THE STORY ARCHIVE
Tolar reminded himself that in two weeks he would be finished with the academic world after which the future reared itself in vague coloration's barely integrated enough to give him a semi-pleasurable sensation; much like those times when he stood under the night sky and felt the motion of the earth. He had never been able to articulate this feeling other than a crude analogy to an ant in the hold of a great steel ship turning into a wide harbor. He laughed at the analogy. Hopefully there were others in the world who would conjure this sensation in a more precise language suited to the experience. But after listening to even his enlightened friends he realized that precision would come from out of the provincial circle of his existence.
Ah youth; poised at the precipice of the real world yet already restless for the past! Tolar had been in contact with an old family friend who ran an advertising agency in San Francisco and when he had been younger had taken care of the man's handicapped son; a boy whose eyes seemed continually startled as if they belonged to another body or spirit. And when Tolar thought about the advertising man he invariably thought about the handicapped boy and the way the boy looked at him with gnomic knowledge or a secret or an indictment of the healthy.
His words came hurriedly out of his mind while his tongue attempted to phrase a clever sentence.
Tolar had not talked to the father in seven years. He was not sure what he was going to say to him. As a matter of fact the whole business of having to decide on a career seemed more trouble that it was worth.
Tolar had the kind of sense that absorbed situations all at once and the world told him, through his sense, that no man was satisfied with his choice; that at the center of a man was the ambiguity that the choice brought in its wake.
This meditation lifted a burden off his shoulders for a moment. He may as well be a butcher or a street cleaner as well as a newspaper man. He had always seen newspaper men as essential failures who evaporated their sense of failure in alcohol. Besides, he had known three or four people who had changed careers not once but several times and all before they were thirty so it wasn't a 'problem' yet. Perhaps in several years, squeezed in a brightly lit cubicle, shut-in, with the hovering specter of some authority always around, it would be a problem.
Everytime he imagined such a thing he would feel tired and go over to Bertha's apartment along the Bay.
He never claimed that Bertha was his girl friend; she was simply there. They had grown up together and she was always there though he didn't make the effort to keep together as she did. She was homely, tall, well-read; she spoke quietly, especially over the phone. More than once she had called Tolar up during the night and invited him over to her place.
"Now?" he would answer, his voice tired and even credulous.
"Well...it's just....that I want you next to me. I'm thinking how it will be when you are next to me....I'll put on coffee."
That was the extent of their relationship, other than their mutual interest in Cromwellian England. Bertha was a teaching assistant and was considering applying for an opening in the southwest. She wanted to go, she didn't want to go. Tolar found himself more and more irritated around her, especially that she was using him now and had probably used him the whole time they knew each other. Since, when he thought back on it, he was doing something for her all the time. But she had a patient ear and would listen to him so, in his mind, it all evened out.
He stood near the street in the hot noonday sun. The heat drove all desire to work out of him and he looked for his favorite bistro; the one that had ivy growing over the frontpiece and large, iron-encased windows.
The day was hot and silent with little traffic in the street. As Tolar made his way to the bistro everything reminded him of work; the bus driver standing at the donut stand while his bus idled in front of the BART station; the commercial jet arching over the Berkeley Hills toward the east; the road, the lamppost, automobiles, signs were all the result of purposeful labor and it made him feel insignificant; where would be the evidence of his own labor?
Advertising slogans, he answered himself in disgust. It was that or else obituaries and feature stories about immigration to the Bay.
Tolar entered the cool restaurant and took a seat against the wall and ordered a beer and sandwich from the tall and red-headed waitress who had a small purple tattoo on the back of her hand. He was glad now that he hadn't bought a newspaper so he could pause a moment in his thoughts. He was distracted by the red-headed waitress who reminded him of a woman he passed once in the hallway of the apartment building he lived in; an exotic creature who smelled like fresh tobacco and wore a string of gold around her neck.
Ah labor, he mused. Perhaps the last two weeks of school would be extended for another couple of years in pursuit of an advanced degree. NO! He had had enough of school; it seemed unreal. He had the ambiguous itching in him to begin constructing a significant career but it couldn't be done alone, no, someone else had to be there.
The day had been hot and oppressive. In several days he was to learn whether he had been accepted for the position at the University. His mind repressed the inevitable letter which would come for him. And if the letter was positive it meant getting dressed up and going to the interview and sitting in front of a stranger and having the stranger ask him questions which were always demoralizing and which he had turned into a minor art out of the pain of it. He would assume the voice of authority but edge it with a sublime irony and taking it as far as the interview would allow. If the interviewer became irritated at the tone of voice he would cut it short, bow his head gently and slightly and offer some comment about how ignorant he was of many things.
But now, under the influence of the Heineken and the passive reading of the newspaper, he had forgotten everything. Charles, the owner, seemed more than nervous. He would talk to the barmaid behind the counter and then stride from table to table without saying anything before disappearing into the back room which was used for poetry readings and musical auditions among other things. He was a big friendly black fellow who had served time in state prison but had now become something of a legend in Berkeley. He didn't allow riff-raff into his club. A big, hand-painted sign above the cash register read, "No dope, no dice, no games" and as a result of his efforts he got a clientele of university students, educated transients, local literati etcet.
This particular night there were few people in the place. Later that evening there was going to be an 'open mic' which meant anyone with talent was given fifteen minutes to do what they did best.
Tolar was one of the few in the bar reading the newspaper. Across from him was the woman and behind her sat a middle-aged man reading a soft-covered book. The room was fairly dark, lit only by the candles on each table and the light over the bar and in the light he could see the woman half-looking at him or looking at him before directing her face to the general mundane scene. In the dark he perceived that she was small in stature with an exotic looking face; perhaps east-European. Any other night he would have ignored the young woman but the atmosphere of boredom and anxiety that had come over him made him think that perhaps he would try to talk to the woman. For a long time he readied himself to go over to the woman. It was not in his nature to be so bold, nonetheless, an item in the paper had for an inexplicable reason made him bold. It had been an article about the war in Central America and the exploits of an American journalist to get various stories; the harrowing escape from a right-wing death squad. A brief biography had been published about the journalist and it turned out the journalist had gone to Tolar's high school five years prior to Tolar. And as he meditated on the journalist's name he realized that he had gone to high school with the journalist's brother or it appeared that way and this was confirmed by the grainy photograph of the journalist. This information brought the story to the most personal of levels since he had visited his brother's house more than once; had met their parents; had met their sister. This was a block style house in the hills, thoroughly immaculate with the reigning father an athletic, even bullying fellow; a former track star at the university.
If not startling him, the item in the paper pitched him into a whole imaginative universe where he followed the exploits of his friends brother thorough the strange land of Central America; through the political strife which was hardly intelligible and through the sense of danger the article imbued every move that the journalist made. It was while musing thus that he went over to the woman and stood in front of her table, an expression of awkward shyness on his red face.
"Would you like to join me at my table?"
The woman looked up at him. She was far more beautiful close up than he had pictured. She did have an authentic aura of the exotic about her.
"Why don't you sit here at this table?"
She did have an accent of some kind; possibly French. He quickly retreated to his table and took his beer and cigarettes and joined the young woman at the table.
"They would never do this in New York."
"Oh, is that so? What does that mean?"
"I'm from New York- people don't introduce themselves in cafes- they assume something is wrong with you. if you do that- maybe that's why I feel nervous."
Tolar leaned back in his chair and laughed. "Oh, I'm alright. You couldn't be with a nicer fellow."
The woman smiled and pulled a cigarette out of her purse. Tolar took the round candle burning in glass and tilted it toward her so she could light the cigarette.
"Actually I don't go up to people and introduce myself like that. I like to leave others alone. But for some reason I felt stupid sitting alone and the place isn't crowded. Had the place been crowded I wouldn't have come over."
He told her he was a student. He felt funny telling her that as if it weren't appropriate now. What was a student except a kind of intellectual bum? But he felt the need to tell the truth. Why lie he thought to himself? I'm never going to see this woman again. I may as well tell her everything she wants to know.
The woman was Sonia and she had left New York the previous week to enroll in an acting studio run by the local repertory company.
She seemed too sad to be an actress; too shy, sad and awkward to be an actress but she mentioned some of the productions she had been in back in New York and not only had he heard of the productions but had seen them on television; on the public television network and in a moment he remembered the exact place and time that he had watched the program she mentioned and how he had been living with a nut-woman at the time and they would sit in front of the TV and she would remove her blouse and he would scratch her back and smoke pot; years and years ago it now seemed.
"Well, an actress is a fine thing to be."
"I think so- it's difficult, competitive but worth it- if you can make it a career- this is why I came out to the Bay Area. New York is glutted with actors and actresses and so I thought the best thing I could do would be to get: connected with local repertory theatre and then, when I was more experienced, head down to LA."
There was a sudden clamor in the back, behind the heavy cloth curtain and Tolar turned and to see the local poet emerge and demand more beer from the barmaid.
"More beer or I won't perform tonight." The poet was a short, dark man with black clothes and a sinister, underground aura about him. He looked around the empty cafe. "Where are the people? Is this all that's going to show up? It's a disgrace." And when he had his pitcher of beer he vanished behind the curtain, his muffled voice now shouting to someone on the otherside.
The woman had moved the week before. She seemed reticent about talking any further about her personal life and so began to ask Tolar about himself.
"I'm just a student, although, in two weeks I'm no longer going to be a student."
"And what are you going to do when you graduate?"
"I don't know- that's an unnerving question- I've repressed that question in myself- it's repelling to my sense of the future."
The actress stopped asking him questions and they stopped talking to each other for several minutes. Tolar drank his beer while the woman smoked. More people were coming into the club. Students, old hippie types, a black man- perhaps Jamaican, dressed all in white his hair braided over his shoulders and down his back with a generous handful of green stems pressed against his chest.
"He's a poet. I've seen him before," Tolar said.
"It looks as though he should be one."
'"Would you like to watch the show? They have comedians, poets, musicians- people get drunk- occasionally an old European type professor will come down and read his poetry. No one understands them and he goes home mad. Then the wild poets will perform and the crowd will laugh and have a good time; no one famous or anyone who will be famous. I think all desire of fame has been burnt out of them- pot you know- that'll do it to you."
"I know nothing about poetry but the comedians sound interesting."
Within twenty minutes the cafe was filled with couples and single men reading political tracts in the dim light. People lined up in front of the cloth curtain and paid a dollar to get into the back room, larger than one would have suspected. A cavernous room actually with a good sized stage at the far end that was busy with activity and equipment. Tolar led the actress to a table after ordering a pitcher of beer and they sat watching the comedians first. Tall, clean-shaven men who looked like athletes and told dope jokes so the crowd whooped and laughed. As Tolar watched the comedians it suddenly occurred to him that these were talented people. Given a chance for exposure they would become successful. It wouldn't be difficult to refine the kinds of jokes they told to give their jokes a broader base of appeal; dope for the young students, sex for the women in their thirties, animal jokes for the old people. But at the same time he knew they would never be successful; that every comedian who stood at the microphone looking cynically over the crowd would never reach an audience other than the collection of oddity arranged in front of them. Then, slowly but surely, they would be absorbed back into the reality they were struggling from and become mechanics, technicians, even beauracrats if they had a degree. It depressed Tolar to think about so he didn't laugh when a bushy-haired man began to joke about excrement.
It was not simply their talent but their ability to get up and perform for strangers. This he counted as a oracle of sorts even if television had jaded all sense of courage in the act. It was a different kind of courage than mortal combat or flying planes and the like but it was courage nonetheless. It was as if they effaced their personality for the crowd; how did they recover from that?
The woman at his side was smoking and gazing into the stage without expression. "Was she judging their performance?" he asked himself, since, she too, was a performer and unquestionably gained courage from every performance.
The last poet left the stage. All during the performance Tolar questioned himself whether he should ask the woman back to his place. It was always a risk. She did have enough ambiguity to her that was for certain.
"Well now, "I'm drunk," he finally said. "Can you imagine that? Three beers and I'm drunk. ..do you have a car?"
"Yes, I have a car. Do you?"
"No, I don't like cars. Do you find it strange that I don't like cars?"
She seemed interested and more animated. "Oh, absolutely not."
"Cars have always let me down; they've never come up to my expectations. And then there's all the peripheral nonsense around owning a car...it's just a can that goes," and Tolar flattened his palms and described ridiculous vertical places in the smoky air.
They left the club. It was dark and chilly. There was another festive atmosphere along Telegraph Avenue. Tolar was not dead drunk but drunk nonetheless and pulled the woman into a corner bookstore.
The store was quite a contradiction to the festivities outside. A half-dozen students and oddities moved between the aisles of used books.
"I'm looking for something, " Tolar said to no one in particular. He had the woman by the hand. She was smiling slightly. "
Yes, it's still here." Along one shelf of books he found a thick paperback on mysticism and took it to the front desk. A sullen and arrogant looking fellow presided at the desk, rang the purchase up and with a limp gesture gave the package back to Tolar.
They left again. They headed up Dwight Way, off Telegraph when it suddenly became quiet and dark.
"I've been meaning to buy this book. I love the crazy mystics; they knew everything."
The woman didn't seem moved one way or another. They stopped at her car, an old Chevy with torn-up upulstory in the back and a pair of tennishoes tied around the rear-view mirror.
"Now, where do you live?"
"Oh me?" And he pointed vaguely in the direction where he lived as the woman pulled the car from the curb.
The woman started asking him a series of questions:
"How long have you lived in Berkeley? Why are you interested in mystics? Where have you traveled?"
Tolar answered dutifully, afraid he had made a terrible mistake. The woman was only going to drop him off at this place and that would be that. He would never see her again except by chance.
He finally blurted out, "I love Berkeley because it's a hatchery for new life; a being hatchery!"
The actress was smoking.
When they arrived at his apartment she went with him up the stairs. He was nervous now, wanting to drink another beer. As they entered his apartment she said, "You know, I haven't believed anything you've said."
He let the comment pass for a moment. The apartment was in disarray. Clothes were laying over chairs and the sofa. Books were strewn about. The kitchen gave off a stench.
"Do you want a beer or some wine?"
Instead of answering she asked him if he had a stereo. He pointed it out to her.
When he was in the kitchen pouring himself a beer he could here jazz from the other room.
She had taken off her coat. She wore an old-fashioned green dress that fell to her ankles.
The actress was on the otherside of the room. He noticed that from that distance she appeared to have blue eyes. She had kicked her shoes off. There was a lull for several minutes as she stood in the room, rocking back and forth to the music. Tolar had sat down in the couch drinking the beer. The beer made him get up and when he came back he got another beer.
"Well, you know, mysticism is coming back in vogue these days. It's all the drugs and so forth but you don't have to take drugs to understand that stuff. Well, it's more interesting than jobs or school don't you think? Well, everything is a big mystery to me."
* * * * * * * *
The song ended and at the end Sonia sighed heavily, brushed her forehead then sat in a heap on the old couch that Tolar had purchased at the flea market. There was long silence between them, then she said. "I hate confusion."
Tolar shrugged his shoulders, clapped his hands and got to his feet. "My apartment has never looked better. I thank you and believe you deserve a reward. Come here."
He was standing at the entrance to the kitchen and gestured the woman to enter. The kitchen was small and smelled faintly with gas which the woman noted, 'ah, the owner of the place never fixes anything,' Tolar answered her, gesturing vaguely before opening the refrigerator- a small unit painted in red. The unit was packed with an assortment of goods; stale cheese, a carton of goats milk, anomalous shapes wrapped in tinfoil, a couple of slices of dried pizza, and wilting lettuce.
"It's not all that much. How about a can of soup?" The woman nodded.
So they ate the meal Tolar began questioning the woman carefully and without unnecessary probing about her existence.
"I am unfortunate I know that. I had a boyfriend several months ago who kicked me out of the house we were renting, over on Durant Avenue. He was a crazy fellow from Oklahoma who used to tease me all the time, then one day said he was never going to see me again. I did some unfortunate things after that."
"Oh, such as what?"
"Really stupid things. One night I stood under the window of his bedroom and began to sing. Like this..." and she began to sing in a falsetto voice that startled Tolar; a hefty male voice that seemed conditioned by cigarette smoking. "Well, I don't know I was crazy at the time, so, I was singing this song that was obscure in some way. I guess I stood there for an hour and a half like a dope and before I knew it I was surrounded by the police. They told me that I had to leave or they were going to arrest me. "But you can't arrest me, I don't have anywhere to go." One of the officers gave me a ten dollar bill and told me to get a room for the night but not to disturb anyone otherwise he was going to put me in jail. I remember one of the officers went up to the room and got my sleeping bag and personal belongings. So I Just walked around a bit until I found a park and slept there, then the next night went to a church and slept in the backyard of the church. Since that time I've just been moving along."
Tolar took the story in and was sympathetic- he felt an obligation to inquire about her state of being.
"Well, yes, I get a state check and that's what started the whole mess really because it was late and I couldn't pay my share of the rent and that gave Tom an excuse to throw me out."
Tolar was impressed with the ability of the woman to speak clearly, without emotion, about her travail. She took it as a matter of fact experience which would soon be forgotten.
There was no question about an exotic, nearly sensual aura around the woman. It had been something he had noticed since meeting her. Something which came from the woman herself and was communicated nearly telepathically to him but which was so strong Tolar felt suspicious of it. Her smooth limber face seemed indistinct in the dim light and he was suddenly aware of a pressure in him; of feelings in him which had been dormant for a time.
Then the woman smiled. "Do you have anything to drink?"
"I have some cheap wine, some old Chablis that's been sitting around for awhile. I usually reserve it for a friend of mine who seems to have left the state though I don't believe it. Anyway, if you'd like, I would be happy to share it with you."
"You are very generous. I can feel my fortunes change. Most people would throw me away like a ragdoll but you've been more than kind. I feel my health restored."
Tolar felt good himself and poured the wine. He was no longer uncomfortable with the woman. On the contrary he could see that she was one of the unfortunates who is misunderstood and so they have a rollercoaster of experiences which either defeats their spirit or makes it stronger. There was unquestionable intelligence about the woman, obvious sincerity, a kind of humbleness that he missed in women, especially the college women he had been around the past few years. For, whatever experience the woman had taught her something and sharpened her truest instincts. Al1 thought of taking advantage of the woman vanished. He would let her stay for two weeks at the least, until she was able to get on her feet again. During that time he would see if she had family in the area or what her work skills were and make sure she got her state checks- unemployment checks he imagined. In fact, the more he thought about it the more an apprehension left him- some weight that had been on him for the last several months began to leave and he felt that great opening which comes from compassion- which comes from allowing the best nature in himself to flourish and to help another person. A sudden vision ran in his mind that detailed how he would put the woman back to a respectable and healthy state. He could see it unfold in his mind and it excited him; all of the useless thinking he had done the past few months on the state of the the world, on his own future!
She had slipped into the other room. He heard her turning the stereo on. He had a tape on his tape machine of old 60's rock and roll. He heard the first strain of Satisfaction and then heard the machine stop. She yelled out to him, "Do you have any Rachmanioff?"
He went into the living room. He tried to place the name but couldn't. He apologized for his tape.
He went into the room and watched the suddenly alluring woman riffle through a stack of albums and tapes looking for something to her satisfaction.
"They're all old I'm afraid. Tomorrow I'm going down to the used record store and sell the; ah, sell them all and buy something decent."
"Don't you feel like dancing after you have cleaned? It must be an old instinct that comes alive. I feel like dancing!"
And with that the woman turned several times and moved gracefully across the room. "Join me, join me for the dance," she called out to Tolar.
They danced for what, to Tolar, seemed hours but which was only a few minutes. It was the first time he remembered swirling around, breathing heavily until the room, the simple room that he lived in felt alive, pressing in at him; not abstract and a place or utility but a kind of home.
The woman had a determined expression on her face as though she knew she was going to teach the man something he didn't know before and that the impression she left was of the utmost importance.
"I Just want to play something that is soothing. I don't like rock and roll anymore. It's not complicated enough."
He suddenly felt ashamed that he was still listening to rock and roll. He listened to it because it brought back specific memories And he need those memories to gain depth to his existence which on the surface was always appearing ludicrous.
* * * * * * * *
She became an obsession without question. Now he forgot about finding a job or his "girlfriend," as she put it and concentrated all his effort in helping the poor actress who cleaned his house two or three times a week. And well within a month's time, Tolar found himself begging to be let in to his own apartment; as though, now, he had to prove to her that he was capable of whatever bargain had been at the beginning. She had assumed a great deal. He had assumed nothing and, in fact, was in that paradisiacal but unreal space of everything "being good." "It's all good." That was his favorite saying. It didn't matter what happened because he would have memory; his hard experience would be turned into memory and he would treasure it, take it with him in whatever stage of development life offered to him.
"Life, you odd word," he thought.
MADELEINE AT THE WINDOW
Madeleine was at the window looking out over the noon crowd that moved in and out of the street with the awkward, persistent desire to be somewhere they weren't.
It was noon and the university in the distance
stood white and clustered around the green
corroding tower against smooth, low and brown hills. There were blocks of great solid buildings;
replicas of ancient porticos, temples, agoras,
squares and filled with a new generation ready
to succeed to their dreams of authority. And it was hot this late spring because no wind came up out of the bay to the south of the city.
Madeleine held her head in two closed fists and stared at the large marks on the window sill of the poor hotel she found herself living in. It was one of those hotels no one notices among the shops and stores of the decaying section of the city. The first two days at the hotel she had cried out the window in the back which led to a maze of metal conduit and boilers and venting apparatus. She cried hard until someone on the other side of the wicked maze had yelled in no uncertain terms that if she didn't stop crying he would find where she lived and pull her onto the roof until she stopped crying or the man had yelled, 'sing at the very least' and, in fact, she did quit crying only to begin again one half-hour later in mute solace with the window closed. She could laugh at it now because she knew she was going to leave the bitter hotel and move in with her new found friends who lived in the south of the city. Half of her belongings were already in the house she was moving to while the other half were packed in orange crates and shoe boxes and dress boxes piled one on top of the other behind where she stood at the window.
They would come and take her away in an hour or less that was for certain. That's what he had said. She liked the man but he belonged to Susan. She didn't want to upset the delicate balance of her position. Perhaps, in six months, things would change. But it was enough for the time being to simply get out of the old hotel and go on to new kinds of friends though she couldn't quite be sure but yes, they were friends. She was still able, maybe more than at anytime, to distinguish qualities of friendship.
There were differences for sure. And in the new living arrangement there would be no more tension. She couldn't stand for anymore tension at having to adapt to others adjusted to their scheme of things. That first meeting they were sitting around the large oak table laden with good food and soft music in the background and she could feel the silence of the strange eyes follow her until a tingle of dim recognition fluttered in her heart. This is where she is. Say a clever thing she could nearly hear them say. What have you been doing with yourself? Not
in the accusative tone but rather the tone of curiosity that is communicated in a fine, articulate answer such as that fine written paragraph in her mind she wrote as the bus rolled into the downtown station, She knew her father would be waiting and wanting an answer which tumbled over a curious gesture of her hands.
She finally told them what she imagined they wanted to hear but did not forget the feeling of tension. Now, she felt a bit tired. She had slept late. It was embarrassing to sleep late when others were round about. At the moment of awakening she heard the traffic noises drifting and pulsing up from the long avenue and into the crack of her window and it set off a train of images of strangers doing a thousand things she would want to do but already would be too late now that she had gotten up at this hour. To do anything would necessitate a break in what was being done already and it would be a great useless fight to do such thing. What else could she do but pretend that they were little fishes in the caves of a great reef- it was that television show she'd seen. Now she remembered. And how the light of a divers
lamp in the night sea became a cloud of plankton. And that-what did they call it- that symphony of the natural worlds that no one knew about but a few rough and ready deep-sea divers. A world of its own the announcer had
said. What a wonderful and stirring idea! No- it was a fact- in the sea somewhere or along the great coastline where the living matter was just like life in this city and the other cities she had known.
So she lay in bed for a few minutes and while listening to the imperturbable sounds of the traffic she saw it all moving as the natural world of a small tide pool. So she got up and dressed and finished packing the few remaining items before he came and took her to her new residence. She had half-looked for him from the window three stories above the avenue. Where she was going was decidedly more quiet and mellow. Children had dogs and arching elm trees moved shadows over the street. And it was walking distance to the Marina and that pier that ran out half a mile into the Bay where the poor people fished. The poor black kids would get on the bus downtown all smiles and excitement with their poles and buckets in hand and fish the whole day, come back during commute with stinking fish in their pail,
laughing and subdued at turns. Then on week-ends the road perpendicular to the pier would fill with the cars of the poor-old broken down Chevrolets, black Continentals with
bashed in doors etc. and the poor families, the Mexicans, black and white families would clamber over the rocks into the bay water or find a niche along the pier.
So she waited. It would begin again when she was settled in the new place. She would pay more attention this time to what people actually said and demanded of her. It was necessary under the circumstances; a part of the bargain. Oh, they truly were nice people she would do nothing to disappoint them. The more she thought about it she realized she was in the process of getting rescued. One more day in this hell world and I'll go mad she had thought. Last night, that crazy fellow on the stairs who turned as she followed him and stared at her with those spooky eyes-all knives and confusion. And then that fellow who yelled at her for crying.
Her drift into the hotel had been necessary. Below it was the porno book store where the creeps and at-the-edge rapists gathered and the guy who owned it had his daughter working for him and he seemed about the lowest of the low. And even out away from the hotel and porno book store there was nothing but an array of buildings, shops, and crowds wandering dazed it appeared to her though she knew that wasn't the complete truth of it. But from where she stood it seemed as though they were all dazed and tricked into necessity so moved foreign to their own nature. The campus seemed far away. She felt good about going there and buying a bag of peanuts to feed the squirrels by the stream, under the oily smell of the eucalyptus. Sometimes there would be lovers on the banks of the stream pressed up against each other, huddling against the cool falling day and smoking a cigarette between them. Or a man walking with his small daughter, she laughing gleefully after the squirrels who had become tamed and expectant over the years.
But it all seemed far away from her now. It was the objects in front of her; the passing faces and vehicles and sad looking cafes and strange creatures she had come to know over the past few years. These drew her attention, fastened into her and she was glad she was leaving it. She would leave it and some day wake up and it would appear a dream to her and she would see the same people, the same buildings, streets and it would only be a memory tugging on her new sensibility. She would even laugh at it and laugh at their little part in it and go on.
The man came and they took her boxes down to his car parked along Shattuck Avenue. He was average height, broad shouldered with a bushy
mustache. He spoke pleasantly to her. She was flustered in the beginning but as they drove down Dwight Way and through the residences
of the flatland she began to open up and ask him questions about where she could shop, where the bus stop was etc. etc. He laughed, 'Now, wait a minute, we have to get you settled first. We'll have a big dinner tonight and then we'll talk.'
