Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wild Garlic

I am sungazing while revising my list of celebrities who should be guillotined, and an itch I can't reach on my ankle makes me impulsively scribble Robert Downy Junior in between Carrie Fischer and Chris Pike with a note that reads: what kind of last name is Junior anyway. A great wind blows from the rolling hills of the backyard, passed the aging, soggy wood of the fence from the remnants of the demolished barn, through the magnificent arms of the wacky waving birch trees, up and over the coiling wisteria, and into my nostrils. It carries with it a potent aroma, a biting reminder of all that is good. It is garlic, and I am all out of the coveted clove.

I set forth for the forest in search of wild garlic.

And so I walk, through the checkered plains and charcoal asphalt and skies of powdered sugar, and passed the crusted cigar-brown creek overrun with sad, sobbing trees and shimmering coins of sunlight through them and onto the creek, to the outcropping beyond the windbreak, where fields of weeds simmer and fry in the hot morning sun: dandelions, oxalis, crabgrass, bindweed, white clovers, nutsedge, creeping charlies, lamb's-quarter, plantains, dayflowers, purslane, velvetleaf, wild violet, smartweed, quickweed, pigweed, pokeweed, knotweed, Canadian thistle, poison ivy, white nightshade, black nightshade, black medic, quackgrass, quackweed, chickweed, ragweed, all blades and heads nodding in the quick spurting gales like a father's soft hand on your cheek before a stern sock in the jaw because the garbage fell over into the neighbor's yard and no one cleaned it up again. Starlings fire from the windbreak's thatch and form together in perfect euclidian fashion the shape of Jessica Simpson's nose. The glitter of dew that stays where it is and steams all day and should really get out and do something with its life. The dark green mouth of the maple, sycamore, and oak trees housing deer in the distance standing rigid and still as toys. They're nodding, too, to some techno song I can't hear. Electric sounds of insects at their business. Straw-colored sunshine and pale sky and jagged fingers of cirrus so high they cast no shadow. Insects again. Asphalt, still charcoal. As the very ancient quality of this place hits me, I realize I am walking in circles. The horizon trembling, shapeless, and broken apart by the stone slabs grazing the best grass I've ever seen. The graveyard.

Rudy, the groundskeeper, waves to me. He is digging a hole, which is odd because bodies aren't buried on Mondays, they are buried on Tuesdays as per the city ordinance after Ric Flair wrote a harsh note to the township when passing through in his glittery motorcade one time last year.

"Hola, Ruddy," I say in Spanish.

"Hola, mi amigo," he says, also in Spanish.

"What are you doing?" I say in English.

"Estoy cavando un agujero para que cuando se muere," he says in Spanish.

"Uh, sorry, no soy grande."

"Oh, si," he says, in English this time.

"Uno Venti frap, hold the whip cream," I say.

"We don't have whip cream," he says in Spanish.

I can't really tell what he is saying, so I instead try to communicate by genuflecting and bowing my arms like an airplane and snapping the nape of my neck like an accordion.

"Sir," he says, in Spanish. "I don't think wild garlic grows in these parts. I have heard rumors, too, of it popping up from time to time. This used to be a heavy Italian population--all they ever eat is pasta and those calories catch up to you. Instead, why don't you climb into this hole. I'll fill it up with choice dirt, only the cleanest, and I'll even invite all the people that are closest to you so they can mourn and remember you fondly."

"No soy grande," I say.

"Also," he continues. "You should consider adding Javier Bardem to your list."

This palaver is too challenging to continue. A crow caws and another answers, and after we both plant our hands palm side down over each of our brows to see from where the cawing came from, I take a moment to show appreciation for his help by twiddling my forefinger on his lips and leave the graveyard for the checkered plains and charcoal asphalt and skies of powdered sugar, and past the crusted cigar-brown creek--

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


When you are sick, take notes. If you contradict yourself, then doctors lose interest. My relationship with doctors has been long influenced by this fear, that they would lose interest in me, leave a note to the receptionist to call other names before me, take my dying for granted.

Those offices depress me even more than hospitals do. An occasional patient left with good news, shook the doctor's latex stained hand and laughed like a canned audience, laughed at everything the doctor said, booming laughter with crude power, made a point to ignore us, the other would be patients, as he walked past the waiting room still laughing, already clear of us, no longer associated with our gloom, our anxious inferior dying. He lives as he exits, we continued to degrade as we waited. Emergency wards are the wells of apprehension, full of gun-shot wounds, slashes, broken needles, tired eyes, nothing having to do with my own eventual nonviolent, small-town, thoughtful death.

I tell this to Jenny.

"What did the doctor say?" she says.

"Take an aspirin and put me to bed." I'm slapping the top shelf of a medicine cabinet looking for some pills. 

"That's what your grandmother said."

"I told him that. He said, 'Well, why didn't you do it?'"

"Why didn't you?"

"She's a grandmother, not a doctor--that's why."

