Monday, February 29, 2016

Bob of Suburbia

I've been thinking about mythology, heroic journeys, and noble causes. Often there are great warriors and great battles, but perhaps these are just metaphors for more mundane activities.

I am Bob of Suburbia, and I made it to the grocery store despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Traffic lights were stacked against me, but I persevered and eventually arrived at my destination.

Still, there was the matter of parking. I and other potential shoppers, each of whom needed to buy more supplies to feed their families, circled around the lot in search of a place to moor our SUVs. Mine was running low on fuel, and I would need to find a gas station as well, but not until my own provisions had been procured.

At last I found a spot near the store. The driver of a smaller car saw it at the same time, but after a brief staredown I beat her to it. She raised her middle finger at me and swore oaths as she passed. Perhaps another day she would prevail, but not today.

Once inside the supermarket I grabbed a basket from among the few remaining and barreled my way down various aisles, with little regard for whatever or whoever might cross my path. I have children at home in desperate need of frozen pizza and ice cream sandwiches. To stand in my way is to keep them from getting what they require.

I am the provider for my family, a responsibility I do not take lightly. If ramming my cart into your cart helps me reach my worthy goal, so be it. Your cart will be rammed, your needs be damned. We can step outside and fight to the death for honor and a carton of eggs.

So it has been, and so it evermore shall be.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

How Well We Make the Journey

You could be on the edge of greatness and not even know it. Choices to make. Which way will you go? Forward, backward, off to the side somewhere? A detour of sorts? Those are often the most interesting trips we take. Unintended destinations full of surprise and delight.

Years later we may look back with fondness, remembering the happy accident that led us there. It could be a person, place, or thing. Maybe the detour isn't some physical road not traveled but actually turns out to be your life partner.

Seriously, it happens.

Such moments get folded into our saga, become part of our lore. The telling changes over time, as events recede into the past and lose clarity. They move from the realms of memory into imagination, and the same story is never told twice.

It all takes on a grandeur that perhaps is unearned. That is one way of looking at it. The sense that we are just individuals on a large planet, each indistinguishable from the next. Grains of sand on the beach, water in a swift moving river, stories of a world.

Another way is that the uniqueness is what defines us, not only as individuals but also as a species, as inhabitants of a lonely rock in the middle of space headed toward ultimate destruction. Yes, we are very small alone and together, but it's a miracle that we even exist.

There are days when this line of reasoning makes sense. Other times we merely feel fragile, vulnerable, irrelevant in every possible way. But like the grains of sand, the water, and the stories, these feelings also pass.

Everyone ends up in the same place eventually. Some take longer than others. Maybe greatness isn't in reaching the destination but in how well we make the journey.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

She Wept, Then Slept

She woke up dreaming of a lake. Someone was screaming for ice cream and wanted to bake a cake. She didn't know what to make of it all and went back to sleep.

Later that morning she woke again and walked to the park on a lark. It was no longer dark, so she left her mark on the grass and hauled ass out of there.

Just before noon she bought a spittoon that had once belonged to a saloon owner. She made note of the shop and promised herself she'd return here soon, then walked back outside and marveled that the moon was still visible this late.

She had soup for lunch but felt something crunch, which didn't seem right. In the end it was nothing, but very few words rhyme with “lunch,” which also doesn't seem right.

On the bright side, there was still a bright side. It was like that old album Pink Floyd never recorded, Bright Side of the Moon. It was less dark than the one they ended up making.

In truth, she found the entire affair rather silly, though she couldn't say why. One doesn't simply stroll through life thinking of such arcane matters.

But there's no accounting for taste, and she still wanted ice cream or maybe a dip in a cool stream, or a trip to the moon for some cheese if you please. It was early afternoon by now and how she longed to be anywhere but there, where she wouldn't care if people decided to stare at her bare shoulders or the tear in her jeans that she hadn't noticed.

She kept walking while some were talking and others squawking as the ferries were docking and one guy was clocking another, knocking him to the ground.

She wept, then slept.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Just in Time for Death or Love

“Why is it,” asked Thompson, “that we never appreciate our greatest strengths?”

Logan wrinkled his brow in thought. “I suppose it's because they become so much a part of us that we can't imagine life without them.”

They were on their way up, from the 17th to the 63rd floor of an 80-floor building. Thompson gazed ahead at the unmoving, metallic doors that held them safely inside the elevator car. It felt secure, like a place where he belonged. It felt like home, but then, his grandfather had been an elevator operator back in the day. Not that he remembered his grandfather well—not that one, anyway.

His other grandfather, on his mother's side, had been a shoe salesman. But somehow Thompson never felt as comfortable in his shoes as he did in an elevator. It was one of life's great mysteries to him, a puzzle he would likely not solve before death, which he was sure wouldn't come in an elevator—although wouldn't that be ironic?

He smiled at the thought. It didn't go unnoticed by Logan, who raised the brow that had previously been wrinkled.

“Do you have something to say?” asked Logan.

“Ever listen to Aerosmith much?”

“Can't say as I have, why?”

