REPORT A PROBLEM
Let me run away for a day. Let me just tear across the valley beneath a clear yellow sun, with “The Bleeding Heart Show” turned way up.
Let that clear post-rain sunshine set those lush greens free, fields so green they seem otherworldly. Let them fling their careful furrows past my window like a troop review.
Let the river flow deep and fast, let it reflect a deep green-blue. Let bouncy little clouds inflict a few wandering bruises on the surface, let insolent speedboats tear white-wake gashes across the ripples.
And let me take you with me.
Sitting in unseasonable sunlight on the roof of a 25’ RBS, splicing a loudspeaker cable. Not where I thought I’d be spending Sunday afternoon.
My shuffle resurrects Erasure’s “Am I Right”.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor of my highschool bedroom. Ignoring my drafting homework, absorbed in my charcoal sketch of a Dominican monk. My carpet a miniature city - skyscraper stacks of catalogs from tiny northwestern liberal arts colleges. I wouldn’t consider any institution that didn’t offer Latin.
Drawbridge bells clang, my song unravels. I’m winding black tape around my splice.
Not where I thought I’d be spending my thirties.
You want to be ok with her escapades. You tell yourself it’s just a phase, she’s making up for a late start.
Does she really think you’re excited to hear her stories, watch her VIDEOS? You figure she’d just do it anyway - you’d rather play along than have her go behind your back. She doesn’t see this, or she doesn’t want to. But I see it.
I see it in the grind of your jaw when you answer her texts. I see it in your fourth mug of coffee. You were up till four waiting for her to come home.
It begins – and it shall end, you must realize – with a disciplined hunger. This game of sly awareness.
The intentions of the Other, like the teasing tendrils of Art Nouveau.
Trellises delicately weaving themselves about my arms, without actually touching my skin. Lithe serpents coyly coiling around my throat without crushing me. Spirals of smoke that dawdle along the strands of my hair, but wither before slipping between my lips. Graceful, cautious, deliciously sinister.
I will not shrink from this embrace.
Nor will I simply sink into it.
I am not afraid of you.
I am not afraid of me.
Three layers of fleece can’t calm the chill, though the defroster is turned up high enough to drown out the radio. The docks are deserted, the little boats double-lashed to their cleats and left to thrash helplessly on the manic tide. Greenwater waves rush across the pier, sweeping it clean of mussel shells. We hesitate in the parking lot, staring through the truck’s foggy windows, not sure if our pay is worth the risk to venture down. A sudden slap of saltwater across the hood, limp strands of seaweed tangled in the windshield wipers.
Yeah – the work can wait.
Guiding this ungainly truck through the hills above Vallejo. Numb, poking along in the slow lane. My newly-opened soda can neglected and growing warm.
Swinging wildly between terror and elation. One moment I am a dizzy schoolgirl hunched over her first love note. Colors sing, the wind caresses, music speeds through my veins.
The next, I am a rabbit caught between warrens, exposed in the moonlit meadowgrass, paralyzed by the soft call of the owl. I cannot decide whether to crouch still or run for cover.
I realize that, for the first time in months, I am not hungry.
The New Pornographers’ “Bleeding Heart Show.” It begins with the earnest, pretentious duets of a coffeehouse band. Flings itself along in fits and starts, a car picking its way down Park Street at noontime.
But at 2:08, it’s sitting at the metering lights on the 880 ramp. Foot on the brake, engine humming with eager potential.
2:29 - Gunning into the slow lane, ducking perilously between two semis, building up speed for the fast lane.
2:40 – Miraculously breaking free! Shooting ahead at 95 mph. Blasting out of the Bay and into Steinbeck country.
No destination, only sweet velocity.
I want to rescue you, subject you to some highway therapy.
Nothing resets your perspective like devouring Highway 62 at 100 mph, tracing the sensuous curves of asphalt between the hills, that sign in Twentynine Palms that warns: “No services for 100 miles.”
