This Too Shall Pass

On the road. Again.

You’d think that after all these years I would remember what happens to an Aries each and every Spring.

We are Martians. We are solar powered. We burn brightly, casting a warm and brilliant light for all to see.  We collapse in the winter to preserve our strength, hiding underground and drawing just enough energy to survive from the trickling light of distant of stars that climbs down to us. And each year, as the earth swings back around toward the sustained nuclear reaction in the sky, we rise from the cold ashes and begin anew.

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology…

The next two months are going to be heavy with change for me. First, I’m getting a bionic eye installed in less than two weeks. (Kinda sorta.)  That’s pretty cool and all, but it pales in comparison to what’s happening next.

If you know me, you know I’ve been happily and gainfully employed by Alexander Hamilton’s Kickstarter Project for more than 14 years, traveling hither and thither, moving to and/or visiting stranger and stranger lands while doing many an unusual thing. (“Go here. Do that. Speak to no one about this.”)

Within AHKP, there exists an elite team of crisis responders who travel two by two (hands of blue!) to hurricanes, earthquakes, oil spills, wild fires, uh-oh’s and hot messes in general.  “All hazards, all the time,” reads the sign above the door.  I’ve waited a long time to get a shot at the big league.  And last week, while I was on assignment in the scenic Pacific Northwest, standing atop a towering long-silent processor at the epicenter of an abandoned pulp mill, I received the text of a lifetime: Congratulations on your orders.

I’ve been invited to join the Team.

Believe me when I say that it feels like I’ve been asked to join the Avengers, MiB and Warehouse 13 all rolled into one.  I’ll close up shop here in the Western Lands at the end of May and make best possible speed to Norfolk, VA, reporting for adventure on 16JUN.

The next four years will be the hardest but the most rewarding of my career. “Bring your laptop, your camera, your passport, your gas mask, your A-game and pack your enthusiasm, too.” It’s good to remember who I am, to think on where I’ve been and what I’ve already accomplished in my lifetime. And that’s all pretty cool.  But I know that what lies ahead will be even more challenging than I can possibly imagine, and I’m stoked beyond belief.  I don’t care how hard it will get, how tired I will be, or how many long and lonely miles I will travel, because I’m always gonna come up swinging. There really isn’t enough Tool, enough Iron Maiden, enough strong coffee or delicious human adrenal glands in little brown bottles to truly sum up how I feel right now.

That also means I may not have much time/brainspace left over to write or create for myself. (That painstaking,ultra-complicated second novel I was working on, the one about pirate treasure, time travel, multiple timelines, multi-dimensional lizards and the pure and primal pain of heartbreak? Shelved for the foreseeable future.)  This blog will probably gather dust too, but I’ll try to check in when I can; gently obfuscating the truth as I am wont to do where my fictional work is concerned, burying strange truth beneath a haze of alternative futures and infinite possibility.

Winter is over, people. EVERYTHING IS FASCINATING.

Clocks, smokes and cats

Welcome to Sunday. Help yourself to coffee.

It seems like it’s always 11 a.m., like it’s always 8 a.m., like it’s always 2 p.m. These moments keep happening, over and over. (Cue: footage of a factory assembly line, robot arms spot-welding a ring of perfect shimmering seconds along the equator of a spherical moment: empty now, filled later.)

Moments get really good at what they do, and in time they begin to develop a personality.  (They cease being nomadic, they develop agriculture, they discover metal, create tools, weapons, art, invent a currency, …) Eventually, each moment, each hour, each once here-once gone tick of the second hand becomes a straining, shining epitome of itself.  With enough exposure and practice, we can “feel” 4 p.m. (Sometimes it feels “earlier,” and sometimes it feels “later” but 4 p.m. is still just 4 p.m. It has no reason to lie to you.)  Moments come to you like radiation from far away stars. They move through you like ghosts. They leave you with memories.

I am hyper-aware of “fifteen minutes” because it takes four of them to make an hour.  I am hyper-aware of “three hours” because when you pass through four of these gateways you will find yourself exactly halfway through the 24-hour period we call a “day.”  The same applies to “noon,” to “midnight.”

How close mythical 4 a.m. stands to the rail, relishing its prime position in the front row, just ahead of the heaving cosmic mosh pit and right up against the universal stage, watching every morning as each man, woman and child at each successive position on the globe begin to swim up and out of their respective dreams; their inner clocks responding subconsciously to the distant trumpeting wall of soft light which heralds the re-arrival of the re-dawn.  Soon it will be 7 a.m., followed by the thing we call “lunch”, followed by “quitting time”, “dinner” and “happy hour.”  Did we give these things names because we were tired of the numbers?  (What ancient branding firm, which eternal freelancer was hired to name “fire” and “time” and “darkness”?)

Time measures entropy. It measures change. It never stops. Not once. Not ever — except maybe in the first flutterings of a far and distant moment of the future when the last human beings, frail and old and dying, will begin to close their eyes for good.  Eyelids collapsing like a gentle fist; the end of the bloodline, the end of music, the end of architecture and aircraft, the end of pretty girls in sundresses, the end of tall trees swaying in the afternoon sun, the end of love notes and stolen kisses, the end of food trucks and good coffee. (Raise your fists and cry, “Moloch!”)

We gave time a name. Before us, it just “was.”  We give the seasons an identity.  We gave it a fake driver’s license and looked the other way when it began sneaking into clubs.  We told ourselves it was good clean fun, that “it had to grow up sometime.”  But when there is no one left to agonize over the wasted years and love lost in hesitation, when fleeting seconds fade like photographs, when there is no one left to pay lip service to each and every moment, those seconds will finally tick to termination.

The eyes are closed.  The clock stops. The genie is freed from the bottle and bleeds out across the sky.

Mmm, mmm good…

Prometheus was a Southerner, for sure and for certain. What better partner for earthy and sacred Indian tobacco than holy and nomadic fire? I quit smoking many years ago at the polite and repeated request of my lungs, let me be clear on this. And let me next mention that I no more welcome your anti-smoking pamphlets, your links to diseased lung imagery, or any other well-intended wisdom on this matter any more than I’d care to have you approach me at the funeral of a close friend and piously inform me that my dearly departed drinking buddy was a notorious porn lord. (Justice has already been served, mouse mind.  Have some respect for the dead.) But there are still times when I miss the devil’s draw, the sensuous flame, the crackle and crash of chemicals coursing and colliding through my bloodstream.

It was a natural companion to the moment. Birthed from sliding airport doors into the yawning humidity of local time, my bag slung across my body, my head held high and my eyes peeled for vague threats and available cabs. It is then that I miss a cigarette. A welcoming act. A moment to think, to plot, to plan. (Fun science fact: A 6’ 4” man can origami himself into a neat meat cube tucked hard ahead of a screaming, kicking child and immediately adjacent to an unctuous mouth breather whose stale odor and radiating body heat are capable of fast-depleting an entire iPod battery. Trust me, I’ve had it happen!) Lighting a cigarette upon arrival was a pause for thought, a mobile magic ceremony where any evil spirits accrued on the journey were carved away with the monomolecular edge of my psychic knife, cast out and cast away by cast iron, doomed to wander the airport like a phantom panhandler. Tear the ticket in half and destroy the portal.

Walking on the broken backs of autumn leaves, a large coffee in one hand, my camera slung about my neck and headphones plunged deep into my ears, the sky is a precise shade of 05fdf4 and the large black dial in my brain switched over to GATHER, light ‘em up. Yes. This is when my beloved cigarettes are missed.

Hunched in the corner of my favorite dark Alaskan pub on a long and wintry night, the merry tinkle of ice in my whiskey glass, I am surrounded by a candle-lit cluster of questioning faces; one hand stabbing high through the haze as I work to make some quasi-crucial point that applies only to we handful of ambulatory meat puppets residing in some lone corner of the universe, a point probably forgotten in the morning, possibly even before the next round.) Light ‘em up. The metallic ring of a Zippo lighter plays but one note: satisfaction.