“No reason. I was trying to remember some lyrics to one of their songs.”

“Which song? Maybe I know it.”

“I think it's called 'Death in an Elevator' or something like that.”

Logan stared at Thompson and took a quick glance around their shared metallic box. It felt smaller than it had when they first entered.

“You mean 'Love in an Elevator'?” said Logan.

“Yeah, that's the one.”

Ding! The doors opened. They had arrived at the 63rd floor, just in time for death or love.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

You Might Have Gotten Paid

Phones on bones fall mainly on the stones, or maybe on a strip of sidewalk that isn't being used for anything better. Who can say what logic may have influenced the decision. It probably cost someone a fair chunk of money. Then again, if someone paid, someone else was paid.

Checks and balances. Credits and debits. Everything evens out in the end, they say, and though that may not always be true on an individual level, the universe knows. It holds true. Conservation of mass and energy, or some such.

That's one way to look at Chicago. It's a limiting worldview, to be sure. Very reductionist, a thing that suggests no other possibilities. The best way to think about it is that the sidewalk had potential to be the base of something else. Still does, really.

What might that something else be? This is where imagination comes in handy. If we knew a clever person or three, we could get a few informed opinions on the matter. Serendipitously, we might find such people walking on the very sidewalk we are trying to improve. Walking, talking problem solvers.

Actually, that's not a bad description of humans. Alternatively, you could call them walking, talking problem makers. We make problems, we solve them. Credits and debits, right to the end.

The thing about art is that it forces us to think. Often those thoughts are along the lines of, “I could have done that” or “I can't believe someone got paid to make that.”

Sure, but it's like how the sidewalk has potential until someone does something with it. Of course you could have done that, but you didn't, and that's the difference. Maybe you had a crazy idea in your head. If you'd acted on it, you might have gotten paid.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

There Was No Escape

“There are worse things than this,” said Tyler, ever the optimist, even as they found themselves in what might well have been the one situation where that statement didn't hold true.

“Like what?” shot Sheila, intent on calling him out, holding him accountable for the words coming out of his mouth. He'd been getting away with his melodramatic nonsense for too long, it was time for that to stop.

“I can't think of anything off the top of my head,” he replied, more concerned with the situation at hand—which was quite bad, indeed—than with finding examples that would satisfy her curious fixation on evidence to support every assertion, regardless of any mitigating circumstances, such as being stuck in a position that may not have been the worst imaginable technically speaking but was still neither the time nor place for debate of this nature.

“Of course you can't, because you're full of shit.” She delighted in the error of his ways, of his words, of everything about him, even as her being right meant that there were not, in fact, worse things than this and they were therefore, to put it crudely but accurately, screwed in a big way.

“If we're going to be literal,” he said, “I'm not full of shit. I took care of business a while ago. So while the situation may be dire, at least I don't have to use the facilities. Not that there are any here anyway.”

They both seemed surprised at the scatological direction their conversation had turned. Perhaps in times of extreme stress one's thoughts naturally turn to bodily functions. Still, this was bad. Even she had to concede this might be the worst thing, which would negate her objection to his original assertion.

There was no escape.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Consistent Perspective

You were swimming in soup, more like drowning really. Grasping for an edge to cling to, gasping for air to breathe, hoping for a better outcome. In a word, you were desperate.

Too many thoughts. It's a small head, how can there be so many thoughts whipping around in there? It's bigger on the inside, like a TARDIS.

Come to think of it, you could use a doctor. Life spinning out of control through the universe, again like a TARDIS.

Work on the metaphors, kid. Your words are pretty, but you can't compare everything to one thing.

Well, yeah, that's a weakness. A known bug, as they say in the software business. A fix is in the works, but first we have to isolate the problem. What is the issue's scope? What triggers it? Diagnosis is harder than it looks.

So anyway, you had a soup metaphor. Then there was the TARDIS. And now software. Why not just pick one of those and stick with it?

Sure, that would be the logical solution, but life isn't so simple. It's more like—

No, you don't get to do that anymore. Metaphor abuse is a crime.

Is it, though? Is it really?

It ought to be.

Possibly, but we're talking about what is, not what ought to be.


Not really. If it's not actually a crime, there can be no punishment.

Like that novel by the Russian guy.

Nice metaphor, jackass.

Thanks, I learn from the best.

That smacks of insincerity, but what can you do?

I'll tell you what you can do, kid. Try again tomorrow and don't suck. And if you do suck, don't pull me into the interior monolog of what might be the worst dreck you've ever written.

No promises. Soup would be good. And a consistent perspective.

Monday, February 22, 2016

I Won't Be Late Again

“The vanity of success invites its own failure.”—Lao-Tzu

“Consider where you are at this very moment. Think about it, and hold that thought.”

His lips are upturned, his eyes wide and unfocused. He may have smoked or ingested something earlier, possibly even both.

So yeah, I'm here in a room with this guy and a bunch of other people. If they passed around the good stuff, it never made it to me. But I'm thinking about it, like he said, in case there's a quiz later.

“See yourself there.”

