morphanthropy

low clouds

Took the after­noon off. Went for mas­sage. Had a sit down lunch. Found some prezzies for Wendy. Got back to the house around two and plopped on the couch. Just sat there lis­ten­ing to the silence of the house and blankly star­ing out the big front window.

After awhile I noticed the snow on the Korean fir. The white look of cold. How, from where I was sit­ting, it blended in with the snow on the roof of the house across the street.

Hang on a minute.…

I sat up. Looked at the house. Its rust red trim and sub­dued beige sid­ing were entirely new to me. Even the shape of it was unfa­mil­iar. Like I’d never seen it before.

This couldn’t be.

I went to the win­dow for a bet­ter look. No deny­ing it. I didn’t know this house.

Strange.

I put on boots. Tromped to the head of the walk. Looked up and down the street. Most of the houses I rec­og­nized. But there was a hand­ful I didn’t.

Curi­ous.

I grabbed my coat and went wan­der­ing the streets of my old neigh­bor­hood. It wasn’t clear to me what I was look­ing for. All I knew was it had some­thing to do with houses.

So I walked. Block after block. Look­ing at houses.

Aside from the o-bomb obvi­ous (the newer houses are larger, the older houses look dated), I slowly came to real­ize that I didn’t know the neigh­bor­hood quite so well as once upon a time. There were only a few houses (or lots), rel­a­tive to the whole, I could asso­ciate names to. The num­ber of houses still stand­ing from when I was a boy that I had actu­ally stepped feet inside (let alone played in/watched tv in/ate in/went to the bath­room in/slept in) was small. It occurred to me that I couldn’t think of any­one from back in the day that still lived in the neigh­bor­hood. That Liz and I might well be the sole beings around here who cur­rently live in the house we grew up in

On I wan­dered, absorbed in a more neb­u­lous enter­prise of pon­der­ing peo­ple. Their com­ing and going. How fam­i­lies don’t stay as long in one place as maybe they did when I was grow­ing up. The idea of home hav­ing less to do with the house you grew up in than the city you’re from. How cul­ture tran­si­tions over time and the short-term his­tory of a given neigh­bor­hood is splin­tered, stored in the rarely accessed mem­o­ries of for­mer res­i­dents spread now far and wide, dis­tracted by mak­ing their con­tem­po­rary lives happen.

Such thoughts as make the head spin.

There came a surge of cars. I had arrived at the school. The bus­tle of par­ents pick­ing up kids. Behind them a wide back­drop of for­est climb­ing into low clouds. Know­ing there was a hill up there but not see­ing it.

To avoid the traf­fic I ducked up the next street. A street I hadn’t been on in many years. Almost imme­di­ately I was hit by the mem­ory of walk­ing with Jimmy Salter to his house one day after school. The house was on the cor­ner at the end of the block. This one day some­thing unusual had hap­pened. There were police cars and ambu­lances, parked hel­ter skel­ter. A carousel of red and blue lights. We could see, as we got closer, that the hub­bub was at Jimmy’s house. He began to run. I ran behind him. He dashed under the police tape. An offi­cer caught him up. Jimmy screamed for his younger sis­ter. The offi­cer put Jimmy down and kneeled to talk to him. Jimmy looked very afraid. The offi­cer stood up, held his hand, walked him between police cars to where a group of offi­cers hud­dled. I stood huff­ing at the police tape. Not know­ing I would never see Jimmy again.

It came out later that Mrs. Salter stabbed her hus­band to death, then tried to kill her­self in the garage with car­bon monox­ide. She was an alco­holic. I remem­ber her always hav­ing a glass of some­thing with ice and smok­ing in their dark liv­ing room. Spec­u­la­tion had it that Mr. Salter was hav­ing an affair. But who knew for sure.

The whole­ness of time.

We called the house Mur­der House after that. It sat empty for years. Now it is gone. This after­noon I watched a con­crete truck drive away from the site, leav­ing behind a fresh foun­da­tion. It looked like the new house will be quite large.

When I got back to the house again it was after 4. It had started to rain and was already turn­ing dark.

I turned on some lights. Sat at my desk in the den. Absently read the notes on the cur­rent page of foolscap:

Omen­cla­ture. A Wendy­ism for the lan­guage of signs.

Sala­man­ders. How their num­bers may be staggering.

Bridg­man­ite — name for one of most abun­dant min­er­als ‘in’ Earth, only recently seen by human eyes and felt by human hands.

Fer­gu­son, Mis­ery. Again.

Lima, Peru. Another try at going for­ward together? Or another go at strik­ing bar­gains with the mother irony of lost causes?

I had a pen in hand. Was search­ing for a word to describe either the endeav­or­ing con­stancy of change in human affairs or that thing that hap­pens to peo­ple when they per­pe­trate acts they’d never think them­selves capable…when I heard my phone ringing.

Knock­ing me from my lofty perch. Pulling me from the gauze of per­son­ally man­u­fac­tured clouds.

I found the phone on the table by the couch. Work. I answered.

Laura call­ing to inform me that the truck was at the yard.

I was look­ing at the house across the street. (With bright Christ­mas lights on its eaves it didn’t look so unfamiliar.)

Laura asked if I was still there.

I said yes.

She asked if I’d heard her.

I said yes and asked if there was any­thing wrong with the truck.

She said no.

I asked why Daz hadn’t taken it.

She hes­i­tated.

