Thursday, November 25, 2010

Navel Gazing


I was born in a pickle jar. My first view was of the inside of a kitchen cabinet. Stubborn bits of label and glue that would not wash off the jar obscured my vision. It was dark, but my developing eyes didn’t mind. Enough light filtered through the cracks in the doors to see all I needed to see: a coffee cup hand-painted with a beach scene from Mexico City. It was paradise. I contently swam in circles.


I smoked my first cigarette at two years old. I was outside a Laundromat beside the dumpster I called home after being tossed out by my parent who was an inconsequential and slovenly short hunk of hairy man. I had been a mistake, apparently. My parent had tossed me out, jar and all, two years previously. The jar broke, and I was born, and now here I was contemplating. While toddling around, pondering my fate, I found a crumpled pack of cigarettes on the ground. There was one lonely crushed up cigarette inside. I lit it with a Zippo lighter I carried in the chest pocket of my dirty OshKosh overalls. The lighter was decorated with a Confederate Flag. It said: “The South Shall Rise Again!” I inhaled and coughed, inhaled and coughed, inhaled and coughed again. Yet, by my fourth toke, I found I was already used to the process. A thin blue trail of smoke wafted up from my chubby hand as I waved the cigarette in lazy arcs. I cleared my throat. “The contemplative life is often miserable.” This was from a book of Chamfort plays I had found beside the dumpster one pale afternoon. I decided to follow his advice then and there to “act more, think less, and watch oneself live.” I found a tattered beret and placed it on top of my head.


By the time I reached my teens, I realized that everything came in threes. There was me, my beloved, and my beloved’s beloved. There was a fight. I won the fight but lost the war. My beloved’s beloved fell in love with my beloved as she nursed him back to health. They went away together. Then I was alone again: two and one, one and done.


A priest gave me a copy of his Latin Primer. He said it had been his only book as a boy. He said this in Latin of course, so I did not understand what he said at the time. I loved that book. I was in my twenties and trying to find my place. I had left the dumpster behind and moved into the Laundromat. I liked the big glass windows. When I leaned my face up against the cool glass and looked out at the cold world, it felt something like being home. Domis dulcis domus.


By the time I reached my thirties, the Laundromat had been torn down. I heard they were going to turn the shopping center into a Walmart. I wasn’t sure why they would do this – there were already three Walmarts within two miles – but sure enough, that’s what they did. So, I left for the woods. I found some people out there with long hair who were very nice at first. They welcomed me, called me “Brother.” It brought tears to my eyes. They said they were Rainbow People. I liked them. They asked me if I wanted to be one of them. They said according to Rainbow tradition, there is only one prerequisite for joining the Family: a belly button. Once they realized I had been born in a dirty pickle jar with no umbilical cord and therefore no belly button, they apologized and left me alone.


By the time I reached my forties, I was coughing constantly. After years of smoking, the air I breathed was a consistency more like razorblade-infused syrup than a gas. I knew it wouldn’t be long. I walked towards an apartment building. I snuck in through an open window. I moved straight towards the kitchen. There was an empty pickle jar. It stunk inside, but I was pleased by the organic funk. I filled it with my own urine and sloughed off tiny flakes of dry skin with my dirty fingernails. I blew in a puff of cigarette smoke before closing the lid. The conditions were perfect. I smiled and watched as the fragments of myself danced in the dirty water. They came together, one by one, and coalesced into a swirling fetus. I placed the jar inside a cabinet and turned it so it would face the coffee cups. There was a nice cup in there with a hand-painted beach scene from Mexico City. I looked in the mirror and realized that I had grown into an inconsequential and slovenly short hunk of hairy man. C’est la vie.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Man in the Bar

Man left the bright off-white daylight of a stormy day behind and let the heavy oak door slam shut behind him. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the blackened smoky interior of the bar. Man wrinkled his nose. The sudden change in atmosphere came as a shock. He took small breaths – he did not want to smell everything all at once – as he adjusted from the scent of the ozone and rain outside to the acrid and condensed scents of burning tobacco and spilled beer and body odor confined within this tiny den of despair.

