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When the wind slides in from the wrong direction, it brings with it the thick, dark smoke of the Big Sur fire. The sun at midday glows mysteriously magenta, meriting not even a squint through the beams of the bridge, casting an eerie bronze tint over the encroaching pillows of fog. We go about our day by the forgiving glow of perpetual sunset.
From Crown Beach, I cannot even see the other side of the Bay. I could be living along the edge of the Pacific itself, for all I know. Jets from Oakland International vanish into that smoky curtain.
Dandara is composed entirely of liquid copper and shimmering silk ribbons. She darts from one end of the studio to the other, skirt and scarf fluttering, leaving us staring in disbelief. Our feet feel much heavier than they did a moment ago.
My shoes cannot twist at that speed along the hardwood floor. I take them off and leave them on the windowsill.
Dandara’s samba is almost an act of worship, her arms thrust skyward as her braids sweep the floor. I have to forget everything to follow her into this trance - my fears, my manners. Everything but the drums.
My shuffle keeps flipping up Everclear. “Fire Maple Song” – Jesus, when did I last hear this song? San Diego, summer 1999?
Watching Crocodile Hunter marathons in your aunt’s sunroom, tearing around the desert in your little red car. La Jolla Shores and your cousin’s Christian rock garage band. Easy and fun, that summer. The ship a mild annoyance in the background.
So how did we get to Honolulu, you riding around aimlessly in the liberty van just because I was driving it? What flipped you out? Tearful notes left on my rack, jealous tantrums. Where are you now, broken boy?
You were my Wog. I only bought you because the HSC had planned to, and she had some nasty plans for you. I barely knew you, but I despised her. Hypocrite, 8-H crusader who’d get wasted and grind on deckies every portcall. You blew her off in Panama once, and you were gonna pay for her bruised ego.
I was pretty sure you didn’t even remember Panama. I wanted to see her frosted-fuschia lips pursed in frustration. So as soon as the gavel dropped, I shot my hand up before she could even speak and yelled, “Hundred-fifty!”
I like to wander around the model rooms they set up at IKEA. Their furniture is a little bit too minimalist for my taste, and kind of self-consciously mod, but they know how to use a tiny space. Plus, although the TV’s and DVD players are fake, the books are real - and printed in Swedish. I don’t know if they’re translations of James Joyce or Doctor Phil, but they
I like to picture Sweden just outside these “apartments”. I like to think that, just beyond the op-art curtains, snow melts against the warmth of the windows.
You fall asleep so easily. Just a few breaths after you pull the comforter to your shoulder, you begin to twitch and release - then you are out, beyond the reach of any annoyance.
I lie next to you, listening to the howl of the BART and the cat galloping across the sofa. I rearrange pillows, kick covers back, flip onto my stomach.
I miss the coffin-cozy embrace of my old rack aboard the ship. Diesel-hum or turbine-whine, the engines’ noise reverberated all around me. Tossing with the sighs of the sea - I’ve never slept as deeply since.
Do you remember the stone bathtub we saw at that ridiculous home-expo store? Hewn out of solid granite - smooth and glossy black inside, rough and grey outside. I mused that it would feel like taking a bath inside a giant geode.
You squeezed my hip. “And you would be the jewel inside.”
I thought you must have meant that sarcastically somehow, and I chided you for saying something so mushy.
Admit it - it’s not like you.
But I feel bad now for laughing. I have secretly cherished that remark. It’s honestly the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said to me.
Eight years ago, someone rounded up all the feral cats on the base, had them spayed and neutered, then released them again. Today, a creaky, ancient colony of cats stares warily from beneath the hedges, watching racoons take over their former turf. They nibble at charitable offerings of Purina behind the galley, waiting to die.
At three this morning, as I returned from a duty call at Point Reyes, I had to lunge for my brakes when my headlights illuminated something miraculous: a gray and white cat gingerly crossing the street behind the exchange, followed by one tiny, tumbly kitten.
My friend recently attended an apparently anticlimactic bachelor party.
The best man had taken it upon himself to hire a stripper, who introduced herself to the groom by pushing his bespectacled face between her tits.
At which point the groom stood up and walked out. His disappointed buddies hollered after him, calling him “pussy-whipped”.
I’ve been thinking about the term “pussy-whipped”. Doesn’t it imply that the guy in question is getting, y’know... pussy?
And that he likes that pussy enough to want to KEEP getting it?
So... what does that say about a guy who employs this term?
Damp with fog when I creep through the door at 4am. Quietly I rinse off in the sink, and change into the least possible amount of clothing I can wear without the cat noticing my piercings.
I slip beneath the sheets and the cool breath of the fan, wrap my arms around you from behind. You sigh and settle against me. I slide my nose through your curls, through the fuzz at the nape of your neck, inhaling you.
“I saw something awesome on the base tonight,” I whisper.
Smiling against your shoulder.
“I saw a kitten.”
I confess that I am a finance-section junkie.
I confess that the Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae fiasco had me seriously worried...
...until I read about the IndyMac seizure tonight, at which point I got chills and had to pour myself a drink.