I’ll turn up The Killers – yes, I know. You’re more sophisticated than that. But so am I, and even I can appreciate the bubbles in my veins that only “Read My Mind” on a deserted road can provide.
Sing along, you can’t help it. Rip open the sunroof and inhale the tumbleweed shimmer. Laugh like a child.
Cork-pop, contented sniff.
I fill the generously swelling bulb with an aromatic peridot splash. The gentle clink of the chrome-plated spoon, delicate shell-whorls shining.
Slowly, slowly dripping the frosty water through the sugar. The green orb quivers, splitting into its many herbal personalities. Drop after drop, till the glass is half-full and the frantic shivering calms to a diffuse opacity. Pearlescent, as oils flutter up from the bottom like the last ancient coughs of the
Sweet spice, the tip of my tongue tingles. Wicked warmth spreads from my throat to my thighs.
, Uncle Oscar.
Thing One. My snow angel. Those dark eyes ever alert, ever aware, scanning for opportunities, for weaknesses. You will take what you like, and convince the world to love the rest. You will slow your stride for no one.
Thing Two. Little philosopher, my justice junkie. Nothing fails to fascinate you - the faintest echoes of dead stars, the miniature treasures of ant colonies. You will always search for the sublime, and find it in the lowliest places.
Thing Three. My last and littlest. Pinkest princess. You are so beautifully unattenuated, so completely yourself. You must never lose that petulant swagger.
Seven, maybe eight. Whenever the marine layer clears, and bleak sunlight inflicts itself upon the sleepy bay - I will inevitably feel that soft paw pressing against my cheek. Letting go... returning, a little more urgently. Directly beneath my eyelashes, a series of slow, furry taps.
When this finally creeps into my consciousness, when I finally crack my cringing lids, that long kitty-arm stretches toward me from Beep’s vacant pillow. Two wide eyes meet mine, as perfectly jade-green as a well-louched glass of Marteau.
Claws still tucked in. “I won’t hurt you. But I could. Now get up.”
Once again, a life and its work are shattered like a soiled glass, drowned beneath the din of so many righteous souls scrambling for the first stone. Images of the villian - and of his fetching purchase - are rushed to glowing screens from Daytona to Dutch Harbor, as the nation eagerly and obediently lines up for its Two Minutes Hate. The dirtiest details drip like syrup from disdainful tongues. Rubberneckers slow to admire the carnage .
Tyrants and torturers sleep peacefully, and savor the sunshine of early spring - while a horny old man is walled up with the Amontillado in the cellar.
Mr. Oogie-Boogie is composed entirely of wiggling, rebellious bugs. Without them, there is no “him”, exactly. They are the ignoble ingredients of his existence. No doubt they would all panic and scatter, each carrying away its respective sliver of his identity, were they not sheltered and confined by his burlap skin. You might see one or two, frantically scrambling for daylight, in some carefully guarded spot where strained threads fray, where the sackcloth has worn thin. But Mr Oogie-Boogie allows no one near enough to detect them. This is his secret.
How loosely this soul is sewn together.
From the air, San Andreas Lake looks like a cat-scratch through the hills, a straight gash. Tomales Bay bears the same resemblance. These are both sag-ponds sitting over the San Andreas Fault. When you cross the lake, heading west toward the coast, you are leaving the North American Plate and entering the Pacific Plate. I don’t think many people consider this, and how rare that opportunity is, globally speaking. I think they just plow ahead, cursing the slow belching trucks and the weaving, precarious bikes that keep them in third gear all the way to Half Moon Bay.
I promise you these things:
That there could never be a path where I would not follow you.
That you will never speak without being heard.
That no dream you can name need go unexplored.
That I will take the wheel when you are weary, and surrender it when you are inspired.
That this journey will be honest, fearless, and compassionate. And that when it’s finished, we will have no regrets, no resentment, only the proof that today - and every following day - was spent in the cultivation and renewal of love.
I believe in you, and I am not afraid.
I didn’t know the name of the temple we were trying to find. I barely knew how to ask the driver to take us to a temple at all: “Um...
