Living in such a state taTestaTesTaTe etats a hcus ni gniviL of mind in which time sTATEsTAtEsTaTeStA emit hcihw ni dnim of does not pass, space STateSTaTeSTaTeStAtE ecaps ,ssap ton seod does not exist, and sTATeSt oFOfOfo dna, tsixe ton seod idea is not there. STatEst ofoFOFo .ereht ton si aedi Stuck in a place staTEsT OfOFofo ecalp a ni kcutS where movements TATeSTa foFofoF stnemevom erehw are impossible fOFoFOf elbissopmi era in all forms, UfOFofO ,smrof lla ni physical and nbEifof dna lacisyhp or mental - uNBeInO - latnem ro your mind is UNbeinG si dnim rouy focusing on a unBEING a no gnisucof lone thing, or NBeINgu ro ,gniht enol a lone nothing. bEinGUn .gnihton enol a You are numb and EiNguNB dna bmun era ouY unaware to events stneve ot erawanu taking place - not iSSUE ton - ecalp gnikat knowing how or what 3/31/98 tahw ro who gniwonk to think. You are in FORTY-FOUR ni era uoY .kniht ot a state of unbeing.... ....gniebnu fo etats a
So, he lied.
I sit here and slave over electromechanical printing devices, putting together the issue using childproof scissors and half-dry paste, while the other side of my brain idles on #unbeing, over an innocent Undernet server on IRC, flooded by the maniacal laughter of Kilgore and Ansat.
And you people aren't there.
You should be, though. Don't be scared, we are friendly bipeds, who don't fight, bite, but tend to write. And we pride ourselves on our dull-wit, saucer-like egos, and ability to rhyme. Along with the fact that our staff contains the only people who have NOT seen Titanic. Ha. Though most of us have seen The Postman, and fully commend Kevin Costner on creating perhaps the best comedic piece of the year.
I think I am causing the rotation of the Earth to slow down, I don't care what NASA says. I've lost about three layers of skin in the past week, due to climbing a mountain without sunscreen, and I am convinced the amount of skin that my body has propelled into the air has countered the rotation of the Earth, thereby causing it to lessen a bit.
It's surprising to notice our previously politically induced articles lessen and lessen as time goes on. What is the cause of this? I am not quite sure. For myself, it has become too damaging to my psyche to read the paper each day, let alone attempt to inhale barrels of media at a time, and crank out some bizarre rambling of it all the hopes to shed some light on a subject. And big-headed little ol' me decided he should perhaps fix himself before he fixes the world, and that is what is being done. Although I will fix the world -- don't think I've given up on everybody, for it is still my duty as super-entity to save the universe, when the time comes.
As for this issue, you get bombarded by fiction, chock full with broken hearts, morals, noses, heads, and glass -- swank pieces from Rich Logsdon, Dark Crystal Sphere gettin' jiggy wit it, Morrigan and Kilgore swooning the world with their words, and rarified fiction from myself. This all after some not-so-damn-shabby poetastrie from Japhy Ryder and Rally, and all of that after some enlightenment and woe from Ansat, KidKnee, and me. All in all, shankarific.
Kilgore should be back next month to attest to his greatness, so never fear, kids. Until then, be happy, come to #unbeing on IRC in all your spare time, be wary of another audio issue coming out within the next month or so, never put your life in the hands of a plump watermelon with no seeds, and always remember that Danger Mouse could beat the hell out of any animated mouse anywhere, anytime.
From: Oxyde de Carbone To: Kilgore Trout Subject: Suggestion (very important suggestion) What am I doing in this world? What am I going to do in this world? These are the questions I have been pondering over for the last 72 hours. I did my mind altering experience that I said I wanted to do, and now, after 2 days, I am still absorbing my thoughts. In actuality, I am absorbing my thoughts from the last 5 months. I have been so ignorant. Not wanting to deal with life has made me feel I don't deserve to have one. I want to enjoy and experience life but how? Drinking a lot of beer and vomiting out the door of some guy's truck that I don't even know obviously won't work because I feel like shit. My dog stinks. Let me get to the point. I am writing this to you because I have decided that it isn't fair that Crackmonkey is the only official groupie of SoB. I need to be under that heading as well because I am incomplete. I deserve to be a groupie. I have finally come to realize I will only be happy if my name is under Crackmonkey's in the credits. I can see myself next month, opening the SoB and feeling complete harmony. Please don't disappoint me. My entire future depends on this title. Official Groupie. I will have to make up business cards and distribute them to all 3 of my friends. I will finally have a purpose. Oxyde de Carbone *Don't just feel sorry for me and give me the title. I have qualifications. I know how to make zucchini muffins. I bet crackmonkey doesn't.
[well, i am personally still absorbing thoughts from when i was six, so don't feel bad. how do you enjoy and experience life? this is a question i can't give you an all-encompassing answer to, unfortunately -- it's all up to you. however, we are all here only to please you, and of course to indirectly please ourselves through pleasing you, but obviously you come first. you can do it, though. no matter what restrictions and walls you might see on the yellow brick road, you can find some way to hop through them. that is what makes life enjoyable. damn straight -- you are now the second Official SoB Groupie, and your name will be alongside crackmonkey's for all eternity. we are happy to provide you with a purpose. and we have no clue whether crackmonkey can cook, but we'd sure as hell like to try your zucchini muffins. free food.]
To: Kilgore Trout From: Bixenta Moonchild Subject: Mailing list and Submissions Okay, I'll try to make this as quick and un-silly as possible in hopes that you won't be tempted to print this in your "Letters to the Editor" section. Okay...um, you never quite mentioned on your WWW site exactly what it is that will be mailed to the people on the mailing list. Do you send the issues of the magazine to their e-mail addresses? I don't suppose you send them paper copies by snail mail, do you? Or do you send some other kind of goodies to their e-mail addresses? Okay, okay, I realize that those questions are probably terribly silly; feel free to ignore this. I'm not demanding a response, really. Um, another thing...I was going to submit a couple poems and a short story and another piece of writing that does not fit into a category, but the attachment function on my e-mail provider just doesn't work. Other people who use the same e-mail provider as I do have told me that it doesn't work for them either, so I tried my good-old Netscape address and another web-based e-mail provider, but those don't work either (although those two screw-up in a different way). I suppose I could send you a disk by snail mail, if it is worth all that trouble. By the way, I should mention that I enjoy your magazine and I find it more interesting and entertaining than anything else I have found on the 'net, but I'm sure you get plenty of compliments. Well, I want you to put me on your mailing list anyway. I guess I'll see what I get when I get it. Thank you, Bixenta Moonchild P.S. Oh, and I deserve it because I spent about a good fifteen minutes filling out the registration form for Hotmail and reading all the terms of agreement...just for the sake of your magazine...or mostly for the sake of your magazine. And I deserve it because I'm an all-around marvelous gal.
[ha! foiled again. sorry, bixenta, but all letters great and small will end up in the eyes of the many, followed by words of the few. never fear about your problems with attachments -- if you wish to submit, just include the text in the body. and as for what we send out, we just mail each issue textified, most of the times as an attachment, but for those who can't handle them, we just include the text in the body. and we shall do the same for you. we are always impressed by people who attain email access for the sole purpose of drooling at our words. or something.]
Dark Crystal Sphere Floating Between Two Universes
A small child had a conversation, a well-versed conversation for an eight-year-old, in the living room of the house in which my bedroom overlooks, with a middle aged, overweight, none-so-attractive lesbian from Florida, started by the small girl being asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. The child gleefully, casually responded that she wished to be a lawyer, and the middle-aged woman stated that was a good idea. Then, the child, once again gleefully and casually, followed it up with "or maybe a hair-dresser." This sparked something off in the woman, causing her to begin to rant about why a lawyer is better than a hair-dresser, all of which was based solely on money.
This is the same middle-aged woman who I have woken up to everyday for the past week, at approximately noon or one o'clock in the afternoon, as she has a seemingly intense, in-depth, meaningful conversation with her middle-aged, not-quite-as-large girlfriend. And so I shall lie quietly in my bed and eavesdrop on their conversation, quickly realizing that it is naught but fluff. Layers of white, puffy words commonly used in conversations by people who wish to sound as though they were speaking of something important, when really only conversing in fluff, with no underlying topic whatsoever. This upholds my theory of them being of average, or even less-than-average intelligence. And however condescending, egotistical, elitist it may sound, I would prefer to have humans with an above-average intelligence in my home. For reasons which I am sure is clear to many of you.
At this moment, I'd like to correct myself. I do not believe the women referred to above are middle-aged. In all actuality, it seems as though they are in their mid-to-late twenties. Although I definitely think they could pass for middle-aged, whatever age range that may be.
Eris spoke, and said nothing.
To which KidKnee exclaimed that she was right, and that the non-sound of her non-voice reminded him of Holy Zen enlightenment. This started him thinking about the olden riddle, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" At once KidKnee folded his holy hand in half, and clapped it against itself. Suddenly Eris already said at a previous date that one hand clapping was the last sound you hear as you enter the perfect buddha state of zen. She was right (as she always is), but KidKnee did not understand why. Kidknee stopped clapping, and heard nothing, and Eris was silent.
Then he thought, "Clapping is running one's hand into an obstacle, usually one's other hand. One hand clapping is then running one's hand into no obstacle to make a sound. Pulling on Erisian doctrine KidKnee then decided that the question was a lie, then sought to answer it, and enlightenment came. People run into obstacles every day that aren't real. Deadlines, paint on highways, signs, morality, peer pressure, laundry, hypochondria, and sundry other imaginary obstacles. In fact the vice of Malkuth is Discrimination, the ability to recognize what is real and what is false. Zen seeks to divest itself of duality, claiming that it is duality that is the foundation of all falseness, and that once one unrecognizes the duality between self and not self, all falseness will be stripped away. So, the moral of the story is that you cannot hear one hand clapping because you are one hand clapping. Running into false obstacles is an inherent part of you, and so you lie deluged in a forest, unable to see trees because you have no background to contrast them against. Just as you cannot taste your saliva, smell your nose hair, or pat your head and rub you stomach at the same time, you cannot hear the clapping noise you continually make until you stop making it. So in fact, the last thing one would hear upon entering a buddha state is the sound of one hand clapping."
Speaking these words to Eris, KidKnee hoped for validation for his non-service.
Eris frowned and replied that her doctrines were intended to make the brain throb of seekers and believers, and not the goddess herself, but if he were good and spread his words to those whose heads had not been hurt by his words yet, she would be pleased and perhaps explain that Star and Tzaddi thing some time, but probably not.
At this Kidknee exploded, and left behind this most sacred fragment.
I find myself so responsibly ingesting a bit of LSD fourteen hours before I head off to a morning interview with a technological powerhouse in cahoots with the Navy, NSA, and other various factions of the U.S. government, and I fantasize of carefully gliding into their treed parking area with any Alien paraphernalia taken off my windows, as their sconces of sonaradagamma-ar swing through my vehicle, detecting hidden traces of the drug, or other unpatriotic sentiments and toneful evidence, unmasking me as the subversive sort, coming only to plot the coup de tat of a lifetime and selling covered, blazoned, patented AI secrets to the communist turn-another-page-in-time bloc. As I will sit in a scantly clad materialed chair across the desk from the director to be mine, clothed in fashionable business garb, with a white or pastel shaded collared shirt, tie dancing around my crotch covered in endangered frogs or glinting happy suns and moons, keep my shirt tucked in and belt clasped on -- only a hint arriving with the unbroken boots supplied by Mom. I'll sit and fidget with sky horns blaring in my head, how should I act, how should I act, should I have worn this done that -- are they searching my car with metabolic anti-establishment detection equipment, did I get X-rayed walking through the Berlin guard rails and archways, pricked unknowingly, giving them my genetic code of Code, run tests F41370 through F978BT, and by the way, what came up with the background check? Background check, well, it depends what I'm standing in front of at the time, right when you see this, it shall probably be black or white or an off-shade of blue, with Me in an outstanding color, lipping out to touch your pupil, and if you look at this word closely, with a bit of nothingness, you'll see they're dilated. Really? Sure, why not, lick the screen. Put your hand right about here and you won't have to lick a thing. Oh, that low brow junkie junk drug humor, where will it get us, what must you think of me now. Oh, bathe me in waves of flesh and bodies of water tickled with candylight from candles and moths, watch the temptressed love in front of me, bearing silky latex skin for legs, tightly holding the skin in a pinch of black, her upper half in the same but painted in a military caulky green where I can watch her back curve down from shoulders to below -- a moment before, her left leg was laid atop a chair to the left, filling the line of my eyes with the form of her thigh and buttocks, the beginnings of her inner thigh sinking in my body, forcing the imagination to guess on just how her legs parted, what type of V was made to make my heart move to defcon three, the stirrings deep beneath my stomach beginning with a purr and bite of lip. This current theme I threw myself to, openly admitting my draw to the erotic, comes with the wrinkled hopes to indulge myself in the sexuality of teen femmes, thinking I could somehow come to a complete understanding conclusion of what cogs and wheels flow behind such a creature, what causes her rhymes and flow, what she does and may not know; why did that just rhyme? I wish I had a few more brushes and hues to sketch the person in front of me before you -- I am trying not to stare, relying solely on short memoried encapsulation of the moments I glance. She now sits with that same magical left leg folded beneath her, between the metal gray chair and her fluid warm body. I'm dancing around the edges of being classified as porno text here, though that's not meant. Morrison, classified as the world's most overrated rock star, lamented for the death of his cock after he preached and cried for orgies in the streets, free love and Muppets, rooted not in lust but in each other, and now I sound like a pornographic hippie. Well, unlike some see f-apparent doom glooms, I don't wander with lack of smiles, scornfully scanting the plight of "fucking hippies" -- like them, I guess, I'll throw altruistic moods and glimmers about me, that is what I do, welcoming the string hair of grinning strangers into my head and arms. Come one, come all, leave your Amex at home.