"Did you tell him that?"

"I don't know what I told him," I say. I'm coating my throat with a fresh glass of water. I have amazing gag reflexes, even some foods fiddle with the hair trigger. "I'm never in control of what I say to doctors, much less what they say to me. There's some kind of disturbance in the air."

"I know exactly what you mean."

"It's like having a conversation during a spacewalk, dangling in those heavy suits."

"Everything drifts and floats."

"I lie to doctors all the time."

"So do I," she says.

"What?" I choke on the aspirin, but it wasn't the gag reflex this time. The staccato gasps of air change in pitch and quality. The rhythmic urgency has given way to a sustained, inarticulate and mournful sound. I am keening now. These are expressions of mideastern lament, of an anguish so accessible that it rushes to overwhelm whatever immediately caused it. There is something permanent and soul-struck in this choking. It is a sound of inbred desolation. She pats my back in sync to the pattern of my uncontrolled exasperation. 

"Let's take you to the emergency room," she says. "Just to see what they say."

"You can't take someone to an emergency ward because he's choking. If anything is not an emergency, this would be it."

"Not for your choking, for the symptoms."

I cough up the aspirin.

"I'll just take this again."

She looks at me, a searching, pleading and desperate look. If a doctor who examined me thoroughly in his cozy office with paintings on the wall in elaborate gilded frames could find nothing wrong, then what could emergency technicians do, these people who leap on chests and pound at static hearts? 

Maybe it's psychological. Maybe I'm anxious. Maybe I have a disorder: attention deficit disorder. Maybe I have neurosis.

"Just promise me something," she clasps her two hands together to make one fist and chokes the air in front of her.

I tell her sure and finally swallow the medicine. 

"Don't die." She says this in an almost prescient way, like a darkness closing in, the ambiance becomes malevolent. 

"I think the aspirin is working already." I hope. 


Friday, March 14, 2014

For the Love of Television


It was drizzling as I walked home, my arm around no one’s waist, just slapping my thighs and making a clapping sound only flesh and jeans can make. The streets were empty. Along St. Georges all the stores were dark, the two banks were dimly lit, the neon spectacles in the window of the lenses shop cast a gimmicky light on the sidewalk illuminated by rain.

I know I forget things, but I didn’t know it was so obvious.

It isn’t really, but more and more I’m noticing it.

I dial a number on the phone and forget who I’m calling. I go to the store and forget what to buy. Someone will tell me something, I’ll forget it, they’ll tell me again, I’ll forget it, they’ll tell me again, showing a funny-looking smile.

We all forget.

I forget names, faces, phone numbers, addresses, appointments, instructions, directions.

This is something that’s been happening, more or less to everyone, but especially me.

I forget Jenny doesn’t like to be called Jennifer. Sometimes I call her “hey you.” I forget where I’ve parked the car and then for a long, long moment, too long for comfort, I forget what the car looks like.

Forgetfulness has gotten into the air and water. It’s entered the food chain. Maybe it’s the gum I chew or the coffee I eat.

Maybe it’s something else.

Either I’m taking something and I don’t remember or I’m not taking something and I don’t remember. My life is either or. Either I drink fructose corn syrup soda or I drink coffee. Either I drink coffee or I gain weight. Either I gain weight or I run up the hill at the football field. 

It sounds like a boring life, but I hope it lasts forever. 

The one thing I don’t forget to do is look and listen. There are codes and messages that mark our species unique. These codes are best hidden in the exact medium which prides itself as a mirror to society: television. 

The average American sits in front of the glowing rectangle for six hours a day. I can’t think of anything else I do consistently for six hours a day except for forgetting which may be more these days. TV is filled with content to entertain, to inform, to propagate; but does this constitute as a worthy activity to inhabit our lives for so long in the day on a daily basis? When someone tells you they don’t have a television, they either took Portlandia too seriously, or the sudden image you are struck with is one of a sort of wild child, a savage plucked from the bush, intelligent and literate. He is probably the most interesting person you talk to in the day. 

Or is he?

TV is only a problem if you’ve forgotten to look and listen. We have all felt the urge to turn against the medium just like earlier generations turned against their parents and their country. The realization of time sets in for the viewer and an introspective flurry of explosions propels them to not only resent the box in their living room but loathe the appliance. Television today is another name for spam emails.

I can’t accept that. We must learn to look as children again. We need to absorb the content and find the codes and messages. I’ve been sitting in my room for months watching TV, listening carefully, taking notes. It truly is a great and humbling experience. Close to mystical.

Waves and radiation. The medium is a primal force in the American home. Sealed-off, timeless, self-contained, self-referring. It’s like a myth being born right there in our living rooms, like something we know in a dreamlike preconcious way. This box, this reflection of society, it offers incredible amounts of psychic data. It opens ancient memories of world birth, it welcomes us into the grid, the network of little buzzing dots and lines that make up the picture pattern. There is light, there is sound. What more do you want in a miracle? Just look at the wealth of data concealed in the grid, in the bright packaging, the jingles, the anecdotal commercials, the products hurtling out of darkness, the coded messages and endless repetitions, like chants, like mantras, like worship. The medium overflows with sacred formulas if we can remember how to respond innocently and get past our irritation, weariness, and disgust. 

