I felt alienated from it. Oddly though I still felt it was my destiny to go there.

Perhaps it was dark irony but I realized one day that with the whole globe empty, apparently, of human beings and all that they produce from themselves, still, there was very little privacy. For one, I had admitted to two of my companions my odd desire to get to the Moon. "The Moon is a destination," I explained. They laughed. "The Moon? You have the whole Earth at your feet!" And they drifted off looking back at me as if I were a bad joke. I felt stripped of some quintessense at that moment and felt hate toward the two. I promised myself not to be so fast and loose with thoughts even in the limited group I was wandering around with.

The irony was that I had, over a period of time, tried to undo the influence of various doom scenarios I was exposed to as a young guy. Everywhere I turned was doom, the end of everything, the dropping of the sword of Damocles on all one knew and loved. As I got older I began to understand the con involved and began to distrust doom-calling. I resisted the doom scenario, applied a bit of logic and found anchors that took me back to the center of myself. And when I saw a person spouting doom or reading a book on doom I laughed to myself, "another sucker, another victim of the con."

And then this thing happened. There were prophets on the Earth that were treated as entertainers. No one took much of anything seriously. All could be conquered by money and/or technology. So it just happened and caught everyone in a strange moment. I couldn't know everything but I was hoping the adventure we had embarked on would lead to some answer or some inkling of what happened.

We continued on our adventure, past beautiful lakes and woods, into the mountain passes pioneers had made famous, along anonymous rivers that did what all rivers did, vitalize the sense of things. Sometimes we walked in complete silence, other times there was a break out of laughter and childish giggles. We finally came to a small town with its general store, a bar, a gas station and little else. There was no one around. There were no bodies. We looked earnestly and I think we were desperate to find some evidence of the great catastrophe but there was nothing. We found two cars parked in front of the general store but no one was inside.

We found plenty of supplies however. People searched throughout the town and when a big whoop went up people came running.

It took many months walking through valleys and over mountain passes for the despair to kick in. We survivors had had it. Rather than revelling in the idea that the "Earth was now ours," we despaired at all that had been lost and the awful burden put on our shoulders to "keep the damn thing going." As my friend Jake put it, "If it ain't going on, it's down the forever hole. Nothing escapes the forever hole." The thought didn't create despair in myself. My brain became more acute, more intense in understanding where we were and how we were going to survive. After all, small bands of humans had roamed the planet for hundreds of thousands of years. They had survived. We were no different. But just as soon as I had that thought another one popped into my head. "What about the very first band of humans? How did they survive?"

We had to decide between the "forever hole" or the first gestures of a new beginning. And those who said we needed a few laws to lay down to prevent a disaster from occuring in the future were right. And I was to undestand that all that had carried human beings to that point had absolutely failed, seeing that everything and everyone was gone. I laughed as I imagined a hireling coming to me and asking, "what now Sire?" There was so much to edit out of the proposition that human beings start again, at the seed, and move forward as before. The first law? "Make no tool beyond its first use."

We did not discover much more, other than repeats of what we had already discovered. We were swallowed by the Earth in a manner of speaking and rather than feeling we owned it we now understood that fallacy. The Earth bore us, the Earth claimed us. It was the Alph and Omega. I stood opposite a waterfall in a river valley somewhere near the Sacramento Valley. I was naked. Did it matter? It mattered not a bit. The few survivors had no secrets. The water falling gracefully over the granite hypnotized me. I thought it was singing to me. It was seducing me into the water, pulling me into the center of the waterfall. We were all like that, mesmerized by the Mother and connecting on a level I didn't think possible. Deep in her the Earth must have possessed a source of power, there from the beginning and in humans and animals so we could never leave its mystical lines of force. I had a passing thought, quick as lightening, "We will find all of humanity in the interior of the Earth. Heaven was not up but down!"

EMERGENCE

I have no name. No parents or brothers or sisters. I am not biochemically linked to any organism on this planet, not the trees, the fish, or the humans.

I suddenly emerged from a fissure in the ground like a sprouting seed, between granite rocks near the peak of a mountain by a stream of melted snow. I was there. It's all I remember. Being there with a huge crack in the earth, smoldering and bubbling behind me, my long shadow cast against the granite rocks.

It was the shadow I investigated first. An elongated appendage like a finger held to the wind, twisting it slowly around. Staring. This black blur against the rock held my fascination as if, when looking back on it, I had an instinct of instant recognition. It was me, whatever me was and that's when the trouble began and continues as I write this.

I found that everyone needs a name; no name, no life. When I found this out I remembered the shadow that cast up before me like a broken mirror so my name was born and so was I. I've found that I've had to do a lot of inventing along these lines.

Someday I will get back to that place where I sprang from. My sense of direction is quite bad. But these few months or years - time has become as fluid as the stream- that I roamed in naked delight searching for nothing, trying to catch the shadow that played up in the tall trees and on moss crawling rocks. I dream every night that I'll return to it.

Ah, up there, every color imaginable flashed around mysterious but enwombing form. It was as if I had gathered all my brain and soul strength and that the whole sounded portion of the inside of my skull was a slowly revolving pinwheel of every color sensation. Well, this was how it was at first. Every color bursting in my eye like fire, igniting in my head, throwing me off balance. And each form in front of me awesome, treacherous yet compelling as well. The forms were giants and I felt them with my hands. They were my first family. And I trained myself to feel around the most imposing form as a mountain or even, a sky. Then I would find myself filled with laughter and thrilled with the freedom I had to go where I pleased and do what I wanted. Of course, at that time I didn't know all that could please or all the things I could choose to do. But within the limits I was free and joyful at the new sounds, new forms, new colors that kept reappearing in my head until I had to do something with them. The moment I did something with them, at the beginning, the moment I consciously set up to do that, a new, strange, awful adventure began that drove the joy out and the freedom. I often thought, "now that I have captured this and put it in front of me I am committed to it." And as I got committed to it a prison formed around me that I was completely unaware of until it was too late. That's when the bitterness became my favorite joyful freedom. The bitterness drove me from everything that had become familiar.

Years passed as best I can figure it. Perhaps it was a minute who's to know these things. After all, I had been learning about the size of things and how the size of them makes time squirm and laugh and fall off every horizon one puts up there until you give it up with gusts of laughter. But, even there one has to be circumspect because laughter can be interpreted many different ways. And I certainly learned not to stir the pot of human nature, let it believe its stupidities and narrowness, let it seethe in its frustrations and sooth it if you must but don't jostle it. That was one of the first tactics I learned after I got my bearings or what someone called "your bearings." It's the way angles attack each other I finally decided and became acutely aware of intersections, understanding very few of them but knowing them, peering into them until I was predictable to myself and so less anxious, less vulgar.

I presented quite a figure in those days. I wore ropes and would invite women to pull me along as they wished. This is how I met the mean ones. The nice ones would fit the rope around their necks and then make a choking gesture with their eyes bugged out before throwing it off and leaving me to decipher what they had tried to show me. The kind ones were the cruel ones but that was life wasn't it? That's what we were going to suffer. That's what we brought into ourselves and made a daily ritual and that was what we ran from like a mad dog. I see it now but in those days I was still new, still fresh and not at all immune to the quiddities of this fleshy thing. And it took me awhile to get used to the smiles as you suffer.

I was at a disadvantage with people since they knew their mothers and fathers for the most part. I just showed up. Why? Did nature create some mutation and throw me up from the Earth? I don't remember residing in it, only standing on the surface and thinking things. I knew where I had come from but nothing else of the details. This ill-defined nature followed me for quite a while. I felt like a victim, then felt powerful because all the others could point and say, "I come from them," and while that was good it also made them act the same. And it was funny to me how people thought life and time began with their births from the womb and all that went before was irrelevant. Nearly everything I crossed paths with had that view, at least for a time.

I figured I was human because I had a natural affection for the human being. But it didn't pass me by that humans often show a great deal more affection for a pet horse or dog than human beings. So perhaps I had affection for the wrong reasons. I didn't think too much about it. The humans could project whatever they had onto me and I hardly flinched. That doesn't mean I didn't cry a lot or I looked at humans as pets. They rarely acted like pets. In fact, a good case could be made that they were constantly trying to make others into pets. I suppose observation trumped whatever native-born traits I had gotten from wherever it was I came from, where I originated from. And don't let anyone tell you that I didn't have dreams about the possibilities of my origins. They were vast, spectral dreams that faded quickly when I got awake until during the day they turned into premonitions. It was during one of my free times that I tried to track down some of these premonitions.

I was often criticized for "standing still," or "not moving." "You aren't moving enough," they said. They seemed irritated or angry when they said it but I laughed a little and then watched them move around. Certainly if a movement inspired me I tried to reproduce it in some way. If a person moved without effort I would try and be the same way but usually end up falling down somewhere and embarrassing myself. My movements were awkward, no doubt about it. But I tried. I felt it was up to me to please others than to simply be the awkward goof I saw myself as. "Move!" And sometimes they had taken some alcohol or dope so it was confusing to me. I naturally shied away from intoxicated people it wasn't something I thought too much about. It must have been a tribal thing it doesn't matter any longer. Yes, it was a tribal initiation into a new sort of life. "Move, git up and move it!"

It didn't anger me at all but left me perplexed. Did they know what they were asking of me? Did they truly understand this? I carried the question for a long time then they dissipated through a kind of inertia. And I noted early on that a certain inertia created more energy in those who wanted something from me. So it was a tool of sorts and when I saw it work out this way I would go somewhere and laugh myself into a fit.

Oh the buggers could laugh but I could laugh too. And sometimes it was a strange mixture of laughs, one soft and one hard, even sardonic. I got a lot of it when I first told my story, my arrival and so on. I think now I understand that I was trying find those like me, who had come in as I had and didn't realize it was some freak accident. If it was. I've never found that out. There are no texts, no movies or shows that clue me in to what could possibly have happened.

I couldn't have been the only one! That seemed absurd to me. I met people born in Portugal, Zambia, Japan, and Uzbekistan, even Antarctica but no brothers or sisters. I used to sit for long hours thinking about this, how life is rudely ironic. Whenever I heard the phrase, "life is hard," I understood to the root what they meant. So for a long time I ran around like a ninny listening to my CD player plugged into an ear, hiding my own facts from everyone including myself. And the most difficult thing was to learn the everyday normalcy necessary to live well if at all. I observed, I read, I watched TV and after a time I got it down pretty well. Not perfect. But the sense of having to hide something left me by degrees and I felt good, as they say, in my normal day by day life.

Perhaps that was a downfall of some sort that I couldn't identify right off. I could never be normal because I never spent time in the mother's womb. I do admit a feint feeling of birth if that's the word for it. I remember feeling cold and damp walls and what I would term, a launch. Laugh, sure. But it did feel like that in some distant memory. I might have had dreams about it, I've had so many dreams it's hard to say. The seed and egg could have been completely inorganic as far as I knew. I wanted to know but I didn't want to know. What if I discovered I was the product of intercourse between a clod of dirt and the root of a potato? Or two giant worms deep in the nickel of the Earth who traveled through a hard sort of osmosis? It was a blank for me.

I only sweat when they tried to pin me down. There were large gaps between "interrogations" as I called them. There was nothing sinister about them, it wasn't like they thought I was a spy but they wanted so much information! Why so much information? Especially from a guy who could only provide a bare minimum at best. And I think that made them angry so they'd wait a bit and then when my defenses were down, bam! another go at trying to figure out who I was.

This is precisely the moment stories emerge, that was the most delightful thing I learned. Take a bare thing and weave a rich and complex tale around it until the bareness and the richness are a fne mix. A tale for every strata. Or, maybe I mean strategy. Strategic telling of tales! And I know they tried verifying some of them but that was my plan all along. They would trip themselves up or discover something they hadn't figured on and would look at me quizzically, even at times with affection.

I often picked my parents out at random or because I had heard good things about them. I would say, "these are my parents," and then watch them carefully and make sure I did what they did. I learned as much as I could from a variety of these made-up parents, some of whom suspected something I know that. They said I was an odd duck and left it at that but then they would reveal themselves to be the odd ducks so I had another good laugh and moved on to another "community." There were many of those and the wonderful barriers they put up did not allow the community I had left to follow me and demand I tell them the truth or admit that I was using them because I didn't know who I was. A barrier was as good as a secret. How filled they were of themselves! All they could breathe were their ideas about who they were and what they were trying to accomplish.