If I was one of those NLP people, I would suspect that my foundational problem is a simple lack of imagination. Because I cannot imagine a world where I could be happy, I cannot work towards it, and indeed despair of ever achieving it. On the other hand, if I could imagine such a world, I would be less despairing. Obviously, while this is a practical conclusion, my philosophy leads me to consider it less a case of finding a world of happiness than of deluding oneself into working for an unachievable goal, and finding contentment through putting off the realization of inevitable failure.
Actually, the above isn't entirely true. I can imagine a world of some happiness. It involves living further north, in a cooler environment. It involves having a place to call my own, where I can feel secure and appropriate, whether in an apartment or a small house in a smaller village. It may or may not include a lover, and may or may not include a job, working hours that are not too strenuous, and leaving me time for study and contemplation. It does allow me to get up in the morning, and to enjoy this morning in a place I can feel I belong. Whether or not this is attainable, I know fully well it does not really describe happiness at all, but rather a state of contentment, where if I ever allowed myself to stop to think about it, I would remain feeling unfulfilled.
Since A.'s last call, I have left two messages on her machine, one apologizing for being out of it, and the other saying I called to say hello. I didn't say I suspect she is angry at me. She has not called back. I believe I mentioned yesterday about how I would feel relieved if she died. I imagine the feeling of freedom I imagine I would feel when that happened, even across the gap of time and space. I wonder what I could tell people when they realized instead of grieving I was more content. "I had already lost her," might be a reasonable one. "Now no one else can have her." It is more complex than that. I think the most true thing I could say is: "I have faith I will not have to endure heaven without her, and that is the only faith I need."
Mom seems to have despaired of ever having grandchildren. She was talking about giving away the children's clothes and things she has carried with us across the globe since England, hoping to have something to give to her grandchildren. She told me she no longer has faith that even between the four of us, she will ever see a grandchild.
I just got home from Metro, where I was hanging out with my friends. The above is largely what I was thinking about in the car on the way home. I got really depressed there. As usual. When I am around people who I am not sexually involved with -- in an erotic sense more than a flatly sexual sense -- I get very depressed. Even with friends. I don't know why. It could be physical proximity without physical intimacy makes me feel even more isolated than I do when I am alone without others to contrast myself with. It might be that friends inevitably betray your ideal of the perfect friend. It could be I was tired, and forgot to drop a couple of ginseng before going out. I don't know. All I know is it is very unpleasant to have friends, but I don't want to be totally alone.
I don't really have much else to say right now. I guess I'll try to scrounge up something to eat before going to bed.
I have been thinking, also. I have a fair amount going for me as a person. I am smart and caring, a good friend and a good lover, and so on and so forth. I do have one drawback that seems to count against me more than anything else, and that is my utter lack of ambition. I don't care about the future, and have no dreams or hopes or goals. This was probably the true reason C. left me; it was the root of our last fight, which culminated in, as I recall, her throwing food at me, me storming off, and her calling her father to say I had deserted her. It wasn't true, of course. I came back after a little while, but she had already called and refused to stay with me. God, this is painful. She had also gotten another guy over. I knew the trick then, and I know it now. She wanted me to show I cared by struggling against him. He was a hapless other friend of hers, who could very well have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I told her I didn't play those games, that she could pick for herself, and if she chose him, I would just leave. And I did. This was the same mistake I made with A., but by that point with C. it was clear the relationship wasn't going to work. We never had another date; neither of us even asked.
I find it really sad that women still view men in such a primitive manner. It has been my experience that women are a lot less open to the idea of feminine men than men are masculine women. Sure, they think it is an amusing game for a while, until they realize what is going on, that the world is changing, and that men have to be viewed as individual human beings. Female acceptance of gay guys and gay culture is, I think, a perfect example of this. Women are comfortable with gay guys, because they can define them. They do not have a real relationship with women, because they are other. They are not "real" men, however much most people would deny they feel this. But to see that a guy has female characteristics is anathema.
If a guy was otherwise decent, but didn't have money, for example, or good looks, or a certain hobby, women would generally see past this. These are things they consider externals, incidentals. Some women put more stock in these than others, and this is seen as individual taste. Ambition and hopes should be a quality like any other, just one to be viewed on an individual basis. It is not, though. Women are very interested in what job the guy wants to have, what kind of a future he has, and so on. This shows very, painfully obviously that women continue to view guys as providers, in a very primitive manner. It is dressed up, but the concept remains. Rather than seeing a couple who will have to make a life together, they see a guy who has to provide. With girls, a future or a career can be a factor, or can not be. Again, it is individual taste. There is no presumption here, and, in a general case (aside from the above mentioned individual tastes), a girl is not considered outside the pale of a future together because she lacks a career goal. It would be nice if guys could be similarly judged on an individual basis.
This is not a problem with girls, of course. This is a problem with people. At least, the people in the world today. It is easier to classify people first, and see those one wants to see as individuals within the classification system. I think I honestly see people as individuals who share in concepts. As I have said before, I fall in love with people, not demographic subdivisions. Most people, though, seem to view individuals as members of a group first of all, and the gender classification is a very prominent judging factor. In a lot of ways, women have more freedom within this classification. As I have discussed in the last two days, girls have the freedom to work or not to work -- within the parameters of our oppressive economic system -- and to dress a lot more freely than guys can. These are just two examples. Because, I suspect, the women's liberation movement has sought the "right" of each woman to occupy male roles, without losing female roles, apparent progress has been made. In reality, though, it is stagnant at best, and negative at worst. Because of these struggles, people have lost sight of the fact that the progress we must make is towards seeing individuals as individuals, not to gain women the right to do what men can do. By making "progress", a reformist, stabilizing point has been reached, and people remain oppressed. To question the ruling ideology is, of course, heresy. And the "right" to oppress men is being extended to society, not in my opinion out of vindictiveness, but simply because people cannot see the damage they do.
But this is something that cannot be won at the ballot box or in the streets. This is a battle everyone must fight in their own hearts, and I severely doubt it will be fought. If we fight against others, we can blame them for our pain, and cause them pain. If we realize the enemy is ourselves, we both have to cause ourselves pain and, more importantly, take responsibility for the pain we feel. This is something most people appear unwilling to do.
It is truly a sad, sad thing.
"The poets? They stink. They write badly. They're idiots you see, because the strong people don't write poetry.... They become hitmen for the Mafia. The good people do the serious jobs."
itchy hands... at the wrong hour
and mostly the wrong place. it
seems like the hunger for forms
and the smell of paper merge into
a big gapping hole.
all sudden thoughts are but a flick
in the dark stairway. bleached in
time. forgotten. how wasteful we
if this was the meaning of our
existence we could've been better
beings...much better...humans. for
what we are. unperfect, uneasy,
tired and bored of honesty... to
ourselves. scared of darkness, but
mostly of light. and recollecting
carefully the bits and pieces of
dreams in cardboard boxes and
the bone knows
the throat thrown clean
over her broken back
her head in agony gyrating
where the flesh falls away
against low-trajectory orbit
telescoping from red, gone
in the indeterminable roar
of pale agony
to the sea
where the flesh falls away broken,
to the ground, red clay, low-water bridge,
words refused in the book of bone
where the flesh falls away
forward into the water
then back over her broken back
the shell cracked
the bone knows
useless legs splayed through
the water where the flesh falls away
broken down into the ground, red clay,
inscribed in the book of bone
What do you think-- What do you think about the state of the nation & the cat carefully picking its way thru last night's left-over scraps--crusted soy & sesame, saki, bamboo & all the other malicious instruments of experimentation? And the dog-- look, she's simply bloated up in the corner-- eyes pleading for the outside-- for a little relief-- so take her out why don't you, I think my feet have disappeared. O look at the sun slanting its horrible way thru the curtains-- the sky's way to heavy today, filled with things like clouds and birds and fighter jets and oxygen, it's an omen, I tell you-- advice that pregnant afternoons belong to the mushrooms-- So let us fungus! And no, don't put Tchaikovsky on, that old bastard, I already have enough artillery shooting in my skull-- we need adagio, we need a requiem for debauchery, we need to close the blinds on our ship of state and let puffed eyes adjust to the signs & symbols of the whole blown universe.
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.
What had the flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall--
If design govern in a thing so small.
Late one cool fall afternoon in Las Vegas, a shivering, slightly inebriated Bill Spinx sat alone in his lawn chair in his back yard, gazing at his reflection in the pool. A chilling desert breeze rippled the surface of the water and touched him to the bone as the sun sank behind the blue-gray mountains to the west. He wondered when Uncle Mark, driving down from Boise, would arrive. Soon, it would be dark and he would have to return to the house, trudge upstairs to his study, and prepare for tomorrow's lecture on his favorite topic, socioculturally-induced psychoses.
For now, he found refuge outside, in the darkening afternoon, away from the battle raging within his household. The breeze, generally a foreshadowing of a storm this time of year, felt good. He wondered how Uncle Mark, a rough man he had always looked up to as a father and hadn't seen for years, would handle the situation. When Bill was much younger, his Uncle Mark had always known what to do. Uncle Mark had even gotten Bill out of jail once.
The shouts and screams echoed from the house, a beautiful wood and brick two-story located in northwest Las Vegas, and he knew that his wife Gretchen was once again letting Justin have it with the board, the belt, or a rolled-up newspaper.
The day had just gone bad. Having talked over the phone the evening before with his uncle, who was spending the night gambling in Reno, Bill had driven into the garage at 2:30 that day in a terrific mood. His last class -- the History of Violence in Cinema -- had finished by two. Predictably, upon walking through the door from the garage, he had found the children lying on their stomachs in front of and gazing up at the television, a gigantic Toshiba with a 37" screen, both anticipating an afternoon of action-filled cartoons.
The "good stuff," his eight year old son Justin insisted, started around 3:00. About a year ago, Justin had found a station specializing in children's cartoons, some that Bill had ever heard of. The three to four hour cartoon-a-thon consisted of some familiars, such as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Smurfs," but included as well some he'd never heard of: "Savage Sisters," "Darkling Plain," "Rodent Feast" (this one, Justin had insisted over dinner one night, was hilarious), "Twisted Terror," "Vampire Vixens," and the like.
With Justin and his sister Lisa watching the tube, Bill and his wife had sat down at the kitchen table to enjoy a late lunch of warmed-up three-day old Domino's pizza and Coors beer. Between them, they went through at least a case a week. After about ten minutes and three beers apiece later, they had heard their darling five-year old Lisa's shrill scream, followed by an exchange that had become as much a part of family ritual as evening prayers:
"Fuck you, Justin!!"
"Fuck you, Lisa."
"Fuck you, asshole!!"
"Fuck you, you little cunt!"
Next came the loud slap and more screams and crying from Lisa. They knew Justin was punishing his sister once again and they tried to ignore the commotion. As Bill and his wife ate and drank, the screams had slowly subsided. Then all had gone quiet save the unmistakable sound two cartoon characters slugging it out on the set.
After several minutes of unnatural silence from both children, Bill and Gretchen had bolted like race horses from the table and into the family room where they had found Justin suffocating five year old Lisa with the red and white sofa pillow that Bill had given Gretchen last Valentine's day. Lisa's muffled screams and twitching legs told the parents that she was still alive.
These "attempted homicides," as Gretchen had jokingly labeled Justin's attacks on his sister, had become common household occurrences in the last six months but up until today had always occurred early in the morning or late at night. Justin was now seeing a therapist, Dr. Harvey Mellon, one of Bill's associates at the college, three times a week, but aside from finally agreeing to say prayers with the family at the dinner table, Justin had made no improvement.
This afternoon, before the proverbial shit hit the fan and Justin was once again either denied television privileges for the next three days or whipped silly by his mother, Bill had grabbed what remained of his pizza as well as two six-packs of Coors from the fridge and had high-tailed it out the back door and onto the patio. There he could finish his lunch in relative peace, drink as much beer as he liked, gaze at his own dark reflection in the pool, and hope for his uncle's arrival, which would certainly force a peace onto the household. Bill had decided months ago to leave the discipline up to his wife, a tall and thin dark-haired woman of Northern European descent whose ideas of family discipline were likely derived from the literature of the Third Reich.
He watched the sunset, always glorious in southern Nevada, the yellows and oranges giving way to red, purple and dark blue, and wished that he were aboard one of the jets now streaking into the western horizon. Taking enormous gulps of his cold beer, he remembered that the tremendously over-weight Dr. Mellon had warned Gretchen and him never to punish their children by denying them the simple technological pleasures of late twentieth century America. "Why punish yourself by turnin' off the television or the computer, which you both gonna wanna watch anyway -- and guaranteein' a fight between the kids?" Dr. Mellon had gasped and wheezed over cookies and Pepsi late one evening about a month ago. He had been invited for dinner and, complaining of stomach pains after a dessert of chocolate cake and ice cream, had requested to stay longer.
Taking another enormous gulp of beer as darkness began spreading across the sky, Bill angrily recalled that Mellon had continued: "Stroke the little buggers when they do somethin' right. Just stroke 'em and stroke 'em. They love that." At that point, Bill remembered that the wheezing Mellon had bitten into one of the enormous chocolate-chip cookies that his wife generally saved for the kids. "Hell," puffed the obscene Mellon, breathing cookie crumbs onto his clothes and onto the floor as he talked, "if that fails to do the trick, jes' take a old leather belt to their bare little bottoms." Mellon paused to drain his third can of Pepsi. "Y'know," he belched, "pain can be a great motivator." Mellon had chuckled as he had wobbled out of the Spinx front door, his bulging stomach now packed: "Back to home, Daddy always whipped my ass if I got outa line."
On his sixth can of Coors, munching on old pizza and staring into the pool, Bill thought it curious that his obese colleague was unmarried and, as far as he knew, had no children or girlfriends. Bill also wondered how this huge man, responsible for advising parents, had ever made it through his first two years of college.
Right now, because his son had once again tried to terminate his sister, Bill took the safest course of action, drinking beer and waiting for the evening star, some symbol of hope, to appear just over the mountains to the west. He loathed all forms of violence; his parents Thomas and Eunice had never laid a hand on him; but, when he had reached his eighteenth birthday, Eunice had given him two hundred dollars, a sack lunch, some old clothes, a foot in the rear end, and told him to hit the road.
