Stumbled Out of the Gate
Used to Love Me
Thank You Letter
Plane Trip #78
Plane Trip #77
Just Another Little Death
A Little Victory
Dogs Playing Poker
Plane Trip #76
Plane Trip #75
Dining with Millionaires
Plane Trip #74
Six Days in North Carolina
For Dad, My Patron Saint of Baseball
Mr. Shitty at the Ballgame
The Best He Ever Had So Far
Rain Drowns Memory
Where It Hurts
How He Made Her Feel
A Little Him
Hope v. Irony
Plane Trip #73
Stumbled Out of the Gate
I bounced around from family to family. Sophomore year it was the Holstroms. Carol Anne and I didn’t have much in common except, well, we were both really tall, and we both had very long hair. Sometimes that’s enough to group two girls together. She was a cheerleader and I was the new girl and I’d spend the night at her house... first weekends, then school nights, then all nights. I’m not sure if this was because her parents were conscientious, or because they specifically weren’t; if it had to do more with her parents caring more than mine did, or being drunk like mine were but with a bigger house.
I thought of the Holstroms as the perfect family: Blond and popular. Carol Anne was the youngest, and when she went off to college her parents divorced. Turns out her dad had had a long term affair with a farm wife down near Grand Junction, and once the kids were gone he left too. I never saw him again.
Mrs. Holstrom became a realtor. I still see her, well sort of – her face on signs. She bought the best house of all in Berthoud, Colorado, a doctor’s old Victorian. She married a younger man.
Sophomore year I lived with the Holstroms. Honestly, I don’t even remember actually being friends with Carol Anne. Maybe I was her pet, they didn’t have one. Her oldest brother Mark was in his early twenties. He dropped out of college in Colorado Springs and drove a Camero SS. He was always high and hardly spoke and I loved him.
Brother Craig was a Senior, popular, pock-marked and athletic. He was ugly and dated the head cheerleader, a girl named Lori, beautiful but broke. Her parents owned a dive motel out along the highway, she had to clean the rooms but her looks would let her better herself.
I can’t remember ever speaking to Lori. I can’t remember ever speaking to Craig at school. But when I stayed at his and his sister’s house, he’d call me into his room. It began with backrubs. I can’t remember how that went down, what he said or how it started, whether I walked in there or snuck in there or whether he just came to get me. I don’t remember being coaxed, and I don’t remember being stopped, or prevented, or questioned. I do remember being afraid - of getting caught and sent back home. And I remember being repulsed, his acned shoulders and dirty room and sheets and fifteen yes but I was still in the phase of rainbows and unicorns and fantasies built of kisses with no tongue.
But he was popular, and I was nothing. He’d say Shoulders. Then later Back, then Stomach. Then Ass.
Cock only happened one time because when he pushed my head down I knew it had gone too far. I started sleeping at home again. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered.
I can’t remember ever speaking to Lori. I don’t remember ever talking to Craig at school. I don’t know if Carol Anne knew what was happening in the next room. I don’t know if I was being molested or aggressive or abused. I mean, no one put a gun to my head. I remember pretty little all in all but I do remember the fantasy that some sort of involvement with the popular boy could change my shit life.
That was more than thirty years ago. Still, I’d like to hunt him down. Tell his sister. Tell his wife. But what’s the story here? Your bastard brother husband made me feel like I couldn’t say no, so I didn’t?
Mark wasn’t into the virgin types. He wasn’t into Journey either, but that’s what we did it to. He preferred Iron Maiden and Blue Oyster Cult. It started with a backrub – that must run in the family - then him pinning me down cause my primary response was to try to crawl away. It hurt. I thought that was a myth you know, that it hurts. Mark wasn’t into the virgin types, he liked slutty girls with experience. I thought I was giving him a present and he thought he was giving me one. He did let me stay the night – much better than the next three or four boys – but driving home the next morning he drove fast up the shoulder of the road, running over gophers on purpose; killing animals to torture me. After some protest I just slumped in my seat and listened for sorry evidence, but I didn’t cry till later. Yes he was clever that Mark and I have to give him credit. I never wanted to see him again. And I didn’t.