I suppose people said I tried to fit in, I tried to be a regular guy so I wouldn't be constantly forced to remember myself and my origins. No, I tried to fit in because I was by nature polite and didn't want to make waves. I was only interested in knowing how I had come about. I couldn't leap up at a meeting or party and just blurt it out what would people make of that? No, I had to cultivate people and get them to see me as inoffensive as a pair of old shoes. When suspicions developed I had to make a quick decision of whether to leave the community and find a new one or try to fake my way through it. I almost always jumped ship and joined a new community and then set about to find those I could talk with, in private, in a kind of confessional way giving them, of course, all the power to determine, even, who I was. So I had to be cautious about it. Discrete. It was very difficult when fine looking women tried to seduce me. I didn't even realize I was capable of being seduced and it led to very embarrassing, even humiliating, episodes. For instance, I thought an erect penis was for show and paraded around one night with my back arched and hands on my hips after this beautiful woman had gotten my clothes off at a party. Fortunately it was a small gathering and most people laughed and told me to sober up. I could tell the laughter was meant to change my behavior so ran back into the bedroom where the beautiful woman was sitting brushing her hair out, sitting cross-legged, completely naked with pins in her mouth. "Well, you've must be a nut case so I'm leaving." Then she began to take her hands and fight off the erection, batting it from side to side until it hurt. After that incident I always associated the sex act with pain and stopped even thinking about it.

The sex thing was just the tip of the iceberg believe me. Yet, I moved on. I wanted to expatriate myself for a time. I would see a Dominican monk walking around the streets and entertained the idea of becoming that. I moved here, I moved there. Life was always knocking me off balance but I laughed a lot. For a long time I had a room in the transient hotel downtown. It felt like a home after awhile. A German rock band settled in on my floor. Occassionally the crazy person would be there, ranting and raving. Or an old guy who hacked and coughed for hours, spitting everyting out in either the sink or toilet I couldn't see. And I had very pleasant conversations with the manager and her daughter. She was certain I was a run away and expected someone to call for me or people to show up at the hotel and inquire about me. It never happened. I was happy for the fact. Aloneness was an enrichment what with the bookstores just down the street and the little TV I had purchased at the flea market held in the parking lot of BART. I always meditated on my origins from the interior of the Earth. In my mind I could burrow into the nickel core and fill the tight spaces there. I saw where the magma came from, where much of the Earth's water had come from. Such a grand adventure this brealthing life is!

Many things happened later, when I left the hotel but too much for this space I've allotted to the brief telling of my story. Maybe later when I've settled a bit.

TOXINS 

He felt that if he touched them they would turn him into a toxic substance, unnamable and sharp in its ability to cut through to the very heart.

Very well, he thought, I will have nothing to do with them. They are little shits after all, why worry about it.

He had thought long and hard about this before committing himself to the path that his thought implicated. If he was not going to touch them and their toxicity then what was he going to get used to, as he had gotten used to them? This was the chief dilemma. He had to find a substitute!

Of course, there were plenty of toxicities to choose from; a regular smorgasbord of them, all laid out, not yet tagged by scientists but there, just the same, ready to poison the mind or heart as it perceived a great adventure for itself. "It must be that they have seen the very futility of ever dreaming anything and will, literally, kill anyone with the temerity to dream." It was his first encounter with the treachery in life and how it appeared one thing but then revealed itself to be something completely different. Bored human nature, with nothing important to do. Ah, the dangerous animal, that. So, he kept busy so he wouldn't be pulled down into this awful hell world he perceived coming from the wrathful others.

They did not have weapons per se. That was the first thing to notice. But they had some primitive tribal connection as must occur in the areas of the world like Afganistan or Nigeria, among those who decide that the path of terrorism is better than the alternatives. It's not something they happen on rationally but it leaks to them by the other tribe members who, perhaps, are too afraid to act out their thoughts until it reaches a critical mass of disgust.

The sinister women constituted one branch of the tribal tree and he, after awhile, became very suspicious of them as he passed them on his way to the other side of the encampment. It was by a shallow river, surrounded by low rolling hills and blackbirds. He often put his head in the river and would rear up only to find himself staring into the eyes of a blackbird.

"Ah, to get away, get away, what a beautiful sound that makes!" And he did want to get away without question. But what if I get away and find nothing but more toxicity? What will I do then?"

The world had become like little magnets applying a kind of pressure; now positive, now negative but in their own way, their own time. He could never figure it out. "One type of pressure makes me relent, another type gets the defenses up and new words appear mangled and stuttering as I figure out a response."

When the best story he had prepared went bust they were right there, in an instant, ready to shore up the fact that the story was wrong for him. "You are not that story. You are the story we have here for you," and they related this tale that he did not recognize as his own. In fact, it was so foreign, so alien to his sense of things that he wondered who they were referring to. "It certainly isn't me," he thought. "No, they are talking about some lost relative." But it cut into him with a bite. It gave rise to a series of pictures in his mind that acted out the abstract story they had related. It was of a boy trapped under a bridge and forced to live with trolls. When the trolls left to go get food he would feel free and dance under the bridge, even through the tiny creek under the bridge. But when they returned he clapped up and stiffened and they always asked him about the water on his pants. "Did you pee in your pants?" He felt ashamed as the pictures rolled through him. His story! They wanted it for him!

He had learned many things. He didn't know it all. But it struck him as bizarre that they would want him to abandon much of the knowledge he had acquired, in favor of their own superstitions. This was very strange to him and he began to suspect things at that point. "What? You want me to carry the load of your ignorance for you and get rid of the precious knowledge I have acquired? Never!" And he felt very good, very powerful after this encounter and slept well that night. But it didn't matter. They became more superstitious, evidenced more pride in their ignorance.

They were, ultimately, one of many, many fearful groups that populated the land at that time. It took him a long time to see through this, that their animus went to something more profound than mere dissatisfaction with him. That generally they were afraid of a whole way of life disappearing and becoming irrelevant in the type of world now being built. This was something he had inured himself to but they, those who judged him, obviously were freshly caught with the terrible perception that what they knew was meaningless, was backward and of no use to anyone. It was at that point they started to plot.

And a plot can be a treacherous thing. He remembered the story he heard of the wife who plotted to kill her husband by hiring some lunk for $300. And she wanted him to have no pain and for it to appear as an accident. "Oh yes, that can be arranged, " the lunk had said. Once the transaction was made she disappeared and figured her life had changed now. The plot would be carried out and she would be free, apparently. That's what she wanted.

The lunk turned out to be an uncover cop and grainy cameras caught her shock when she was arrested. She threw herself on a bed and demanded that the cops shoot her, "I'm better off dead, now, than alive....I can't go through this!" But they simply handcuffed her and led her away, bawling and moaning, hoping it was some nightmare that she would soon awaken from.

The husband was later interviewed and had a slight smile on his face and kept shaking his head, "wow, I didn't know she had it in her. Wow, imagine that. Man, that beats all." And one couldn't help but detect a kind of pride in the man as though his woman had proven her worth in some way. "But," he suddenly said in a very serious manner, "didn't she think of the kids? What would the kids do without their daddy?"

The only test of freedom is whether we are able to truly choose our entanglements. Not being able to choose, freedom is a farce because everything is conditioned by the loathsomeness of the entanglement we neither want nor willingly give ourselves to. That is why people flee. A whole land of fleeing people,d trying to find the entanglement that would be perfect for them, that would require no profound downpayment of emotion but simply a few oaths or pretended loyalties. Always, there was someone who took the entanglement very seriously; the dangerous one. Most called it, "life, it's just life and it pulls you along through its weird web."

They are the ones who stare into the core of the organizing principle and see nothing. So they totter around like petty tyrants having to tidy everything up and make the people straight and good. "If I don't look out for them, who will?" Says the tyrant, puffed up by a sudden success and, now, destined to ride things through to a bitter end. He will take many with him and there is little that wisdom can do. (A fight breaks out at this point, too bloody to relate. They all survive but are changed and decide to mend their ways...)

The backward among them are transfixed as they were in all ages. This fact astounded the man but it was verifiable without question. They had become exactly as he had predicted many years before, yet, he felt no pride in such an observation. Their fatal mistake? They believed what was empty had substance. They believed they could fabricate a nice substantial foundation for themselves after they had destroyed everything in sight. So, at that point, life became a joke. And then, in slow increments, it caught up to them and they were driven into a kind of madness.

BROKENNESS 

My tools are broken. Isn't that a shame? I think it's a shame but I could laugh or cry really it doesn't matter now where I am. Where am I? I'll get to that. First I will explain about my tools, what I brought with me, about all I brought up here. Should I tell you now where I am? I don't know. It's been a long time between conversations so these questions are difficult to frame. I mean, I know its time to leave but where can I go? This whole experiment of mind has failed, ah, a pleasant enough failure and since I've been alone I don't rightly care one way or another. So what if the owls peer at night and know? That's actually dedication. What if I met someone on the road and he expected me to say something? I'd faint away I'd guess. I can see that. Falling away at his first word so he has to bend down from the waist to pick me up. If he want me to be up, I mean it's his prerogative. Myself, I'd think twice about it. When I lived in the city a bum walked into a pole and fell to the sidewalk. I watched it amused. He swore at the pole from top to bottom like an old woman. On his back he was, in languid tones cussing the lamplight. He had one veined fist in the air. He was wearing a kind of buckskin coat. I could have used that coat up here where it's damnable cold at nights. I was standing no more than five yards from him and didn't move. He picked himself up by wrapping his hands around the pole and pulling up. I felt bad the rest of the day. I mean my conscience bothered me that I hadn't helped the poor fellow. We have our moments. A pole is in the way. Down one goes simply stunned. A guy watches then moves away.

I'm writing this for myself, no one else. I'm speaking out loud before writing the words down. It's quiet around me but the words grasp between the burdens of the pain and sweetly return to me. I ran away and came up here. I'll get to the details. Yes, I've settled that between myself now that the details are crystal clear. If someone should ask me I need a story and a story is only a story if it has details.

But the details are only as sharp as my tools permit. Ah, my first dilemma! Now I feel human and dirty and can carry an attitude around with me.

To be human is to confess the brokenness of your tools, even skills. "Everything has changed!" And then the sinking feeling that you will not survive the first waves of change and be relegated to a complaint. A complaint sitting on a sidewalk somewhere reading Rimbaud or staring off into space while college girls throw you cigarettes. So it was an emergency of sorts. Why are they broken? Why did God do this to me, at this time? If God is real. Perhaps God is broken too although it seems impossible given the fact we only know as much as God permits.

It's as though they are laying now at my feet a useless reminder of something beautiful that the crowds step over and around as they hurry through life. I often thought they could come and take them if they wanted to, even trample them until they were bits and pieces. The crowds rule these days. They can do anything they want and get away with it, even murder thousands of people. If the crowds will it it is done. I would have none of it which is why my tools seemed bent and withered at my feet as I left my apartment on a cruddy afternoon in the middle of summer. Summer! It was a release into the heat of the sun! And I had, perhaps for the very first time, been optimistic or, at least, confident as a young person. Confident and brazen almost. Even arrogant in a way because I knew things and I had been in places.

Sometimes memory of them suffices to fill me with a glowing joy that pushes out vestiges of the awful day. Yes, in that sense they are like floating deities that flit back and forth across the closing skies of the mind. They fly with mischievous smiles and tongues lolling out waiting for some signal I suppose to show me how to replicate them. Oh, I tell them, don't give me the burden please!

A girlfriend used to laugh at me, "Good God, they enrich themselves now with all kinds of devices. They don't need your tools." This always pissed me off when she said this. I always took it as a challenge because she didn't appreciate how profoundly the tools had moved me. They moved me more than she did, I'll say that much. Maybe she was jealous. She couldn't compete for the affection I had for these wonderful tools.

Not that the crowds cared. I thought foolishly that once the tools were whole I'd take them and show them to the crowds who would know instantly my heroism. But quite the opposite occurred although I presented plans rather than the tools themselves. And every time the crowds competed with each other, to destroy me of my fantasy. At first I was assured this was perfectly ok. "It's the way it happens." But then, after a time, it began to feel as though the crowds really had no interest in my tools or the good I would do them. And I pled my case like a trooper bringing in vast knowledge that went back into antiquity. But, the crowds were either scowling at me or laughing at my expense and throwing up insults that stung deep on occasion.