Drinking my fourth espresso whilst bashing away at my computer, bare-knuckle brawling with my demons for each and every turn of phrase.  Fingertips sore.  Eyes strained. (Knuckles raw.)  Flakes of white grey ash scattered across the surface of my desk like deadly drifts from a very small nuclear winter as the rising plumes of ghosts turn blue in the evening light. Last time I checked it was 10 a.m. The sun is going down. Hit ‘save’ and light ‘em up.  So it was written, so it will be. Smoking is a human experience.

I remember my first boom box, saving up for months to buy a tape and anguishing at the choice. This album or that? Is the Best Of as good as the original? What if I only like three tracks on the whole album? The long winter bus rides between Harrisburg and Columbus with headphones in, watching the miles whip past, flipping the tape until the batteries died. The coarse plaid of the seat cloth. The scuffs and scratches on the seat back. The Christmas lights and endless slush. Tires turning like radio static. Sitting in the back of the Greyhound with the jabbering weirdos and the raven-eyed old drunks. “Hey, kid. You wanna sip? Come on, I ain’t got no germs!”

There are (awkward) times when I want to ask my friends to consider legally adopting me so that I will have a greater and binding sense of belonging to something. What a burden I must be to them! I’m not called friend by many; the need to belong is nearly equal to the need to keep the population at arm’s length as I fight to maintain and understand my identity. But the moment I open myself up, the moment I reveal is the moment I slam the door shut and lock it down tight. (“No. I never said that. I am perfect as stone. I am self-reliant and unflinching. I make no mistakes. I lean on no one.”)

So it was written, so it shall be.

P.S. Cats are natural knife fighters. Most people make the mistake of watching the tips of their tails flick like a furry metronome. And that’s the moment they strike, lungeing in fast and shivving you hard between your floating ribs, using their body weight to turn the handle over sharp for good measure. Cracks the bone, sucks all the fight right out of you and hurts like a motherfucker. Oldest trick in the book; learned from the Egyptians and practiced on the gypsies. Bottom line, if you know you’re gonna get in a knife fight with a cat, bring a gun.

Or a toy mouse.

Tool – Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco

IMG_0781

Closure.

140311 –  The phrase “black magic cameras?” complete with question mark was the last thing I’d written in this notebook, so that’s where I’ll kick this off.  I boarded a bus headed to Oakland around 6 p.m., but realized after a block and a half that my Clipper pass had run dry. (Well done, Mr. Advance Planning.)  Also failing to stock up on cash, I was cursing my luck and preparing to debark at the next stop for an ATM when a large black man with dreads down to his ass, a plain green t-shirt and a wrist wrapped in brown wooden prayer beads stepped forward and plucked three crisp singles from an old leather wallet. “Hey, it’s cool.  I’ve been there,” he said with a smile.  (Thanks again, man.)

In the Spring of 1993, I walked into the Barrowlands in Glasgow, Scotland, with two friends, all of us just young and looking for a good time.  On the ticket was something called Tool, something else called Wool, followed by the band we’d been the most excited to hear at the time: Rage Against The Machine.  I was blown away by Tool.  Wool never really registered, and the only part I remember about the Rage show was an auditorium of angry Scottish teens howling, “FUCK YOU, I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!” in their thick brogue, pogo-ing together in a wild sweating frenzy of Doc Martens.  RATM fell by the wayside, but something about Tool resonated deeply and continued to do so for years.

Maps are excellent.

Maps are excellent.

Twenty-two years and halfway around the world from the “Barrows” I’m standing in a long line that wraps all the way around San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, a large green space surrounded on three sides by the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco City Hall, the Supreme Court Building of California, and the Bill Fucking Graham Civic Auditorium. It’s a cool spring evening. I find myself thinking about who I was when I first saw Tool, the people I saw the show with, and where those people are today.

Well, shit. Chad’s gone, but not forgotten. Every time I hear Alice in Chains, Suicidal Tendencies, Pantera (or Tool), he’s standing right there with his Ugly Kid Joe ball cap on backwards, an untucked blue plaid shirt and his battered high tops, moving his bangs out of his face with a puff of air, hands jammed deep into the pockets of his jeans.  Ian’s got his own business now and lives somewhere in North Carolina.  He married a pretty Scottish girl and became a dad.  I met up with him once when I was working in Disco Charlie.  He hadn’t changed.  If anything, he’d become even “more” of the Ian I remember (if that’s possible), just with greying hair.

The line for the show tonight, while massive, is moving quickly. Every few minutes, a measured chunk of the crowd are herded across the intersection of Grove and Polk at the northwest corner of the building, which acts as a kind of valve, making it relatively easy for the event staff at the front door to verify tickets, check bags and pat everyone down in a timely but unhurried manner.  Bag checks might have been the “new normal” fifteen years ago but that’s ancient history.  Now it just “is.”  Everyone knows the deal.  Shuffle up, shut up, open up.  Some of the staff look barely 20-years-old, giddy with power as they bull-horned orders at the line, staggering their words for emphasis.

(*feedback*) “NO SMO-KING ONCE YOU CROSS THE STREET, NO SMOKING!   BAGS OPEN FOR IN-SPECT-ION AND HAVE YOUR OWN!  TICK-ETS! I N HAND!  COME ON, PEOPLE!  LET’S GO! MASH IN TIGHT LIKE WHEN YOU DRAIN A CAN OF TUNA!  MASH THAT TUNA!”

Opening act Failure finishes their set while I’m in line waiting to buy a t-shirt.  Every dimpled, tattooed, pierced, and smoldering hot prog-punk chick in the Bay Area is probably here tonight… After about thirty minutes, the lights go down and the lusty wolf howls and appreciative screams begin. Lights begin to play across the ceiling and the walls.  It feels as though the anticipation has sucked the oxygen out of the room. The first wave of energy is massive.  Tim Leary’s electric blue face fills the jumbotron:

“Throughout human history, as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are, or where we are going in this ocean of chaos, it has been the authorities, the political, the religious, the educational authorities who attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations, informing, forming in our minds their view of reality.  To think for yourself you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable, open-mindedness; chaotic, confused, vulnerability to inform yourself.  Think for yourself.  Question authority.”

Wild flickering laser lights and computer-perfect renderings of conjoined, headless monkeys, a dazzling variety of infinite spirals and themes of eternity now open to interpretation, interspersed with the famous “eye within the eye” motif.  A dense, sweet smelling fog builds.  All the things we see that we cannot say or explain are shown here, presented in light as a code we cannot crack, a puzzle we cannot solve.

1. EULOGY

BOOM.  Afterward, my ears were ringing from the roar and I heard a capacity crowd cheer in the way I’ve never quite heard one cheer before.  Aside from, “Oh, hey.  That’s the sound of people cheering,” how else could this roaring, tearing sound be described?  A bushfire sparked from a million happy matches, a directionless blur of joy, a warehouse-sized helmet of deafening murmurs and explosive appreciation.  Shit was on.

2. Forty Six & 2 

All your face all melts.

All your face all melts.

There was a long pause before those first fantastic bass notes plucked to life and suddenly the entire auditorium was screaming and pumping their fists.  It was as if some prodigal son had returned in the zero hour.  To my inner amusement, all I could think of was this cover version.  When the brightest volley of  blinding strobes began to explode in time with the final drum solo, I saw clearly for the first time the twin sets of speaker stacks hanging from the auditorium ceiling, like banana clips for a thundering, soul-seeking, million-watt fuck hammer of a machine gun firing loud rock music at my face, and yay verrily I did grineth.  Hell yeth.

3. Schism

I remember when this album came out.  Neah Bay, WA, 2002, waiting my turn to attend S.I.N.F.U.L.  At that time, walking into the room and hearing Maynard’s howling voice after all that time was like suddenly running into a close friend I hadn’t seen in years.  It felt like coming home.  It sounded even better tonight over the roar of my melting face.