Man took off his funky green hunting cap – a reference to his literary hero – and swept back strands of greasy black hairs so that they were plastered over his spotted, bald head. But no one would call it a comb-over, a comb-over is something done on purpose. This hairstyle wasn’t exactly a style. It didn’t look brushed or washed. In short, it fit Man exceedingly well.

No One looked up as he entered.

There was a bartender. He was an obese man with a large gut extending over the tie of his dirty apron. He spit into wine glasses and shined them with a soiled red bandanna. He finished washing and then tied the bandana on top of his shaved white head. Rolls of fat and tufts of curly coarse hair sprouted up from his dirty white t-shirt. There was a stain just to the right of his armpit – on his chest, next to his heart – that looked a little like America.

There was a woman. She sat with her legs and arms crossed; inaccessible. The slit of her skirt exposed a hint of bare skin and the lines of garters which held up frayed nylon stockings. She smoked a cigarette, sipped from a martini glass, and stared at herself in the mirror. Her reflection scowled back at her, as if angry over the heavy toll exacted by years of self-abuse on her once youthful and perfect body. She looked away from the mirror and stared down at her dingy shadow on the floor and could still see the outline of the girl she used to be. She dropped her lit cigarette down onto that shadow and smothered it with a violent twist of her high-heeled foot.

There was a kid with a mop and a bucket. He was tall and lanky. The sweet, almost rotten smell of marijuana followed him. He danced a little as he pushed the mop around, nodding his head to the unheard music being broadcast from the ear buds of his personal MP3 player. Inside his bucket, bits of food – perhaps vomit – twirled on the oil-slicked surface of the murky mop water. It seemed the more he cleaned, the dirtier everything became, but he was unaware of this, lost in another world, dancing to the sound of a song only he could hear.

There was an older grey man looking into a beer. His mind raced with fragments of memories. Most of these were bad, but the good ones were the worst of all. The good memories were a reminder he had once had something else, something better. He had once been someone better, but that was years ago and far away; in another time, in another marriage, in another city. There had been a bar in that other city, too, he remembered. It had been much the same as this bar. He knew for a fact that the view was the same as he watched the carbonation bubble inside his warming beer. His last beer, he promised himself before taking another gulp, drowning himself with the warm remainder. He quickly and purposefully forgot this promise to himself as he asked the bartender for yet another beer. He felt a moment of remorse, but just a moment. After all, it wasn’t his first broken promise, not by a long shot.

Then there was Man watching it all. He noted each face, each posture, and each sordid article of clothing. He noted the lonesome wail of steel guitars in a country tune playing softly from a jukebox hidden behind a well-worn pool table. Man smiled with the knowledge he had found his place, had found his people. This was where he belonged. Here, he wouldn’t have to feel self-conscious. Here, he didn’t have to feel ugly. Here, he could be King!

He straddled a barstool, held up a chubby finger to get the bartender’s attention, and asked for a Shirley Temple.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Am the Princess

Officer Dawes touched the walls of the tiny attic. Rough wood was splintered with tiny lines. The lines formed letters. The letters formed words. The words formed sentences. The sentences formed paragraphs. The paragraphs formed a story:

Once upon a time there was a fairy princess in a dungeon. I am the princess. My name is Elizabeth.

It feels like I born in the dungeon. I was there because my mommy who was pretty and nice died when I was a baby. My wicked stepmother Denise hated me because my dad loved me, so I was put in the dungeon and kept there. She was jealous of me so wanted me gone.

One day a prince would come to rescew me. I know this to be true. I can see him when I close my eyes. He is on a white horse that likes to eat apples. The prince and the horse named Pearl because hes colord like a pearl both wear silver armor with dimonds that shine with light.

Theres no light in the dungeon. Its always dark, but I can see okay. I just close my eyes from time to time and it helps everything seem a little brighter when I open them back up. The only time I see light is when they feed me and open the dungeon door. I’m sick of SPAM and greenbeans, but thats all they feed me.