And certainly a person here or there would recognize the dilemma and look at me with sad eyes and say, "it's the way it is..." I felt, on those occasions, like a man exiled to an island in the Pacific where rumors say they kill the islands with nuclear bombs. So you wait for it to fall. You even, in a wistful moment, prepare yourself for some joyous and instant vision of the constituent matter of things and so grasp before your annihilation what happens. What happens! Perhaps our pulverized minds are picked up by the explosion and held over everything we did not know. Good, bring it on I am ready. So I would think but then I would say, "no, you are just bitter because your tools are useless in this age." And who ever said or thought up the idea that tools are extensions of human beings and so compatriots in a manner of speaking was telling the truth of the matter. You have a skill, it allows you to work on the tools to get something done. The mind is occupied, the heart is in sync with the skill, the heart rises as you see it taking place, the thing, building up, breathing as you breathe, an old composer plays and comes down with the renunciation as you finish it off. It's a privilege. And you are told that. "Few can have this relation to your tools so you will never be happy with them. You will always hear their voices taunting you, questioning you."

Before the fracture you could eye that thing down the whole of its length and see all its roundness, its suppleness, its necessity to exist in just that way. I was tempted to treat it as an instrument rather than a tool and that threw me off a bit and I felt very awkward. No, it was a tool and it felt wonderfully machined in one of those shops I used to pass when I worked down there where they do that sort of work. They cut, glaze, solder, spin, down there and that made me appreciate the damn thing. The voluptuous care of one who is unknown. He, all hair and cuss kneading the transparency while whistling a song he heard back in the day.

What go me more than anything was that former defenders of the tool turned against it. "Throw it out we don't need it any longer. Look, look what we have...." And they would hold up an obvious imitation that smelled like money and not devotion. You can smell that on things, what makes it and why. Oh well, I would say at least I know the truth. I saw them all flood into the falsehood and gain power, that was their intention all along. Boy, was I fooled! I was an idiot but that is life. So many things had already battered down my lame illusions I just shrugged my shoulder. Let them get power. Let them revel in this life and light up when the dangling things jounce and their eyes get wide. Let them howl in derision. It's a big jungle anyway, that's what they tell me. "It's a big jungle. The big fish eat the little fish." On and on they would go convincing me that my tool was insufficient in the jungle that had been made. And perhaps they were right. In fact, the tool may have been mutated into something opposite of what I wanted it to be had it not been broken and laid out useless as it was.

It was an idiot, a regular clown, who taught me a very valuable lesson. He had seen the tool at my feet, broken and dissembled, and pointed it out to me.

"Yes I know, it is a shattered thing at my feet."

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" And he had a big goofy smile on. I thought his eyes were going to leap out at me like an old cartoon character.

"Why should I do anything? It's mine, my possession."

"Ah, you only think it's yours. But it interferes with the feeling that we, the public, are safe and can walk around without worrying about getting tripped by this broken thing."

"The public," I scoffed. "If that were the case I could claim the same thing for all the broken brains and broken hearts I see walking around the public space."

"Hee-hee, you are a clever guy." And he did a pirouette of some sort and took out a weird, tin cap and stuck it on his head.

I did not notice it at first but a crowd started to gather. It was a hot day and little girls were eating ice cream cones and the mothers all had expensive carriages for their darling babies. The men must be in offices, I thought to myself. I looked at the city built up around us at that moment and it all seemed fit together seamlessly with building edge fit to building edge and rooftops parallel, the fountain spewing effortlessly with hands cupping the water and drawing it out to wipe the face. And without question my broken tool looked inappropriate and I felt embarrassed for it. It angered me that such a small thing could get me riled up and disturb my day but that's how it was if you felt responsible for the tool that was broken.

But then there was a crowd! And the clown who had been bothering me was firing up the crowd against me and it divided the crowd and a few of them were actually for me and stared at me with imploring eyes as if to get me to do something. "Put it together," those eyes whispered. "Put it together and raise it high in victory and shut this clown up." I was jarred for a moment.

I had never understood the value the broken tool had for certain minds. I didn't want to figure it out and backed off for a time while some of the people in the crowd moved closer to the broken tool and inspected it, leaned over it with their hands behind their backs, one even got down on his knees, a young man, and eyed it from the ground level.

I watched from a distance. Perhaps it did really belong to them, at least when it was in the public. Once I took it away and put it in my basement it was mine I was convinced of that. And before long the crowd became distracted by something else. A few women had taken their shirts off and were strolling in the fountain bare-breasted as the teen-age boys hooted and howled. The women linked arms and I discovered later they were in a protest of some sort. Sure enough the cameras arrived, then the cops, everyone was smiling. The women put their shirts back on and by that time the gravity of the situation had drifted north where the fountain was and I was left standing with the broken tool. I quickly picked it up and put it under my arm all prickly in the belief someone would see me with it.

That's why I came up here, to get away and be with my thoughts. It does good, no, no good, hard to say. I figured I could repair those tools up here away from the destructive vibrations down there, probably where you are. I could make them heroic again. But then they'd have to stay up here wouldn't they? The whole purpose would be lost which was, after all, to prove that the tools still performed at a high degree and were useful, even beautiful if I'm allowed a strange word. A broken word if ever there was one. Up here I saw the fragment of sun on a leaf magnified by the falls water. And a spider was tenderly walking on its new web, to the leaf and to the center of the fragment. Just that moment. No words. You hide here for a time then the ugliness calls you back. I go back. It's always like the woman I met at the airport all fine in my brain but when she came out of the gate my mind and body sank and everything was ruined.

I thought if I were up here for some time word would get out about the guy with the tools up there in the woods and young guys, even women, would make their way up to find out what I was up to. I suppose the curiosity of people has been damaged by so much information and stimulation. For a brief moment that gave me hope that they'd need the tools now more than ever.

I was up here so long I started talking to myself and hallucinating. I began to talk to the tools when they were laid out straight and passive with that gleam on them that radiates with its own pride. It was later that I began to hate them. That's when I realized the world gets in you whether you like it or not and won't let you go until you do its bidding. It will shake a man loose of everything he thinks he is or has until he's running like a nut trying to find himself again. And often I walked the long path, through the old gate, past the open pit, next to the stream, up beyond where the boards and old carts were and felt relaxed and decent. I'd sit for hours on a rock and talk to it about how sad the world was. I think it laughed at me. And most of the wilderness, if not laughing, had a mock-stern expression as though it were a puzzle I had to solve. 'Old trees, old rocks," I used to say, "you were here before and will be here after. You are starkly alive in my mind but then will burn down one of these days and be ash. So what do you really have to teach but that our cares are meaningless? Is that what you teach tree and rock?"

I was slipping, I admit it. In moonlit nights with the stars pounding down at me, I would stand erect and vomit out a ton of words finally breaking them up with little nonsensical expressions. And the nightlife would get real quiet. And I would stop and feel like an idiot and go back inside.

I didn't figure out anything. I tossed the tools and lived without them. I felt lighter and experienced what they call "well-being". That's when I decided to go down again to the thing again, down where it all happens and discover new tools, the undiscovered tools. I had seen them and I knew they were there.

* * * * * * * *

HELL DOES NOT BURN 

Hell is not a burning pit populated by devils and their victims. It is a perch between the higher planes of the atmosphere and the vacuum of space where one sits and stares at what he loves the most disintegrate through time and ordered to write reports about it for those he can't yet see.

He's told he can see them. A confident person has assured him that the reports will get him a good seat on the inside of Hell, "a most exciting place," and so, figuring that Hell is all he'll get he stares and reports; stares and reports.

This particular victim had never written a complete sentence in his life but was expected to record everything dissimulating down below where, at least, people stopped for breaks and slept. "Ah, they are lazier than they admit!" And he was amazed by how much pressure they put on each other not to be lazy but, in their daily lives, were always seeking the pleasure of being lazy.

The Earth rotated in a hypnotic, slow and easy manner, noiseless and absurdly there like an exotic stone found among those stretches of dunes up along the coast of Oregon. When he was not dictating his report down onto scraps of paper he found himself looking at this rotating thing, going right under him like the gears of a silent machine. It was the fishtank effect but with persons instead of fish, just as colorful and as unpredictable as the fishes he watched in a large tank he had in his office.

It was a glowing hemisphere that hypnotized him and distracted him from his duties as one put in Hell by, let us say, less than a valuable life "down there among 'em," he would mutter to himself.

The first thing he noticed was that they didn't, generally, know where they were. They had no idea they existed on a physical planet that rotated on its axis and sped around the sun. They did not grasp yet the implications of "knowing what is perceived," but insisted on living as the primitive peoples had lived. He tried to understand it as pure ignorance perhaps, even, fear but now he came to a different and more hellish conclusion. "They are the animals the scientists tell them they are!" To a scientific animal a piece of food is broken down a thousand different ways to produce a thousand different effects, except the final effect that is emptied out of every human being who eats. They perceive that the dog shits. And that the giraffe can have elegant intercourse in the grasslands of Africa. And the monkey happily urinates to the camera with a howling laughter.

Perceiving that it is thus with humans, albeit with our own peculiar riffs on these matters, most conclude, sadly, that we are animals. And then a man dies and is never heard from again. He disappears like a leaf down a long dark well. Animals too, pets, and zoo-kept animals disappear.

The scientific animal had its own specific poses without a doubt. Anything, for instance, that was noble or beautiful or beyond understanding was laughed at and then beaten down by the culture the scientific animals had created for themselves. Just as the religious animal and political animals before had found out, when you have competitive advantage build it so no one can take it away from you. Build it so they must hang on to you for dear life. And so the powers of the scientific animal went to work on anything that strayed out of the circumference of the known. Called "liberating" the scientific animal was, in truth, one of the most repressive animals known in all the cycles the Earth had been through. Everything was taken down into the bowels of the powerful method and scrutinized as rigorously as the inquisitors had inspected old texts for clues to its impious message.

If they were turned into animals because the scientists told them so, then perhaps there was no devil and no Hell and he was perched on this plane for reasons he couldn't fathom. They lied to me! he seethed for a time.

Animals who liked to watch things. Hmm, yes, it is apparently the case. And they watched the whole spectrum of things the animal was capable of doing, leaping around in excitement when they saw something for the first time.

He had a strange sensation akin to compassion watching them. They knew nothing of their fate. They were convinced they were living the right and singular life but, in reality, they were simply transmitting the same genes as they had done for thousands and thousands of years. And by not being able to arc from one life to all lives ever lived and adjusting for what they found there they were condemned to live the same life. It was their duty to kick, hit, judge, and otherwise try to halt anyone who went differently.

They knew nothing of their fate and yet jumped around with vigor, as though they knew exactly what it was they were doing and what everyone was doing or soon would be doing. It astounded him, now that he was in the position he was in, that everything was so ardent and sincere. "What wonderful fakers!" He exclaimed to no one but a passing cloud leisurely moving with the rotation of the Earth.

The wonderful fakers, he reasoned, were a permanent fixture on the surface of the planet and sought each other as in a species imperative. At first they were confused about their state of being and ran around getting into trouble in embarrassing situations and then they met each other as an instinct, connected, and formed their great tribes. There was nothing worse than a tribe of fakers that believed in itself, stampeding through "enemies" that emerged from some forgotten self.

His job, he figured out, was to watch the tribe of fakers destroy all that was good while calling themselves good and then demanding everyone surrender to their control. Ah, he thought to himself, so this is the way history is made! And he marvelled that one in Hell was vouchsafed such significant information, such profound truth.

More wealth created more fakers, hordes of them, so they were a dominant species. Fakers were seen breaking loose of every cord that had contained their parents to go do what pleased them since they were only loyal to what freed them to do whatever it was they wished to do.

Hell had clocks and the need to be organized to keep up with the happenings "down below," he chuckled to himself. They would bong and tinkle; buzz and pulse and he would alertly get out his file to note the dastardly deed happening that day. "Ah, they are killing powerful people. Well, yes, they have turned from killing the powerless to now killing the powerful. And the powerful go to Hell so I will have great conversations with them! It will be their turn to do this infernal reportage."

He then noted that everyone who was not killed or doing the killing were explaining why it was all happening. They used language and speech; gestures and moving images. "The survivors tell the tales but are always turned out by time." So, it was a kind of presage for Hell, a kind of intuition that all must pass through the mighty portals and learn a few things.

He did not like it when good people were destroyed. He had a twinge of heart. But then grew nearly philosophical about it and reasoned that good people were destroyed because they weren't quite prepared for what would hit them. Therefore, they had to take responsibility in the next go round so the process would stay healthy, efficient, and honest. If good people were permitted to simply move through life effortlessly, then the impossible would have been achieved and the impossible was not permitted on Earth; only in Hell and "that other place," he would think about wistfully. Ah, the other place. And what perch did they built for that "other place?"

