Friday, January 29, 2016

TROOPS


Of course, Miss Collins was absolutely right. A town of this sort would be grateful for virtually anything I could offer it.

TROOPS


No, Cassio is not killed.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Shooting at Flowers

There was a gravel path all around the house, above it a balcony along two sides of the second floor. Pink petals, blown off of little flowers in the bed that ringed the path, were strewn about the pebbles, here and there.

“Look at that one,” Jean-Nicolas said.

I peered over the railing. The pebbles looked far away from here. Then again they looked pretty close. I was getting dizzy. Jean-Nicolas was indicating a petal with the tip of his gun. He brought the butt to his shoulder and took careful aim, peering straight down through the sight and to the ground.

“I see it,” I said.

He pulled the trigger and pebbles scattered from the spot the pellet struck. The petal leapt up bounced around a second. It landed in much the same position, in almost the same spot. You couldn’t tell whether he’d actually hit it or not.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dave

Jeff started telling me weird things about Dave.

“Dude, he’s like, psychic.”

“What do you mean?”

“He knew all about my dad. He knew about his cancer. He told me about it in the woods.”

“He knew about it?”

“He told me about it. Like he knew. He knew what type it was. He knew it was stage four pancreatic cancer.”

“Without you telling him?”

“No, without me fucking telling him. Of course not.”

“Then how did he know?”

“Dude, dude, dude, I just told you. He’s psychic.”

“He told you about it in the woods?”

“Yeah, we went out in the woods on Friday night. We made a fire. He was like, ‘I can tell something’s up with you. Something with your dad.’”

“You were in the woods and you made a fire?”

“Yeah. Out back. Near the airport.”

It was not unusual for us to hang out in the woods. Especially not to get high. Normally we didn’t go out at night though. And didn’t make fires. The fire seemed to make some kind of difference in the story. Flames illuminating faces.

“You guys got high?”

“Yeah, fuck. Shit, Jesus. Of course we got high. We were fucking baked. Dave had the most amazing weed.”

“And he didn’t know about your dad?”

“He didn’t! I mean, I didn’t tell him. There’s no way he would know. But dude, he fuckin’ told me. It was fuckin’ spooky, man. It’s like he knows shit.”

“Wow, that’s weird.”

“Yeah, and plus he did some other shit that was amazing too.”

“What other shit?”

Jeff widened his eyes. “Like I-can’t-even-tell-you-type crazy-ass shit, man.”

Dave was slightly older. He was a new kid at Jeff’s school, moved there for this or that reason. Parents split up, Mom moved to Chaplin of all goddamned places. Or maybe Dad did. Or maybe they both did. Who knows. Why does someone appear in the middle of the school year in a backwoods town in Northeastern Connecticut? Least of all someone like Dave?

I didn’t go to their school. I just hung out with Jeff on account of playing guitar. We had the same teacher and he told us we should get together, since we could both play just about as good. So we did. And we smoked cigarettes. And we smoked pot. We bought cigarettes from the machine at the diner on Route 89. We drank beer. Out on the dyke by the airport. Then we’d go to his place and play Grateful Dead tunes on two electric guitars, recording into a portable cassette player. Anyway, Dave moved into town.

One day soon before Dave disappeared for good, without a warning or a trace, the three of us were hanging out. Dave was a tall guy, short hair. He seemed more relaxed than any other kids I knew. Like he’d already done shit, like maybe had some jobs. Maybe had a kid or something. Definitely been laid.

We went out on the dyke one night and got high as hell, then we went back to Jeff’s house to watch TV. We were goddamned hungry. We made spaghetti.

“Lemme show you how to make the sauce,” Dave said.

I didn’t really understand what the fuck he was talking about. Sauce came out of a jar like it always does.

“What do you mean, make the sauce?” I asked.

“You gotta doctor it, man. You gotta doctor it.”

I nodded stupidly as he found a jar of oregano in the spice rack.

“Watch me,” he said, and I did as I was told.

Dave unscrewed the entire top of the shaker so there was just one fucking big hole there, not the screen with all the little holes.

“You see what I’m fuckin’ doin’?” he asked. Then he proceeded to pour a good fucking tablespoon of oregano into the sauce. The dry, dusty flakes, sitting in clumps now on the glistening, bubbling surface of the Aunt Millie’s. I was astounded.

“Wow,” I said.

“You think that’s enough?” he asked, tauntingly.

“Yeah!”

Immediately he shook out the same amount again.

“Wow,” I repeated. My hunger. My twisted mind. My numb and stricken mind. Ravenous like an animal. Terrified like one too.

“You think that’s too much fucking oregano for this fucking sauce, Pat?” he demanded. It sounded like a threat.

“I dunno. Yeah. It’s kind of a lot.”

