REPORT A PROBLEM
“I want you to look carefully through the shop, and bring me the stone you like best.”
Melanie chose a vivid swirl of malachite, which she gingerly set on the counter before Lalii.
He squinted at the stone, then over his glasses at Melanie. “You are a defensive, suspicious person, even with your closest friends. You constantly fear that someone will steal your secrets.”
Melanie blanched, I stifled a giggle.
“You are ungenerous with money. You will ask her to dinner,” he pronounced, gesturing toward me. “But she will pay!”
My giggle escaped. Lalii raised one eyebrow, smiled.
“I have many
opals in here.” Lalii swept his hand skeptically across the glass cabinet.
“I like them better in the rock.” I handed him the stone I’d chosen - Queensland black opal, embedded in ironstone.
Lalii turned it over in his hand slowly. “You want to
- always and everywhere, the full truth. You are stubborn this way. I imagine people find it bothersome.”
I saw Melanie nod, smiling.
He continued. “Decadent. You refuse yourself nothing, and ... should I say this in front of your friend?”
“I... guess so?”
“You are uninhibited, sexually. Pardon me.”
Melanie’s turn to giggle.
“When are you ladies leaving Singapore?”
Five hours since we’d wandered into the rock shop. Lalii had spent thirty years traveling, collecting his specimens - and the past five hours telling his stories.
“We sail Friday,” I volunteered.
“Good luck.” Lalii bowed. “I want you to keep the stones you’ve chosen.”
I balked. My boulder opal was worth at least $300 American.
He pointed to a set of blue puffballs perched on a bed of quartz. “This one is worth $50,000. I have six of them.”
Lalii smiled. “Thieves pass my shop to steal the electric guitars next door.”
I wish you could understand. It’s not about degradation. It’s about loyalty, it’s a way of caring. The bonds can be your words, your hands, whatever holds me where you want me. Bind me, or merely instruct me. I will not resist. I seek to prove myself to you. I offer you this power.
Aesthetically, it’s about presentation. Position me, arrange me. Make of me an offering, an appetizer, a sacrifice. I seek to become lovely before your eyes. I offer you this power.
Looking down at you from the pilothouse roof. Tethered to the mast. Right implement - wrong master.
You like obstacles. Zippers are boring, you want a challenge. A row of twenty tiny buttons. Two double-knotted fingers of fabric tied at my shoulders. The bandolier of hooks running down the front of my corset. You delight in my slow unraveling - you draw it out, savoring each stage of dishabille. My bra hangs precariously at my elbows, my thong migrates down my thighs in agonizing increments.
I catch my reflection in the hallway mirror and smile. I look like a crime scene.
I reach for your belt and you pin my wrists to the carpet, grinning.
Three years ago tonight, my phone rang at 3 a.m., Chesapeake time. You were calling from California - you’d just bought your first legal drink.
It sounded like you’d bought more than that. You said you’d actually had ten or eleven. But the last one was
I remember dancing like a fool to old Cure songs on the messdeck. Chucking Post-It pads across the drydock at the decks of the
Tattooed across your right foot: “Mama’s.” Across your left: “Boy.”
I laughed and told you I’d never met a guy who came with his own warning label.
It ought to frighten me, but it doesn’t. As I adjust my working lanyard between my right hand and my teeth, my left arm wound around the ladder-rung, it doesn’t occur to me to remember that I am dangling five stories above the water. Maybe it’s the illusion of relative stability - usually it’s a hundred feet or more of dizzying lattice-work ricocheting away beneath my boots.
Fifty feet of mast and ship... that’s practically terra firma, comparatively.
My lanyard is fitted now, and clipped to the D-ring on my hip. I lean back into the nylon cradle.
Absolutely nothing can match the electric hum in your spine when you climb above decks at sunrise, the first shadow of a new island dancing on the horizon. Dawn and distance bring into focus the details - vine-dripping trees, tooth-jagged rocks, the Cheshire-grin of a volcano’s crumbling rim.
The engines grow quieter as you slow your approach - by now you may even hear birds calling from the hills, smell the fallen fruit.
It may be just as you imagined it, or it may completely surprise you.
You lean eagerly from the rails, craving that first crush of sand.
The refrain of the counter-protesters: What do Westerners know about China, anyway?
That’s a valid question.
I know this: in the West, we have many different sources of information on China. With a little initiative, information is available on almost any subject imaginable. The truth may require a little digging, but it’s out there. And in the absence of any objective factual truth, myriad differing viewpoints are available to facilitate the formulation of an informed stance.
In other words... ignorance is optional.
So, dear counter-protesters... what do YOU know about China?
Whatever your government wants you to know.
Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen”. Winter 1997. Cheap Cabernet and clove cigarettes, the constant crunch of salty snow. Flipping three frozen birds at the “Welcome to Maine” sign every time we’d return up I-95 from Massachusetts.
Blackwoods Road, between Ellsworth and Cherryfield. Network of bare branches shine like spiderwebs overhead, meeting above the yellowline like the gothic arch of an abandoned cathedral. To our right, the terrifying black depths of Tunk Lake, not quite iced over yet.