His voice is soft, almost ethereal. He could be a smooth jazz deejay, taking us all on a trip to some inane place filled with grating alto saxophones. He could be taking us straight to hell, but we're not there yet, so I'm seeing myself in this room with him and the others.

“Now imagine yourself floating from that place.”

We paid money for this. It's not much of a show, but people seem to love it. Younger woman to my right is lost in the guy's words, eyes glazed over like fresh donuts. Same with the other man to my left, though his donuts are a few days old.

Okay, we're floating. And maybe there's a point to it all. Or maybe I missed the good stuff when they passed it around earlier. Then the point would be to arrive on time. We're supposed to be learning here, learning important lessons about ourselves.

And if you think about it, showing up late and missing the good stuff isn't the worst way to learn that particular lesson. I mean, I'll be on time next time.

“Floating, floating...”

His voice slips into the clouds he imagines us visiting, or the planets, or whatever. I won't be late again.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Whatever Else Is Bothering Them

“You know how she did her anatomy?” The blonde-haired woman was asking the other two. They'd moved tables again, out of the sun and into earshot. The others shook their heads.

“She had to do animals, not humans, so she dug up her cat that died 10 years ago.”

“No way,” they said.

Blondie was nodding and smiling. “Yeah, she couldn't just touch her own knee or whatever to see what it felt like. She needed an actual animal, so she dug one out of her yard.”

“Did it stink?” asked one.

“Did it still have flesh?” asked the other.

“No,” said Blondie, “it was fully decomposed. Just bones. No flesh, no stink.”

My food arrived. It had flesh and it stank. Presumably it hadn't just been dug out of someone's yard, although maybe that's a thing these days.

“You're lucky you got to do humans,” said one.

“Yeah,” said Blondie. “I can just touch myself.”

Well, that's always an option for all of us. Sometimes it's quite pleasant.

“That's way better than digging a cat out of the ground,” said the other.

“She said I should go to a cemetery and dig up graves,” said Blondie. “Kinda weird, right?”

“Not really,” they said, shaking their heads. Gotta do what you gotta do.

The food wasn't bad. It hadn't decomposed but had been grilled. Nice char marks, lightly salted, kiss of olive oil. Quite pleasant, like touching myself.

Still, I'm not sure I'll be returning to this place. The vibe wasn't my thing. I didn't dig it, the way one digs a cat or a grave. Too many shady spots on the patio for people to escape from the sun or whatever else is bothering them.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Big Is the Word

I've always got big plans. I'm always looking for the big score. Big is the word.

Like this time down on Fifth, a guy wants to know where the library is. Shriveled old fart. I'm thinking he really wants this information, and I've got it. But it'll cost him, right? Because nothing in life is free. Old bastard should know that by now.

“Yeah, I know the place,” I say and he's staring at me with his mouth open like an idiot. We're like maybe three blocks away, but he might as well be on the moon for all he knows. “Twenty bucks.”

“I don't understand,” he says.

No shit. I figured that out when I first laid eyes on him. So he just keeps standing there and it looks like rain might come, which could drive the price even higher. Don't delay, old man, act now!

“Twenty bucks,” I repeat, unflinching. Hell if I'm gonna give ground to this guy.

“How far is that in miles?” he asks. I don't know whether to laugh or just smack him across the face with the back of my hand. Maybe both.

“It ain't miles, man, it's cash.”

I've got one eye on him, one on the clouds above, see which'll break first.

He pats himself down, probably the most action he's had in years. “Dammit,” he says, “I left my wallet at home.”

“I guess you're not finding the library.”

“Doesn't matter now, I don't have my card.”

Well, that's a fine piece of leverage he's laid on me right there. Now I'm the one standing like an idiot, no counter at the ready.

I feel a drop. Time to head inside. I don't come away with cash, but it's the principle, man.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Better Than Any Drug I Know

“Meditation is better than any drug I know.” —Elvis Presley

He was breathing into a bag of stars beyond his reach. Everything out of control, like a dream. It was a dream, in fact, only one that came to life at the very same time. No distinction between waking and sleeping, which after a time became nightmare.

Escape didn't seem to be an option. He'd looked all around, dozens of times, hundreds of times, since as far back as his memory went. That's all he'd ever been doing, in fact. Looking around, seeking escape. No, it simply wasn't possible.

“Are you okay?” She was young, maybe in her thirties, and didn't wear too much lipstick as so many did these days to hide a perceived deficiency.

“I'm fine.” A lie, but one he happily offered just to see her face. She knew the game and would dote upon him despite his protestations. Sometimes she would show more than just her face, which was an added bonus.

But mostly he just slept and woke and couldn't tell the difference. He remembered having loved something once, or maybe it was someone. Another distinction he had trouble making. Things, people.

The bag of stars expanded and contracted repeatedly, his own personal big bang. It was far out there. No, man, it was far in here.

She smiled and brushed back wisps of fine brown hair. “You sure about that?”

Sometimes he could see the stars form into larger shapes, maybe galaxies. She had a mole on her left cheek. It was devastating. She was just out of reach, like the stars or the separation of sleeping from waking, of darkness from light.