I don’t have descriptions for each song from the show, but here’s the rest of the set list as best as I remember it.

4. Pushit
6. AEnema
7. Lateralus
(There was a long piece of slow filler here I didn’t recognize…)
8. Jambi
9. Opiate 

Maynard spent the entire show towards the rear of the stage and without a spotlight, facing the backdrop rather than the audience.  Having only seen them long ago on their first tour, I didn’t understand why until I read the following later:

Breckinridge Haggerty, the band’s live video director, says that the dark spaces on stage “are mostly for Maynard.”  He explains, “a lot of the songs are a personal journey for him and he has a hard time with the glare of the lights when he’s trying to reproduce these emotions for the audience. He needs a bit of personal space, and he feels more comfortable in the shadows.” So there’s that.

The feeling after the show was one of communal stun; the ringing ears, the murmuring groups walking this way and that.  I walked around the main floor in a happy daze just taking in the details: friends exchanging phone numbers (“Totally! Give me a call, we’ll hang out!”), millions of red squares of glitter stomped into the concrete floor (dropped from the ceiling during the end of Jambi), the heavy crunch of empty beer cups smashed underfoot like Autumn leaves (as interpreted by an alien who’d only ever heard a distant crackling recording of Autumn but had never actually seen Autumn, much less one complete with its own megawatt-laser show, face-melting music, smoke belching machines and a screaming, joyous crowd belting out songs about inner demons, self-introspection and personal evolution.  Good times.

Later, I ordered a cup of coffee and a lox bagel at a cafe two blocks south.  The two older Asian men in white, short-sleeved shirts, identically parted hair and gold-rimmed spectacles were working the counter as best they could, patiently putting up with the sweating, deafened hoards of hungry drunks.

Drunk guy: (yelling at the cook behind the counter) Hey!  Hey!  Over here!  Can I.. can I have a McBurger?
Drunk guy two: Dude, this isn’t McDonald’s…
Drunk guy: ‘S bullshit… (blinking, unfocused pause) Hey, welcome to America, man!

Staring out the window, chewing, sipping, thinking; I smelled him before I heard him, his mumbled voice like dry gravel scraping across the surface of a dead snow shovel. He towered above me, eyes flicking downward to meet my curious glance as I looked up to see who sounded (and smelled) like Death.

“…so the junk keeps shootin’ back outta my fuckin’ hand, man!  I stick the needle in and it squirts out another hole!  Thas’ bad business!”  He was my height at least, older, maybe younger? Wrapped in a long brown raincoat, grimy woolen trousers and an old pirate hat.  His hands were pure luggage, and his eyes were milky white with droplets of red.  I didn’t blink.  Neither did he.  Eventually he walked away.

I found the BART and headed home.  Good fucking show.

According to this Rolling Stone interview, there are no immediate plans for a new Tool album.

Aztecs in the download

20OCT2013 – Rubette. The woman who owns the corner coffee shop, who makes an epic quad-shot latte and goes through the gentle trouble of twice-toasting my bagel with egg and tomato every Sunday morning is named Rubette.  Today I asked her what it meant.  “It means beautiful,” she said.

I’ve kept a journal since the end of the 90s.  And in ninety-nine-point-bunch-of-nines-percent of those entries, I’ve detailed the location where I was sitting when I wrote it, be it bench, table or bar.  It’s like an Easter egg.  Maybe I’ll get post-mortem famous and people will make a thing of reading something I wrote while sitting where I sat.  That’ll most likely get me fifteen minutes of dead fame, sandwiched neatly between DIY skateboard videos and those giving serious philosophical consideration to the sound a fox makes.

Friday after work, I sat in the Place Where The Wind Blows and tried to discern the patterns from the noise, the random events of my life that hold a greater meaning I can’t define.  (Random being a shorthand expression for a pattern too big for our miracle monkey minds to comprehend.)  The hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do is see myself from your perspective, but I’m grateful that I have the luxury to try.  It’s one thing to sit and think about creating something. It’s another to create something worth sitting and thinking about.

Sometimes I think there’s no point to my writing anymore. It’s like playing mumblety-peg with a fog bank, sword fighting with a forest fire, or aiming myself at a half-formed phantom in the darkness and leaping for it with arms outstretched. Trip the shutter an instant too late and you’ve missed the action. Anyone who knows anything knows that.

“Things used to be simple.” That’s nonsense. The only thing it used to be is used to be. (The phone rings. Ignore it, not my phone. Crazy thoughts, ignore them, not my crazy.)  Time is a blur.  Maybe I was here for this?  Maybe I was there for that?  I had a different heart back then, just as I was a different height and a different weight wrapped in a different skin.  I had the same name but the definition of that name meant something else entirely.  Same URL, but the browser took you to a different website.

A friend I’ve never met in person recently expressed her fear of commitment and I wanted to say something, but didn’t.  Still, I understand it: “What happens when the novelty of Me wears off and you figure out I’m just like every other jackass?  I can’t give you Tomorrow.”

Stand on the high cliff and let the fine sand blow.  Let go of the ashes.  Let go of the wishes.  Just. Fucking. Let. Go.  Stop forcing other people to cave in to your ancient needs. Set your bullshit free. Organize your hands. Sometimes there’s nothing to do but wring your hands. Sometimes that’s the answer, the sound of one hand clapping.

Appearances are fleeting: gotta stop falling in love at stop signs and cafes with strong jawlines and thin fingers. That’s your problem. You see everything. You feel everything. Paralysis by over-analysis. You think yourself stupid.

Can’t unhear a song. You can’t pull it out of your ears, you can’t untangle it from your hair and you can’t back it out of your brain. Every song you’ve ever heard is trapped in the whorls of your fingertips like vinyl grooves, waiting to play against Her skin.

Yesterday, sitting on a green metal bench across the street from the comic book store on Webster: It’s a brilliant, boiling day. The sky is a perfect shade and the breeze is acceptable. The sidewalk is covered in access ports: Water. Sewage. Electricity. Plasma. Garbage cooks in the green metal cage to my left.  I’m jotting down observations of passing strangers. (So you know, not being too creepy…)

Some species of mad man walks right to left, barking in falsetto. He’s wearing a heavy red coat despite the heat. Mad Man stops, takes a powerful drag on his cigarette and shoves it hard from his mouth with his crazy tongue.  An old man shuffles past me in the other direction: white New Balance shoes, shapeless khakis and a t-shirt from Florida. He’s pushing a 3-wheel bicycle. He stops, looks down the street in Confused Old Man style and turns back to the right. There’s a small brown stain smeared across the seat of his pants.  A third man walks past me in a white cardigan sweater, large octagonal glasses and an 8-bit deer t-shirt.  Aliens dress like stock photographs of hipsters.  Not even trying anymore. Phoning it in.

I walked into the pinball museum with my coffee and headphones. Suddenly I am 12 again, thumbing my lunch change into the hard silver mouths of machines. The transparent Spirit of ‘76 is the most responsive of all the machines I play and I run it for almost 25 minutes. And it’s fun for awhile.  But the rooms are loud caves full of human heat and hot breath and the anachronistic roar of Duran Duran is overwhelming.  Back into the light I go.

So I walked to the dollar store and browsed the Jesus candles, marveling at the pile of mom jeans and thinking how amazing it is that it’s the year 2013.  But this is not quite the future I expected.  The Now where I’m standing feels like the future if the Future had gotten bad GPS directions and wound up in Canada, and no one spoke up.

I don’t hate Canada.  I’ve been listening to Rush for most of the day: Fly By Night, Tom Sawyer, YYZ, Limelight and Subdivisions are my favorites.  I remember this kid from high school we called Slam.  He carried his life in a hockey bag, wore a fedora before it became so closely associated with throwing up in one’s mouth and he swore by Rush.  But had I arrived at this future moment direct from 1979, I’d expect to find half the population of the Earth in deep cryogenic sleep on the Dark Side of The Moon while the other half were engaged in mortal combat with robots. (Consolation prize: I suspect I’d have been super stoked by the supercomputer in my pocket that doubled as the Greatest Radio Station in The World.)