Tony Baracco was twenty years old and still a senior in high school. He was number two. We left the dance and he told me Strip all sexy-like but that wasn’t what I wanted at all. I was already conditioned to acquiesce so he fucked me with my arms folded across my chest. Guess he didn’t like the virgin type either cause he said Baby you’re the driver. That shit completely mortified me. I was bawling now and whined But I’m a virgin and he said Goddamn Liar which was true of course but that’s not the point. Anyway, I didn’t have to face him much cause he left town soon after which I’m still thrilled about.
The next one I still get a little hung up on. His name was Steve and he was vicious. To this day I pretend that’s because he was smarter than he was. I thought he was dreamy. He asked if I got a go go riding on a bicycle and I had no idea what he meant, or even what he might have meant. He only did me because I threw myself at him but at least it happened more than once. Three different times, three different nights until the last time when he threw something back at me – my clothes, out the window. I was outside already, having fallen for some story that he needed a Pepsi from the machine downstairs and up the hall. I was locked out when I got back of course, my clothes went flying. It was three in the morning and I put on those strewn clothes under the light in the dormitory parking lot, terrified that someone would see me. No one did. More terrifying though was feeling through my pockets and realizing that he hadn’t tossed out my car keys. I had to knock, and beg. They eventually came out the window.
Fast forward a few years. Maybe Steve was smart. Maybe he was never meant to be a carpet layer, but he is, just like his father. He’s as lonely now as I was then, and in desperation one strikes up the strangest relationships. It’s like being in a foreign country and anyone who just happens to speak your language is a fast friend all of a sudden, at least until the next stop. So Steve and I hung out a couple of times one summer, sat on his dirty couch. There was no touch, but the second time he tried to apologize to me. For that night, he remembered it, said he felt bad about it all the time. So now, to this very day, I consider him a friend.
Before the boys or Carol Anne there were horses. When I was real little I mean. I’d watch Westerns just to see them, hypothesizing their breed and offering up the technical name for their particular coloration: Mustang, Morgan, Appaloosa, Roan. I liked horse racing too, though the colors were less flashy – mostly Bay and Chestnut. I watched the Kentucky Derby and memorized the names of the every winner since the very first one, knowledge gained from the silk screening on a drinking glass my dad had brought home from somewhere.
There was girl horse that was special, they said as good as the boys. I pretended I was her, calling myself her name, slapping my own ass and running around with the same leg always forward. I was a child. I’d gallop and whinny. It was on T.V., they ran her with the boys.
She stumbled out of the gate and never recovered.
He was very old. He was bent and not tall but he looked like the kind of man who was once really strong. He limped pretty good and wore navy blue coveralls. He was probably kind of deaf too, cause when he spoke he spoke really loudly.
She was young and pretty and her arms were full. I was thinking I should have waited to open the door for her but now I was half way to the parking lot.
He was limping pretty good but I saw him hurry.
“Wait miss,” he called to her. “Let me get that door for you.”
Go ahead tell me what you want to tell me go ahead just ask. Stop dropping hints hints hieroglyphs and all the time we waste trying to decipher them. Ask me ask me ask me because confronted with the possibility actual reality my answer will be very very different than in the fantasized memorized version of this conversation that I have with you over and over and over again in my head.
I dream I see I think I want to mention it but no no no where does that ever get me? We know you know I know we know we see we think or did we dream or worse worse worse did we make it up? Make it up, right, that’s what got us into this mess of patching up what’s broken and never ever getting a new one.
I like old he tells me.
I was his mistress and he considers me bad luck. First he got caught, well sort of caught, and then he had an accident. He broke it off with me then and I made it easy because really I never had any feelings for him. That’s good luck I suppose but he doesn’t see it like that. He thinks I’m a jinx and that’s just one reason he’s scared of me. So every six months or so I get back in touch, just a cryptic little note with a cryptic sign off. I like to imagine his stomach churning just a little bit. I figure it’s my penance to his dull and loyal wife, him holding her face and kissing the top of her head, trembling at the thought of me.
It was difficult to gauge their relation: Two couples each of whom seemed unfamiliar with the other. Each couple described where they lived and the nature of the terrain and the climate there.
The waiter, a particularly demonstrative sort of old man as easy to imagine in a boarding house as a yacht, with a thin but very upright frame, big shoulders, bad teeth and tied-back silver hair recited the daily specials with a particularly demonstrative flair, just as he had at my own table.