Between this and our country's stubborn denial of the oil-economy paradigm shift... I just
the world is gonna collapse any minute now. But WHY does it have to collapse
- like, three months after I finally get my shit together?
I'll have a flask of Marteau handy when they ring the opening bell on Monday...
I’ve fucked myself up with geology and Buddhism. See, I understand impermanency - I get it all too well. I turn over a “young” rock in my hand, I crunch along the salty floor of a former inland sea. I trace the faded inscription on a Roman pillar beneath the streets of Paris. I read about Madonna and A-Rod. I get it. Nothing is forever.
This is a dangerous pill to swallow until you’ve mastered that detachment thing.
I can’t relax into you. Are you here to stay? Or are you to be the agent of some deep karmic sting?
Elegance today is so joyless. Tuxedos, Danish furniture, sheath dresses, sushi. Sophisticated, expensive... but stone cold.
In La Galerie des Glaces, crystal cascades from the chandeliers, gilt bronze maidens balance their lanterns - and glass, from marble floor to frescoed ceiling, doubles the whole dizzying spectacle.
Imagine yourself at home here. Would you step out of your silken shoes and slide down that whole long hallway in your slippery stockings, grinning at your giddy reflection along the way?
Say what you will about excess and frivolity, rebellion and guillotines. The French kings of Versailles were not afraid to wear pink velvet.
Little country houses, seen from the highway as I speed along through the night. A living room pulsing with the blue glow of the evening news. An olive-drab kitchen squinting beneath a bare incandescent bulb. A garage door left halfway open, fluorescent flicker reflects in the quarterpanel of someone’s long-neglected ’68 Chevelle.
I do not want to live in any of these houses, way out here in the Valley. I do not covet their owners’ pastoral peace.
But as I wind my long way back to the Bay, I am oddly glad they’ve made it home safely tonight.
I no longer cringe at your area code. I think the night BK died changed that somewhat. I hadn’t spoken to him in three years, I felt like an impostor when you called. But you needed to vent to someone who understood how much you “suck at death”.
Oh, I remember. I remember how you managed to avoid the hangar for half a patrol, just because you thought that helo wreckage was haunted.
With BK gone, you tell me, I know you better than anyone else does.
I laugh a little and tell you, “Yeah, well... we’ll always have Victoria.”
Effortlessly devastating. That’s the look we’re all aiming for, isn’t it? Sexy without looking hoochie. Sophisticated without looking stuffy. Put-together, without looking like we’ve agonized over it too much.
Which we have, of course.
My weapons - a bias cut, to emphasize the killer curve between my waist and hips. A picture-frame of a decolletage for my perky pair. Red lipstick for my Clara Bow pout. A pair of cork wedges to show off my purple pedicure.
Turning before the mirror - I must cover every angle. I must be unassailable, unstoppable.
I appear, and your eyes declare my victory.
It doesn’t matter that my body is exhausted. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t stopped yawning since nine o’clock this morning. It doesn’t matter that my calves and shoulders ache from working out on the yardarm of a patrol boat.
Out into the night my brain wanders, though my body screams for sleep. I ponder the difficulties of securing a duplicate title for my old Camry with the Hawaii plates. I calculate the number of louches I’ll get from my new bottle of La P’tite.
finally drift off, thirty minutes before the alarm rattles me awake yet again.
I’ve had my moments - and then some - of self-doubt, of insecurity.
But I’ve never trolled for hugs in a speech to my colleagues. And their wives. While in uniform.
I arrived here looking forward to at least a few minutes of cattily courteous verbal sparring. At the very least, a judicious deployment of the word “studmuffin”. That’s all it would’ve taken to establish the context, for future reference.
But after watching you agonize - in an ostensibly motivational speech, no less - over the loneliness of only-childhood and the importance of camaraderie...
wanted to give you a hug.
I haven’t kept track - I don’t know what you’re calling yourself these days.
But I remember you as Wendy.
You totally hated me. I was never sure why. Theories abounded, with our friends and with the Baker clan. They figured you must have a thing for K, or that C must have confessed to digging me.
My hypothesis was that I threatened your “alpha female” status with their family.
Later, eventually, you admitted it. You thought me unworthy of K. Unworthy, primarily, because I was white.
I know you’re still around. I wonder if you’ve mellowed out since then.
In most places, summer is a season for beaches, barbecues and water-wings.
But in San Francisco, summer is the season of
Thirty miles away, this July morning is surely brilliant and warm. But on the sea-cliff at Point Bonita, I huddle against a cypress tree beneath three layers of clothing, listening to a concerto for foghorns.
South tower with its scolding baritone bark. North tower and its weary, mournful bass.
The twin tenors of the span, Bonita’s staccato soprano.
And softly, somewhere between the bass and the baritone, another sad, dissonant note is flung from rusty harpstrings
You spit this word at me as if it were an insult. And I can only smile.
Is this some kind of intervention, brethren? I sit cross-legged in the corner, my sweatshirt sleeves pulled down over my folded hands, as I stare unblinking at each of you in turn. You use words like “duty” and “orders” - I wonder what you would do if these precious orders intersected with your principles.