Just as soon as he had that thought he was plunged down and then up in a radical way, so he was dizzy and shaking from one side to the other as if being punished for his mere thought. He must have dropped several thousand miles in a second he thought to himself. "Hell is full of surprises," he commented.

It was disconcerting to him how lonely Hell was. There was hardly a soul out with him and they were very conscious they were out in the void of space, that infinite place that can appear to be anything and nothing to people with imagination. Ah, so it was finally revealed to him! "Hell is above us, not below. It is starkly apparent, there, a palpable thing not a mystery down under the surface somewhere."

Hell is where a voice travels light years to go nowhere.

It was where the planets were deformed and stars burning bright for no reason at all.

It was the place where people spent half their eternity denying they were there. "Ah well, you see it's different for us then for the old set of beliefs. We see through things and know that they are phony. It's all bio-chemical. We are here for our courage. It is courageous for us to be in this place they call Hell, it stiffens us up for the hard work ahead."

The next third of their time in eternity they could be heard wailing like banshees, totally out of their minds with the realization of how real it was.

And then a devilish shuffle through the realms that Dante depicts.

The problem was that without belief there was no exit as the old philosopher put it. Many philosophers had pictured eternity or related it to the largeness of the physical universe and that convinced them that ignorance made people believe. They usually wailed the loudest.

Oh finely turned rotating thing here below me wrapped in pretty dark clouds, he thought to himself. If only when I had a life there could I have seen the whole of it and made the whole it a part of me, just a part, perhaps under my eyelid or a nail on the third toe. A beautiful lifetime could have been spent he thought, just listening to it grind one more year, a minute even that he would record and then play over and over again like a hungry man who finds the scraps thrown out by the finest restaurant built inside the corporate headquarters where the businessmen and businesswomen went to eat.

I know now I will be here for eternity to see four things I need to see.

A beginning, two middles, and an end.

Stretched across the two middles was a road and he watched the empty road when a car, one car, rode onward with one man or, sometimes a young woman, humming with happiness.

Hell. The end of intensity and the quiet waiting in a room of shadows. And after a time they say you can smoke. Ah, but I quit when I was a living man! Perhaps I can fake it, I can take a piece of paper and make it appear to be a cigarette.

Hell was superior in one sense, to the life people left behind regularly on the planet. There was more freedom and less anxiety because one did as they were told in Hell. There was, for instance, very little sickness and no anxiety about missing work and those types of trivial details that could ruin a life that lived on the planet. No, Hell had attributes. Hell was nearly a place one could aspire to while on the Earth! It was progress of a sort. But then it was eternal as well and that is why it became the Hell of lore. Yes, Hell said, you progress to here, to this place but it merely goes on forever, there is no change. You do not want to return to what is below you but you can not advance beyond to some "heaven" or, even, "purgatory."

Hell was always home to the roar of approval and was resounded on predictable turnings of the hour.

Hell could even become a collective passive sigh, heard through all of humanity one fine day; even small children picking up the vibration and feeling that they, too, were connected to something much greater than themselves.

Hell had made some people very earnest and they moved with meaning from place to place, never questioning why they did so or what the connections were that made their life cohere so well. Life appeared to be a train speeding backwards on narrow tracks and the trick was to hop on it with a non-plussed expression on the face. The train roared its disapproval of every person who happened to be on board and rushed backward until it ran into something or simply stopped for lack of energy.

At that point the people were in a quandary. Will it start again or will we get off and make our way through the formidable territory called Hell? Some braved the territory even without the ability to orientate themselves and use their animal instincts to go in the right direction.

It's what made Hell a sad and desperate place.

The mind was useless but the brain reigned supreme and, while commanded, did command or tried to in that space known as Hell. It was a matter of not-having-a-choice and so predictable reflexes and eyes that had widened before enacted at the slight hint that god was among them. That god was possible because a man had declared himself a god and it was good; it was a shining light among all the depressing dark thoughts one climbed through in the "enlightened age."

Hell was the idiot's paradise and they built vast structures centered around their idiocies.

The Victim was particularly interested in small clots of people who ran about with calculated abandon and always entered rooms with a sense of entitlement as they had been trained in a variety of places. Even though they were alive, in a sense, they had long ago given up their intimate and real self since they had experienced the Earth as a dome of all and nothing. And as life pinched into them it became all or nothing. And in nothing they experienced the horror of some reality they always tried to name and then throw the name out into the sea as if to protect themselves. Everytime they picked a flower it was on them. Everytime they glanced at the silver skyline of the city it was on them. Everytime they put their hand on a rushing cold brook it was on them.

The Victim watched them in fascination and tried to come up with names for them. Fools was the first thing because these people believed that they were the opposite of nothing for fear of it but in reality were the embodiment of it. "My nothingness today will be this, this, and that!" He put dialog into their mouths that moved but didn't say anything. Even in Hell, the Victim realized, not everything is heard or, even, perceived.

"The Devil has many tricks and this must be one of them. He must think by concealing things from one of his Victims that victim must concentrate and be more attentive, grow those large legs of the mind he was missing when he was alive.

He was entertained when the clots of people turned on one another either over a woman or money. And the arguments between men and women were no different than all the barking of dogs or hissing of cats through the ages, he'd seen it all. Their tears were an old river sagging under this impression that the dogs would heel.

"Nutty creatures, one day you'll have your turn on the perch and see what awful imitators you were!"

* * * * * * * *

In Hell one consumed most of what human beings had produced, over and over again. Every scene, every horrible piece of music, every speech calculated to excite the dullest and deadest of the bunch, every nude sex scene, every secret told to powerful people, and then the final vision: every human being who ever lived lined up shitting as they did when alive, in Egypt, now in Kush, now in Japan, and again in modern America; males and females, poor and wealthy. Billions of shitting asses with blank expressions on their faces their bulging bellies heaving and collapsing; a person in Hell was never far from this terrible vision projected against granite cliffs.

It rode a river down to the nickel core and sent up a vast spout of steam so all the shitters sighed, "ahh," at the precise moment the steam vented through the mantle.

* * * * * * * *

Hell is that place where everything is figured out and no matter what style one has or how much one is ardent, they are two steps ahead of you and have already judged you even as you are overcome with the feeling that Hell is a place where you must justify yourself.

* * * * * * * *

Hell was a visible air that covered the faces of those who did not know. They did not know, we knew, they suffered. A few centuries could be described that way. But who knew had grave responsibilities depicted on the sides of clean wash walls inside of which were infinite arrays of products.

Hell was not necessarily an angry place but one where there were long sighs, as long as a thousand lifetimes in some cases. More than a few lived on their haunches in front of TV screens and watched everything depicted but were not allowed to feel any emotion. Still others were paralyzed with fear of their own shadows which always had strange hats on them with bright white teeth slit across the black of the face. Scientists, and there were many, had to swallow anything made from their ideas. Vast areas of Hell were filled with these types bulging and stretched for miles sometimes with the effect of the things they had helped birth into being. Minor despots were lined up along a barb wire fence and masturbated into a growing river of their own come from which came all their nutrient.

There were, of course, the phony commentators who, even at this late date, wanted influence and to be part of the on-going stupidity. Many made it to their particular level of stupidity and retired, later, only to be dragged away to Hell for taking advantage of useless women. It was a sin afterall to knowingly consume a useless woman when one knew they were useless, yet with a vote and coin purse. Those who agreed with these commentators were assigned to a row of sulphur like incense that jet up into their asses so they leapt disdainfully up and down to some ditty they played on obscure stations late at night. "Oh our asses are on fire but we love him so!" "He makes us feel as though we are knowledgeable even though we have nothing in our brains. It's all in our asses!" And they would bounce up and down as if they were on a hot toilet.

The world in a Hell it doesn't recognize, calls it something else, well there is something....

* * * * * * * *

Hell was for tricksters; for without them there would be no Heaven, no salvation, no connection. All would be a huge devouring spiral we would only recognize at the last fatal moment. "Ah, it doesn't matter where up is down or left is right, it doesn't matter at all whether we live or die, it is all the same!" And then silence and a kind of sucking sound.

Focused on a negative outcome of our own demise proved to be productive.

But so too was that divine spark that was conscious and could see how the passive spirit was fated. That was the thing! Aggression in the face of the eternal mask.

That was, if not the way out of Hell, at least the expression of pride. Anyone inherited a body and certain sense apparatus. Every man, like every centipede knew the dance of love. But only a human being could fashion a mask good enough to get him through life, through the terrible ones as he put it, through the muck and mire, and think how pleasant life could be after all. The mask. It was everything as the old novelists had known.

And yet, on entering Hell, the Devil had demanded every single mask a man had artfully made for himself!

* * * * * * * *

THE TECHNICIAN 

He played and watched himself. There were others. He watched and stared and then would utter something, a piece of information, part of which he would write down. Then he would stare and stare, now his eyes a burning pair of lamps into the white screen to find a scrap of something. He needed it. He knew they needed it. It thrilled him to think they needed it because every need he felt, erased one more humiliation he had suffered at their hands. And that went all the way back to childhood.

And he would think on an idle blank day, "ah, my knowledge creates pressure in them! And they move!" And he felt good about it. He felt that odd curiosity of power every free man was permitted. "It is a power, but I should not take it all for myself. No, it is a power that should be shared by all!" And so he had set up, in his own mind, the rationalization's for everything he did subsequently.

They had laid down the codes and he could access them. Most did not know how to unwrap the innocuous seal from the codes and get to the dense-pack of just about everything. "A grain of sand...." he hummed to himself.

"Little nodes all grown everywhere, the beginning to the end, now....." It had made him a bit nuts and he realized it but then nuttiness was a badge of honor, something that distinguished him from the run of absolute normalcy that had swept the world, where every tooth was white and in place, every pore on the face cleaned, every shirt from a hip store, every beard trimmed, every bag new with little plastic wheels, every conversation consisting of at least one expletive, one where every hand carried a phone, where every woman took her vote seriously, where people laughed at the same sorry jokes.

Life had turned, for him, into a superior joke since he was constantly being rewarded with good things. "I have good things, my peers do not, it worked exactly as I thought it would! God is great and just!" It gave him the outward appearance of humbleness. He always credited others. "Don't think I did anything great....I simply played well with what was here....."

In truth what arose in him amounted to a feeling of being equal to the invisible God. Or, at least of partaking of the invisible God and making it visible in himself, as himself, acting largely in the world.

He was not a mad scientist but a mild technician. He had asked an idle question to himself one day at his desk. "If I convince one person of this godlikeness that is good. That will prevent a kind of bad reputation I might get. If I convince dozens of people my life will change because I will have followers and have to accommodate them. If I convince thousands of people, I will start enacting all the good I know that is in themselves. And if I convince a critical mass of people, then I am a God! My deepest intuition will provide itself out and it is simply a matter of unlocking or liberating that which I already know!"

Thus he had passed through some ersatz modern initiation and rode on the bus knowing that his world would be different now.

The technician was especially keen on the awareness that technical objects were never expressions of an individual but a collaborative effort. "Ah, but if I am the strongest, the brightest of the collaborators that gives me a chance to have power over the collaboration. Why not? Isn't that the natural way in this bleak world? I will transform it from a bleak world to a world of light and play."

He could not believe the luck he had when the world climbed onto the new contraption and started to build things on it. "I know how it is built, I know the hidden walls and trap doors, I know the building is forever, therefore I am fully privileged on it and will cut off a piece for a staging area...."

He didn't chuckle like a madman thinking these thoughts but, rather, wrote a few notes and slipped them into a binder he kept for such things. He had, now, an inch of neat notes so that the folder could hardly close. His plans had become so intimately wound up in his mind and will that he had quit date stamping each note because he knew, in the end, they would all come together in a moment of time and be greater than any separate note he may have taken.

The pride a man takes for good planning is well-documented.

If nothing else happened he would always be proud of his process of documentation; his superb planning skills that were, as he described it to himself, "the grace of God."

He not only could organize, he could build and before long had built something they wanted and they came and made him riches. Riches beyond his wildest dreams.

"So I will take my riches and do some good and prove that I am a good god and not a bad, oppressive one."

After a while it became an oppression. "They must think me a good god and not a bad one. They must believe I am a good God and not one on the dark side of things. They must, they must, they must!"