A rounded, silver-haired man of similar age and difficult to imagine in any setting other than an oversized, treeless suburban one wished to begin with some small plates to share. He ordered the crab stuffed mushrooms and fried calamari.
The waiter left the table and the four people making up the two couples all leaned in together and laughed. “Get a load of him,” the silver-haired man said, rolling his eyes and gesturing his thumb over his shoulder.
The too thin and very plain woman who very much appeared to be his wife said, “I’ve never had calamari.”
The first course arrived and the four people making up the two couples all leaned in together, this time to pray, with a particularly demonstrative flair.
They began eating. The silver-haired man winked as he waved the waiter over to table and asked him to again recite the specials.
Used to Love Me
In truth I don’t like wind, it makes me uncomfortable. I find myself lying in bed listening to it with my teeth clenched. I moved away from there partly because of it; because of dust in my mouth and feeling unnerved. Now here it’s as windy as it ever was there. There are thuds on the roof. There are leaves and other things that can’t hold on any longer and they are dying. Wind is killing, accidental and untimely. I think about villains, there are in truth so few of them but it only takes a single one. I think about cancer. I’ve none that I know of but it starts with a single cell. And I think of us, safe now but I see the signs that tell me you’re not so different and it’s just a matter of time until you’re no longer blown away.
Are you my hero? Are you the one that rescues me from everything? Are you the one that saves me from the mundane and the lonely? Are you the one who’s sweeter? Are you the one who’s near? Are you the hero, are you the one, the one I’ve always dreamed of or will dream of for at least a dozen years? Are you a user? Do you only want me for one thing? You’re just like all the others only softer, sweeter, nearer.
Comfort is the wrong word for it, the way I am relieved to see homeless men, someone to talk to. I don’t wish it on them. But like the waiters and the bellman these are my peers. I am awkward around fellow guests at this seaside hotel who contend that you can earn it, as if you could, as if luck or nature didn’t deal a better hand, or even just the ability to deal with the same hand better. See you can’t earn anything really, you just get lucky. That’s the truth no matter how you slice it up. You just get lucky. Like me, weekending at this seaside hotel. Or like them, still being here after the rest of us have left to various cold, land-locked obligations.
I bought flowers from an old stooped woman on the street corner. Two bunches, because she was steeply bent and it was very very hot outside. I was a traveler that day with no where to put them but I’m not much of one for flowers in any case because of how they die. He was crossing the street and I rolled the window down. I am guessing he felt the cool blast of air from the inside; he stepped closer. I handed him flowers and he smiled, sniffing them on his way to the bus stop. Green light, in my rearview I still see him, sniffing, smiling. The next bunch I handed to a woman in a parking booth. Young, pretty, maybe she was used to flowers. She held them like a princess and smiled like sunlight. She said, How did you know? And I told her: I just did.
I gave money to a rich man. I mean, like charity. He didn’t exactly ask me for it. He just kept saying how hard things were, so I offered. Later I learned he lived in a palace. Later I learned he used the money I gave him to take a woman to dinner – a very nice dinner. I didn’t know he was rich at the time. He talked to me about art and hardship and I am a sucker for each of those things. I mailed him a couple of hundred bucks before the holidays and something else he needed.
Now that I’ve told you this story please ridicule me for it. Reprimand me for this, and not for the ten dollars I hand a panhandler on the street. One man’s story is art when another’s truth is hardship. I am a sucker. I gave money to a rich man and he bought an actress dinner. He never really asked, I offered up.
Sweaty heat is amplified on the subway car, so is the stench of a filthy man. He never really asked, I offered up. He looked at me like I was shit on his shoe. He said Who do you think you are?
The best sushi places are crowded, especially on a Friday. Actress on his arm and my money in his pocket, he said to the maitre de: Don’t you know who I am?
I’m always helping demons cause an angel never asks. I make more time for enemies, I make more enemies, too.
And me, always with the best of intentions.
Secrets last longer than friends do so I try not to share them. But you can lose a friend by not telling them secrets so I make things up. Even false secrets last longer than true friends; I’ve heard them repeated from time to time. I feel bad for lying but I’ve kept my secrets longer than I ever kept a friend.