I noticed that the snow on the Korean fir, lit by street­lamp light, appeared to be gone. Jimmy Salter ran across my mind. I thought about the hill behind the school. Where we used to muck around in the trees with all our friends. I won­dered if any­thing hap­pened to Jimmy’s sis­ter that day. It struck me she’d be about Liz’s age now. And Jimmy would still be mine. I thought about how old we were when Mrs. Salter turned their house into Mur­der House. What it was that pushed her over the ledge. Where Jimmy is these days. What he remem­bers of that day. Of the bet­ter days before. All the while a word gain­ing pur­chase in the val­ley of my tongue.

Laura say­ing my name.

Yes?”

Did you hear me?”

No. Sorry. Some­thing on my mind. Say that again?”

He quit.”

Who?”

Daz.”

Oh. Right.”

And then it was born. The word.

Mor­phan­thropy. Mor­phan­thropy? Morphanthropy.

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lines from a playlist

communion

1. Another moth­er­fucker bumped into me on the street again. [Big­ott — Walk­ing Around]

2. Like kudzu creep­ing up a state tree dis­creetly. [Parkay Courts — Uncast Shadow of a South­ern Myth]

3. I don’t know what I’m think­ing. Blind faith, never blink­ing. [Ulti­mate Paint­ing — Ulti­mate Painting]

4. I’ll be back with you again in the world. [Spi­der bags — Back with You Again in the World]

5. Every­thing is on my mind. Streamin’ in. All the time. I don’t know where it’s com­ing from. [David Kil­gour — Comin’ on]

6. I been on repeat since yes­ter­day. [Ryan Adams — Trouble]

7. From Phoenix, Ari­zona all the way to Tacoma; Philadel­phia, Atlanta, LA. [Steve Miller Band — Rock’n Me]

8. In the hub­bub where the piti­ful con­gre­gate. [Tweedy — Sum­mer Noon]

9. I’m talk­ing to myself as if I was some­one else. I’m not lis­ten­ing. You know I never do. [Robyn Hitch­cock — San Fran­cisco Patrol]

10. You’ve expressed explic­itly your con­tempt for mat­ri­mony. You’ve stu­dent loans to pay and will not risk the alimony. [Alv­vays — Archie, Marry Me]

11. At least now that the one thing that is good about me has begun to express itself in mali­cious ways. [Of Mon­tréal — Tri­umph of Disintegration]

12. Do you wanna get under­stood? [Spoon — Do You]

13. We sigh and shiver under mis­er­able stars. [Matthew Ryan — Boxers]

14. Aver­age Amer­ica. That’s just the way it is. Los­ing her inter­est. [Delta Spirit — Push it]

15. I see the whites of their eyes through the cracks in my fence. [Ages and Ages — No Pressure]

16. I am a walk­ing tower of silence. [Tele­man — In Your Fur]

17. Would you know a good thing if it crawled up your ass. [Gold­berg Sis­ters — Would You Know]

18. Can’t stop look­ing and you can’t stop tak­ing it in. [Archive — Sane]

19. I could look in your face for a thou­sand years. [Sparkle­horse — Shade and Honey]

20. I had a chain and a bicy­cle. And I rode all the way in to town. With only an ancient pho­to­graph I kept just to carry around. [Phos­pho­res­cent — Last of the Hand-me-downs]

21. What I wouldn’t give to change the weather around you. [Maria McKee — This Per­fect Dress]

22. You’re irre­sistible when you get mad. [Wilco — At Least that’s What You Said]

23. The first draft’s in ashes and smeared on our faces. [Bill Calla­han — Javelin Unlanding]

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meta calls

meta calls

Wak­ing this morn­ing with­out my Wendy. Proof pos­i­tive whisk­ing her off to air­port yes­ter­day weren’t no dream.

Her father fell off lad­der while putting up Christ­mas lights. Broke a hip.

The call came on Sun­day. Early evening. We’d all just sat down to take-out Chinese.

Buz­zkill to what had thereto­fore been a good day.

Took dad to Bird­man mat­inée. We both stayed awake. In the car after I asked if he’d read Ray­mond Carver.

No,” he said. “Only Ray­mond I ever read was Chan­dler. Back in the day. But Carver rings a bell somehow.”

He mmmm’d to him­self, tap­ping lower lip with fin­ger, trac­ing through mazes of memory.

Must have been your mother,” he said even­tu­ally. “She was the reader.”

I pressed him on the Chan­dler bit. He smiled.

Long time ago, that.”

The remain­der of our drive to the house dad filled me in on his brash col­lege days. Mid– to late-50’s. Time of the Beats. Smok­ing pipes and pon­tif­i­cat­ing wildly. Lis­ten­ing to jazz. Grand stuff. Dad didn’t go for the words though. He pre­ferred crime fic­tion. Which he con­fessed to read­ing because the “girl at the library” sug­gested it.

Ellen, that girl at the library, would become his first wife.

He fell into a reverie at her name. It’s no secret she was the one and only who got away.

I wor­ried that he might slip into a mood. But his next words, as we pulled up to the house, were, “I think what I like about my Dot is she reminds me who I was when I was with Ellen.”

Ever full of sur­prises. His smil­ing face say­ing so much. Young love in old age.

Walk­ing up to the house we could see the girls, Wendy and Liz, danc­ing up a storm in the liv­in­groom. Hair and arms all over the place. The Pix­ies cranked. A fine pair.

I turned down the vol­ume so dad could revel in the atten­tion the girls wanted to give him. Then searched the shelves for any­thing by Carver. Found Where I’m Call­ing From. I handed it to dad and went off to make him some tea.

He came in the kitchen shortly there­after, book in hand.

I remem­ber now.”

He sat at the table. I brought him his tea.

I was on a dig up north. Got back to the motel late. There was a slip of paper under the door. I saw a phone num­ber then read the words. ‘Your wife,’ it said. ‘Your wife asked to be called directly.’ Directly.”