And surprisingly it slowly became so. The oppression was ascribed to the shock of the new, to the imposition of learning curves, as the technician evolved into a god. "Oh, he is so good to us, he is such a charmer, he must be, at least, the offspring of gods. And even though we know them to be imaginative creatures they are real if we are to become more than barbarians or animals."

So he had his way for a time and thrown up from the crowd in this way he became, undoubtedly, quite nervous. "You must learn to hide your nervousness from the crowd." An advisor, a female, kept trying to remind him.

Now it was time for his first miracle, for if a human being is a God he must demonstrate some fantastic power that the people don't have. He thought a long time about this.

He decided he would wait until the Conference of Gods took place in a great city along the west coast.

There at the Conference, all the tricks would be played. One could learn a thing or two from a credible god. He could spot what he called "the lifers," that had been around from the beginning and claimed they were there even before the beginning.

The Gods, of course, were a curious sort. They were defined by the absence of anything or anyone who would challenge their grandiose title. They simply rushed in to fill a void and finding it an excellent place, lodged there without a thought. It was a kind and soft spot and people jostled around in it because there could be a big payoff. That was the lure at any rate.

A God could extract revenge; that was a great advantage. A god could act with impunity, yes he could see that. A heartless impunity! It flashed through him but he calmed himself with soft words.

"No, there is silliness in the human animal and we don't want it to romp away when he sees its next meal."

The one excellent thing about being a god was that one didn't obey anything but the dictates of ones own whims. A god could easily discriminate through 99 percent of what mere humans had to plow through and dismiss it with a slight jerk of the neck.

There were wild flourishes expected by a god, a kind of performance was demanded and in reality he had been a rather boring character, flourishing only in his mastery of the New.

* * * * * * * *

Even a god has nightmares. They occurred when it dawned on him that he could never prove he was a god, so that he would always be challenged. And challenged, it was very likely he'd be dethroned as a fraud and be worse off than he was before.

He redoubled his efforts on every front and advanced through the graphics and numbers at his beck and call.

* * * * * * * *

A god would both embrace the god that had been replaced and embrace the idea that god was no longer possible. A good god covered all bases because without that capacity what is a god? "He knows nothing! He is merely an opinion!" So, they would often yell at him in the street as he passed, nonplussed but with certainty. It brought him pressure but then he believed he had been born for this sort of pressure and it felt right to him, it felt like a destiny of some sort and he embraced it.

They were not skeptical at the Conference of Gods but rather collegial, exchanging any number of god-tricks used to get the people past a certain threshold.

* * * * * * * *

"God is a genre, don't you know?" He is that slice, that fragment that we believe in and gives us the ability to block everything else out. That is the trick of it." So he was telling a guy in the group who didn't have the same sanguine feelings about it. After all, things men made were very limited and broke down and never were able to hold to the credibility that they promised at the very beginning.

But then, he reasoned, when gods are challenged they have the power to ignore and simply do what they intended to do and that was that. There was no conversation necessary.

* * * * * * * *

What galled them the most was that even after they had killed millions off, the horde-enemies of the classic gods, the people remained staunchly skeptical. What, haven't they felt the fear yet? That was always in the frontal lobe somewhere.

What they feared the most that like all gods before them they would be forgotten. That the future would simply take what it wanted from them and kick them to the side and bury them along with their grandiose ideas of themselves. There was a kind of justice to it without question.

The new gods rarely wanted justice. They always felt they had been the ones unjustly treated, so everything was gravy after that. A certain type of modern wrath would build in them and then everything was justified, everything would be made good. A brain that had studied science was especially acute at that reasoning; science or engineering although the engineers were so inept that no one took them seriously, even when they claimed they were gods. It was a lame and shrill claim. "Ah, we all could claim that. Prove the claim. Work the claim. There it all is; in that nexus."

"If all are gods then who are gods?" So the phonies were driven out fairly quickly and what was left were sincere gods who agonized over their sincerity but who believed, deep down, that they were entitled to be the gods that were lacking in the lives of many people. Not all, but a critical mass of people who gave up the whole silly question of gods because death was so real to them. How could gods exist when death was so permanent a fixture in the lives of people? If, that is, one was not an automaton and fearless before mysterious questions. In other words, a free person would look into the sky, see the opaque nature of the ground, experience death as a time-moving event and say, "your gods are all in your brain." That would not explain anything away. It was not a positive modality, an absolute or anything of that nature. But many lived and died with such a mindset. We can imagine that even in the most profound religious periods of time, there were people with that mindset; those who simply faked it as the times required and who said to themselves, "it's all in their heads and yet they act as though it is more than that."

Yet, if it was not in their heads then what would be in their heads? Perhaps everything was in the head. Perhaps nothing was in the head.

Gods were infamous and bodacious liars. That was a two-edged sword. They could lie because they had power. But they lied so much they were exchanged easily from one epoch to another. After all, it is our representation of gods that is the thing. A god can be anything but when we depict and define the god, that is something. And gods and poets had long left the scene, so it seemed a quaint, ineffective question. A famed theologian, distraught and impervious to the urgency of crowds, was scorned and laughed at among the privileged few. That wrote the tale of the time as well as anything else. "You hate God because you hate the possibilities you have smothered!" The theologian lashed out in bitterness but also because he feared for his life.

After a long day that could have been a thousand years the way it seemed to linger and move like a tantalizing odor, the technician laid down to sleep. He had dreams. He started to sweat. It was not the content of the dreams, so much as their volition. They were wild and asymetrical dreams. He was being hunted, then became the hunter. Water rose and innundated everything. Then monsters of every description appeared from the back of the dream. Funny and ironic monsters leaped out and taunted him. Gross women appeared with grotesquely scarred and huge breasts and no sex organs. Dogs lapped his feet and angels were seen shuttling in and out of various scenes as if floating on air. Then it ended. There was silence and blankness in the dream. A calmness. He thought at any moment he would again, shoot out of his body and go elsewhere. And when he woke he bolted upright in bed.

"There is nothing so desperate as a believing man who is in fear for his life!"

* * * * * * * *

THE GODS ARE MAD 

We arrived on time, most of us, and formed a circle around the subject of our interest, a man who said he would reveal "all that needed to be known." We pretended to come with great anticipation for his glorious words but in reality we had gotten together online and talked about him, about his request and decided that he should be able to vent to keep him from the red zone of human nastiness. It was something we had learned was necessary with the vagaries of human nature, with its long history of abuses and crimes.

Our solution, ad hoc as it was, was a perfectly human and modern one. An advanced one to be truthful about it. Put the poor bugger in the center and let him have his say. If he didn't have his say we could imagine him doing any number of terrible things.

"Everywhere are the killers of spirit. They know, after many trials and errors, where to hit, where to blast through to the heart to destroy the internal richness that is given by God or Buddha or Christ. "It's Us vs. Them and you really don't believe in Them, do you?" So, our friend lectured us as if it were a proposition most good people would be faced with.

First they kill the future, then they kill all reasonable belief in the present. After that is a clean disposal of the physical body which doesn't much matter anyway if the spirit goes.

Killers of the spirit do not build things. They find the entrance, small as a knat's head, and find a way into the core of the heart to work there for, sometimes, a day, sometimes many years. Each of us who gathered had a bit of experience with this nasty germ. We dealt with it as we could but in the end it was simple humiliation that drove it out of us. In my case it was discovering a person who contradicted every idea I held sacred. "My God," I thought to myself. "The pyramid is flipped upsidee down!" This confrontation took more than a year to work through me. I worked on it on a daily basis and not even causual distractions like playing pickup basketball in the open air courts or sex with the girlfriend could do it. Always, at an unexpected moment, the process would flash across my mind. I would practically stop with the ball in my hand or just lay down over the poor woman, my old girfirend, and wait for the flash to disappear.

The person so afflicted by the conscious designs of these killers will not know it for a long time but eventually he will start to feel that loss of feeling for things, that loss for a grand large future that leaps up fully structured and alive as happens to young people from time to time.

Oh yes, the killers will move into the real world and occupy important positions. They establish forms and quickly are part of the environment like a new office building or a new sign about prohibiting nuclear material from entering the city.

They will try to do everything, including telling your tales.

They were not particular and didn't care what "time" they lived in. "Ah, it is a democracy, so we will knock the spirit of it out of their hearts." And when autocracy came they said the same. And theocracies too.

It is important, as we look at the etiology of this particular virus, to make sure to note that the first thing they went after was the relation between power and those who obeyed power or were, at least, connected to it.

The killers either made them happy obeyers of the rulers and their structure or as haters of everything and everyone that had power. Sometimes they became larger movements that the politically ambitious had to navigate to gain or retain power. And after awhile, especially in democracy, it was a very predictable thing and once the obeyers and haters figured this out they lost the heart for it and simply waited for death and the end of time for them.

The people always assumed they were destroyed by the infinite array death and sent on their way to the horizons of mystery. But, no, they were always done in by their politics, whether it was local town politics, as one had in the medieval period or the massive, manipulative "democratic" politics of todays mass societies. The political animal was as malleable as they come and simply adapted to what the forces stamped at any given time. "Long and stout and beyond knowing. OK, I will fake a few things." "Short, brutish and without any defense against it, OK that is manageable." "Warriors determining everything, OK, I will make the warriors believe something that will protect me." And on and on it went. It was hard to decide whether the politics of the labyrinth or the politics of the solitary thug was more dangerous. One was more likely to destroy the spirit in men and women while the other was more likely to destroy the body of men and women.

An epoch could be determined by whether the people wanted their spirits or their bodies destroyed. That was one act of freedom they never gave up.

And we should make it clear that these killers were not "nonconformists" and acting in the spirit of de-hypnotizing their poor victims from the glare of the form of power they happened to be thrown into. If it were that benign then why worry about it? No, it was a much different case of infecting people with the least amount of hope they could have without leaping off the bridge or going nuts in the streets with the knowledge that nothing mattered because we were simply freaks of nature, no better or different than different colored and shaped bugs, and we didn't do ourselves in and we kept out of harms way for the same reason a bug did; it was programmed to do so. We had no choice in the matter. And once this fact had penetrated the poor person, it was straight to the bridge or leaping around wildly in the street until the cops shot him.

Since the purpose of these destroyers was to destroy them with their own nature, they required more than a simple deflation of belief to do the job. And there was an art to it without a doubt. There was only a thin membrane between the shred of hope and nothingness. They had to maintain the membrane but at the lowest threshold possible. This the killers learned over centuries, and passed it on as a secret of sorts.

It was an excellent thing during those ages when the killers of spirit decided to run for office. They were tired of destroying the lives of non-important, little people and set their sites on being enterprises. Unfortunately, as a consequence of destroying mere nations much was swept away and their boredom wreaked even more damage than they had wanted.

I know when I was infected I kept asking myself, "what is a story?" It was, after all, my "profession", even though I made no money from writing innocuous stories. To kill my stories was to kill my spirit so they knew where I was weak. It can't be forced but at the very least I trusted that something was possible. And trust is the bottom-line of most things that count. And it hangs by a thread at times.

We are taught not to "talk down" but rather "entertain." It is a tempting thing to do. I think that in my moments of clarity. The people are very easily distracted from lives and worlds that are monstrous and beyond their understanding. They are lucky in a way. The danger is if one is turned into a paranoiac who views life as having no rhyme or reason and there to exploit.

And no one believes the hero will come along anytime soon and save the bastards. It is much easier to imagine the hero as seeing the impossibility of his heroism and rather, turning his powers to account on behalf of his self-interest.

Oh lovely emptiness, you are too tempting! Your empty boredom is not redeemable and floats out there in a kind of abysmal eternity. It is so sad.

No matter how long they study your history they will always get it wrong. They will simply ascribe it to what is profoundly lacking in themselves and they will pass the torch onward as if they had accomplished something great.

The madman stopped now and made an excuse to leave the room. We were in a circle, standing up and looked at each other with goofy sneers, some were visibly relieved he had left the room. When he lost his sense of responsibility it was expected that, to get back in, he must account for himself, for his lapse of connection with what was good and necessary.

He called himself a writer, unlike others who had various titles, but few in the room believed it. Where were his works? Where were the books, the proofs? And more than a few in the room were, in fact, writers who had sold articles and had agents and so on. Who was this phony, this poseur? Later he e-mailed us that his "absolution" would take place at a location of his choosing. "And the door will be locked so no one will get in after noon."