Early writers had it easy. There were fewer players on the field back then but all were  hoping to be heard.  You gotta scream pretty hard these days: too many goddamn barking seals and every noisy dickhead’s got a blog or a thing or “like my Facebook page” or whatever, but not all ideas are meant to be screamed.  Anyone who knows anything knows that.

Had a talk with the Old Man of the Mountain recently.  Spent two years in November Yankee with him, eating rice and learning the Five Finger Death Punch.  His speech has slowed down since the last time we spoke. Thoughtful. Full of thought.  He’s gone quite Kurtz, and I half-expected him to mumble something about snails and razor blades.

We started out texting and I was going off on a tangent about inspiration when he said, “…and now you’re ‘writing’ your text messages. I don’t want your words, friend. I want what’s behind them.” Diamond. Bullet. (Points to forehead.)

I apologized. “Sometimes I’m not sure what my brain sounds like against the backdrop of the Narrator.”  Which is true.  I confuse my own thoughts and emotions with those of the Narrator.  I don’t even know who the Narrator is.  We’ve never met.  He keeps odd hours and doesn’t pay skull rent.

Example: (thought occurs) “Is that my internal dialog?  Am I writing my emotions?  Is this just more of my firewall?”  I’d looked into a sensory deprivation tank while I was in November Yankee but the only one for miles was located in some guy’s apartment (according to this article.)

I recently removed Twitter from both of my laptops and my iPhone (yeah, America’s hard) because I was knee-jerk vomiting every dumb thought that fell out of my face into an electronic bucket and slopping it against the broad side of a barn.  My brain had no chance to ferment, to breathe, or gain potency.

So the search is on for a place far from Wi-fi and further still from DIY skateboard videos and those giving serious philosophical consideration to the sound a fox makes. (!)  Just need a week, ten days maybe.  Push the Narrator out of the way and see what’s really on my mind, maybe finish a project.  I’m presently plagued by the “one in ten words captured, lightning bugs and fishing nets” problem. But maybe the whole point is the fishing net.  (Fuck it, brevity and cutups worked for Burroughs.)

No harm in trying: what happens on Earth stays on Earth,

Haiku, handguns and (kinda sorta) lucid dreaming

13OCT2013 – After awhile, the dates cease to matter.  We’re all caught tumbling in the fast-moving wake of the Future, and it’s all we can do to keep up with it.  It’s a big fucker, roaring past with a buffeting whoosh that sucks a cloud of dirt half a mile into the air, and all lit up like a flying oil refinery, rushing overhead in a blur before it leaves us in the stillness of the desert night, climbing high and away until it vanishes into the yearbook of the heavens.

Kinda sorta.

Kinda sorta.

The Old Ways have left this world.

For those of you just joining in, welcome to Sunday.  I know sometimes you have those moments when you’re thinking, “Man, I was sure today was Friday!  Doesn’t today feel like Friday?”  But I’m here for you, champ.  I got your back.  It’s definitely Sunday.  (This is the time, and this is the record of the time.)  Good talk.  Glad we had this moment together.

How I’ve missed the feeling of writing: the faint aroma of cleaning oil as I open the case, the weight of the thing as I heft it in my hand, the bite of cross-patterned metal against the soft meat of my palm.  Pull the slide back, thumb the safety off, and experience the sheer joy of sending word chasing word toward the waiting embrace of the paper hanging down range.  (You cannot destroy matter.  You can only hope to rearrange it.)

I loaded this clip with assorted ammo leftover from my sketch box, so I apologize if it’s a bit MAD LIBS up in this mother: Noun! Adjective! Pronoun! Definite article!  My fingers barely squeeze the keyboard as I coax out a quick series: Noun! Number! Noun! Verb! Celebrity! Adjective! Adverb! Color!  All too soon the slide slams back into the FEED ME position and the air of cordite floats free from the chamber.  Drop the spent clip, slam in another.  This one’s labeled HAIKU:

“You’ll find another.”
That’s an insult to love and
a slight to lovers.’

Another thirteen rounds.  Savor the warm glow of the recoil, the aftershock rippling through my body like a Texas thunderstorm fading into the distance.  One Mississippi, two Mississippi… boom.

Big sigh, long week.  Lost a finger getting a quadcopter unstuck from a tree Friday afternoon, but it’s almost completely grown back.  Won’t be able to do that much longer, might as well enjoy it while it lasts.  Regeneration is one of the first traits you lose when you get older.

Good thing I never opted for millimeter wave radar procedures.  It’s all well and swell being able to see through solid objects, exploiting radio’s highest frequency band to cop a gaze through solid structures and atmospheric obstructions like snow or fog.

Apparently the long-term effects of said trait include irreversible degradation of sensory perception.  Tin cups and white canes become the least of your worries. Your brain loses the ability to properly render enormous cube-shaped sections of your immediate environment, leaving you to navigate reality like Q-bert on government acid.

Using this cube concept where each is approximately three meters square: a speeding automobile moving directly toward you will register in distant visual grids (assigned much higher numbers) before vanishing and then suddenly re-appearing in grids (with much lower numbers, such as) .010 through .008.  It will then skip to grids .005 and .004 and suddenly the front half of the car will appear in .002 but by then it’s too late because what the fuck were you doing standing in the middle of the freeway?

At 65 mph, a car like the one I described earlier (like the one you find yourself being dragged under) won’t come to a complete stop until negative grids -032 through -047 on the opposite side of the axis — depending upon the dietary habits of the passengers, the reaction time of the driver and the on scene weather conditions.  Early studies indicate you’ll only be vaguely aware of the driver’s frantic face leaning forward into your pixelated field of view like he’s trying to activate motherfucking Robocop:  “OH GOD ARE – brzzt – I DIDN’T SEE – brzzt – BODY CALL THE COPS!”

Kinda sorta.

Kinda sorta.

My newly regrown finger is still kinda tender and it’s making me type slow.  It looks weird, all smooth and pink among it’s much older and wiser siblings.  The nail is perfect, like dinnerware in a catalog.  It’s never been chewed on.

To those of you who haven’t been born yet, here’s how I spent my weekend.  Keep in mind, this is before the days of being able to beam medicine directly into the afflicted areas of your body, before the approval of consumer-grade drones, and long before we built that giant brain farm in Colorado, herded all of our life-sentence prisoners into coma pods and foolishly entrusted their combined convict cortexes with the complete control of our ballistic weapons inventory.  (Who’d have thought we’d miss North Korea this much?)

I skipped a work-related party yesterday.  (Thanks, social situation terrors!  I didn’t really want to eat free grilled cheeseburgers in the bright California sunshine anyway.  Thumbs up!)  Instead I hit the farmer’s market for my non-cloned veggies and went to Safeway for the rest.  Then I talked myself into needing alcohol, so I grabbed my notebook and hurried down the block to a place that serves a decidedly wonderful stout.  That was just before 3 p.m.

During the next few hours, I listened to music and thought some thoughts, some of which I was able to translate and arrange in some meaningful order between the covers of a nearly complete (but largely unsatisfying?) journal with the aid of a narrow two-tone cylinder boasting an “ultra-fine point” and passing permanency.

And as I drank my drink, I was caught fast on the knife-edge of the Now, just like you.  I breathed the lost breath of ancients, just like you.  And, just like you, I felt like an alien on an anthropology mission who’d bumped his head, been left for dead and, over time, had almost completely forgotten that he was an alien in the first place but was still trying very hard to extract some greater meaning from an existence spent trapped on this rock.  Just like you.

In the time that it took me to write that last paragraph, the world happened. People fucked.  Someone was born and someone died.  Someone learned about the islands of floating trash on both coasts of North America.  Someone else learned about the secret once-a-day flights to Cuba.  And still another someone gave passing thought to the millions upon millions of carefully-controlled combustion engine explosions happening all around us, (the rise and fall of which are governed by a complicated computer system that transmits simple instructions in yellow, red or green lights.) These explosions are tucked safe inside gleaming metal machines piloted along asphalt neural networks with reckless precision by multi-tasking miracle monkeys wholly obsessed with celebrity vomitoriums, wedding attire, Chinese take out and Facebook updates.  (Hint: That was me.)