Silvery maiden-moon, one end hidden by a cloud, the other brilliant and sharp as a cat’s claw tearing through the velvet sky.
This vivid dream has haunted me all day.
I was driving with the kids down a country road - maybe through the Montezuma Hills, but during the dry season. All of the green had gone golden. The road was paved, but barely.
In the rearview mirror I caught sight of a bald eagle sitting on a fencepost. I threw the car in reverse. We were horrified to discover he was eating a rabbit.
The rabbit was still alive. Alannah hid her face, but the creature’s eyes were serene.
Tristan wondered from the backseat: “Maybe it just knows it’s time to die.”
Mrs. Robinson would greet you at the door in a black dress, cradling a glass of Pinot Noir.
You would look her over, as girls are wont to do, and determine that she is no threat - she is, after all, several years older than you. You would feel no anxiety about leaving her to chat with your boyfriend while you pop into the kitchen to grab a drink.
But when you returned, your man would be teetering from the edge of the sofa, absorbed, as she perches on a high stool, recalling the sound of the cobblestones in La Antigua.
Come on, this one is easy. Use your Jung.
And no, I don’t mean consulting some generic online dream dictionary. Archetypes are powerful, not to be ignored - but dreams are not messages from the
unconscious. They’re messages from your
So break down your own archetypes - what do those critters mean... to you?
Eagle: ambitious, aspiring, intelligent, unsentimental. Out of my way or you’re history.
Rabbit: fun, furry, frolicking, fucking. The Hobbits of the animal kingdom.
That was simple. Apollo vs. Dionysus. Business vs. pleasure. And pleasure loses.
Time to get off my bodacious booty. Time to focus.
No one left who survived that descent into the icy Atlantic. No one who recalls the blasts of the ship’s horns, the groaning of the hull giving way. As omnipresent as her image may be, in legend and in imagination, there is no one who remembers Titanic.
This Friday, in San Francisco, will anyone return to Lotta’s Fountain? Last year, only one quake survivor appeared.
Is it lonely, then, to be the last? How terrible a responsibility, to be the sole keeper of such memories, to have to tend and cultivate them for those of us who can only wonder.
I feel like Mad Madame Mimm from “The Sword in the Stone” - yanking her frizzy hair down over her eyes and screeching, “I ha-a-a-a-ate sunshine!”
The sidewalk outside my window is no longer a peaceful path for the local septuagenarians and their chihuahuas. It’s a noisy parade of little families carrying towels and coolers, or riding single-file on Barbie and Spiderman bicycles. The wails of careless car alarms, the thwap-buzz-thwap of skateboards, the shouts and giggles of gaggles of girls.
I want to draw the blinds, make cocoa, and pretend it’s still winter.
Have you ever been caught one deck too low, has the sea ever reached up to give your ankles a chill, soggy slap?
The night the helo went down, we stood on the flight deck, alone but for the disembodied glow of your cigarette. Behind us, the warmth of the hangar’s redlight and the laughter of friends. Before us, the wildly tilting horizon and the wind like a bishop’s backhand.
Six taken by the Bering, their last prayers flung to heaven on seafoam. We peered into the Aleutian darkness, certain we could hear them swirling about us with the snow.
Mount Angel Abbey, Oregon, summer of 1991. I was certain I would be a nun someday, though I was drawn more to Franciscan missionary work than to Trappist contemplative life. The Benedictines who mentored me that summer taught me to paint and to “write” icons, and between lessons I would hide in the cavernous, empty basement floor of their library, reading too much Thomas Merton.
I would walk barefoot on the sharp gravel by the railroad tracks, as a penance for my most creative “impure thoughts,” or whatever mortal sins Justin and I had committed over the weekend in Portland.
Nearly toppled her as I blundered around the corner - startled, stunned silent.
She hands me her son - warm, larval wriggle of a child. The knobby, wrinkled awkwardness of the first six weeks.
No white showing around his squinting eyes, only intense liquid blue and black. Fingers open and close on the air with fascination. I rest my nose briefly in the soft patch of red hair, hiding my smile as I inhale a few tickling wisps.
“Smell the top of his head,” I tell her, relinquishing my squirming charge. “He will smell that way for the rest of his life.”
Behind the cars parked along Shoreline, I see him stooped and shuffling along. A very elderly Asian man, making his way down the sidewalk with a small smile creasing his cheeks. From one shoulder hangs... a pink Dora backpack.
As he emerges from behind the cars, she is suddenly visible - a tiny girl skipping in circles around his thin legs, her ponytail bouncing with each delighted step.
He halts her as they approach the intersection, grasping her hand tightly as they cross Kitty Hawk. He scans the street like a Secret Service agent until she steps safely onto the curb.
The photograph has the tint and fade of the early eighties. You face the camera, calm and dignified - with a small stuffed octopus draped over your forehead.
Fifteen years I have watched you, smiling silently at the periphery of every event, peacefully presiding over the joyful chaos of the family you created.