Thank You Letter
Thank you, you don’t know what your actions have meant to me. I don’t know how to thank you I try and fail. That ride/that loan/that time I turned left in front of your car nearly killing us both but in that terrible moment between two drivers that had nearly collided I was expecting your reprimand and you only shrugged. You looked at me and shrugged. You could have hated me but. It’s been twenty years since then and I’m still grateful. On my knees grateful. I needed a break and you gave me one/taught me to give and/you, thank you, I don’t even know your name.
Four years into marriage he had his first affair, and it was a blast, seriously. It had all the cliches, a flight attendant, his wedding ring slipped into his pocket, the dark bar, the proposition. And she rocked. She loved it. He loved it too. He wonders if sex is best sometimes when you don’t even like your partner. Like you can punish them a little bit, or just be selfish.
No one knew.
He wanted to tell someone, he wanted to share. He had to, he was bursting, why shit! But there was no one. Fours years in, his first affair, and his first realization that every friend he has now is really her friend. He eyes a couple of guys at work for his secret, but that’s not happening. He doesn’t even trust them to talk about him, much less talk to them. He works with a bunch of fucks.
So he writes about it. He writes it all down with every juicy detail. And fearing his wife or anyone else will come across it (even buried deep in a drawer or computer file, I mean, what if he was killed?) he sends it off to a men’s magazine. He doesn’t use his real name and he opens a special email account, it’s about more than it seems, I mean, a man is entitled to a little privacy.
So he mails off a sex letter with a pen name and a secret address. He feels flushed and illicit doing it, but does it just the same. See, it’s more than just a letter. It’s like a comic book and Dickens and porno all mixed together. He was on a business trip. She was a stewardess, Swedish for gods sake! I mean, it’s his opus. It’s his big win, it’s like winning a million bucks at the poker table and not being allowed to tell anyone because they all know you’re not allowed to gamble. He mailed it off.
And kind of forgot about it, and even kind of forgot about his secret mailbox which he does check but only from time to time and about three months after the letter which is about fourteen or fifteen weeks after the initial event so that the whole of it is starting to fade from him, there’s something from the magazine. They want to publish it, as in, like, a story. The email was sent a week earlier, and there is the offer to pay nearly two thousand dollars for the “piece”. Holy shit.
He’s worried he’s too late, but he isn’t. The piece runs. Only he and a discreet editor know it’s him. He hopes to overhear other men talking about it – in a locker room, a bathroom, a bar – but it doesn’t ever happen. He buys his wife a nice present with the money, he feels guilty somehow, guilty but great too, and sad, cause this is just another victory he can’t tell anyone.
The magazine wants another piece, a little longer. The offer is even better. So he takes the bit of money he didn’t use to buy his wife the bracelet and tells her about a seminar, required, a privilege really, bound to lead to a little bonus at work. It’s that easy. And it’s easy for him (good hair and works out) to find the right woman when he tells her he’s writing an article for a men’s magazine about the world’s greatest sex. He goes by his pen name. He doesn’t carry a copy of the magazine.
She’s a cocktail waitress with the kind of body that melted men in 1950s and still melts a real man today. His wife is thin, sinewy, a runner. The cocktail waitress, she’s really working it too, not bursting seams but totally testing them. She stripped for him for crissakes, a wish come true, he could see her garters every time she bent over in the bar. She’s bending over now just like that for him. There were even their glasses on the table which he swept off with his forearm just like in the movies. He pulls her hair. Her tits are soft and big and real. There’s a mess for the maid to clean up, he leaves an oversized tip, feeling good.
Now he writes a four thousand dollar a month column for a high-end men’s magazine. He takes one lover a month, sometimes two if the first one wasn’t up to snuff or if he knows or suspects he won’t be able to make it to his “seminar” the following month. No one knows except a discreet editor, well, maybe a few there now, and some great women who know him by his pen name. He’s getting a little famous in some circles. He learns there are amazing women everywhere: Omaha, Lincoln, Cedar Rapids, Sterling. He learns that women who look a little chubby in clothing tend to look the best naked – that neat, stylish women are generally too thin. He learns women can be as hungry for it as he is, that it can be as fun to give as receive and that there’s always something new to learn. He takes these values to his day job, where he is now prospering. In his head he pretends that he is a reservist, a Sex Reservist, serving one weekend a month to better the world.
His wife is very happy, she loves it when he says she is too thin. She loves it when he buys her chocolates. Even more when he buys her gold. He’s a success at work and gentle in the bedroom, just the way she likes it.