But it’s just like spam emails, they say. Television is the death of human consciousness, according to them. They’re ashamed of their television past. They would rather talk about movies or the internet.

Take a closer look. Realize what the box is doing, what the purpose of the program is. The paradox of these actors who play on the voyeuristic desires of humanity and pretend to go about their business like they are not being watched by millions of people yet consequently want nothing more and actually hope and pray that millions of people are watching them, it’s stimulating. 

I made it home, wet and tired, cold. These walks remind me that people can complain all they want about the desensitization of mass media and video games and movies, but on nights like this they are all inside their homes feeding the very thing they hate. 

The true evil in our society is music, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Messages from a Typewriter

"We are all living three lives," Janise Laughlin says, "we have a minimum of three identities."

She's sitting on the most West window sill of her East apartment cutting tea leaves with a razor, her long black hair parted in the middle and tied back. She's wearing heavy black-framed glasses. The ceiling cranks with the sound of the heat rushing through the ducts and a siren goes by three stories below on Eastman Street.

"The barista is an archaeologist is a biker guy," she says. "Or he's a poet, a minister, a farmer."

She's cutting more tea leaves and says, "It's a tough call because all the rich people are in disguise. They can be that scruffy guy across the counter with enough money to buy the store and throw it away without sniffing at their bank accounts. One second--"

She walks to the kitchen to set a pot to boil, it's a copper kettle with spittles of rust corroding the bottom sides. "The nice little old ladies by the school, with their sweaters and walkers and diamonds, they are all for the death penalty."

Her hair is noticeably frizzy near the window where the sun can get in.

Art and books fill the walls. The rooms are painted gemstone colors like emerald and sapphire. There's a viridian bloom of a flower in a vase on the table. Only one family picture hangs on the way to the kitchen where the water is getting ready to scream from the kettle, it's of her paternal grandmother who worked in LA as a extra for a few films. She looks to be twenty-something in this picture. Smiling. Happy.

The story of all Americans has been one of travel, and everyone looking to make a new life migrates west across America to the Pacific ocean. "All the strange people leave," she says. "They all go left if you're looking at the map, and we here we are staying right because we either don't want to leave or we can't."

Misfits, refugees, they are everyone and they are no one. This isn't an exact science, but it has some bed of scientific theory, maybe. The angst builds here, on the East-coast, and it explodes and the debris goes West. Sometimes the angst builds and keeps building and it stays here and you have bloated people walking into banks and going to their jobs and cleaning up after their dog because it's what they know. But they want out, they want to stop being a barista and keep being an archaeologist.

I walk over to a buffet stacked with lacy plates and presented in the middle as if a shrine a jar.

"Oh, that?" she says. "That's my childhood tonsils. In case you are wondering, they are floating in a jar of formaldehyde." It's label is from Overlook Hospital. In a gesture, I make a wish and bow my head to the jar. "They grew back, but those are my first ones. Always will be."

The kettle cries and Janise feeds her sifter mug with sliced tea leaves and boiling water.

"I don't drive, really," she says. "When you walk down the street, you see every corner has a story." She sips her tea and wipes of little dustings of leaves from her lips. The steam from the mug slips up above the window, a hazy veil between the glass and the city and the people on the streets. "Here is where the rolling pictures of your life are visible to you everywhere you look."

Janise has a closet space filled with boxes of stolen food and three gallon cans of olive oil. She gets her tea from a botanist retired from the college who throws the same mug at her when she comes asking for more. He has whisky on his breath. There are racks filled with hundreds of identical coffee mugs surrounding him and his plants. He's probably ancient, in his eighties.

"He's a retired math professor, botanist, and mug salesman."

Janise works as a messenger for an old person's home. She walks the halls asking who they want to speak to, who they want to communicate with in the outside world. Their messages are never nice, and they never get replies, so Janise sits at home writing responses to these old-timers.

"You're the only person I could track down," she says. "All the others have either moved west or just don't care. Here." She hands me a letter. It's from Nancy Deegan and she has the penmanship of a founding father. There's something about a cat that needs to be fed, and she is missing one of her earrings my grandfather gave to her. She thinks it's the promiscuous nurse who keeps force feeding her chocolate pudding that is as much chocolate as she is my grandmother.

"This isn't my grandmother," I tell her. "All of my grandmothers live with me."

"Is that so? Well, you can at least respond to her," she says.

"But we aren't even related. I don't know her."

"Whether you are or not, it doesn't matter. What matters is she chose you to talk to. It's not my fault your card showed up in the hands of fate. Besides, I'm just a messenger."