Or don’t you even have any?
If the captain thought it would be a great idea to go around shooting babies in strollers, would you rationalize that, too?
There it is again, the sort of wary glance one reserves for dangerous creatures. I have seen it before. I have been called a demon and a drug, a test from God. But I’ve never felt as cautious as I do around you. Attenuated, circumspect, hesistant to spook you. I’m the Scutigera Coleoptrata that lurks in a corner of the kitchen - you allow me to remain, only because you are too terrified to touch me.
No, you will not touch me. But certainly you’ve learned to hold me - suspended between your trembling palms, scrambling in silence behind pale blue glass.
Highway 12. But the Valley has gone golden now, that pure warm gold which signals the very peak of summer. Until the rains come in October, it will fade to a pale, parched brown, languishing beneath the tease of fluffy cloud-shadows.
This little creek, which flows swift and swollen when the fields are green, now creeps beneath the withering Valley sun, winding cautiously between the cows’ legs. Stony fringe of stream-bed beginning to peek out along its edges, like the hem of an eyelet slip.
Windmills beat at the sky, in time with my Les Savy Fav playlist.
Dear universe -
Why does it always gotta be a cliffhanger? Why can't anything just roll along, like it seems to for most people? I mean, people make plans all the time - they buy plane tickets, concert tickets, subscription seats at the opera or at Giants games. They take jobs, they quit jobs. People do things like this every day. Why can't we?
Can you throw me a bone here? Just a little hint in the tea-leaves, a message spelled out in the oil trails of my Marteau?
I am so sick of living in suspended animation.
- One Ping Only
Thanks for ranting about the douchebags at the academy, for regaling me with gruesome details of battered babies, for twisting my arm and leaving my pinkie numb for two days. Thanks for making me memorize a new (and not nearly as cool) phonetic alphabet.
When you vent your frustrations to me, that tells me that I’m still your confidante. You show me every new move you learn, every new term or code or violation - this means you want me to understand your new life, to be part of it.
Thanks for taking me with you, in whatever capacity you can.
I always loved United Airlines’ Channel Nine. Mostly just monotonous chatter between the pilots and ATC, but it can really come in handy sometimes.
That time we had to make an emergency landing in Honolulu? The passenger in 34F was miscarrying. When we were circling interminably over Providence at two in the morning? Their tower shuts down at midnight, and we had to wait for Boston to guide us in by radar.
Never would’ve known, if not for Channel Nine.
Somewhere over the black Atlantic, I woke Beeps up to listen to the lovely accents coming out of Shannon International.
It’s not just New Age affectation. I can feel the moon waning, feel it like a heavy curtain being drawn around me. It’s just how my cycle is lined up, in traditional step with the moon-phases. New moon sends me down into dreams, turns me inward. I change into PJ’s early in the evening. I try out recipes for crumbly brown bread.
Full moon makes me tingle to my fingertips, a kamikaze harlot, hungry for any caress that may find me. Words flow effortlessly, I bounce fearless crescendos between the shower walls. I am filled to giggling with love.
In Beeps’s absence, I watched the Daily Show. It’s the first TV I’ve watched in months. Now I remember why.
Conspicuously absent from the new JC Penney “Breakfast Club” ad: Mary Jane. Flare guns. Cigar burns. Hot beef injection. Cynical janitors. Sadistic teachers. Naked blondes and two-foot salamis. “Answer the question, Clare!”
Oh, and the smart kid. Not one evocation of the “Brain”.
I wonder why.
And that Coke Zero ad with the walking eyeball and the disembodied tongues? Creepy. Perverse. It’s like a Dali painting with corporate sponsorship.
wish I had something better to write about.
The Mists of Avalon
. First read it in 1995. I remember following Morgaine into outrage over the destruction of the Old Religion, feeling vicariously nostalgic for a society composed more in tune with the cycles and moods of the earth.
Not trying to get all Berkeley here. I get weary, sometimes, of questioning the authenticity in everything - food, entertainment, education.
But I can’t seem to get worked up about the fading of Celtic paganism now. Whatever we believe, we must carry it with us, without expecting everyone to share it.
You wouldn’t believe where I carry my amethysts.
Beeps had night-quals at the range last night, and so I slept alone. But because it seems wrong to sleep in that big ol’ bed without him, I passed out on the sofa with EWTN on as background noise. Just the soft drone of Mother Angelica’s rosary.
Beeps called at one. My phone says so. But I don’t remember it ringing. I must have checked my voicemail when the message alert went off - angry crow noises, hard to ignore. My call log says I did, at one-fifteen. But I must have deleted the message - there are none now...
Playing chess on the floor with my son. Little philosopher. The pieces move of their own accord, however, and I am frustrated. He tells me to relax... but something in his voice is wrong. I look up and my son has morphed into Beeps. I fume, “Easy for you to say, all the pieces are yours now!” Looking back down - truly, all of the animated little warriors are wearing Beeps’ colors.
He shakes his head. “All of these things you think you can control...”
A crow cries. I gasp awake.
Priest on TV is finishing: “...but you can’t control anything.”
The Tip Jar