With the disappearance of the sun behind the mountains, the breeze became a wind. He could hear the shouts and screams continuing from the house and knew that Gretchen had finally lost her patience and was likely chasing Justin up the stairs with some kind of weapon. Little Lisa was probably laughing hysterically; nothing pleased her more than to see dear old mom whip her brother senseless, and when the beatings began, Lisa would normally position herself about five feet away from Justin, making sure that he could see her, and laugh silently as Gretchen began the punishment with the usual, "Honey, this is going to hurt your mother more than it hurts you."
Bill was normally not a religious man, and had given up reading the Bible several years ago, but the hour of desperation had come. On his eighth can, he realized that things could get no worse. He stood, thanked the good Lord for his job, his wife, and kids, looked down at the pool, thought about diving in, and prayed that peace would be established in the Spinx household before Uncle Mark arrived from Reno. Mark was one of the last surviving relatives outside Bill's immediate family and Bill hadn't seen the man for twenty years.
After his brief prayer, Bill sighed, reached for another Coors, lay back on the lawn chair, and closed his eyes. Breathing deeply to force himself to relax, he tried to envision himself as a huge bird in flight, but he only saw himself as a bat, blindly flying through impenetrable darkness. He remained tense as a board as the shouting inside continued.
As he lay there, he thought again of Uncle Mark, the gaunt man with midnight-black hair wearing red long-sleeved shirt and black trousers and grinning hugely in the family picture Bill kept over the television room sofa. Mark's expression reminded him of a movie he had seen as a child, "Mr. Sardonicus," about a man who had dug up the body of his deceased wife to reclaim a winning lottery ticket and had turned into a ghastly grinning ghoul. Bill's wife and daughter had asked numerous times that the family photo be taken down -- it was enormous, occupying most of the wall behind the sofa -- and put in the study or, more appropriately, burned out back late some night when no one could report a neighborhood fire.
One night last month, Lisa had awakened screaming and crying. She had dreamed that she had been standing in the living room when Uncle Mark had stepped out of the painting, grabbed her with hands whose fingers resembled knives, and then begun to eat her arms and legs.
Of course, loyal to the family of his birth, Bill had refused to move the picture. "It stays right there, boys and girls," Bill had asserted at the dinner table the very next night, bringing his fist crashing down onto the table like a bowling ball. Gretchen and the kids had jumped in their chairs, put their heads down, and silently resumed their meal of steak and potatoes. No more was said about the picture. While he looked grotesque in the photo, Mark was a good man; Bill was quite sure of that.
After all, when Bill was growing up in Boise, Idaho, it was his Uncle Mark who had taken Bill and his brother Maurice to the movies ("Mr. Sardonicus" among them), to ball games out at the old Braves field, to the Meridian race track to watch "demolition derby," to the occasional boxing matches held at the Idaho State Fairgrounds. It was Uncle Mark who, as Bill and his brother began to show an interest in girls, had provided his nephews an unending supply of booze and condoms. "Boys, you just can't have enough of these," Mark had said late one Thanksgiving afternoon as he and his two nephews sat under the shade Of the old oak tree in his mother's backyard. Bill had noticed, at the time, that Mark, grinning grotesquely, was holding a package of Trojans.
He remembered as well the vicious stories his relatives circulated about Mark, but everyone in his family had spread nasty rumors about other family members. There were Bertha's improbable stories about Mark's cooking his poodle in an oven, about Mark's having sex with his Bertha and his own mother, about Mark's neglect of his own wife, and about Mark's going to jail for beating a man to death at a local bar.
As he awaited his uncle's arrival in the twilight, Bill sadly pondered the recent near deaths of his mother and her sister Aunt Bertha -- they had been badly injured in a garage fire three weeks ago at his uncle Mark's home in Meridian, Idaho. Apparently, a friend of the family had attempted to bring murder charges against Mark; however, nothing could be proved and in anger Mark had decided to spend the next two and a half weeks getting out of the Boise valley and heading to greener pastures.
It was now dark. Bill sighed, looked up from the lawn chair and realized he had nodded off. He felt dizzy, opened another Coors, and brought the can to his lips. There was no moon in the night sky, only an occasional star. The wind pounded against the house, but he had no desire to rejoin Gretchen and the kids. He wished at that instant for a cigarette, remembered that he had left his pack inside his briefcase, which was sitting on the floor of the study. Suddenly he realized the screaming inside the house had ceased. Relieved, even stunned, he arose from the lawn chair and, can of beer in his right hand, headed into the house.
He found Gretchen and the kids seated in the living room, in a row on the couch, glumly silent. The shattered television screen had a large hole in the center, through which a wisp of smoke drifted. Seated across from them in the black leather chair was a hugely grinning man he knew had to be his Uncle Mark, holding a cigarette between two fingers of one hand while calmly blowing smoke rings that swam through the dim light provide by the table lamp next to him.
Still thin as a post, Uncle Mark had a dark gray beard and mustache, which gave him a certain dignity. His hair was receding and met in a widow's peak at the top of his forehead. Bill noticed that Mark's fingernails had yellowed from tar and nicotine and that Mark was wearing a black leather jacket, a bright red shirt, and faded blue jeans.
"Why, Uncle Mark!" William exclaimed, head spinning from having consumed nearly two six packs, "you've arrived!!! Glad t'see ya." Bill stumbled across the room and, after Mark put his cigarette in his mouth and arose from the chair, shook the hand of the uncle whose coming had somehow brought peace.
"Hey, Billy," rasped Uncle Mark, his voice showing the effects of smoking over three packs a day for the past thirty years, "how the hell are ya? Ya son-of-a-bitch, where ya been?"
This was the Uncle Mark of old, a man who said whatever came to mind, regardless of who was likely to be offended -- and plenty of family members had been deeply offended. Bill overlooked the reference to his own mother and quickly gulped the remains of the beer he had carried into the house.
"Fine, Uncle Mark, just fine. I was outside getting some fresh air. Didn't know you'd arrived," Bill responded with a slight belch. He looked at his wife and kids; though somewhat inebriated, he read the numbing power of fear in their expressions.
Mark sat down, stared at the photo over the sofa. "I was just tellin' Shirley an' the kids here about your mommy an' your daddy. Which I didn't know your daddy real well. Always seemed like a good guy, y'know, one of us, but always told me to stay away from your ma," Mark paused, took a drag on his cigarette, exhaled slowly, and continued.
"Uh, that's Gretchen, not Shirley," Bill corrected his uncle. Mark acted as if he hadn't heard his nephew. Bill looked at Gretchen and the kids, who remained rigid, speechless, white as sheets.
Uncle Mark now looked at Bill, squinted through the smoke coming from the cigarette he held between his thumb and forefinger, and pointed the free middle finger at his nephew. "Now, Billy boy, it does sound like you been havin' some trouble with your offspring here. Oughta keep 'em more in line."
The cigarette went back between Mark's lips. "And fuckin-A, nephew, on the very goddamned night when your sweet ole uncle arrives all the way from piss-ant little Meridian, Idaho. Now that is showin', Billy -- and I speak with the utmost fuckin' respect, ma'am -- what people in our family used to call real bad manners." His speech over, Mark grinned horribly, cigarette held between huge yellowing teeth.
"Shit, boy, I musta rang that door sixty, seventy times, all a while hearin' screamin' and hollerin' your wife and kids make, shee-yit, and decide just to take my chances and come on in. Come on in, Mark, I says to myself. So I did. When I walked over the threshhold an' in through that damned door," here Mark gestured toward the door for emphasis, "what I see but old Shirley here -- uh, Gretchen, 'xcuse me -- whalin' the shit outa junior there on the stairs. Can't stand to see that kind of shit, a parent beatin' up on a kid, so I grab her by the hair, put this to her forehead" -- here, Uncle Mark pulled out a small pistol from his coat -- "an' just told her t'stop." Mark's eyes were big as saucers as he told the story. "She just shut up and went to the sofa with them kids and sat down, not sayin' nothin', just listening to old Uncle Mark talk about your mommy an' daddy. Hehehehe. 'Course, I wouldn't never have used the gun on her or the kids. At least not right away. (Hehehehe, that's a joke, nephew.) Then, 'cause it's showin' some crap flick 'bout a guy diggin' up his wife's grave, I blew out your goddamned set. POW!" Here, rage etched on his face, Mark pointed the gun at what remained of the television. "About which," and here the old man took a deep drag on his cigarette, the rage gone, "I am truly sorry. I'd like to buy a new one when I get the money."
Bill stared at the old man, pursed his lips, and nodded to himself. Sweet mother of god, Bill thought to himself, some people just do not change. His family members always used to talk to each other this way. Of course, no one had ever really used a gun, but he had grown up with guns and, at one point in high school, had threatened to use one on a boy who had been dating his girl friend. Uncle Mark had been the only family member, however, to really support Bill in this situation.
"Well, thank you Uncle Mark," said Bill, seating himself next to his uncle and attempting to regain some degree of control, "I appreciate the offer. And I was wondering, Uncle, could I bum a smoke?"
"That's my Billy," rasped the old man, reaching inside his coat for a pack of Camels, which he extended to his nephew. Ever since the Korean conflict, Uncle Mark had smoked nothing but Camels. "Now, why don't you an' Shirley here just tell ole Uncle Mark ("That's Gretchen," corrected Bill.) what in the hell is goin' on in this crazy house."
Bill inhaled deeply on the cigarette. Looking at Gretchen and the kids, still sheet-white and frightened, he began recounting the problems with his son Justin, the advice from Dr. Mellon, and the recent altercation of the day. Mark listened patiently, occasionally exclaimed something like "Jesus H. Christ!", smoked four or five cigarettes until, one half-hour later, the room was so thick with smoke that Bill couldn't see the books lining the shelves behind the television set.
When Bill finished, Gretchen and the kids were coughing but saying nothing. "Mind if I open the door, uncle?" Bill asked.
"Don't mind at all," came Mark's response, dragging deeply on a Camel he had smoked to the nubbins.
William opened both the front door and the back door, expecting a strong wind to blow through the house. Oddly, it was as if the wind refused to enter full force, sending a timid breeze instead. It had begun to rain outside. The smoke inside seemed remain in small clouds, clinging to the objects of the room. Uncle Mark continued to puff away, staring thoughtfully off into space.
"Y'know, boy, I always liked you, you been like a son to me, so I'm gonna shoot from the hip. Uh, that's a joke, ma'am," Mark added, looking at Gretchen. "This shit ain't Justin's fault. Sure, he's a little bad ass; but he ain't the problem."
Uncle Mark squinted harder at Bill this time. "It's you's the problem, Billy boy, sittin' out by your damn pool, gettin' drunk, while your little lady here wails the daylights outa your son and the little girl here thinks it's funny." Mark paused, put one cigarette out in the ash-tray he'd placed on his lap and lit another. "Anyone should be beatin' the kid, should be you. But I ain't one for beatin' kids. Someone beats kids deserves to die." Mark paused, darkly scowling at some spot on the floor. "And this doctor your kid been seein' don't know shit."
Bill, Gretchen, and the kids sat in stone silence, letting the words sink in. "I'm gonna speak my peace then go to bed, nephew. Anger's a ugly thing. Made me kill a friend once in a bar in Boise over, shit, buyin' a drink. That's years ago. Before you was born. That night, shit, before the war, we both wanted to buy this Indian girl a drink or two. Both us wanted to fuck the daylights outa her real bad. (Please pardon my French, kids.) I seen her first but that didn't matter. He swang at me, we were both kinda drunk, and I broke a whiskey bottle over his skull. Sounded like one those great big light bulbs used on movie sets explodin'. Then, I get him on the floor, sit on his chest, and beat his face in with my fists." Mark closed his eyes, seemed on the verge of sobbing, reconstructing the scene. "Billy -- his name was Billy too -- never come out of it and died in a coma three months later. I went to jail. Met your ma there. Come out a changed man."
Uncle Mark rose to his feet, sniffed loudly, stretched, yawned, and added, "You the one got the gun in this family, nephew, so t'speak. An' that's the lone fact o' your existence. Now, if you all will please excuse me, where's the toilet, where's the shower, an' where's my damn bed?" Mark was ready to turn in.
In stunned silence, Bill escorted his uncle, grinning like a ghoul, upstairs to the room next to the one he shared with Gretchen. He had no idea how long Mark planned on staying. For all he knew, Mark could be here until the day he died. One thing was certain to Bill: Mark was family, and family should look out for family.
When Bill came back down the stairs, his knees were shaking, the doors had been closed, and the sofa was empty. Smoke still hung in pockets in the air, and he realized that Gretchen and the kids had likely gone upstairs to bed.
Bill looked at the hole in his set and felt hollow inside. He puzzled over what Uncle Mark had meant with the comment about the gun and wondered if, just possibly, he had opened his doors to an even greater evil than the one he had run away from just hours ago. He wished he had kept a copy of the Bible around the house.
Standing in the middle of the room, listening to the hall clock ringing midnight, he felt a cold wave of fear rush through him and moved to the kitchen to grab another beer. When he opened the refrigerator door, he heard a shuffling of feet behind him. He turned and saw Gretchen sitting alone at the kitchen table, her unfinished pizza and beer still in front of her. Her face was blank; haggard, expressionless, she reminded him of pictures he'd seen of war refugees.
Then getting up slowly, almost painfully, she walked toward him and looked into his eyes. Gretchen, Bill noticed, still had beautiful blue eyes, which brought to mind of an instant an image of this evening's beautiful sunset. "The man is absolutely obscene, William," she whispered, near tears. "No, he's evil. Get rid of the son of a bitch. Please."
Bill said nothing, just pulled the tab to the beer can and began to drink in enormous gulps. This would be his tenth or eleventh or twelfth beer. He had lost count. It didn't matter any more.
"William, use your head, for God's sake! You're a professor, an educator!" Gretchen shouted in a whisper. "The man could barbecue us in our fucking sleep!" Though he had never heard Gretchen use vulgarity, Bill said nothing. Nothing seemed impossible any more.