“As sure,” he said with what felt like a wink, “as I am about anything.”

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Don't Think About It

“Is that a dolphin?” she asks. Sixtysomething, silver hair, in a wheelchair, golden retriever by her side. Looks like they've been here a while, thinking about things, asking big questions.

I peer out at the bay, glassy water with occasional ripples. A few boats, condos and hotels on the opposite shore. A distinct absence of dolphins.

“Where?” I ask.

“Right there.” She points to a spot not 20 yards from us. A grey, bulbous object rests on the surface at the lip of the shore. I stare hard.

“No, I think that's a plastic bag.”

She considers this. The retriever sits patiently, as though nothing out of the ordinary is happening.

“Oh, maybe it is.” She keeps looking, wheels spinning in search of a jackpot. “Yes, I think you're right. That is a plastic bag. It looked like a dolphin.”

Plastic bag. Dolphin. What's the difference, really, in broad daylight, under a bright blue sky with no clouds anywhere?

“I guess it did.”

“I just worry about them, you know, the dolphins.” She's still staring at the water. I'm nodding my head.

“Have a good one,” I say, but she doesn't hear. She has turned away and started wheeling herself along the walkway toward the north end of the bay, dog by her side.

Oh, the things they will see today.

I continue south, toward the bridge. More water, with their ripples. More boats. Joggers and bicyclists on the path with me. All moving. Starting somewhere, ending somewhere else or the same place.

The woman and her dog fade into memory. A random interaction that leaves a lasting impression. Starting somewhere, ending somewhere else or the same place.

Pretty much describes us all, when you think about it. So don't think about it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Skylines Bring the Sexy

Anyone who says all cities are all the same has never gotten to know one. Each has its own distinct personality, a vibe that differentiates it from all others. A unique fingerprint.

Skylines bring the sexy. Familiar building shapes painted against the sky, immutable until the next inevitable round of development.

Early June. Dusk is descending, hope is rising. The salt air wafts in from behind and surrounds us, enveloping us in its scarcely noticeable mist.

This might happen elsewhere, but not in the exact same way. The scent would be different, the angles of light, the individuals in place. All variables that affect the final equation in unknowable ways.

In the beginning there is only possibility. Then events occur, leading to outcomes. This process repeats itself indefinitely. Well, there is an end, but none of us will ever know it.

Although wouldn't that be something? To witness the world's final act, dusk descending one last time, taking its last bow before fading into nothing. Maybe not fading, maybe more exploding. It's better to explode than to fade away, which is what the song should have said.

That is all an incomprehensibly long way from now, when optimism still abounds. When skylines and hope remain intact. When possibilities spring up like new buildings.

Minerals and attitudes. Shape of things to come and go.

It all sounds like some manifesto gone horribly awry. The ravings of a lunatic who had a point but can't remember what it was. Something about cities, and the plight of a species or a planet, and the sea and the stars and the sky. And the end, always the end.

What the hell, I just work here. Words build sentences that form paragraphs as part of larger stories that will exist for a time and then explode.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

They Played It Well

“What the hell are you even talking about?” His face wrinkled, brows dipping to a point in the middle of his forehead where business got done.

“What do you think I'm talking about?” Her hands on hips, not backing down. Not this time, no sir.

“I honestly haven't a clue.”

And on it went, as it had since the day they met. Seventeen years ago to the day, San Francisco. Some musty joint in the Castro played too much Dylan. He got up to take a piss and came back to find her in his seat. They fought, he won and bought her a drink, then took her to his place. They'd been together ever since.

Not exactly happily ever after, but it suited them. Rare to find someone else who would tolerate the other, and they both knew it from experience. So they did this instead. It became very much their thing.

As it was today. She served a smirk, he returned a sly grin. They stood silent, searching for weaknesses they would surely find.

“Okay,” she said, “let's say I believe you.”

“Sure, let's say it.”

“Hypothetically speaking.”

“Of course.”

Their rallies could last for hours. Stamina was a prerequisite for entering into this relationship. Be ready to battle, be ready to win. Or lose.

It's not whether you win or lose, they say, but how you play the game. And they played it well. Better than just about anyone. They could have charged admission, sold cable rights, retired to a small island in the Pacific, each claiming the same side of it as their own.

But they didn't. Nothing had changed since the Castro days. Musty joints were all they could do. So they did till the day they died.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Not Visible from the Outside

“ virtue is dark and not visible from the outside.” —Ho-shang Kung

There is goodness in the heat and the light of day, although it is limited. And “it” could refer to goodness, heat, light, day, or all of the above. Which of these, in fact, is infinite? None, near as anyone can tell. But then, much is unknown and the world is full of surprises.

What can be seen are a few old houses scattered beneath a stony, barren hill. People, a bus, a sky full of limitless possibilities. The blue overwhelms as everything overwhelms.

In the end, so much is hidden. So much is obscured by shadows or men staring in the wrong direction. Women, too, though they might be looking elsewhere. Not that sex plays a role here, it's just wise to cover all the proverbial bases. Second base, in particular, appears to need attention.