He calmly, deliberately shook in some more. Till half the jar was gone. The entire surface of the crimson liquid was now covered, just about.

That’s enough,” Dave said. He put the lid back on and placed the jar back on the rack.

Then he stirred his concoction a few times and pronounced it done. We poured it on the spaghetti and ate in front of the TV. It tasted pretty good. I was so high anyway. I don’t know. “2001: A Space Odyssey” was on. The apes had just discovered the monolith and were going batshit crazy. I looked over to see Dave gazing at the screen, its light reflected in his eyes. He lifted his fork up to his mouth and ate like anybody does. Like an animal.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

In the middle of the night I awoke from a dream about football that had turned into a dream about soccer; a pleasant dream, about a ball lofted through the air into a net, and felt so sick, so miserable. I figured it was because I’d had too much to drink. But I hadn’t been out—couldn’t have been that much, could it? Just a whiskey or two, or maybe three, on top of the wine of course, as the quiet night wore on. Still I felt that pang of guilt that readily accompanies the pain.


I got up to take two naproxens. Just that effort accentuated my misery. Waking up Sara, inevitably, reassuring her I was OK. Feeling a little unsteady on my feet, in the dark. And of course there’s no immediate payoff to the drugs. Just doubt on top of the agony.


I thrashed about, unable to find a tolerable position. I flipped the pillow to the cool side and noted dismally that the cool sensation, normally blissful, universally recognized as such in fact, was now a taunt, a reproach. I was in desperate need of relief and it gave me none. It mocked me with cold, awful truth. I thought I could vomit. I thought maybe I should.

And then after some fitful sleep, as I lay in a reverie, I felt the painkillers kick in. The very moment they kicked in. It was like my head opened up—it felt good, almost too good. All the wretchedness flowed away. I felt a kind of wonderful void, exhilarating and a little scary. And then I slept a few more hours.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Someone, maybe it was Cruz or Bush or Rubio, but it could have been anyone, spoke of violence “in our communities” as the bigger issue than gun rights. It struck me how obviously “communities” is a metaphor for “ghettoes.” Reminded me of that dick Rudy Giuliani mocking Obama for being a “community organizer” at the 2008 Republican Convention. He was really saying “ghetto organizer.” He was really saying “nigger organizer.” Ha! Can you imagine that? A lowly nigger organizer. Now he thinks he’s gonna be president!


Now I’m remembering Giuliani’s objection to the pissed-on Jesus art exhibit way back when. Someone should have pissed on Rudy’s face. That’d be art.
All summer long Mom and Dad fought upstairs in the big old house in Woodstock, England, while we waited out the storm in the living room, drawing pictures, watching TV. One day a music video came on that I’d never seen before. The bass had this rubber-band thing going, mesmerizing. Electrifying. Suddenly we’re in some kind of make-believe landscape in pink and blue. A sad, boy-girly clown who appears to have a scar on his forehead sings plaintively. He’s joined by a chorus in vaguely religious garb, like Eastern Orthodox maybe, not Catholic. But they're weird. And boy-girly too. Like eunuchs in the court of an alien king. The clown shows us a picture of himself as a man trapped in a padded cell and suddenly there he is, sunlight streaming through the window bars. The chorus is murmuring something. It sounds reproachful, judgmental. He’s shivering and freaking out. Kicking, though I had no idea what that meant at the time. But I knew what it meant to be shivering in a padded room. Because all of us are kicking, all the time. Then he’s the clown again with the chorus of weirdos beside him, walking ahead of an earth mover, and a couple of them on each end are doing this asynchronous dance where they swoop down and touch the ground. It’s awful beautiful, what they’re doing. And when he sings “all time low” the person on the left of the screen, a female—maybe?—comes around and touches down in time to the music, indicating “low,” but like a princess picking a flower, and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, the way she did that, and got right back up again, an indifferent gesture, but so graceful. Poignant. Then the clown’s on the beach and something’s wrong with his hand. He’s back in the padded room again. He’s waist-deep in the lake, his arms outstretched, singing, “I’ve never done good things, I’ve never done bad things, I never did anything out of the blue.” Out of the blue? And he sinks. And then the chorus comes around again and there they are all in a line, the bulldozer looming, and please do it again, please, and right on cue she does it again. All. Time. Low. He’s back on the beach, releasing a bird. Then he’s cowering in the corner of the padded cell again, singing something about his mother. Something she warned him about. And suddenly there she is walking with him on the beach, imploring him, trying to reason with him. But it’s too late. He just stares off into space.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

TROOPS


sense of his confusingly psychosomatic flower paintings.