To find you here alone, to see your eyes swell with tears, to feel you clinging to my shoulder, shaking - leaves something inside me broken. I cannot escape the feeling that I have failed you somehow.
I see you. I have always seen you. You are loved, fiercely.
We stumbled into a muddy puddle, gazing overhead at another tree-full of scarlet macaws. We were sunburnt, salty from swimming off Cabo Matapalo, thirsty and weary of hiking.
That old pickup creaked to a halt, the passenger waved us in. Two young men in the cab, two more in the back. The floorboards rotted out, we sat bouncing on the rusty edges of the bed as the truck shivered down the puddle-pocked dirt road.
You whispered to me that you’d like twenty minutes alone with the tall boy who rode standing, drumming on the roof of the cab...
...I dared you to chat him up - I even offered to translate. But you demurred - “Probably not many guys...
I shrugged. “Don’t know. Worth a try.”
You shook your head, trying desperately not to stare.
Just before we reached Puerto Jimenez, the truck slowed and stopped before a small wooden cottage. The boys in the back jumped out, smiling their goodbyes. Before we began rolling onward, though, your lovely fellow ducked his head into the passenger window and laid a long kiss on the man sitting there.
You frowned as I elbowed your knee. “Told ya.”
I’m stuck in my left hemisphere again.
It’s so hard to write when I get into this mode. Numbers string themselves together easier than words.
I can’t wax rhapsodical about lighthouses and labor pains when there’s this fascinating economic opera to follow. Sure, at first glance it makes no sense that stocks can shoot up 100 points four hours after a dismal employment report - till you consider that all those short-sighted speculating bastards (the ones driving up the price of oil to begin with) have their panties in a bunch about the likelihood of the next rate-cut.
Meeting for sundaes with my original acolyte - it’s been
. Oddly, it’s a lot to live up to. It might be nice to climb out of this little snowglobe of idealization he’s kept me in for a decade. But on the other hand... is it such a terrible ideal? This decadent, Machiavellian goddess he imagines me to be - is that such a rotten way to be remembered?
I lay it all out, tell the whole truth in all its quasi-domestic glory. His eyes tell me that I am no less his Cleopatra, no less his Morgan le Fay.
Tiny moments of beauty in the shipyard.
The precipitous fighter-pilot dive of a tern.
The way your blue hardhat draws out the bright blue of your eyes. The way I can pick you out from across the yard just by the way you walk.
The way my black sweatshirt soaks up the sunlight - it’s incredibly sedative. I hook my lanyards to the yardarm and relax into the cradle of my harness, arms folded on the ladder-rung, cheek lazily pressed against the cool aluminum of the mast. I could fall asleep right here, dangling three stories above the bay.
Until my eyes adjust to the gloom, I’m trying to stay out of the way. Endless train of the faithful shuffles along the aisle, peering into dim chapels. I lean against a massive pillar and allow my eyes to sweep upward with the arches, up to the bejeweled North Rose.
Brutally cold, but I cannot help removing my glove and caressing the pillar’s smooth stone contours. Eight hundred years - how many millions of pilgrims have sought redemption beneath them?
Even now, hundreds kneel within the nave, their breath-clouds floating with their prayers into the brittle arms of the Virgin.
After stumbling across a mass grave in the dark, I was ready to go back to the ship.
We’d spent our second day on Kwajalein wading in the impossibly turquoise waters above the reef. We collected a bounty of purple shells, stuffing our pockets and purses with them. As night fell, we wandered into the missile complex, expecting to be halted at some point, but we were eerily undisturbed.
Near the runway, two tall pine trees suddenly dominated the scene, hissing in the 15-knot winds. I was chilled horribly by the white picket fence which surrounds the “Japanese Cemetery”.
Metro rumbles beneath my pillow a San Andreas lullaby, as rain falls like pearls on the atrium roof - I dream of lustrous treasure pouring between the cobblestones.
Did you know that the police sirens in Paris are an exact third below the ambulances - a frantic Doppler duet, tearing down the Boulevard?
Only here could this be true. Cinematic - like you.
There are many thoughts, dear friend, that my eyes may sometimes betray - words that I will never say to you.
But if I could send one dream tonight, if I could give just one clue...
I’d give you Chartres Blue.
I am nursing my second glass of pinot noir when our dinner arrives. The wine has been gnawing a bit at my empty stomach, my mind slowing just a bit. It takes a few minutes - and a complete disregard for the current conversation - for me to figure out which song is playing over the restaurant’s system.
I confess my weakness for “O, Holy Night”. See, sometimes a singer will pussy out on the last “o night divine” and just slide up an easy fifth. But when they make that full octave jump, tears involuntarily leap from my eyes.
I miss Honors Choir. Singing one thread of an eight-part harmony... it’s like creating Voltron right there in the cathedral. Each section would send their own particular melody up into the arches, where they would combine into this lovely creature that kicked the audience's aural ass.
And afterward, you felt like you'd just had amazing sex, standing up. Knees weak, grinning and spent.
You don't need eight sections to feel like that, even the right duet partner can get you there. The miracle is the same. I believe Dr. Dre said it best when he coined the term "eargasm".
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