Oh! And I had another flying dream last night (this morning? Okay, at some point while I was fast asleep, the cameras beneath my eyelids busy slam-dancing to REM) where I was doing barrel rolls over an unfamiliar countryside, swooping in low over the hills and using lonely country intersections and field color patterns as waypoints and landmarks.  I had much better control this time and I don’t think anyone saw me (despite a near head-on collision with an Army helicopter.)

Kinda sorta.

Kinda sorta.

During my last flying dream, I decided to walk into a library because I wanted to see if there was information on the subject.  (As one does.)  While I was paging through a coffee table book on the phenomena, I became aware of a figure sitting at the table next to me, hands clasped and patiently waiting.  Presently, I looked over at him, noticing for the first time the incredulous expression he temporarily considered his face.

Really?  he laughed, shaking his head. “You’re dreaming about looking at a book about people who fly in their dreams?  You know we’ve been watching you, right? I mean, you must have known.”

He slid the book away from my hands, licked a finger and turned a few pages ahead of where I’d been thumbing until he came to a two-page layout featuring a series of images of a solitary speck in the sky.  He pushed it back to me and tapped the first image. As the photos progressed from left to right, they zoomed progressively closer and by the bottom right page I was able to make out my own face.  There I was, my arms tucked tight along my sides as I rocketed higher and higher, a black hoodie shoved halfway down one arm. Someone had taken photos of me flying. In my dreams. Understandably, I woke up just a tad spooked.

But no, this time was different.  No library visits (no dream library cards. Wait. How the fuck would that even work?) and no smug dream operatives trying to NSA their way into my night time good time.  Instead, I managed to get stuck in an empty concrete room somewhere for a few minutes.  It had a high ceiling and I couldn’t figure out how to reach the doorknob.  I had to stop thinking about thinking, if that makes any sense, until I was able to drift close enough to grab the doorknob, twist it open by rolling my whole body clockwise and pull the handle past me.  The physics of swimming appear to apply evenly to dream flight.

Notes from the end of the journal: “Why are you still doing this?  You’ve been spending too much time in solitary confinement. Sharks drown when  they do not swim. They need the oxygen they draw from the water. You need oxygen. You need fire.  All else is all else.  Leave the drunks to do combat in the haystacks. Start the reactor, Quaid…

You can’t own these moments.  You can only pay rent.

Train of thought like an uncorrelated Mayday…

18AUG2013 – It’s difficult to concentrate in this Sunday sunlit coffee shop with the ghost of Whitney Houston drifting in through the speakers.  I never owned an album of her music beyond a mix tape I appropriated from my stepmother’s Buick Riviera when I was maybe 19? but I couldn’t resist the siren’s call of her voice once I’d heard it.

I grew up lots of places, one of them being a culturally inhibitive penal colony locked in geo-synchronous orbit on the far side of Mars (said satellite doubled as a chocolate factory), but the post-penal year and a half I spent back on Earth attempting to form a bond — any bond — with my step/parents did little more than disappoint me and showcase their general disdain of all things cultural.  They were a species adrift.  I had vague memories of them playing guitar and banjo respectively, in the back yard of 790 Siebert Street sometime during the autumn of the 1970s, but Old Tyme music and the Hee Haw network were all they had time for.  I never met a more repressed duo.  As the years grew on them like moss, they acquired the expression/behavior that all chronoRepresentatives get as they move further and further away from the Era of their Identity: “What the hell is this?  What the hell is that?  And why is everything so loud?”

But yeah so one day I climbed into the passenger seat of the Buick for whatever reason and as I was closing the safety slab after me I heard a woman singing, I mean, belting out a beautiful Milky Way-sized noise from the recirculating oxygen pumps kept safe in her chest; expelled up and out on gossamer wings with Jericho-killing force, an all-mighty clean and clear vocal pearl of wondrous and magnificent articulation jettisoned through a series of wet valves located along her esophagus like the complicated chambers of a sound gun. The notes rocketed out through the Buick’s shitty stereo system (I was always adjusting the car’s bass and treble for maximum clarity and efficiency but always found both dials turned insultingly to the far right why the fuck do I even bother trying to educate you, you hayseed refugee??) and goddamn, that sound just washed over me like I’d never really gotten the hang of (soap + water = shower) before that moment and that, ladies and gentlemen, was the first time I heard Whitney Fucking Houston.

Ignore how dated it sounds. Ignore how jaded you are. Shut the fuck up and listen to the woman sing.

The moment the High Council of Hee Haw diverted her attention I exercised my right as Household Culture Ambassador and squirreled that tape away to my attic lair at the top of the house.  I spent many a long hour lying flat on my king size waterbed (summer temperature 75deg, winter 95deg) with all the red lights on and my prized ear-smothering headphones strapped tight against my hear-holes, eyes shut, floating on nothingness, wrapped up safe in that rising sweet sound. (I’ve never since responded positively to R&B, I continue to loathe gospel, and Soul gives me a nervous tick.  Motown kinda reaches me — I love that swooping, orchestral sound) so I suppose that mix tape found me at a specific place and time when my musical tastes were virginal, brand new in a sense. I would be transfixed by that tape for exactly one week before my palette exploded against the onslaught of 90s industrial and I forgot all about it.

I was essentially a blank slate at 19, having been locked away from culture-at-large as Devil Music was verboten by my Martian overlords.  (To this day, I owe a tremendous debt to two friends who force fed me selections of industrial, goth and various nuggets of delicious that included the fire and brimstone damnation of Nick Cave, the agonizing sweet destructionism of Leonard Cohen, the shrill holocaust dirge of Diamanda Galas, the crypt-sweet wailings of Dead Can Dance, the oddly-twisted song books of Giles de Rais and the complete works of Marquis “What the fuck is wrong with you?” de Sade.)  As it turned out, I liked my music dark. I liked it mean. I liked the sound of heartbreak and loss and murder and destruction.

FUTURE/PAST: It was a sad thing to ride the NYC subway the day Whitney’s passing was announced.  (Likewise MCA, but that’s a story for another day.)  A once sweet smiling piece of Americana had overdosed.  You could see the disappointment on the faces of the riders, and taste the schadenfreude in the vulture screams of the headlines.  Her death was palpable. Real.  Experienced. As the details of her demise unfolded, I thought about that long gone mix tape, the Buick, my waterbed, the red lights in my tiny attic room and how her voice lit up my synapses in that first instant. Her addiction didn’t matter. None of the Bobby Brown bullshit mattered. I felt like someone had murdered my 8th grade girlfriend, but it had been so long ago that I forgot what it felt like to hold her hand. I felt as though I had betrayed her, given her up for wild women and wanderlust. I suppose I did.

PRESENT: We now return you to our regularly scheduled timeline.

Friday night went on for at least a week.  I took a long walk to the other side of the island where I activated my social interaction software and tried my hand at being holo-charming for a few hours with fellow members of the ‘East Bay Nerd Herd’ Meetup.  I quaffed two pints and returned home.  Had a good think about This, That and the Other Thing on the 45 minute walk back to my Fortress of Solitude.

There’s no way to really capture what goes on in my head.  I could spend my 9-to-5 trying, but at the end of the day I’d unscrew my brain and grope about for the Precious, finding nothing.  Congratulations.  If light was a farm animal, it just took a shit in your hands…

And someday those hands will shake.  Someday I’ll lose touch.  Someday I will wear that selfsame lost expression on my face for real, and the madness won’t make sense anymore, not even to me.  I will join the ranks of the chronoRepresentatives. “What the fuck is this? What the fuck is that? And who’s been sending robots to steal my meds?”