A steady rain might help. Water often solves problems. It is the solution, with life swimming in it, dissolving barren hills bearing buses.

That was too much. It overwhelmed, like something blue. Like water.

But is water really blue? In certain light, it appears that way. But the depths of the ocean are dark and not visible from the outside. Is there virtue in this?

There are even barren hills beneath the ocean surface. Heck, there might be buses. Have you checked?

Everything ends up blue. Life is a I-IV-V progression, experienced mainly in seventh and sometimes ninth chords. Sometimes it swings, other times it moves slowly, like a dirge. In front of that backdrop a melody plays, like men on a ball field in front of a barren hill.

But maybe you only see people and miss their melody, miss their virtue, dark and not visible from the outside.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Out of Coffee

Woke up even earlier than the already obscene hour I normally arise. Part of my condition. Some call it depression, some call it being human, I call it more coffee.

You're still sleeping, as is your wont. Dreaming, probably, of something better than this. We always manage to end up in the most desolate and neglected places. It's a physical thing but also spiritual.

But something comes to fill the void. Best if we choose what that thing is, although often it is beyond our control no matter what we pretend.

Still, we pretend anyway. The illusion of control is what matters. We come to these desolate and neglected places only to then escape them. Or to prove to ourselves that we could escape them if only we wanted to.

Why don't we want to? Why do we prefer to stay here and stare at the void? Maybe we know that wherever we go, the void follows. It's not out there, it's in here.

Sounds like a bunch of nonsense, right? Well, it probably is.

Meanwhile, here's more coffee. Sleeping and dreaming sound better than this. But there's much to be said for being human, out of control, and full of nonsense.

Consider the alternatives. Or, if you value your sanity, don't.

We could drive somewhere. I could wake you up and just go. We'd end up in a place. Of course, we're already in a place. We'd be there either way. One place or another. Like that old Blondie song, only I've gotten the lyrics wrong again.

Words are hard. They're supposed to help us communicate with one another. Occasionally they succeed, but often we say too much or too little. Or the wrong things.

Some call it depression, some call it being human. Oh look, I'm out of coffee.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Prepared to Lose

“What are you prepared to lose?” she asks, like a gunshot, shadows creeping across her face. There is nothing innocent about the question or about her. This is every part of who she is.

“Honestly, I haven't thought about it much,” he replies while mulling the question over in his mind and wishing they were elsewhere.

“Honestly, you should.”

Her vocabulary consists exclusively of accusations. She advances, but never retreats. Well, there was that one time, but she scarcely admits that to herself let alone to anyone else.

She'd been stuck in a strange part of town. The end of the proverbial and literal road, where lights faded and horses emerged. Dirt and sagebrush. Dilapidated barns behind rusted wire.

Not even town, really, just a place out of time. Or a time out of place, it was hard to say which. Either way it had rattled her as few things in life do. That was the first time she'd seriously considered the question that she asked him now.

What had she been prepared to lose? At first, nothing. Then, as it became clear that she would not soon escape the strangeness, everything. And in the end, that's exactly what she lost. Everything.

But she hadn't thought about that in a long time, didn't care to revisit it. Still, it was always in the back of her mind and informed her accusations, which she returned to now.

“What are you prepared to lose?”

He studies her face for clues. She offers only a blank slate, yields nothing. The shadows that creep across it don't help, but even without those, she's impossible to read. She prides herself on this, which he knows, which she also prides herself on.

“I'm prepared to lose you,” he says, closing his eyes.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Bird on the Pipe

I woke up 3 a.m. humming a school fight song from when I was 7 years old. I've forgotten most of the lyrics, but a few remain with me, along with fragmented melodies. Funny how these trivialities linger long beyond their intended usefulness.

What was their intended usefulness, anyway? Perhaps the song was put in my head to one day wake me up 3 a.m. some 40 years later. An alarm clock. A long con, to some unknown effect.

Either way, the joke is clearly on me. Not that I'm laughing, mind you, but then, humor is subjective. One man's hilarity is another man's... uh, thing that isn't funny.

Then there was that bird on the pipe in a Santa Fe parking garage. This is where we first discovered mead. Not literally in the parking garage, but not far from there. Fermented honey. I'd like to thank that genius from millennia ago.

The bird, of course, is long dead by now. Like the genius that invented mead. Like everyone else that came before us, and everyone that follows will be. Which leaves only us. Time is on our side for now, though that won't always be the case.

Existential crisis will wake a guy up 3 a.m. Better to be woken by a half-forgotten school fight song. Crisis tends not to help anything, in my experience. What is its intended usefulness? Well, it'll get you out of bed at some godawful hour so you can start typing words that attempt but necessarily fail to convey the very crisis that woke you.

So we've got a song, a bird, and some existential crisis. Now we just need a priest, a businessman, and a punch line that doesn't suck. I have no clue where to even look for those things. In my dreams?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Circle Is Just a Metaphor

“Death is only one of many ways to lose your life.” —Alvah Simon

Have I told you yet about Bicycle John, the Sisyphean character in my mind who pushes a bicycle tire along railroad tracks? He's an amorphous fellow whose existence depends on pushing that tire along those tracks. Ask him yourself.