He was shak­ing his head.

She said such things, your mother.”

He smiled.

She was half across the coun­try some­where. I called. She was pick­led and dis­con­so­late. Mum­bling some­thing about some­one dying. I didn’t know who this Carver was. Or why she should be so upset about it.”

He held the book up.

She bought a copy of this when it was pub­lished. It’s the title that jogged the mem­ory. I gather she’d been car­ry­ing it around for weeks and weeks. Unable to find the time to get into in. Then, on the day she called, she turned on the radio and laid down to read. Within a mat­ter of min­utes the radio reported Mr. Carver had died.”

He put the book down.

She got it in her head that, by open­ing his book, she’d killed him.”

Dad shook his head.

Your mother’s a funny one. I’ll give her that.”

Half across the country.

Where my Wendy is now. Tend­ing to her father and his bro­ken hip.

About time I called.

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entering eidos after dinner one night

e

From the foolscap:

Here again now at last. Bravely.

The inher­ent arro­gance of extravagance.

Cave paint­ings.

Epis­te­mol­ogy. The ology of knowl­edge and knowing.

Ham­mer­ing an anvil for a decent descrip­tion of how goes the world.

Ema­p­a­thy: a Wendy­ism for feel­ing like you get another’s lack of interest.

Yes, okay, right, of course, good.

Ecstasy, and another chem­i­cal state of mind known as euphoria.

This, while the world is happening.

A long­stand­ing cou­ple who endure a ran­corous mar­riage. They call it ‘their dis­as­ter’ and each secretly rel­ishes that things aren’t sim­ple between them.

Olivine. A green rock that absorbs CO2.

Ein­stein would be 135 were he alive today.

The brief detec­tive. Who, demoted to desk duty, never leaves his desk except to see to the cof­fee and to go to the wash­room. He answers the precinct phone, deals with walk-ins. His name is Larry.

Expla­na­tions one can live without.

Illu­mi­na­tions and the fake believe.

There is sweet Cyn­thia. On her first year of col­lege and already among the most fre­quently requested escorts on an online boudoir cater­ing to wealthy johns who’d pre­fer their iden­ti­ties remain anony­mous, of course, and their credit card trans­ac­tions be listable as nec­es­sary busi­ness expenses. Mean­ing Cyn­thia col­lects her tuition (and a fair bit more) in the form of con­sul­tancy fees (for her exper­tise in admin­is­tra­tive assistance).

Explo­sions.

Abseil­ing spiders.

What about Rod and Tori, the husband-wife real estate agents, spe­cial­iz­ing in time shares and, out­side of work, or rather as an exten­sion of work, bed­ding as many clients as pos­si­ble in the exe­cu­tion of the game they play with one another in order to keep their mar­riage exciting.

Kinder-Morgan faces.

Eidos, as in the Greek root essen­tial to eidolon and eidetic, but pre­sum­ably not eider ducks (or their col­lected downs).

That actor who once played a sup­port­ing role in a long-running TV drama dur­ing the aughts, and is now a famously unknown fool in numer­ous commercials.

Epi­demi­ol­ogy.

Moun­tains are nice, but when feet stuck in mire being atop one is prob­a­bly not much on mind.

The encroach­ing nor­mal­iza­tion of pretty much everything.

That this cul­ture deems it weak to have doubts. Thus the rise in fuck-if-I-care atti­tude, com­monly mis­taken for confidence?

Egal­i­tar­i­ans. Breath­ing among us.

Unqual­i­fied suc­cesses.
Peo­ple behind scenes.
Inter­lop­ers & mis­cre­ants.
A child insist­ing spi­ders have noses.

Eons. The time it takes. To. Get. Things. (Done.)

The Count­ess whose dri­ver, Dave, scoots her about in his beat-up conifer-green minivan.

Exactly as it should be.

Antan­ta­g­o­nism. Wendy’s won­der of antag­o­nism in the South­ern Hemisphere.

Eudora Welty (105). Ernest (115). e.e. (120).

The physics of consistency.

Seem­ingly ran­dom thoughts and other ephemera that pass for daily amuse­ment.
Count­ing steps.
Recall­ing the botan­i­cal name of plants seen in pass­ing.
The license plate game: 005, a white Mazda hatch­back; 006, a bur­gundy Eurovan; 007, an aqua­ma­rine K car (in remark­ably good shape); 008, a matte black Cadil­lac Escalade.

Den­ton, TX.

Elec­tions and cast­ing bal­lots. To the wind?

Giv­ing peo­ple what they want, and mak­ing them pay for it.

Euony­mus ala­tus. Burn­ing bush. (Not the burn­ing bush though.)

The Global Seed Vault on Sval­bard, a Nor­we­gian island.

Emery, the old guy in the senior’s home who pisses every­where in his apart­ment but the toilet.

How I love to be called babe by Wendy.

Eschscholzia cal­i­for­nica. An orange poppy.

The very idea of cre­at­ing a god.

Envi­sion­ing a world out­side your own.

The Phi­lae lan­der land­ing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (Apolo­gies for the inconvenience.)

Eide­lon. Genus of megabats.

Mar­joree Plithers, patron of the Arts, and her stroppy son Zachary, 14, who’d rather be any­where else than attend­ing an opera or a bal­let with his mother.

Earth. The planet and the stuff beneath our feet.

The daft lead­ing the indifferent.

Ero­sion of control.

Sow­ing what you know.

Errors in communication.

Fresh grass shim­mer­ing in morn­ing sun.

End­ing the game.

The whole point here again now at last being no. Or was it yes?

