Tactical Nuclear Sharpie

The pen poised above the paper; a needle hovers above the spinning record…

Halloween, 2014. I’m at the front of a long wooden second-story room chock full of costumed lunatics and wandering green laser dots. A girl dressed as an abused trailer park wife complete with a length of heavy chain around her waist swats at the disco ball suspended above our heads in order to refresh the pattern of lights. There is a band on stage, “a group of unapologetic face-melters.” The guitarist screams out a searing quick song. The cords on the side of his neck are taut. His fingers are easily the fastest objects in the room.

I am aware of a great shuddering all around me as more costumed women take to the dance floor, pogoing about like a Peanuts gang reunion; post-addiction, post-therapy, and possibly post-funeral for one of the Gang, as though they’d experienced a renewal of purpose, like maybe there’s hope for those kids yet.

There’s a Go Pro camera nestled among the fake spiderwebs like a robot egg. The web is red-lit and draped across the large industrial windows behind the band. Counting the Go Pro and the four heavyset nerds in t-shirts, this is probably the best documented last performance of any local band in Norfolk history.

So many eyes in the dark staring back at me. I reek of campfire, my clothes are heavy with smoke. Looking around me now, taking it in. Who’s the bald guy in the fedora with the Norfolk Hardcore sticker on the back of his motorcycle jacket? We are all driven by character commands, things that we do that make us more like ourselves. What character command propels him to the center of the dance floor, to cock his hat back, plant his feet “just so” and “rock out” by nodding his head in appreciation? Something in his stance, that’s the punchline. That’s what I can’t summarize. It’s as if he were bracing for an ocean wave.

What about the heavy-set guy with the rebel flag bandana wrapped around his head wandering aimlessly through the crowd? He stops at the edge of a throng, spinning one drumstick he’d found somewhere, speaking to no one — to anyone — announcing a demonstration of his skill set to four pairs of deaf ears. “You wanna see that again?” Doesn’t wait for an answer, just launches into another spin. “Hey, we should all go party somewhere!” He blurts this statement out into the crowd, hoping it sticks. It does not. In fact it falls to the floor, unnoticed.

She, dressed as a cat, bumped into me at the back of the crowded room near the bar. “Sorry. Oh, hey! Are you coming over later?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Oh! I thought you were someone else. You’re cute though! You wanna come over anyway?” She winked and walked away. I’m not sure how that was supposed to work out.

This is the extent of my relationships as of late.

Moments later: “Oh, you look tired,” a friend said to me, offhand and airily. “You probably wanna go home.”

“No, I’m okay,” I replied quite amicably. “I’ve just had campfire smoke in my face for the last few hours and — ”

“No, you’re probably tired,” she insisted in a singsong way. “I bet you really wanna go home…”

“No, seriously, I’m okay…” becoming somewhat more annoyed now.

“See? You’re all cranky. You need sleep!”

“I sound annoyed because you’re insisting I need sleep.” My voice was level.

“Well, there’s no need to bite my head off!”

“I’m not, I– ” (Just stop. You’re throwing gas on a bonfire of silly. Smile, nod, and let it go.)

Two weeks pass…

16NOV2014 – Flying time again, ORF to SAT by way of ATL.

(Cthulhu as the Old Spice Man: “LOOK AT ME. NOW LOOK TO YOUR SHIVERING MORTAL LIFE, TWISTING IN THE WIND LIKE THE LAST LEAF OF AUTUMN. NOW LOOK BACK TO ME.”) On the tarmac awaiting clearance, a whipping wet wind at the window. These are the death throes of Autumn for sure.

WE SEE: Autumn being chased through whitewashed, dreamlike streets by hundreds of well-dressed thugs wearing identical rabbit masks carrying chunks of wood, long chains and lengths of rebar from a looted construction site. Autumn runs until it can run no more. Bleeding from thrown bricks, gasping for air, braced against the far wall of a parking garage, one hand up, plaintive. “This is natural,” says one monotone rabbit. “This is the way it has always been. This is as it should be. Do you understand?” The rabbits do not wait for an answer. They close in. The way must be made clear for Winter, for in three months Winter will be right here as Autumn is now, a frail form curled, broken, bleeding, one hand clutching at the sky. The camera pulls back and to the left, leaving us with only violent shadows and a spray of blood along the wall —

Shit. There goes my left eye. It’s bionic. I had it replaced in May, sometimes it needs a reboot. Fortunately it’s a small device. In no time at all, objects in the far distance swing back into focus. I observe ants copulating on the tarmac, and luggage being abused at the next terminal over.

Clearance has been granted. The appropriate spells and incantations to the Sky God have been performed at the small altar on the causeway. A final gust before the doors close brings with it a tuft of chicken feathers. Candles flicker on the altar; fresh flowers and fruit are replaced once a day from the nearest food court. It is customary to wear something blue and tip the pilot. Our lives are in the hands of a stranger.

An almond-eyed woman performs the safety kata; a slow, graceful interpretation of the buckled belt being pulled tight, her thin hands like butterflies describing the gentle plummet of the butter bowl as it falls from the ceiling. Led Zeppelin’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’ pours into my ears. Moments later, the VTOL engines ramp up. The thrust kicks in and the aircraft frame shudders as we rise steadily into the sky, the nose of the aircraft spinning slowly like a compass needle toward bearing 225, west toward Texas. We move forward on the breath of the Sky God.

Misunderstood word of the day: iRat. It’s expensive, but worth it. You take it out of the box. It’s only got one button on it. You turn it on. It sings a little song, asks you what language you wish to communicate in and once you’ve selected a time zone and a Wi-fi signal it proceeds to eat a hole through your face.