.” Spreading my arms from the floor to the headliner, “Big
Though ancient temples litter the streets of Ayutthaya like Starbucks here, the driver nodded knowingly and led us to the saffron-draped
of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon.
Just before sunset - the grounds were deserted. I climbed the long stone staircase alone. A frantic flurry of bats rushed to greet me at the black doorway.
Khop khun ka.
No, for the record, I’ve felt no sudden change. There no revision to our rhythm, no mysterious shift in the pattern we weave. No spell was cast beneath that Sausalito sunset.
Everyone asks me if it feels different somehow. I tell them it feels exactly like living in sin.
Seriously - I would never have married you if I thought it would change anything. Your embrace is no less ardent, no less my haven; your smell of sunburn, sea and shipyard no more or less dear to me.
You are still the stash of Ghirardelli I spend the whole day craving.
To hell with the symmetry and the structure. Let it all flow. No more fretful premeditation, no more meticulous preening. I want to see something uncensored and unrehearsed. Sneeze it out, hurl it out. I want to read a poem with bed-head and morning breath. That’s where your truth hides, that’s where your demons play. Show me your scariest nightmares, your darkest imaginings, the raw bleeding guts of your compulsions.
you, the very heart and whole of you. I need to see all of this, I need to know everything.
demon. This is
Five years ago tonight, I hurried to set the alarm at the site and get off the base. I was afraid of another lockdown, and I didn’t want to be stuck in Wahiawa with nothing but canned ravioli and satellite TV. I rushed home down red-stained roads slick with clay from the pineapple fields. The sun was setting as I passed the HECO plant. I was greeted with the same dazzling vista that always opened up around that bend. White-fringed turquoise sea.
But that night, I felt that all the world beyond that reef had gone batshit insane.
“You are brave. And you make me feel brave.”
You have made me your magic feather. I’m the reason for your unlimited texting plan, your facebook account, your new earring. You’ve started missing me on weekends. You linger at the end of the day.
I feel responsible and profoundly guilty for all of this. I feel I must forgive your projections, because I’ve made my own projections upon you. But you need to find something else to fill the brain-space you’ve alotted me. Fly, if you want, but let the feather go.
I am anything but brave right now.
You looked so much better on paper. I’d picked out my most devastating shoes, my most formidable coat... I was savoring the foretaste of a really delicious psychic detonation.
There is nothing of you that is not cliche, derivative - nothing that denotes any dawning of original thought.
Where is my worthy adversary? I've been training for the triathlon, and you've been Special Olympics all along.
Keep digging, you'll find nothing to comfort you. Ask around, torture yourself all you like. It's right that you should regret letting him go. You'll surely never do better.
Reluctantly sheathing my scalpel.
Beeps leans back against the railing to aim his camera up the belltower spire. As he settles his weight against the mossy stone, a sharp *crack*.
He jumps upright. We exchange mute glances. Long, long fall to the medieval village below.
He inspects the railing, finds no failing. Leans back again.
“You broke it!” I gasp. “You broke Chartres!”
He backs away swiftly, heart pounding, places a steadying hand against the bell tower. Staring over the edge, I reach for him. I miss, and squeeze his backpack instead.
*Crack* it goes, as I crush his empty water bottle.
“I sense a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”
I don’t believe in ghosts. But I do believe that certain events or experiences can leave their signature in the energy of a place. Where great pain has been suffered, where extraordinary cruelty has been inflicted, where many lives have been abruptly taken... you can feel a sort of mute dread hanging in the air.
Why am I drawn to these places? Battlefields. Cathedrals. Abandoned asylums.
Something must be very wrong with me. Lately I’ve been dreaming of Hiroshima.
Yank my hood down over my forehead, trying in vain to block out the haze-blanched rays. So depressing to know that this weak, bleak sun will shine unchallenged for eight months or more. Winter and rain have left us too early.