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gratitude

peeling bark

Right week of it. Get­ting sorted, set­tling in etc. The transition’s been pretty smooth so far. Still hold­ing onto some mixed emo­tions about mov­ing back into the house I grew up in, gen­er­ally, and more specif­i­cally sleep­ing in mom’s bed­room (and using ‘her’ loo). But we’re mak­ing progress.

Life, Wendy points out, is a set of stairs. You go up, you go down. For­ward, back­ward. Whichever direc­tion head­ing toward where you want going. Even if you trip, lose your foot­ing, fall.

My delight­ful dou­b­leyou. Who’s gone off for her first run through the neigh­bor­hood. Leav­ing me to my own devices. Here in the den on the main­floor. Blast­ing Archive (in this case You All Look the Same to Me). As I’ve been doing all week.

See now, the thing is, well, let me put it this way.…

Last week. Clos­ing door to apart­ment for last time. Along comes Tris­tan. Drip­ping from the rain. Got up in great Hudson’s Bay coat, wool cap with earflaps, lime green fleece pants, and Stan Smiths fresh out of the box.

Impec­ca­bly magnificent.

We chat­ter in the hall­way til a light goes on in his mind. “This is it, ain’t it?”

I nod.

Well, shit. Let’s get a drink in you.”

He’s stoked. Opens his door. Ush­ers me in. Pops into kitchen. Nabs us a cou­ple tall­boys from the fridge (Harp, strangely, not PBR).

Head on in,” he says. “Just gotta throw a whiz.”

This is the first time I’ve actu­ally been inside his apart­ment and am sur­prised to see it’s bright neat clean, not the mess I imag­ined. One end of the main­room is devoted to his com­put­ers. Three large flatscreen mon­i­tors upon an ergonomic desk, cur­rently set at stand­ing height. A leather office chair draped by a colour­ful Mex­i­can blan­ket. Mounted on the wall a white board show­cas­ing a word cloud ren­dered by an archi­tec­turally pre­cise hand—at a glance, the bold­est words SUASION and MIMESIS. A book­shelf filled with cod­ing man­u­als and milk crates of com­puter gear. All of it sug­gest­ing a well-organized, metic­u­lous soul.

The remain­der of the room is fur­nished with stuff that was pre­vi­ously mine. Short couch, two sit­ting chairs, cof­fee table, another book­shelf, the Salinger books. Splayed on the cof­fee table, Nine Sto­ries. I pick it up. Read:

He appar­ently was unaware that he had a lone inter­ested observer.

Where­upon Tris­tan materializes.

Good stuff, that,” he says.

We clink cans. He’s changed into jeans and a plain sweater. This may be the nor­malest attire I’ve seen him wear. And he has noth­ing but hair on his head.

Think­ing, if you’re up for it, we should head out for one. Send you off proper-like.”

We fin­ish our beers and make for the local. It’s still rain­ing, but not enough to thwart pre-Halloween firecrackers.

He tells me he’s up for trad­ing his “free and easy” (life) for some­thing more tra­di­tional. Like a desk job. “Nine to five in an office, type thing.”

Shortly into our first pint he reveals he’s met a gal online. That they’re at a point of mak­ing plunge into the non-virtual. We cheers to that. Con­ver­sa­tion flows.

He brings up us being neigh­bors. Says it seems like only a cou­ple months but can’t recall how long it’s been. I say it’s 13 months. He’s want­ing to get at some­thing. “Funny how things works some­times,” he says. “Hunh?” Takes sip. “Far as I rec’llect it is, you and Wendy moved in on the same day. Right?” A pon­der­ous space. “And now you’re on about mov­ing out. At the same time. That is. Again, like. Could lead a guy to wonder.…”

I finally clue in that he doesn’t know about Wendy and me. Which is a lark, given that we haven’t hid­den any­thing. I set him straight, order up another round, go to washroom.

Back at the table Tris­tan tells me some chick across the room’s eye­ing me. He gives me her loca­tion. I steal a glance. Sure enough the woman in ques­tion shoots her gaze away. She doesn’t look famil­iar. Not straight off. Tris­tan says she’s def­i­nitely focused on me. I look again.

Takes a moment to sink in. Beth. Or could be.

Beg­gars the mind.

Our eyes meet for a sec­ond. But noth­ing transmits.

She shares words with the guy she’s sit­ting with. He pre­tends to look at some­thing near me and Tris­tan. Can only imag­ine what she’s telling him. That’s the guy I fucked around on. We were about to go and move in together and idiot there went and walked in on me with another man.…

They left shortly there­after. Tris­tan and I stuck around for one more. Wish­ing each other exquis­ite days and exchang­ing phone numbers.

I caught a cab to the house. Told Wendy about maybe see­ing Beth. She asked how I felt.

Grate­ful,” I said.

Bring­ing me at last to Archive. Being the band I played con­tin­u­ously after the whole Beth thing went down.

How bark peels.

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swiftly current

4 effs

Drop­ping off boxes at house. Back into drive behind garage. Get out. In plas­tic tray by open gate see cache of dis­pos­able razors, caked in pri­mary array of oils and acrylics. Sure sign Liz is up to her old tricks.

Grab box. Up pavers by garage. See the door is wide open. Lights on. Radio blar­ing Donovan’s ‘Sea­son of the Witch’. Pop head in. Floor blan­keted in old linens—recognize a cou­ple from child­hood beds. Four medium-sized can­vases on easels. All fac­ing me as I enter. Two blank, two in early stages of streaked layering.

No Liz.

Head into house. Drop box on chair in kitchen. Call out for Liz.

No answer.

Haul in rest of boxes. Stack them by stairs in front hall. Wan­der around house look­ing for Liz.

No go.

Back to garage. Turn off radio. Call Liz. The jin­gle of her phone on workbench.

What to do?

Hang out in back yard for a bit. Things in messy state. Con­sider doing quick blast of head­ing back spent peren­ni­als but aim­ing to meet dad in less than an hour. To take him to the mall for socks.

And maybe a tie or two.”

Just kinda kick­ing heels and stroking chin when notice the hinoki trees. Grace­fully lean­ing away from each other. Tall enough now for their sweet red bark to show below the hem of their skirts. But wait a minute. There’s just the two of them. Should be three.

Closer inspec­tion.

Yep. Just the two. And no evi­dence of a third. No stump, not even a space where it once stood.

Bit of a quandary this. Remem­ber plant­ing them, 25+ years ago. All three. Liz com­ing up with names for two of them. Thebes and Fergy—shortened deriva­tions of our names spelled back­wards. Made up on the spot.

And the third was to be named once we had a younger sibling.

Who never showed up. What with one thing and another and then mom and dad going sep­a­rate ways.

This being the stuff I’m pon­der­ing when Liz comes in the back gate coated in mud and tot­ing a bas­ket full of leaves.

I ask her about the third hinoki. She doesn’t remem­ber. I ask her about the leaves. She wants to soak them, make a leachate for painting.

At the mall I park in stall fac­ing set of exit doors marked with let­ter F. Dad’s been regal­ing me with the lat­est on his main squeeze Dot, pet name for Dorothy, a 70-some new­comer to the village.

Hence the need for socks (with­out holes). And the ties.

Parked is when he decides to tell me he’s spo­ken with mom re: the house. Their com­pact, way back when, was sim­ple: dad agreed to look the other way so long as mom paid all the bills.

A silence.

Dad’s pre­ferred method of bring­ing up poten­tially neg­a­tive news is to give a few details and hope you pick up on the point. Being here that the bills were now Liz’s and my responsibility.

Dad seems to be sweat­ing it a bit.

I laugh and say it goes with­out saying.

Includ­ing the prop­erty tax?”

I hadn’t thought of that. But save face by say­ing of course.

Peo­ple are stream­ing out the F doors, bear­ing evi­dence of hav­ing just watched a movie (pop­corn bags, large drinks, candy pack­ets, shielded eyes).

I ask if dad’s ready to get his socks. And ties. He wants to go to a movie instead.

Don’t remem­ber what we saw (fell asleep almost as soon as we sat down), but dad wants to go again next Sunday.

I for­got to ask him about the third hinoki.

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zamber green, airstreams, music obsession

beacon

Bar at the boat club. Drinks with Daz and Amber. Her last day. Daz beside him­self. Amber euphoric. Raised glasses.

She’s head­ing off to pick grapes and apples. Her aunt’s got a hobby orchard. And an old sil­ver bul­let Airstream for her to stay in as long as she likes.

Daz drool­ing how cool it’d be. Stay­ing in Airstream. Amber say­ing it ain’t all that. Miles away from any­where. No heat. Iffy toi­let. Water and a fridge, but noth­ing to cook on that works. Dark cold nights. Daz unde­terred. Won’t come down from his cloud. He’s slid­ing through pic­tures of Airstreams on his phone. Amber smirks and shakes her head. “Such a city boy,” she says, eye­ing his phone. “You wouldn’t last a day.” Daz don’t get it. “There’s no wifi.”

Nicely done.

I head out­side. Wan­der up the pier to call Wendy. Let her know the state of things. Want her to come on out. She’s had tir­ing day. Tell her I’ll come home. Make fur­ther inroads on tak­ing apart our apart­ments. She says to stay out. I fuss. She says the pack­ing will be there in the morning.

Pace about on the pier. Wind whip­ping up white­ness on the water. Crab catch­ers, their buck­ets and traps, ther­moses of steamy stuff. A few strag­glers tak­ing in the view of down­town. From here but a nicotine-stained band of colour sand­wiched between two hues of blue steel. Sky and sea.

The descend­ing sun’s rays. One of them catch­ing a build­ing bril­liant. The bright of it like a beacon.

Back inside much of same for hours. Back and forth. An easy tri­an­gle. Ban­ter joke taunt mock. Plates of wings. Talk good jobs and bad. Leddy. His habits and man­ner. The com­pany. Daz on high horse. Amber rein­ing him in.

The drink tak­ing hold. Talk shift­ing to itchy feet. What we see our­selves doing. How to make some­thing from noth­ing. Scratch­ing the sur­face of deeper things.

Some­where in there Daz pitches name for series of thought poems. Zam­ber Green. A per­son? A place? A nation of mind?

As an idea Zam­ber Green has wings. Thought poems morph into “delin­quent pieces” radi­at­ing out from a cen­tral van­tage point. Soon it becomes a road­show trav­el­ing aboard Amber’s aunt’s Airstream. A gypsy car­a­van deliv­er­ing mes­sage of broth­er­hood and good­will in the form of word songs and a bounty of fruits and veg. Or maybe aptly tit­u­lar mobile dis­pen­sary for the med­i­c­i­nal won­der­drug. Bring along gui­tars and have on hand plenty of drums. A rehash of some­thing rather hippy, no?

It’s get­ting weird. Daz bent on a mis­sion to clear his head of every last thought.

Some­where in all this I hear ‘Run­away Train’ chan­nel­ing through the loud­ness of the dark­ened room. One of those songs that’s suf­fered from radio overkill. Don’t hear much these days. Tonight its melody sinks into me. A direct line to the past. Maybe because I’m half-nuttered, maybe because I’m tired of lis­ten­ing to Daz, maybe just because it’s a good song that serves now as per­sonal lynchpin.

Deb­bie Wal­ters. A teenager from down the street who occa­sion­ally babysat Liz and me in the late 80’s/early 90’s. She was into grunge and any­thing with meaty gui­tar and indie-alt atti­tude. Aside from the Seat­tle stuff she played a fair bit of col­lege rock—Replacements, Husker Du, early REM etc. Most of the loud stuff rat­tled my nerves. I didn’t quite get the aggres­sion. But Deb­bie liked it. And I had a mad crush on Deb­bie. So any­thing she liked I was damn­sure gonna give a shot.

One band got into me. Soul Asy­lum. They weren’t a par­tic­u­lar favourite of hers, but she advo­cated my weak­ness. Gave me the CDs of ‘Hang Time’ and ‘And the Horse They Rode in on’. She also made me mix­tapes. I played them all con­tin­u­ously and soon started sav­ing my allowance to buy music.

Deb­bie was no longer our babysit­ter when ‘Grave Dancer’s Union’ came out. She’d moved into her own place and there was no rea­son for her to keep in con­tact. But one day she called. Asked if I wanted to see Soul Asy­lum live.

More­or­less seal­ing my fate so far as music went.

My quick dash down remem­ber lane has gone unde­tected by Amber and Daz. We’re all drunk. The whole bar sounds loaded and self-perpetuating.

I’m done with being social this evening. Feel the need to be out­side. Alone with a cacoph­ony of trig­gered thoughts.

Wish Amber the best, tell her to stay in con­tact. Take my leave.

Wan­der park trails along the shore. The lights of down­town glower against the fallen dark. Shad­owy wil­lows weep. Late run­ners huff. Small groups hun­ker against logs, pass­ing joints and shar­ing bottles.

I think about Deb­bie. How she opened my ears to music. That, for bet­ter or worse, music would become an obses­sion that led to a string of jobs in record stores. A career that unnerved mom and made dad chortle—a career I’d prob­a­bly still be in had not the bot­tom dropped out of the industry.

Cheers to that.

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yonder strolls

If on an ordinary autumn afternoon

If on an autumn Sun­day after­noon pleas­ant weather.

Wendy and I on a blan­ket on a knoll of park grass. Snack­ing on pears and apples. Fresh from the out­door mar­ket. Peo­ple every­where. Bob­bing at half speed. Stream­ing into and leak­ing out of the park­ing lot lined with tents and food trucks. The air filled with all man­ner of human sounds and smells. Per­fect weather for base­ball and pic­nic barbecues.

So much nicer than run­ning the planned weekly errands.

We will soon be on our way to the house. To see about how exactly we’re gonna make the grand deci­sion of mov­ing in with Liz work. But for now the peace of the park.

If on an autumn after­noon blue sky through thin­ning trees.

Wendy takes up her Ian Rankin novel. I have the news­pa­per. So sel­dom perused these days. I do the Sudoku, speed through the comics. Recall Daz men­tion­ing Mon­santo on Molokai dur­ing the week. How the locals are mak­ing stand against their home being used as lab exper­i­ment. Scan head­lines. Ebola and ISIS. See side­bars on Mount Ontake, megac­i­ties (now num­ber­ing 28), water on Earth being older than the sun.

Noth­ing on Mon­santo, I put down the paper. Gaze at yel­low­ing birches, red­ding maples. A line of ashes begin­ning to blush.

If on an ordi­nary autumn after­noon a spot of exis­ten­tial bother.

This week the com­pany announced loom­ing lay­offs. Look­ing to limit hands-on per­son­nel to crews of two. Isn’t sit­ting well with any­one. I’ve been asked to choose between Amber and Daz. The very thought ren­ders me edgy. Less because of my loy­alty to them than their loy­alty to each other.

Plus, I’m not all that sure where I stand. Not with the com­pany but with me. The job has been less than sat­is­fy­ing for some time. Was never intended to be per­ma­nent. Just some­thing to keep me on my feet.

Sub­mit to reflec­tions on crew dynam­ics. How quickly they’ve changed in my short time with the com­pany. Leddy, Dominic. Where are they now? It’s like the Eris­tics never hap­pened. Which offers noth­ing on the ran­dom­ness of hav­ing been assigned to Leddy’s truck instead of any num­ber of others.

Nor does it say any­thing about get­ting the job in the first place. Encoun­ter­ing one of the bosses at one of mom’s plant talks. At a time when my sav­ings were almost tapped.

Those cloudy months. Returned from the 3 year sab­bat­i­cal of doing what I thought was right and good. What a recluse I was. Like Tris­tan. Rarely leav­ing the apartment.

What a dif­fer­ence a year makes. Has it truly been that long?

If on an excep­tional autumn after­noon bright sunshine.

The mar­ket tents com­ing down. Wendy resur­faces from read­ing, asks if we should be going. Back in the here and now my thoughts are no.

We go for a walk. She tells me about a girl who came in for an x-ray on her arm. The girl was scared. Wendy gave her a lol­lipop and asked what her favorite ani­mal is. The girl said lady­bugs. Wendy asked her to say some­thing neat about lady­bugs. “The more dots one has the older it is.” Wendy said that was pretty neat. “And the male ones are orange.” Wendy asked the girl if she thought it weird that there were male lady­bugs. The girl thought about it then said, “There’d have to be, wouldn’t there.”

If on an autumn after­noon stroll an old friend.

We talk about mov­ing and the future and what things might. On our third lap of the park a cou­ple, a child, and a dog. We are about to pass this happy quar­tet when the man calls my name. The gruffy voice unmistakeable.