Change is the only constant.  You can’t stop change.  Even if you could get your hands around the Great Throat of The Universe and squeeze, if you could bring everything as far as the eye can dream to a screeching halt that, too, would be change.  And at last when your resolve and strength failed and you released your grip on that throat, all life would surge free like cold water from a garden hose, and that would be yet another change.

Not only do I wish I was crazy, but I wish I was crazier still.

Short Attention Span Theater: Apocalypse Now as played out in a shopping mall (seeded by texts/tweets from @MissRubyRedSlipper and @PossibleMachine):

@TWM71: “Too late, too far upriver, can’t go back. You read his dossier. He’s come unglued fm the Army, fm the whole goddamned war…”

@PossibleMachine: “He’s MIA: Missing in Active Sportswear.”

@TWM71: “…so you follow the map, you interpret the recordings.  “The mall will be closing in 30 minutes.”  But that’s just a cover… You can neither confirm/deny a sighting in the Gap in April of last year. But those were his eyes, so wild and dog yellow… the food court is empty, the falafel gone.  You rise slowly from the fountain with determination and pennies in your eyes.  He’s waiting for you, mocking you from his Brookstone vibrating recliner. He wants this to end just as much as you do.”

12AUG2013 – Jet Blue 147 headed for Long Beach, waiting for the Sky Ninjas to clear me for approved electronics use:

(Sky Ninja Alpha wanders the aisle, examining each proffered pair of headphones): “Yes, those are fine.  Yes, those will do. (Stops) No, no I’m afraid those are shit. Able Planet makes shit gear.  The sound is terrible and the construction is laughable.  I must ask you to return those to your bag and consider throwing them away the moment we reach our destination.  If you really want good sound, you need to do your research.  I won’t fine you this time, but if I see you with those headphones again, I’ll see to it your wages are garnished. Thank you. (Moves on) Yes, those will do nicely. Excellent choice, yes…”

Always exciting to pack a bag and walk away from all that I own: plug myself into a new rent-a-cave in a different city and pretend I live in a room guarded by an electronic lock, dominated by an immense bed smothered in cool crisp sheets, and decorated largely by morons.

NOW: Sky Ninjas perform the Air Safety kata in slow synchronicity, demonstrating their lost and lethal martial art: Inflate Vest! (whipping sound) Fasten Belt! (whipping sound) Locate Exits! (whipping sound) Apply Butter Dish to Face! (whipping sound)

Sky Ninja as a D&D character rolls for: Public Speaking skills, Bar Tending skill, and Saving Your Slow Blinking Philistine Bovine Ass When This Winged Dildo Plummets South In a Hurry skills.

I saw Her again.  She was in the departure lounge, and boarded just ahead of me.  Caught my eye and I almost snapped my neck.  She was 5’10” with caramel brown skin, perfect teeth and hard blue gemstones where her eyes should be.  She wore a “Tough Mudder” t-shirt, jeans and running shoes and she carried herself with an upright grace.  She had an aggressive frame and a careful face.  Tousled long brown hair, something vaguely gypsy about her, well traveled, the air of an explorer.  There was a handmade monkey’s fist attached to the end of her brown leather handbag, which had seen some miles meaning she either bought it used or it meant a great deal to her. There was a mighty rock upon her ring finger; seems the great ones are always spoken for.  Her lips, ears and jawline made me weak.  I passed her in the aisle and proceeded toward my seat.  I’ll never see Her again.  Next time, she will be someone else.

The aircraft rolls, picking up speed.  In my mind’s eye, I am running alongside on the tarmac.  Sprinting faster, digging deeper, heart pounding, arms and legs a Steve Austin blur.  At that crucial moment of breakup between earth and aircraft, when she has once again decided to leave him, my imagined self leaps into the air in the style of the Greatest American Hero, waving his arms and kicking wildly.  Ten seconds up: the soft cream of the clouds smothers the intake port, holding a clean white pillow firmly over the business end of the aircraft engine.  Can’t see shit.  Twenty seconds up, the sunlight roars out all lion-like, showcasing every flaw in the mountains far below. We pass the +7 boundary and I relax with a sigh. Not today…

Alternate timeline: I  change my name to Microsoft Pepsi and go on an epic bender.  We’re talking Beowulf on bath salts.  Get on the news.  Cause concern for careful corporate clones in closed conference rooms:

MARKETING LIEUTENANT: “Well, the good news is we’re trending on every social media platform.”

HMFIC: “Good!  Great!  Profits!”

BOARD MEMBERS: (nodding like Muppets) “Harrumph! Harrumph!”

ML: “Well, no.  The bad news is, it’s not really us that’s trending.  Some delirium-damaged dickhead changed his name to Microsoft Pepsi and he’s been camping atop the Golden Gate Bridge for three days straight doing God knows what with a wildly attractive and emotionally available nun in the middle of a mid-life crisis of faith, armed only with a bucket of hallucinogenic Kool-Aid.  So far, he’s resisted every extraction effort by the local police department, going so far as to take a healthy King Kong swing at the helicopters.  He’ll be on t-shirts within the hour.  Hipsters are proclaiming him their new messiah. He’s all over the news.  Our brand is officially mud.

HMFIC: (wailing) “DOOM!”

BOARD MEMBERS: “Harrumph! Harrumph!”

Far too many pilots operating their meat vehicle with their primary navigation system shunted permanently into their exhaust port. Fuck those pilots…

If I had believed I was going to make it this far, I might have applied myself harder to something that could be considered my life’s work, instead of randomly scrawling in a stack of journals, this stream of consciousness resulting in what amounts to an office party rendezvous ‘twixt “afraid-of-commitment” Pen and “not-getting-any-at-home” Paper.

Doesn’t matter what I think, doesn’t matter what I feel, doesn’t matter what I say, doesn’t matter what I do, doesn’t matter what I see, doesn’t matter what I write.  Not only does the Real Truth elude me, hovering just out of view in tiny shiny helicopters, but once I’m permanently offline these words are Ozymandias: King of Shit Town, and Lord of Get a Life, You Pale Child. Trunkless Legs of Nice Try.

I don’t know what time it is, but an early model primer grey Peugeot just drove past the café window.  Does that help?

Nailing fried eggs to a tree,

1,307,211,251

20JUL2013 – A coffee shop around the corner from my apartment, where knives of soft light slant in across my lap; right ankle over left knee, slouching slightly in a brown easy chair, looking out the window on my left over a rather strong cup of coffee.

Lately: I’m obsessed with pinning meaning to the wall.  My personality, my experiences, my thoughts (all of which are completely invisible under an electron microscope, slabbed and measured on a coroner’s scale or held red and glinting on the tip of his knife) are just playing cards flicked free from a deck and I’m trying hard to communicate myself to you, to bond with you, to grow roots with you, to mean something to you.

Spending too much time in my head again.  (Who first tricked a hamster into running on a wheel?  Now that’s a fucking bar bet worth winning.)  Been in California exactly one year today.

“Where’s home for you?”  (Usually a person will ask me this question with all the guffaw and chummy backslap of a man in a tweed jacket who’s built his fortune making horses fuck, as though he were taking stock of my breeding.  I’d answer but he’s checking my teeth.)  But that’s a trick question, isn’t it?  “Home is where I keep my stuff.”  Beyond that, we’re getting into answers that only bring more questions.  Shit, it could be worse.  I could still be digging ditches, or hawking Highlights magazine to frail old ladies who couldn’t afford to keep their lights on:

Me (holding an unsolved Rubik’s cube and sitting in a half-wall cube farm among college students, doddering retirees, single moms and bored housewives, each hunched in front of a crappy CRT monitor and reading from what had to be the most insulting sales script ever. I pull my headset aside to look up at the quality assurance agent now hovering over me; the same woman who, during my hiring interview, claimed to be a “big Beatles fan,” as she coaxed two slow Hippie snaps from her fingers and nodded along to the memory of some validating song):  “You heard her.  She said she didn’t have enough money to pay her heating bill this month. I can’t sell her what she doesn’t need.”

