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Dinner was Ethiopian cuisine at a restaurant off of Fairfax, where the lights are always quiet. We spoke of shitty soundtracks and a ghost story, while subtle percussions tapped a rhythm through speakers hung beneath shadows. I could almost see the rhythm hovering over our table like an apparition of some place that I’ve been before; some inconsistent remembrance of a moment that’s supposed to last forever. Every so often, a candle spit smoke upwards. Our hostess was not Iris, who’d said grace and paid the bill, but that apparition – that rhythm – who teased us sweetly with promises never made.
A buddy’s cousin died today. Another friend struggled with a letter to her ex. I watched traffic pass along Wilshire Boulevard: some cars honking angrily, others grinding metal on the brakes, and still, others anointed with fine ass bitches. Life sifted through the surface, pretending that nothing has happened, that everything was as normal as can be. But Life, she too is a fine ass bitch, with tits like raindrops and a booty curved into perfect little hemispheres. Dalí whispered to me of how perfectly ugly that bitch can be up close.
“You’re a sick mother-fucker,” I said.
She was bent on the idea that it was supposed to have a purpose. She was sure of it. And there was proof in the thick air bouncing off the walls and the ceiling, resonating so rapidly that time, it seemed, would collapse on each other and form the shape of an ellipse. Once an ellipse has been fully formed, she would remain focused on the opposite side of him, and the distance shared between she and he would dance along the edge of that stupid little world they’d just created; that constant bewilderment.
It was just sex, he said.
I migrate towards the flipside of reality, being mindful of the repercussions my actions may have. But I know that I’ll cross the border anyway. So fuck it! I’ll cross that damn border and watch the world dissipate into tiny little spectacles of flashing lights, streaming through the darkness like little reminders of how insignificant my conscious thoughts might actually be. Such promise is so bleak yet profound in inexplicable ways. Along this path I’ll discover, I’m sure, that the inverse of what I’ve come to know maintains an equilibrium of unpredictable sensuality spraying through my nervousness. Such glorious expectations!
Surreal consciousness pressed me towards those honest inclinations that had been suffocating between my ribs, then Truth followed with the knuckle side of her hand. I remember my vision being blurred and the sound rolling along the edges of my ears like a hamster caught inside a wheel. That moment was a soft explosion of relief and guilt. Only afterwards did I realize that only guilt would tread a heavy heal against my chest, and relief would remain a distant recollection of what should have been unclothed all along. And in my nakedness, guilt and remorse stain my lucid reality.
The Roosevelt Hotel is rumored to be haunted.
Tonight I saw a ghost there. Not a sighting of a transparent girl playing in the veranda, but a ghost from somebody else’s past. She sat stiff at her table, like a polished figurine who’d forgotten how to live. Sarah. She seemed to have lost that visceral quality she once possessed when she was a friend by extension, and traded it for some lackluster pattern of life, the kind that’s boxed in by silly ideas shoveled down by eager conformists. Sarah. She’d assimilated to a blanket idea of normalcy. Sarah. Stupid girl.
I watched an Amish man drink coffee with his mother at a hamburger joint, when there was a coffee shop not more than twenty steps away.
I watched a twenty-something year-old Asian girl sharing fries with a forty year-old professor type of some sort. They both wore wedding bands. She married him, it seems, not for money, neither sex nor sport, but for intellect. In her naiveté, this girl came to believe that no man closer to her age could possibly comprehend the vastness of her imagination and intellectual capacity.
I watched and discovered that stupidity discriminates nobody in particular.
Time pushes me into a corner, probing me with her fingernail. And though my head throbs with the quiet pulsing of my heart, I am forced to spill coherent analogies of those memories scraping against the inside of my skull. I can’t determine if the beating of my heart tics more rapidly than the second hand of my wristwatch, but I am certain of the biting sensations breaking through the skin of my shoulder, though it leaves no mark nor bruise nor stain. Or is it her fingernail piercing me. I cannot see, only feel that certain bound time keeps.
Luna. I see an outline of her, sometimes, dancing along a pair of curtains drawn between my eyes and the world. I might even hear an echo of her voice serenading across a stretch of hollow between midnight and my waking hours. Sometimes I see Luna painted across a ceiling, never moving and never still. And when I see her face to face and embrace her or massage a rhythm through her hair, my soul memorizes the moment, the thought, the experience and the trembling of her breath against my neck.
These are the momentary recollections replayed in my dreams.
An auburn glow radiated through patches of cloud patterned over the hills. Exactly what Ralph had been waiting for: the clouds; the glow; the ash tumbling through the sky with the smoke. While thousands of miles away, scapegoats were being made of the very people who had brought the Boss to his stature. Ralph returned to the mirror, adjusted his tie, and studied medals carefully hung on his uniform. It was perfect; the auburn glow rising with the ash and smoke left behind by the destruction of this desert oasis at his command. Perfect for suicide, Ralph thought, perfectly beautiful.