She was remembering the room now; how it had smelled like urine and how the old guy retched all night into the sink and how she imagined his germs were coming through the walls so she dug her head into the pillow and as the old man coughed and hacked into the sink she was confused about what to do; whether she should go and help him or wake the manager and see if he was all right. And how she was afraid of the bathrooms so would wait until she was on the street and go into the
restaurant across the way and then go down to the YWCA and take her showers.
Ah, she was through with her self-pity! Away with it, no more! From now on, she dreamed to herself, I am part of the grand motion of things. 'I will identify, even, with the planes that fly overhead.
She did not realize it but at that moment at least eight people were thinking of her, of her future and how she would turn out. She did not realize she was being observed and commented on in places she did not even know existed. Had she known of the monstrous rivalries she would be embroiled in, the petty jealousies, the deathly stares, the gamesmanship as people attempted to disillusion her of all she thought was true and perfect maybe she would not have gone down to the corner of Shattuck and University as the students milled and turbaned east Indians unlocked gas stations. In the end she would have gone to placate her curiosity; to give herself another option. But, then, there was likely to come a day when driving past these old haunts she would have an unrequited feeling that something magnificent was lost that day. She would remember one book left unread in the unopened box of paperback books she had collected from jaunts to Moe's and Shakespeare's. That one book revealed the path not taken; the self not assumed. But when she returned she noticed that one book had been carefully, almost surgically removed from the box as if it had never existed. 'The world is this way,' she thought before she had a chance to get angry. The contents of the box were exactly as she remembered them and when she removed the top layers of books to find the one book it was gone. 'But I did not even remember the author's name. Is that important?' So now she stood in front of the large bay window before the quiet, elm lined street not observing the two dogs playing in the street or listening to the soft piano music in the background or the door closing to the bathroom but picturing the book hovering above the street, illuminated by the minds desire to find any vehicle of escape until the afternoon vision became painful and oppressive to her and she turned and walked back toward the shadows of the house.
The Fat Man
The station, a cave of silver machines, was somber and light. Mosaic
tile patterned the walls and the light reflected them along the vinyl floors and metal railings
surrounding the platform below where people waited to leave.
He wandered while listening to the voices in his ear; a feminine singer, in a chamber, who softly died in the full, sad trembling of her voice. He turned the volume down as a man announced, 'things to sell, things to sell.'
The station's activity had waned in the mid- morning. A few students and elderly people purchased tickets from the silver machines. A Chinese gentleman tapped his cane into the automated entrance and fell forward, up righted himself, taptaptap against the vinyl, his face shriveling in sunken fear as he heard a voice amplified out of a concealed speaker telling the old, blind gentleman to move this way, now that way, yes go forward now and through the gate the Chinese gentleman tapped his cane toward the stairs leading down to the platform. He was led down the stairs and the fat man watched from the railing above as the gentleman was given a seat on the polished bench waiting for the train.
The fat man, too, watched for the train. They came fast, shouting out of the tunnel like a silver umbilical cord. He hummed from his throat. He pushed his belly in and out from the diaphragm as the teachers had said and then got his throat cleared.
Near him he didn't see the young woman, too, looking over the railing and beginning to light a long white cigarette. She threw her head back and put her purse on the railing half-looking from the periphery at the headphones the fat man wore on his ears. It wasn't the headphones but the streamers from them of all colors-the kind of things a kid might stick on the handle bars of his bike. Then she heard what sounded like a voice. She was not preoccupied at the moment but soon enough would be and until that time became fascinated by the fact that the fat man was mumbling to himself or she believed it to be mumbling- a distinct mumble without words or several words hunched together like sexed animals frozen in a voyeurs camera. A small grin crossed her pretty, oval face. It was unpainted and pretty, early exotic but plain too as though she had tried many things but had finally given up out of failure to live up to a fleeting image of herself years before. She dropped an ash on the floor and crushed it with her foot. The fat man could smell the smoke and resisted the urge to turn. The words were forming at his lips hobbling
outward as newspapers snapped below along the bench the old blind gentleman sat on.
The fat man took one cup off his ear and bent it in the direction of the tunnel where the train would come at any moment. His eyes shut and he seemed to grip inside himself with a kind of frenetic tension no one could tell unless they looked up closely and for a long time, looking at his neck quiver and bulge.
The woman was waiting for someone to arrive from below. He would come and take her away. But until that time came she listened, even competed to form in her own mind the inarticulate sounds forming at the lips of the fat man and then escaping into the air. They were like mud cakes. And the fingers of her mind bent through the soft tissues and lifted them lower, drawing a long circular design.
Now the sounds became guttural. The sounds of senility.
At that moment an old red-faced man sat in the public library
on Kittredge Street and played his senility on his old throat,
his body shuddering under his inhuman noise. People left him alone.
And bent over the map table, looking through the demographic maps
and then the aerial maps, he grunted against his will and again
and again against his will and yet in a kind of despising song as
though he'd been a bullfrog in a former life. He did not leap or jump
from behind the table but shuffled away, straw hat on his head and shuffled with all the impunity his grunting conjured.
The fat man was not grunting. He was mumbling with the headphones askew on his head. The woman finished her cigarette and dropped it to the floor and took out of her purse a pair of dark glasses she slid over her hair and onto her ears. The sound in her mind had been shaped into a cone and around the cone a figure cut a spiral trail to the top. She was tapping her foot. The cigarette was crushed. She looked at her watch. The mumbling at her side was a thing now. The mumbling had frozen into a thing- a kind of window on which was drawn a round bare head smiling abstractly ear to ear though there were no ears but pin holes where one could fit a string.
Suddenly, "The...they...they will come soon...and..an...the yellow
moon. ..w. ..will ...shimmer over the...hills of...o
those hills of ..." It was breath in half-song.
He sneezed. "T...those...hills...were
brown...trees green...these hills...of long ago."
He had remembered it quite often; how the days after rain provided wild cat tracks and though the cats were never found cows were. Usually they huddled grazing at the bottom of the valley and the three boys followed the fresh prints in the soft muck along winding trails cut into the hills by the constant movement of cattle. Bravely they hooted the cows. And teased the bull who stood dazed along a thick green pond. And who roamed half
seriously as the boys chanted together those words not permitted in any other valley; but the
dried yellow eyes fixed as flies buzzing dung. So, the boys picked up a grassy stone the size
of a fish and onetwothree bounced it off the hide of the bull their brains excited about
the prospect of the bull drawing its hooves through the yellowing ground and their hearts
beat half- rhymed and soon the valley filled with a melodious chorus of moo's.
They were standing now below him on the platform. A young woman gripped the arm of the blind Chinese gentleman. Before long the train would arrive- a train he'd taken only once and it seemed to him to be only a ride through dark lit tunnels and blue flicking light.
And afterwards he had run into Pickett. This happened the summer before- that summer that had turned into a sweaty beast and by the time he had reached the station his tee-shirt was dry and cool. The station had been cool as a good night and empty except for a young man swinging a little angel between his legs before he swooped her on his shoulders gracefully. The fat man wandered through the station for an hour inspecting it as though it were the ribbed hull of a Viking long ship newly discovered at an excavation site.
When he returned from the train ride he wanted to revive into the fastidious cool air of the BART station and stood for a long while at the colored map by the ticket machine tracing with his finger the steps he had recently made and deciding then and there that the next ride would be under the bay to San Francisco. But after a time he felt a sharp jab in his shoulder and turned around to find himself face to face with a tall, thin man wearing a blue uniform and a name-tag over his breast reading simply, PICKETT.
'What are you up to?'
The man had a long, scarred nose which beaked slightly-at the end and wide-set eyes that appeared to roam.
'Nothing,' the fat man replied. The attendant stood erect, hands held tightly against his hips. His neck grew red.
'It looks like nothin' ...sure looks like nothin'.'
The fat man turned away to the map. He felt the presence of the employee behind him and the hairs along the surface of his skin pricked. Finally, without turning around, the fat man said,
Pickett nodded like men at a dinner table. 'I bet you are. But look here...loitering is a criminal offense...Five hundred dollars fine and six months in the pokey. Now get your...three legs...get' em up the escalator and don't...no, don't stay around here.'
The fat man smiled and turned around. 'I will not loiter.' And he walked over to the railing, ambled to a stop and learned over, humming, until Pickett caught up with him and demanded to know what he was doing.
'I'm serenading the train.'
Pickett took a deep look into the fat man's eyes and he reminded the fat man of a stranger in the street who always asked for a dime or quarter.
He whistled in the accompaniment to the feminine singer who sang in a chamber and who softly died behind the half-sad trembling of her voice. Then a train sped below. He bent over a railing and watched the doors slide open and they opened then closed like the hills of Hamlin.
The fat man straightened himself and sucked through his nose.
'I am a great composer of music and go by the name of Garabaldi- Sergio Garabaldi ...ever hear of me?'
The attendant held his hands in front of his face and spoke through his fingers. Facetiously he said, 'You're a bum.' Well now, the cows moved on and the boys dipped their glassy jars into the mucky stink and caught the silver pollywogs and kept them home until they were frogs but some of the frogs escaped through a hedge of pyracantha that made the birds drunk and crazy like abandoned planes.
'You don't believe me?' the fat man asked.
The attendant rubbed his chin. 'No, hell, I believe everyone.'
'A concert will be played Friday in this
'It is .a fifty dollar fine for loitering' the attendant said quietly.
'There will be a hundred musicians dressed in white tails all with chrome and wood instruments and I will lead with a baton...'
After a long pause a train came into the station and as it slipped onward the attendant said, 'Well now, you just do the Fat Man's Waltz,' and then he grinned eagerly, 'the Fat Man's Waltz up the escalator.'
The fat man's finger withered in the air.
'Ah, children...everywhere I am stuck with children.'
And then he went away back to the ticket machine to buy a ticket though there was no thought of going on the train but rather, to spite the beaked-nosed man and his refusal to 'Waltz' to the beaked-nose man's arrogant tone of voice. He bought a ticket and in hand the ticket passed him through the
automatic gate and as he stood on the first step in a long series of steps leading to the arrival and departure area he turned his head and said to the observing attendant.
'But you'll have to listen, won't you?'
And then the trip occurred and unexpected things happened which made the fat man wish he had been arrested in fact and thrown one night in the city jail rather than feeling the knives of complete and true strangers ripped his soft, heaving flesh.
Now at the beginning of winter he felt calm and assured as he listened to a new singers voice; a roughish voice that turned the fat man's brows into triggers.
The song was a complaint by a desperate woman and the fat man turned the volume up and he surveyed below him a silver train pulling like umbilical knots into the station.
After the train left he looked around for Pickett. In the information booth two attendants were surrounded by television monitors and neither of them had beaked noses, in fact, one had a nose pushed slightly into his face like an old boxer's nose.
Lowering the headphones his eyes widened and words lit in his brain, 'an air of tempest' and he smiled to himself as if jesting inside with banjo's and swords.
'What can I do for you?' An attendant asked stepping to the oval window cut into the information booth. The man immediately felt in his pocket for cigarettes.
'Just wondering where the man with the...that nose is...is he here?'
'You mean Pickett? Naw, Pickett left months ago to start his own business. Has his own truck and tools now. Calling cards.
The attendant lit a cigarette and wiped a drop of sweat from his forehead. His head turned to the side in a kind of pose.
'You a friend of his?
The fat man shook his head. 'Curious, that's all.'
He put the headphones back on and headed for the stairs. The song was over. A voice announced the accidents of, the past hour.
'ON THE FREEWAY- IN THE BAY- RAIN TODAY AND TOMORROW, CLEARING BY FRIDAY- PATCHY FOG
INLAND- GYPSIES SPOTTED ALONG THE SCARPS OF MOUNT DIABLO- WILD FROGS IN BODEGA-
NUTATIONS IN AN EQUATORIAL LABORATORY A WORD FROM THE SPONSOR.'
The station was beginning to fill with the noon crowd, wet, buttoned-up, moving from machine to machine.
He moved like a sloth to the top of the stairs and let the light mist settle in his eyebrows. Patches of light alternately obscured and revealed, drifted eastward on clouds and for a moment he felt like a man in a fight rolling on the ground and getting to his feet fears he's on a different planet and everything around animates with wild motion like enthusiastic crowds.
He drew in the orange and gibbous library across the street and waited for the light to change. Then thunder broke and echoed like porcelain jugs and drops of rain came heavier and he lifted his head, opening his mouth wide- ever wider to let the rain fall into his mouth and dissolve on the soft palate like a sweet candy.
The light changed and he half-danced, head up, to Dolly Parton across two lines of windshield wipers cutting clean the faces staring at him as though he were a Modoc Indian; the black tongues of his shoes flapping crazily.
THE MOTHERS ARE ALWAYS BETTER
Once upon a time in a time that should perhaps be
buried under stones of impunity, two people came
together to mate and when the mating had been done
they moved away from each other like strange
ships in the harbor.
Perhaps one was a devil and the other an angel or so they thought of themselves. They were fully conscious human beings that we know. Or spirits or animal spirits or clods of thought unloosened in dirty September when the rain started to distract the people.
We assumed that they did not speak to each other. At least, whatever words passed between them were of no consequence and did not reveal anything of significance about one or the other. They sexed like all the species do among all the tribes, all the organics, all the Earth bound and other-bound. Good, heavy thrusts and it was over in moments, the seed deposited, the miracle of life started again. They were patient with the child and much more conscientious than anyone gave them credit for.
Is it upon us now, the tale we have to tell?
Without the confusion and false starts that in
themselves would startle even a sentimental era?
Enough said that two beings came together for
the purpose of mating and in the confusion of
that act understood they had come for no other
reason. Two people, then, and a time forever, which
they will squirm in the memory of it; tantalizing
the present and future with exotic scents and
fashionable clothes as if the ornaments have
some power over memory. They believed in the array and ostenation of art and demanded colorful hats to be worn at the celebration of the first year of the birth.
And I? I sit in a tree with a flute against
my lips and watch the moon rise and fall. A damn
pretty site through the black, naked limbs of
this tree. And the road below me, half complete,
leading from over a concatenated roll of hills
towards a vast city in the distance where a night
is a sequent burning fire one can observe from the air.
They have removed the wheat, here, stalk by stalk.
This was not a pretty sight. Prisoners from the
local jail were driven by convoy trucks down this
road and pulled to a turn-out half a mile down the
road; angry men in brass chains. I could hear ever
faintly the orders barked by the uniformed gentleman
to the effect that every stalk was to be uprooted, tied,
and then laid in bundles by the side of the road until
a machine being driven, at that moment, from another
town was to come and devour the bundles with an iron
tongue at fifteen miles per hour without a pause; at
fifteen miles per hour.
All day the sun crept over the backs of the prisoners
until they were stooped in the field and by nightfall
the side of the road lit in precise bundles of yellow
wheat. Then they were taken by the trucks and disappeared
into the night and then under the morning star,
came the brute, strange machine exposing its tongue out
its side until all the wheat had been taken in.
It was nonsense to me. I who know the night. I knew the government had
a sudden urge to buy farmland for god knows what reason;
perhaps to build a wonderful government building or make a common investment. The business
of government as it revealed itself from point one of
my innocence and into packets of profound disgust, didn't
concern me at all. It didn't matter to them what I thought. I was sinister in their eyes. But they had all the power! Yet, they feared the little power I had. It put me at odds.
I was simply one who was trying to find his way. Damn the parents! Damn the world! But so it is.
The land here spreads, I reckon, a thousand acres from
both sides of the road. At the perimeters of the land
runs a dilapidated barbed wire fence. On the surrounding
hills cattle graze, at times alone and at other times, when
it is very hot, close together. I noticed them first as I
walked down the road now below me, without a care to be
truthful about it but reveling in a unique freedom I had
won out of the most ungodly circumstance. My mission was
to walk until I could no longer walk. Many famous men had made these senseless walks for upteem miles, unimaginable miles to show the world that man was a walking animal. And I began past the
little village behind me, where, perhaps because of an aura
that lifted from my body or the fact that I was a stranger
carrying a small, black rectangular case- for whatever
reason -a seduction was attempted involving myself and two girls. I call them girls. They were young women, of age. In my book until a girl passed through many humiliations and deaths she couldn't be considered a woman. And I had them all. Mothers and daughters.
Let us say they were not quite women but then they were not little
girls either but preparing to leave some formal school, perhaps high school, perhaps junior college. I'm thinking now
that in this little valley they had only seen coastal people
on television screens, so the three-dimensional reality, the
flesh of it, astounded their imaginations. I don't know. Pure speculation on my part. It's a sport, privileged among the wanderers of the Earth.
I was in my room and writing inside my flute case notations
I had heard in my head, carefully remembering what they had
looked like for they were real images and not simply sounds
I would wrench to retranslate in notation but
the notation itself. As I wrote them I could
hear the notes play back to me. If I may say so, without
sounding pretentious, there was something about these
disparate notes that was profound. A melody began to mimic itself from node
to node. That's when the tapping came at my door.
I was startled. I was, after all, a stranger. I had expected
complete aloneness; had even prepared and gone through
a kind of initiation for isolation, a kind of self-hatred or self-mocking. I think it is entirely perfect human behavior.
I certainly didnt want disturbance but the knocking was
persistent, then timid, then loud and insistent.
-In, in! I yelled.
The door opened gracefully and the two sisters or friends (I never found out which) stood nonplused at the door. One of them was tall and pale like a moon drop but slim and carrying three or four magazines under her arm. The other was pleasantly plump and dressed in the freshest green dress I'd ever seen as though she'd bought it that morning and ironed it later in the day so when the
sun came out it would take in a strangers eyes. It was fully green without design and fell to her ankles, held at her waist by a thin white belt. She had her hands on her hips and of the two I could immediately tell was the more arrogant.
-Yes? I closed the flute case with an unobtrusive gesture, an instinct I had learned so no one would ask me about the curious notations serpentining through the large yellow label inside the case.
-Are you from San Francisco? The tall one asked; she with the magazines. I was not from San Francisco proper to tell the truth but from a suburb which these girls had never heard of and which, at times, I was ashamed to admit coming from because it had a reputation for a gross kind of wealth and a crass population who rode in maniacal automobiles through secluded ways and courts winched into the hillside.
-I know the area, I replied. At this the girl broke down into giggles.
-Oh- he's from San Francisco!
-Maybe he has some pot from out there, the plump one said pointing her arm in an indistinct direction.
I had already guessed they had come to me for marijuana or pills of some sort. I knew young girls loved their pills.
But I told them I gave smoking it up years ago.-Smoking it gave me a more profound view of things in general. But then I always ended up contemplating hanging myself somewhere for, after a time, even the roots of trees appeared like sick worms ready to eat me alive given half the chance.
I have no idea why I confided in them like that. Perhaps I knew my intimate thoughts were safe with them because I would be gone in a day or so and never return.
I became nearly frenzied by their innocence and stupidity.
-I am a passer-by- a wayfarer leave me alone- what do you want? I felt the pressure increase in my own head and sealed my lips closed for fear that the provincial girls would become hysterical or frightened and bring the authorities to my little room. I did not know it at the time and only found out later in a very embarrassing situation, that the two women greeted all strangers who appeared out of the ordinary. It was a shock to me that I seemed out of the ordinary. It is a custom of mine, for instance, to cut or trim my hair
with my own hands and to do this I used two mirrors. I held a small mirror in front of my face and turned it obliquely so the back of my head was reflected off the reflection. This is for pure utility, to save money but I admit now that more than once I've paused and turned my head this way and that to catch an image of my face in different poses. Then I effected a smile and pretended I was someone else observing my smile, who judges ever preciously the contents of the two lips. I imagined a situation where I would be caught unawares in a restaurant or running along a beach and smile for a passing scene and while smiling another human being would be observing me and judging my character, potential, and class in the curve of lips or little show of teeth. During this process I've noticed that my face is completely normal appearing with a wide swath of dark beard covering both sides and a hanging bit of fur under by lip. I admit and admit again my solipsistic ingenuity in believing I am an old Patrician that belongs in the Roman Empire instead of the age I was raised in. Years ago, as a matter of fact, I had decided on an athletic career with the intention in mind to bring the crowd to its feet by a shuddering display of muscle and speed. I had been told that if one wanted to be; that the opportunity was there for anyone. And anyone being myself I trained every opportunity I got for the time I would grace the cover of a sports magazine and had, in fact, perfected an autograph which I still carry around with me. But I was diverted from my goal by temptation. I guess one could call it temptation or voices and yes voices can tempt but these were voices with a temptation I'd never encountered before and they led me to a Hell I neither have the time nor courage to articulate for fear I am still in it.
The thought came over me that I was at the vertex of Hell as these girls stood quietly in my room without any intention, it seemed, of leaving. Finally the plump one in the green dress announced that she intended to remove her clothes if I desired. She said it matter-of-factly as though there was no choice (and later my suspicions were confirmed) that it was a chore much like milking cows or shoveling horse droppings into the pig trough. Something her mother had taught her how to do when she came of age.
I say that fully disgusted at the thought but with no alternative, for I fear love is such a thing and now these two innocents were confirming my fear.
The girls had stepped into the room without invitation and were but three strides away from me. They did not do anything to those mating instincts which are always an embarrassment to me when they appear. I was excited by their temerity however. They had come to my room without invitation and had asked personal questions and now stood inside the room with half smiles on their faces; smiles that were not at all demure but stank of television itself as though being from a city like San Francisco I now had to perform for them. We stood looking at each other for a long time.
Soon, the tall one with the magazines sat on the brown chair next to the bed and began reading or flipping through the magazines on her lap. I did not catch the titles of these magazines but the pictures were familiar. I mean, the eyes of movie star's and athletes are as recognizable as anything and apparently this magazine filled itself cover to back with popular heroes. Don't think I'm trying to be derogatory. Kudos always belong to the popular heroes to the ones who can perform well; and my kudos also extend to any man or woman with the soul to perform well.
And I had once been romantic. Not in the vague sense either but in the actual sense of one who feels all is possible and that love between a man and a woman leads to the infinite or heavenly spheres or sublime music; any place but where the flame of nerves demands satisfaction.
I believe this on experience. And too, I believe women though I have reservations on that point. They fought to be free, I fought to be free, we all have fought to be free and felt free or at least as free as the women.
I was, however, in the middle of an experiment with myself. I bet on repression being better than the freedoms of the imagination.
How many ghost stories have been told lately? And who believes anything any more? How can there be without an incursion into our vaunted freedom?
Well now, people are doubly afraid you say. But it's all a fear of abstractions. A fear of a wisp of mind lifted to a latitude one actually believes exists over the contours of the planet. And out of of this, one tries to love.
There is no conclusion to be reached in this tale. The young women wanted me to penetrate
them as the clock struck midnight and then play my flute. Yes they found out I was a musician! But, they weren't interested in any song
I had to play for them. I waited until midnight and then began to play despite their presence. I allowed them to watch late night television and they
turned, immediately, to the music video station where men were painted in all the signs of black magic and were attempting to conjure the haunting season. I was going to warn the young ladies of this but decided that they must find out in their own time, on their own terms. They would have to discover the difference between the light and the dark. They would have to discover the moment when the devil himself dances from the end of some innocuous object that dangles like an old utensil in the shopkeepers window. I wanted to tell them,
"but, young ladies, you must come with me, at this hour, and sit on the rock high above the road and watch the strange
dance that occurs when the moon is full. Then, then you will know not to fool with these powers." But I didn't. I longed for the city. I was suddenly ashamed of my adventure and my feeble gestures.
They demanded to search me for drugs. They wanted to escape through dope, in the room I let, in my presence, as I tried to play my music. I dismissed their inquiries with contempt and suggested that it was time for them to go. -Go home girls because I have important things to do. I have more rocks to climb. I have more scenes to witness. I have more sounds to hear. You girls believe I will satisfy your curiosity for the perverse. I will not. Now, please go and leave
Reluctantly they got up and left. It was cold and dark and they sped away in an old car I had seen driving around the valley all the time here.
Two days later I was through with my private business and started my trek down the old road in early morning. I heard the sound behind me. It was the machine and its slow, voracious tongue. It was devouring the bundles of wheat laid neatly by the roadside. It was dawn and a few birds had collected on the fence, tiptapping along the top before flying to the shuddering machine. I knew the machine would, eventually, devour the town itself. I knew the young girls would be its victim. I knew that the scarecrows would be carted away on its metal tongue. I knew that there would be no trace of the town, no record of it, no memory of it, no spot on the map, no stories, no sound, nothing but my notations, my mere scribbles inside my flute case. So, it was very predictable to me that as I reached the border of the town an old car passed by me; whizzing with glee, with the young girls hanging their heads out the windows, winsome, as in some movie of youth discovering the parameters of its derangement, a beautiful American gesture of contempt for the mere will to witness and transmit. They yelled something obscene. They made me to understand that they were not devastated by my rejection of them several nights before. I knew I had a startled look. I knew I had not a thought in my mind. I only remember mouthing the words, 'ah, the Mothers are always better!'
The River Runs Down to the Bay
As the bus approached the river, up the Sierra Nevada toward Tahoe, he
knew it would cruise down the long highway through Sacramento and over the
green bridge over the Sacramento River and on toward the Bay Area. He lit
a cigarette. Then he pulled out the book he was reading. It was a
popularization of psychological theories that put into practice on a daily
basis would improve his smile, his regularity, and make him a god as well.
He had accepted the verdict that God was dead and that men were now the
gods and that as long as one was a god he may as well get good at it. He
felt the desire and excitement of a challenge and realized from
conversations that the Bay Area was excellent for these ideas.
Inside the bus cried a little baby as its mouth slipped in and out of a
young mother's bare breast. He stared in amazement at the sight of the
bare breast. Not the bare breast itself but the sight of it, bare and
effulgent and naked as the young woman watched passively out the window.
And he was happy. It had been hours since he'd eaten anything and the
pressure of the hunger made him lose control so he giggled childishly and
when someone turned around in their seat he blushed and held the book in
front of his eyes.
There it was again. A long explanation about how God had been conquered
by rational men and their techniques and how men now had to assume the
responsibilities of former gods and how all kinds of questions where
realized by this idea. So, the book said, it comes down to personal power.
We must not let those forces we believe have power over us intimidate us.
One needs to cultivate personal power and rest (if we are conscientious)
will take care of itself.
Yes, he mused. That was right. He remembered how his father had nearly
been ruined when a new harvester had not arrived in time. The old one had
become dilapidated but was pressed into service at the last moment but
that harvest had been a failure. If his father had not panicked it might
have been different. The father grew panicky through he didn't manifest
it; he would no longer think straight and seemed stunned after awhile,
gazing at his field for long moments of time. Then it was too late.