19NOV2014 – SAT lounge Alpha 2, cooling my heels. Sometimes an object in motion needs to stay in motion, and sometimes an object at rest needs to sit the fuck down and have a triple shot latte while he waits for his flight to ATL. (My flight? Do I own this flight? Is it accurate to say that I’m assigned to this moment?) The arrow… at what point is the arrow in motion? The arrow is frozen in place at each frame of reference along the way. There’s more to this; I need to have another conversation on the matter with the Old Man of the Mountain: “In my dream… I see a snail… crawling along the edge of a straight razor… and surviving. That is my dream… that is my nightmare.”

I feel strange sitting here in a suit and tie. The phrase, “Does it come in cornflower blue?” springs to mind.  I can smell fried food. I can almost feel the millimeter waves caused by the crunching as they explode against my skin, like ripples from a pebble thrown into the Sea of Japan making their way across the ocean toward me.

I’d ordered pasta and chicken from an Italian place further down the terminal and exchanged looks with the wiry Latina behind the counter. I noticed her big blue eyes, her awkward ears and the hyper-pronounced dimples that framed her bashful smile. And yes, I suppose I smiled back. I couldn’t help it. She asked me how I was doing and where I was from. I wanted to say something meaningful to her, something she would remember at the end of her work day when she was having a beer with her friends. I wanted her to think of me long after we’d parted ways, but I gave her no reason to do so. I opened my mouth, but nothing clever fell out. I was aware of her glancing over at me while I ate, and I turned and smiled at her when I was leaving.

This is the extent of my relationships as of late.

There are pieces of myself that I can no longer carry, pieces I no longer wish to carry, pieces that make no sense to carry. We are in a state of flux in all moments. We are as arrows in flight. Since the day I was born, I’ve swapped out my skin and all of my organs. My hair has grown many miles, my teeth have all grown, and my bones have extended in quiet hydraulic ways. I am a slow-motion time lapse. My thoughts have changed, but my name has stayed the same. The social security number they gave me which acts like a set of coordinates with which to track my comings and goings across the surface of this world — that has remained the same, too.

“Here, this is your birth certificate. This is proof of your live existence. Not you, standing there with your mouth hanging open in shock, your cosmic wetware balanced precariously upon your spinal column solving hundreds if not thousands of calculations per second. Not your memories, not your experiences. No, man, this piece of paper trumps all. You don’t remember when you were born. Someone else was there to see it happen, someone who witnessed hundreds if not thousands of similar events a year, someone who’s probably dead by now. But that doesn’t matter, because all they had to do was interact with this piece of paper. Their signature is your lifeline to a credit history, a house, a college education, a passport. You were born. You don’t remember it, but I’m telling you, it happened. And you cried like a baby the entire time.”

Throw out the net, see what comes back: Pomegranate hollow point, we perform the innate, we escape, we’re all wanted somewhere else. Still sleeping off the front page news. We’re fleeing The Brown, who walks the terminal like a man possessed. This night belongs to you. (Somewhere close by, forty years in the wind, a cowboy and his able-bodied bride. Slow drawl, dust on his boots. (“Mister, I’m sore up for human interaction. I reckon I’d like to nuzzle yer woman’s neck…” A sagebrush rolls past.) Passengers begin boarding. Some of you are complaining faster than we can print complaint forms, the sky belongs to you. Stop at the Wal-Mart while I feast. See the safety of the life you have built. Now boarding our Silver Surfers; worn baseball cap, glad gum chewing, hands manicured, key in the door and there’s nobody home, oven is home and there’s mail in the box. First country — now boarding our customers with gold pans. Feel that hollow! If you board the aircraft, we ask you to stop laughing, just take everything wheeled with you and freak the fuck out. Open the net wider. Nothing to do but sit here and wait, cool your heels, hammer out this strange eventuality, wait your turn. Fingers explode like airstrikes on the keyboard, call in that attack. The code is Almighty, coordinates 090264712. It’s all in here…

Some day I will begin to slow. My eyes will glaze. The Feed will slack. All previous shiny will become as sludge and systems will cease to make sense to me. Know this. There will be no more sitting aboard commercial aircraft in the twinkling darkness with seductive rock music in my ears as the purple and orange glow of sunset falls again, soft lights of the cities below, a present from the present tense. Be here now —

Shit, that’s terrible advice. That’s like telling a soldier to duck all the bullets and listen to the General. I had an aunt once. Marie was her name. Marie spoke in a high-pitch falsetto like the sound of a ghost wind whipping through an empty canyon. In the week before I departed for boot camp for the Navy, she wagged her finger at me in a vague manner and told me I’d need to get strong so I could do pushups for the Admiral. Marie was an odd bird.  I’m sure this was not the strangest thing she ever said. The rest, however, is lost to the time fog.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’ can be heard here.

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3 thoughts on “Tactical Nuclear Sharpie

  1. You’re not dying, yet.

    Your cells are dying. You are aging. Elastic fibres are wearing down. Small physiological changes that go largely unnoticed between 22 and 42….except for those times we get into our heads and realize our hands have gotten old, the skin around our eyes has small wrinkles and the hair on our head is fading. But that’s not the same as dying.

    Your posts always make me leave a gut reaction comment. State the obvious. Lean over your shoulder in a bar and see the Guinness in your hand and drolly ask, “oh, what’s that you’re drinking?” When we both know we both know.

    Still, I do it anyway.

    Rock on, my friend.

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