"Either he goes," Gretchen began again, her eyes blazing in rage, her voice trembling, "or the kids and I are out the fucking door. Gone to God knows where. Just gone. Whoosh. The man," here her voice dropped to a barely audible whisper, "is crazy and evil, William. It's plain as the fucking nose on your face!"
But nothing was plain to Bill now as Gretchen moved away through the lingering smoke to go upstairs, and finishing his can, he reached into the refrigerator for another. He had no idea where to go from here.
Legend has it that Charles II banned soccer in England as a form of witchcraft. I can see why. A loss sits on your soul like black fog, eating your thoughts, sapping your energy, taking away your manhood, and turning you against wife, kids, and pets.
I hate to lose. Before coming to Las Vegas, I played for a division II east-coast college team that won two regional championships. For three years running, I was all-conference midfielder. An article about me appeared in Soccer America. After that, I was one of the most feared players in the Vegas open leagues until I got both legs broken in one year. (To this day, I hobble.) Since then I have coached a men's soccer team, Hearts F.C., named after one of the top clubs in the Scottish Premiere Football Division.
For five years, my team was one of the top squads in the Southwest. We won state twice, traveled to numerous tournaments, and dominated our league in southern Nevada. Winning became a way of life for me until one Sunday in late March of '87.
It was just past noon, and I was mad enough to spit tacks. My team had just gotten their asses kicked six to one. Six to one. So when I tore into the parking lot of my favorite restaurant Whistle Willie's after the game, I felt like slamming into something: a parked car, the side of a building, a post-office box, anything to relieve the rage.
As soon as I hobbled through the doors of Whistle Willie's and Lisa asked how my team did, I responded with typically witty aplomb, "Lisa baby, we lost a big one. Oh, yeah, we lost in style. Old Jesus Christ in the fuckin' flesh wouldn't have helped these losers today. We got our tail bones crushed six to one."
Lisa stiffened at my words. A gorgeous creation, she had blonde hair that she wore long and shaggy, very sexy, radiant blue eyes, and a great figure that matched her buoyant personality; she was normally very talkative. But Lisa was also brought up in the Roman Catholic church, so that day she was in no mood for blasphemy. Earlier that morning, I'll bet she took communion.
She simply said, "Sorry, Charley," gave me an icy stare, pointed me to one of her corner tables, and left me wondering if I should have resorted to the familiar old "shit" or "fuck," as in "This fuckin' team of mine didn't play for shit."
As I sat at my table, waiting for Lisa, dark gray clouds began gathering over the western mountains. The joints in my legs hurt. Guns and Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" blared numbingly from the juke box just to the right of the door as you go out and I began pounding the table to the beat to get my mind off defeat. Signs, banners and pictures of athletes and beautiful women hung from the walls, one of which showed a hugely smiling Greg Maddux surrounded by some of the babes that work this place. Whistle Willie's was packed and rocking, and the waitresses -- tastefully dressed in tight skimpy orange shorts and T-shirts that amply displayed the two reasons men came to this place -- were carrying beer, hamburgers, chicken wings, and fries to tables of hungry customers.
When Lisa finally took my order, I apologized for my language. She just smiled that big beautiful let's-go-to-bed together smile of hers, stroked my arm, and said, "Sometimes, Charley, you gotta lose. Losers make winners."
I was in no mood for philosophy. "Hey, Lisa," I growled, glancing at the "Eat me" that had been carved into the wood of my table, "just gimme a fuckin' beer." Lisa stiffened and I was back at square one.
After my order arrived, it took me about ten minutes to wolf down my spicy hot buffalo chicken sandwich and finish a pitcher of beer. (You need a lot of beer to eat some of the shit they serve in this dump.) Then I whistled to Lisa, and gestured to let her know I wanted a second pitcher.
Impatient, still furious, I belched loudly and deeply, sounding like a thunder clap. Dressed in their Sunday best, the old couple sitting at the table next to mine looked at me and the old bitch scowled. For five minutes, I'd been studying these two, probably in their seventies. The over-weight old blue hair had been sitting on her fat ass, slowly gobbling a Willie burger with a husband who looked like a well-built version of the Grim Reaper. A tall man dressed in a black suit, he had an ugly face with a flattened nose, big protruding lips, and huge hands.
The old lady leaned over, put her hand over her mouth, and whispered something into the ear of the Reaper, who choked out a laugh and looked over at me. I glared hatefully back at him and said something like "Why don't you two geriatric wonders mind your own fuckin' business?" when Lisa came over, shoved my second pitcher under my nose, put an arm around me while saying "Please excuse Charley the Prick. He's having a bad day," to the old couple.
Lisa wanted me to be a smiley face. She turned, looked me in the eyes, and whispered, "Are you out of your mind today? That's Jim Jeffries, the former heavyweight champion."
I snorted in my beer, like all men do when good looking women put them down, and took a long drink. I regretted ever having given Lisa an "A" for a final grade in the contemporary literature class she took from me last semester. Since Jim Jeffries had been dead for nearly seventy-five years, I wondered if Lisa was on crack. I studied her breasts, her pierced belly button, and looked into her flaming blue eyes. I withheld judgment.
After Lisa coldly moved off, I had a lucid moment. It occurred to me that I was being unfair to the two oldsters sitting at the next table, but then I reminded myself that these two should have had lunch at some retirement center eating custard and drinking iced tea. Whistle Willie's is no place for old men and women.
I continued to drink my beer, glass after glass, and turned my attention to one of the four televisions on the elevated platforms situated in each corner of the room. The Chicago Bulls were playing the Denver Nuggets, one of the most sorry-ass groups that has ever been assembled in the NBA. With thirty-seven seconds left, the Nuggets led 98-93. Michael Jordan had apparently already poured in fifty-three points in what appeared to be a losing effort. As the seconds ticked down and Denver and Chicago each put in two more baskets to bring the score to 102-99, my heart sank. When M. J. missed a three pointer at the buzzer, I lost it.
"Fuck!!" I exclaimed, slamming my glass of beer onto the wooden table. "Damnitalltohell!!" I counted on the Bulls' winning every game.
Predictably, old Bluehair and the Grim Reaper looked over at me in glowering disapproval. In disgust, I belched again, this time louder, much longer and again in the direction of the Grim Reaper and his wife. (It was a masterpiece, like Booger's incredible belch in the first REVENGE OF THE NERDS.) I hoped I was emitting beer fumes that would gag the old couple like a noxious gas. This time, without even glancing at me, the old guy got up, stretched, and began a slow John Wayne walk towards my table.
I could tell right away that I had underestimated my opposition a bit. The Reaper looked closer to fifty-five, stood about six foot four, was trim and fit, and carried himself with supreme confidence. He hadn't an inch of fat. His rugged face remained expressionless, his chin jutted out, and his huge fists were clenched. But it was his eyes that unnerved me: he had gray expressionless eyes, the kind that stares right through you, sees your flaws, makes you want to hide under a rock. He reminded me of granite.
He sat on one of my stools so that he was directly across from me at my table, folded his hands and looked sadly down like he was going to begin praying any minute for my eternal salvation or sing some kind of hymn designed to grab sinners' souls. Then he looked up.
"Son," he began. That's all he said. Son. His voice was much lower than I had thought it would be, something primordial and deep, sort of like the voice of God in DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. He studied me for five minutes or so, unblinking, unsmiling, never taking his eyes off my face.
I waited, took another huge gulp, wiped the back of my hand across my lips and said, "What?" I was honestly considering a third belch.
"Son," he began again, his voice rolling in like thunder clouds, "I been on this earth a long time, longer 'n you, and I know there ain't nothing worth getting that upset about and ruinin' yours and other fine folks' lunches. Me an' the missus, why, we're just out to enjoy ourselves. Kids left home long ago, moved to Seattle, and now it's just the two of us, me and my beautiful bride." Here he gestured gently in her direction. "So whyn't you just try to control your mouth and your behavior? This is the Lord's day, son, an' you're hurtin' yourself and makin' everybody around you mad, 'specially me an' the little lady here. So maybe son," he paused here for dramatic effect I think, clearing his throat, "I think maybe you should just finish this puke you call beer, fold up your tent, and hike on outa here before I give you a personal escort myself to that door." He motioned with his head in the direction of the glass doors next to the juke box.
I was still fuming over my teams' two losses, so I said, "Just who do you think you are, old man, buttin' in on my lunch like this?"
"Jim Jeffries, at your service," came the deep response as he held out a huge right hand to shake. When I took his hand in my right and looked into his gray eyes, I could see his determined rage. He had a vice grip and exuded incredible strength.
"Jim Jeffries is dead," I answered, gritting my teeth to fight the pain from the handshake, attempting to maintain an appearance of respectability, aware that Lisa and everyone else in the restaurant were probably watching.
"Maybe you're thinkin' of the wrong Jim Jeffries," he replied, gently. "Who you thinkin' of?" The old man wouldn't let my hand go, just kept slowly tightening his grip. I wanted to yell out, and could feel pain coursing up through my arm like electrical currents.
In the midst of pain, I tried to put together a response. I didn't want to lose face. I had grown up on stories about Jim Jeffries, a man whom my grandfather had claimed was one of the greatest heavyweight fighters of all time. According to the records, Jeffries had kept his title for seven years before retiring undefeated in 1905. He had come out of retirement in 1910 to fight the legendary Jack Johnson, who knocked Jeffries out in the fifteenth round of a brutal fight in Reno, Nevada in 1910. Grandpa had kept an autographed photo of Jeffries in his bedroom.
"The Jim Jeffries I know was a heavyweight champion around the turn of the century," I sputtered, trying to stand my ground. "Lost his belt to Jack Johnson." I wondered if others in the restaurant could see me trembling in pain.
"Greatest boxer ever lived, son, Jack Johnson was. Wasn't no disgrace. He whupped me good." The old man gazed for an instant at some point in the distant past.
"You really claiming to be that Jim Jeffries?" I asked, pretending for an instant to believe him, and his iron grip actually began to relax, signaling possibly the old man's perception that some kind of bond had been formed here.
"I do, son, indeed I do. Y'know, young man, I kinda like your spirit though you're a smart-ass shit." Here he took a deep breath; I did likewise. "But if you keep on misbehavin', son, though I'd sure hate to do it, well, old Jim Jeffries is gonna hafta teach you a lesson in manners."
Old J. J. here, or whatever his name was, thought he had the upper hand. I had to think quickly. "You could whip my ass, old man?" I scoffed. I noticed Lisa and several other waitresses to my left. They were waiting for the show, and while I really didn't want to fight, I wasn't about to disappoint them. I had lost already once that day; I wasn't going to do it again.
"Oh, make no mistake about it, young fella. I'd have you down for the count in about five seconds." He continued staring, his cold gray eyes boring into my heart and brain. For an instant, it occurred to me that I could not beat this old man. However, I could not back down, particularly if some of Whistle Willie's girls were watching.
It was my move. It was like the old man had a hold of my soul while pushing me over a cliff, so I came back with, "You're crazy, old man. Calling yourself Jim Jeffries. You're crazy! Ha! You don't need a geriatric ward; you need a nut house!" This brought an uncomfortable laugh from Lisa and some of the spectators at the tables nearest mine. "You're the one that's crazy, son." There was an edge to his voice. He was pushing me into a corner. I raised one eyebrow in mockery and blew him a kiss.
I don't think he liked the kiss. "Do you want to find out, young fella?" came the calm but determined challenge. The old man had a faint smile and his eyes danced, like he knew something I did not.
It was time to end it, so I leaned over to him, putting my face an inch away from his face. "You bet I do," I responded. "Get the fuck out back. I gotta teach you a lesson in manners, old poop."
It didn't last long. Old Jim Jeffries and I stepped outside, Lisa and most of the customers right behind. We stood facing each other in the garbage pit just in the back of the restaurant. Since the pit was surrounded by a gray six foot fence, people driving by couldn't see two grown men engaged in a fist fight.
I waited until the former world heavyweight champion, long since dead and buried, removed his coat and undid his tie and handed them to his old blue-haired babe, who only said, "Oh, no. Don't do this, Jim. You're too old for this nonsense! Lord above, we just got outa church!"
"Never you mind, 'Liz'beth," he reassured her in that reverential and somewhat pious voice whose deep tone I could feel all the way to my heels. "It's time that someone taught this young puppy a thing or two."
We squared off, and I knew I had to start strong. Even though he had me by four inch height advantage I danced and jabbed like Muhammad Ali, and though there wasn't much behind them, my punches started landing, and quickly the old man had a small cut on his upper lip. At that point, he hesitated for a moment, wiped the spot of blood from his mouth, and resumed his stance.
Old J. J. kept his fists up, just like fighters did when boxing was considered a gentleman's sport, and moved with about the same liquid grace as a post stuck in the ground. He was a sitting duck, so dance, dance, dance, jab, jab, jab was all I did. He tried several times but couldn't hit me. After about five minutes, he had a small welt under his right eye.
Then I made my mistake. I led with my left and began countering with my right, landing two solid punches to the old guy's jaw. It has like ramming my fist against a block wall. I jabbed with my left again, and stepped in to throw an over-hand right when he tagged me. At least I think that's what happened. It felt, honest to God, like someone had hit me to the side of the head with a bag of cement.
I was lying on my back, watching the storm clouds gather overhead, feeling a cool breeze move over me. The left side of my face was completely numb. Apparently, I had been on my back out behind Whistle Willie's for some time.
I recall that Lisa was leaning over me -- she was the only one still out there -- and when she asked me, I couldn't remember the time of day, the name of the restaurant, the kind of car I drive, the name of my team, anything. I began to panic, so she stroked my forehead and smiled, told me everything was going to be fine, and I knew that she wasn't mad at me any more. I think she loved me at that moment.
When I asked what happened a day later, after my mind began to clear and my jaw had swollen to the size of a grapefruit, Lisa told me I had dropped my left when I tried to go in with my right. I was sitting at the bar and Lisa was the server. "Charley, you're so predictable when you fight," she explained. "You drop that fucking left, like everyone knew you would, and POW old Jim Jeffries put out your lights." She was laughing as she punched the air in imitation of the knock-out punch. She either thought the altercation was funny or she had enjoyed the display of masculine bravado, or both. To Lisa's observation, I had only one comment: "Lisa, just get me another fuckin' beer."