Don’t know if it’s the Benadryl or the fever attenuating my attempts to type, to talk, to shift into second gear. My car spinning loudly but rolling backwards in the intersection, I can’t remember what to do next. Mother with her jogging stroller pauses at the curb, not sure what I’m trying to accomplish. I’m not sure, either.
Nature, my crunchy Berkeley friends, is not inherently virtuous. In fact, most of what we call “virtue” is in fact a struggle
Nature. The only virtue Nature possesses in any enviable quantity is patience.
The patience of chert, spreading steadily stronger beneath the weight of all the sea, folding gracefully like a lady’s fan along the fault.
The patience of the San Andreas, sleepwalking inexorably northward, savoring slowly each nibble of the dwindling Farallon Plate.
The patience of a continent, anticipating across endless milennia her sister’s crumbling kiss.
This planet will endure us, devour us and replace us. Patiently.
I’m staring after planes again. Watching them thrust up and stretch out across the sky. Biting the inside of my cheek and squinting into the sun, wondering where they’re headed.
I know most of them are headed nowhere special. Cincinatti, Des Moines, Dallas. Conferences, funerals, family reunions. Nowhere.
But when one of these silvery jets streaks west above the Bridge, I know it will land somewhere I’d rather be. Kyoto, Singapore, Kathmandu. Rain-dripping palms or gasping Himalaya snows, six-armed symphony or saffron-draped serenity.
I want to follow, to flee, to fly. Even if it’s just to Honolulu.
I’m starting to get that kamikaze feeling again. I can feel my pulse in my fingertips, my ears begin to tingle. I space out over the smallest things. The purr of the Moto Guzzi idling next to me at the stoplight. A chill-fog breeze that sneaks between my sleeves. One perfect feedback-laden chord in a Jesus And Mary Chain song.
I need it like oxygen. One knee between my thighs - spread me, slam me into the wall. Pin one arm behind my back, the other over my head. Force me. Show me you’re as hungry as I am.
March, 2005. Rain rushes downhill, along cracks in patchwork Potrero pavement. Brim of my hat pulled low over my eyes, boots scuffling reluctantly down 20th Street. Five-thirty in the morning, and I’ve had only a bag of peanut M&M’s for breakfast.
Rusty cranes droop like sleeping dinosaurs above the dignified decay of the drydock. In an hour or so, they will groan to life. I will swap my fedora for a hardhat, and spend my day wandering up and down the stairs, back and forth from the Pepsi machine. That’s where we always meet - by accident, of course.
California Highway 12, between Rio Vista and Fairfield. For about twenty minutes each spring, the rolling hills burst with a vivid green. And with the giant wind turbines spinning sleepily above the valley, there is nowhere on earth that more closely resembles... Teletubbyland.
Deep blue skies, puffy white clouds skimming along at twenty knots. Head westward from the river, throw in a Jesus and Mary Chain CD and watch the MAC flights lift off from Travis AFB.
Delicate purple and yellow flowers everywhere, as if some psycho with a shotgun sprayed Tinky-Winky and Laa-laa all over the hills.
“Are you interested in bondage?”
“Uh... I’m... not sure I want to go there. You know, conversationally.”
“I just remember when someone mentioned it at lunch one day - you got this strange expression on your face.”
“Yeah, well - “
“And the way you watch me tie knots.”
“Ok, so what? I think it’s mildly intriguing. That doesn’t mean anything.”
“I’m not talking about you and me, exactly. I was never gonna try and tie you up, I swear. I only wanted to see if you’d do what I say.”
“That’s still bondage.”
“The Marquis de Sade.”
Isn’t the song playing in the brothel in “Henry and June” the same song Uncle Junior sings at Jackie Jr.’s funeral on the “Sopranos”? What’s the technical name for the spastic twitch that wakes you up just as you’re falling asleep? What’s the difference between biostatistics and epidemiology? Is San Francisco really more demographically diverse than Boston? How old is James Spader, anyway?
Wikipedia to the rescue.
I read back over my March batch and find a running theme: I am either traveling or dreaming of traveling. Mostly dreaming. I fear my world is becoming quite small.
The Tip Jar