Snow had fallen the previous night and by melting alongside the road
sent up wafts of cold air through the window cracks and turning his breath
into a visible thing that hung up in the air and pressed airless into the
Yes, he thought, there was something indomitable about the idea of men
becoming gods. Perhaps he had to...
He had studied a little history and realized it was a horrible failure
and even feared the consequences of that failure and realized some new
notion of God seemed less and less a threat than a necessity. But there
was so much to manage. There were so many bureaucrats and spoiled women
running around that would cut the legs from any gods. And they had the
power. They had the power during the war and they still had the power and
if they were ascended to the throne of gods.....it was frightening.
He had worked briefly at a computer company doing inane work and had
watched the managers of the company strut from one end to the other doing
nothing but create storms of ill-will through the people working hard at
their jobs. One of the men actuality threw his shoulders back in the
gesture of a military man as he held pieces of paper and distributed them
to the secretaries.
There were no true symbols for stupidity; only a feeling that struck
him like a fine, slim arrow.
From his window he watched the parallel streaks of vapor behind a jet,
going East. He had seen one crash before. It was a monstrous sight. It
happened in Arkansas in a storm. The sky had turned to gray swollen balls
of oilsh rain and he had heard the loud pop before the languid drone of
the engine quit and he looked up in time to see a red and sliver jet
immolate itself in the muddy fields of Arkansas. There were many moments
of silence in his mind even as the ground shook and an enormous fireball
rose up into the black sky. He was trying to remember if he had heard the
screams. It was probable. He had heard them as the plane rolled toward the
ground and his hands were sweating in fascination and horror even before
the jet hit.
It was, quite frankly, as if somewhere in his latent thoughts he'd
wished it to happen. Sometimes when he'd been a boy he'd look out of his
window and watch a plane and would imagine it falling and then
concentrated with boyish zeal to see if he had the power to actually make
it fall as he'd seen an alien do in a science fiction picture. When in his
mind the little plane had crumpled and fallen he immediately felt ashamed
of himself but would never reconstruct it and place it in the air whole
He had been raised on a farm in Minnesota. The sight of a plane was
mysterious in those days. There was ritual and work so when a Piper Cub or
Cessna or an old crop duster flew over the farm it was a break in the long
monotony of chores and ritual silence that seemed bred into the farm life.
This was silence that nearly drove him mad. His father had talked about
pride and had always walked about the house and the farm with his head
alert and erect, with smoldering eyes as though he had been born out of a
stalk of corn rather than a human mother.
The boy was told a great deal about pride and how a man ought to be.
No, he had to be proud of the work he did and of the life he lived. They
were meaningless words for a boy who went to the movies every week-end and
saw images of pride fall one after another to the wiles of city women and
the oppressive world men had built up around him.
His father had berated him once for being slow and it confused him
because it appeared slowness was what a farmer needed. He took slowness to
be an act of responsibility; the act of thinking which brought itself into
from out of dreams.
That's what he did as he did his chores in the early morning. And one
morning he caught his father staring at him from the corner of the house.
They stared at each other for a strange moment that lingered and did not
soften in the sound of the crows and roosters clucking and making a fuss
over the morning; now sprinkled with clusters of bluish stars.
The boy turned away to his job. He heard the footsteps of his father
along the ground the noise ground into the boys spine. "This should have
been done already," the father said without admonishment but with a matter
of factness that had, even, a tingle of appeal to it. Then he heard, "You
do this all the time. You're slow. It's that dreaming. Don't do that
The boy blushed and felt hot under the icy morning air. Then the farmer
became shrill. "Goddamn boy I need your arms and legs but not your dreams.
Now wake up!"
The boy thought his father was going to beat him. It would be the first
time and he waited.
* * * * * * * *
The boy had left the farm to go to college and then had started to
read. He read omnivorously as though each work in each page in each book
had been written for him and had merely passed hands to wait for his eyes.
Soon he left college but returned later on to get a degree because his
father had wanted him to get an education and then go on into the world.
Secretly the father wanted his son to get beaten by the world so he would
eventually return to the farm and take it over.
The son became imbued with radical politics. The draft had passed him
by but he had become radical. He had felt indignation at everything he saw
happening on television and read in the newspapers and felt the same rage
smoldering in the more articulate leaders of the radicals.
And one day he had wakened in his head to the complete and utter
feeling of doom. In his imagination he could comprehend such a thing as
doom but when he tried to understand it with his emotions he felt a long,
protracted slide in himself that felt heavy like the ice blocks he used to
take up to the mainhouse on the farm.
He had gone to school with some friends from the town and they had
dismissed everything as an aberration of a few perverted souls who wanted
cheap fame and attention from the news. The fellows laughed a great deal
while drinking and would get into fights once in awhile. He would watch
them fight and how serious everything would get and how everyone wanted to
rush in and save the fighters and clear up the problem.
However, his best friend Ned had gone off to the military and come back
from Vietnam in a bad way. Some guys in the town finally tracked him down
in an institution by the SAC base. So, he went to see Ned who did not
recognize him but went into a long, intricate plan he had concocted while
everyone believed he was insane and his plan was as lucid as anything he
had heard. It had frightened and shocked him. And in a curious way make
him glad that Ned had been locked away.
Several days later he had felt guilty about being glad his friend was
incarcerated in a mental institution and sent him a short letter in which
he tried to explain who he was. He thought maybe if his sick friend
remembered who he was he would snap out of his condition and return to
where he really belonged.
He didn't received any letter back and felt very sad.
* * * * * * * *
Tension mounted between himself and his
family. They were not patriotic in the common sense of the word. They were
not the vulgarians that popular media had made people of this sort out to
be. Perhaps the media had felt an intellectual shame in themselves for
having feelings toward the country and, as the shrinks would say, project
these feelings into souls who couldn't really defend themselves in the
face of the media's power.
But, curiously, there was a kind of hatred in these people toward
everything not connected with their work and what they had earned out of
And when he came back home he was met by silence. His father did not
even tell him anymore that he dreamed too much but only looked at him with
curious disinterest. And from that day he realized it was all different.
He took his diploma and burned it. He collected some reading material
and decided to travel with the idea of reaching California. San Francisco
had a magical ring to it.
It was in the South where he had watched the airliner plunge from the
sky. He had been in a daze the next morning, then bought the newspaper
which was bordered by black, thick lines and in solid bank numbers summed
up the fatalities. Lower on he read the list of passengers who had been
killed. No one had survived. "They never survive disintegration," he
thought to himself.
He ran away down the road, toward the town, at first to tell someone
what had happened. But as he watched the vehicles pouring by him on the
road he realized there was nothing to tell so he went back to his room and
lay on the bed, playing the sight of the awkward demise of the plane again
and again in his mind and then heard the screams of the souls
self-conscious of their final moments on Earth.
He read the long article. The plane had been heading for Florida and
was caught in the storm. The pilot radioed the local airport than an
engine had failed. The newspapers said the pilot was calm and used the
world, "whole mechanism," before silence.
He read the list of the dead and they animated in his mind as though
they had been family or personal friends. He imagined making love to the
stewardess named Sarah before the fatal flight and then heard her scream;
of all the people who'd been screaming it had been her that he heard.
It was like drowning. Perhaps a window had broken out and the influx of
heavy air emptying out had made them swoon. All their lives were passing
in front of their eyes and at the last few seconds had been a benediction
of voice repeating the deeds of their lives so in the fragile cabin came a
rich mixture of voices. No, he had heard screams. Individual shouts for
Perhaps it was the young woman filled with sadness for her passing love
that had abused her and comforted her, it was to end now, and she closed
her eyes to listen to the others and sighed horribly in her breast.
No, he was being maudlin now. They all screamed. And the plane, too,
make an inhuman noise on its descent. And even standing on the ground he
could feel the vacuum sucked behind the plane.
He couldn't get over how he had wished it to happen. Not that people
were killed. His wish had been an abstraction that left people out of the
In his motel room he read the newspaper while laying on the bed with a
dim light on by the side.
There had been eyewitnesses. A tobacco farmer and his wife were outside
at the time. "It just fell out of the sky and exploded." His wife was,
"shaky and upset." Then at the end of the article the wife was quoted as
saying, "Lord, none of those poor souls had a chance."
He argued with the quote. They had as least as good a chance as anyone.
No, that wasn't right. There was something fatal and absurd about a plane
falling out of the sky and killing hundreds of people.
The woman had awakened in the morning and freshened herself while
thinking about her lover in Florida. How she missed her lover and how
strange it was that they were separated all the time. Two months before
they had exchanged gifts at Christmas and she wore the pendant around her
soft neck. They would make it known to those who needed to know that they
were lovers of a different sort.
How passionless she felt and how she missed her lover in Florida.
And at the airport she had felt a sudden laziness as though she no
longer wanted to be what she was but what was she going to do?
In the restaurant she had eaten a sandwich and watched the people crowd
in and out of the long thoroughfare that was the airport and felt sick
suddenly as though she no longer wanted to be with them. The fat, groping
bastards she had thought. Perhaps it was time for the lover to work for
awhile. She would stay in Florida and enjoy herself while the lover made
the living. She would talk about it.
It is all useless speculation and fantasy he thought. What races
through their minds belongs to the doomed and no one else. What can we
know but that we are glad we are not in their predicament. Of course, at
any moment the bus could fly off the highway toward the white-water of the
river below and in the moments before death we, too, would know the
silence and peace that comes with absolute knowledge. Ah, but a part of me
would know how ridiculous it looks like on the news and how little
attention people give to it and how quickly it's all forgotten. And would
we, as ghosts, fly away together? If there are is no God, there are no
ghosts. But still, some electricity has to survive.
It's all idle speculation he thought again. His favorite characters
were soldiers and gladiators who welcomed death and so showed everyone
else how to live. Or, how to die well. Now, he thought, they're all afraid
of dying so when it happens suddenly like that it takes them by surprise.
And surprise was not delightful to them. No, it threw a monkey wrench into
the deal. Therefore, there were screams. Not one of them, he thought, had
said, "ah, it is a good day to die...." And for what? They were like the
tourists in ancient Rome drowned in rough seas off the coast of Africa who
no one thought about any more except their family and then they
disappeared and there was nothing. But even they, at the moment the ship
was going down, must have spoken or connected with eternity and so were
present with him, even on the bus.
And some of them, he ventured, could tell him a thing or two about
life. At least about an exotic dish of figs and squid that they served on
the ship during the passage. In those days, he thought, they did not laugh
at nakedness but welcomed it. There, in that ship, at least one man or
woman had said, "ah, it is a good day to die," and welcomed it. But they
are forgotten now and nothing remains.
He felt a prickly sensation on the back of his neck and stared out
along the cold freeway and cold mountains and cold river that rushed
without thought down into the wonderful Bay.
The Novel In The City
There was no other choice, finally. They had made him
decide. They had taken his mind and he had seen the
exquisite details of what needed to be built. A bridge,
which later people would drive over non-plussed and thinking
of the job, thinking of the spoiled kid, or the sudden
cramps. "Oh, the bridge is pretty. It is a pretty bridge."
And men had fallen from the bridge and plunged into the
He had remembered the city as a kid. It was a high
explosion of color and sound, with everything large and
moving quickly around him. An exoticism that even early
travels to Mexico and the Midwest could not match. No
matter how many times he was in the city he could not get
over the feeling of being in a huge play or carnival. Now,
as he reached a certain age, it all looked rather sad and
low to him. There was color, certainly. There were exotic
creatures but now they came at him like lost acquaintances,
like friends he had known in another existence, at college
or the first job he ever had. Or, like clowns who know you
are no longer frightened of them and you can see their disgust
under the paint. And the sound was muted. That was odd to
him. It was as though some huge librarian, invisible, were
telling all the people and machines to hush up and they were
And he suddenly realized that he had absorbed them all, had
made them into his own private world but had never really
thought about them. All the pretty characters lined up in an
orderly row ready to do his bidding. All of the males here,
and the females there. Children here. A few mixtures of gender
and ethnicity. Young, middle-age, and elderly. Dreamers and
doers. The flaccid and the erect. Boozers and silent tempters
dressed like saleswomen in fashionable stores. People had
thrown off the old style of dressing and were like tramps in
fashionable rags, faces old and beaten, discolored hair, and
voices edged in ruin. Dope and loud music, he thought. And
reading the wrong things, no doubt.
Ah, they all have mothers and do five predictable things per
day. No matter who or what they may be. Since I know that for
a fact, then I know everything in essence. What is the need to
know more? Oh, I suppose the tale of Bulgaria is something to listen
to or the tale of pets they have owned. We are captured, then, in
their tales. And that is a sign. We want that sign given when the
tale liberates us. We, I, you and who does it matter. A sign, a
good healthy sign from something strange and exotic to tell us that
we are free. Indeed that we are not in the oppression we fear
I crossed the city gently in hurried feet to find a colossal
head sticking out an old window above me. "Hey, not so gentle,
not so fast....please." And believe me, I knew he said it
sarcastically. It was a bitch that day. For one thing I was to
meet a woman I had fallen in love with but I couldn't find her
or, I had been with her and she ditched me. She just disappeared
so it was my duty, then, to look for her. I was somewhat dejected
but I also had a purpose and that gave me a wonderful sense of
meaning, as though all my past sins would be forgiven if I found
And all the traffic seemed to disappear and that was very odd.
It's true that the traffic was simply another piece of the puzzle
in a complicated city like this one but it was an important piece,
a crucial piece as the politician would say and without it it just
didn't seem like a city.
A mysterious wind kept blowing up, from the street, lifting
the dresses of a few old women and catching the bill of a baseball
cap and sending it head over heels along the street. It was not
a whirlwind or a dust devil but a swoop of wind that seemed to glide
up the side of one of the grand, rectangular shapes filled in with
dark glass, a thing that defied the wind and, in fact, all imagination
and tried to make one mute before it.
And then I suddenly realized I was standing in a spot I had seen
filmed decades before when I was a kid and had taken the bus to walk
with my cousin in the big city. We saw the cameras and the crowds
and over and over they shot the scene of a man dressed in a suit coming
out of a building and hailing a taxicab. Again and again and when we
realized what it was we tried to position ourselves so we'd get
in the movie somehow. When the movie finally came out my cousin and
I saw it and were disappointed we had been cut out of the film, apparently,
but that spot, I always thought about that spot along that long dirty
street I now found myself on. The old building was gone but there
was a taxi stand and a few drunken bums mumbling that Jesus was just
around the corner. Here is where the famous actor came out, I thought.
Here is where he walked hailing the taxi as he walked.
A man in love could never afford to live in the past. I came to
that conclusion when I was taken for one of these bums and, in fact,
temporally was in their company. "Ah old friend, you are among us again,"
and I thought, "this is a nightmare," but I didn't say anything
because I had heard these bums could be dangerous if you riled them
up. "I'm looking for someone, a woman." And I knew before I said
it I should have said nothing. Two of these creatures reared back
and roared with laughter, their spittle hitting me on the face and
arms. "Aren't we all my friend, aren't we all!"
We should always be mindful that in the city danger is just
around the corner. A piece of clothing can be floating in the
strong, prevailing winds and smack you in the face so you walk
into a doorway filled with nuts and killers. And as you
disentangle yourself the first face you see scare the daylights
out of you and you grab the first thing you can to defend yourself.
And then you realize that, in this place, they kidnap and drug
men like myself to go serve on tramp steamers from China and
back, like the good old days. And they roll you after you're
drugged up and then shoot you down a trap door where a guy
gets you in a burlap sack and then you're dragged onto a stinking
rusted out old thing and by the time you wake up you are in the
middle of the Pacific Ocean; pelicans and the smell of salt and
fish on your skin. It all flashed in my mind as a possibility
so I threw down the errant clothing and found the door and walked
out into the city that I embraced fully now. "Oh beautiful chaos
and confusion, oh beautiful humanity!"
Ah, another adventure I will tell to my friends. This is what the
city was to me; good, bad, and indifferent. And truth be told, many
times I skulked around the city alone with only a little money in my
pocket seeing how it felt that way and looking at the tourists and
wealthy looking people as though I could be dangerous to them. To get
their reaction. And they would start to whistle when they saw me and
look the other way. I presented then, on days in which I planned such
excursions, a face few would recognize.
I suppose politics had something to do with it. The sense of injustice
that appears mysteriously on the scene. Two men die on a riverraft; two other
men must die in the desert heat. Two men made members of the castrati
against their wills, two men forced into unconscionable acts. An eye for an
eye; tooth for a tooth; pecker for a pecker; louse for a louse.
For instance, continuing up the highway where pedestrians were hit
and slaughter nearly on a daily basis, I caught the sight of a fellow I had
known years before. A jovial, drunken man who could hit a golfball three
hundred yards when he put himself into it; when he was sober. He used
to call me Dufus. "Hey dufus, my dufus, you'll always be my dufus."
I didn't mind in those days because we were busy trying to alter reality
beginning with our names given to us at birth.
It may have been him. It may have been a twin brother or a stranger who merely
looked like him. I hadn't spoken to him for years so his appearance could have
changed without a doubt.
Ah, wonderful city full of memories! Words can't do you justice.
There is the orange glow of the city at its center, invisible to
all but her deepest lovers. And the voices hum high above the
buildings waiting for the fog to roll in.
So, we were there and it was bright. It did not belong to us.
Fine, give it up we thought. What belongs to us, exactly? And, on
top of that, we loved the mountains more than the city. We loved
the raging river more than the city. But, it was here too and indomitable
like the new mountain or new raging river. What could I do? It was
like a woman; you couldn't live with her or without her. So, she had
the power and when she discovered this it was katie bar the door; the
Indians are outside whooping for scalps.
The key was putting one foot on the step of the cable car and
then swinging gracefully up and over the tourists so you were
right near the brakeman. And they jabbered on the walkie talkie
all the time as if they were part of a secret cult that new more
than everyone else. Everyone else was simply a pawn or, more
precisely, a prop that they wheeled in, wheeled out all day and night
while the cult thrived beneath the lights and darkness and rumbling
sound of the wonderful cable cars; past the old buildings where
ancient affairs had taken place, where the fire had been, up over
and down into the bay where bodies were still hidden in coves.
"Oh wonderful city, full of mischief!" She sang it in high tones
by the old steel sculpture of the rider on the horse. Mischief.
I always associated that word with matches but as I got older
I began to associate it with that wonderful, overrated activity
that was marred by an obscene word; a terrible word. You, word,
leave the premises and never be heard from again! You belong in
the Tenderloin bars and nowhere else. The word had come up from
the deeps to penetrate even the most puritanical and asinine
group of women who did "charity work" because they had lots of
money and time. No, they said it, sometimes earnestly, as if it
were a badge of honor. To prove that they, too, had been on
streets and rubbed into the underarm of the people. Ah, democracy,
you wonderful virus!
The city had known what could be termed, the marauding of empires.
And these included native people's as well as the Spanish and
infamous Americans. "Come," she says, "lay your pride on me; I
am layers and layers of your pride." The huge difference was that
the Spanish empire was in decline and the American thing, not an
empire I suppose but a large swatch of action, was beginning to
bloom especially since gold had been discovered. I had learned
as a young boy that the robber Murieta had been beheaded and
his head, in a large jug of alcohol, carried up and down the
state for the entertainment of the masses. It seemed to me, at
that time, a fully justified act to behead Murieta but I learned
later that many of the stories about him were aprochraphal; inventions
by clever hacks who wanted to sell newspapers. In truth, he was
simply defending a rotting empire.
In the outposts of empire there is always gaiety. Women dance
freely and men drink into a stupor as cattle is butchered for
the feast. But then as the empire sinks in the darkening sunset
funds are cut-off and the outposts have to fend for themselves.
Then the gaiety ends, the women dance no more and men, while
still drunk, get violent and short-tempered. Little pitched battles
no one remembers break out along some obscure creek. Gun fire
is exchanged. One man is shot fatally. Horses neigh and whinny.
And at the end of the day every man engaged in the squirmish is
ashamed but feels as though they have been, not simply to hell
and back, but revived and ready for anything.
The Indians had driven out the primitive camel, the Spanish
subdued the Indians, the Americans drove out the Spanish and
the Americans no doubt, were going to simply drive each other
crazy and so something foolish like join some terrorist group.
Oh beautiful tangled city! Ah, times mysterious weave! Come
now and make me a wonderful cloak filled with the hearts of
many people. Come now and be an observant bird in the gardens
of the powerful.
We missed the magnificence. It was lacking or had never appeared.
Ah, good that will make us all great or, at least, filled with our pride. No, the spirit couldn't be fooled and it knew the condition of
things, even in the great city, was not good. Pathology had hit a critical mass and so the citizens believed it was reality. They never
consulted that which could break the spell; there were some sources but they were hidden, afraid of the awesome rejection of anything half
way good that came there way and ready to hide behind the facades of great, grey buildings or the words of the politicians.
"City! Buried under you is a seed no human hand has touched." Thousand and millions
of non-plussed faces had passed over it looking straight ahead fearful one would read their hearts and report them to some authority.
The powerless laughed and it was good to hear. The powerless laugh well and with meaning.
For instance, they understood nothing of the simplicity of making something complex. The mind can be a mighty spade in clear Earth double
digging between the rats and lizards. Ah, favorite animals to contemplate! It took only a few to ruin the cavalcade of humanity, we knew it was only a few
but a few we knew well and so dominant. It was our fate to know a few of the rats and lizards and have them run amok in our heart of hearts. They wanted to
extract something from us, goodness knows what. We humored them. They tore at us with red eyes and demanded some accountibility. "What? We serve you? No! It can't
be possible in a democracy." So they tried then to skin us and hang our corpses from lamposts to show everyone who was the boss. We ran. We ran with meaning. We ran
as though our lives depended on it. They were all implicated, even those dogs who pleaded innocence. No, you are not innocent! You are fully implicated and it will be your
final thought, god forbid.
The city truly had its good. There were smells around the stadium for one. And smells along the Wharf. Those were good,
as were the sights from the hills. And darting into a dark club at 1am, leaping from a Triumph and being completely present and wanting to see waggling wild breasts shaking by
a good woman. Good woman with her wild touchless breasts. Then we would dream for days on days about them. They did not belong to us but to the city and its great butt sticking
in the air like a thick tongue dragging a old ferry to dock.
We walked on past the taxi cabs and street signs. Past the homeless vets and hairy women who protested out in the daylight with
paper shit flying around them; they cried out into the red wind for justice and were hit with a wrapper. Now they live beneath the vaults of the train station where the silver cars go
buzz all day long.
Lovely city of big hearts and kind moments. City of crazed, wonderful idealists and world seekers! City who makes me weep and flashes
in every sign conceivable. City of remains and of expectations. City cut to the bone so the whiteless bodies wiggle under soft lamps at night. Beautiful and infinite ray of sun that makes
an old hand warm in the late stages of an ordinary day. Oh sun that passes to the sea below! Forgives us for the disjointed joy we feel, this motion, this light so common but eternally rare
and ourselves, a connective tissue without which we are abandoned molecules in the void.
When a master makes his move, look out. Anything can happen.
The city is a song. It makes song in its belly. It dares its citizens to understand the sublime nature of its song. Unlock the power
of this song and all is yours, it seems to say. It drowns in the wrong songs but that is the fault of the people who don't know the difference betwen lousy songs and
Continuations, continuations, continuations into the night; rare birds through the trees of our delight. Phantom birds who speak our
language and nest under red bridges. Speak. Make song. Declare.
Hard! And hard again! Down and through the bastards! A knife through their ice fjords; a ray of sun through their colorless spirits
roaming aimlessly through themselves like old ghosts before they die.
2335 words to here:
* * * * * * * *
It was something not admittable; the powerful had merged into the steel and
glass buildings that ringed the lower end of the city. Connected to them was one of the fabulous bridges,
a sterling example of engineering and technological know-how. And the decades had seen the huge black cars,
the little white ones, the huge black ones again, reappearing after fifty years, stretched out a bit and
roomier as they say.
And the ballpark near where the first one had been; close enough to the field to see the fading tattoos
on players. Oh wonderful mock battlefield! Huge screen of childhood fantasies arching high into the blueness
of all days. In those days the fans would fight and fights would break out and his dad would get excited, they'd
all get excited, "hey, a fight!" and he look up to see two now three fists flailing in a crowd that had quickly
collected until the rent-a-cops came along, big black and scary white guys probably queer came along and broke
everything up. Big epics fights among the drunks in the coolest ballpark at the time.
I was a boy. And the ballplayers were heroes, beyond approach. I was a boy and the ballpark was a magic
theater that breathed of history and vitality; memory as strong as a good tendon. Memory leaping with black men from
the Dominican Republic reaching out in full stride for the ball streaking through the air like a missile. Memory of sounds and
old women yelling at the top of their lungs, big fat women with wrinkled cleavage hanging over the railings cussing the
players. Oh beauty. Oh beautiful life, do not deny me.
We filed through the streets as though the streets had to announce us; they had to make us real.
"Here come the young men and they have tales they want to live out....let them live their foolishness out
and then we will reclaim them!" So saith the streets as we passed on them, their hard and spoiled surfaces
passive to the traffic, to the insolent smoke of old cars and gutted fast food remains.
* * * * * * * *
The Great Conversation
We were in the semblance of a great conversation. Since it was late it abruptly ended but everything he had told me, everything we had exchanged in the form of our dreams and experiences lay good and fast in my brain.
"I will tell you," he had begun,
"about the way men are. Men are angry at life,
they are growlers at their fate, they escape as
they can, they kill from time to time, they
aspire to the stars and that which stands in
their way becomes their enemy. So, with that as
a background, let's take one man, my friend
Niles Brah who always complained, oh yes,
complain, complain, complain heaven help me he
could do nothing else. I said to him, Niles, you
complain too much you need to visit some fabulous
place that is out of your mind, that is out of
the range of your mind, that is completely away
from anything which you know. Fine, he said,
where is that? I paused not knowing what to
answer since it seemed very apparent to me that
he would brush my suggestion right off. So, I
took down a large volume in my library. A blue
covered volume about 6" thick and used rarely,
but definitely used. I opened to the middle
section which had on one side a slick photograph
of an abstract, golden city that was not named.
There was intensely small, leaping text on the
other page. A few words I still remember.
'Dreams', 'burrowing', 'gratuitous', 'pathetic'
were the main ones. We read the text together
and stared at the picture and he suggested that
it suggested to him something
unattainable and therefore suspect. He began
complaining again. It is all so unattainable and
then he began to break down and cry. Oh for
God's sake, don't cry, complain I don't care. But
now I know that you hate that I complain, that I
am a complainer, well, I don't care, I don't care
what you think or anyone thinks we are all
unattainable to ourselves. No, we must go step
by step. That is, start from a discernible
point, a tiny unambiguous point made from the tip
of a fine, razor sharp pencil tip. There, now
think of any other point in the universe. He was
about to protest I could see this and I stayed
him with my hand. It is immeasurable for
certain but that is the point! Let us define
ourselves. We could be anywhere in the universe
and know where and what we are that is all.