I drove home in the rain, which had been promised all week. Jim Jeffries, my ass, I thought to myself. I had fought a good fight, had the old man where I wanted him when he landed one lucky punch. One lucky punch. I'd been in fights before, so I knew I had to learn to keep my left up when I went in with my right.
Before I left, in fact, I told Lisa that I just wanted one more chance with that old guy. "Charley, you're crazy," she said in all tenderness. "Listen to me, dickhead, I say this for your own good, next time he'll kill you." I smiled at Lisa, gave her my usual hug, assured that she still loved me. I knew she was right.
I took my car up to eighty as I hurled down Sahara towards my home, and began thinking about soccer practice, which I was going to hold later in the week. We generally practiced at Lorenzi Park, right in the middle of the city, an occasional hangout for Hispanic and black gangs. I decided maybe I wouldn't run my team until they puked, as I had previously planned. God, I hated to lose; I wanted another championship so bad I could taste it; but I also realized that life had to be more than one competition after another.
Our father truly loved our mother, so it seemed only natural that, as he lay delirious in the last stages of a painful terminal cancer, his last thoughts would be of her.
I was ten and my sister only five when my mother left. My parents had loved each other greatly, although their relationship was strained at times like any other. The very evening before she disappeared they had had a quarrel; he reiterating the vows they had made; she asserting her independence. That night she left, in such a hurry that she never even bothered to pack a bag. It seemed she had already made arrangements -- rumour around the extended family on my father's side implicated everyone from some of her high school boyfriends to the local mailman -- but in any case, she vanished that night and left behind two young children to figure out why.
To his credit my father still loved her despite this betrayal, but I grew up loathing what she had done to my father and what she had done to my sister and to me. I hated her, because she had turned her back on us while we were children too young to understand adult relationships but too old to forget her. All of our thoughts of her -- all of our happy memories -- were coloured with the knowledge that she had left us. And that she had done so without even saying goodbye.
And yet, it seemed my father could not but remember her as she once was -- a loving spouse and mother, who at all times thought first of her children and husband. He never spoke of her leaving us, but only of the wonderful times she had spent with us. He would get a wistful look in his eye each time he would tell us of her, whether while comforting my sister, who now had to grow into womanhood without her female guidance, or while telling us both of their lazy summer days spent together in their youth. Through it all, he would always remind us that we still had a small piece of her with us and that she could never really be taken from us.
Looking back on those days it no longer seems strange to me that he would still think of her lovingness and that he would not feel bitter about his loss. Despite how mad his ravings had seemed as he lay on his death-bed in the height of his fever and suffering, we soon learned the truth of all he told us, and at his funeral we stood wrapped in thought, barely hearing the priest's prayers, looking down to the grave's bottom at the coffin with a new appreciation for that part of our mother that remained among us long after she had gone. For, in that long pine box, with the relaxed body of him that had known so much pain, was the jar we had found among his most treasured possessions, in which bobbed the pickled heart he had kept for so many years.
I felt his hands brush against my sides as they came around me, clasping together on my stomach. He pulled himself against me, resting his chin on my right shoulder. His beard tickled my neck, and I could smell his shampoo. He breathed shallowly against my back while I continued to stare into the mirror.
"What's the matter, Adam?" he asked after I made no move to reciprocate his touch.
"There's something wrong with my face," I explained. "It's not right."
He put a hand on my cheek and gently turned my face towards his.
"I don't see anything wrong," he said. I watched his green eyes dart around, scanning my features for abnormalities.
"I've never looked at my face, Danny. I mean, I've looked at it, but I've never studied it, ya know? I can't put my finger on it, but it's not right."
"Well, I've studied your face quite a bit, and I think it's wonderful."
"Thanks. Even though that was really cheesy."
He kissed my lightly on the lips and then took away his hand.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, I must be tired," I answered. "Maybe I'm coming down with the flu or something."
Danny backed away. "I knew you should have gotten one of those shots. Listen, go lie down on the couch, watch some TV, and I'll go fix dinner."
"What about the concert tickets?" I inquired, turning around.
"Don't worry about it. We can catch Beck the next time he comes. Go. Rest."
Danny left the hallway, and in a few seconds I heard him shuffling through cabinets. I took one last glance in the mirror, shrugged, and went into the den. I plopped down on the couch and flipped on the television with the remote. Paula Zahn began spouting the Saturday evening news. Her face looked normal. Why didn't I think mine did? After all, it was my face. It felt the same as it always did when I touched it, and it didn't look any different than yesterday. Why, then, did I think something was amiss?
The evening news was ending when Danny walked in.
"Supper's ready," he announced. "Nothing too fancy -- some pasta -- but I didn't know we were going to be eating in. We really need to go to the store."
I got up off the couch and followed Danny into the kitchen.
That night, when I tried to sleep, I saw my face on the back of my eyelids. Danny snored softly, a cold foot pressed against my calf. I buried my head in the down pillow and silently prayed for sleep, but everytime I closed my eyes, I saw myself. My face had a blank stare, and the mouth was slightly open, showing a bit of white. Staring myself down only made me feel worse, and I finally rolled onto my back, exasperated.
I could make out the faint outline of the ceiling fan, slowly whirling above me, barely visible in the light from the nightlight on the far wall. I fixated on one of the four blades, watching it circle around and around and around, hoping the steady motion would somehow lull me to sleep. Danny grunted and shifted a little, pulling the covers closer to him. I rubbed my eyes and closed them again. I was still there.
Being careful not to wake Danny, I rolled out of bed and quietly went out into the hallway. I shut the bedroom door and turned on the light. The mirror was there, hanging on the wall, waiting for me. I walked in front of it and looked.
"How long have you been standing there?"
Danny put a hand on my shoulder, and I looked at him.
"Huh?" I mumbled.
"How long have you been staring at yourself in the mirror?" he asked.
"What time is it?"
"It's ten o'clock," he replied. "I woke up and you were gone. It's not like you to not sleep in on a Sunday."
"Ten o'clock? That can't be. I couldn't sleep, so I got up and came out here. That must have been around one."
"And when did you come back to bed?"
I scratched my head. "I'm not sure. I don't think I did."
"You what? You mean you've been up all night?"
"I don't remember."
"How can you not remember?" Danny asked, folding his arms. "Look, maybe you need to see a doctor."
"I feel fine. I just couldn't sleep."
"Then what did you do all night?"
"I don't know. The last thing I remember was looking in the mirror, and the next thing I know, you're out here."
"Listen, that's not good. Tomorrow I'll set up an appointment with Dr. Kaku. You're due for a checkup anyway."
"I don't need to see a doctor, Danny," I complained. "I'm alright."
"Dammit, Adam. You sure can be stubborn. You don't think staring at yourself in a mirror for nine hours is unhealthy? At least let me see if I can get you some pills for the insomnia."
"Fair enough. I love you."
Danny sighed. "I love you, too, even if you are hard-headed."
We hugged, and I gripped him tightly.
"I'm just concerned," he said. "At least call in sick tomorrow."
I nodded, burying my head in his shoulder. He was right about me being stubborn, but I didn't want any help. I blamed it on exhaustion, even though I hadn't been doing anything strenuous. Danny took my hand and suggested that we go for a drive. I readily accepted.
Danny picked up the sleeping pills Monday afternoon, but they didn't help. I hadn't slept the night before, but I managed to get away from the mirror and back into bed before he woke up. Our Sunday afternoon drive had been pleasant, or at least that's what I told Danny. During the whole trip I was staring in the side mirror at myself, hardly listening to Danny talk and mumbling ambiguous replies.
While Danny was at work Monday, I walked to the store and bought a small mirror. I hit it underneath my pillow, and after I was sure Danny was asleep, I would pull it out and look at my dim reflection. I never felt the effects of sleep deprivation that should have shown up, and by Wednesday Danny thought I was back to normal.
"I guess you'll have a lot of catching up to do at work tomorrow," Danny said, passing me a dish of spinach.
"Yeah, and I'm not looking forward to that," I replied. I scooped some spinach onto my plate and put the dish down in the middle of the table.
"You had me worried there for awhile. Why did you think your face was messed up?"
"I dunno. I guess I'm not getting any younger."
"Well, you're still the most beautiful boy on the block in my book," Danny complimented in between bites of chicken.
It hurt to lie to Danny, but I didn't want him to be upset. Besides, how could I explain what was happening? I knew there was something wrong with my face, but after four nights of looking, I still hadn't discovered what it was. It didn't help that most of the time I couldn't even remember watching my reflection.
After dinner, we played a game of chess before going to bed, and I drifted off next to Danny's warm boy looking into my own eyes.
The next morning, I made it to my car before I realized that I couldn't go to work. The mirrors in the car would have made it impossible to drive, and I probably would have ended up killing myself. Danny had left about twenty minutes ago, so I hurried back inside and called in sick, much to the chagrin of my supervisor. I assured him that I would be in the next day and hung up.
I went to the mirror in the hallway, determined to find out what was wrong. Everything looked normal, yet I had the feeling that my face was not my own. I rubbed my freshly shaven cheeks, feeling for inconsistencies. I stared at my eyebrows, making sure they weren't out of place. I watched my nose subtly flair as I breathed.
And then, without warning, my reflection smiled and I knew. I laughed, threw up my arms and twirled around. I could hear my reflection clapping triumphantly. I stopped and caught my breath. I looked in the mirror and grinned. Reaching out, I felt my hand touch my hand. Our hands grabbed one another, and I pulled myself in.
I looked up at Danny crouched over the broken shards of glass, stroking his chin and looking puzzled. He said something, but I couldn't hear him. He picked up a shard and held it at eye level. I gazed into those big green eyes, hoping for recognition. After a few minutes, he dropped the shard onto the ground and walked out of sight, only to return moments later with a broom.
She told me all of her fears that night under the green neon light emanating from the lamp on the nightstand. We were seated on the floor, up against the bed, trying to analyze each other, trying to find salvation for ourselves in an attempt to find purpose.
It wasn't working.
Earlier, Leonard and I had been discussing the state of things: war, civil intolerance, libido. "Mandrake," he said. "Mandrake, what you have to realize is that you don't matter. Even if you become great, you don't last forever. Your time is short, and time has no memory."
So here I was, twenty-two years old, having accomplished nothing of significance, sitting on faded yellow carpet that badly needed to be vacuumed, and Angelica was forcing me to find purpose.
It wasn't working.
I watched a spider on the wall more than I listened to her talk. She was afraid of everything, going on about sickness and death and beauty and love and the economy. I was afraid, too, but weakness scared me more, so I didn't show it.
When I was six, I ripped down a spider web built between two trees because I didn't understand the complexity that made the web beautiful. It was only an obstacle, and I was the destroyer. Somehow, the damn spider bit me. I learned at an early age that the creators of beauty are always dangerous.
"Angelica," I said. "Angelica, what you have to realize is that you don't matter. You'll grow old and have sagging breasts and die. None of this will mean anything because you won't remember."
It wasn't working.
He grabbed an ashtray and slid it towards me across the counter. I asked him what it was for, and he told me it was for all of my shit. I said I didn't have any shit, and that's when Leonard smiled and punched me in the mouth.
Angelica enjoyed sitting quietly in the bedroom, listening to my teeth wiggle in my mouth when I moved my jaw. She liked me because I had lived, because I had been around. Once she mentioned that her last boyfriend had been in prison and taught her how to make a knife with a toothbrush and a razor blade. I taught her how to use it.
Leonard and I met in Sunday school when I was eight. He asked too many questions. Why did God exist? Was the resurrection real? Why did God like death so much? Mrs. Mulgrew always replied that it didn't matter because that was just the way it worked.
I found a book of poetry behind the toilet that Angelica had been working on. It wasn't very good, full of cliched phrasings and forced rhymes. She was trying to leave a bit of herself behind, a reminder that she had been someone. Angelica was trying to usurp death.
It wasn't working.
I am the person people come to when they need something. A light for a cigarette, spare change for a refill, the time. I give these things freely because I want to be a good person. I never ask anybody for anything because I know that good people are a myth.
The lights in the theater dimmed and I watched myself onscreen. I was more real up there, saying other people's words and performing other people's actions. Sometimes I would stay after closing and run the projector myself, trying to figure out when I was acting and when I was being me.
When Angelica came into the bathroom and saw the burning pages in the bathtub, she grabbed her hair dryer and flung it at me. She screamed at me for obliterating her work and how I had destroyed six months of her life. I told her that she should thank me because nobody likes mediocre poets.
Leonard once asked me if I had any real feelings. I shrugged in response. He winked at me, rubbed a hand on his bald head and said, "If you think you have any left, lemme know. I can do away with them real quick. It's my specialty."
It wasn't working.
Angelica said that she had purpose until her second boyfriend began beating her up. I asked what her purpose had been, and she replied that she couldn't remember what it was, only that she had it. When I mentioned that maybe she never had any purpose to begin with, she covered her black eyes with her hands and cried herself to sleep.
I rubbed lotion on her thighs as she slept, feeling the rough spots where she had stubbed out cigarettes. However foolish and inane Angelica could be, she did have a high tolerance for pain, and that's more useful than love any day.
Leonard was a bastard, but I hung out with him anyway. I liked him because he had lived, because he had been around. He knew things that I wanted to know and had done things that I wanted to do. I still didn't know what those things were, but I could see them in his eyes. I wanted that look in my eyes.
Tuesday nights I go to this bar on 51st street. I met Angelica there the first night I came, and ever since I go back weekly to try and relive that space of a few hours when I found her enticing and attractive, when I actually felt something for her.
It wasn't working.
Before I dropped out of college, I took an intro to philosophy course. I learned about Russell, Neitzche, Locke, Berkeley, Descartes, and all those other dead people who thought they got close to truth. Halfway through the semester, I went up to my professor, gave her my phone number and told her to call me when she found it.
Before I stopped going to church, I went to Sunday school every week. I learned about creation, the flood, kings and war, Jesus, the apostles, the apocalypse, and all those other things that were supposed to provide truth. One Sunday morning, I went up to my teachers, gave them my phone number, and told them to call me when they found it.