TROOPS


written following his death and allowing for a retrospective passage of time

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Imagined Conversations - 1

I was reading over someone’s shoulder on the subway. Trying to look away from time to time. At the right time, ideally. That is: whenever he grew suspicious and glanced at me. I hoped that by staring indisputably in another direction at those very moments—at the floor, at the pole, at the old lady’s knee—he’d be satisfied that I hadn’t the least bit of interest in his book. Oh no, not me. And yet I felt a few cold seconds of his reproachful glare.

“You’re reading over my shoulder,” he declared.

“What?” I stammered, trying on a perplexed expression.

“No, no, no—I saw you.”

I considered pressing the point but I could tell the jig was up. There was nowhere to hide, nothing to say. I made a shameful little shrug and grimace.

“That’s rude!” he declared righteously.

“Yeah, well—”

“You don’t do that. You don’t just look over some complete stranger’s shoulder like that. And read.”

He spat out the word “read” as though it were some terrible violation. As though I hadn’t been reading a page out of the trendy paperback he’d had on his lap but had actually peered through him, through his clothes to his nakedness, through his skin to his soul. And I wondered if maybe that wasn’t true.

“It’s my art project,” I countered bravely.

It was the only card I had to play. And it also happened to be the truth. Reading over other people’s shoulders in subway cars was my ongoing project. I documented the random fragments of text I spied in a Twitter feed.

“Your what?”

“It’s an art project. I read over lots of people’s shoulders. It’s nothing personal.”

The man stared at me like I’d just told him I fucked his mother. He’d stuck his book between his knees and now hunched over it protectively; his entire body closed. Still he kept one hand in as a bookmark. You never know when you might be free to read again.

“What the fuck are you talking about, art project?”

“I look over someone’s shoulder. I pick a part of the page at random, see what I can read real quick. Usually a sentence or less. Then I memorize it.”

A pause. Then he said, “And what do you do with it?”

“I write it down. Share it with the world on Twitter. Share it on my blog.”

He leaned back a little. I thought I might have defeated him somehow. Defeated him with reason. Or better yet non-reason.

“You share it with the world?”

“Yup.”

As we entered a station he precipitously stood. And he said something I still don’t understand. It was one of those snappy lines you’d hear in an action movie or something. Except it didn’t make sense. Or maybe it did. You tell me.

Let me save you the trouble,” he declared, and slapped me on the side of the head with his book. He threw it at my chest in disgust, as though it were somehow to blame for its own violation. As he walked out the subway doors I read the title peering up at me from the speckled floor of the car.

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Humans moved from polytheism to monotheism as their questions were answered, and only one question remained. They knew where the rain came from, they knew who the animals were. They knew what war was, what love was. The only thing they still didn’t know was what the hell was going on in the first place. What’s it all about. So it was through knowledge that we came to God the creator, through knowledge that we came to Eden. It was through knowledge that we became Adam and Eve. And it was through knowledge that we conjured up temptation.

Saturday, January 09, 2016


I’ve had dreams about an idyllic space, a flowery hill, with a path down it, maybe a little too steep in places. A path that turns into steps, or steps that straighten into a steep path. I’m walking down it, or running down it. I’m not alone. We’re descending the hill, us, as a group. Not too many—just a few. At the bottom there’s a stone wall, and the steps cut through it, and then there’s flat terrain but I never seem to get there. I’m just coming down that hill. We’re coming down that hill. The sun is shining. And it’s the most beautiful goddamn thing you can imagine.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

It’s bewildering how other people live. I always get that feeling when we stay in someone else’s place. We meet them, they seem like happy people. Interesting people, with things they love and things they don’t; things that worry them. Things they depend on. Things that make them feel insecure. They are alive. They try their level best. These are people just like me and yet I can’t understand how they get up in the morning and enter their dark kitchen, illuminated only with two little lamps up on a shelf. Their silverware is standing up in jars on shelves below the counter; there’s lots of knives but none of them are sharp. Three different mustards in the fridge. No napkins. Some heavy gray plates. Fancy-looking soup bowls they probably inherited. This is how they live.

Pictures leaning up against the wall, not hanging on it. Like the day they first moved in, 13 years ago (he told me they’d been there for 13 years). And instead of hanging them on the wall that day, or the next day, or later that week, or on any of the thousands of days since, they just left them there. Leaning on top of each other, three or four at a time. Some good art posters and shit.

The stereo’s in a weird corner of the room, not easily accessible, and yet there’s a little stack of CDs, so maybe they’ve been listening to music, or maybe the stack’s been there for 13 years. There’s a Michael Jackson CD, “Off the Wall.” Everyone everywhere has a Michael Jackson CD.