Probably not a Beatles fan but definitely condescending: “Well, that’s not for us to decide, is it?  Perhaps her grandchild would really benefit from a Tommy Timbertoes activity book.”

Hey, I could be homeless.  I could be in jail.  (Recently found: a relative’s mug shot online.  All three of them.)  So for now, let’s just keep the cycle moving forward.  There are nights where I eat and go to bed while the sun is still shining.  It’s how I fast-forward to the next chapter and get to the good part.  I’m throwing hours and days on the fire just to hear the whooshing sound they make.  But when I’m sleeping, I’m not eating my groceries or spending money I don’t have.  And I’m not staring down into the Void or worrying about tomorrow.

When I’m not sleeping, I watch a lot of movies.  Lately it’s been whole seasons of Star Trek spin-offs.  Gotta love those Vulcans, man.  They’ve really got their shit together.  College was a waste on me.  I wish I had studied philosophy, anthropology, engineering, or literature.  Or maybe all of them.  I wasn’t in the right place at the right time with the right mindset, but I’m lucky that I later realized how much I really love science; it’s led me to so many ideas and different fields of appreciation.

“Everything is so goddamned fascinating.” I wish I’d had this tattooed on my skin as a teen. Or maybe this: “The most important thing is to understand the meaning of your potential and ignore the obstacles.  We are  alive for a short time only. To have any effect on the world in which we live is amazing.”

But this time alone has allowed me to be more aware of my day-to-day headspace. I observe the gradual deployment and destruction of the spiderwebs near my front door.  I can remember what I felt two weeks ago, when I put my key into the lock Friday at 6 p.m., and I try to imagine what I’ll be like when I do it again.

Been working some long nights lately, taking on more and more jobs, tasks and assignments; coming in early, staying late, and caring way more about the endless ocean tide of emails and meetings than I should.  (Bummer, my best hours of the day are between 0700 and high noon.  Ideas and bits of dialog come to me from nowhere while I’m driving to work, to the other side of my brain, and I have no way to accurately capture them.  The finished product is nothing like the conception.  It’s like nailing a fried egg to a tree.)

//

(Friend) <– Randomly and secretly selected.  (Everyone else) <– concocts more and more brilliantly extreme methods with which to hide lines from a movie or, line by line, the text of an entire page from a book in that friend’s sight. Today’s sentence gets scrawled across the rear window of their never-washed car.  Tomorrow’s will be written in a stranger’s hand along the side of their latte, courtesy of the barista you’ve bribed.  The next it’ll be crumpled in Bic pen on a yellow Post-it and left on their chair. Will they pick up on it? Will they catch you? Will they get it?

Q: “Who has time for that?”

A: People whose YouTube videos of their own attempts you will watch, *like* and post on your Facebook page.

Note: Perhaps this pranks is best reserved for complete –> (Strangers.)

Anyway, my coffee’s done.

NOBODY WITH A GOOD CAR NEEDS TO BE JUSTIFIED*


2013-02-23 20.32.19*A new car owner’s work of mostly deniable fiction

LISTEN… GET THIS… I put off buying a car for as long as I could.  Wait, you did what now?  Yes, it’s completely true.  Allow me to explain.

I can’t properly put it into words but I think the decision was delayed due to my fear of crashing.  While some find the concept erotically stimulating  it’s just not my cup of coffee.  For a man so fastidious, so focused and organized I’ve got a reputation for being a tad scatterbrained.  As such, I maintain a healthy flicker of fear for T.S.I.I.T.T.W.F.M. (The Singular Instant In Time That Waits For Me.)  This instant, this animal, this entity has my name scrawled across its forehead in Fate’s finest Sharpie.  And having burned up the majority of my nine lives doing stupid shit in my youth (climbing grain silos in the rain, dodging buses at night, drowning in broad daylight,) I’m perpetually concerned that my debts will be called in, that I’ll wind up in a life-altering motherfucker of an accident, bent and broken like a flesh pretzel with nothing more than a feeding tube, Maury Povich and the Machine That Goes Beep for company.  (Actually, that’s not a bad name for a band, must remember to write it down…)

But seriously, people.  Operating a motorized vehicle is no joke.

I’ve been ‘bike guy’ for the majority of my life and it’s helped to keep me lean, not to mention clear-headed.  Traveling at speeds well below 20 mph has given me a lot of time to think.  It’s kept me safe.  Even if I’ve had to leave early for every job I’ve ever held; even if I’ve had to dress like an REI store mannequin and fit my entire day into the bag on my back; even if I knew that biking would severely limit my social (read: dating) life, I was more than happy to be ‘bike guy.’ Maybe I was (probably okay definitely) hiding from responsibility, thinking that perhaps I could just go without owning a car.  I mean, lifelong New Yorkers get along fine without cars, right?  Yeah, if you ignore their inability to leave the city when the shit hits the fan.  Most probably definitely among these reasons would be because I’m a speed freak.  At least I used to be.

In ten years of driving before ever owning my first vehicle — a delicate old ’77 VW Bus which was incapable of going more than 65 mph without trembling like a frightened crack puppy in a cold hallway — I managed to come this close to wrecking just about every vehicle I climbed behind the wheel of.

There was the riding lawn mower I drove straight into a tree when I was 19.  I could have turned.  I had plenty of time.  But I wanted to know what it was like to wreck.  So I mashed the gas down and just tackle fucked that tree, much to my neighbor’s chagrin.  I flew off the seat, unharmed of course.  The engine stalled out, the cowling was bent to shit and I had to pay to get it fixed.  I claimed I’d lost control. I just wanted to see what would happen…

There was the rented Alfa Romeo I nearly totaled in Sicily.  We were doing a dog-and-pony show, (read: staged ordinance upgrade) for the benefit of three NATO officers who’d be breathing down our necks for a solid week.  Naturally, they needed rental cars.  Two low-ranking friends and myself were given the task of retrieving those cars from the Catania airport.

Think on it:  Three… blood-red rentals… 1994 Alfa Romeo Spiders.  I’m in Sicily.  I’m 23.  I’ve got a mix tape full of Ministry and little-to-no common sense.  You do the math.

The speedometer was pegged hard over from the moment we left Fontanarossa Airport and headed out onto the open road, E45 moving south along SS 194 toward Lentini.  At one point, we were weaving in and out of traffic, passing other cars like they were standing still, like we were auditioning for the fucking Italian Job.  The Alfa handled the straights like a leather-lined missile and I remember being fascinated by just how far to the right I could actually get that big red needle to go.  The music couldn’t keep up with the car.  They were simply two separate occurrences.

Looking back, I’m lucky I wasn’t killed.  I’m fortunate that I didn’t collide with another driver, as Italians are known for turning a two-lane road into a five-way thoroughfare, complete with pull-off-and-chat lanes and a cart for the espresso.  Then again, Italians are far superior drivers.  They make all the best cars.  (And women.)

I was so caught up in the moment — the Ministry, the metal-meat-momentum of the thing — that I misjudged a hairpin turn just south of the Lentini-Carlentini interchange, which immediately unfolded from an overpass and opened onto a scenic vista.  There was a clutch of cars parked in the right-hand lane; tourists admiring the sun-soaked Sicilian view.  And me, headed right for them at a high rate of speed.

With what I felt was a crashing, fiery death fast approaching, I pulled hard on the emergency brake and shoved my brake foot through the floor to avoid slamming into them.  The tires screamed and shrieked, and my heart was in my throat.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared.  The Alfa went into a mean counter-clockwise spin, throwing dust and rocks in every direction and nearly coming up on two wheels before bouncing to a halt in the center of a dirt divider maybe 15 yards short of the group.  There was nothing spy movie about it.  Tunnel vision had taken over.  There was vertigo and physics and I was only partially aware of the steering wheel in my hands.  When it stopped and my vision opened up, I’d run through a rock bed and over the bare edge of a discarded metal guardrail in my quest to not die, and now the Alfa sat there fuming and ticking angrily.  There was smoke in the air and the smell of burning rubber.  The Italians weren’t coming any closer, but, not wanting to stick around for the frantic Q&A session to follow I got the engine started and stomped the gas, revving and shifting wildly in an effort to get moving.  But I was stuck.  The underside of the car was caught fast on a sawed-off section of rebar that probably once held a road sign reading something to the effect of: “Rallentare suo figlio di rotolo!” (Slow your roll, son!)