This whole thing with the desert was becoming ridiculously stupid. It was supposed to be a quick fuck with a desiccated slut. Ralph considered his original M.O.: provide armed escort to U.N. inspectors. It was that simple, that fucking simple! Now Bush, who’d never even seen combat, was turning this desert thing into some fucking pissing contest! No, worse than that. The Boss was comparing penis size with Hussein. Here was Hussein, talk’n ‘bout his girth. And there was Bush, all the way in Fuckville, yapp’n ‘bout how nuclear the tip of his big American cock is. Just fucking ridiculous!
Nathan waited with me between the quiet dusk that rattled only the thinnest leaves and the morning chill. A cat stooped behind us, facing the opposite direction. The possibility that euphoria might make her invitation made us all restless, especially the nameless cat, who anticipated the lightness of a shadow stretched across an empty sky like the next blank page in a neglected journal. I hated waiting for eventual possibilities. But Nathan knew that about me; my impatience with the unexpected. We were taught never to refuse an invitation, because normalcy was just too fucking boring, and too damn predictable.
Brian was raised on cheeseburgers, Coca-Cola and Sesame Street; fat, too damn hyper and, with the daily dosage of a contrived perfect world, constantly depressed. As the only child of mostly absentee parents, Brian abhorred his reality. Just about the only good thing that came out of his childhood was his vast vocabulary with vulgarity. Sesame Street taught him how fucked up his life really was and listening to his parents taught him how to describe it all. By the time he was twelve years old, Brian had already grown up to become the perfect representation of all of America.
There was a cloud dispersing into fragments of wisdom, falling and exploding against the earth, sifting the desert like a sand clock. Ralph ripped up a piece of the desert with his palm and watched it bleed through his fingers to return to its proper place. Men like him were raised to rape her and pillage her, then sell pieces of her off as if somehow they could possess her. And Ralph was sent to this desert to pillage her of her petroleum. He knew that the earth would return to its proper place and outlive his own trivial existence.
A drawing of Siamese twins pressed curiously into the red light fading into an auburn lamp. I watched my favorite people enjoy one another’s company, and though at first the sight of it disturbed me, I grew envious of those Siamese girls who could not get any closer as one. I wrapped my thoughts in a cigarette and watched it bloom through the candle light, dancing with the flame there. Those Siamese girls, my friends, the candle, the cigarette; they were all so perfectly infused into a single moment that I would remember through my longest days. Perfectly distilled moments.
I remember waking up to the sound of the rain pitter pattering against the windowsill. That was this morning, and it is the last thing I remember. Just before I woke, and while I remained in a lucid stupor, I felt a shadow looming over my ceiling. Perhaps it was only the clouds I felt, nothing more than that. Everything else that followed between my waking hours and now, those clouds accompanied. The summation of my waking hours is this: blah blah blah blah and Christmas music sucks. That is my lucid recollection of the blank expanse of today’s bore.
Janice was trying to achieve harmony in her life. She collected her Minnie Mouse slippers and tucked them beneath her thighs to sit cross-legged in her faded yellow couch. If she had a working television in her single bedroom apartment, she probably wouldn’t watch it anyway. She was jobless. In her hand she held the last bottle of beer in the fridge. These were a few of the undeniables in her life, far from harmonious. So she kicked off her slippers, slammed Minnie Mouse against her nonfunctional television screen, finished her beer and felt a little harmonious about it all.
A hole was opening up inside her lungs, the doctor had told her. But Barbara refused to believe that such a thing was even possible. What the hell does that quack know, Barbara thought as she took a deep breath that felt completely normal. The morning air was naked. A little chilly, but naked. She was supposed to stay out of the sun, but it felt good against her freckled skin. A goddamn hole in her lungs, she thought. What about that depleting ozone layer thing? How ‘bout that for science! But Barbara knew better; she’d have to quit smoking.
Behind a trash bin, Ralph found a homeless mutt. At least that’s how he would tell it. It was the mutt that found Ralph who’d fallen asleep in a drunken stupor. It was official: Sergeant Ralph had gone AWOL in the middle of this fucking desert, in some cock-fucking town where nobody spoke English. They would say that he’d gone totally insane, Ralph thought, like in Apocalypse Now. Perhaps he has, perhaps he has. His homeless companion yapped in concurrence. Neither spoke a language anyone in this town could understand, and they’d both become homeless. How beautifully insane, Ralph thought.
During his visit to Korea, Evan attended a wedding ceremony held in a shopping mall. A fog machine pumped steam across an aisle illuminated with neon tubes, presenting bride and groom like a pair of models on a runway. Conversation among the two hundred or so guests never subsided, not even during vows. Of course, no single guest believed in those vows. Nor did they believe in God. Hence, a shopping mall and not a church. Some lovers were present with their respective spouses. The fashion show lasted about twenty minutes.
Then the three course meal lasted about thirty minutes.
Incense burned a hymn while Amadeus blew smoke from an opium pipe. A map of Croatia laid on the floor. In North Korea, nuke monitors were being removed one by one. A group of fanatics chanted lyrics from the Koran. Every attempt to smoke out Osama Bin Laden proved fruitless. So a group of soldier boys barely old enough to take a shit on their own traded their AK-47’s and M-16’s for hashish. Saddam Hussein fucked other people’s wives; husbands jerked off watching internet porn. International trade balanced off, and everyone was dropping E.