That is what you want isn't it? Absolutely! he
shouted. Will I have to pray and serve you? You
are a madman I answered. But a particularly
modern version of the madman. Not the raving
type but the stubborn type. You want to be mad
because the specialists have convinced you that
madness is a power and you desire power. You go
mad, you desire power you go madder and you have
no power so now you are frustrated. But, madness
is still a Muse for you. You will not have to do
anything but connect the points that I draw for
you. Do that and you will prevent that great
complaint that rises in you from time to time.
Perpetual complaining, isn't that filthy of you?
You are hard on me, get to the next point. You
have one point and you are trying to draw me the
second point will you do that? Well, now, you
have thrown me off balance and made me think. I
was on a roll. We will put the second dot
somewhere on the north side of the star Antares.
Oh stop , stop it I don't know where these
things are. Stop all of this. I am going to
leave you now you are no god for a second I
thought you were a god but you are a nobody who
knows what the name of stars are. So, so long, I
am going to try and find a woman in the city
tonight but I doubt if I can find any healthy
one's. The healthy one's stay indoors these days
and drive expensive cars. They watch television
with their pet dogs and eat popcorn- well fine I
will find one who is on her way home. I will
comment on her dog and offer it a bone. But,
even then, I will be suspicious and demand to look
through her closet and refrigerator, yes, dammit,
her refrigerator because they were right when
they said you are what you eat; the people say
that all the time and they are sincere. You are
what you eat. I will not judge her but I
will leave if what she eats does not appeal to
me. Well, that is my immediate future. I wish I
could wait around for your story on Antares but I
must go to the city now. The ugly falling down
city that is a crypt so be it I feel half dead as
it is. Good-by I will see you sometime, perhaps
in two months. So, my friend says, he left and I
haven't seen him or heard from him since. I
hope nothing happened to him because he is the
type that could get into trouble in a city. He
would walk down a poor street and say the wrong
thing and get jumped by a gang and left for dead
but I hope I am wrong. In the immediacy of the
moment I felt the need to relieve myself. I did
so in a private room and came back but my friend
was missing. Well, he is gone, I will sit down
and read a book. The chair did not fit me well
but I sat and made a noise that I couldn't
identify and then opened the volume about how to
make ten million dollars in the stock market. Ah
yes, that is what I want to do. Actually six
million would be enough but they said ten million
so I wasn't going to complain. I wanted to buy a
baseball team. I wanted to build it by scratch,
player by player, coach by coach from the minors
to the majors. Oh , that is silly I thought in a
more meditative mood. You could put that ten
million dollars to better use. An enormous tower
for instance that would penetrate the atmosphere
and poke out several feet into the universe.
Obviously it would be equipped with life support
systems but would be completely clear so that one
would have an unobstructed view from the ground
to the universe. That would take ten million or
so. Perhaps, when I am wistful, I could buy a
concubine of Mormon women I hear they are not
jealous. I forgot that I was reading and went to
the television set and turned it on.
Immediately, the screen was filled with a huge
blue object that turned out to be the wing of a
bird. My first thought was a primitive one that
I think men must have had when he watched birds
fly. If men were meant to fly he would have
wings. But then, immediately after that, one
raises the question, well, why didn't he have
wings? Why would nature make him inferior in
that way? I was depressed watching television,
it always does that to me. It sucks something
from me every time I watch it as though it is
really watching me to suffer and sucking something
precious from me. A preacher was ranting on the
next channel that I was not giving him any money.
DON'T YOU WANT TO GET TO HEAVEN? DON'T YOU WANT
TO BE SAVED? He was frothing and sweating. I
took the book I had been reading and put it into
an envelope and mailed it to the address that was
on the television screen. It was late. The post
office is closed I thought to myself. I may run
into gangs with machine guns. But, God knows
that I was attempting to help the preacher; it is
the thought after all. Placated in this fashion
I took the book out of the envelope and began to
read it again, turning the TV down. On the
screen there was a love scene. A famous
actresses had one breast fully exposed, for a
moment, and I thought why would a famous
actress want to expose her breast? It did not
excite me. The scene dissolved and then came
wild dancing, wild dancers selling tennis shoes,
they were dancing like madmen, in and out, in and
out a dozen arms flinging upward simultaneously.
Do they make ten million dollars for this?
Whatever, I became engrossed with the possibility
of making ten million dollars from the stock
market. It said, buy low, sell high. At first I
thought they meant the disposition of the person.
Ah, this is too difficult. It is too difficult
to make ten million dollars. I will watch the
beautiful breast on the screen and be satisfied.
I will get in my auto and drive to Istanbul.
Yes, that place which I have been fascinated in
from grade school. I will shout in the Hagia
Sophia and then drive out the money changers. I
will disparage Moslems and run from them to the
Aegean Sea. I will rent a trireme and make it to
Carthage and find Augustine and tell him I have
seen the future and he shouldn't worry about
things. Stay libertine I will say, your god dies
in a few centuries. Now I have pangs of guilt.
I have done something wrong, made a taboo. It
frightens me. I expect the door to knock and the
taboo police to wrestle me to the floor. ON
BEHALF OF SOCIETY WE ARREST YOU. They will take
me to the empty hollow room several stories high
where your voice resounds and a judge will ask me
if I have committed the taboo. I will not answer
and then finally will say, if you insist yes I
did it but it was only a fantasy, a private joke,
the order remains I am no threat to it. He will
yell at the top of his lungs, his voice will fill
the room, YOU MAY ONLY DREAM AMONG THE DEAD
LIMBS OF THE OUTER TREES AMONG THE TOMBS OF
THE ANONYMOUS, BY THE HILL OF VISCERA.
So, I was sent to the Hill of Viscera for six months hard
labor. They had there among the other riff-raff
an amazing fellow. He told me that he was from
Slu and that he had amazing powers. For one, he
could see the thoughts of other people when he
desired. For two, he could make himself as old
or as young as he desired. He was not immortal
he assured me but almost. Do you want to see
what a five million year old man thinks about?
Yes, I answered, please show me. He did
something that I was sure was the mark of a
wizard and then, without changing any outward
appearance, began to speak like an old five
million year old man. And he began to tell me,
from the beginning, everything that he had seen
in his long life. He had seen the death of
kingdoms and of the bureaucracy and had seen
the polar caps melt twice and then freeze in an
ice age. He had seen travelers from other
planets attempting to root themselves on the
planet despite enormous resistance from the
natives, Ah old man, I finally interjected, stop
it is too much. This is too much information
for me I must stop it and think about where I am.
Well, I was by the Hill of Viscera. It was a
russet-colored hill rising on an angle to a
sparse clearing of trees, their boughs empty and
sad looking. Throughout the valley that extended
for what seemed a mile or so, there were the
figures of prisoners, of penitents who had been
placed there by the Judges. Tremendous energies
were released as they drove the source of the
taboos out of them, that is, the guards who were
dressed like Paladins. Each had a pikestaff
fifteen yards I would say. They marched stiffly
and correctly throughout the valley and could be
seen marching in pairs up the Hill of Viscera. I
was profoundly afraid of the guards. They wore
no expressions and only a few spoke. When they
spoke it was direct and to the brain and, more
importantly, to the very root of the taboo. The
mind felt sick. The words of the guard whirled
and spiraled out of control convulsing the
victim who rolled on the ground, writhing and
creating, throughout the valley, a field of energy.
While incarcerated in this fashion I pined for
the television set and the book on the stock
market. I could see them in my minds eye. I
imagined them better than they actually were.
Well I never got use to the Hill of Viscera.
Only once was I tempted to go up the Hill and see
what you could see from its plateau. Though
nothing had been said I assumed it was forbidden
for prisoners to go up, I began to go up. My
intention was to go up and then go down the
other side. I hid behind a rock, crouched so low I
could smell the heat of the dirt. It was night.
It was moonless and I figured I could make it in
ten minutes. But as I was preparing to leap from
the rock and steal my way up the hill a heavy
hand landed on my shoulder. I turned and it was
the ageless man. His eyes were filled with
terror. His face was contorted as if he were
going to yell at me. "You must not do it."
you figure I am going to do?"
"You are going to
climb the hill and find the way out. You will
find the other side and that is not wise for a
"You speak strangely. You speak like
one of them, one of the guards."
"I am the
guards. I am you. I am them all. Trust me,
don't go up the hill."
My heart was pounding and
I was dumbfounded that the ageless fellow would
stop any attempt to escape, even explore. But he
spoke as one with authority.
calendars were forbidden and I was entertained
the whole time by the ageless man who would tell
me what the imperial Paladins were thinking about
all the time. Their thoughts were not pleasant.
There were angry and resigned thoughts that you
would have assumed belonged to the prisoners.
In the end they released me on a
city street in a city I had never been to. I was
given a package of currency and the key to a
hotel room. From one world to the other! That
is what I couldn't stand. That is what almost
drove me insane. And my abode. Who was taking
care of the abode? Such were my thoughts as I
walked through the city. Most people ignored me
and went about their business. But I noticed
that when I moved from one crowd to the next
there would be one person looking very intently
at me. It spooked me. They began to drive me on
a course I hardly gave any consent too. I found
myself in front of a palatial hotel, decked out
in fresco's and white paint......
* * * * * * * *
The Man With the Covered Guitar
He was tall with long hair and walked with imperial steps through the avenues of Berkeley. Under his arm he carried a guitar wrapped in old leather. Sometimes he would appear with a red bandana wrapped around his forehead. Often he stopped people waiting for the bus and asked for a smoke or for some change and when they ignored him he would begin to laugh a practiced laugh.
In a small city one notices the new arrivals who come sullen and silent and gaze over the tops of things with the peculiar judgment of the transient soul. Broken loose from other circumstances they are, to the observant, small myths in themselves since one is always curious about where they come from and what they are up to. They wear the same clothing, they walk the same streets, they are around for awhile and then they disappear.
He had come from the Midwest. There was an occurrence in the town he hailed from- a disagreement or an incident in which he was involved. In the town itself there was little pressure actually put on the young man but in his own mind it seemed that everytime he made an appearance in the town he was being severed, however unconsciously, from every relation. He was not sad about this but he noticed, in reflection, that his own image suffered consequences; that the image of himself as a young man growing to maturity on the strength of his desires were withering and if he didn't do something about it he was, without question, going to become some brown-tinged leaf marked down to the gutter.
He had friends but they had fled the town or were in the process of making a great move and when they talked of this move it animated his imagination to excess. He too would move but someplace different than his friends. And so he would talk his talk and there would be encouragement's. First, he would hitchhike. That was the way it was done. How much information passed through this ritual! First, there was a sign to be made out of cardboard and big black letters which told of his destination and then the wait along the entrance to the freeway. He left on a cloudy afternoon. He wanted it to rain and imagined himself standing fully wet and holding his sign over the poncho he wore and then a friendly fellow driving a truck or station wagon would pull up alongside and wave him in. He would tell the man he was from New Hampshire and in the middle of his adventures rather than at the beginning since it sounded more imposing that way and when questioned further he would make up stories about little things that had happened to him. He had enough of a past to do such a thing and he was sick of honesty and the thought of telling little white lies and carrying it off made him more excited as he stood at the entrance to the freeway.
It didn't rain and fell dark on the plains so the plain looked like a corner of space with a galaxy behind him and in the frustration of waiting he gave names to the lamps and small lights coming out of the small town and laughed quietly to himself because now he could imagine the life under those lights as strange, alien and in the process of discovery; yes, a kind of hatchery for new life in the obscure corner of an obscure galaxy and in his mind he liked it that way.
Now came a pickup truck with a young man at the wheel and a wild looking woman or girl beside him and they stopped to pick him up and drove him one hundred miles to the big city, smoked some pot until he was dizzy with sound but he liked it that way if it was he and the sound that drew geometry's in his brain; triangles and rectangles.
At night, the empty places in the city, between the buildings soared with arching sound and he would bring this sound down into himself and watch the geometry grow in his own mind until he saw a face which distracted him and if he saw too many faces he would become frightened and all of his imagination would be used up in trying to figure why they were looking at him that way and between the geometry and fright he would find himself a place to stay.
It was different with the guitar in hand since people took him for a no-good. It amazed him when people took him for a no-good since he was doing what a normal man with talent does; carry his instrument around with him ready to practice at any moment, ready to copy the ambiguous chords he heard from the sky coming through to his instrument. What other things was a normal man with talent to do?
He especially liked the airplanes since their sound went from horizon to horizon and had a dynamic tone, a dramatic tone like the old classics and of all the ideas he had the one he wanted to carry off the most was a composition which would end or begin with the drama of a jet crossing the horizon. He had even drawn a picture of this in his notepad.
He stayed in the gluttonous city for two weeks living out of churches and homeless shelters. He talked to other musicians and even played a couple of sets in a good club though the people in the club were lousy and were more interested in drinking and picking up women than they were listening and encouraging new musicians. He did not understand this and went so far as to ask an old guy who played, "why don't the people encourage rising musicians," and the old guy simply said that entertainers were gods to the people and yet, they were people as well so that they expected the musicians to be their own encouragement; after all, how much encouragement can a mortal give a god? And at the same time the old guy went on saying they want to gods to fail, they want the gods to fall so it's a kind of test to see if you're really a god or whether you're just another joe pretending to be a god.
This didn't make too much sense to the young man; though his heroes had been musicians he never thought of them as gods. But after that, after the old guy had told him this he became more anxious about playing his instrument. Why had the old guy told him that anyway? It didn't make any sense.
And then one afternoon he went outside the little room he was staying at and he looked into the massive crowd downtown and the frenetic traffic and the awkward shadows which came off the big buildings and how they cut everything up and the hundred eyes darting and the silent crazy thing this city really was in spite of the noise, notation if one was quick enough to listen for it and how the body darted this way and that as though the sound was a prod and if not the sound then the clock or the money herding people who didn't want to be herded but who had to be herded otherwise they would have been free and that would have been significant. To be free with all those tools and power underhand.
He wanted to throw his leather wrapped instrument out into the street. The first people he saw he became. He was no more no less than the projection of the first ten people he saw. "I will become the man in the suit and the man with the gold rimmed glasses and the man with the dark shoes and the man with furrowed face and the man with the white umbrella and the man with the black watch and the man who hails the taxi and the man who coughs at passing beauty and the man without interest and the man who enters the building..."
He left that night for the west coast on a bus and after awhile people asked him to play in the back to break the monotony through the states. People could smoke in the back and a pall hung around him for awhile but he liked it that way and the people in the back of the bus were his type of people; young Midwesterners tired of the old ways and excited about getting to the west coast where things were as they were.
He felt sleepy though and begged off playing and those around him reacted in various ways; laughing or making a sarcastic remark or looking back at him as though he had let them down.
He tried to sleep. The bus was cruising over smooth road and the vibration felt fine to him and he dreamed that on the west coast would be a group of people who liked to hear the sounds of the world through the limitations of his instrument and the possibilities of his instrument and who liked to discuss things naturally but with enthusiasm so that the ideas in his notepad would be developed since being alone seemed to stultify that development.
An illusion was an illusion but a group was real enough no matter what illusion they had as a group and he figured most groups were moved by illusion one way or another; it didn't matter since that would be taken car of in the flesh and not in the mind.
No more performance for awhile, he thought to himself. And women. There will be women as a kind of reward. But that is in the future."
* * * * * * * *
He finally arrived at the West Coast fully revived by the chill over the Sierra Nevada's. He had awakened from a powerful dream and when he awoke a child was looking at him from a seat in front as though he had cried out in his sleep and then he felt great shame because he imagined all the things he must have said in his sleep, into the chilled, quick air of the bus and resisted pulling out the notebook where he kept his profound dreams and deep sounds.
It was nightfall as he arrived at the bus station. "One day," he told himself, "bus stations will be my favorite places." and then began whistling past the strange night counter of the bus depot and out into the poor, bedraggled city.
Instinct led him now and, with perfect aplomb, he boarded the first transit bus for the downtown area, paid the fare, and then sat in the back his his leather-covered guitar propped between his legs.
"Hey man, you play music?"
The guitar player turned around and looked at two young black men smoking cigarettes in the back of the bus.
"Yes, occasionally," he answered.
"What kind of guitar is it?"
He told them.
"You make any money at it?"
"Oh, once in awhile."
And now one of the black men had gotten up and came face to face with the musician, offering him a cigarette, which the musician refused.
They talked music for several minutes and then he asked him if they knew where the YMCA was.
"YMCA? You need a place to stay? Why, you can stay with my old lady and me. Sure, we'll go down to the Empress and drink ourselves silly then go back and surprise the old lady. She won't mind some white dude spending the night. One night anyway." And the man laughed and went to the back of the bus and got a satchel. "Com'on let's get off the next stop."
The two left the bus and went a block down a nondescript street until they reached an old hotel that had been converted into a bar and flophouse. The yellow and green sign said, The Empress.
Music was throbbing from within and when he entered the first thing he saw was the band on stage and knew somehow that by the night's end he would be up on the stage playing his guitar.
The man from the bus took him to the bar and ordered a couple of beers. The guitar player felt uneasy for awhile. Why did I get off the bus with this guy and am now in this bar with these strangers, surrounded by clapping, laughing, singing groups of black folk?
"Are you afraid of all us niggers in here?" The man suddenly asked above the noise.
The black man abruptly go up. "Get up and follow me," he told the musician.
They went along the bar to backstage. He had his guitar in hand. There was a tall, mulatto fellow with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth keeping beat with his hands.
"Hey Charles, I want this boy to get up and see what he can do."
Charles looked at the musician, looking him up an down.
"No can do, this is a union shop. Tell him to join the union."
"Com'on man, he's good. I've heard him play."
"You got a union card?" He asked the young man.
"No, never thought I had to have one."
The mulatto seemed to soften a bit.
"I'll let you play if you promise to get a card. That'll cost you $50."
"I don't have $50."
"That's not my problem man, Now, you either want to play or no. If not go back out in front. If yes, then give me $50."
"Well, not yesterday."
The guitar player suddenly felt ill at ease and bolted from the back, through the club and out into the night, clear air. He ran awry, with his guitar clipping against his leg, crossed one street, headed toward a long lit area that was several blocks up, reached that area and waited for another bus that took him to Berkeley.
That night he slept in the backyard garden of a church and when he woke up he figured it must have been 5:30 or 6 in the morning; the sky had that glimmer to it, that feeling of prelude to it.
The church was a simple and colorful structure. The garden was surrounded by a small, chain-linked fence and led to a backdoor to an anteroom of the church.
He knocked at the door hoping to find someone inside who could give him a little food. Food and the needs of his belly were the uppermost question now. He had never felt the knaw of hunger before. He didn't have the funds to sustain himself for more than a few days. "Well," he thought, "the day is young. I have a chance to square things away. I will not panic."
The church seemed deserted though it had been freshly painted. It was tucked into a corner of two obscure streets; a car would casually drive by from time to time. Along the sidewalk a student or a person from the neighborhood would walk by.
He felt dirty and rumpled and wanted to clean himself. The city was strange to him. The apartment buildings and the churches were built with architecture he wasn't familiar with. He felt awkward and knew the people would stare at him. He knew that before long he would be among crowds again but it was necessary to be among crowds to find some food and facilities.
He slung the guitar on his back and strode up the street, avoiding the gaze of strangers. Not only would they stare but occasionally one would yell something at him he could not quite discern.
The street was not like the city. It was small and contained within shops and small buildings and the people moved freely, at ease, up and down the street. As he stood on the corner of Telegraph and Dwight Way he broke into a big smile. "This is it, this is the place," he thought to himself. There was a dark woman, dressed in layers of clothes, blowing bubbles into the air and a big Indian, a fiercely proud looking Indian peering at him from behind a table where he sold belt buckles. There was a moment of transfixion. The Indian gestured with his big hand not saying anything.
"Lookin' for a place to stay?"
The guitar player nodded his head.
"There's a park up the street. It is called People's Park. There are a lot of people in there who could help you; where are you from?"
"Hmm." The Indian peered at him as though he couldn't place the name and then a collegiate girl stepped up with a fancy bag hanging from her shoulder.
The guitar player moved away. He stopped someone. "I am looking for a park. People's Park..." and was directed up the street when it suddenly became quiet. He could see the outline of green and moved toward it. There was a movement of people in the park. When he first looked at it the guitar player shivered. "This is not where I want to be. This is not it at all."
And then he saw a young man with a guitar in hand, strumming the guitar while sitting on a rock. He was surrounded by various people; naked children were running all around.
He stood alone for a moment and then entered the park as though he were entering a strange room. He didn't want to want to mingle with the people. He saw a tree and after reaching the tree sat down, stretching his legs and putting his guitar by the side. As he closed his eyes he could hear the sounds of birds in the trees above him; they sounded harsh. And, in the distance, the sounds of people laughing and talking. The sounds mixed pleasantly in his head and he reminded himself to notate what he had heard after he'd rested some.
The rest was good. He saw, again, the bus ride down the Sierra's and into the Sacramento valley. He saw, again, the boy and the bridge and the fastidious looking skyline of San Francisco that he would go to as soon as he could. He would stay away from the city until he had money he thought to himself. He remembered the black men in the jazzclub and how stupid he had been to run. It now seemed an eternity since he had awaken in the church yard.
He tried to sleep to stave off the sense of hunger. Just as he was falling off he felt someone kick the soles of his shoes. He opened his eyes to a bold looking face surrounded by hair and a wild beard.
"Hey, you hungry?"
"Yes, I am hungry."
"Well, get up and come over and we'll go get some food."
The men then turned and went back toward the circle of people in the distance.
* * * * * * * *
It took him a day and a night to get used to the Park. They generally left him alone and he would go to the furthest end of the park and fiddle with his guitar. He would sit and watch the comings and goings; the Frisbee players, sexing dogs, lovers under the trees, students trudging a path toward the University and, occasional arguments between the other, gypsy-like occupants of the park.
One night he had sat around a fire, eating a bad meal and listened to the people of the Park talk about their tales, where they had come from, what musician they revered, what concerts they had been to, what occult and astrological signs they had seen along the way, when the world would end and everything returned to the flux.
He had sat listening slightly in awe but nervous as well, playing slightly with his guitar. There were, in all, thirty people sitting around the fire drinking some and smoking pot and one or two would suddenly lean back and give off a rebel yell or wild laughter.
Finally, someone suggested to the guitar player that he play his guitar. "Show us some licks," he said.
The guitar player balked at first. For a long time he looked into the fire and didn't say anything, hearing the overwhelming silence of the eyes turned on him in the dark. Slowly but surely he strummed his guitar. He began to play a folk song. The others in the park, the gypsy-like and crazy types started to encourage him, began to yell out shouts of encouragement. He became more and more animated and before long was playing like they played in the heyday of rock concerts and after he had finished several people came up to him and said that he should play regularly somewhere.
"Well," he answered, "that's my intention."
"You could play down at the college. Play in the Plaza and get some coins for yourself."
"Where is the college?"
A fellow with hair graying at the temples told him that in the morning he would show him around the place. That night the guitar man's mind was suddenly filled with the dream that had animated him back home. Of playing the guitar before living human beings and the living human beings commenting on the way it sounded and paying him money. He wanted money now and saw that it was necessary; there was no disputing that now. He would take every opportunity that came his way. He berated himself for being reticent and distrustful of the people in the park. "They are just like you but without the talent," he heard himself say.
* * * * * * * *
In the morning he woke at dawn and walked around the cool morning to get the dew off his clothes. It was crisp and the houses surrounding the park, the wood and concrete buildings seemed absolutely solid and eternal. This, he thought, is how it must have felt to the earliest creatures; to wake in the dawn before everything else and stand in the stars and watch the sky lighten. And when he felt this he went to the guitar case and began writing notes down in the case and then went into the trees.
By mid-morning the older fellow came by and introduced himself again. The older fellow was gray and looked beaten from his experiences. He had an animated way of speaking and gestured quite often.
"First I'm going to show you the street and then I will take you to the University."
* * * * * * * *
The day was hot and smug but before it became too oppressive a stiff wind rose from the south and cooled the avenues of the city. The man with the leather guitar strode down Telegraph with his new found friend.
"Yes," he kept thinking, "this is the place; this is an excellent place, a place of inspirations!" The area was crowded with people who moved forward unhurried for the most part, lingering at the book shop window or record store entryway or to buy something from a vendor on a mat or behind a table.
"They come in from the rural areas and sell this junk," his companion was saying.
But the guitar man was not listening. He was absorbing the brilliant smell and color that penetrated the vague rumblings of his brain. He reminded himself to make notations as soon as he could.
There was a man with Tarot cards. The students, for the most part, already looked professional and the street was simply an anecdote they could tell someone in the future. They had taken over the myths of their fathers that the fulfillment of life was measured by cash. Mingling with them were an assortment of street people, working people, housewives shopping for shoes, dogs, and policemen who looked like ex-surfers.
They crowded Bancroft Avenue and went into Sproul Plaza.
"This," the companion was saying, "was the place to be a few years go. This is where everything that was happening, happened. Now, you just set your guitar right over there and wait a bit."
The guitar man unwrapped the leather cloak from the instrument and raised it high in the sunlight.
"Oh, you should have been here just a few years so, it was wild. I was there. There were stones in the air and wild running through these avenues. Oh, it was all wild. The cops were at every corner, cars bashing together for all of the confusion, and it was like war. It was war without bullets and bullets were only a finger trip away. Now, goddamn it, now it is all placid and still and these damn feet are trampling down the history that was made here. This is what you are against kid. This is what you are against. That is your audience now; they don't know the past, they don't know the marvelous foolery that occurred in this town, right here, just a few years ago. Was it that long ago? Well, it will never come back but I will tell you the history as I know it; it sticks in my head. I see them all, all the cops and people, every face as it was a few years ago and they are alive as they were then."
The guitar player was lost in his thoughts. He did not want to hear the sentimentalities of his host. He wanted to play. There was something in the daylight, moving crowds that wanted to make him play and he was anxious. He wanted to hear those drums. He wanted to hear the sounds frofm his guitar.
"I see a few of the people from time to time; all dressed differently now. They all seem preoccupied and busy so I don't bother them. I cry about it you know, yes, I break like a little boy and cry at all that energy that was lost a few fears ago and the profane feet that now cross the streets where history was made."
The crowds were lively. The students looked clean and as if they had come from the farm; the farm that he despised but looking at them he felt a tinge of nostalgia for the place he had left. They are everywhere, he thought again.