He claimed that there were "killers of the spirit" everywhere but provided no proof. He offered it as a rationalization of himself, of his action. He made grandiose statements about history and narratives but gave no proof that he knew what he said or believed any of it. "All life and history can be reduced to the acts of excretion by famous and powerful men." He would give one example from Sumer that happened 4000 years ago, trying to impress us. "The elimination caused a cholera outbreak and killed everyone in Ur. This had a butterfly effect throughout the near east, the fertile crescent as I heard is described in childhood." . But we listened because we were good human beings who had run into our own problems.

Soon enough he was moving in perfect concentric circles pissing as he went announcing that he was here to save us. And that life would destroy us if we didn't know his system.

Most of us had gotten beyond the thought that the crazy were merely illuminated beings, ahead of their times and so unfit for the normal stupidity of life. We had believed it once. Ah, a long ago fit for wonderful crazies.

No, now we believed that the insane posed a community problem and had to be cordoned off so they wouldn't do much damage. And we were more fearful of the damage a nut could do than anything else. "Keep the nut behind the ropes," we'd hear often. "Just don't disturb this nut, you never know what he'll do." And sometimes it was a she but mostly a he.

* * * * * * * *

Of course, the most disturbing thing about the poor crazed in our world, is that they always say what we wish we could say but don't want to reveal ourselves. Since every age is, by nature, a repressed one the contents of the nut-class always conform to the nature of an age's repression. One era it is the fear of ghosts so the nuts are always talking to ghosts. Another age it is ferociously yelping and scratching human beings, and so the mad scratch and yelp as no others in the community are permitted to do. In other ages it is a sex thing and the crazy engage in wild sexual behavior, in public, but with no real partners, a pure simulation out in the street like dogs.

In our age, of course, it is criticism. It is impolite to criticize anything based on the fact we have freedom and power, as people, as a nation and so any criticism is seen as a crack in the code. In fact, it is only the young who are permitted this because everyone knows what happens to youth and from its liberation from the code will come new ideas.

* * * * * * * *

We were happily successful in moving the mad object into a position where he could be helped. Not only did it take dexterity but it took a special sort of humor that one or two of us possessed. One of us, for instance, could take any credible statistic and make it into an uproarious joke. And we listened and some of us said, "it takes a magnificent talent and spirit to turn a mere stat into a joke we can all laugh at."

We felt good we could participate in life at this level. It gave us moral courage and filled in a void left during the young days when we were convinced all the others lived life while we were simply observing.

And we felt that in helping the mad man we were, in a general but real way, helping all of humanity. After all, isn't suffering a kind of madness? Doesn't it come from the inability to grasp who we are and so be forever out of sync with that fluid known as happiness?

Of course it is; there is no need to discuss it. It was fait 'acompli and those who argued obviously did not know. And we would gather in a corner and bend our heads toward the center and put a hand over our mouths and laugh, "ah, he did not know! Had he known earlier it would have saved us, as well as him, a great deal of pain."

THE RESTORATION 

He would never admit it; it only dawned on him late, that indeed he had passed through a period of time analogous to a "restoration" period in history. That is, tumultuous events, a break-out of nuttiness in the citizens, jagged tensions, wild shouts are slowly, invariably replaced by peace and quiet and the dominance of the institutions. Respect returns to authority, a sense of stability that appears eternal descends to all the people.

It seems to be simply a waiting through, but on reflection he could see, no, it was something real and profound, therefore a value and thing to be cherished.

And, naturally, at all times there was the sense of being attacked, before and after the restoration but the act itself made the attacks moot. The success of the restoration depended on the ability to fend off attack, so in many ways, attack was wanted, even cultivated. This created the individual forms of restoration that broke off from the general cultural one. It was hushed up for a long time but now an integral part of social development. Most everyone went through his or her "restoration."

In the few years before the restoration there was a kind of wildness difficult to define; literal insanity and other bugaboos of the modern era. People sliced apart from each other, leaving gaping wounds and useless conflicts better dealt with in the lab or clinic. So much waste! That was the final thought before he sought out the restoration or, in fact, it sought him out.

It began with a game of chess; it ended with a murder. He was an amateur at the game of chess, a happy amateur; there was no pressure although he felt he had to win. But if he didn't win he always chalked it up to his laziness in front of the noble game. "The game demands I do what I least want to do, that is, abstract from reality its patterns. Why isn't reality what it says it is, that and nothing else?" It was a test, he realized that. They wanted to find out so much! They began to show a generosity he hadn't experienced before. That too was a sublime test, a seductive one that trip him up more than once.

For one thing his special glasses were returned to him after a long time of being locked away in a safe. He knew where the safe was but didn't know the combination and no matter how many times he pleaded for the glasses he was ignored. He couldn't read without them and ended up listening and watching television until he felt like an some child-gorilla who reacts to everything in its brain it doesn't understand. He had been measured for the glasses by an incredibly precise machine he had ever seen. Without them he found himself uncontrollably tapping his hand on his knee but then, becoming conscious of the gesture, would stop in mid-air and look at his hand for a long time as if it were a weapon of some sort.

After the restoration he was hired as a purchasing agent and sent to Europe and Asia to buy canned foods for military families. He noticed a new sense of confidence in himself, a new expansiveness that wasn't there before. "So, this is the feeling that I have been missing all this time," he thought to himself.

He was in a new place, a new phase of development; what would become known as his "restoration." And later, naturally, many people took credit for the restoration. "Oh, if it weren't for me the poor boy would have perished long ago." "He really was adrift and then I clued him into some things and he found himself." "We always worried that he would be a lost cause but I think the attention on him, the pressure, helped him find a way...."

Little did they know that he had concocted the restoration years before, in another era, another place. He had seen its necessity. "It will be necessary for me to be restored and it will go this way...." He forgot this detail as he was going through it and only with great exertion was he able to recapture the strategy he had in place to deal with the "stripping" as he called it.

Time was a crucial ingredient in the restoration; without some sympathy for time, some obedience to its powers, some way to honor its absoluteness, the restoration would have been superfluous. "Oh yeah, a crisis of some sort. I see, I see it all the time....what difference does it make? You make too much of your own problems...." He had always wanted to answer those who made these judgments but was quiet. "No, behind your back, time will resolve the problems and I will be set free just at the moment time seizes you and makes you a fool." It was a kind of vow that he took with him throughout the period.

And make no mistake about it; bitterness runs through the core of restoration. After all, if we can't come to terms with all the awful things that have happened to us then what can we really do? We simply schlep from one episode to the next and then die quietly one autumn evening with no one watching. Every person must have the will to restoration. There, I think I came up with a valuable theory. Every person must have the will to restoration and if he lacks it or is not taught this he lives in a repressive environment; one that he must resist.

That's when he had the conversation with an old friend who appeared out of the blue as all this was transpiring. You have to understand that he was the type who drifts from people and once they are out of his range rarely shows up So he was taken back when the old pal showed up one day with a big smile on his face. "Long time no see!" "Yes, yes you are right, long time." He fumbled over his words for a bit then invited the guy into his living space where they sat in what was apparently his kitchen.

"What's going on? What's happening?"

"Oh, just going through a restoration you know, I had a lot stripped away from me. It was brutal. I'm glad you didn't see me."

His friend looked at him and didn't say anything for a long time. "Well, it's good you're getting restored."

"Yes, yes it is."

"It doesn't happen to everyone. I had a cousin who got stripped and never returned. He's out there somewhere wandering like a lost sheep."

"I remembered my strategy in the nick of time, that's what saved me."

"Right, right that's smart, we should all have a strategy in place.

"I suppose you are clear and never went through it."

"Never," he said stoutly.

The friend left after a time. They agreed to meet again before the year was out and the friend wished him well. After the friend left, he felt odd as thought the restoration was a burden and not a privledge that he had won by his strategy. No, the man was impressed and asked the right questions but still, there was something incommunicable that said, "I've been through it and you have not." At the same time it said, "I had no need for a restoration and you did." It was odd.

On reflection he realized that he, too, could have been wandering around lost and absurd without a stitch of protection for years and years. It was a vague memory now. "And at the time it was so powerful. Forgetfulness must be some divine intervention." He remembered certain places in the city where he had been and he thought that many things had happened to him there. It was like a dream that is totally involving but fades the moment the eyes open and, soon, forgotten, not fully and ocmpletely fogotten but for all intents and purposes forgotten. He may have murdered someone during that time. No, impossible he thought. I would remember that and, besides, they wouldn't renovate a killer.

He knew, at the beginning, that things were flowing out of him and all things that had marked him flowed out, out and gone. Treasured boyhood memories and the toys he loved. The careful rationalizations of authority he had learned in school. The garb of protection that kept the world at bay. Habits, good and bad. Whoosed out.

He remembered that much but then it could have been days or months or years even. That was the troubling thing although he was careful now not to make it a troubling thing and to be grateful for the renovation.

* * * * * * * *

And he had seen those in the full powers of the restoration, resist, and blame all and everything on their misery. Pathetic fools! They simply reveal that they are empty, bankrupt, and that they are the problem not the myriad conditions of the world they point to as the source. It became a truism: "Half a restoration is no restoration at all."

Sometimes, it is true, it lasts for decades and the mind is pulled through the decades like a reticent animal being hauled out of the jungle to the zoo. It knows. It has been warned but there it is, now, fighting some force it knew existed and it has it by the painful parts and image after image is emptied into the animal. "I will pace up and down an empty cage, concrete, and they will feed me meat at evening and think that evens it all out." And yet, the animal reasons, if I attack and kill this beast they will have me in no seconds flat. I will be dead and then they will eat me unceremoniously. And even an animal at this late day, has pride."

A scene of beauty can often be the catalyst to our restoration. It attacks us when we feel unapproachable, as though we know everything now and can learn nothing from, even, the scholar. "Oh, he is only in a thin world of his own making. And I am here, between the blades of axes that would cut me down! So I have loyalty to what I have experienced and not their mere words."

And by the time the heads begin speaking, lined up as they are on a placid street, it is too late. The populace has made up their mind and will not have it any other way. "Bring us victory today!" The heads shout. Only one head says what was true for him. "Nothing is lost!"

THE FALLEN 

There was a kind of fire in the sky, discernable from a distance and yet interpreted differently by different people as they watched the phenomena streak through them, carrying dreams themselves into the dark universe.

The planet, looking at the planet, seeing it as a vast whole had become rather boring so, after awhile, they all reverted back to thinking of the nation, community, religion and other artifacts of the limited scope of experience and knowledge. Who or what could contain the feeling of immense reality in the ball of grasss and dirt and water known as the Earth? From a distnace it looked like a bald head, cleanly shaven like a penitent ready to confess his sins.

People knew, eventually, that the vision was not enough. There had to be some meaning, some substance running down on the surface otherwise simply looking at the damn thing meant nothing; was a kind of vanity, a trick offered up by the newer technologies, although it was suspected that mystics and others had seen the vision long before. And they had lived in caves or underground fortresses near where the molten lava was, it was hard to say.

Hell one finally concluded, was fifteen miles deep in the physical Earth but an eternal distance in the spirit; "fine, poets existed even at this late date." Poets knew that the rhythm of life was dependent on the speed of life and its obstacles. A jet flying at 600 mph was, after all, resisted by the air but it flew anyway at a speed that people were not used to. Wild drivers tested obstacles at every moment. And even pedestrians were resisted by rotten voices calling out obscenely in the tree-shaded avenues or a stiff wind or, even, crowds moving as one, against their own wishes, the other way, as though collectively they had thought it a good thing; had collected downtown and decided they would trip up the one pedestrian by walking opposite against him. Life, with too much time on its hands, is a dangerous animal.

They had fallen; well, it wasn't the first or last time but it was quite remarkable that, despite all the resources and warnings, they had fallen yet again. It's true that some had struggled back to the surface after enormous exertion and had plenty of tales to tell. Some had been lifted up and out as in a pleasant dream and deposited somewhere they had never been before with only the clothes on their back and a few pieces of currency in their pockets. A few were actual agents assigned to come up and persuade as many as possible that the Earth contained multitudes, all with personalities and histories, and that the living was not too bad. And they were always instructed to say, following their speil, "after all, we all have to die."

If we knew where Hell was, then where was Purgatory and, indeed, Heaven itself? This was a kind of mission after all the necessities had been taken care of. At least for those who believed that the necessities need not be layered on each other, endlessly like some sedimentary rock that grows as the minerals are deposited. Ah, we will add another layer old man and stand back like an artist and decide that life, at this point, is a good thing.