Point of urgency: The follow van that dropped us off at the airport would be coming around the corner in less than one minute with some semblance of authority behind the wheel, which meant a lot of complicated questions and definitely some entries for my permanent record.  Fortunately, the third and more cautious of we three caught up with me first, and together we bounced the rental free.  It was leaking fluid and some small — probably very important — pieces all the way back to the base, and one of the tires went limp like a weak handshake along the way.  We got the wheel swapped out and closed the trunk just as the NATO posse showed up.   I held my breath for five days but nobody else seemed to notice that a fine Italian motorcar was unraveling like a steampunk sweater, much to my relief.  It would be a few months before I drove again, but there would be other displays of stupid.  It was always just me taking my luck for a spin, revving the engine, watching the needle move toward the right.  I just wanted to see what it would do…

There was a time in my life when I lived cash and carry, owning only what I could cart on my back.  I honestly never thought I’d make it this far in life.  I figured my own stupidity would be my retirement plan, and that I wouldn’t need to worry about owning a house or a car or anything of real value because I’d be dead.  I walked or biked for most of my life, relying on the adversity to make me stronger.  I took stubborn pride in doing everything the hard way.

That era has passed  — although I can still pick up everything I own by myself – and I have nothing left to prove.  The era of collecting dangerous stories is just about over.  Trees grow, stars die and times have changed; new laws and consequences have come into play, and penalties are more rigidly enforced.  I’m responsible now.  The Fear and Loathing of Pretty Much Anything is a thing of the past.  Pack your bags.  We’re all moving to the No Thrill Zone.

Anyway, it was high time to get over the fear of myself.  I bought a new car.  I compared five models for best prices, respective crash test ratings (!), turning radius, fuel efficiency and legroom; nothing too fast and nothing too crazy.  I researched every step of the signing process and brought along a trusted friend who knows a thing or three about cars.  (And beer.  And cards.)  But even after all that planning for a safe respectable 2008 Honda Element, I drove away in a 2012 VW Beetle that was on the top of my WANT list, a silvery sleek thing with just a little extra under the hood.  It had one prior owner who lived in Utah, babied the hell out of it and put less than 14,000 miles on the engine.  It’s still under the original warranty.  Seriously, I couldn’t have gotten a better deal if I’d paid a dollar for a dune buggy that I’d bought from Willie Nelson.

The sticker shock faded within a few days – after all, it’s just time, numbers and payments.  I spent the first two weeks waiting for it to get stolen, kamikaze smashed by a renegade tree limb as an act of revenge for that sapling I tackle fucked with a tractor lo those many years ago, or inexplicably sudden falling apart.  But no, the Beetle is a product of good German engineering.  I will take good care of this car.  There will be frequent oil changes and scheduled maintenance.  I’ve actually read the owner’s manual.

Believe it or not, I’ve grown exceedingly cautious in my later years.  I drive with a GPS and a full tank of gas.  My mirrors are flawlessly adjusted.  I brake gently.  I have a full roadside emergency kit and good insurance.  I drive with two hands on the wheel, and I’m never in a hurry…

Except for those times when the road is absolutely empty and perfectly straight, the sky is blue, and there isn’t another car in sight.  Then, and only then will I turn up the stereo as Al Jourgensen and I discover exactly how far to the right I can get that big red needle.

The future is tired. It had a long flight.

*the following is my (almost) verbatim reply to a coworker in response to an article in Wired magazine about the new breed of DHS drones.

When I was in the 5th grade, I couldn’t wait to read Popular Science each month.

Not only for the articles, but for the “What’s New” feature, usually located near the center of the magazine. And typically the item was exciting on its own, but sometimes my space-bound imagination would turn the “thing” into a moon cruiser, or a spaceship, or a robot suit, or whatever. This was the era of coffee table books featuring sci-fi pulp covers and *good album art.

What I’m getting at is that one had to LOOK for futuristic inspiration. In the 9th grade, I started an apprenticeship in our school’s graphic arts program where I studied to be a printer. (Three years of paper cuts, darkroom work and getting bombed on developer/fixer to the lush sounds of Black Sabbath, scrubbing ink out from under my nails every day, and obsessive font worship made instantly Dinosaur by the desktop publishing revolution just one year later!) There were stacks of art books just lying around the shop, and I’d flip through them looking for glimpses of the future. I used to tear out the pages and hoard them away. I was searching for something tangible.

(Insert 20 years of sci-fi movies, books, television shows, comics, toys, and mirroring advancements in science, technology and communications)

It’s now 2013. I have often said that the future will be here in five minutes, but fuck it – the future is here. It’s sitting across from me sipping a f*cking latte and judging my Twitter feed. I don’t think 5th-grade me had any idea what the future would really hold. I don’t care that law-enforcement drones are flying overhead, or swimming around in our ports, or crawling through the earth looking for pot tunnels. Because I don’t do anything (*anymore) that would warrant their attention. And while I’m still mystified and in awe of technology, I expect it. I almost ignore it.

Because reality has caught up with my imagination. And that SUCKS.

TWM out

Fragment 130127

27JAN2013 – Riding the bus for groceries, I fantasized an enormous, transparent millipede some 30 feet in length with an elongated cylindrical body and approximately 100 legs.

The head of the creature is probably rounded above and flattened below and bears large mandibles like jellyfish arms, and iridescent skin that reflect various purples and subdued greens like soap bubbles under bright lights.

The ‘Pede feeds on one squealing, terrified sewer rat per night, and in return secretes a generous lather of anti-bacterial soap.  It first snags its prey with a 12-inch tongue, lashing out with pinpoint accuracy and injecting it with a fast-acting neurotoxin.  It will devour its meal, which takes approximately thirty minutes and then, as a means of aiding in digestion and exercise, it will slowly writhe and thrash its way around the inside of an empty city bus which is locked behind the chain link fence of the service yard.  Passersby may hear the occasional thump, or see the head of a translucent thing appear briefly in the window, and perhaps the backlit shadow of its dinner midway along its body.  There are ‘Do Not Enter’ signs posted at every entrance of the service yard.

With its many legs and body length moving in a wavelike pattern, the ‘Pede could easily force itself into various nooks and crannies around the interior of the bus.  One hundred soapy tendrils, each the length of a grown man’s forearm, will individually collide with a satisfying wet smack against the grimy windows, the filthy black floor and the choking off-cream of the ceiling, smearing each with a thick layer of disinfecting gel.  One million brush-laden cilia covering its skin will scrub hard away at the filth of memories and abandoned skin cells left by the cities hordes of traveling dejected who use the Public Troop Transport on a daily basis to acquire pudding packs, depressing glossy magazines featuring heavily doctored images of other equally depressing people, and mesh bags of low-grade oranges.

When the first shift comes in, they hook an access tube to the side of the bus and open the doors, luring the ‘Pede down the tunnel with the promise of a second, equally terrified rat.  Once it is coiled safely back in its large, glass tank, the inside of the vehicle is hosed down with hot water to rinse off the excess soap.  The windows are squeegeed, the floor is given a good buffing and the last traces of soap are wiped away with clean towels before the bus heads out to pick the first commuters of the day.

Conversation overheard at the back of the bus between two teenage girls:

First girl: “Please, thugs don’t be using Instragram.”

Second girl: “If I was a thug, I wouldn’t be caught dead posting no pictures of myself. Them boys is silly,” she said, her voice assuming a gruff, masculine tone.  “They be like, ‘Take my picture, no homo stuff.’”

TWM

 

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