My agent called me at home yesterday to inform me that she had gotten me a part in a small film being done by Gary Oldman. "You'll like it," she said. "It's avant-garde, innovative, all that jazz. I'll send you the script." I assumed this meant the pay also sucked. Critical acclaim doesn't pay the bills.
Angelica says she can find beauty in everyone. I'm just the opposite -- I find beauty outside of people. Sometimes I'll close my eyes and hope that everybody will disappear when I look again. Usually I just walk into someone, or, on bad days, a parking meter.
Leonard tells me that he is a creator of worlds. I told him to prove it, so he led me outside, found an anthill, and began stomping on it. "That's destruction, not creation," I argued. "Sooner or later, Mandrake," he replied, "it all becomes the same thing."
It wasn't working.
My mother was the only one who ever believed in me. She paid for music lessons, acting classes, and came to all of my crappy high school drama plays. I repaid her with alienation and two rehab visits by the time I was seventeen. I feel guilty when I love her back.
During the summer of 1995, I hitchhiked all through the northeast. I traveled for awhile with a girl I met in Albany who taught me tantra and how to play the harmonica. She still sends a postcard every now and then from Belize, writing about how the weather is great there. I never respond.
Leonard was the mayor of a small town in Texas in the early eighties, or that's his story, anyway. I never was sure what to believe about Leonard, but he said that being mayor was basically simple once you made the people want what you wanted. He said he accomplished that by intimidation and threats of higher taxes. Mayor Mulgrew's reelection campaign was apparently unsuccessful.
I called the suicide hotline one night and talked to some guy who sounded like William S. Burroughs. He told me that I shouldn't kill myself because I had a lot to live for. I said his response was a lie because he didn't know me. "Operator,"" I said. "Operator, what you have to realize is that I don't matter. I can't fight time, goddammit."
Angelica came to visit me in the loony bin ward where the cops had taken me. She asked how I was doing, and I told her that all of the shrinks were devising a conspiracy to string me out on antidepressants and steal my personality. She slipped me a harmonica and ordered me to resist.
It wasn't working.
"I don't want to be old and grizzly," Leonard said. "Grizzly, maybe, but not old. Kinda like John the Baptist." I asked if he wouldn't rather be like Jesus, since he died young and people still talked about him after two millennia. "Nah, too much pressure," he answered. "Besides, he's too much like James Dean. I'd rather be the crazy guy in the wilderness than a little bastard."
I used to go to teenage angst-filled poetrie slams at a local coffeehouse and heckle the readers. They told me that it was a good thing to express their rage and anger at themselves and society through poetrie. One night I got on stage and shouted at the crowd that they were just indulging in a worthless themselves in a worthless game of self-pity. "Wait until you have no hope and then we'll talk," I said.
After a long night shoot, I brought home one of the extras who had been eyeing me the whole time. Angelica didn't even look up from the TV as we walked past her to the bedroom. She just sat there, nursing a beer and watching static. The sex wasn't worth it. I felt Angelica crawl into bed between me and Elaine a few hours later, breathing alcohol in my face all morning long.
The orderlies only let me leave my room to talk to the therapists. I lie on their couches and tell them stories about me, and they tell me that I'm not right in the head. I already know this, so they give me more drugs to make me forget.
It wasn't working.
I remember a time when life was still boring and hadn't become stale yet. Back then, it was as monotonous as now, but every breath I took didn't remind me that I was alive for a few more seconds. Time watches me with glaring eyes, and only it knows when it will end.
Leonard's advice was never very good, but I usually took it because I would have somebody to blame if things didn't work out. It was easier to let him be in control, and I never did confront him when his suggestions went wrong. He would have just blamed me for taking them.
The therapist would always try to get me to find purpose. My answer was always that I couldn't while I was locked up, swallowing horse pills and being psychoanalyzed. "Shrink," I said. "Shrink, what you have to realize is that none of this matters. That's as close to the truth as I can get because I don't believe in truth. I've already got too much to worry about."
Angelica finally found purpose by leaving. No warning, no note, no nothing. I cried on Leonard's shoulder that night, wetting his t-shirt while he whispered "pussy" in my ear.
After the last movie I made came out, my agent was kind enough to send me a copy since I couldn't go see it. The final scene showed me sitting in a diner and staring directly into the camera while Gary Oldman's character walked out in the background, always keeping an eye on me. At the door, he stopped and said, "It never makes sense even when you think it does, so maybe you should just accept that and move on."
It wasn't working.
What does a man do when he's sitting alone in a room full of angels? Symphonic pale-skinned beings sent with nothing less than a divine touch. I'm here nearly every waking moment I can possibly spare, mostly for that singular reason. Just to sit and absorb, observe, to be distantly filled with safety and eroticism, all with one slight motion of the neck. That is something that can't really be accomplished with television, even if you have cable or a circular dish aimed at the moon.
Here I am, idling in the corner of a brick-filled coffeehouse in downtown, content with a book, mocha, and cigarettes. Over my life span, I suggest I shall spend more time here than most spend waiting in lines, traffic (which I guess could be classified under the group lines, for it is a line of sort), or those just waiting for something to alleviate their dissatisfaction and outright boredom of their lives. Some say the lack of excitement I've created for myself is pale in comparison to their self-labeled mundane lives, saying all I do is sit and wait and wait, marking me the poster child for the generation on hold, whatever generation that may be. I kindly disagree, however, stating I create waiting -- I choose to wait, causing the eternity of waiting to occur, yet do not wait myself. I just surround myself in wait states and writhe about in the waiting of others. Or the attempt of others not to wait, the facade of doing.
And I am never waitless, since this coffee shop is placed strategically across from a large university campus, and the concrete is always being trodden upon by young folks in the pursuit of happiness and self, breaking the barriers they built in their youth, becoming one decked out in Calvin Klein, corduroy, or polished rags from local thrift stores. Most are obviously here to study away the evening, casually refusing to think they are actually here to ingest the rhythm of people. You would think if one was wholly dedicated to prodding about in sixty dollar books, one would not come to a densely packed hazy room full of chatter and moderately volumed music.
Ahhh, extended eye contact from a dark-eyed creature with silhouetted blonde hair back in a ponytail. No facial expression by either one of us, me being the self-conscious initiative lacking soul I am, and her, well, who knows. Slightly shy but melodic, a hidden sexuality with adorable wisps gliding around her. I don't ever delve past the invisible line I myself built as a child. Oh, yes, I openly admit it is a silly polluted social fault, but also revere it as a poetically pitiful methodology, worshipping from a distance, constructing a much more effective, satisfying fantasy world in my head, relieving possibility of mishap and circumstance, disappointment and resentment.
I've come to know those behind the counter who delectably deliver caffeine to all arriving, relieving the awkwardness and even superiority -- whether it's by the customer or employee is highly variant, much unlike a coin toss. One with soft-spoken stringy natural long hair, sun-lit brown, simply dressed in loose earth tones, one you could easily picture cuddling up to on the couch, or dancing in a wooden-floored hallway. The simple act of casually looking at her face will caress your soul with soft smoothness, and all is well.
Of course, the thought of myself engaging such a female in more than a few quick casual moments of friendly conversation is a mere fantasy that would shudder and collapse if pushed into a three-dimensional world. She is sublimely out of my own hopeful league, as they say. My own loosely marked league, definitely not one of professionals -- more of a minor league, with or without the implied pedophilia, depending on what mood I may be in.
Surely there is something to say about the succulence of a young female. I mean not to say I drool for the taste of a six-year-old, not in the least -- there is no taboo lust for prepubescent girly girls in ribbons and lace, though I've thought about it, tried to put myself in the place of those with such an attraction, and always experienced an instinctual aversion, "sick and dirty man" is slapped into my head, as it is echoed across the public eye. No, I am speaking of the teen genre, perhaps sometimes more taboo than the touching of a one-digit child. How a man will get into his thirties and instantly conclude he is no longer attracted to those not yet reaching twenty, I have yet to know. Until I turn thirty, I assume, but even then I believe I will become even more baffled. For now, I'm convinced that those who do such a thing are just forcing a conscious turn of cheek, knowing they will be shunned by priests, nuns, and mothers across the globe if they revel their hormones, but still sneak a glance or two when they are sure they will not be caught.
After a brief synaptic break in flow, the coffee house has once again become packed with young energetic bodies, full of ideals and dreams, some may even be in-between reality goggles -- having lost the ones given to them by their parents, and not yet wearing the ones about to be thrown down by some great faceless hand from the shrouded heavens. Those are the ones I live through, male and female alike. They do the real thinking, and have the real experience, and with luck or destiny, a smaller few may even misplace their newly given goggles in exchange for something better, keeping their dreams and ideals with no second guesses, no trading for $60k a year being a tie and desk in a jungle of mahogany, Formica, and fake plants, developing a smile in your face replacing your hopeless grins as a child, because after all, you can't overplan for the future, and what do those young punks know anyway, and I was just a kid, I didn't know anything.
It is amusing to watch those who shuffle in with the hard-knock kids, shuffle up the stairs with iced frothy bets in hand, cigarettes at their sides, only to slurp away their materials in a few swallows and puffs, then swaggering back down the stairs, out the doors, within a few sparse minutes of them arriving with all smiles. I have no confidence in those, I guess, and wonder why they did not just get their milk to go. It is a highly judgmental outlook on those I do not know, built maybe from jealousy as I longingly sit indoors and stare into a dream out the window.
Much in the same way, it is fun to watch those who jump from table to table in search for the magical chair of enchantment with cash and prizes and their soul mate strapped to the bottom. That, I understand -- jockeying for position to overlook those already here and those who wander in. There are two floors -- the topmost being rather balcony like, encompassing the left half of the building, edging from front to back, overlooking the cement-floored ground floor, with its few metal glassed non-smoking ensembles, and of course the matching metal service counter where all your hopes are fulfilled. If you are here to watch, the spot considered the back, although it is actually the front of the building, is the most highly sought -- overlooking both the street below and the guided introduction of people as they step into view from beneath your feet, pausing to catch their glass of love, adjusting their self to the ambience, sometimes glancing up to glimpse what is ahead, then onward-ho up the stairs with careful steps, the coffee is a wee-bit hot -- some stop by the condiment station at the foot of the stairs to gather straws, sugar, napkins, honey, cinnamon, or any of a number of frostings -- and upon reaching the top of the mountain, another pause to scout our where they will place their bags and bodies, ending with a final sprint to their destination, some with heads high, some with all eyes on their sloshing brew, some with sad stares at their toes.
In the same manner, those with a higher purpose will seat themselves as close to the back as they can be allowed, gradually moving close to the thrones of people watching in quick spurts as their areas are jumbled with jackets and books and bags and things. Such as the girl who danced from a seat twelve feet away in the no man's land of Giza, to a prime spot three feet beside me in the corner, hers directly upon the balcony's edge, vertical to patrons. Simple innocence in her eyes, corduroy brown hair sliding down her back with no thought, simple face, no makeup, but one you wouldn't pass over to move on to better. Dressed in blue overalls, with a black t-shirt beneath, all balanced upon white running shoes. She sat down with left leg crossing the right, a few silver rings sitting on her fingers, a black digital watch on her left wrist spouting a hint of boyishness as she held open a copy of The Little Prince, glancing here and there, so synonymous with puppy love.
I have become rather convinced the fanciful desire for the legendary fairy-tale myth of falling deeply in love is nothing more than that, a myth. Simple perversions of desire and self-created need. Selfishness created in your head to fulfill your own lack of esteem and draw to faults of your own and others, all placed up there to satisfy your ego. If one is to love than love with no abandon, no hang-ups or woes, no fickle judgements on who may deserve your love, who may need it. The societal fact of coming of age, getting a good job, getting married, raising kids, and living happily ever after supporting your precious family is much too ingrained and misdirected. Somehow, somewhere along the lines, someone lost the point of it all, stepped on his own toes, and tripped in their hands, looking one too many times in the mirror at what they though they needed.
"You're really disgusting the hell out of me."
Little Prince woman came out of her little predetermined bubble in a most unexpected way, shattering all my wonderland fantasies I made about her. Indeed it is silly how I may believe I can read people in a quick glance or two.
She had an exasperated but amused look on her face, which only confused me more.
"I said, you're really disgusting the hell out of me."
"Well, yeah, I know, but what do you mean -- how am I disgusting the hell out of you?"
"You're going about this all wrong. Completely all wrong. You have no clue what you are doing."
"OK. Well, uhmm, what am I doing wrong?"
"You can't act like you don't know. You know exactly what you're doing. Right now there are innumerable things flying through your head that you know you're doing wrong -- faults and misfortune and guilt, all flying around in there, and you're desperately wondering what the one might be that I picked up on."
"Yes, you're right. You're good."
"Ahhh, right. So, you know things and I know things, and now we both know we know things, and so now we'll search for more to see who knows best, and set the stage for guider and guidee, but do it in a nonchalant casual way. So as not to look less of a man," she said in one breath.
"Wow. Real good. Rather impressive, in fact. You make me grin."
"That's good. But we can skip all of that nonsensical performance art crap and move on."
"Sure. That's fine with me, but you haven't really answered my question at all. You've kind of avoided -- "
"No, no, no. I answered your question, you just missed it. You know, I even told you that you know, but you're looking to be grabbed by the hand of some supreme being to see you through."
"Oh, come on. That's a total cop out. Just tell me, please, what it was."
"You sit and pretend to be wrapped up in the book you have in front of you, but only use that as a placeholder. If anyone watches you more than thirty seconds, that becomes rather obvious, seeing you glance up from your words at whatever body might be bouncing by."
"I'll admit that. You're right. I like watching people, it's fun."
"Not just people, but women. You watch their bodies, watch them move, watch them breathe, watch them exhale smoke like it was erotic art placed in the world just for you."
"OK, well, sort of. Yes, I like watching women, I don't think I view them like objects though. I don't do that at all."
"Yes you do."
"No, really, I don't. I just think females are just amazingly beautiful, really graceful, and just great. It's very satisfying to watch them move about and do whatever they may be doing."