“Hey John, why you pushing that tire along those tracks?”

“I dunno, it's what I do.”

“Okay, but why?”

“John ain't even my name, by the way. Used to be something else.”


“Had a different name before.”

“Before what?”

“Before I started pushing this tire along these tracks.”

“Why'd you start?”

“Forgot my name.”

He's circular like that, like the tire he pushes, never tires of pushing. It's like she sells sea shells, only he never tires of tires. Not a tongue twister exactly, but a thing that's fun to say if you find that sort of thing fun to say.

“How'd you end up here?”

“Always been.”

“Just you and the tire and the tracks?”

“The hell, man, how'd you end up here?”

It's a troubling question. How did any of us end up here? Well, it all started some billions of years ago. Physics and chemistry were involved, later biology. Someone invented fire, the wheel. Give a man a wheel and he'll push it until something better comes along. Maybe that's John's problem: nothing better has come along yet.

What if it never does? That's another troubling question. How does he keep pushing that tire along those tracks in the hope of finding something better that doesn't even exist.

It'll keep a guy up nights. Best to keep pushing. This can't last forever, right? A circle is just a metaphor.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

There's Still Much To Learn

Everyone has left and it's time to break down the equipment. Amps get pulled apart, drums stuffed into bags of various sizes, cords wrapped. Bartenders and waitresses are counting the take and splitting tips. Many enjoy a long-awaited smoke, now that the doors are closed for the night and this is no longer a place of business.

We're exhausted but in good spirits. Stupid jokes are cracked, and any regrets about our performance will be tabled for later discussion. There is a time and place for criticism, for honest self-assessment, but this is not it. We are getting things done and basking in as much glory as a dive bar in the suburbs can provide at 2 a.m.

There might have been as many as 200 people here, if you factor in that we played for the better part of five hours. Groups come and go. Some arrive alone and leave together. Others do the opposite.

A sense of uneasy camaraderie pervades the place, although that might be the misplaced romantic in me talking after it should have gone to bed. I don't always read situations correctly, and I'm not getting better at it either. Then again, that's not a skill I try to cultivate.

This also means that I'm frequently surprised by human behavior, which has its advantages. Even when people are boring, they are boring in different ways, which is fascinating. The very fact of their boringness makes them interesting.

When I was 13 years old I went to a small private school in a small mountain town. That's where I first yearned to play guitar, though it wasn't until a few years later that I got up the nerve to take up the instrument. On nights like these, I'm glad I did, though there's still much to learn.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Get Your Mind Together

The coffee is miserable, but you drink it anyway, because you are also miserable and the two of you love company. Hendrix is playing in the background. He wants to know if you're experienced. Like maybe he'll offer you a job or something.

You're in Utah or Colorado. Probably Colorado, because it doesn't seem like Hendrix would be played in Utah. Unless it's Kanab, which hardly counts as Utah. Come to think of it, you might be in Kanab. Or Cortez, which is Colorado.

Like the Neil Young song. It was Neil Young, right? They wouldn't play him in Utah, either.

You could go for a sunset right about now. And a place to sleep. After the drinks, of course.

Hendrix wasn't necessarily stoned. But, and this is the point many people miss, he wasn't necessarily not stoned. Plus it's more of a continuum than a binary thing. Maybe he was halfway there, like Bon Jovi.

Geez, really? You know where they play Bon Jovi? Utah.

It's a bad state to be in. Better to be stoned. Or manic depressive, frustrating mess that it can be.

You try hard not think about Bon Jovi, but the harder you try, the more you think about them. And you remember a night long ago spent in an adult motel in New Jersey, where Bon Jovi is from. Now that was a frustrating mess.

Memories of New Jersey make Utah seem less bad. If that's where you even are. Really, it could be Colorado for all you care. Whatever, they're playing Hendrix, how bad can it be?

You signal the bartender for another. Yeah, the same as before, whatever that was. No drinks, no sunset. And man, do you need that sunset. You just need to get your mind together, like Jimi keeps saying.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Drivel or the Truth

“It is no loss to mankind when one writer decides to call it a day.” —Richard Ford

This could go a couple different ways depending on which way the wind blows or possibly what you ate for breakfast. The pisser about decisions is usually there are more factors involved than we realize or understand. Take breakfast, for example. Was it bacon and eggs? Oatmeal? Vodka and tonic?

Your answer goes a long way toward shaping the day ahead. Bacon and eggs, you go one way; oatmeal, you go the other. Vodka and tonic, you're not even in the conversation. You're back in bed having strange dreams that may one day come true. Then again, you've been having those dreams all your life, which is why you have vodka and tonic for breakfast.

That implies a causality that may or may not exist. It's easy to blame breakfast choices on dreams, but maybe that's backwards. Not so much chicken vs egg as vodka vs dreams.

The vodka and dreams lead in one direction, away from where the bacon and eggs or oatmeal lead. And it's not like you're locked into those choices permanently once you make them. Sure, some are more challenging to escape after you build up momentum and head down that particular path, but there are peripheral avenues that connect one to the other.

You can always go a different direction. It requires conscious decision, perhaps a measuring of the wind, and probably fewer vodka and tonics.

Lines from a song I wrote many years ago:

Every time you wake
A new chance to define
Every chance you take
Thanks, I'm doing fine

On the one hand, it's drivel. On the other, it contains some truth. Then the question becomes, which came first, the drivel or the truth?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Who They Were

If I thought hard enough, I could remember the events of yesterday. They still hung over me, like some inescapable shadow that I was aware of but couldn't quite see.

There had been three of us, that much I knew for sure. The rest was swimming around in the deep end of my mind, a place without lifeguards or any other supervision. Getting there was difficult in the best of conditions, which these were not.

An older woman and younger man emerged from the shadows, or the pool depending on which metaphor you prefer. When I say older, I mean she was in her thirties. It's a relative thing, being that he was in his twenties.

They could have been friends, lovers, brother and sister, all of the above. I can't find their relationship in my distorted memory banks. I only see them standing next to a car in the rain. It's a Mercedes wagon, old and beaten like some washed-up backwoods boxer. Hard to tell the color in the dark, not that it matters much.

Who knows why they were there. That's the thing about fate. It doesn't give a shit. Like the color of a beater car in the rain. It's just a thing that is, dig?

Maybe they had been happy once. Or maybe they were always this miserable. Maybe not miserable, but at least lost. Searching for something. Or they'd called the search off. Like the operation had gone from rescue to recovery. Body bags and what not.

Trouble is, details still escaped me. My vision of events was as blurry as the vision of that boxer I was telling you about earlier. You remember, the Mercedes wagon? The one in the rain?

I'm pretty sure that part happened. I just wish I knew who they were.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Way Gravity Works

They fall because that's the way gravity works, pushing everything downward in a slow dance toward an inevitable death. The laws of physics are nobody's fault. There is no blame to assign, although some may shake their fists and yell, “Damn you, universe!” as they fall.

Here's a question worth considering: When is the last time you heard a tree complain? Think about it.

“Geez, my roots ache and my leaves are getting thin. I've been in this ground too long. And what the hell is with all these squirrels? Go shit on someone else for a change.”

Maybe that happens all the time and we just don't know. Nobody around here speaks tree.

If they can talk, hopefully their conversations are less mundane, less human. God forbid they should veer into political discourse, or whatever passes for such nowadays.

Sometimes a situation calls for gravity. Other times, levity is needed. The former is easier to achieve, while the latter requires a certain suspension of disbelief in physics. Actually, it requires a suspension of physics itself.

That's the assumption, anyway. Do you know anyone who has levitated? Really levitated? Like, not just gotten high in a different sense and started talking to trees?

A man is drinking on the bus. Someone else is smoking weed. They are levitating without defying the laws of physics.

“Are you drinking, sir?” asks the driver, pulling over to let him out if so.

“No,” he replies, then changes it to yes and apologizes, promising it won't happen again.

She keeps driving. The scent of weed wafts through the air.

“Hey,” asks the formerly drinking man, “is that you with the herb?”

No, it is not. His face falls like ashes from a joint, because that's the way gravity works.

Friday, February 5, 2016

She Still Didn't Believe

“So John, what's Dalton's strategy?” Meg dropped it casually, like a sack of potatoes onto the floor. Like she didn't care what the answer was, as long as there was one.

“He actually thinks strategy is a waste of time.”

“I don't believe it.”

“Don't believe me, or don't believe Dalton?”

She folded her arms in front of her and started tapping the floor with her left foot. “Yeah,” she said.

John chuckled the sort of chuckle that you have to be near to notice, more a quick expulsion of air from the nose than anything resembling laughter. They were more than near enough for her to notice.

Her plan had been to learn Dalton's strategy and then prepare a counterattack. But if he had no strategy—and she still wasn't convinced of that—her plan would have to change. The prospect didn't thrill her, but then, she'd been at this a long time.

Adapt or die. She wasn't ready to die.

“Let's say I believe you,” she said.

“Hypothetically speaking?”

“Right, let's just throw that out there for grits and shins.” She stopped tapping the floor. “How the hell does Dalton expect to succeed without a strategy?”

“Good question. The truth is, he doesn't expect anything. He just does it.”

“And what? Hopes for the best?”

“Pretty much.”

“Tough way to go through life.”

“It works for him. Dalton usually gets the best, so there's not much incentive for him to change.”

“If it ain't broke...”

He nodded. She scanned the room. There was nothing here for her eyes to focus on, just drab eggshell white walls and a small window in the corner. It was confining, like a cliché. Like her life.

She still didn't believe.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Falling into the River

“He tried to beat me a couple times.”

They stood at the edge of a river that had once known greatness, been the site of a famous battle in some ancient war. Everyone who knew why the two sides had fought was long dead, with only stories passed down by descendants, distorted by time.

“It's because I'm not from around here. I'm fresh fish.”