His host led him down the wide plaza that featured a spouting fountain and down a series of stairs. At the top of the stairs he could hear the throb of drum beating, drum beating, beating from the concrete that lined one side of the plaza. There were six drummers, beating congas in an accusative fashion, mad and defiant, a life rhythm and one he recognized although it frightened him from time to time.
"They are here every day, at noon, and in the evening and anyone can join in and play with them.
There is no greater unhappiness than the artist who, rushing into life, is captured by it and burned of his passionate desire to please other people. He must know the people who he is going to please and so rushes headlong into any experience that will give him a sense of the estate of the creature.
The guitar player, so full of hope and inspiration as he stood on the Midwestern plain now felt ashamed; ashamed and bitter toward the people who he had misjudged; the people who went on in their business unaware that he was possessed with sounds and forms none of them had experienced before. That they had never touched even the bottom of what moved him and yet they would live, as he lived, and with sheer numbers always forcing him to the margins.
Ah, the margins! He loved the people who had been cast out. But, even there were misunderstandings and even less knowledge of what inspired him.
For days the guitar player went to the pawn shop on Telegraph Avenue at Alcatraz and tried to get a better price than the fifty dollars the pawn dealer offered each time.
"It's old and covered in rags."
The guitar man just stared ahead of himself. He didn't want to part with the guitar but it was now an albatross preventing him from making more money. "And why do you want to make more money?" he asked himself silently in the chaos of the pawn shop. "So I can live without obligation to what I am devoted to," he answered himself. It was not his regular voice but a voice that erupted from some place in himself. He didn't want to admit it. He didn't want them to be right, to have assigned him a place after his romance with his guitar. I will laugh at this someday, these moments, they will be silly he thought as the pawn shop owner handed him a crisp 50 dollar bill.
* * * * * * * *
The Amazing Future Faire
A future tale, that they alone will fight
through the omnivorous details of the day, to that shroud tantalizing all!
It begins with dull impressions, like a poor forgery and on either side
play those exotic cajoling mystic clowns.
"Enter ye who dare
Enter ye Who Must
Enter and leave
"O- we contemplate, contemplate, contemplate! And it gives us nuttin' but
jizzes; how serious must the gathering be?
Outside, turn your head and tell me what you see.
Ay, purblind traffic and a hard crust."
* * * * * * * *We won't even seek red alligators on Mars.
Or waste our poor little eyes on adventures of lust in Cassiopeia. Or
protest the wars will rise.
For before us (big-bellied) is a scene we must peer into. And eat the vestiges of
fear and loathe the odor of ozone preparing our annihilation. It's our
plague and we must adjust. Out of disease comes conscience.
What say, boy!
"I see a man sitting on a rock, his legs folded under him. He's
surrounded by dissolution and wisping trails of buildings.
It's recognizable. It's fun. He believes he's the last man alive and
consoles himself by turning the waste into pleasure. But let's hear him
tell the story. It's his.
He prepares to speak!"
"Why behind me traffic anneals itself and the day is swathed with wild
clouds. And I know somewhere a flower blooms and I know of stories never
But here- Bah! To hell with'em all and all their crud.
They should take all the radios and cram them up their ass. And drive
all the cars off a pier."
Where were we and what are we doing here? We've stopped by a side-show,
a kind of rural snake pit that has a wretched air about it. But the sign
has promised something different.
A PEEK INTO THE FUTURE....for real....Just Look Through the
The air is infectious.
I'm driving from San Francisco to Oregon to visit friends and at that
moment in the drive where the scenery begins to collide; then I
saw the billboards. They were spaced fifty yards apart.
"The Future Awaits."
"Peek into the Bubble of the Future!"
"See the Final Man!"
Before its Too late. See!"
The radio was in between stations and the combination of boredom
and curiosity made me stop. As with any other guy I'd given the future a
thought or two. In fact I had devised a little theory about it along the
lines of an organic theory of life. To wit: If an individual plays out the
biological fate and dies, then too, nature had the same fate and would
perish and, in fact, had given the brain the knowledge of its own
destruction. Not simply knowledge, but facts and hardware. So, it was all
connected together without question. The future had something indomitable
about it. The attitude became infectious. What then is left but to drink,
eat, and enjoy a woman? Keep warm for half a century maybe and then break
down in weird babbling sounds.
I'm highly suspicious of these highway stands. They contained old, abused snakes and fake Native trinkets. But the promise of a
peak into the future was an enticing element for a tired man. I learned
later that the proprietor had enormous land holdings around Mt. Lassen but
pretended he was struggling by wearing old overalls with the Gorilla Ben brand
patched on the back. "Union approved" it said.
He was a stooped fellow by the name of Zog and moved suspiciously
behind the front table which was laden with artifacts and souvenirs as
appertaining to the future. There were pamphlets filled with doom prophets from the religious to the secular. One pamphlet predicted the end by pandemic. "Only The Insects Will Survive," was a title of another one. A book on the counter was a studious account of the previous five extinction events in the Earth's history.
This Zog was a shrewd man because he had taken reddish lava rock abounding in
the area and tried to pass it off as "fused automobiles." There were ten in
a row and when I called him out on it he became defensive.
"This is the way they'll be!"
I asked him if he had any melded buildings and he flushed and looked at me cock-eyed as though I was trying to pull one over on him. I
caught a fleeting glance of his daughter in a hallway that led into the Future Faire, where the
future was stored. She passed by the door like a scent and passed down my
eyes, uplifted by her beauty.
She was lissome with long pale arms and a face unmarked by any strain or stress but,
rather, smoothed by the hot summer winds blowing toward Lassen. Her name
was Roberta and she wore a star in her ebon hair. It was apparent that she
was kept at the Amazing Future Faire, not only for the entertainment of
the customers but that her father, Zog, had decided to punish her for some
unexplained reason; as though she had to replace her mother and would
never be free from the Amazing Future Faire. That was all speculation on my part. I had that uncanny ability to sum up a life within a minute of meeting them. Half the fun was hanging around to find out how long it took to reveal the facts that I already figured through insight.
I felt compelled to buy not only a ticket into the Amazing Future Faire, but a red lava rock under the scowl of the old
German. He put it in a paper bag and kept it on the counter before calling out, "Roberta! Roberta!" until she appeared from the back.
I saw her sadness. Her smile was for customers and concealed what an
experienced man could see. Under the smile was a ruined clock. I remember
as a boy keeping a clock under water just to see if it would tick
afterwards. To my surprise it did, but each day the face and hands
corroded and a week later, it stopped. And when I watched Roberta move
behind her father I associated it with the boyhood experience. A clock that had been kept under water for too long.
Zog fingered a fat brown cigar. "This pretty lady'll show you through,"
he said and motioned me to the entrance between the desk.
The Amazing Future Faire was a Quonset hut painted over in thick
psychedelic designs with an enormous red eye on the wall facing the
highway. The eye looked impressive from the freeway and was the one
everyone noticed. A yellow pupil stared from the eye and around the whole
ellipse shimmered an oracular rainbow in the prime colors.
Surrounding the hut there was a vast countryside littered with lava rock,
manzanita, and weeds.
Roberta took my hand and we went into the back; suddenly it was dark as
if the light were put out by a mechanism triggered by body heat. We walked
for an inordinate amount of time. Along the wall flushed sudden
fluorescent lights that washed over scenes of disaster, one after the
other. The stern of the Titanic, the burning skeleton of the Hindenburg,
the fireball of Hiroshima, the Dallas Motorcade, an unidentified corporate
building and all the while a voice in monotone announced through
invisible speakers, "We live in the most barbarous age in the history of
mankind and the future...."
I was entertained but not convinced. There had been a time in my life when the end of all life triggered an enormous sense of depression in me. For weeks I wouldn't do anything but I found it a strangely compelling emotion after a time. It wounded me but I wanted to experience it again and again.
After all, we who live in this dreadful swale of time understand that the Earth itself, our grand home, will disintegrate in time, be subsumed by the engorged sun and no trace will be left. At the same time we have destroyed all belief in "after life" "heaven" "hell" and the like. I stopped thinking about it after a time. It was all relative. Had I had my pick I would have put myself on the Earth ten days before the sun absorbed it fully or until life was no longer possible. Ten days. And I would have converted those ten days into ten thousand years by my intense consciousness that the life of the Earth was ending. After all, an Earth-ending was quite a thing when you thought about it. Ever since the astronauts had taken the photograph of the whole Earth, I had fallen in love with it. I had learned how it was formed and the geological progression of nature. I had abstract notions of many Earths in the universe but that had already become a cliche so I didn't think about it. No, to my mind the Earth was one singular entity irreproducible throughout the universe. A blue-green gem in all blackness and shapelessness. I was convinced in those last ten days knowing the physical end of everything was about to happen, that all constraints of mind, body, and soul would fall away and I would be as close to eternal as possible. I would expand into the vast spaces of the empty universe because that's where energy wanted to go. I thought that but who knows. I was stuck in this time, many billions of years from the end but conscious that it would end, one day, in the calendar year.
The swelling flame from the Twin Tower attack met my eye. Roberta whispered to me, "the government knew it was going to happen."
"They had to get into the middle-east to make sure the oil would flow. This gave them the excuse to take it all over." I laughed and went on in silence.
Roberta was not as soft as she appeared. There was something definitely hard about her and restless. Her shoulders were fidgeting all the time like she wanted to jump out of her skin. I forced myself not to look sideways at her and continued to take in the future. There were no humans in the future, rather there were reptilian type of creatures that had succeeded the humans after their evil did them in. Big Lizards and human like shapes in a reptilian body. "The humans became pets," and sure enough in some of the scenes a small human figure was seen at the feet of one of the Reptiles with the expression of a lost cat.
Zog had a very pessimistic view of human nature and focused, as the tour continued, on the changes in nature; nature, the solar system and galaxy, the whole universe. Collisions of massive galaxies and the intimacy of new planets created from the chaos. "Why," I suddenly asked Roberta, "is your father so down on the future of humans."
"Don't think that. He's a scientist and he says everything collapses, runs down, disintegrates and he's just following the script of it." "But won't humans have the ability to transform from their demise?"
"Who knows? And why would they do that if all they did was go from slingshots to weapons of mass destruction? He told me, "nature speaks in signs and the evolution of weapons is one such sign."
Toward the end of the tour there was a simple exhibit. It was a thin yellow line stretched across a screen. A voice intoned, "In the end we will all be joined in the horizon and held there for many millions of years before we are released, in toto, in a fresh universe." I was expecting to hear a final judgment but there was silence. "Yes," I heard Roberta say, "it will be that way. A thin line containing all life past, present, and future. The babies who died in childbirth, the women killed because a bomb landed in their kitchen, old men burnt alive for the gold in their teeth, armies of Roman and Celtic soldiers slashing each other armless and headless, assassinated leaders, homeless gummed up addicts, actors and their roles, dogs too. We will all end in the horizon." Here she slipped a hand into my hand.
She held my hand in a knowing way as if I should know what was going to happen. I was attracted to her. What a relief from what I had been through in recent times. Life had become a dull meaningless, mute thing that I had wished to escape. The aliveness seemed threatening even a bit evil. I noticed people looking at me without smiles, with disgust and contempt. I wracked my brain trying to figure it out. What had I done? I knew I had had odd thoughts, subversive thoughts even as youth does. "Can they see them as they bounce uselessly in my brain?" I used to think after I had crossed the street rather than confront a large crowd of people who were waiting for the bus.
All it took was a smile and Roberta had me. She kept pestering me to take her up to Oregon. "I can't do that. What about your dad and the Amazing Future Faire?" "He can deal with it," she answered. "I want to get away from the old bugger." It's one of those spontaneous moments when you must decide something you hadn't thought about but for two minutes and you know that it will change everything. I stared into the Twin Towers exhibit and remembered where I was on that day. "They will drop a nuke on us next." Terrible things were coming to my beloved country and I was helpless to do anything.
I quickly thought of five excuses not to take her with me but my mouth didn't move at all. When that happens I usually start to sweat a bit and I feel heat course through my body. I could feel an explosion coming, a mini nuke from my chest cavity and finally blurted out, "OK, you can come along with me to Oregon." She rubbed my arm quickly and then urged me not to say anything to her father. "Let me do all the talking." There was an annex off the hallway that had a simulation of your total destruction. You would sit in this thing and then watch your body disintegrate, sometimes in gruesome fashion until nothing was left. It was surprisingly effective and reminded me of a dream I had where a simply fire turned into a nuclear bomb and I could feel the heat get closer and closer until I was enveloped in my own disintegration. I was certain, on waking, that I had experienced my moment of disintegration. "Isn't that fun?" Roberta enthused.
We decided on a deceitful plan. I would go out to the car and wait. Roberta would pack a small case and may or may not say something to Zog depending on the moment she passed him by. Then we'd zoom up #5 into Oregon. I had my doubts but then I kept overriding those doubts by the excitement of having a companion for a while. And love making was certain, I had no doubt about it. That was in the immediate future even if the long future didn't look too good.
I sat and watched the traffic streaming up #5. It was one of the chief experiences of a modern person, standing next to a freeway and watching a car blast by at 75 mph. It had a particular sound and created a shock wave and the poor body had no answer for it. It always made me want to get in and drive as fast as possible, always looking for that fool standing next to the freeway watching everything.
So she comes out, throws things in the back and laughs. "He was no problem. Gave me some money. Wished me luck."
So my calculations were way off again. Zog was not punishing her. He was setting up her up to get taken by one of his paying visitors! I didn't figure that out until we approached the town of Redding. I looked over at her and she had the look of someone who had pulled a fast one, just as she lit a cigarette she had dug out of her purse.
* * * * * * * *
Tough Ol' George
Tough ol' George lost his hair prematurely. He watched the process in
the mirror, in his cubicle fit with bed and bath along the long avenue.
Not yet thirty and losing his hair. Bald!
He had quit seeing women. On the
weekends he'll catch the 52 line and sift through the blooming growth of
the park; the trails with bikes and walkers, laying couples off in the
bush, and balloons. "Goodness," he always thought, "balloons of all colors," some
with ads on them, rising rising with twirling string, headed it seemed, as
he tilt his head back and shaded his eyes, right for the big blood egg up
there ninety-three million miles away.
He went past the stone grey museum squatting there on the grass.
"Ninety-three million. Long way for heat to travel," he thought, "especially through
all the ice." He'd been through the edifice before. "Nothin' but stuffed
Indians," he thought. He'd seen them being stuffed while he worked on the
31st floor; a short dark woman dressed like a Dutch doll he'd buy for the
daughter he'd always dreamed about, Anna he would call her, who moved the arms and legs
around cautiously as if they'd fall off at any moment.
So this woman comes to the window he's been working on, waiting for
his squeegee to clear the view out of the fog now clammy on the roofs;
smiling, waiting patiently as George nodded his head, flipping it up with
a grimace and cautious urge.
"Stuffy in here," she laughed, looking out past George. "It's really
covered today." And George smiled as he stared at the pink coral walls of
In that damn park he had picked an oleander leaf that sprung from a
bush off the path of crushed rock. Reflex in the peppered salt air diffusing
through the day. "One broken leaf has so much power", he thought. "They're
always playing drums in the park! Stoned savages, gas station attendants,
admen, and bums."
"Duum Duum Duum Du Duum Du Duum Du Duum." Foreboding and ecstatic.
The sound diffused through the conversations and whoops of children,
the shouts there, there and over there, behind the row of bush laying high
and low along the path old George had stopped on.
"Hioh Hioh Hioh Hioh..." Indians dancing around a corpse. Crowned
knitted feathers, a scepter at the side of the sad one; birds frozen to
the limbs of oak, their tiny ears perked to the waves of "Hioh Hioh." All
eyes closed. The sky is a spear with its circular markings of red, blue,
"Well," he says, "I'd rather be a leaf than a window washer." It's a
cheap job. No one wants it but the fools at the bottom of the totem pole.
"All right," I says, "it's a crucial job all the same. One guy peddles porn,
another skims from the dope trade, I clean the windows. I treat each one
like a dear little thing and give them names."
He had climbed the buildings. That's what he'd tell them. "I climbed the buildings." The only time he felt a failure was when
he lost his hair. "Not a bottom," he kept muttering, "but only a
beginning. After all, it is I who looks straight up into the depth of
the blue sky feeling all that space crunch between my teeth and so I
forget the stack of humanity that menaces me, even on the 47th floor."
Now he sleeps.
"I am in bed alone without a light," he ponders. Through a closed window come street
sounds like the rushing of water through a mountain flume.
A fat Chinese woman is laughing. She has hips round as granite. "I know
she's smoking on the porch, rubbing the drop of a long grey ash onto the
pealing rail before she picks up her beer. Her man will return in an
hour and she'll become silent. I should return the book I borrowed from
her; a mystery. She will invite me in with those thick, hairless arms."
"I will never hurt anyone. Resolved. But the stasis of
waiting for something makes an unmistakable picture here in bed."
Old friends dress like women inside some private room hung with
paintings and quotations.
"I wonder if sleep is an observable instrument? The last time I had sex
I dreamt of science."
The mountain rose between the building in a fire-bird city and they
rose without violence. Nothing toppled in the ineluctable push of
The sky has broken into grey-fibrous clouds and between them a
measurable amount of stars has appeared. Sixteen.
"It all happened one day. One day I was one way and now I am this way.
This way is far more tolerable and I'll never return. I say it all
happened one day and that is literally true because one day I woke up from
a dream and things began to change and when I went to bed later that night
everything imaginable had supervened as if I wasn't going to bed after all
but was going to another land; no, not the land of dreams. And then I woke
up the next day and everything had changed."
Then he was dreaming of Sir Francis Drake. And Drake was muttering,
"Hell-darke nights, mercyless fury of tempestuous storms, mm..." And he
was bent over his charts, spread over the scarred table in his cabin. His
round, marble eyes separate out the jagged jut of imaginary shorelines and
intuitive depth readings; his ship creaking and blustering along the
mysterious ocean. "Light, light soon and calm..." And soon Drake is
thinking back to the stink streets where he arose. A flashing knife gleams
in his mind but, no, it was only a play. He breathes in, sucking oil and salt
into his lungs, then pulls out the six-pence his friend, M. Sidney,
gentleman and poet, had given him as a goodluck piece. In the harbor Drake
had scanned the bog of his home. "Unreal," he murmured, lifting the coin
to the sun and smiling.
"Mercyful Father, ere this day of gloom be done spread your white wings
and show us the land."
And the coin burned in his hand. There were times when he wished
nothing more than to be sitting in the Tavern on Greene Street, with a few
friends. "You see, starting from the mother country, one could circle the
globe, whole, to return again, here."
"Ah, Francis, the world suddenly 'comes large in that fruit."
"Indeed...makes the isle cornered like a privy in the palace."
"Sure 'nough, it's frighten'."
"Ah, but men, you don't notice that ye return to the navel."
"Top of the world!"
"Imagine all the gold and silver restin' in the ground like conies
there with nothin' but red savage folk to land them."
"And from what I hear they know not a wit 'bout its value. They make
anklets and statues with it...I've seen them."
"Investors! Francis Drake of Her Majesty's Service will bring ye the
world on platters of pure gold and silver! We will follow sun, moon, and
the starry heavens over the vast lay of water. Water friends! Dost ye know
what it means to a sailor man? The Earth may be Mother but the Sea is sex.
Even the heaviest man-o-war can not penetrate but through her rising white
clouds of mist. Think! Of the divers life as far down below as the moon
above. And there we ride it for the Queen!"
"God Save the Queen!"
There was love and laughter and then dim light over the pale blind.
The women cried when he was born. It was right before the coronation.
The women cried because he was a boy and they cried again because he
was nearly never born.
In the spring men were at war. In the spring he came crying out from
the wasted cleavage of hair and tissue. "Wy! Wy! Wy!"
Light had been a breathing fluid of grey.
Weeping preceded the coming in of the cold light and pain.
A darkened scar, dark fluid, and blood.
Under the moon ululating swarthward.
All forgotten bits of food
"But love and laughter and dim light on pale blinds."
Gorges of blood into the hand before the head.
Brittle glances on the dark-stained hour.
* * * * * * * *
Old George passed the oblong doors of the museum; each with a large window
in the center where he caught his reflection; and now faced the hard, erect stone of the pillars
set along the porch of the museum like great bars in the square
portable of a jail-shack in a town he had passed through; a town of one
hundred bitten souls riven by a rushing creek, its liquid skin endlessly
sloughing over the granite rocks and its precious metals. He stopped at the bar.
He entered the store that rang a bell above his head at the moment a
register ploughed and a glass clinked through the doorway which led to the
dim lit bar. The store smelled like waxed linoleum; or aluminum foil that's
wrapped around ice cream bars.
"Can I help you?"
He turned and looked at the tall, ruddy man behind the counter; erect
with a white beard peppered along the deep wrinkles of his face. Behind
him was a row of crystal lamps and miles of tenuous fishing line which became
barely visible when pulled below the current of the river. Below was a
shelf crawling with enormous worms twisting their bodies against the glass
of the jars like dancers in a dream.
"Help? No, I was thinking this was a bar..." And the white-haired man
pointed in back of him to the door slightly open from which he
suddenly heard conversation and ice falling into glasses.
Now George turned past the tight daisies, brushing his eyes as he
tried to find the girl who had teased him; she was a slight, brown-tinged
naivete who had laughed at his growing baldness, covering her own lush
hair with her hands as he fell towards her.
The bar was dark. There were a few at the stools drinking heartily and
talking quickly among themselves about lust, guns, and snow. They were
old. This was an old town cropped in the middle of a vast plain of lava
rock, red dust and manzanita. Twenty miles away was the great white
volcano, now a mere hill after the last explosion. The three at the bar
stopped talking when they saw him. Their sunken eyes burning open among
the smoke. There was a pool table in the corner around a pinball machine
in the other corner and George sat at one of them while the bartender
"And what's your need?"
George was used to the provincial attitudes of these small-towns. The
poor buggers did everything in life to make it to the small town of one
hundred and any intrusion was met with ice.
"A beer. I want a tall glass of beer. A frosted glass if you've got
The bartender looked at him for a moment then reached down and pulled a
beer out. "This was a hell of a place to stop," he thought to himself. He
was no fisherman, plus the sight of the old wooden jail along the side of
the road had intrigued him, so he'd stopped to look at it closer. A dummy
had been propped in the portal of the jail and there was a sign hung
around its neck which he couldn't read.
It was a hot day. A day for salt and chilled beer.
As he drank the beer the three at the stools measured their
conversation. He watched their backs slouch and bend not paying attention
to their words. Above them, across the counter, was a large mirror like
the one in westerns which stretch the length of the wall. The faces of
the three were bowed but he would see their foreheads bouncing up and
down, along with their noses.
"I climb buildings but I am free to go places," he thought. "Maybe I wanted to be an explorer, maybe I wanted to run with tribes of redmen long ago. Maybe I am filled with the fantasies of all who I pass through but I climb the buildings. And I grow old. But I climb."
* * * * * * * *
AFTER THE GULLS
Alone with champagne the waitress
has flaccidly spoken
of her contempt of strangers.
The almond eyed, in all the grace of her age, lays
quiet in the voiceless ground.
(They thought I was mad when I quit my job but now I
am alone and away from them.)
(Morning grows from the water; I am here by the water
and watch morning rise)
The thought of what he'd done kept returning. Over
water two gulls dove, breaking the surface of the water; the
two wrestled with frenzied beaks for the fish. One had
its head the other its lower torso.
He looked away and around the empty room of
this restaurant and listened to the clatter of
plates and murmurs at the cash register.
They had been open only a few minutes and
he'd met the owner at the door, shivering because
he had walked without his coat and the fog off the bay bit
holes inside his shirt.
He'd been met by the piggish stare from the owner who
looked that way almost all the time; that is, until someone
cracked a joke he liked. Then the piggish expression would
leap into wild laughter and his face would become framed
It was a restaurant built for sailors and overlooked
the Estuary. Paraphernalia of ships were neatly placed
around the perimeter of the room. In the center hung a
crystal chandelier, electrically lit, and in the early morning
it made broad yellow streaks across his table.
The waitress who had taken his order talked with
her boss in the corner of the restaurant, her eyes sweeping the
room and flicking lightly on the guest and he believed she
smiled but he'd been wrong about slight gestures before.
Underneath he could hear the slush of water puling
between the green slimed logs holding the restaurant up and
out over the water. They had built openings in the
floor and covered them with plastic bubbles so the eaters
could view fish in the green waters but he wasn't interested.
What he'd done kept coming back like a casual word
that will rekindle the fascination of a story long lost
under experience. And soon it engorged his mind until
he couldn't relieve it by any other means then tapping a spoon
against his plate.
The estuary was broken up by man-made inlets filled
with sailorless boats, the masts unmoving In the water
though in a short time, when the boat owners came down to their
berths and set sail for the day, all the thin masts would roll
and rub each other like old reserved lovers.
There will be distraction, he thought. Maybe when
the boats set sail or power down the estuary the variety
and movement will distract, he wondered.
He had sailed as a boy but hadn't revived those pleasant
memories. The friend's father would sleek that boat to the
running board till the water ran clear along the edge like
clouds on the horizon.
Jets, too, were continually landing and taking off
from Alameda Air Station. They'd bite the runway like a
predator and for a long time he wanted to be a flier of
jets. And as the boat would sail by the airstrip on the lee,
a jet would rise and fall and would be a canopy of its power.
He remembered and laughed bitterly to himself. How
foolish a boy is. How stupid raw experiences can be!
The spoon lay across the plate. He momentarily forgot
what he'd done. The water kept pulling itself in and out
of the estuary. He knew that it really wasn't like that.
Water couldn't pull itself one way or another: there were
limits the water felt out, rolled against, and fell back.
The moon remained white and full in he opening of day.
Even that, so they said, had control over the water.
The estuary flowed out to the mouth of San Francisco
Bay and made a wide circle before emptying under the Golden
Gate Bridge into the ocean.
But to see it pulling in and out of its own accord
soothed the troubles that he felt when the demon of what
he'd done returned.
It wasn't specifically what he'd done but everything
what he'd done had caused. There was an idiocy to it. It
began as tragedy and now the tragedy made sense but all
the idiocy he had to feel to make the tragedy lucid...
As morning broke further into day he looked up
the slope of the far-away hills bitten here and there with
white homes, architectural felicities, surrounded by
The four remaining stars slowly merged into the daylight
but the moon remained visible for hours.
The waitress poured him a complimentary glass of
champagne and smiled. He looked perplexed.
"Oh, it's free," she said. "Mr. Long believes
champagne and breakfast fit like gloves and hands. Drink
She smiled again and left the table.