"That sounds great and all, you'd win Mr. Congeniality, but it's bullshit."
"What? No, really it's not."
"Bullshit. You'd love to be viewed as a badass by any of these women. You'd love to be worshipped and touched by anybody here. And you'd love to sleep with any or all of them."
"Don't you think you're kind of jumping to conclusions? I'm not like that. I'm really not like that."
"Right. Sure. Because you're not like the stereotypical classical male profile. Well, I know that, but that doesn't make your desire for attention, acceptance, and off-the-wall sex any less."
"Yeah, I think about sex, I fantasize, but it doesn't control my life. I don't think with my dick."
"Maybe you should."
"I said you were going about this all wrong. That's you're problem, you think and fantasize and control. You need to just go at it."
"That sounds horribly immoral."
"No, you're just scared. You don't want to admit it."
"I don't think I could do that."
"Ha! Right. Just watch. And keep watching. Maybe you can learn about what you need to learn."
But of course, she just walked off and didn't even look back at me staring with a wrinkled forehead at where she was going, what she was doing. She just sat back down at the table twelve feet away, looking just as innocent and puppy-like as before, as though she never even noticed I was here.
And then things just got very usual again. People came and went, I watched and stared and beckoned with my head, but not with my body. She just sat and read The Little Prince, occasionally jotting something down in quick, confident writing. Never glancing up, never watching who walked by, or who came in, who stared at her. Naturally oblivious of people around her, giving off the belief she was lost in her own bubblicious world of glee and wild horses. Obviously, she wasn't that, from what I gathered in the brief spurt of communication we had. Off-centered my soul, it did. Questioned my whole outlook on those around me, it did. No, actually, just on her, adding to the already mysterious intoxication I built up around her. But I still sit and view and judge everyone else around here in the same classic manner I did before. I'll admit that to myself, after all, according to the Little Princess, I was living the life of denial -- I know now what I do. How could she decide that as a fact about my living life in an instant prosecuting moment?
The Little Prince lived on a barren planet but the size of a small house, with nothing more than a small, ever blooming flower, three volcanoes (one extinct), other various blooming plants, including those pesky baobab trees, and a male mushroom whom we don't know too much about. Classically told by Frenchman Antoine de Saint-Exupery, it is a tale of pride and cosmic journeys, as the Little Prince travels about the universe via a migrating flock of birds that would be viewed as something rather ordinary, but is actually a magical transportation device. With swift motions and the ability of Thor, he swings his arms in astrological timing and away he flies, with little resistance or trouble, off to distant adventurous epics of the soul. No bursting into flames, no body parts drifting in between stars, no pecking and pummeling by the tamed mass of astronautical feathers, for remember, the birds are magical, crafted by unnamed ancient beings with quality and care that hasn't been matched since.
One such adventure, documented once but ineptly publicized due to disapproval by the Church, and so disapproval by all of humanity, had the Prince wisped away to a spiraling marble pastel planet, pleasing to the eye and nose, and the entire body if one should find himself thrown into the core of it's being. Difficult to do, since it's surface was covered with such an obvious crystalline substance, penetrable only by the slow hand, not by those thrown onto the ground by the speed of migrating birds. Of those that possessed such control of their molecular being to waft through the planet, the only one spoken of is the daughter of Skye, named Erth, who wandered alone into the uninhabited lands one day and never returned, never wrote, never called. In fact, no soul actually knows Erth did journey to the center of the planet, as no one witnessed the event. Wandering alone into the uninhabited lands implies that she was in fact alone, and would further imply that the only one aware of her actions and reactions was herself. The rest is just assumption.
Needless to say, the Prince landed on the surface with a loud thud, after disengaging himself from the roaring aviary devices as they pitter-pattered past the planet. Another feat highly debated by physicists, wise men, and budding students -- whether or not he disengages himself or is dropped by a cosmic blink of fate.
This was actually the seventh planet visited by the Prince, not Earth, as thought by most who read the publishings of Mr. Saint-Exupery. The geographer encountered pointed him in this direction, as he was highly curious about the material of the surface, as well as the rumored clans of women with insatiable libidos that roamed about. The Little Prince, being little and but a child, was only curious about the idea of these women craving the taste of a man, and was not at all interested sexually in any such matters, thinking they were grown-ups playing their silly grown-up games.
The thud accompanying his landing was the simple collision of the poor boy's skull and body, in that order, with the rest of the land, rendering him somewhat unconscious for a few moments, but with no further injury. Upon awakening he found the bulbous blue eyes of a girl staring intently at his bewildered body.
"Touch me," she simply stated, waiting heavily for the Prince to leap to his feet and take the matters at hand seriously.
"Why do you want me to touch you?"
"Why do you want me to touch you?"
"You must touch me."
And because the Little Prince never answered any questions himself, but continued to as his own until suitable answers are given, this continued for several months.
Much of the crowd had gotten silent, apparently comatose due to the constant James Taylor renditions played in the air. It did not bother me, as it was quiet and relaxing as any appraised folk should be, and it did not distract me from my work at hand, whatever I was doing. In another sense, it was perhaps a bit too dull, sending alpha waves through the air and not allowing me to hide in the music as I stare at those dancing across the room.
She still hasn't moved after several hours of this. Well, of course she's readjusted her form in the chair, draping one leg or another over the arms, sitting sideways, backwards, frontwards, at an angle, slumped back, slumped forward, sometimes rocking back and forth. Around her slithered others, some in pairs, some in groups whose publicly pronounced purpose was to study like they have never studied before, the candle burning of past turned into the tobacco burning and dark coffee congestion of now. As each knew, this alleged come-rod-uh-ree was little more than a pure social event, relying in the company of others, and distracting them from the drudgery they know they must drudgerize. Occasionally you will see some accomplishing what they set out to do, somehow finding the pinnacle of learning through the combined powers and waves of their tossed together minds.
I did not even know her name. I wishfully longed to call her puppy, being able to somehow throw a year's worth of the required affection and understanding into a few moments. I could continue calling her the Little Princess, but considered it too condescending, and I am already feeling the guilt from the first time.
There were lights flashing through the glass doors below, casting a miniature strobe effect about the place. With the R&B rhythms now drowning the mind, it was an instant house party. Add some smog and the techno music of the soul who will be arriving at work in a few moments and whack, there's a rave. You could easily walk less than a block and accost some psychedelics for the patrons' enjoyment, and casually destroy everyone's ego. But the lights were not a strobe, and the owner would not be so keen on the idea of a drug enhanced rave. Casually stirred blue, red, and white meant the nation's finest, once again engaged into the all too often cleaning off the streets.
When first walking here, I slid through a mob of dangerously dedicated religious folk, a clump of fifteen or so, half of which were children, all of which had flyers in hand, ready to bring about everyone's life of sin, and providing a choir ensemble of Amens and Praise the Lords to the one who had no flyers, only a Bible, and played the role of war monger, booming scriptures into the wind with arms outstretched. A white bearded, round-bellied man stood a few feet behind some with signs, playing the moans and woes of an accordion. Whether he was part of the whole crew, or was a folly of the street was left to be discovered. Altogether an ominous scene as they embellished life under fluorescent lights and littered streets.
Their antithesis stood ten feet away -- a group of angst ridden drag rats, homeless or pseudo-homeless, choosing the ways of the street over the trappings of a normal life, dressed in layers of aged black and olive green draped around them, floppy ultimately natural hair hanging in the air, a dog or two at their sides. And as they do, they prodded and poked the clean-cut religious folk from a distance, deeming them the definition of hypocrisy, racism, and the like. Them too I slithered in between, waiting for the predictable breakdown of invisible walls, and the onset of a war of semantics, pride, and passion. The distraction of lights and distant sirens only encouraged the battlefield fantasy of a physical confrontation, which would fulfill a dream I had a few weeks ago.
She moved. Well, she lookup up from her abyss of words and locked her eyes on a normal looking fellow across the room, near the top of the stairs, who was sitting by himself, lost in his own literary abyss. She kept fixed on him as I was fixed on her, until he could feel her penetrating his flesh and neurons, lookup up to meet who was responsible for the intrusion. She smiled a coy sassy smile, something kept only for a small percentage of those she met, for it would drag any it was cast upon to their drooling knees. I had to close my eyes and turn my head away to bury any audible gasps or moans trying to escape my chest. With such a smile, a woman could drown Babylon with fluid lust and envy, bury the empires and their emperors, fling books of law and tradition into pits of lost hope, force all the boys around to become men, and all the men to become boys. I was not one to attempt to avoid her daunting, though I tried. When I returned to the real world and looked back in her direction, she was not there -- table cleared, books taken, not an empty glass in sight. His was the same.
With undeserved panic, I jumped up towards the railing, to get unobstructed sights on the floor below, knocking the table from side to side in the process, and most the room turned intuitively to the racket I had caused. People covering couches, blonde, blonde, couple, no. Employees, line, no. Walking towards the door, no. My eyes could have only been closed a few seconds, five at the most, and how could someone phase through walls and floors to evade my sight? Not even mentioning the time it must take to coax an unknown male into leaving at your side -- though, yes, her smile was magick embodied in a single expression, but no smile teleports humans into a netherworld.
What now? Shove my books, pens into my backpack, cigarettes, lighter haphazardly into my pocket, and half-sprint to the stairs, ignoring quizzical looks and comments, leaping two, three stairs in a stride until bouncing on the cement below, into a full dash to the door, dancing through those in line, coming to a stop on the pebbled sidewalk outside, glancing past the drag rats and fundamentalists, and in the opposite direction in which a scattered few paced away, none of whom I sought. Spinning in quiet miniscule circles, I scanned the heads and faces of anyone I could see, and they were not them. Oh, sure, throw this atypical vanishing person at me, challenge my logic and movie knowledge with such fragrant uses of fantasy and dreams. Now I must buy the book, likely to be found only in hardcover, and skim to the end, where I find it was not the butler nor jealous mistress, but the pet cow that had done it.
The small wooden figurine stood on the low bench and collected dust for many long years. Occasionally one of the monks would remember it and reverently use a corner of his habit to wipe most of the grime away from its sad face. These were hard times, though -- a steady stream of plagues ravaged the land around the simple monastery -- and the monks were too busy with the dead and dying to pay the statue much mind.
The monks still believed in the unbounded generosity that Jesus had preached and so they willingly opened their doors to the sick folk who lived nearby. As a result, even though the priory was isolated, it was soon filled with those who had been afflicted. It was perhaps inevitable, then, that one of the kind brothers would fall prey to the devastation.
The young man in question requested that he might be carried into the chapel so that he could pray until his imminent death. There he often slept the fevered sleep of the dying, but when he woke, he talked. His words were a mixture of prayers and memories that surfaced in his troubled mind. From the first, he was taken with the sad figure that rested in a dusty corner. He was still lucid enough to feel compassion and thus he decided to befriend and care for the forgotten statue. Whenever he was fully awake, he studied it and found in its face the suffering that he himself endured and from it, took comfort.
His brothers were surprised and relieved to find him alive in the morning when they came to pray. They said a few words for him in their brief devotions and then returned to their nursing. The following morning they were even more surprised, for after a length of time that left most victims almost unconscious and on the verge of death, the young brother was still holding on with only a raging fever. He was very weak, but his condition didn't seem to be deteriorating. They therefore tried to pay more attention to him, feeding him thin broth whenever they could spare the time.
By this time the monk knew the features of the figurine by heart. The carving itself was very basic, yet grace and skill were obvious in the dark wood. It depicted a figure wearing simple robes, kneeling humbly. While it was almost featureless, because of the careful love that was clear in its every cut the monk knew the figure must be Jesus.
On the sixth day, at least three days after he should have passed on, his fever began to relent. It moved slowly at first, but by sundown his forehead felt almost normal to the eager touches of the brothers. He had already been slight, but the ailing monk was now a hollow shell of his former self. Regaining his health was a struggle, for the resources of the monastery were stretched thin, but he slowly returned to some semblance of a healthy man. Each day, he was careful to say a special prayer to the figurine that had sustained his heart throughout his ordeal.
The monk had been the first person that anyone near the monastery had heard of as surviving. He gained a certain respect among the members of the small community, but everyone was too busy with the rest of the sick to pay much thought to the blessing. The monk soon felt well enough to return to his duties in the monastery and rejoined the forces fighting back the tide of the disease. In his rounds he came upon a young girl with an all too familiar face. She was around seven years old, with dark brown eyes and long tangled hair that matched them. He knew her because she had been in the monastery often in the past few months, helping the monks whenever her parents could spare her. She was always quiet and gentle and her hands seemed able to soothe even the most troubled patients. It was with great sorrow that he saw her there, her face flushed like all of those around her.
Remembering his own salvation, the monk moved the girl to his pallet in the chapel. He moved the figurine closer to her so that she could see it well and then sat with her while she slept, wiping her damp hair from her troubled brow. When she woke, he showed her his statue and told her of the comfort it had given him. He could tell that she understood his words from the shadow of a smile that brushed across her lips and the way her hands tried to pray. Satisfied, he returned to the main sickroom of the monastery. When he checked on the girl, he found her speaking in much the same manner as he had and was content. She followed the same path to recovery as her friend and within a week was back on unsteady feet.
After a second such unexpected recovery, the people of the surrounding area took more care to look into the two cases. When questioned, both would reply only that they had kept their faith close to them and they attributed their recoveries to the grace of God. They both mentioned a simple sad statue, though, and some of the brothers suggested moving the figure to the main room so that more could benefit from its supporting presence.
The brothers found, to their collective wonder, that soon after this move, a few more souls had taken the path towards life. They tried to encourage the remaining near corpses to pray, but it was only the few who had shown the first signs of recovery who seemed to benefit. As they watched the people in the room change and saw a few recover while the rest died, they looked for a difference between the two groups. It was quickly evident that faith and true dedication to their beliefs seemed to be the only deciding factor.