Caleb.

Intro­duc­tions. Mya, Isaac, and Clin­ton. An excited round of chat­ter, after which Caleb says he’s been hop­ing to run into me.

They’re in nego­ti­a­tions for a small piece of land north of the city a ways. Aim is to make a go of liv­ing offgrid.

He asks if I remem­ber us talk­ing about eco-villages and per­ma­cul­ture. I say I do. He asks if I’m still interested.

I don’t know what to say. But it’s sure mak­ing me think yonder.

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xylem on the inside

keep off railings
Day began mood­ily. Three of us in the truck. Yawn­ing and untalk­a­tive. Yet to adjust to the dark­er­ness of autumn. Its pre­sen­ti­ment to wet­ness and slip­pery things. The rain an obsta­cle to thought. Slick hours to mud­dle through.

By lunch the rain had let up. Some blue sky. A lit­tle sun­shine. Our spir­its more ami­able. Arrive at our after­noon appoint­ment. On Point Drive, blocky con­crete man­sion over­look­ing ocean. A new client. Sched­uled for basic clean-up and con­sul­ta­tion for fur­ther maintenance.

Daz doesn’t like the look of it. Is less impressed that we have to buzz in at the gate.

Our con­tact is Bar­bara. Her voice perky and cheer­ful through the speaker. We’re told to go around back. Which takes longer than it should. A juk­ing path of stairs and gates, up and down and around the behe­moth house.

Bar­bara meets us by the gate. She’s sur­pris­ingly young—mid 30’s, say (expected 40’s or 50’s)—and dis­arm­ingly attrac­tive in mod­est attire of snug capris and for­est green hoodie, loose but sug­ges­tive. Her red hair’s in a pony­tail. She’s wear­ing plat­form san­dals. Her toe­nails are glossed but not col­ored. An ener­getic aura envelops her. She’s all smiles and can’t wait to get started.

We quickly tour the ‘yard’, a large space of mostly hard stuff: mas­sive deck (with bar and kitchen), jelly­bean pool, sunken hot tub, sit­ting areas, an arbor, two or three immac­u­late cedar ‘sheds’, a lav­ish set of foun­tains and planters, and paths galore. The lot of it set in slate and capped and trimmed with sand-colored con­crete. Arti­fi­cial grass snaking through­out. An assort­ment of fine trees—especially the paper­bark maple by the pool.

A pretty penny went into this place. It looks like a mag­a­zine. But the beds are a mess.

Amber and Daz get started while I take a more detailed walk with Bar­bara. Friendly and excitable, she touches me as she explains that she and her hus­band bought the place in spring but had been so busy trav­el­ing they hadn’t time to con­sider the state of their yard. She gid­dily rat­tled off the places they’d gone and led me down the stairs at the bot­tom of the prop­erty. A wide con­course with a prize view of the ocean.

To this point I haven’t said much. Just half-listening as I note details rel­e­vant to the job.

On the con­course we stand at the rail. Bar­bara asks what I think of the view. I say it’s amaz­ing. She says this is her favorite spot in the yard. “I love the breeze.”

She lets down her hair and shakes it out.

What about you?”

Her voice has soft­ened. She’s look­ing at me. I look back but am speechless.

Do you like an ocean breeze?”

I nod.

She smiles.

I look out at the ocean.

She unzips her hoodie.

I can’t bear to look.

That’s bet­ter,” she says.

On the rocky beach below a man, a tod­dler, and a dog.

Her arm touch­ing mine on the rail, then her hip.…

It’s like there’s no one else in the world out here.”

Then her other hand lay­ing softly on my wrist.

Except them,” I say.

She laughs, turns her wom­an­hood toward me.

Right there. On full dis­play. I tell myself this isn’t happening.

Which is about when the yelling starts and the action begins.

The yelling is drunken male and com­ing from the direc­tion of the house.

Oh, shit,” Bar­bara says. “That’s my husband.”

I’ve got enough sense to ensure Bar­bara has zip­pered her wares back in before we run up.

Sec­ond floor bal­cony. Man in white robe and blue box­ers, bran­dish­ing what looks like green bot­tle of wine. He’s yelling at Daz, who’s weed­ing around the paper­bark maple.

Bar­bara and I have missed the thrust of the ini­tial out­burst, but once the man sees us he’s at it again.

I want that fucken tree down.”

He’s a bald­ing, barrel-bodied sort with deeply tanned and hair­less chest.

Bar­bara tries to calm him. Has oppo­site effect.

This is my house. I pay the bills. What I say goes.”

He turns atten­tion to Daz again.

And I say the tree comes down.”

Daz looks at me.

Bar­bara pipes in. Says they should talk about it later.

Either they take the fucken tree down. Right now. Or I do it myself.”

Bar­bara says he’s drunk. As if scenes like this are normal.

His anger expands. He unleashes a great growl and launches the wine bot­tle. It smashes at the edge of the pool. Green shards and red wine bleed­ing in the water.

Bar­bara shakes her head.

Her hus­band dis­ap­pears inside.

Bar­bara comes over to where Daz, Amber and me are stand­ing. She’s apol­o­giz­ing and try­ing to get her hair tied back.

Hus­band comes out car­ry­ing chain­saw. He’s clearly smashed but on a mis­sion. This is look­ing dan­ger­ous. I say that now might not be the best time to use the chainsaw.

Don’t you fucken tell me what to do.”

He’s an angry ugly man.

The four of us watch as he wob­bily stalks toward the tree, his leather flip-flops snap­ping against his feet. He gets into the bed, pulls the cord. Doesn’t catch. Pulls cord again, looses his bal­ance. The chain­saw flies into the pool. He falls toward tree, hits shoul­der against lower bough, falls to ground (a mass of Cor­si­can mint and baby’s tears), and doesn’t get up.