He looked at the champagne for a long time before
fingering it with skepticism. It bubbled white and
he could hear it bubbling until his nose quivered.
It sipped fine and he thought about the waitress. He
thought he knew all about her. The many places he'd been
he'd seen the waitress in another guise as though her
body was the constant which kept changing clothes.
A lonely life in an apartment, with a few friends
each who vaguely knew there were others. She enjoyed a
hobby and as the years went on the hobby became more and
more a passion until at some point it became a compulsion.
She continually looked around to make sure what she
was doing was supported by others. All she needed was an
insignia of some kind with a symbol of her hobby worn
somewhere on her and she felt alive again.
He'd met several like the waitress though never stayed
long. Women were at the crux of what he'd done. He'd been
a journalist for several years and had become a feature
writer for the Sunday supplement, when a suicide occurred in
a prominent family and he was assigned the task of
exploring the reasons behind the appearances..
He quit the job soon after the assignment was complete.
After two years he ended up in a restaurant drinking champagne
before breakfast. He had accumulated much idiocy
and whether he had learned anything; whether he had learned
out of that disgust the investigation of her suicide had
brought on, was a lingering thing, an object he felt constantly but had a difficult time defining.
The suicide had occurred two and half years before
and he knew her bones were resting haphazardly in the Earth by now.
The thought of her bones seemed to stop the gross, raking sensation
that was like to ruin his mind he had thought many times
unless it stopped,d but how would it stop when her image
remained as brave as love?
Her name was Mona. That's all he cared to think about.
The rest was nonsense. Mona of many histories and many points of view. Mona of the brilliant diary entries and soft anger against the world.
He laid his palm against the side of his head and
drank the champagne. When he finished the waitress came
back and re-filled it with the towel wrapped bottle.
As she bent and lowered her face he noticed a small
rash below her chin, up her neck. It must be a scar, he
thought. She was pitted by tiny holes on the side of her face
though, his judgment was that the waitress was not
bad looking and worth getting to knowm If for no other
reason than to find out whether it was a rash or scar on
her neck. No he thought. Relations are more meaningful than that, mere information. But the information was part of the relation. Yes, now he had it.
He doubted whether she was an adventurous one. She
was tall and thin and pale: stayed around her home for too
long and became obsessed with one hobby that
thousands others enjoyed as well as she. There was even a
club she could belong to if she wanted but she hadn't
joined as yet. She received the club newsletter and always cut out the subscription coupon but never sent it in.
She believed she was adventurous however. Her hobby
had dangers, uncontrollable dangers at times that sent blood rushing
through her pale veins.
What else could it be but that surge of life through
pale veins? She didn't articulate it at all. It just was. It was sufficient to feel the surge what good was it to name it?
She passed him several times and once he nearly held
his hand out to stop her and have her sit at the table with
him. He didn't know how to do it. Besides, she was working.
They didn't allow that kind of thing when one was working. He had learned from boyhood not to interfere with anyone who was working.
The first boat now slid from its berth into the estuary.
A young man pulled the lines to the mainsail and the white
sheet hitched to the top, fluttered, snapped taut and the
boat pulled away from the little harbor with three men aboard.
He was tapping his spoon again. A song he'd heard
on the radio In a strangers car. It was a song on the
theme of loneliness, sadness, the fall of sentiment. The spoon
sang the plate and he drank the wonderful champagne.
He brushed his hair with a lazy motion. He would
definitely talk with her, it was really easy. All one did
was make a first move. If they turn out to be disillusionments they
would, at least, inspire him or crack a smile the way a sister will
smile at a brother if he says something bad. They would disillusion but
weren't disillusioned. They dreamed better than men
that was a conclusion he'd come to long ago. Women could
dream for years and then they'd look around for someone or
something to make the dream real. He didn't want to think
about it. The women he'd run into could dream rings around
him. He didn't think about it much. There was a woman in
Oregon, along the coast. The coast of Oregon was inundated
by dunes; startled waves they were. The woman had a little
cottage on the beach. They'd met at a concert and she told
him that they would get high at her place. He agreed.
After they got high she told him she had come from
the crest of the sea and would return when the ocean had
receded past a certain point jutting out along the coast.
They both laughed.
She told him that at night she had seen a dim figure
walking through the fog who chanted chanting until his voice
was one with the breakers. She could read his aura sometimes
and said it became red.
She grabbed his hand and pulled him outside to a
freezing breeze. Darkness covered everything but the silver
lip of waves in the distance and then she yelled, "There,
He followed the direction of her finger to the wet
blackness under them but saw only the wicked, abstract motion
of receding lines, worming in movement
all along the beach.
"You're too high," he told her in an admonishing tone
She wasn't listening it appeared, she followed her
own finger with abandon and he had to follow. He tried to
pull her back.
"It's too cold out here to chase phantoms," he said,
raising his voice to the rise of breakers.
But she ran away from him toward the far end of the
beach. He waited for her, thinking it was best to warm
back in the cottage but he was horribly worried about the
woman who he had just met, running after something she thought
He waited on the beach and she returned and threw
herself at him, rubbing her cold breasts against him.
"You idiot," she laughed. "You idiot, not hearing
what I said," and laughing all the way back to the cottage
she held his hand.
Judgments were ruinous in quick relationships like the
one in Oregon. It was best to forget them. And yet they
kept recurring in his mind with an impunity he did not enjoy,
so whenever he had the opportunity he would think long and
patiently about those relationships. Usually, in the end, he
turned the women into something they
really weren't; by hook or crook they'd turn into something
else and sometimes they started to. That probably ended things right there now that he thought about it.
During that period of life many such dreamers had crossed his
He had taken odd jobs to keep together, moved around,
and let himself realize the vulnerability one encounters on
the open road. He secretly believed the world had gone
insane and though he talked with people on every subject
under the sun, believed everyone in the world was insane.
It was his kind protection from the crude worms of
experience that'd destroy a soul unless the soul devised
a trick to prove the world was falling apart while the soul
remained intact or what he had thought for so long to be his
At times it became idiosyncratic. He would rage at a
news announcer pronouncing an important death; an
entertainer, for instance. He would rage against the rag doll
bringing such news to him as though the dressed up doll
could pronounce his own name much less the demise of
And he became less and loss fond of the citizens
he ran into. As he thought about it he had
gone into newspaper work to have
an advantage over his fellow citizens.
He was not unconscious of it. But as he looked boldly at his fellow
citizens he came to realize they were nothing but smelly
peasants feeding cows. it was as though everything he over
knew collapsed under the weight of this cow. He met this cow
with an insolent expression and told the citizens to keep
their cattle out of the road.
One way to disband this thought was to imagine the
peasants trying to explain something simple to their cow.
A peasant (in his mind) would animate wildly against the
dumb and chewing fly-flicking cow. He'd place his arms
akimbo and shake violently with his eyes before clubbing the
beast on the nose with a stone.
And then moan about a dead cow as his wife bitched at
So he laughed. But then saw the implications and
grew dour again.
Those had been eccentricities however. He could herd
his thoughts at will and when they grazed in a mass
everything looked easier and even more pleasant. Especially
the way the women had broken loose from their bondage as they called it
Women were becoming known and when they were fully
known the men could return to mystery and excise what was
hateful to them. He had no reason to believe otherwise. The liberated lady, the feminine fantasy, whatever one called it always alerted the man to be ready to step into a space not yet created. To be a man. To step into space, to plant a flag on the polar cap.
Oakland bathed under the morning sun. He saw nothing
extraordinary in the downtown fix of Oakland. A few menhir
to titillate the businessmen who appeared as temple executives
peering down on the dirty grit field they cultivated with aplomb.
He chided himself for having mean thoughts while drinking champagne, this early
In the morning with his breakfast being prepared in the kitchen. "I should be grateful," he thought.
Heaping potatoes, eggs and bacon; the anticipated odors
distacted him from the Oakland skyline and he leaned
back in his chair.
It dispirited him to think how mean he'd become. A
a thug of sorts. He could tease people
with excruciating tenacity. And when the teased one became
confused by the sudden design against them he would knife in
for the kill; then go away satisfied by the expression. As the waitress
put the plate down he looked at her bravely
and she looked back. For a moment they were transfixed by
each others eyes. The waitress made an unmistakable gesture
with her lip. It was the verge of a smile.
He nodded as though he could do nothing else. She had
jet black hair braided along her forehead and the hair
behind sashed around her neck to cover the scar.
As he ate he thought about the waitress. He would
definitely ask her what she was doing after work. Maybe
something would happen. Sometimes it happened, sometimes it didn't.
He thought about Mona, as well, the suicide.
Mona had never been a waitress but he could imagine
the kind of passing gesture the black-haired one gave to be
something from Mona's bag.
To remind himself he pulled out a thin, black wallet
and opened it to a photograph of the dead woman. The
photo had been given to him by Mona's brother when the
journalist paid him a visit to inquire into her life.
The brother gave him the photograph and he turned it
over to see the faded ink expressing affection and
distance on the other side.
He looked once more and something suddenly
animated his imagination; the look of her eyes,
pleading out to someone to fetch her from the frozen pose
or the slight intimation of a smile culled from the observation
of something occurring outside the range of the corner; a
child sticking his tongue out. Or a man being shamed with
the language and playing with a little horn all at the same
time before disappearing out the door with a serious laugh.
The face never remained the same in his imagination
and at times disappeared into an abstracted pulse of desire
he could seize any old hag with and give her the life
she had never had; an embarrassment. He would confess
to these hags wherever ho found them in bars, along beaches,
on street corners waiting for the bus. He would eventually
confess after they had told him their life stories,
stories remarkably the same! An early marriage, an early
connubial death, hopeless intrigues by a thousand and one
genies in plot against their happiness. They would tell all
up to the very moment of sitting in the bar and he would listen
and after awhile listening each word the hag spoke was driven
into the language he possessed and would meet a kind of
dippsy feeling that the hag was speaking about his life to
the final pronouncement grooved in memory along his forehead.
He relieved himself with continuous regurgitation
of memory that was so precise he felt proud of himself.
He had lost his way is what it came down to. He had lost
his way and depended on these sweet hags to set him right.
Scolding was their brew. Scolding from a pit of childless
pain. "Young man, you waste time on talk." The screech
was music to his ears. "I can see you don't live right.
Don't eat proper things. Probably drink too much. Well,
let me tell you I'll tell you right-your body at this very
moment grows to its decay- no matter where your mind gets.
And when the body goes" and the old hag would point to her head
and twist her finger, concluding in a fist.
He took things from people and hid what he took somewhere
on the premises where the victim lived.
Then he imagined how they'd look when they found they
were missing something. It would be something to see,
something to relish to see the victims rushing around looking for
something he had lost for them. In these moods he wished
they would lose it forever.
That was perplexing to him; why he could do that.
The breakfast came with admonition from the waitress not
to touch the plate.
* * * * * * * *
He laid the picture next to his plate and began to
eat. Thinking about the woman in the picture made him forget
the fact he hadn't tasted a meal like the one spread before
him, in so many moons his tongue was confused.
He ate with caution as though he didn't believe it
was food he was eating. He held the picture up with a
thumb and forefinger. All at once the assignment rushed back
into consciousness; approaching the dead woman's parents,
family and friends, the reading of her secret diary, the
going to places she had been the last four months of her life,
asking the police the final details.
The actual writing of the assignment was nothing
more than a string of laments tooled into the cold reasoning
of journalese. He had the opportunity for interpretation.
A staff photographer took pictures of the room where
she had died and under the photograph the supplement editor had
written a pleasing caption about tragedy in the modern world.
That's how he remembered it. And now in a thousand
and one closets, attics and garages the assignment gathered
yellowed under strings and wires of long ago news.
But he had quit soon after. At the time he didn't know
the reason why but after two years he knew he had
The waitress had many men. She was a slow evolving
man. Each told her what she desired. What she could use
to drive her on to the next encounter. It was romance of
a kind; he imagined it could be such a thing and it caused a
feeling of elation that romance was being served in hovels
where he, in his experience, had encountered a vicious kind of
love. No, he countered to himself, it was that the women
desired it all at once. Nothing would satisfy a power that
had once been satisfied by dangling half-comic instruments
of promise or prowess. The testicles had shriveled into
ludicrous visions half concocted in monstrosities that would
not move but for the turbine blades and ungracious metal
collapse of elevators and escalators and devices as forceful
to his sensibility as shoots of lightning had been to first
man; that godless creature who began the world wander round.
Or a child. Of course! An overripe child had started it all.
No-or- it must have been an old, hardly potent man, white-
whiskered, boozy, cursed club waggling toward the star as
though it were proposing to open and clear those lights to
prevent them from changing direction, disappearing in time as
though frightened of the consequences of strange lights in the
night like a circus act; caught before the fall into a sub-
polar pool an inch thick but survivable by graceful manipulations
of the body.
The waitress despised the male- certainly- no question.
Could it be any other way? Her men were ready to serve.
Her men gave what she wanted. They had met dozens like
her. The only way to keep her legs in the air was
to hand her what came from the experience of other women.
The men didn't mind. It was simpler than fighting for a decent
position in a company. It was remembering a sentence or
three sentences carefully wormed into a fleeting emotion,
like a cloud come erupting from blue/synchronized gestures
to go along with the several sentences. The action following
the five to ten second utterance came to a night of excruciating
pleasure so absurdly, quickly done with that both
made excuses to see one another again sometime in the future.
They would think about what they had learned about the other
and call later on to make an appointment. But during the
meantime she had seized another with a story wasted on such
a thing as her omnivorous desire to be everything at once; to
want it all. The man would be overwhelmed by his impotence
And in her mirror the face and body she stared into
were the flesh of a scientist, madam, caretaker of male
souls, sister, cook, teaser, little girl, avant-garde
personality, evil, passionately good, immortal in the luscious
comb of Cleopatra's mons Venus, everything she could imagine the
moment she viewed herself. What delight! What heroism! And
she would erect a stake for herself when judged by the inferior
dun she had to breath with and light the faggots about her
feet and melt into the coals of doom as Bruno had done.
From his position in the restaurant he could see
the desultory spread of houses, spontaneity and buildings
crumbling as they supported the life inside them. That was
a fair judgment, he thought. The air was salt from the
ocean and rubbed into the stucco for years of inhabitants until
one day they sat down in a heap like one going to sit on the
toilet. It would be during winter since the cold contracted
everything like wet fingers.
The fact they fell of their own volition was comforting
to him. If they didn't fall they'd be ruined by black balls
of iron and it seemed simpler to allow them the freedom to
fall from age or poor construction.
On the freeway once he drove behind a rig caked by
dry grease with a red flag dangling from a cylinder and words
grooved along his sight with the grooves in the road- "JONES
DEMOLITION' and then an officious stamp in metal of the
company who built the rig.
Perhaps an accident had occurred fifty cars ahead or
an animal had ambled onto the road but for whatever reason the
traffic seeped through the air with the low, rumbling engine
of the rig vibrating the road as though nothing moved but the
vibration on the sole of his feet.
There was no question the rig headed for a destination
since it was early in the day and looked fresh.
He could see an elbow protruding slightly out the
passenger side and then the flash of a smoked out cigarette
dropped to the road.
These men must love their work, he thought. In their
work, geometry was in evidence. The parabola. The arc. The
silence as the iron ball attained its extension, froze, fell
back into the wall of the building resounding the area with
the bellow of an Indian elephant. And what was there,
crumbled to the ground. He wondered if they
cleaned the building of everything inside before the destruction.
Would a couch or aluminum chair spill out of the hole? Or
wall hangings? A still life painting of apples, a bowl?
Or an old stop sign bolted in a bedroom? Or an old RCA
blackandwhite- 12 inch screen, silently dropping to the ground
and in an eerie muffle bursting on impact?
One of the odd jobs he had taken placed him in the
middle of a construction site at the moment when it's difficult
to tell whether a thing is going up or coming down. Fresh
wood lay planed, solid under lateral rows of hods. Sawdust
congealed into the lungs. A shout, laughter and incessant
maw of drill bit eating the fresh smelling wood.
His job was to pick refuse around the area to pile in
the back of a flatbed truck. His partner took one side of the
site, he the other. Bent nails thrown from the skeletal
ceiling of the apartment building that before winter would
house three hundred, strips of tar paper and insulation- cut-
up wire (for the copper) broken boards, old drill bits, lathe,
hunks of concrete, anything fallen or broken to be salvaged
later on. For one week he felt odd doing the job. The union
workers at the site made jokes about a man paid to clean the
profusion of refuse littered about like the gut of an animal.
The taunting came early In the morning and tapered
off by noon. The jabber didn't bother him but the sudden
realization that it would continue indefinitely did make him
rush the job a bit as though, he too,
knew it was one of the very few jobs not to be proud of.
The fact he had been a working newspaperman not long
before helped him fight off the constant ribbing. As the
refuse was slowly cleaned he questioned to himself the wisdom
of the decision he had made following the suicide of Mona Lune.
It was on his mind before the ribbing. The senselessness
of the act. The suave beauty she possessed; a beauty that
America had always distrusted. The inability of his small
article to draw out any more sense from the life and act
of the woman then the suicide itself. And the constant pressure
of knowing the article would continue into middle-age without
No wonder all the old guys thought Hemmingway was a god,
He had been right though many had tried to dissuade
him and ho had crossed paths with some who thought it out of
the ordinary to give up a career to scrounge. Some had even
made a career out of scrounging. A WORLD RUNNING OUT
OF LUCK, he thought.
BUT SOME OF THOSE WHO RAN! WHAT STYLE AND
Many sought the old country in the bowels of a
monstrosity in the belly of a devouring whale, in the ragged
claws of time shuttling backward like a stream loosened
between banks and oozing though loam toward a lattice of
greyish-white spindle roots stuck underground as though the
earth had peeled in geological layers to reveal a net of
mingling root- like tenuous old bones.
Fondly remembered now all of those on the Oakland
Estuary as hashbrown steam vaporized through his nostrils.
He thought of the effort an invisible arm had made to
prepare what would soon be devoured. One could lay frozen
hashbrowns and without thawing them lay them on the fry in a
clump while the sizzle decomposed the square black of tingling
brown crystals into the separate potatoes cut by a
machine in Los Angeles.
They had removed the guillotine from human affairs and
now attacked vegetables and cows with a ferocity unknown
even in the reign of terror when heads rolled from the block
like overripe oranges in a groove.
Each potato bit huddled under a thin skin of grease.
The omelet wiggled from the edge of his fork; the juice of
a tomato dripped off a flap of skin. He ate tasting onion.
Then washed it down with champagne.
Before he could notice, others had entered the
restaurant and in that peculiar way masses have of enclosing
themselves when freedom is spaced around in wide circles,
the new customers sat two tables away from him; two tables
so he could hear the ragged coughs of an old man and smell
the floating dab of eau de toilette between the breasts of his
The waitress, the one he would talk to when courage
returned, took the new orders and walked away. Her walk
couldn't be described as fatigued but it lacked the
cohesion of a parade.
He was thinking parade and it was natural because those
who he had met could be likened to members of a great
parade; a concatenation if one were to abstract the physical
cumbrances surrounding the various meetings. No parade
was better than meeting because, after all, one couldn't possibly
meet someone who was parading except by eye contact and
even that has as fleeting as a wink.
They were spotted all over the western states though
how they had come to the western states was a long, too long
story in itself.
He didn't even know half their names. He could ramble
off some fine names but a dozen faces appeared and the names
could fit any of the faces without too much manipulation or
destruction to the identity of the people.
What tales they told! What stories lay hidden from
view of the silent, frightened crowd! It was an occult
knowledge one could pridefully hold onto.
He was shocked by what people had given up. Maybe they
didn't give up. Perhaps, unfortunately, people
didn't give up but they gave up what they
squandered. So they squandered awkwardly in dusty hotel
rooms and Trailways Bus Depots and scarred bars the owner littered
with wood shaving to soak up the beer.
Through mutterings and alleyways stories were uncovered
and at the end of the day a lump of flesh, perhaps sobbing
in gnarled beds or winking to passerby's, winking so they'd
think they were mad or worse. If the strangers had known
the stories of those lumps of flesh, would they have become
frightened or uplifted? Hard to tell how people reacted.
Couldn't really trust reaction. Reaction learned from
scenes larger than ones own mind, learned from hacks
and poor actors so the poor head and body of a paying
customer didn't know which way to react. Had to practice
in front of mirrors. Or friends and relatives. Feigns
wasted on period of youth. One of those stolen articles
a man shrugs off finding something new.
He felt sad and lowered his champagne and leaned back
in the chair. Perhaps a storm would come. So many thought
the world would end shortly what would be wrong with a little
storm to excite the nerves? There was nothing quite like
the slash of rain against bay windows until the heart skipped
its beat of memory.
He finished, got up, put his napkin on his plate, glanced once at the waitress then averted his gaze and put her out of his mind immediately. He walked to the door past the owner who nodded at him but then he turned and looked over the sparse restaurant and yelled out, "You all should be ashamed of yourselves!" Then he left.
THE WONDERFUL SHOW
They were all gathered now for the show. The wonderful show. It seemed
to never end. So much had passed through the show yet they still showed up
in their weird clothes and hats. Some were smoking pipes. There were many
young people, too, wanting to catch the magic of the show, hoping that
they too would be part of it. It's only reasonable to accept this
and say to the young, "you are hypnotized by the smoke and mirrors, the
hint of sex, the ludicrous depiction of violence, the nihilistic greed
that wants to devour time and make everything through itself. You will
have it young people! It will devour time and everything in its path!"
So now they enter, every last one of them, in all their guises. They
are here to make presentations for now. They want to, in the words of the
marketers, brand themselves so that the crowds remember them. And why not?
What is there to lose in such a thing?
The cops, as always, are watching on horseback. Fierce looking horses and cops who'd belt you with a stick as soon as look at you. And the tourists winding down to the Tea Garden to sip the tea and hear the magnificent silence or snapping pictures in front of the windmill. Not a few headed over to the show. They had seen the flyers, they had heard the rumors.The aging hippies came out with their boisterous laughter and pot. The young women, too, imbued with the spirit of the times, blew bubbles that floated up to the delight of the crowd. And amplified music from hidden groves, guitars and violins, zipped and zapped through the limbs of trees.
So the Master arrives on stage and announces in a voice calculated to carry
above the stand of trees that sway near the ocean,
"BEFORE YOUR EYES- BODIES- LADIES AND GENTLEMEN WE PRESENT THE TROUPE OF
MYSTICO, AND A SCENE TO SHAKE THE NERVES OF ANY LIVING SENTIENT BEING!"
There are men in the crowd who have fashioned a kind of whistle from
the free grass that grows between the stone pathways.
They all blow through their whistles at once, "blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanp" among
the intermittent laughter from those who want the performers to suffer
for their audacious habits. There are more than a few in the crowd who seek the humiliation of the performers.
A shaky old blanket is suddenly thrown apart and there appears a naked,
fulsome woman with a white scar running from her navel down into her
thigh. Shouts are raised. Clapping. She waits for a bit of silence and
smiles out to the audience.
"I AM FLESH."
"Yah, yah- you tellin' me" and such sarcasm arches down to the stage.
"I AM NEUTRAL- I STEP THIS WAY (she moves appropriately) ALL THE
UNIVERSE IS TRANSFIXED. I STEP THIS WAY (here again she moves back to the
"Step this way honey and empty a little gold on a poor man." Followed
by admonitions from some. Old, poor man, let them say their piece, let
The woman suddenly flourishes her arms upward.
"I AM HEALTH AND SUN; WOUNDS AND PERDITION."
Other members of the troupe are looking all around for the men of law
who can come swooping down on fierce horses. That, despite the fact that naked men and women walk everywhere in the city and there are no qualms about it but for old ladies who speak their minds at supervisor meet ups. Even so, to draw attention to the naked is still a liability.
"I AM WOMAN AND MOON. I CLEAVE (she spreads her legs a bit) TO EMPTY
BEINGS INTO A SHRIVELED WORLD".
The Man Who Eats Bee's sits high above the stage on the greensward,
thinking of Vermont. He slowly rubs his hands up and down on a can of beer
while popping a bag of dead bees into his mouth. Vermont, famous for
maple and socialists, is still the destination. "Every jack and jill the same with lost teeth, oiled
hair and disease," as he remembers it. No one will sit with him. His clothes are wet with oil
or kerosene. His eyes are dead. He loves the show and wants the woman to
come back to Vermont and help on the farm. But before he does this he must
eat bees to inoculate himself from their poison. The park is filled with an assortment of bees, including wasps and hornets. His odd, superstitious
belief comes with a great dose of practicality learned out of an old world
upbringing in the depths of the forests of Vermont.
The woman leaves, revealing a purple anchor emblazoned on her left
buttock. Enter a man with a haughty lip protruding out to the audience.
"YOU WANT FAME? IMMORTALITY? DO YOU KNOW MY NAME? MY CLAIM? WE ARE THE
SAME! A STAR! WE ARE NOVAS!" And the man gets down on his knees and does
something strange. A camera catches his action not revealed to the live
audience, a gesture of pure frustration in some common practice of mere living.
The camera also captures an expression of total
disbelief that he has wound up here, on this stage, in front of these
people on a warm summer day, in a city he could not afford to live in.
And over the. slight hill and their stand of trees, from the furthest corner of the park, the sound of
an elephant brays up like a muted trumpet.
Now the man whirls around and around on the stage, while someone hands him
an object through the curtain. He turns once more and faces the crowd.
He's holding a mirror to his face, distorting his features, making his
nose and mouth swirl and bend into each other. His eye blinks like some
insect behind a shield of glass. Even his voice is distorted by-the
plate of glass.
"I HAVE BECOME MEMORY, PURE, UNDILUTED BY THE GRAND DESIRES. MEMORY
PRISTINE OF THE FURTHEST REACHES OF HUMAN TIME."
(He hunches over and growls through the breath thickened glass.)
"AW-WA TUTUMOPHOTI- FA-SACOTATI."
Suddenly the cloth sheet is rent back and more numbers of the cast
lumber onto the stage, their faces covered with primitive masks, ape
masks, some have papier-mache loins dangling from their fingers, others
are covered with a green oil. They all crowd together after stumbling
around the stage till they lock fingers groping away, running into the
stretched hands, feeling their way into a circle of human form.
(Silence, except for a flock of birds bending over the meadow, headed
out to the clump of trees below the sloping meadow to the left of Old
George who is watching intently trying to see through the monument
of buildings, like giant bushes growing dark along the horizon.)
In the Park was a Play and a Lover's Quarrel, bee eaters, enormous fat
women, balloon men, Hare Krishna Celebrations, Conga Drummers along the
fringe, the Zoo, and the ocean.