A new world order was beginning.
At Roscoe’s, our waitress called us sweetie pie and reprimanded us if we didn’t eat enough. I was too bloated to clean our plate. All of us were. So we traded her tongue lashes for to-go boxes.
Outside, I stopped by the incense vendor. I sniffed a vanilla stick. A Ford Explorer slammed into an oil truck that was turning left off of Pico Boulevard. The headlights on the Ford had reflected off the side of the metallic oil barrel. It gave me a glimpse of the woman’s face.
I dropped four bucks into the vendor’s palm. He said thanks.
Mrs. Kim and her family watched their Christmas tree light up in flames. Their neighbors watched. Men from Station 13 worked to contain the fire before it spread. Julia had no intentions of being homeless this year. So she kept her eyes on the men in yellow.
Thousands of miles away, Ji Song was calling her sister in the U.S. desperately with news of their brother, who’d migrated from North to South Korea via Beijing, but Jeannie Kim’s phone just kept ringing.
Jeannie scorned her husband for having left the tree lights on.
Julia met a new lover for Christmas.
Christmas was happening so fast it was about to whip Charlie in the ass like a bullwhip. It did hit him in the ass, and that bullwhip snapped like thunder when he took one more gulp from a bottle of Jack Daniels. It was a quick one-two-three. One: take another gulp. Two: fall onto the fresh batch of snow. Three: feel his forehead slap against a newspaper dispenser. And that was it. Christmas came and left. Charlie had been on his way to his ex-wife’s house, not that Simone cared to see Charlie at all. It was over; Charlie died.
Snow was absent this Christmas. Hell, it was L.A., and it never snows in L.A. For Claire, no snow made hunting easy. She’d been traveling for three hundred days exactly, and finally made it to Los Angeles. They said it was the perfect place for prowlers like her. Within a few short days, she’d learned that they, the ones from the Bronx alleyways, were right. She’d made it. And the timing couldn’t be better; it was Christmastime, and the dumpsters were full of turkey bits and ham. There was nothing juicier than fresh leftovers for an alley cat like her.
Earlier today, Ralph discovered that there actually was a moral imperative to America’s elaborately tactical manner of looting oil in the Middle East. At least that’s what England was now saying. Imagine that, Ralph thought, a goddamn moral imperative. Those fuckers were now equating robbery with morale. Jax, his recently acquired mutt, sat stupidly and added nothing to Ralph’s moment of silence. Sobriety was wafting over him. And Ralph succumbed to his civilized desire for a bath, a shave and, above all things, a cheeseburger. Ralph’s moral imperative drove him to cheeseburger. It was time to go home, he decided.
Karla kept her earrings hidden from her mother for almost a week. She was twenty-eight, but still felt it necessary to avoid any mild dislikes her mother maintained. And Karla’s mother was never fond of breaking holes into one’s own skin in order to accommodate jewelry. On her twenty-eighth birthday, Karla felt a need to act out on a desire for independence that she had been harboring all along. And so Karla drove over to Glendale Galleria and got her ears pierced.
And when Karla’s mother saw the week old golden balls peeking through Karla’s hair she said, “That’s stupid.”
Sammy got drunk before his big date. It was Saturday. He tasted the air and felt his lungs tighten up. Too much wine did that to him. So he stopped to lean against the brick wall that felt hot under his palm. The night didn’t feel right. In his mind, Sammy was consciously aware that walls should feel cold, but the brick seemed to burn right through his bones. Bad ticker, docs told him. He’d be damned if he died alone; Sammy had a date to make.
Leanne watched an ambulance leave. Sammy never showed. She caught the next cab.
She was scraping gum off the asphalt again. Samantha worked with a small chisel while the other kids were either boarding a bus or being picked up by their parents. She’d gotten into a fight with Kevin and his twin sister Marcia. It wasn’t her fault, Samantha insisted. But Mrs. Nelson never liked Samantha anyway, so she gave Samantha the chisel. Kevin and Marcia had made fun of Samantha for her sweater with uneven sleeves. Her mom had knitted it. Her mom couldn’t buy enough yarn to stitch matching sleeves. So Samantha often fought other kids over her being poor.
New Orleans, with all her splendor, promise and lust in her old age, waited for us. Her tits sagged down to the hungry youthful. They were all ravenous for culture, and they were seeking it where there was only a momentary remnant of its luster. It came like a quiet explosion that waved its beautiful face at the dust and glitter floating through the French Quarter, riding a note from a saxophone along Bourbon Street. Then the wave dispersed like a shallow storm. When the ignorant youths have filled their desire and gone, she waited for us to remind her.
I follow the new dawn beginning to unfold into a collage of mysteries: a patchwork of challenges and other unpredictable events. There will also be lies, eloquent and generous, spread across the various forms of media made available to the civil, educated, simple minded. And with the promise of all that frenzy, disillusionment and horror, sex will be easier to be had in the new year. I feel it, between the sheets and in the passing minutes; something terrific and frightening is happening. People will fuck and insanity will be the social norm. In all it glory, life goes on.
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