Sometimes I smell myself and I stink. I hope my prince is okay with that. It stinks up here because I don’t have a potty…

Officer Dawes had to pause. He called over his shoulder. “Hey guys, get someone to transcribe this stuff down and take lots of pictures.”

Another man, wearing a white doctor’s coat nodded his head and walked over and began snapping pictures. Officer Dawes touched his hands to the wall again and sighed.

There was more writing, much more. Some of it was about a stepmother who could turn into a dragon and a father that grew evil and began fighting off princes, killing them, and feasting on them. Much of it was a day-to-day account of life in the dungeon. The parts that seemed the most realistic hurt the worst of all. He read:

Everything is dark today. The dragon ate the sun. The princess hurts. Almost to much but not qwite to much to write. But she knows she must write. It is the only way to keep the shadows away.

Officer Dawes turned away and faced the tiny limp body being outlined by investigators. He looked at an arm that was much too thin and wiry with muscles. It was clear the little girl forged those muscles while carving these scrapings into the wall with the broken wire laundry hangar still clutched tight in her stiff, clenched fist.

He turned his attention back to the wall where the writing ran out. The paragraphs grew shorter, became fragments of images; the words less understandable, sometimes made-up; and the letters lost coherence, becoming random scrawls and scrapes.

There was no happy ending. There was no ending at all.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Nike's Resignation

Nike soared into the sky. Her large wings caught updrafts and lifted her higher. She felt the winds grow cooler and more refreshing as she ascended towards the condensing presence above her. The nothingness solidified into darkness. The darkness became solid and welcoming. She flew upwards and flapped her wings a little harder, hungry for home.

Beneath her, the clouds were small, insignificant. Prismatic shifts of reflected sunlight filtered between the nothingness below. She saw right through those clouds and their superficial beauty. Below the meaningless wisps of condensation lay a sea of deep blue and aquamarine dotted by sandy brown and green islands. There was a flash and one of the islands erupted into a mushroom of smoke and fire.

She turned her attention upward. She decided enough was enough. No longer did she want to be among the miserably congested anthills, unthinking bee hives, or diseased roach nests of humanity. War had evolved with these insects and their own self-defeating stupidity.

The skin of her face stretched taught as she ascended towards Olympus. Her robes flowed down in her wake until they were pulled free from her body. She smiled as her skin fell away leaving only her incorporeal essence: her true self, a star entering the massiveness of the night sky where she might find her place in the unending space of the universal. The skin and cloth she shed floated downwards, became a cloud, and then rained down on a blood-soaked battlefield to wash a moment of pain away. Then the corporeal shell rotted with a sea of smoking gore and viscera. Naked now, she glowed a little brighter as she ascended into the Pantheon.

She looked down. She watched as the skies of Earth burst with unending fire. The world burned and she shook her head. Drops of her essence fell down beneath her like tears. She turned her attention upwards and worked her way through the cluttered debris of dead satellites.

There were no victories left to herald, no new songs to be sung of the glories of war, at least, none she could recognize.

"I quit damn you!" Nike yelled down towards the embers of fading civilizations.

"It's okay, dear."

Nike turned around to face the song of another star. Athena moved towards her, their lights connected in a loving embrace, and Nike trembled, overtaken by the sensed impact of an infinity of gentle kisses.

Athena drew Nike closer and the two stars merged into one. "Shh. It's okay. You did your best. You hung on as long as you could. I gave up on them centuries ago. I saw the signs. It wasn't the first time, after all."

The stars shined with their timeless and unchanging beauty.

Back on the wreckage of earth, a man and a woman stood upright. They emerged from the soot and gore and waste of another lost time, of another lost city, of another lost world. They looked up to the stars hoping to find warmth there, but only felt a chill. The man and woman frowned, turned their backs on the stars, and focused on one other.

They began to love. They began to rebuild.

The world continued to spin. Hope continued to burn along with their passions.

Athena and Nike danced overhead. They circled in joy to the tune of new songs that sounded like the old songs but were still their own songs, somehow.