Sarah was there watching with unusual intensity. She was an enormous woman
who'd been to parties with strange friends; occultists, warlocks, beings
from other galaxies who would dance around her rolled flesh on full moons
when everyone was stoned trying to raise her off the ground and to the the
Mother Planet; they claimed to be situated in the Pleiades. They were all
crazy, the bunch of 'em, but so were all the rest, she reasoned. Perhaps that's what it
was all about anyway; to get as insane as a great mushroom and live in the
movies. After her experiences all had become gradients of entertainment. She would take it all in and say, "nay" or "yay". It made her day.
Sarah spooned out a curl of yogurt and put it between her enormous
lips, her bellowing yellow speckled dress rising and falling in the wind.
She watched the stage intently. A man was on the platform pasted with
strands of spaghetti as if he were a primal creature from the depths of
"BRAIN CIRCULATES BACK TO BRAIN, AGAIN AND AGAIN."
Slowly he sinks to his knees, letting the strands of spaghetti flutter
about his body and head. From behind the curtain comes a WOLF with blood
dripping from its fangs, standing on human legs looking up into the sun
and baying with the effects of an amplifier behind the stage somewhere,
blasting out the sensuous, lonely, longing wails of the animal. He bends
his head down to the slumped man and opens his mouth but then another
leaps on stage dressed in metallic clothing, his head bald, tears
plastered to the side. He pulls out a plastic pistol and shoots the WOLF
grabbing the immersed man on his knees and pulling him up.
Now the crowd is wild in frenzy. "Get his gun, pull him to safety!" Voices can be heard above the amplification of the WOLF. Shouts of joy are heard, a thunderous ovation cascades from the hill down across the crowds to the stage itself. The actors are always actuely aware of the hot spots of the play. They tuck it in memory for they will move on.
After the climax came a short series of vignettes depicting the history of the world in seven acts. By this time the crowd was passing the pot around, hand to hand, mouth to mouth so that everything in front of them was good, was as it should be, funny even in its disturbing aspects. A gesture connected to a thousand gestures. An expression connected to a million expressions.
"Well," they say to themselves, "this must be art. And if not art it is a
pleasant excuse to lay out in the sun. Yes, we are what we perform. It
glides before us like drunken reindeer along the ice caves of Lapland. It
makes it mark. There is the mark. Woe to those who miss the mark! Things
will fly from us at an oblique angle and catch the sun at the moment it
disappears. The Earth will be covered by an Emerald light. Every depiction
will be made on the backlots of long bankrupt studios. The people,
themselves, will lay supine, disbelieving the moon in their eyes."
It was the little boy who had captured it in one fell swoop of his imagination, all that had passed through in the day, in and out of his naive and beautiful soul not yet mortified by the reality of the players. The boy had watched from behind a tree on the margins of the park and when the players and crowd moved away, taking the stage and small dressing cabins with them, the boy was gleeful in his forgetting and skipped merrily to the Great Highway and beyond that to the Pacific Ocean, the Great Imagineer itself, rising and rolling with the thousands of years it carried on its back.
* * * * * * * *
MODRED DOES THE BAY
It was 4,000 years after the birth of Christ and Modred was bored. No he was more than bored, he was sick unto death of the society that ran around him without a care or a thought. "All they think about is what they will stuff in their mouth and other orifices."
The great colonization of space had finally become old hat and out there on a cleaned up asteroid was a fine population of people who lived a veritable Edenic existence.
Humans now moved through pods that shot them over great distances in a short time. They thought nothing of it and were taught that they lived in the grandest of ages, the greatest of times. "Everything is provided for you as long as you work for it," was the motto. "Every neuron in you will be satisfied by the time you die..." And that occurred, on average, three hundred and twenty-two years after birth if, that is, you were birthed by a human mother, something that was becoming rarer these days.
And of all conflict that remained, that was the stickiest for the babes that emerged out of a human mother, now a distinct minority, and those coming from labs or machines. They were now the majority and had a rather patronizing view of the human bred babes. In some circles you did not admit it. Then there were the "effortless children," but he didn't want to think about it.
If you were birthed by a clone or machine you were going to live an average of five hundred years and were tracked along a different path to care for the psychological jolts of living that long. Men were still alive who had seen the death of planets and all their inhabitants. Old events were now a kind of lingering nostalgia since everyone remembered where they were when a world disappeared.
A peculiar thing had happened. Since men and women lived such stupendously long years there was absolutely no interest in history. What matters for those who lived a thousand years ago? They are all dead! They have no tales to tell. That was the thought of young people and once the young turned off to the past it was fait acompli; the society accommodated the sniveling young and so history was discontinued in the vast network of education institutions that, in fact, operated along every phase of development. Even three-hundred-year-people were going to school to brush up on the new changes that startled them.
There was a "what-has-happened" underground filled with the intelligent and curious who carried tales of the past peoples and their accomplishments. There was no official scholarship for any aspect of the past so the underground provided the only spiritual manna not fabricated by the present time. It was more in the nature of beautfiul hearsay and mythos than anything definitive but served the needs of a few of the modern types.
* * * * * * * *
So our hero, Modred, felt a peculiar discontent he couldn't quite identify. "It's all good but I am pulled back by my foolish mind to something, who knows what?" The professors had taught him to deny and ignore the brain. "It's a disease, this mind," they said. "Listen to those who have preceded you....the three-hundred-year olds, for instance...."
He had a vision. "People like myself, coming through the wombs of a flesh and blood woman, have built a life many, many years ago. I have seen them and felt them. They tell me secrets. They tell me how they die and what excited them and why didn't see the future up above them." This group of people who popped up in him, intrigued Modred enough so he had to visit their haunts.
He took a leave from his job and hopped into his pod and headed toward Earth. A beautiful vision of the planet entered his mind as he glided effortlessly through space. It was a living green and blue pearl. It was a vision of paradise from outside its gravitational pull. "Oh, I wish I had been born on your wonderful form!" This thought was in his mind as he glided through the atmosphere and headed to where he wanted to get to: that is, to the isthmus that entered the San Francisco Bay where the Bridge was. The Bridge had entered his vision and he wanted, no, absolutely needed to see it for himself.
Thousands of years have not undermined the beauty and power of this structure! This thought whispered to him on his voyage.
He directed his pod down into the abandoned city, fabled in the past for a variety of reasons, but now empty and without merit. What had happened? The universe, for one thing, had expanded and dense city populations thinned out because of a series of incentives that took people from the cities and into deep space. "Be the new adventurers, " the video brochures blared. "Found a new Place for Human Habitation," pamphlets had read, written by clever people in offices who wanted clients. And sure enough, the clients came in by the thousands who wanted out of the city with an opportunity to go out to deep space. They figured, why not? What was keeping them in the city when they had an opportunity to start all over again in the infinite universe?
* * * * * * * *
So the major cities of Earth had been emptied. Only a few hundred thousand families remained and they were sufficient to keep things humming along. After all, it didn't take a great deal to keep a modern city running.
San Francisco was a low city, low-slung against the red blazing horizon as the sun went down. It went down gloriously and without a sign of guilt from anyone. "It goes down, it has gone down, it will go down," old sages liked to say.
The few people left in the city still drank hard. That had not gone away. The population viewed themselves as adventurers even though they had not left the planet. "We are pioneers in living with the past," they would tell others. "We are the Vestiges."
It was a lost phrase on those who had escaped. What was the past after all? It was a meaningless term.
Oh pity them, Modred thought, those who did not know what had happened thousands of years ago. They had destroyed cities in a flash of light and their jet planes had gone 600 miles per hour. And they did parade around as though they were showing off for the future but, essentially, the future laughed at them and said, "oh, go on with you, we've seen it all before."
He zoomed down to the old fabled city and stood before the remnants of the Bridge. It had turned green after centuries of neglect and the docents of the Bridge only permitted a few people at a time to cross it, fearing that it would collapse at some point. "This is it, " he said excitedly, under his breath, as the huge, looming Bridge towered over him. "Thousand of years old! And still here. I hope the spirits of those who built this or used this Bridge enter into me so I am one with them for a moment of time."
The Bridge was one object that had stuck in him when he quickly reviewed all that human beings had built and thought through the centuries. It was the prize video of the underground and one possessed it only after severe tests of his loyalty. It told him that those who built the bridge those centuries ago had intelligence and constructive principles since lost to the cruelty of too easy a life in the universe.
"We think it and it is so."
"We think more to replace what is around us and it is so."
"And then we go through that awful disillusionment and empty our brains of any more thought."
Many at that moment, struggle for that wonderful liberation of spirit from body so the spirit can fly free in the universe, apparently for all of eternity. He had heard, though, that some become avenging spirits and when they leave the body screech like banshees. That kept a lot of the buggers in their skin.
* * * * * * * *
Modred was and was not of his time. He had been fascinated by it as a child and even into adulthood; the first adulthood at any rate, that ended on his fiftieth birthday. There had been a quiet celebration but by that time he felt life to be something spoiled. It was a veritable rotten piece of fruit and stank to him. But, he tolerated it as he tolerated the stupid hijinks of his cohorts who kept thinking nasty thoughts so nasty things were popped out into the reality they shared. One trickster had moved around Modred thinking about cat and dog shit until it was piled up high all around Modred's bed while the poor man slept. The fact was that the man was later deemed dangerous and moved to the "filthy asteroid," a place where they put people who could not control the maleficent thoughts, so the planet was filled with odd-shaped piles of stink, mucous and dead birds, gas, green rivers of snot and fluids that even the scientists did not dare investigate. It was punishment but Modred often thought that it was a simpler way to get control of their awful thoughts.
Through the decades of his education he thought he would become a social scientist or a counselor and seek to get to the bottom of the rotten thoughts that seemed to strike at a particular stage in development; between eighty and one-hundred and thirty. "It would be necessary to study those between these ages to see what morphological changes occur in them to instill such awful, putrid thoughts."
The most dangerous trend he saw and the one that finally disillusioned him completely was the fact that women were now able to birth children through mere thinking. Some women had started this astounding feat centuries before and had become a secret cult that officials had tried to exterminate. But then the rarity gave the feat that kind of magic that enchants people and doesn't intimidate them. A woman with this gift, in some cultures, would do it out in the daylight, in the square, clothed very simply and looking very powerful but humble as well. A crowd would gather. She would think about the baby, not simply what the baby looked like but everything, every cell the baby carried in it, until (and some claimed there was a sound right before the event--it was investigated by a number of people) there suddenly appeared a baby wailing and pissing naked on the greensward named for a great warrior no one knew or cared about. The woman would pick the baby up and carry it off letting the gathered people kiss and stroke the baby and mutter wonderful words of encouragement to the two of them.
Of course lawyers got into the act. One set of law-makers viewed the baby as "human" therefore subject to the privileges of being born to a human mother. No, the other side insisted, this is a non-human birth somewhere between a machine and a laboratory and must be regulated as those types of children were. It was politics and descended into the ridiculous and absurd arguments that flame up a population bored of life and strangely ignorant of the complexity that surrounds them.
They started to become called the "effortless children" and no one knew what to do with them exactly.
"Effortless children" appeared everywhere. They were not a plurality but hired people, lawyers and PR types, to plead their case to the larger population. They said it wasn't their fault; it wasn't their doing. They were the innocent victims of decisions made by other people. But the world was bored with these pleas. The world needed victims to feed its tired conscience and choose these poor fools. The "effortless children" were reduced to simpletons and made to work in the worst places imaginable. They were convinced it was their just due. One time one of them had aspired to political power and broken free of the group, the tribe of "effortless children," only to be hacked down by a crazed person who couldn't stand the idea of an "effortless child" having political power.
Part of Modred's motivation was to escape these conflicts. He had felt twinges of guilt in relation to "effortless children" and other items of his culture. "Why?" he asked. "I haven't done anything wrong. But when I see one of these beautiful children I want to kiss them on the forehead and embrace them. And yet, if I do that I am disgraced among my group." This was one of the motivations he had for searching out the old Bridge that had been hidden from his consciousness, by his own culture.
* * * * * * * *
Oh Bridge, how many lives have you seen! He scanned the video pamphlet they made available. Back in the old days people had jumped off the Bridge to the churning water below to end their lives. He chuckled and thought it was poignant. "They didn't understand how good they had it back then. They understood not a jot of how things were going to turn out... so leapt off the Bridge."
It was a romantic outrage he could relate to and one of the first things he did standing before the great edifice was to imagine the people who leapt into the cold water below. They wore dark suits and recanted the split moment before they hit the water. "Oh well," he thought, "we all recant at some point." They peacefully bobbed on the surface before being picked up and disposed of. It was, apparently, a terrible sin back in those days. "What interesting and primitive beliefs," he thought. "To never see the heroic dimensions of the sacrifices of those who jumped."
The surrounding hills, dark and heavy, had once been filled with houses, people, and a variety of vehicles but the centuries had emptied them out and they had been overtaken by horrible rats, mutating through time into elephpantine-sized animals, rumbling through the eucalyptus trees and barren landscape. He was told not to venture to the otherside of the Bay but to stay in close proximity where the great city had been.
The videos depicted the fabled cities through the centuries, each generation full of faces and sounds. Do they have feelings like me? he inquired. No, that would be impossible. They were captured and pinned in, thwarted by their beliefs. Their lives became predictable and there was nothing anyone could do but, in the end, pity them.
They smiled, that was distinctive. But why did they smile? Didn't they know that all they loved would be laughed at in the future? And that, for all intents and purposes, their lives were futile? Perhaps they did know. They clutched at packages as if they were babes and wore disgusting, lacklustre clothing that had no significant markings. Ah, they lived for their own pleasures, that was their secret. Well people, he almost yelled into the video machine, we too live for our own pleasures. Then he became depressed because he realized if his people did what those people did there was no meaning. They were the trapped animals he always feared they were no matter how fast they raced around the universe.
The old populations believed in ridiculous stories of how things came about. The children and elderly, especially, were susceptible to these tales and criticized anyone who didn't share them.
He still couldn't believe he was standing before the magnificent bridge he had seen on the tapes. He couldn't help but think about the centuries and centuries of traffic that crossed the bridge and how the people differed from epoch to epoch. There was a brief moment in time when no one wore anything. But that period quickly closed down and was replaced by the most absurd clothing imaginable. There wore garish hats that flopped over everyone's faces and pants that were cut very tightly along the line of the buttocks so everyone looked as though they had a huge buttocks. It was the most prominent feature of that epoch. And the women, once they were disillusioned of everything and saw their time as a kind of plaything, became hard or very cynical; their eyes looked upward as if they were faking it, as if they were simply playing through.......
"They have an odd twinkle in their eyes. And yet perish so quickly. So fast, so terribly and inhuman. Why?"
The Bridge-Builders were different, of course. They had an energy apart from everything he had seen in all the years of his life. They climbed up and down and stood tall against the wind. They were ready to fall into the cold ocean on behalf of what they built. They were, in a sense, distant brothers who would not know what to do if they knew that he would be standing there thousands of years after the fact, looking at their Bridge and seeing the ghosts of those who built it and used it all this time. Wonderful Red Transmitter of Souls! He nearly shouted it out but stayed quiet.
It was eerie that few people were around. He looked at the vast, empty Bay and imagined years of life on the Bay, with sailboats, tugboats, great freighters carrying trade as it had been carried on for centuries. "And after all, didn't the sailors and captains of these vessels work as hard as we do, now, in this century? They are, in a sense, our comrades, our friends!"
He wondered, as many do, what it would be like to go to the exact center of the Bridge and climb up the railing and throw oneself forever into the Bay below. What would one think about on the descent? Would a person have regrets half-way down? Would he see, his last thing to see, the lights of the great city in the distance? And would he hit in such a way that it hurt; that feeling pain would be the last terrible experience living on the Earth?" Well, he thought about it briefly and decided those who jumped realized they were living in the wrong century. They should have been living when the Bridge was a mere artifact and life had lost its self-complacency. His time. in other words, when life on Earth took on perspective. After all, it was not the only game in town.
The most difficult thing was to imagine and then have compassion for those who lives meant nothing to him. Those, in other words, who lived in such a different milieu that it was impossible to feel any pity for their suffering which, he concluded, must have been great. After all, they had built great machines that killed them off slowly over time. How ironic, he thought. They have escaped the slavery and human sacrifice of old only to build machines that did them in. If they knew how the future was going to experience them something would have been different, he thought to himself. For that he had compassion and then left the spectacular jutty that overlooked the Bay and the Bridge and walked down the long quiet avenue where the city, apparently, had been most active.
Little museums had sprouted up all over the place and period furniture and modes of dress dominated them. They were so small. He marveled. No one had told him this but now, looking at the small suits and beds they possessed he saw that they were much smaller than himself. They must have viewed reality much differently, he thought. People of such stature would view the world as a giant thing that would loom over them at every moment. They were caught in a manner of speaking, without resource, and so blind and ignorant of what the future held in store. People, in other words, that he wouldn't want to change places with.
Their mothers, he thought, were strong and superstitious and so controlling of all the activities of their sons and daughters. At turns they appeared monstrous and angelic, depending on the momentary mood of the person. The mothers never relinquished the feeling that they controlled even the most powerful person of the time even when they knew one tenth of the person. It didn't matter. Mothers were powerful in that day and age and cast a spell over all.
If for instance, the mother had jealousy she did everything to destroy the object she was jealous of. It didn't matter. "I will sacrifice this for the greater good who can't stand the great thing next to them!" More than a few of these victims had leapt from the structure.
"We have learned much from your suicides," he half-mumbled as if he meant to jot down the little phrase and save it for future reference. Where he came from a potential suicide is picked up by a squad of intuitive types and is rescued, brought back to his senses and released only after he passes a series of tests.
There were no other people around except an old docent who didn't seem to want to talk. And Modred had so many questions. The docent gave him a laser brochure and he scanned it quickly seeing, in fact, black and white movies of the bridge being constructed. "And what were they thinking about when working on the bridge? Did they have modern, human thoughts?"
Since Modred and his people lived so long only those objects that lasted more than 1,000 years were given any credibility. How few objects had survived. The bridge was one. A collection of stories discovered posthumously by a writer who lived, apparently, in this same area had come to be the backbone of a new cultural era that, even now, moved Modred with its amplitude. Of course, the art of reading was now a lost art. He even speculated that the black and white figures skittering up the bridge had possibly read the obscure writer. And what did they think? Did they understand what lay just ahead of them? Or, were they like everyone else, living as they new best, letting time pass, tortured out of an early glimpse of greatness and content with their lot in life?
He had scanned this period of time of course, and listened to representations of its culture. It made him realize that time's favorite trick was obscurity. Ah, but if the object survives perhaps a bit of those who created the object survive! And so there was hope, even for his forlorn era that he already saw dissembling by a fatal kind of egotism.
* * * * * * * *
The Bridge had survived. That was the remarkable thing. And the few iron ruins of the great city reminded him that human beings had built this, had lived and thrived here and now were buried by salt-sea winds and gray twisting fog. He walked through the ruins of the city. There were encampments on the hill but was warned to stay away from them.
Ruins always moved him. He could feel and sense the ghosts that had been here, in this very spot. And how sincere they were. How life was a wonderful burden they carried and celebrated through games and colorful clothes or imported foods from distant cultures. In the ruins one found the soul of time. The mangled stadium had heard the great cheers of thousands. It mattered. It all mattered. And then it was all gone and they hardly knew what was going to happen. It was always thrilling to him because he felt a strange power. As though, by knowing this, he knew a secret and the secret was a passage to a powerful immunity from the horrors of time; its capacity to lay everything low.
And of course, the people were not responsible for their ruination. It simply snuck up on them like a creeping light in the darkness and snatched everything away. Those who followed preferred something else, they willed it into being, and so the currents changed and the city fell into ruins. It happened every generation from the beginning of time. For one thing, he thought, they must have gotten bored with the sky. The star blazed across it followed by a moon with interspersed stars out where Modred now called home. Day after day, night after night it was the same. They did not experience the great joy that came with living in the places Modred had lived in where a different sky appeared nearly every month and no one could predict it.
"Yes, they certainly ran out of steam here it is so strange." They had heads and hearts, legs, most certainly those, hair, reproductive organs, backs with spines in them. ears, brains even. They had been, it appeared, an industrious people and used their crude machines well, with purpose, always cleverly coming up with a new way to use the machine to make more money or get around the region. There talk was bland, that was a bit of disappointment. For all the glorious romanticism of researching ancient people Modred was always disillusioned when he heard representative talk from any lost era. People spoke as though they knew exactly what the other person or persons were saying and yet what they said hardly had any significance. And it seemed very mechanical to him as though their spirit really wasn't into what was being said. "How could the men stand the women or the women the men?" He snorted while watching one of these ancient tapes that showed to him what was actually occurring in real time. He would burst out in sardonic laughter at the antics revealed in these tapes. They would have long parades down the center street of the city for no apparent reason. Occasionally two of their vehicles would collide with enormous impact but it never seemed to frighten them. They almost expected it to happen. And he loved to see how bogged down they were when flying in the big machines, how slow and ponderous it seemed to him and yet he had a very sympathetic imagination. "Well," he thought, "if I were living at that time I would have stood in line, driven the strange vehicles, and waited bogged down to get on the flying machine. So, who is laughing at whom? And besides, isn't it true that there would be no us, without them? No, that is impossible to think." And it created a kind of depression in Modred as he remembered the vast reaches of historical fact, of historical evolution that led to the primitive and sublime.
In fact, when the sublime became a fact it lost its sublime nature and was a dull fact shared by one and all. The sublime belong to those who were one step ahead of facts. Eventually the people who accept the fact and destroy the sublime nature that kept the fact alive and before long they were dullards, fact-filled, with no more knowledge or where the fact came from than a cow who understood the salt-lick or hay scattered at its feet.
The cow, certainly, enjoyed the salt-lick but understood not a jot of its chemistry or how to form it into a salt-lick. We can say the cow was ahead of the game since he let others figure out how to make the salt-lick. His duty was to simply enjoy it and hope it stayed around some more. And eventually they came to take the cow away and he was always under the strong belief that they were taking him to a room full of salt-licks.
A few cows remained on the planet. A precious few and they were kept on a hillside in what was known as Siberia, a small clot of cows and a generous amount of salt licks. All cows had disappeared from the Earth. Scholars wrote long abstracts about it and published them in scholarly journals. The cow represented evidence of evolution many had written. Others had said it was a terrible shame and human beings had been responsible for the debacle of cows. "After all, the human beings are supposed to know better." This was argued frequently at conferences and a kind of political split came about because of the different visions of how and why cows had vanished from the surface of the planet.
* * * * * * * *
"Oh past," Modred thought to himself. "You are a pleasant uselessness to me. A kind of ersatz entertainment since the professionals are on strike." The past was so earnest. It believed so unequivocally in itself! He laughed and wondered down a deserted street where strong, cubicle type steel buildings had been built, followed in the next epoch by light, paper things that emerged out of new fiber technology. The paper structures allowed the citizens to buy a little security and everywhere one looked there was the paper houses and buildings, shifting at times as the local historians wrote it, depending on the "freedom and opportunity of the times." Now this, Modred thought, is something I can relate to. Wealthy nomads! The paper was opaque and no one could look into it and no shadows were cast on the walls. They were a joyful compliment to the iron buildings that had preceded them and people were proud of the softness and poetry with which they lived.
It was disturbing to him how easily a vain life was lost; even a grand illusion that people all lived in collectively was gone in a split second. Did not they know? Were they so hypnotized by what sped around them either outside or inside that they didn't know? Or did they know so profoundly deep they laughed it all off as a silly dream and went for the pleasures?
That was it. Silly dreams and pleasures. It hadn't changed for thousands of years. He was incredulous that nothing, basic, had changed in all these years yet he was always reminded that this animal, this species, had lived many hundreds of thousands of years before settling down between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, another place he had wanted to visit.
It didn't matter then. It didn't matter how far into space one got or how many galaxies had been visited or how the techniques had improved. Ghosts told him so. And a vast entrapment came down on him so that he was one in the environment he had chosen to visit.
A feast of illusions. Time should not be measured but only experienced. That is what the father had wanted to say to him.
* * * * * * * *
Modred felt a weird sensation in him. There was an infinite ocean slicing through him and he felt panic as though he were drowning and what passed him quickly was lost in a green and amber fluid. Heaviness was there and then light. He couldn't remember what he had eaten the day previously.
He was flying now so fast. His breathing was strangely labored as if several ghosts were in him fighting for superior positions. He looked above him to see the bridge filled with festive people against the backdrop of a glittering city, red and silver at turns with the odor of coffee and salt in the air that rushed past him like a bullet.
"There is opportunity in this death," he heard himself say.
* * * * * * * *
A MAN RETURNS TO NOTHINGNESS
I will start here, with this little maddened tone of mine. She did it to me- if I had the words! Well, I have memory at least and will record as precisely as one can the whole debacle.
This is better. It is raining out, the first storm of winter and comes at an appropriate time.
Who am I again? I am now sipping dark rich coffee as the sound of rain patters the roof in front of my paper here. I am preparing.
If it weren't for her I'd be out enjoying myself. As it is, it's either getting more order to these memories or putting a bullet in the head. Well, I really don't have the courage to look at guns much less buy one. Besides, I don't believe suicide is the way out. I don't see any camera's on me so what's the difference? What would be dramatic about doing myself in? After all, what would it be but a kind of satire on my condition?
And now that winter is coming on I have an excuse for staying inside. I can imagine masses of fellow creatures doing the same so it's all right. I can stay inside and get self-indulgent with this maddened tone of voice. That's come about because of her, the one who is enjoying herself at this moment; I can imagine with some ungodly joy.
It would be appropriate if I looked out the window this instant and saw consecutive memories strewn among the trees. It'd make a nice picture. But I see nothing but trees; pine trees glistening now and trembling.
I've always had this philosophical bent; this predilection for solving problems
of myself. It was fine for a time but now that I'm alone, even this bent has
become a menace.
Now come on, come on. Well, it's enthusiasm. A childhood story
about running away or playing among cattle in the hills. Or, a nice set of images from
the age of, say, seventeen to the age of twenty-eight, all with efficacious spores
inherent in them so the audience gains a small portion of itself.
It is guilt slowing down everything to gain some time for itself
to change cleverly into imagination and win out. Win out! I still have that delusion!
Perhaps it's over-developed awareness brought on by multimedia and pain. God yes, there's
been plenty of it all around.
But after what I've been through one desires not to run at the mouth.
Besides, there is a kind of survival instinct in me that senses that this is
what people want when it comes down to it. A speech, not a lecture. A long conversation on the
mistakes made and suffering felt. How else can one talk to another? Through fables? If it were only true!
If it could be done I'm sure it would be. How much destruction that would entail! It's really
frightening to think about.