He thinks of himself as happily married, a leader, young-looking and athletic. Life is great. He makes almost as much off the magazine as he does at his job. He can be generous, and he’s investing. He’s missing out on some endorsements and other commercial opportunities his pen name could provide, but cover is more important to him. I mean, the truth would wreck his life.
And the best part? He’s an artist now, a writer. It’s better than the sex, better than his neat life or anything else. I mean, the opportunity to express one’s self! It’s important. He’s moving people. He is changing lives.
He feels whole.
Plane Trip #78
It was dark and I didn’t know quite where we were. In summer at night when the trees are full it’s more difficult to identify the pause of the lakes that make me feel like I am home, or nearly so. By chance it showed in the S-curves of a river, sometimes silver, sometimes white...just a patch, the intensity determined by the specific triangulation of moon, river and me. Delightful. Incredible. Moonlight spells river – I’d never seen it before. It lasted about a minute. It didn’t’ happen again but I never stopped looking for it.
Plane Trip #77
He was a disgusting man. I feel guilty saying so, it’s a strong word, but I mean it. Our flight was delayed and we both sat in the concourse bar, me to look for ball scores and him to drink. My eye contact with him was accidental though I am friendly by nature, but the fact that such eye contact had been made by virtue of mine flicking and by virtue of his dogged stare was sensed instantly by me to be a big mistake.
He crossed the room and proved me right quite readily by telling me the tale of his cooler (filled with walleye) and how in Omaha (where he was presently living) they eat carp. “Only blacks and jews eat carp, “ he said to me.
I wanted to say something right then but it’s difficult, and really, frankly, I wasn’t quite certain if his remark, as stated, was actually racist. Well, of course it is and truth is it made me nervous, he didn’t make me nervous but what he said did, nervous to find the right words to tell him what I meant to and me frightened the whole time to be countered, to be wrong in calling him out - even though being wrong would be, in this case, a salvation.
I left the bar and he followed me to our collective gate, chatting away. He touched my hair but quickly, asking me about the color.
I hid in the bathroom for a while. I returned and went directly to a seat between two occupied ones. I opened my book. He asked the woman I was seated beside if she could move so he could sit next to his friend.
I sat stiffly reading but he spoke anyway. I was disgusted, not afraid.
I picked up my bags. “Excuse me a minute.” A minute. I went back to the bathroom and locked myself in a stall, reading peacefully there for about an hour. Then I stayed out of eyeshot of the gate waiting for the call to board. I didn’t wait for my proper turn either, I butted in, ignoring the row that was being called, and panicking until the seat beside me was occupied by a nice-seeming young girl.
The last time I saw him he was working his way down the aisle, passed me. I’m not sure if he didn’t see me, or if he purposely didn’t look. I was purposely trying not to look, but still I saw him, and as he went passed I really did feel sort of badly for no bothering to tell him good-bye.
He had a short little lifeline. She was preoccupied with it. It made him more interesting than maybe he really was. She was broken when he called it off, begging him to stay in touch. And he did too, stay in touch, mostly to ask for money. And she gave it to him too, mostly without question, still preoccupied with that short little lifeline, anxiously awaiting its fruition.
Just Another Little Death
She left too suddenly, he can’t get used to it. She was too young to die, too young to die like that. The notion of it just doesn’t sit with him. The world is so full of misinformation, why not this time? He thinks they’re all wrong; he talks to her anyway. At first it’s a private thing, then a public one, his rebellion and his fury in the crinkled face of all of their lies. He talks to her. He talks to her standing in line, he talks to her driving then talks to her walking once they take his drivers’ license away. He’s not crazy; she doesn’t ever answer him. But he thinks he can conjure her up if he tries hard enough; he believes he can call her forth. He doesn’t set a place for her at the table but he does cook or order in all the things she likes best. He’d know if she were really dead. He’d feel it. Isn’t that the way love is supposed to work? He doesn’t feel it at all.
But months go by and she doesn’t come back. She doesn’t flicker a light bulb or appear behind his shoulder in a darkened mirror. She doesn’t telephone, hardly a soul does. He’s lonely. He decides that wherever she is, he wants to be there too. No one stops him from a buying a gun, it’s easy, an anonymous clerk having no knowledge or concern, a splintered group of family and friends having no time, or, time for him on his terms.