News of the statue and its power for the faithful traveled, as such news always does. A steady stream of caravans bearing sick husbands, children, and wives came to the small monastery, seeking respite from the terror. The same influence was evident in the travelers. It was only those who were at peace with themselves and accepting of their fate who had any chance. People who saw the statue as a miracle maker and free for the taking came, demanded health, and died. It was clear that the statue's aid could not be forced, though such a fact did not stop ever more fools from trying.
In good time all things pass, though, and a few months after its coming, the plague faded of its own accord. The already poor region had been hard hit by its visit. The monastery carried an especially heavy burden, for in its generosity it had emptied its coffers and stores many times over. Those who had been served by the monastery were willing to try to repay it, but they suffered from the same deficit and were helpless.
It was the local lord who proved their salvation. His own nephew had benefited from the statue's presence and so he looked with especial favour on the humble abbey. He decided to buy the figurine from them and offered them a sum that would solve all of their financial difficulties. He was a pious man, though, and didn't think to take it for himself, believing what the monks said about the efficacy of the figurine. Instead, he put on his purchase the condition that it must be kept for public use at the monastery and left it at that. All involved were content with this arrangement and after a few years, the area was recovered, and the statue was specially remembered by some, but largely forgotten.
Three centuries later the year was 957 CE and another plague wrecked havoc upon the land and its inhabitants. With the onset of the sickness, a stream of travelers returned to the small remote monastery as they had for three hundred years. As always, the devout were saved and the monks were busy digging graves. This year, a man and wife brought their two year old son, their only child, and begged the monks to work the miracle of the statue upon him. The brothers tried sorrowfully to explain to them the nature of its blessing, but the grieving couple refused to believe them. Within a week their beloved son was added to the ground, joining countless others.
The woman's grief was so powerful that it changed within her and became something fierce and angry. She blamed the death of her boy on the statue, so it was the statue that became the focus for her energy. She waited until late at night, when the impromptu town outside the abbey had quieted and most of the tired monks had retreated to hard pallets for a few hours' rest. She slipped into the room that held the figurine with the calculated stealth of a mouse and snatched the still sad figure away.
She carried it in a burlap sack when they left early the next morning and mixed in with their other belongings. Her husband didn't notice its presence, numbed by his own despair. The monks noticed its absence almost immediately, but since they were humble and forgiving they only prayed for the soul that had taken their carving away and continued to care for their dying.
When the sun was brushing the tops of the trees and the light began to deepen, the woman moved to back of the cart, selected the proper sack, and hurled the statue out the back of the wagon, sobbing as she did so. The man, confused and upset, attempted to comfort his hysterical wife and then went to fetch the bundle. His reaction was different from hers, but his grief has also shifted. Where hers had moved to anger, his moved to avarice. He correctly calculated that they could receive a large sum for such a blessed object and so he took the road to the nearest large city instead of going home. He sold the statue to the first merchant he could find, too blinded to even notice his trade. He headed home now, with his silent wife beside him.
They found their house burned to ground by a hearthfire the woman swore she had extinguished.
The figure and its story traveled to a larger city, where it rested for many years, attracting the devout and the curious. Sometime in the 13th century it left England and traveled to the continent, where it made the rounds of a new set of abbeys and churches. It was resting in France when the Black Plague struck and it gained new fame. After the plague had passed and its chaos after it, it was brought to a large cathedral in Paris, where the royalty paid it subdued homage. As the years went by, its significance faded in the minds of the people. As the cathedral gathered new icons, the wooden figurine was moved to smaller niches of the altars and then into a forgotten corner of the nave. However, it remained carefully recorded with its story in the main catalog of the church.
It was through study of this immense tome that the statue came into the hands of Bob Rife, of the great state of Tennessee, in the year 1986.
Bob straightened his tie and checked his teeth in the small mirror that his beaming blond assistant held for him. The bustle around him came to an instantaneous dead stop as he shouted, "Show Time!" They punctuated his proclamation with cheers and clapping and then returned to their frantic activities. With a final swipe of the comb, he declared himself ready, gave himself a brief inspirational pep talk consisting of the simple phrase "I love you, Bob" and strolled onto stage for his Sunday service.
As he was leaving the set, he grabbed the sheaf of reports that lay on his desk and headed home in his limo. Lying in his satin sheets that night, he skimmed through reports on miracles and pitiful sick children in need of miracles. He stopped at a message from one of his agents who was supposed to be poking around in France for old relics he could buy and tout on his show. The article was brief, but very promising. It described a very old carving of a Jesus figure and told of its believed power to bring healing from fatal illnesses. It went on to observe that though the church had once considered it extremely significant (and therefore expensive), it had been mostly forgotten and they would be much more reasonable. A slow smile on his face matched the plan in his head. He dictated a quick note his secretary, insisting that he get this statue as soon as possible. That night his dreams were full of dollar bills with halos.
Anticipation ran high in the studio the day the statue arrived. They all had seen Mr. Rife chuckling to himself more than usual and they had all heard his relentless questions about when it would reach him. With the box in his hands, he was positively delighted and the tension grew. This Sunday the crew would listen to the service for the first time ever.
"Friends! Today is a very special day. Not only is it the day of the Lord above, but it is also the day on which I will present you with an easy path, a path every one of you can take, a path to eternal salvation." He paused for applause and took a moment to feel incredibly pleased with himself. "I have here in my hands, a man who can solve every problem you've ever had. Yes, folks, that man is Jesus Himself, the Son of Our Lord! Now, of course I don't have the actual man himself, but what I do got is an ancient statue of him. And this ain't no ordinary statue either, folks, this statue has been responsible for countless miracles! Yes, you heard me right, miracles! And it's speciality is redemption and salvation and saving of the fallen! This here carving saved lots of people, people like you and me, from the evil plagues that used to kill more folks 'n you could count. But this here piece of wood could save 'em and it'll save you, too! Now, listen close here folks, because this is a deal I worked out with the Lord Jesus Christ last night while I was aprayin'. I asked him how I could save all of you folks and together we worked out a system. Now, since he's giving you eternal salvation, Jesus wants a little bit in return. All he's asking, is a bit of a down payment and then a promise for the future. You give Jesus a down payment against your sins and then you promise to give him a certain percent of all the sin you're going to have in your life and each year you give that percent to Jesus and he'll guarantee you eternity, through this beautiful little statue. Now, I have kind souls standing by to help you figure out how much sin you've built up, so just call my number, 1-800-THE-LORD. (That's 1-800-843-5673 for you number types out there.) Good luck, folks, and remember, always have faith in Our Lord, because He's your Friend in Heaven. Thank you folks and I'll see you tomorrow for some more Sal-va-tion!" He grinned broadly and waved at the audience and strutted off.
That evening as he was lying in bed he was still feeling proud of his latest scheme and he woke up the girl lying next to him.
"You watched today's show, didn't ya? Wasn't that just the best line you ever heard? I can just hear the suckers now: 'Tell that Wooden Jesus that I'll cut him in on twenty percent of my future sin.' They may be fools, but you gotta love em, just like children." She mumbled something and fell back asleep, while Bob rolled over and chuckled at his own cleverness.
"Could you speak up, please?"
The girl stopped in mid-sentence, looked over at me, and asked, "What?"
"The music in here is really loud," I explained, "and you talking in hushed tones makes it very difficult for me to eavesdrop."
Her friend took a sip of coffee and turned around. "That's pretty rude," she said. "Why the hell would you even think of doing something like that? You don't know us."
"And I won't be able to unless you talk over the music," I answered.
"That's pretty freaky," coffee-sipper girl said. "I mean, that's almost scary. Don't you feel bad about being that desperate for entertainment?"
"No, it's okay," I said, smiling. "I'm a writer. It's what I do."
The first girl sat back in her chair. "I know people eavesdrop in coffeehouses, but I've never heard of someone trying to make it easier by asking people to talk louder."
"Besides, our conversation wasn't really that interesting," coffee-sipper girl said.
"Gee, thanks," retorted the first girl, twitching her nose.
Coffee-sipper girl raised her hands up. "No, no. I didn't mean it like that. It's just that it wouldn't be interesting to him."
"I don't think you really care about what I was saying."
"It's not like that, Kelly. Really. It's just that I'm supposed to be meeting somebody soon."
Coffee-sipper girl nodded.
Kelly sighed. "Dammit, Simone. I thought you were through with that shithead."
"Look, he said he was going to change," Simone replied. "I'm going to give him a second chance."
"More like a fifth chance if you ask me."
"Why the hell are you getting so bitchy?"
"Because I care," Kelly said, lighting a cigarette. "You've already been through enough."
Simone stood up and buttoned her jacket. "Well, I'm going whether you think I should or not."
"Good luck anyway."
Simone left, icily eyeing me as she walked past. I looked over at Kelly, who was staring out the window.
"Sorry about that," I apologized.
"Don't worry about it," she said, waving her hand in the air. "It needed to be said. If she wants to fuck up her life and go back to that loser, so be it."
We sat in silence as she smoked her cigarette.
"So, you're a writer?" she finally asked, stubbing out her cigarette. "Do you eavesdrop a lot?"
"I prefer to call it 'observation,' but yeah," I said, "I eavesdrop a lot."
"Hope we were loud enough for you there."
"Yeah. Definitely. You're Kelly?"
"Yup. And you are?"
"Kevin. Nice to meet you."
"Likewise, I think. So I'm going to be in one of your stories?"
"Would you mind?" I asked, motioning with my hand to Simone's old chair.
Kelly shook her head. "Go ahead."
I grabbed my notebook and coffee and shuffled over to the other table.
"Yeah, you'll be in one of my stories," I said. "You and Simone."
Kelly looked at me funny. "But her name's Regina."
"Poetic license. I change things sometimes to spice things up."
"Well, I hope you paint me in a favorable light."
"Sure. If I use this at all. No promises I will. I might only use some snippets and weave a completely different story around them, or I might use the whole thing verbatim."
"Well, that wouldn't be fiction," she said, frowning. "That's more like a diary."
"Not if I say it's fiction," I replied, grinning.
"But I'll know that it's not."
"I'll say that I made you up. It's just a story. It never really happened."
"But you can't make me up. I'm sitting here talking to you right now."
I laughed. "Uh-uh. This whole scenario is actually taking place in my head. You're just a figment of my imagination for this story."
"Bullshit. I exist."
"When's the last time you came here?" I asked.
Kelly thought for a moment. "Two weeks ago. Wednesday."
"Nope. Wrong. You just think you did. In fact, you never were real until I spoke to you earlier. You just think you've been here before because I wanted it that way."
"You're a real character," Kelly laughed. "You know that?"
"No, I'm a writer," I said. "You're the character."
"But if this is a story, then you're a character, too."
"Possibly. But my position as author supercedes that of me being a character. After all, I am the writer. I should know."
"Prove it," Kelly ordered. "Make something appear in midair and levitate. Surely if you are the writer, that would be a simple task."
"No can do," I said, taking one of Kelly's cigarettes and lighting up.
"And why not?"
"This is realistic fiction. I have to keep mimesis intact. Objects floating around haphazardly would destroy that."
An Asian girl sitting at a table at the next window opened a screen, and a small sparrow flew in.
"How's that?" I asked. "That keeps mimesis alive. Totally plausible."
"Coincidence," she responded. "Or synchronicity. But you didn't do that."
"Yes, I did. I'm the writer."
"That's what you say, anyway."
"It's true. In fact, I'm actually sitting at this very table composing this story, and I made you up. You're nothing but an imagined persona, based on one of the two girls who are in reality sitting where I was."
"But there's nobody there," Kelly complained.
"Exactly. They're not in this story. They really do exist. This whole story is what I think might happen if I asked those two girls to speak up because it was hard to hear what they are saying."
"So, what are they talking about?"
"I don't know. The music is too loud."
"Well, what do they look like?"
"Like you and Simone."
"Regina, you mean."
"No, her name is Simone."
Kelly leaned forward. "Her name is Simone," she said sternly.
"See?" I asked.
"I mean, Regina," she said confusedly. "Stop fucking with my head."
"Sorry. It makes for some nice comedy."
"Did it ever occur to you that you might not be the author?"
I sat back in my chair. "Nonsense. I'm watching myself write these very words. The story's in first person, too. Absolutely out of the question."
"Not really," Kelly said, allowing herself a smile. "The narrator of a story is not always the author. They can be quite separate entities."
"Not in this case. I know I'm writing this."
"What if you're in the same predicament that you say I'm in? What if you're just a character in somebody else's story who has created you to think that you are the real author?"
"No way. My name is going on this piece. Nobody elses."
"Maybe that's the way it appears to you. What if the real author has given you his name? How would people be able to tell if it was you or not?"
I grunted. "No, look. I'm aware of two separate realities. There the 'me' in the story and the 'me' writing this."
"But I'm postulating a third level, that of a true author."
"I don't believe you."
"Prove it, then. Stop the story now."
"Stop writing. If you can do that, then you'll be right."
"Okay, if that's what you want."
We sat there for awhile, staring at each other.
"Why are you still here?" Kelly asked. "I thought you were going to end this."
"Gotcha," I said, clapping my hands. "This is all just taking place in my head now."
"What a load of malarkey. The real writer is still writing this."
"And how do you know this?"
"That's my theory. Of course, I don't believe in my so-called 'real writer' any more than I think that you are writing this."
"So how can I prove it to you that I'm the real writer?"
"You can't. It all boils down to faith."
"And you don't have any."
Kelly shook her head. "Not a smidgen."
"Well, then," I said, "tell me this. What happens if the true writer gets bored with the story?"
--SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-- State of unBeing is copyrighted (c) 1998 by Kilgore Trout and Apocalypse Culture Publications. All rights are reserved to cover, format, editorials, and all incidental material. All individual items are copyrighted (c) 1998 by the individual author, unless otherwise stated. This file may be disseminated without restriction for nonprofit purposes so long as it is preserved complete and unmodified. Quotes and ideas not already in the public domain may be freely used so long as due recognition is provided. State of unBeing is available at the following places: ftp to ftp.io.com /pub/SoB World Wide Web http://www.io.com/~hagbard/sob.html Submissions may also be sent to Kilgore Trout at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The SoB distribution list may also be joined by sending email to Kilgore Trout. --SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB--