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I used to sit all through Mass staring intently at the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, certain that she would eventually look up and say something just for me. I knew that if I just prayed hard enough...
I used to send birthday cards to Pope John Paul II. I swear. Once he sent me back an autographed picture.
But like a welfare kid discovering there’s no Santa Claus, I learned that the church’s fathers have feet - and other appendages - of clay. There is no heaven, no absolution, no indulgence. There is no sex in the champagne room.
Today I was compared to Marie Antoinette. I’m sure it wasn’t meant as a compliment.
Maybe every generation reaches this moment - reading the news of the world, and believing for the first time that this just might be the end. Nothing biblical - just the feeling that you’ve arrived for the last act of a great symphony. Perhaps we will really see the death of our paradigms soon. No more road trips, no more plane tickets.
So how, beneath this sobering premonition, can I while away my nights drinking $110 bottles of Jade?
It’s economical. Cheaper than the heating bill.
I cannot bring myself to go to bed before midnight on a Saturday. And you cannot bring yourself to go to bed without me. So you fall asleep on the couch while I finish my Duplais, read a little, and type my entry. The cat drapes herself across your ankles, her purrs sputtering into sighs.
When I am finally drowsy, I turn off the lights and lock the door. Then I wake you to follow me to bed.
I touch your shoulder and call your name softly. At the sound of my voice, you smile and gently kiss the pillow.
I’ve always imagined that I would die a violent death. I’m not at all opposed to the idea.
Let me clarify. I wouldn’t want to be a random victim, an innocent bystander. If a bank robber sprays bullets all over the lobby, or if you’re sitting somewhere in Economy Class when the plane is hijacked... that is, indeed, tragic.
Murder, however, is a high compliment. If someone feels the need to stab you to death outside a bullfight, or sneak into your house to strangle you with piano wire... it’s safe to say you’ve made a difference in his life.
Nine years old, her eyes clouded milky-white. She followed my voice, feeling her way along the bench until her slight hand reached my knee. Then, with a soft sigh, she curled into my lap.
I didn’t speak Thai. She spoke no English. I couldn’t amuse her with funny faces, or show her pictures on my digital camera. At a loss, I simply hugged and rocked her. After a few minutes, absently and instinctively, I began to sing: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star...”
Her cheek against mine, I felt her smile as she joined in: “How I wonder what you are!”
He pokes his head out from under the console, his face dusty and his hair limp with sweat. “Would you help me run this cable to the cabinet?”
She glances up from her phone. “Nope.”
He blinks. “Well, do you wanna do the weatherproofing on the RHI?”
“Not really.” She doesn’t even look up this time, her thumb clicking absently over the keypad.
He stares for a second, then averts his eyes and folds himself back into the console. She smiles, listening to his dismayed, grunting attempts to straighten the stubborn heliax.
That’s right, old man. Back in your hole.
The "Interim" lies heeling dizzily to port, hard aground on Crown Beach. Sometime during the night she slid up the sand, sails in ribbons. A small crowd of the regular Shoreline runners and Tai Chi devotees stand in a curious clump, wondering where she came unmoored.
Jogging strollers slow as they pass. A lawyer has left his SAAB parked in a red zone, his Bass loafers and socks on the planks near the crosswalk. The chill Bay breeze corkscrews up his trouser legs as he plods through the sand toward “Interim”.
Someone else’s abandoned, faded blue wreck of a dream.
Nepenthes pitcher plants are sexy. I think so. From the top of the pitcher, with its shy leaf-lid delicately covering the swollen pink-spread lips... to the smooth bulbs and tapers of the pitcher-shaft itself.
I know it’s been done to death, the sexy-plant thing. Georgia O’Keefe and her orchids and all. But I’ve yet to see a painting or read anything about Nepenthes - though I’m sure someone has done it, somewhere. I think Mucha might have liked them, the twining vines and the curling leaves. I can easily see him painting them into the Medusa’s hair.
“I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to be concerned about you. I guess calling you is a big crime now.”
The “you’re overreacting, you hysterical female” card. How original.
“I was just kidding anyway. You thought I was serious?”
The “I was joking, didn’t you get it?” card.
“Look, I only wanted tell you I can’t talk to you anymore, ‘cause I think you’re getting the wrong idea. Isn’t it funny we were thinking the same thing at the same time? Isn’t it?”
And finally, the “you can’t fire me, I quit” card. He has completed the trifecta of douchebaggery!
My skin is translucent, you can easily trace the cartography of my veins. From hands to ribs, from feet to spine, you can follow the thump-circle journeys of my blood.
It is not so easy to detect the fragile conduit that contains my fury. None of the usual needles can reach it, no conventional blade can disturb its disciplined rhythm. I have kept it hidden from my enemies, sheltered my friends from its secrets. I have consecrated its silence to various gods, upon incense-smoke and candle-flame.
You alone, without aim or intent, can pierce it so effortlessly.
***Warning - Sarcasm ahead!***
I think it’s ok for women who can’t have babies to be cops. I think it’s a good job for women. ‘Cause if there were no women cops, no one would mend our buttons or bring us cookies at work. Except maybe the dispatchers. But some dispatchers are men. I’m not a dispatcher, ‘cause I’m not a pussy. But I think it’s ok for men to be dispatchers, ‘cause some men are pussies. I will never sexually harass a woman cop. I will keep my contempt thinly veiled behind patronizing body language and inappropriate terms of endearment.
Last night I dreamed that Henry Miller was my landlord. He sat me down to sketch a portrait and, though he’d never met you, he drew you sitting at my shoulder.
I’m not even sure Henry Miller knew how to draw.
You are here beacuse you choose to be. It’s both liberating and frightening. I rejoice for every night I fall alseep beside you, and for every morning I wake to find you still here. But in that small, slow moment between the end of dreaming and the opening of eyes, I must always swallow an icy grain of uncertainty.
I needed this.
Weaving with CA 25 along the San Andreas Fault. All the green drained from the hills now, just soft golden kitty-fur coats the fault’s knuckle-ridges, punctuated by the occasional tortured oak.
Back on the 101. Vast vineyards stretch like corduroy from Paso Robles to San Luis Obispo. The smell of fennel and eucalyptus - a premonition of the sea.
Santa Barbara, just before seven. Blue surf, towering palms, terra-cotta-crowned mansions. Well-dressed couples walk along the wharf, savoring their carefully-planned sunset. We, salty and windblown, have landed here by chance. Our accidental destination.
Morning, and the echoes of a ship’s horn on the harbor. Chatter of palm fronds against the window.
You incubate when you sleep. Your skin fevered and smooth beneath the soft, cool hotel sheets. This is one of my greatest delights. I slide my hand along your shoulder, along the inexplicably lovely curve of your neck. Silver chain sparkles with a few rays of intruding sunlight.
You sigh and, without opening your eyes, pull me roughly against you. My skin vampire-cold against yours, my chin finding that perfect hollow between your neck and your collarbone.
I’ve forgotten I’m hungry.
This brilliant bubble of record heat. It’s made the whole neighborhood careless. Windows left open, conversations spilling onto the sidewalk. I carry my laundry basket through the parking lot by the fluttering glow of twenty televisons.
The cat lies in a lethargic puddle on the kitchen floor. I have closed the patio door, as the breeze-to-bug ratio has deteriorated rapidly since sunset.
I glance across the living room, you’re hunched over your notes and muttering something about this new phonetic alphabet. I smile, imagining us falling asleep tonight beneath cool cotton sheets and the hum of the fan.
Lake Tahoe, Nevada, is a cheesy tourist trap in every way. But as we cross the state line, the sun is setting, the temperature is dropping, and we won’t get much out of continuing our road trip in the dark.
So we choose the Montbleu Casino - no intention of gambling, but for less than a Best Western on the Cali side, we get marble-everything and... an in-room spa. Yummy. Just when I’m wishing I’d brought the ID Platinum... granted! There’s a toy shop in the lobby!
Afterward, we order strawberry shortcake and champagne. Tomorrow, the desert... tonight, dessert!
The desert along Nevada 361 is a rainbow sherbet of andesite. Pink, green, orange, all speckled with glassy black phenocrysts. It’s 105 degrees at Petrified Summit, and I’m growing faint as I hack away at a large pink rock with a claw hammer.
Finally it splits - I stand to admire its dizzying sparkle.
A few hours earlier, along a trail outside Fallon, we ran our hands solemnly along prehistoric petroglyphs in black andesite boulders. The shimmering salt-flats were once a vast inland sea; the boulders then lay along the beach.
Navy test pilots shriek across the mercilessly clear sky.
The night-chill is back, courtesy of the marine layer. Mist gathers on my glasses as I flip-flop to the mailbox.
The sliding glass doors are all shut again, everyone has retreated back into their private little worlds, flickering shadows on vertical blinds. The apartment building like a human warren, a shelf of blue-flickering aquariums. Pool glows enticingly turquoise, a perfectly tumbled specimen, a cabuchon of purest beryl.
Mourning dove calls from the bottlebrush tree. I think of two thuds on the windshield, somewhere outside Fallon. You were shaken, but vaguely relieved; “At least I hit them both.”
We skim across the Bay, punching buttons and cursing. The GPS is only intermittently interfacing with the radar. We turn to port, the numbers pop up. We skate to starboard, they blink out again.
Helo screeching above Alcatraz - I try to follow it with quick glances under the Delta Span as we dart past the anchorage. Can’t see it anymore... I tune the VHF to Channel 21 and wait.
A cryptic exchange between the helo and Golden Gate’s RBS. A question of jurisdiction. Some work for the sheriffs, some for the boat crew. Someone has jumped off the North Tower.
Do you remeber the “Pink Elephants” song from “Dumbo”? Do you think they could get away with putting a sequence like that in a kids’ movie today? I wonder if anyone has ever actually seen pink elephants while drunk - assuming the absence of any other drugs?
It reminds me of the hype over the “legalization” of absinthe in America last year. It’s not hallucinogenic, folks, seriously. People still truly believe - and hope, even - that absinthe will help them commune with Van Gogh or give them some kind of “trip”.
But Van Gogh never painted any pink elephants, to my knowledge.
It’s much farther than it looks, the walk from the DGPS hut to the lighthouse. Down the hill, across Highway 1, and down another hill. Actually it’s the walk
that sucks more. But that’s the way it is when a site has no bathrooms of its own.
You have to cross the highway on a curve, and that road feels pretty wide when you’re wondering if a motorhome is gonna swing around the corner and obliterate you.
Today you can’t even hear the cars approaching. The wind is blowing a good fifty knots. The ocean looks like Reddi-Whip.
The cuckoo clock had stopped again.
Grandma rose wearily to wind it, while Auntie Phoebe remarked from behind the rim of her coffee mug, “You’ll see a lot of strange things like that tonight.”
Mom nodded knowingly. “My neighbor’s power glitched and all her clocks flipped to twelve o’clock just a few minutes before her husband died.”
Grandma sat back down with an exasperated sigh. “That cuckoo clock has been stalling twice a day for fifteen years.” She peered down the hall, where Father MacDonald was laying out his oils and stole.
“I’m gonna miss that old man.” she muttered.
I don’t want you blind. That wouldn’t make any sense. “Choosing” me when you will acknowledge the existence of no other... that’s like my daughter telling me I’m her “favorite mommy.” Cute, but not a difficult distinction to maintain.
I will share your eyes. Look around you. Take in the possibilities. Marvel at the artistry. Then come home to me, and I will know you are mine.
I would share more than that, but you don’t work that way. You cannot give your body without first giving your heart. And that, my love, I am not generous enough to share.
How often do you think of me?
Those moments, those first meetings, when your eyes lock with those of the newcomer and the floor seems to drop away. Never met before, but you are drawn as if to some long-lost dear one. A thread is spun between your skulls - an invisible thread, for everyone else carries on as if the cosmic record hasn’t skipped. From the startled silence of the Other, you know - they feel it, too. If it were a different time, a different place...
There’s no right time for that sort of thing to happen, is there?
Keep your Pocket Rockets, your bullets. I like a little more bass in my buzz. Give me a wicked curve of silicone, pearly-pink or swirly-purple. Non-representational, please. A dolphin or a hummingbird, maybe even a crucifix or the Virgin Mary. (Yes, they make those. Sick but hilarious.) I like my Rabbits to be hummingbirds. And I prefer tracked beads to pearls.
As for names, I like a happy medium. Somewhere between the creepy-perv “Robo Dongs” and “Turbo Cocks” and the menopausal-market “Gaias” and “Mayas”.
Bonus points for original Hello Kitty rockets or Harry Potter brooms.
Couldn’t help but go watch the new Indiana Jones. The restored Alameda Theatre re-opened that very day, so all was chaos as we waited for the doors to open. Clowns twisting balloons, mops and buckets hurriedly deployed. Seems the plumbing in the men’s room had already failed.
Loved the first half of the movie. The prairie dog, the diner, Cate Blanchett. The second half... meh. Wanted to like it, but... not so much.
I’ve never seen so many fedoras as I saw in the lobby that day. It’s such a pity you don’t wear a fedora. You’d look delicious.
Standing outside a bookstore in Pattaya, counting my
. My eyes on my hands, my back to the beach, oblivious - until I am suddenly startled by a loud, hard slap to my booty.
I stiffen, roll my eyes.
“That’d better be Danielle.”
And her giggle answered me.
Sad that you left without saying goodbye, but I understand. I’ve done the same thing so many times. Know that when you need to get hysterical at 3am, Big Sister will still be open for business in this time zone.
Can you find good sesame chicken in Miami?
Little lost bird flown east.
Last night, little bird, I dreamed I came to visit you on the ship. I’m not sure if you’d returned, or if you’d never left. I do remember that the brow was gone, and I had to leap across a Marine Express tug to reach the flight deck.
You’d been busy correcting charts. I stood laughing with you on the windy bridgewing.
Next thing I knew, you were gone, and the ship had transformed into some kind of porn shop. I was hiding there. Two strip-mall security guards were searching for me - I’d stolen two towels from TJ Maxx.
I am secretly glad that the apartment deal fell through. I know it would have saved us money, I know you’d have had more time to study. But I can’t bring myself to be disappointed.
I consider myself an independent woman. I can take care of myself when you are not here. I can entertain myself - hell, I actually get a lot more done. I work out more, I eat better, I paint.
But I cannot bear to sleep in that bed without you. I fall asleep on the couch every night with the Weather Channel turned way down low.
On paper, we’re a nightmare.
The age difference, the “experience” gap, the whole kid thing. Theoretically, statistically, we should’ve looked at each other and
- far and fast.
This is the first ordeal we’ve borne that we don’t entirely share. The ship and its nonsense could not break us - we carried that cross together. But this time, you are carrying this cross, and I am following along with the washcloth. We are each handling this trial well - but separately.
It relieves and strengthens me when you come home at night and vent about your day. I am still your confidant.
You cannot stay awake any longer. It takes less than a minute, once you’ve fallen onto the bed, for your breathing to slow and deepen. I know I can’t follow you into sleep just yet, but I have promised to hold you until you are completely out.
Just me and the cat now, and it will take a few hours to bring myself down from my mental watchtower long enough to sleep. Dark chocolate, a glass of Jade, some Russian choral music. Maybe these will finally soothe my soul’s vigilant little sniper, so wakefully weary?
One o’clock and all’s well.
The Tip Jar