They had gone thorugh Hell but denied it and left it for the kids to figure out. No, in reality the search for Purgatory and Heaven was left to a kind of idiot-class who had not acquired things but kept walking up and down the street looking for pennies. "Nuts," the kind-hearted had said from their windows, looking at the debacle of people walking up and down the street straining to find pennies along the curb perhaps or under a parking meter. "Just plain nuts."

Terrible, wrathful story to tell!

The fallen, at first, were quite pleased by their fate. "We are where we should be and let us not wish for anything else." But after awhile, it got old. And they decided that a fallen state was a bad one, a maleficent one that they really shouldn't have to suffer. "After all, we have done our falling, now it is someone elses turn at it."

The fallen are recognized by the empty tears they spill over something they don't understand. "Where is your ability to understand?" "Don't you know that knowlegde is power?" We want to shake them up so their brains start to operate but all that comes are the empty tears.

The fallen had money and wicked smiles; those smiles that say, "the world has told me to be as greedy as I can, I have fulfilled the worlds directive, and now I am here, in a good place, a position I never thought I'd have."

And they had to have a beautufil woman by their side. The beautiful woman signaled, again, that the world had found a true son.

And we had always hoped they lived happily after all. That was one thing we discussed when the subject came up. After all, Hell is a laborious place, chock full of sheer boredom where the condemned people come and go wanting to buy and sell but with nothing to sell and no means to buy. They pace up and down along this ten thousand mile sidewalk pausing for a moment to speak to someone they knew in the life above. Two old business partners, for instance, recognize each other by putting up their hands in surprise, with hardly an expression on their faces. They don't touch. They speak in whispers and move on as though they are as restless in Hell as they were on Earth; as though both Hell and Earth are not adaquete for their energies.

Some of course, are simply transported up to the surface and given a name, a superficial life and made to try and convince fellow humans that God is real, Hell is real and so forth. This is the first stage of redemption and results in people going crazy for no reason, conflicts in and out of family, religion getting a bad name and so on.

All who come to the Hellish regions are told, immediately, that something worse exists even further down. The dead are not adventuresome. If there is a rock out in the deep, lonely stretches of Hell new arrivals will find it and hide behind it. Popular media has it almost right. Their portrayals are, unfortuantely, usually literary and based on things like Dante's Inferno believing in themselves that if they are so literary their words will remain on the surface of the planet for a bit longer. The creators of these vanities are thrown down deep of course and kept there as zoo specimins for the grand parade of souls who venture down in Hell.

Those who had bounced back and forth between Earth and Hell were the worst of the bunch. They always thought they were entering paradise and had smiles on their faces, in Hell, and on the surface of the planet. It never dawned on them that paradise might be something way beyond what they were used to.

To the vast majority of moderns it was shocking that both Hell and Paradise actually existed. They never expected it. When they perished, at the last breath, they assumed that was it and hoped people they left behind had a good image of them and treated their memory well. But then they were whisked all around and given a glimmer of paradise if they had been ok in life, but certainly spent time in Hell which was a kind of repository of all souls that were going to be sent out throughout the universe, depending on criteria no one had figured out. So it was even more shocking when a religious type died and realized that he had no privlidge in this domain unless he had been utterly perfect, which was never the case.

They were not transported in bussess or trains but by thought; thought would convert them to a seed of light and poof, off they would go depending on he or she who directed the thought. The dead did not escape mystery! It lay behind some great, thick wall and was whispered about but never revealed. And besides, those who came down for the first time were busy orientating themselves since no one told them a damn thing. There were no classes. There was not a team of people to check them in. And on reflection it was stunning to figure out that there was more freedom, sheer freedom, in Hell than anywhere else. It created a buoyant freeling in some, a sense of horrific dread in others.

More than a few would stand in the middle of Hell and stare at the top of it; the top of ragged boundaries that kept the surface of Earth from bursting down into the core of Hell itself.

When it started to sink in that Hell was a physical place, as real as the stadium filled with people or the car they were driving, they would get very depressed and start to blame all those influences that had tried to convince them that, no, Hell is merely an invention by men to keep people in line. Most in their circle had accepted the premise and lived as if nothing would happen to them. One of the first punishements of Hell was that all were equipted with the rapturous feeling that infinity moved in them but the more they felt it, the smaller came the space they were alloted to live in and move around in during their long stay in Hell. More than a few lived by rocks, inside boxes no bigger than eyeballs and containing a squirming figure who was madly trying to reverse the image of infinitude. His mind was slowly sucked down into the impossiblity of living in a box as big as an eyeball and so the misfortunate one was robbed of the remnants of rapturous feelings of flying free through the empty universe, at the speed of light, dancing and zooming through clusters of galaxies and all the life they contained. That quite ended.

Most people up on the surface never understood their role in the scheme of things. Only when it was too late did they realize what a monstrous mistake their lives had been; event-filled or empty it was a huge mistake that they now regretted, outfitted as they were for new digs in an unfriedly place where the condemened were forced to know each other.

There was a kind of air of suffocation in this spacious Hell. Occassionally one could hear the distnat cries of old popular music but then they would disappear. The walls were lit up with images from above that, one supposed, was to make the people suffer in the knowledge that others were having more fun or were just enjoying life as it was meant to be enjoyed. Scenes of common household fidelity, lovemaking between men and women who appeared to love each other, bright blue skies with a hint of winter moon in it, an arena filled with cheering people, men standing in line to make expensive purchases and more were here.

What was noticeable after a bit, and strange when one thought about it, was the absence of animals of any sort. There was hardly an environment in existence that didn't have some animal besides the human one. Where was the faithful dog or the mysterious cat? Where was the powerful horse and funny monkey? Some of the inhabitants apparently saw this fact after some time and began to imitate the sounds of animals they missed. Thrown down tribemen from the Amazon were especially colorful as they sang out the songs of many tropical birds. Strangely though, rather than beautifying the place and giving it diginity, all it did was make it seem like a madhouse. In Hell and crazy too! That inevitably, is what a newcomer said.

THE SHRIEK

They shriek when the truth hits them. By then it's way too late and life dissembles in the natural way it does. We, who observe, have certain feelings and look over the landscape with a muted, understated anger as though we should have known all along. We did know! We predicted it. We had visions of it, no question.

The shriek distorts their features and is inhuman. It is difficult to know whether the inhuman is attempting to leave them or to possess them but there it is. A puzzle. What is it doing? How are the pieces related? When the inhunman laughs and hunman cries what does it signify?

It is a city and devours souls. Many paintings have shown this, especially in the more creative periods of painting. Those painters who could visualize the whole of the city were usually melancholic about the fact their vision meant nothing and offered them nothing in return. But then their paintings must have encouraged less melancholic men to desire power over that which was depicted.

As members of a democracy we have nothing to worry about. Go forth and visualize and have visions! The bigger the better. And yes we will try to gain power over what you have depicted. Yet, we are swallowed up by something much greater than ourselves. It is perhaps at the peak of their power, that they shriek. Who is to know this? We watch and observe and can nearly predict the moment when the mouth stretches open to that inevitable drawn out sound so piercing and awful to our soft ears.

There are owners of baseball teams or horses, for instance, who must shriek in the privacy of their own homes. That is their privilege. For us, the unprivileged, we must shriek in public and hope they don't take us away to an institution, penal or mental. That's all we can hope for. If we are allowed, then, to "exist" so much the better. We will open our bottle of wine, eat our cheese and piece of whole wheat bread and celebrate what great thing life is. And of course, relatives are trying to take your life away and forces are conspiring to make a mockery of everything you hold dear. But if this weren't the case, would you dare to shriek?

We shriek at the failure implicit when they build things and yet they build things. We are happy they do. If they did not build things after their failure to do so, then life would be even worse than we perceive it, from a distance, to be certain.

For all the vortex of activity we don't jump in at any point but, rather, abstract it all and try to understand it. That is, we try to understand the unself- conscious ones, the happy breed of people who neither know nor care of anything but what they inherit and bop around from point A to point B wanting nothing negative said about it. A few of them have weapons to protect themselves. Very well. Experience has taught us a few things. Stay away from those who have weapons to protect themselves! They will use the weapons when you least expect it.

We throw up our pathetic notes, up there where they belong I suppose and think they actually take cognizance of them. No. The reality is that they direct their piss on them and then laugh and comment on what a wonderful show they are part of. It is Florence without the art. It is as though Rome had lost all of its nobility and the farting peasants had taken over and dragged the sentient ones into the vast portals of the Coliseum where huge galleys rammed each other and threw fire on each others decks until one blew up in flames and all the persons lost. Our world and we will make you bow to it and love it. So said the peasants when the nobles were all dead.

We look out at them, the cameras capture their furtive movements waiting to pounce and beat-up some poor unfortunate character. We could have told him it was going to happen, it was predictable but we lacked the lines of communication at that moment, so all was lost. We did not own the lines of communication and we could hardly identify them when they were right in front of our eyes.

The shriek can be a friend in dreams. It can handle the odd twists that occur in those confabulations. Little mind shits is what they are. The mind has to evacuate itself and flush it away somewhere. Pity the poor fools who write them down and swim in it all day long. But, occasionally, we have been in one of these episodes, so epic and powerful, we know something great has been revealed to us. But then great water or wind comes up and we are carried through the air, effortlessly, to a situation that is impossible, surrounded by ghouls of some sort or, at least, people who don't like us and constantly watch us as if measuring every step. It's at that point that a shriek can come in and chase everything out and we struggle with our eyes until they are open, again, to the night and the few odd shapes that surround us.

We realize, briefly and one might say with a blinding flash of light, that the few objects that surround us have all come from dreams at one point or the other. And now they are surrounding us as mute testaments or ready to transmogrify if and when we say the right word.

I think every religion, every ethnicity, every nationality must have its own version of the shriek. One can see similarities, across all platforms, enough so to make the judgement that the shriek is human and belongs to all human beings, fortunate or unfortunate, travelers or homebodies, beautiful or ugly. Studies have been made and posted on the internet. Very serious people comment on it and say that the differentiation of shrieks through time and other lands proves that it is both an indwelling property but, as well, formed by the environment we happen to come from. So, certainly, one can say that one shriek is more privileged than another one. And one shriek is really a call for power and another one is really a kind of irrational disgust; it all depends on the person and where he or she is from after all.

So it is ours very good....why shouldn't we possess our own shriek? What would we have without it? We'd be pretty poor and misbegotten I think.

No matter how they try they can't reproduce it as it actually is. They fake it and then employ legions of PR types to convince you and I that it is the real thing. It isn't. Don't listen.

We need the characters to speak for themselves. They get awfully impatient and angry if they believe you are speaking for them. Come! To the center of the stage and tell your tales......

They are running along the olive orchards when the heat is blazing on the goodman's back. They run furiously thinking that if they are ten seconds too late it is vastly too late and they must open their veins in order to purge themselves of guilt. It is a ghastly thing but prevails even during our so-called enlightened age. They want some representation of their guilt and then an excuse to run wild and crazy through the awful avenues that will have them and reject them at the same time. Oh nation, something moves through you the like of which we haven't seen for centuries!

Oh the beautiful attempt to redeem it through the voice that falters when traffic is flowing all the night. It flows with voracious tail lights and sounds that seem to bound from the steel objects out into the midnight air.

* * * * * * * *

And old man, you linger too long in your obscene nostalgia and don't recognize that time moves forward. Very well, so what. It was a good thing, this life. Move on. Move forward. For gods sake, everything is forgiven and forgotten in the end.

The shriek was heard across memories thatched together on hopeless evenings when the ballgame was on. It was, after all, nothingness and nothingness was attained and it was very sad. Something unretrievalbe and bouncing out there, along the horizon of time, out there, real and substantial but lost all the same. So even the old men shriek when it is too late and they lay out, drunken, in front of the games as though life is only this and nothing else.

The shriek was like a forbidden city rumored to have existed among travelers no one paid mind to. Oh they wrote their books but the books languished in old bookstores and were finally retired. Out there! A forbidden place where those who listen hear the shrieks of the people, even those unborn. Oh terrible place, outside the thin membrane above the Earth where cities are placed, their freeways a kind of grey string with lights dragged behind them.

They shriek in the absence of conversations. No voices, even, pleasant female voices on the naked beaches of the pleasant mind that decides that, after all, life is good; a tanned thing, with tall cool drinks and beautiful ships to pass the time. "Here they come," one cries. "The ships!" And they are spectacular, we have never seen anything so wonderful as yet. They pass and we wonder who built them, who was so persistent that these fabulous ships attained form? "Oh, it's a miracle," one said, among the many who crowded the beach that day.