Fresh fish. It was a funny expression that he'd picked up somewhere along the way. He looked down at the flowing water and imagined there might be fresh fish in it, swimming without worry until that very moment when they stopped, by force of man or nature.

“What'd you do, Leo?”

Leo smiled. It had been a long time since anyone called him by that name. The man who had tried to beat him did it. That had ended badly.

“Funny you should ask.”

Leo was watching the other man, who he'd just met in town—name of Simon—but kept a sharp eye on the river behind him. The current fascinated Leo, shifting as it did in ways that he could neither predict nor understand. If you were the kind of person who liked metaphors for life, this wasn't a terrible one.

Simon looked up, maybe at a tree or a bird. There was a stillness about this place. A man could die here and no one would ever know. It was a funny thought to have just now, but thoughts are like a river current, unpredictable and incomprehensible. They just happen. Everything just happens.

“I pushed back.”

Leo looked hard at Simon, whose upper lip had started to tremble. There was fear in his eyes, which Leo liked. He could imagine one or both of them falling into the river from here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Boy, Did She Have Time to Think

She recognized the place on arrival, or perhaps earlier. They had driven through the desert in a car with no name, it felt good to get out of the sun.

America, she thought and imagined Ventura Highway, far away from here.

“Do you want to go inside?” he asked.

Her eyes narrowed. “What do you think?”

He kicked at a pebble in the grass, then looked up at snow-capped mountains in the distance. “I try not to if possible,” he replied, “but I reckon you'd just as soon stay out here.”

She took careful steps away from the car and pondered her options. She could run, but where? She looked back at him and thought maybe he wasn't so bad. In the right light, he almost looked like Jeff Bridges. Or was it Beau?

This was not the right light anyway, and there was still nowhere to run. Here was as good as any place. Just rocks and things.

“That's a fine reckoning,” she said.

He nodded and lit a cigarette, adjusted his yellow ballcap.

Yellow, she thought, the color of cowards. She wouldn't dare say that to his face, even if it did look like a friendly Bridges brother, but she was free to think it. She could think anything, so long as she kept her mouth shut.

Staying quiet had other advantages as well. If she played at compliance, he might let down his guard. Even for just a moment, if she could solve a few logistical problems and possibly find an ally or three, she might be able to run while he's puffing a cigarette in some other town on some other road.

The odds were long, she knew that. But she had time to think. Boy, did she have time to think.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Everything Was Fuzzy

I was walking on water. More accurately, I was walking on a path next to the water. The tide came in and then I was walking in water.

The path disappeared and I was swimming. More accurately, I was flailing in an attempt to swim. I was flailing and failing.

By the time I woke up everything was fuzzy. Park benches were all in the wrong places. I couldn't tell the difference between a thing and its reflection.

“You look confused.” A woman's voice, from behind me.

“Seems reasonable, that's about how I feel.”

I turned to face her and she was gone. I could see shoe prints where she had been, and there were people jogging on the sidewalk toward the hotel with red Spanish tiles and palm trees out front. There was evidence of her, but no her.

Still, the voice had been clear. Many things confused me, but she did not. Except for her escape, of course, which I was at a loss to explain.

The sun would soon arrive, adding heat and light to the mixture. The rest of the world would be as clear as her voice had been, as the shoe prints still were.

Maybe. Clarity is a fantasy I cling to despite all evidence to the contrary. It's the lie I tell myself to keep going when I otherwise would give up and sink.

Clarity keeps me flailing. I know I can't really walk on water, but if I keep believing that maybe I can learn how to do so or at least give the illusion of doing so, it's worth the effort.

That doesn't keep me from wondering where she went. What had I been doing to look confused? I'd like to ask her, but I'm not sure she's even real.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hordes of Humans

They came from all across the land to descend on this spot. Hordes of humans, desperate for some sort of communion with a greatness that had long eluded them.

Some of them had never seen trees or sky, locked up as they always were in cages. On the bright side, they were paid well for their efforts. This allowed them to buy cars, houses, and such.

Cars offered a means of escape, while houses were another type of cage. Sadly this meant that the cars often transported them from one cage to another. “Escape” came to be an ironic concept, the word spoken in a silly tone, accompanied by obligatory eye roll.

Everyone knew the truth, that it didn't exist as they had once hoped. To believe otherwise was pure folly, a dusty road to nowhere, with only painful disappointment along the way.

And yet some clung to their arcane belief, their desperate hope. They comforted themselves with lies. Others scoffed, of course, because they knew that there were only cages. And they regarded with contempt those who had hope, speaking to them in silly tones, with obligatory eye rolls.

For a time it seemed that the contemptuous folks were right. They had all the things, while those who had only hope wandered aimlessly with stupid smiles. Sometimes they hummed to themselves, as if to convey a false sense of happiness.

Somewhere along the line a funny thing happened. That false sense of happiness turned true. Those who only had hope wandered, but it was no longer aimless, nor were their smiles stupid.

They had not attempted to escape, had been content all along. And the great irony of it all is that the irony of their transformation was lost on those who had long ago lost themselves to irony.