Quite a fuck­ing afternoon.

And all Wendy and Liz wanted to know was if Barbara’s boobs were real.

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wendy says

strange love craft

Some­times you’re too close to the page to read your own sto­ries. So Wendy said yes­ter­day. On the hood of mom’s car in a thrift store park­ing lot by a set of train tracks.

Hav­ing dropped off some odds and ends from our two apart­ments, we’d walked to a fast food joint for take out and were on our way back to the car when I noticed the licence plate: 004. (How this had not pre­vi­ously reg­is­tered is beyond me.)

An admit­tedly minor event, but impact­ful enough for me to drop the bag of burg­ers and fries.

Wendy laughed.

As we started to eat a train of freight cars was rolling by. Wendy said the train reminded her of her grand­par­ents’ cot­tage. On the lake where Mar­cus learned to swim. Where her mother has been liv­ing for almost 5 years.

Dis­trac­tion. Liz pac­ing about the kitchen. Look­ing as if she’s try­ing to decide if she wants a smoke bad enough to go up to the roof.

I can tell she’s itch­ing to paint. Liz. Prob­a­bly dying to ask me to col­lect a few things from the house. Where she still hasn’t been since the stu­dio ordeal. Which we put a close to ear­lier this week. Paid the back rent ($600) and took every­thing to the trans­fer sta­tion. She wants no reminders. The aim is Howard Nel­son never existed. A ways to go yet. But she’s get­ting there.

More dis­trac­tion. Tris­tan singing in the hall.

I go to the door and look out. He’s hip­ping a box of PBR. Look­ing famous in a styl­ish brown wife-beater, bright green bas­ket­ball shorts, pink flip-flops, and star­burst sunglasses.

Brother G,” he yowls, rais­ing an open can in salute.

What’s the word,” I ask.

Eski­mos.”

(This, I take it, means he’s onto the third of Salinger’s Nine Sto­ries. Which he bor­rowed a few days back.)

He offers a beer. I decline.

Back inside Liz has changed into run­ning gear. Excellent.

Where was I?

Wendy, yes­ter­day, eat­ing burg­ers on the hood of mama’s car.

Where am I?

Myxlplyxed. Shoot­ing for story. Wendy’s. Hav­ing to do with her par­ents and, sub­se­quently, the mixed emo­tions she’s been expe­ri­enc­ing since return from vis­it­ing them.

Too close to read.

Let’s see. Regard­ing her folks, a sum­mary of the years fol­low­ing Mar­cus’ death:

  • Mom went into a shell. Hardly spoke a word. Rarely left the house. Dad let her be. The house creep­ily quiet.
  • Sev­eral months passed.
  • Mom altered her rou­tine. Didn’t eat with dad. Their paths didn’t cross. Slept in same bed. Only at dif­fer­ent times.
  • A year passed.
  • Mom went to cot­tage. Want­ing change of scenery. Dif­fer­ent air to breathe. Dad wel­comed her going. Maybe do her good.
  • Another year passed.
  • Mom hasn’t left cot­tage. Effigy of for­mer self. But at least talk­ing. Dad help­ing with repairs. Resigned to bit­part role.

Mean­time, Wendy at col­lege. On hol­i­day week­ends she vis­ited both the house and the cot­tage. A long jour­ney con­sist­ing of two legs. First, a 3-hour bus ride to the house, where she gen­er­ally spent the night; sec­ond, a 3-hour drive to the cot­tage, where she and her dad spent the after­noon before dri­ving back to the house.

After Wendy started work­ing the only alter­ation to the hol­i­day rou­tine was dad not join­ing her on the drive to and from the cot­tage. He no longer had it in him to play bit-part role—wanted his wife back, and if she wasn’t will­ing, well, he was going to do all he could to right his own ship.

Bring­ing us to Wendy mov­ing out here.

She kept in reg­u­lar con­tact with dad. He, in her words, “keeps on keep­ing on.” Mom, how­ever, never answered her phone and didn’t return Wendy’s messages.

When Wendy went back home she wasn’t sure if she’d be see­ing mom. On the anniver­sary of Mar­cus’ death, Wendy called and mom answered.

She sounded alive again,” is how Wendy put it. “A wholly dif­fer­ent person.”

They made plans for Wendy to visit. She rented a car and stayed three days. Mom showed off the gar­den she’s res­ur­rected, took Wendy to the com­mu­nity centre/fairgrounds where she ‘keeps the accounts’ and orga­nizes rum­mage sales. There were intro­duc­tions to the locals with whom she now con­sorts. Walks through farms and along trails around the lake. They stood on the pier and held a can­dle apiece for Mar­cus. She made cook­ies and cooked meals and drank wine and cider with her daugh­ter. It seemed to Wendy that, after a long absence, her mother had returned. Only she wasn’t quite the same.

None of them were, of course, but this sud­den change in her mother was more jar­ring. And less forgiving.

It seems,” Wendy said on the hood of mom’s car. “It seems she wants lit­tle to do with her old life.”

By this point the train had stopped. We stared at the graf­fiti on the car that sat before us. ‘STRANGE LOVE CRAFT’ it read.

I made a joke about uniden­ti­fied rolling objects.

She laughed.

I said some­thing about some­times not know­ing what’s right under your nose. In ref­er­ence to licence plate 004.

Which is when she came up with being too close to the page to read your own story.

And here again is Liz. Back from her run. Soaked and smiling.

Guess what,” she says.

What?”

It’s rain­ing.”

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