It seems unfair that it gets so complicated. Now, there are all sorts of decisions to be made. Does one remain
faithful to himself and reveal all? Or is it too boring? Off the top of my head I'd
say it would be too boring; not only that but it'd become highly ironic since a shrewd,
modern world would realize I was trying to speak over them and they'd have to catch up to me. And
the back of my hand to them! They would laugh of course and mark me down as some idiot, "another nuerotic no better or worse that the lot of 'em."
Is it over-indulgent? Of course it is. I'm ashamed of myself. I wish I were a writer
of mysteries or science fiction. Or not a writer at all because it requires a look see at your own condition. They didn't tell me that. "Just write what yuou know." And I discovered if I didn't know myself I didn't know anything even though I had read thousands of books, hard books, books on science and cosmology and political analysis.
There has been a spate, the last decade, of highly self-conscious, satirical novels written
with the hidden desire to find a center of being, a center of feeling that
could enthrall a few isolated folk into themselves. Ah, beautiful thought. One that apparently
hasn't caught hold yet.
Why is it so difficult to conceive a plausible story? What has reality ruined? Why is
is easier to turn the television on rather than conceive a story for oneself? I shouldn't blame the woman for this but I do in a way. She was there all along, cutting me away from my private moments. The truth is what I told her, "you don't want stories told about anything but yourself." That took her back a bit before she laughed that wicked laugh.
It all happened after a period of indulgence if I remember right; so much pleasure sipping cognac
from the side of a pool while swimming nude. It was night and we were at the lawyer's house. The lawyer's wife put a bottle
of cognac along the side and we indulged ourselves with the mania of laughter until a
huge Texan next door leaned over his balcony and let out a rebel whoop.
"You people is naked crazy...bob!"
"Come on over and have a swim."
"No sir," the cowboy yelled, "you got wimmen in there with you."
The lawyer pulled me to the side of the pool and handed me the bottle of cognac.
"Old Billy is one of those gauche cowboys filthy rich in oil. He has Brahma bull horns hanging over
the entrance to his living room and drives a green-pink Cadillac."
I had no response to this. Oh no, I did laugh but it had no meaning.
It's a pity dredging up old memories.
Things have changed. People assure me of this. Man on Moon. China. BinLaden.
Mass Entertainment. Computers. Psychological Man. Wasted Man. Wretched Man. The list
What is a poor half-barbaric fellow to do? He could pretend, that'd be appropriate.
What is more indulgent than listening day in and day out to oneself and others and what others have made? To listen to them, without
a tool to fight back?
How beautiful and pleasant it would be if one were allowed to use classical allusions
to bring an idea into being.
Oh, country of birth! You ponderous, powerful child with heavy burdens. Self-indulgence. And then
silence except for business. Or, a secret talk about our favorite fetish. The price of being an American is
that the good person must rap a stick on his head.
I walk out the door and there they are; the refugees. One day I feel pity and the next
I feel great bursts of laughter.
The central question to ask is, "when will they rampage?"
When I was not alone the person I was with would always dump the ashtrays and then I'd come in and fill them
again with smoldering butts. It was a redundancy. She expected it. And after awhile I could feel
her long, omnipotent gaze watch every stroke of my fingers as I crushed the cigarette and without a word
spoken I felt horrible. It did not stop me.
This goes on everywhere; they say nothing. What would they say? What point of reference would they begin
with? What resources would they conjure to do battle?
Questions are often like calisthenics; bend from waist, hands on hips, feet forward. Bend low, stiffen back. Breathe deeply. Let
sweat run from brow without feeling it. Now, to the ground on all fours! Extend arms, lower, push-up, keep back level to ground...again...
I loved to enter a stadium from its dark portals and into the buzzing anxiety. I was a child
then. The swoon! Then I knew I was in the modern world.
* * * * * * * *
She did it to me and I'm furious. How could I have let it happen? And it went very swiftly as if it was ordained
from the beginning that it would be so. Oh temptress, I have fallen for the oldest trick in the world! And you now
have my best self, the only one I cared about. So I am left with this...thing. This heavy and sad thing that hangs around
me, wincing at every shadow that flits along the wall of a stately building. Ah, the old bank building with its burnished
pillars and leafy artifacts at the top, smiling, with huge clear windows so when you stare into them you see the people inside
busy at their jobs but, too, it is you, standing there half-nutty, a colorful outline of yourself as if you were passing through the
glass into a world more real, more tempting than the one you know.
And I move on, again, perhaps down to the airport this time where the windows are harsh
and one looks as one believes the rest of the world looks and sees. I felt myself moving along with the crowds of the airport,
transported on the back of cigarette smoke and glances at my reflection on a long series of windows where I spotted jets
and trucks. "Another world," I thought. And frankly I could see myself flying through the clouds at 600mph with nothing between
me and the rushing air but a window. I knew something about flight; that airplanes manipulated a deft change in pressure from
low to high or was it high to low and it got me thinking that we are all sports of nature dealing with these shifts in pressure. Good.
I will relate that to my pal who is worse off than myself. We are men-wanderers through the dark valleys of ourselves having been stripped
by the good women who loved us. Or, said they did who knows. He and I visited this old man out in the valley who lived in a cardboard box
but was very wise. His teeth were yellow stumps but he laughed heartily at our tales of woe. "She is the source of all delight and woe,
she will take you high and low," and he neighed like a wild horse.
I believe it is very possible that the camera came out of the female imagination. All good people fear the
camera because it will steal their souls. Yes, it made sense now. Women were getting revenge through machines and odd
gadgets men thought they were making for themselves. No, this woman is a clever beast who knows much more than men
could ever know.
I know, it's all my fault and the fault of my ugly brothers. "The women used your energy to make you flop around chasing ghosts while they got to the center." I've heard it but I'm still not convinced. I treated them so well! I felt so much love for them! Well, after all, it was just one in my case. I don't blame anyone else and I don't really blame her but I ascribe to her motives that I am now suspect of.
She took me so far from myself I was another man and she loved that man and I hated that man. And for what? Next time when she wants something she won't get it from me. I'm a helpless anti-man now. She would laugh that curious laugh of hers to hear that but it's true.
You will see me, then, in the rat rooms of this world, scurrying across the streets where
the porno shops are, the old, transient hotel, the fast-food place, sometimes with a cane or a cigar
dangling from my mouth, cursing the night, cursing the black night and wondering how to get back to where I was.
* * * * * * * *
The young man was starting to age.
Whatever state he'd known
in his youth, whatever secrets he
held, whatever had been denied
his heart began to mold his features
so that he peered at his guest
with a kind of ironic doubt. There
was between them a green bottle
of wine with two cups in front of
each gentlemen. His guest smoked
occasionally, while the other swept
his hand with slow irritated
-So, you won't come back? You are
adamant about staying in ...in
The host made an effort to lean
forward. He took the cup of
wine and sipped once, then smiled quickly.
-Unfortunately I was born in a country
made by revolutionaries
and their progeny are all reactionaries
now. They oppose their own
history, their own myth.
He shrugged his shoulders.
-I find the situation dangerous.
His guest laughed. -Oh, don't take
it so seriously. Quite frankly,
if you try pretty hard
you can see the ideal being
lived out somewhere ...at least it
is in the mind somewhere.
The other man was not listening.
He had been waiting a long
time to say these things. He had
practiced in his spare time, in
front of the mirror, because he
knew he would be asked.
-The reactionary has the conviction
of the myth even as he
opposes it. First, you have faith
in the ideal, then you have faith
in the people, then you have faith
in yourself, and, finally, you
have faith in nothing. Well, I knew
that political opinion was useless
baggage that the intelligent fellow
should throw overboard. It's
all a kind of civilized deceit don't
you know. Am I depressing you?
-No, no not really. I understand you.
My trick in fighting
that feeling is to hold the prevailing
ideologies of the day in the
mind simultaneously and then take from
each according to the situation.
I mean, what is sacred about political ideas?
The host stopped him with a grunt.
-You read too much that's your problem.
You've been guided
too much by history. You were
always romantic that way.
-Hey, I accept that accusation.
But you know I love all
those gestures of history. I love the
ships and sailors at the bottom
of the sea, I love all those migrations
and riches. Do you know
that I feel sad when I think about Rome?
Well, history is all gone
now but it is renewed in the heart.
-What lousy romanticism did you get that from?
-No, I just hope. It's hope man, hope.
Hell, I was like you. I saw all of
this politics and economics and communications
and technology as failures. Goddamn
failures that weren't going
to be redeemed by the goddamn
sociologists. All I have done has
been to fight that sense of failure.
Rightly so, rightly so my friend.
-Well, it's obvious that you have
cultivated the more romantic
aspects of life. What, do you
still believe in the 'individual'-
did you see the 'individual' in the
drugs you took? You know that
it was all the fantasy of some
old professor don't you?
They stopped talking for a little
time. The host listened
to the music. He always remembered
his friend as a music listener.
Back then it had been folk songs
and blues music and some Alabama
spiritual gospel group. Now he sat there
smoking, filling the room up
with smoke and being obliviousg
about it all. Why was someone
that smart so oblivious about
filling the place up with smoke?
This fellow who tells me these
things for god sake?
They continued to drink wine.
The man got up and went to the
small refrigerator that snapped
open and shut and brought out some
cheese. The visit had been a surprise-
out of the blue. He had
gotten the call from the airport
and in the intervening time between
the call and the arrival he had been
forced to re-locate himself
in that time-frame. That time-frame
that he had long repressed
and which, when he thought at
all about it, had ruined his life.
It had been the only time when he
truly felt alive, when he felt
the camaraderie among peers that
his father had said occurred among
the generation that fought World
War II. And then there was that
delicious sense of having the power
to persuade others to your
point of view.
He felt fine about things in general.
He would have to
get up in the morning to pick up
the child who lived with her
mother. That had been something
he hadn't counted on. That is,
finding a woman in this place,
fathering a child through her,
and then having everything go botch.
It was amiable at first
and then the woman got hard. They
did not speak when he picked the
girl up and he saw nothing but
trouble for years down the line.
The child loved the woods and the
splotch of lakes that dotted
the area. There were extraordinarily
tall, thin trees and he would
walk with the child watching her and
watching how she reacted to
everything happening between
the big thin trees.
-Well, would you like to play a game of chess?
-Chess? Why I haven't played for years.
The host brought the chessboard out,
while his friend raised the bottle of wine.
-Well, don't make mistakes, I practice quite a bit.
-Who do you play with?
He reached behind a chair and pulled
out a box with buttons and a screen on
it and then quickly explained its
-This is a fascinating machine.
It is set for several
levels and is unforgiving. One
mistake and it finishes you. It
takes five hours before it makes
its first move on the highest
-You let the damn machine spend
five hours to make a move?
-It's my teacher.
They began the game. Before long
the man's Knight was in
a position to fork his guests
Queen and King and in this moment
of delight for him he cried out,
-Social change is an illusion.
He finished the move and his
guest lifted his wine once
more and drank quickly.
-That computer is teaching you how
to think or something.
-All the computer does is alert you to patterns.
-So, you were talking about change...
-It doesn't matter but I will tell
you anyway. Social
change is an illusion that is
agreed upon by the society.
Great concentration is placed
on a specific attribute and
suddenly it flourishes like a
great flame around which everyone
dances for a time. The flame dies
down and that's that until
another one starts up.
They eyed each other. It was the
first time he had really
looked his guest over. His face
had lost some of its resiliency.
He had gained a tremendous amount
of weight. As he ate and talked
his body heaved up and down.
-Well, you know what your problem
was? You thought the damn
thing would be created in a week.
That all it takes is a thought,
a few actions, and then all the
street signs get changed. Now that's
where reading could have done you
some good. Read about Mao, Lenin,
even the old liberal revolutionaries
for Christ's sake and you can
see that it was a profession to
them. It was little different
than being a businessman or a
teacher. Lenin actually seems like
an entrepreneur now. He could
just as well been Henry Firestone
or Rockefeller before the
old guy made any money.
The host grunted and shrugged his shoulders.
-There's something to that. Lenin
was a teacher when you
get down to it. A teacher with pretensions.
The guest leaped at the chance to expostulate.
-And you have to remember that
Lenin didn't make the damn
revolution. Neither did Mao, neither
did Washington or Danton or
Marx. Revolutions are not made
by men, they are made by abdication
and by abuse that creates a breach
between the powerful and powerless.
A whole fabric of trust breaks down
and out of that the revolutionaries
emerge. That is what a revolutionary
trains himself to watch for.
-Yeah, but that breach is always there.
It has been there since the beginning of time.
-Well, that depends on who is
perceiving it. And how
much opportunity there is to perceive
it. And how many martyr's
The chess game was quickly over. His
guest was not good at the game.
It was cold outside. It was another
thing he couldn't get
use to; how the cold would come in
through the small crease in
the window so when the child was over
she would complain about getting
a chill and ho would tuck her blankets
between the mattress and the
The guest was right of course. He
was right about everything
but it burned him to hear him agree
to what was being said. And now
he was forced to remember all of
those people who he had crossed
paths with. Some of them had been
absurd collegians out on a lark
or who had some beef with their
parents for one reason or another.
Then there were the serious ones.
They were usually the sons and
daughters of immigrant families or
Jews or outsiders of one kind
or another. There had been Sarah
R. who knew her Marxism pretty well
and who could organize pretty well
and once told him that when the
revolution was over she would make
love to him. She had a fixation
on a movie star and would threaten
suicide from time to time. And
then there was the swarthy Trotskyite
fellow who had a hard face
and was as close to being a professional
as anyone he'd met. He
once reached into his pocket and
showed him a list of enemies who
would feel his wrath when the
revolution was over.
He was never sure himself. Sometimes
he could imagine the
whole thing turned over. The White
House, those monstrosities on
Manhattan, the cities and towns
and villages all turned over and
redeemed by the act. It seemed
ridiculous now, now that he saw it
flash once and quickly across his
mind. His ex-wife had tried to
convince him that it was only a
phase. God, how he hated the sons
of bitches who ran things! The
apes. Someday the apes would all
be on the run but he would never
see it, his time was passed already.
He could feel it. He could feel
others judging him with their
eyes and those eyes said, 'it is
over- your dream- join us, join
us.' They said it softly, very
softly he thought. How fast it had
-The States aren't too bad now.
The guys in power now hate
the government and the system as
much as we did; except that we hated
the rich and they hate the middle-class
and the poor. Everyone is
very greedy so the cycle is way out
beyond the dark side of the moon
but it will re-emerge one of these
days let me tell you.
-That kind of activity is for the young.
The guest let out a sardonic laugh.
-You're not exactly a fossil yet.
-Let me ask you. Would you give
up your career and
everything to help an effort
like that again?
The guest made a loud groan
and throw up his hands.
-Listen, running around like
this to meetings and buying
little objects for the house is a
real burden. But, to tell you the
truth, I wouldn't want to. Well,
I wouldn't want to live with twenty
other people or run for my life
from the cops or get involved with
some of the characters who were
around at that time. Maybe I could
get involved from a distance.
You never know what will happen.
In fact the host was thinking of
enrolling in school and
chasing down the remnants of a
career. He had been reading,
obsessively, in International Law.
He was on the computer mailing
list of an organization and they
sent him materials. What he did
not want to do anymore, what he
never wanted to do ever again was
to scrounge for rent and food. He
had calculated that it would
take three or four years at the
most. He felt jittery when thinking
about his own future. He did not
like the predictive nature and
yet found comfort in seeing himself
sitting passively reading from
a big blue book in a half-empty
library. He would be judged, yes
he would be judged by them. And
he would be judged by how close
he was fused to that predictive
nature and the goals of that nature
and there was no recourse really,
none except to plunge into another
irrational activity. He suddenly
remembered the Krishna character
who had knocked at his door one
evening when he lived in Toronto.
He was standing there looking like
a nut asking for donations. Why
did his mind go wild for a moment?
He knew it was not the Krishna
character that had created that.
Or that time when he was driving
in New Hampshire and that guy in
the VW drove by with his hand
cupped to his mouth and called
out the window, 'hey, Jesus loves you!'
But, in a funny way, he could
understand these people better
than he could understand his guest
sitting by the bed eating a piece
of cheese and reading through the Toronto paper.
It had been different than Krishna
and Jesus or any of this.
He had looked at reality, the
permanent thing, and seen how all objects
were held together in a semi-malicious
way and that some had control
of the objects and others worked
in the shadow of the objects and
that if men were still men they
had to admit that which suffocated
them. That was the way to prove
manhood rather than the arena or
the field of battle or making money.
Well, he thought, it was more
than perception. Perception didn't
require anything but an open
eye. And the people, the infamous
people, all they wanted to do
was to fuse themselves with leaders
and then learn how to mouth
the words of the leaders and to
devour the fantasies of the leaders
so that they would feel at one with
the stupendous leverage of
the leaders. It was only natural.
-Are you going to stay over?
-If it is all right. I have a
conference tomorrow at 10.
It's a big thing. Why don't you
come with me to the city
tomorrow and we'll have lunch.
Maybe afterwards we could check
out the scene, you should show me around.
The host mentioned he had to
pick up his daughter in the
morning but that he was free
to come back after the conference.
-Now, I just might do that.
Oh, before I forget I
bought you something. You might find
it interesting even if you
aren't the kind who reads much.
The guest took his briefcase and opened
it to take out a paperback book.
-I saw that the airport and had to buy it for you.
I read it years ago. Fantastic pessimism.
I think the guy's a Christian.
The book was The Technological Society
by Jacques Ellul. The host had never heard of it before.
His friend chuckled.
-This guy is thoroughly disillusioned
by the whole shitter
and says it is too late to do anything
about it. The machine has
us you know. That's the gist of it.
-Another doom prophet.
-Naw, I think this guy's a Christian
so he's castigating secular humanism
like the fundamentalists.
-Well, why not?
The host thanked him for the book
and then suggested they
go outside before it got too dark.
They left by a side door which
opened into a field. There was a
lake in the near distance. It
was flat for miles around and cold
looking. They moved toward the
lake as the guest lit a cigarette,
hunching over and cupping his hand
against a slight breeze. It was
not totally dark. The moon made
an eerie appearance in the sky,
full and white. For a moment the
man was glad to be out in the cold,
out of the sad abode and the
smoke and the smell of men who had
been defeated and knew it. And
now they use their brains to
rationalize their defeat, he thought.
-So, did you marry a Canadian?
-She was French Canadian. A feisty
one but nuts the way American
women can never be nuts- at
least the one's I knew.
When the American women are nuts
it is usually for keeps.
They usually end up destroying
your property or end up in
the hospital. This one was nuts
because she wanted power and
Canadians know nothing about power.
Do you ever see Sanderson?
-No, not really. I know he is a
lawyer in the Bay Area.
-Still a commie?
-Yeah, as far as I know. Although
he never took those things very seriously.
-Sanderson was a jerk.
-Curtis is dead.
-What? Bill Curtis? The newspaper guy?
-That's right. He was robbed in
Oakland and shot dead. A
big story at the time. And it's
too bad because he was ready
to free-lance a column for some syndicate.
-I feel bad hearing that. Now, he
was all right. What about Walling?
The guest laughed.
-He's writing very popular books. He
even goes on TV once
in awhile. These are mostly how-to
books. He is living well, now,
as they say.
The host began to feel bad. It was
the cold and the fact
that he had to see his daughter in
the morning and not having any
money to take her places so they
would end up back at the hovel
and play chess or read out of
Mother Goose and then walk around
the lake through the thin trees
where he would ask her about what
she was up to and who wouldn't
answer for a long time or simply
shrug her shoulders. He was feeling
bad because he had listened
to the fate of people he had known
during the period of time when
life felt at its most intense. It
was hard to believe that Curtis
was dead. He had been the intelligent one.
His guest stopped at the fringe of
the lake and flicked his cigarette in.
He seemed almost adamant.
-Listen, I don't like to pry...don't
like doing that and don't
like that being done to me but why
don't you give it one more
shot; start over, start fresh. Hell,
get into the system somewhere
and work from the inside out.
He was a citizen now and took the
train to Banff or Vancouver
when he could and had no desire to
go across the border to the
'thing' as he referred to it.
Somewhere in its latent dreams Canada
dreamt of wealth and power but it
knew it would never achieve it
and so was content to play at being
a country and that took the edge
off people so there wasn't that
tension when he walked around the
cities. All of that lay below the
border and was a sickness of
some sort and you either learned
how to love the sickness or you
got sicker until it killed you in
the end. He wanted no part of it.
-I'm thinking about it, he lied.
-Well good. Oh look, those birds.
The man pointed to the flock that
had emerged from the other end of
the lake. They scattered upward and then
formed a crude V and went toward
the city. The man was lighting
-Do you need money, is that it?
-I've got some.
-It's cold, let's go in.
They came back to the hovel and
warmed themselves by
the stove. The host turned down
the couch and as his friend
got ready, he picked up the book
and began to thumb through
it. The guest was obviously
uncomfortable. It was as if he
was embarrassed for his friend.
It was as if he were sorry that
his friend had suffered for what
the others had let pass through
-Actually, I can see some good
points about staying up here.
It smells better. Cleaner at least.
The man fell asleep quickly.
Before long his huge body
was heaving in snores and the
host went out again into the
cold and black night.
He wanted his dissatisfactions to
be his own and not to
share them with anyone or be caught
in a mass of dissatisfactions
so he would have to laugh the source
of them away. They had recently
found more oil in Alberta and he
would get a job on a rig like
before and be with the men that
swore like his grandfather and
when he got his money he would
get another female and make a
little cozy existence somewhere-
Vancouver, there was a civilized
The lake looked frozen in the
distance. The trees looked
dead and appealing. He tried
to find Polaris and found it and
remembered the entry he had made
in his journal. He thought it
strange that of all things apparent,
the stars wore uppermost and
yet few people took the trouble
to learn about them. To learn not
simply the names of the stars but
to learn their inner power, to
learn their processes and to know
it with the confidence of the
scientists. What had started it
all, for him, was the picture
of the Earth, all of a piece,
hanging on the edge of nothing. It
was the Earth against the blackness
of nothing now and that was
a fact though people didn't act like it.
He could see change coming and
it would involve him. He
would have to stir himself and
appear in the daylight more. But
it would be the daylight and it
would open and he would forget
about all of this one day and be
somewhere completely different. He
knew that, he knew that like
nothing that he knew before.
* * * * * * * *
THE MAN WHO YOU'VE KILLED
"You've never known anything until you have seen the man who you have
killed. Yes, well, that is hard to say and I wouldn't have said it for
many years because, well, I was ashamed of it; indeed, I was ashamed for
many years no matter what the stupes who send these fellows to war say.
He was laying with his arms thrown violently back, his mouth open, a
small but perceptible hole near his temple. He was laying near a
farmhouse, god only knows how that house survived but it did and there
was a horrendous fight surrounding it. I saw men with their heads broken
open, with their legs and feet blown off; I heard the screams of the
wounded, the blast of the gun and cannon. I felt so much fear that for
years after I could not feel. They called me a hero later on because I
ran up to this pillbox that had us pinned down and threw a grenade into
it and then saved some men who were standing like naked trees out in an
open meadow. I didn't know what I was doing. I was young and scared and
just did what I thought necessary to do to keep alive. They gave me a
medal for that?!"
He turned away. He was not crying but staring blankly out into the
room for a moment. I felt uncomfortable because I had never seen combat.
I had seen endless movies of many wars. I had been a buff of the Civil
War in which members of my family served. But the sort of experience
that this old man was relating was beyond me. I did not know what to
"I wasn't going to be solider you see. I wanted to be in the Navy but
I didn't have the eyes for it. Before I knew it the war was on and I got
drafted. I spent time in southern England. We drank and fucked the
women, excuse my language. They wanted it. Then we collected together
and old Ike came by. I was no more than fifteen feet from Ike. Then they
said it was time to go and I will never forget any moment of those few
days. And, sir, how many men have you killed?"
"Fortunately, I have killed no one."
"Hmp. Well, you are one of the lucky ones I guess. You kill a man,
and see him close up, that man enters you like nothing else in this
world. He becomes a part of you and lasts longer than a lot your own
relatives. You think, who was his mother, did he have a girl or wife,
maybe he had children you never know. To me he looked like he was 20 or
21 years old. I didn't go through his clothes or anything like that; we
were fighting a battle. There were tanks and machine guns so you
couldn't have the privilege of knowing the personal stuff of the man you
killed. So, all these years I have thought about that. It's as though
the body is resurrected in me from time to time and I live out, somehow,
what that man wanted as his life. That don't make sense. I'm just
telling the truth of the matter."
"That's quite all right. I am here to listen."
"Well, I don't mean to bore you. Are you bored of men and their tales
of killing? Well, I would be. Men should love and build not kill.
Killing does in the survivors let me tell you. But, we had to do it
don't you think? You weren't around at the time but you'll see it again.
Oh, you will be an old man when it happens again but it will. I will be
dead and the burden of it will be gone but you will see. You will see."
He faded off again. I had returned to help him but I was lost as to
what I should or could do. Finally, I thought that I will do nothing, I
will simply be there and listen if he decides to ramble on. He had been
rambling on for days. I thought he was hallucinating. It was not the
war, it was something else. I caught the image of a woman and a car; a
woman and a car, it was that over and over again but beyond that I could
not make sense of it. And then he was up wandering around at night. I
thought he was sleep walking so I decided not to wake him or disturb him
but he could have been fully awake for all I know. I was hoping it would
not linger on for a long time since I had business to attend to later in
the month. He thought nothing of time now.
"In those days, of course, war was something honorable. We were
called on to kill the aggressors. When I used to read history books I
used to read about Attila the Hun or the great battle of Chalons and I
thought, by God, it was as if I was at the battle of Chalons except that
instead of swords and lances and arrows we had machine guns and grenades
and planes helping from above and the like. The sons-of-bitches used to
say, "you men are honorable and doing what is honorable and the society
will love you the women will want to lay you" and so forth. That's how
they kept the morale up. They did not tell you that when you killed a
man you had to see him laying there lifeless like an animal you ran over
in the road. He looked so orderly. The wind blew over his soft hair, it
raised up a bit, ruffled and fell back. I felt someone thump me on the
back and it was the Sargent who wanted me to keep going forward. Before
us was thick smoke. You know you look at those films, those black and
white films and they don't really carry over the feeling of how it was.
It was all in living color, in the dimension of life, in a sort of dream
state. That's how the world passes isn't it? It's not the black and
white films that you see in movies and on TV, it is the real thing it
always has been. Even back at the battle of Chalons it was not as we
picture in our minds it was the real thing, in living color, in the
dimension of life, in a sort of dream state. And then we were on a long
road that was not very wide."
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