I can’t understand how people live like that and then I realize something: I’m living like that too.
Someone behind me at work just expressed a noise, kind of a honk, and it made me think of a woman—maybe a woman I remember, or a type of woman?—who laughed a loud, plaintive laugh that sounded just like that, almost like a sob. In my mind the woman was blond, and a hippie of some kind. Was it the hippie coder at my old job? I don’t think so. I felt a pang for the woman in my mind, although I still couldn’t be sure she wasn’t fictional. Entirely fictional? Or like on TV? Or in the movies, maybe. She was kind of like that woman, who is it, the main character in “Frances Ha.” Frances Ha I guess. But that wasn’t quite right either. Then I remembered a Deadhead I met at a show when I was about 15 or 16. Blond, weird, spacy girl. Spoke the slow drawl of someone damaged by acid, though she wasn’t older than me. Maybe she was, or maybe she pretended to be. She was certainly a type. A hippie teen with unkempt hair, wrapped up in a patchouli-soaked Mexican blanket, wearing sandals in the cold, shuttling between the posh homes of her divorced parents and spending little time in either. Course I wanted to fuck her. Not because I wanted to fuck that type—though for sure I felt an affinity—but just because I was a desperately horny 15-year-old. I would’ve wanted to fuck a prim and proper church girl too, specially if I’d met her smoking opium in the parking garage of the Worcester Centrum. (And God knows those church girls did that too. All the girls did; so did all the boys.)

Somehow I got a hold of that girl’s number, or she got mine. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed, on the phone with her, leaning forward from the pull of the cheap, tangled cord to the phone on my bedroom floor. I interjected haltingly, nervously, in the spaces within her languorous monologue. It was something about where she went to school—boarding school I guess, maybe even a special school for troubled hippie girls. She was required to take gym class so she chose badminton as her sport. She was hopeless, she said. I could see her in her grandma dress, wanly waving her racket at the shuttlecock after it drifted by. All I could think about was fucking her and the conversation went nowhere slow. After I hung up my dad called from the living room just outside my door.

“Pat, were you talking to someone?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Who?”

“A girl.”

“A girl?!” he replied. I might as well have told him I was on the phone with President Ronald Reagan.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016


Everything in London seemed extremely expensive—the cab from the train station, the rides at the carnival, the pub food. As though the pound and the dollar were the same. I wondered whether the city was now unlivable, out of reach, corrupted by Russian money, whatever. I decided I couldn’t tell. The answer was there before my eyes but all I could see were people going about their lives, more or less content. Institutions at work, road signs flashing and pointing, advertisements everywhere. A city. There were many tourists I suppose, but I couldn’t tell them from the locals. The city doesn’t care what we see in it, or don’t. Which means we can see whatever we like.

The Enterprise - 52

Tom was showing me how to do more code. He didn’t have to, but he did. We’d spend a few hours over by his desk. I’d watch as he typed into his command window, that black, forbidding realm once so far out of reach. Abbreviations instead of words. Sometimes just letters. C. P. It was cold, that’s for sure. I came from the comforting world of elaborate exposition, of explanation. Words, words, words. Words when you really didn’t need them. A reality insulated by language. But here was a reality stripped down close to its core, distilled to basic syntax. Symbols. The prompt.


What was weirder was that even this language was a compromise, an accommodation of human needs. There were levels to it. When you’re done writing code, Tom said, a compiler took it and turned it into machine language. The language machines understand. Therefore, the language humans don’t. I got the sense of us tossing our vain and sweaty efforts across some kind of screen, or through a looking glass, beyond which something took place that was essentially mysterious and may or may not suit our needs.


If the compiler didn’t like what it saw it choked on the code and threw up all kinds of warnings and errors, messages of reproach from the other side.


Life at work proceeded in this manner, a few hours at Tom’s desk, the rest of the day at mine; writing little scripts for the Product, trying things, failing, trying again a different way, failing a different way. Of course I didn’t realize how good I had it at the time. Life was still full of aggravations great and small. Mostly small.


We’d grown tired again of our lunchtime options. By now we were going to the closest deli, to minimize exposure to the cold. It was an excruciatingly generic place: the hot food bar, the cold; the rows and rows of protein bars, the gourmet chips; sun streaming through the smudgy storefront window to illuminate the floating dust.

I was in the habit of buying the Italian hero. And it wasn’t bad.

It’s fun to look at the destinations from the other gates at the airport, wondering what it’d be like to go there instead of where you’re going. Wondering if you could get on their plane instead, go AWOL from work, start a new life. Detroit, Santa Fe, Wichita, Boise. Places you’ve heard about but never been. At Heathrow the gate near us said Beirut. I tried to apply the same fantasy. Where would I stay the night after I landed? What would I eat? I examined the people in the departure lounge, sitting and waiting or milling around the counter with concerns about their seat assignments. Middle-aged, Middle Eastern men with mustaches and weary eyes. Just going home like anybody else.