Oh men who beat up other men for telling the truth, the shriek in you has not yet appeared. But it will. And perhaps you will confuse it with a fart and go on to the mall to buy the basket filled with sausages and cheeses. No, the truth can be painful and it is worth killing and dying for; or against, whatever the case. And certainly we are all called on, at one point, to see whether we are capable of dying for a truth or killing to prevent one from coming into being. It's all up in the air.

And the air is where grand gestures are made and, observing them, one feels free. Finally, free! After all of this, after the travails and terrible disillusionments, the heart-aches and lonliness, here finally, a free place no one could describe to us. In fact, we rather think they tried to hide it from us. Bastards. They are legion, these bastards. We know now that it exists and it is real and it will be our own one of these days.

So there is a pathetic sky in the universe of skies that we catch on a lousy, sunlit day, unware that what we see may last a lifetime. And what is that? One lifetime. We are capable of ten or twenty at least. One we pass through quickly farting and snarling like a dog in heat. The movies divert us from a path at times but then we are back at it, hunkered over with a burden we ask strangers to identify for us. "What is this pustule on my back? I hope it's not cancer. What? What is it?" And the only ones we come to trust are without guile; they are sadly alone and full of wisdom but innocuous and near destitution. They resemble sketetons in a way that have, somehow, grown a bit of flesh on them and when they smile (if they do) we are always startled and taken back to some memory we have fled for years and years.

Yes, they become the men weary of long days when they suddenly realize the riches they have perceived. But it is not in them anymore. This lonely galaxy rotating for eons back to some still point rolls around in their spirit. Or used to. They urge the scientist in themselves to identify and study this terrible demiurge. There must be life there! It must teem with it. Billions of cities, filled with billions of people. And unimaginative machines and shouts between them, voices, sounds, emissions, fluids, gasses. With that profound memory that only sentient creatures seem to have pulling the brain back into some childhood fantasy. Ah glass jars filled with coins and old comic books buried in the friendly Earth. But it is all gone for them now.

There is a divine shriek and a profane shriek and, if one is experienced enough, they can tell the difference. It is a nuance never taught in schools or the popular arts. The divine shriek is a kind of privledge only those who understand the past can attain. It is plaintive but drawn, too, because the shriek is suspended between a sound of helplessness and a paen to the inelcutable forces active even at this late date. The profane shriek reveals the animal in the human and startles one who has become complacent. "Ah you see, the animal lives high in him and it has hit a wall." So it is settled, if you are on a road you want to see the spiritual shriek beyond the profane shriek. The profane one reminds the witness that nothing has changed in all of these orbits around the Sun. It is exactly the same except for the machines. It is a ghastly reminder that we come from the grave robbers rather than the Kings. And how are the grave robbers to improve themselves? We'd love to see the seminar on that. No, even the smart and manipulative ones don't know how to divert the shriek; and they do a poor job themselves; it's another chore like dancing or writing letters. They shriek but their heart is concealed. Good. We always knew that was the case but hesitated on calling them out on it.

* * * * * * * *

PHENOMENAL WORLD

"We do not describe; we are the description."

"Woe to those caught in the early, collective fantasies of their own generation. The fantasies will lift up for a while and then transform into an albatross to slowly pull the poor soul to the depths.

The condition of being locked into these collective fantasies results not in free people but silly people." With that I said good bye to my old pal Jim. He was emptying something on me, I knew it, didn't appreciate it but perhaps it was the stage of development we were in. We were no longer in idealistic youth, the prime time for mythical ideas that overcomes the evil world we have no interest in. No, we were past that but not quite convinced that the world we were trying to get into was not a pure sort of evil. So a kind of modern abyss.

Every step was a stuttering step. Every word was watched carefully so not to betray our disillusionment. We were embarrassed of the mythical beings we thought we were. And the odd thing was that it appeared all people we ran into knew it, knew exactly what state of mind we were in. Rarely we received a sign of "take it easy it all works out." Mostly it was a taunting of sorts. It was the attempt to cut off our legs from running too fast now that we knew a modern truth.

* * * * * * * *

When I left my friend Jim, it was dark and cold with spare traffic along Telegraph Avenue. I had a fierce night travelling through the imaginative qualities of the past six or seven years: Sights, sounds, faces. I saw myself as a man adrift but at a specific moment when I discovered I was not who I thought I was, a ball of information welled up and a sense of, "this is the way it is supposed to be," came over me.

I connected what I saw in my mind with the casual writing I had started. It was a kind of tentative physical description of walking down a city street and places I had lived. I watched a TV set following me into an alley. What was immanent, what was transcendent at that moment? The raw, exquisite data of physical things I called immanent and the interpretations that danced around the data as transcendent.

I admitted problems with the types of physical environments that had been built the last twenty or thirty years. It was the background to all the daily activity; both divine and mundane. The environment always seemed alien to my own sense; foreign and even hostile to everything I knew. I would carry this knowledge through the city streets and always find my knowledge in competition with the raw information of the physical environment: Buildings, cars, bridges, streets, stadiums, post boxes, telephones. Information I viewed as regressive and locked into something that wanted to punish rather than liberate.

And sometimes a strange reversal would take place. I would walk quiet streets with fine, broad avenues and that wonderful felicitous architecture the city was famed for. There was a woman at the window, a dog laying up on the white, wooden steps, a man in his car turning his head as he backed out from his driveway, the wind blowing softly through elm trees in a park with a stream rolling through it, dotted with sunlight. And my mind full of problems and solutions! My mind taken away into abstract problems that existed somewhere, perhaps here where I stood, but, they existed since I had seen and experienced, if not the problem, the effects of the problem and that was proof enough for me; as much as the scene I passed through. The phenomenal world had no real ambition to solve the problems that surged in my mind. They existed. Perhaps they lead away from the world and its objects. But, they existed. Perhaps they existed at the vertex of the phenomenal world.

4 GLIMPSES

She was picking colorful stones off the beach and sealing them in her hand. He thought about the night before and her impossible solution. He sat on a stack of driftwood that had been thrown against the rocky knoll overlooking the beach and watched her now dancing out of the way of the rippling tide running tiny furrows of water over her feet and, now, out away from the receding line broke wave after wave, white-foamed with bits of blue in them. Eternity, he imagined. For a moment he was nostalgic for a simpler time in his love for her. It was hard to tell if it was love. He had been reading and listening to tales of the obsessed and wondered if he had fallen into the most devious trap humans fell into. Nature had constructed the brain to sic itself in the form of another. And in the entanglement, their vicious bites would become pleasurable and predictable; habitual. And so they would be joined in eternal torment and misery.

The complexity of the simple, naive gestures along the beach filled him with another desire; carnal and yet not carnal as though she would be raised above herself and he, too, raised ideally through the physical love they had enjoyed in the damp cove. But he knew in himself it was the delusion of the romantic. Even at his young age he knew it was a delusion that must play itself out as much as the planets orbited the sun without a choice in the matter. The birthright of delusion, he thought. He would use it in something he wrote or say it at a party when the guitar players stopped playing.

Then came the moment he always dreaded. The realization that what he was looking at in the simple young woman was of his own making and that the only solution to the problem that had developed between them was one of subtle power; power that he gathered each night in the pretense of sleep and boiled in mad thoughts during the day to try and figure out how to make the young, simple woman became what he wanted her to become.

Once the illusion of the simple love had been broken, a previously unconscious desire entered awareness; to find the limits of her vulnerability and exploit them until, he hoped, her own hidden illusions would be self-evident. But the few times he had allowed himself to experiment with this kind of power he realized she wouldn't recognize her own illusions but, begin to defend herself against attempts to find her secret. And eventually, he thought, a simple but nonetheless powerful revenge would be born.

* * * * * * * *

There's always one who assumes the shame of the family; who is born with a natural, active intelligence but without guidance and nurturing the intelligence falls back on itself. So, at last, the intellect rears itself for one last look around and sees, in a moment of extreme excitement and panic, the broad vanity of the world and the evil running through every gesture until, finally, he withers back into the provinces of the spirit and spends the rest of his natural life creating vast tracks of rationalization over the moment of truth. The man so fated, so victimized by the worst nature in families surrenders to his fate and spends the rest of his life grumbling half-wild, half mournfully at the world passing by.

And yet, what strength and beauty in the soul! What great nobility still remains in the body of someone this unfortunate! What hope radiates out of the smallest gesture! What beauty can be snatched from the ruins! What blasts of humor have emptied the soul of its darkness!

* * * * * * * *

Anne had kept her promise by coming to the corner of Telegraph and Dwight Way on a particularly cold winter day. In fact, it was the day before Christmas and all along the avenue came and went hundreds of people buying from the sidewalk venders or else ducking into a door entry and ringing up a purchase for a friend or relative. And then others simply enjoyed the best day for mingling; everything became an attraction. And soon enough one felt that they were the attraction. Well, it was all free with musicians playing and people talking in hurried, confident voices, venders on chairs pushed back, singing, paying as little attention to the things they were selling as possible; eyes narrowed, faces aging.

The musicians played violins or drums in front of small crowds who listened with great interest before moving on. And every few minutes two old friends would bump into each other, cry out and embrace, laugh as though now everything was right then pass into the crowd along the sidewalk.

Anne watched nervously at the corner wondering now whether she had done the right thing. She kept reminding herself that now she was in California. Berkeley, California to be exact, her wayfaring taking her this far; so far, in fact, that it seemed all the places she had traveled through fused together to form a kind of passionate colony she was now discovering for some imperial kingdom.

First, there had been the coast of Maine, then the mountains of Colorado, then the coast of Oregon and finally the Bay Area and she had only come to the Bay Area at the request of her former lover who she hadn't seen or hear from in two years. But he had reported that the Bay Area was a fine place, a place to free oneself of all the youthful dreams which were captured in psychological nets elsewhere.

She stood rather tall and thin, girl-like in the middle of rogues and creatures from the alley who came up and bothered her for a quarter or a dime. She would look at them with a confused expression on her face that covered the disdain she felt but which she fought as well. The image of disdain was the last image she carried of her mother. Not simply the last impression of her mother but an impression gathered over the whole period of her life; twenty-six years.

Anne remarked to herself, "If mother were here she would look like this," and then in her minds eye she pictured her fragile, Catholic mother walking down Telegraph Avenue with her head tilted back and her eyes slightly closed. Poor, poor mother, Anne thought. Dead before life could reach her.

Now she saw Tex passing over an island which separated traffic on Telegraph Avenue in each direction. She felt her body contract and chill for a moment as though she were seeing something other than the man. But as he came closer she smiled and waved her hand. Tex, too, smiled and waved his hand.

They sat self-consciously and finally agreed to go to the Mediterranean Cafe and have a bit of coffee before they looked for gifts. They found a table in the rear of the cafe, spacious and painted blue, filled with people so it took fifteen minutes before they could get their coffee and go back to the table. He told her the history of the cafe, that in the previous decade had been a gathering place for the radicals, poets, musicians and assorted characters of the time.

"Ginsburg wrote Howl in this cafe," he told her.

* * * * * * * *

There had been no one to talk to for a long tine and so, one day, he decided to do something about it.

The effects of not speaking for a long time were visible and can be charted in the face by the way the eyes fall back into the hard bone and the mouth closes like the mouth of a cartoon character; a straight line across the face.

He had made no conscious decision to stop talking but merely, things fell into place. After awhile he had learned about all things and had listened with rapt attention at the experiences of others; the opinions, thoughts, and feelings of anyone who passed him by.

He had talked, often, before he fell silent. One time he had spoken to a crowd in front of a large building and had exhorted the crowd to take what was theirs or, at least, what was rightfully their duty to act on.

It had been a spontaneous gesture on his part. And for the effort he spent several days in jail until his case was dismissed as an "act of forgiveness," the Judge had said.

To talk, everything had to seem fresh and vital and worth talking about. But then he began hearing the same things over and over again, even songs- the same thing- over and over until the brain ran hot with the glut of it and all the sameness became very painful.

So, one day he stopped talking. And when he made this decision it suddenly became clear to him that by no longer speaking, he was impervious to others speaking to him or at him out of the radio and television or noise in general.

He would walk down the street, his head erect and aloof, projecting a royal, kingly sort of attitude; a feeling others passing him 'got' and so glared at him as though he were a nut.

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