Sorry, he can’t see the bright side of this. Sorry, he’s not interested in a second chance, coming years, food, motorbikes or cinema. He’s interested in her, finding her. He smells her things in the drawer, her drawer, a drawer the sister tried to empty but he nipped that in the bud. She might come home. She might come home no matter how incredibly unlikely that may seem. Incredibly unlikely things happen all the time.
His suicide is not one of them. Maybe they saw it coming or maybe they didn’t, but truth is it’s a relief to everyone involved.
A Little Victory
It ended badly but a year went by and she was still thinking of him. She’s the kind to stay in touch, she tried to think of happy times together but there weren’t so many of those either. She crafted her letter to sound vague and unsentimental, yet welcoming. He wrote back.
She wanted to be there for him. She decided that friends is what they’d always been and it was sex that messed them up. Her genuine friends think it was a fling but that she went and fell in love with him. Her year apart had been much better than his had been and on some level she feels bad about this, like it had been some duty to care for him and she’d failed. She sometimes called him “brother”.
Over the years she does what she can for him, slips him money and doesn’t tell a soul. She wants to be, to him, the kind of person she knows she isn’t.
Eventually his trials begin to bore her. She’s not sure why. Confrontation is in order, she picks this classic fight: “You never ask me how I am.”
“Because you are always fine,” he tells her.
It feels like a little victory.
Dogs Playing Poker
Dogs are not very good at cards, and those that are truly committed to the game must cut off their tails. I mean, cut them all the way off, down to the spine, lest the tail reveal them, or their hand. Dogs are no good at bluffing. Even without their tails they can rarely hide how they feel, or even what they mean. The best players are usually those who have survived as strays – they get used to hiding their true selves; they get used to being manipulative. This translates well at the card table. Meanwhile, even the best among the dogs is no contest for a cat. Even a mid-level cat player can generally take a great dog for all its worth – cats, being cats, are used to withholding - what they are thinking, or even what they mean.
Once a generation or so the best of the dogs convinces himself he can sit at the cat table. Once a generation the best of dogs sits down to play with the cats. And is, inevitably, taken.
They are so beautiful and sweet and even before they have begun I can’t help but think of their passing. I look at tight buds and see their petals falling. I feel soft air and read its future as something pregnant and oppressive. Conception is the delight, isn’t it? After that it’s just a matter of death and its timing: Magnolia blossoms, tulips and my flesh and our bond.
Plane Trip #76
I hadn’t looked in awhile and it was night when we left, but still the darkness shocked me, or shocked me just a bit, can’t say what I expected but it’s pleasant, the dark is, even pretty, pretty yes, there’s more to see than just blackness and really it isn’t black anyway it’s blue, deep blue, even this late and even this high up and I have no idea why, why blue. There are cities, or towns, signs of human beings living in this particular historical age, yellow lights the mark of them, all lined up or following a contour of earth invisible in the dark. Life spreads out. It’s populous here, not really, not really much at all and driving this would be nowhere to be sure; the distance between things and clearly tiny places but for all that I look south/east/west and everywhere in all directions there are signs of us.
There are stars too, clustered differently or rather not clustered at all, little pinpoints, white, I imagine shooting stars along the horizon or really I’m just pretending, pretending I see them, while certain lights on the ground are blinking, flashing, specifically calling to us, meant for us, calling or maybe just telling us something. Lights tell us up here of tall and dangerous towers but from this seat the idea is laughable, we are that much higher, closer to stars than to the tippy tops of towers, closer to mountains which offer no warning and have no lights at all. In the dark only turbulent air tells their story, or reveals their position like terrible soldiers crouching with bad intent.
As much as night surprised me I do remember taking off, I remember looking at places more or less familiar maybe not recognizing that particular plaza or mall but knowing in general whereabouts it must be. I remember looking at the vacant shapes of frozen lakes, not seeing where they are but where the people aren’t, where lights don’t exist and in those moments close the ground I was looking at my city thinking It’s too big; thinking It’s too big and I am too small within it and somehow I felt more or less perfectly random, like the life I know is random and where I lead it is random because there is so much everywhere and what is the reason after all that I am where I am, why here? And in all seriousness I had to look away.
And now, same night, maybe even the same hour of it as time and I each migrate west and I look at city lights or rather more like towns and it’s clear to me how tiny it all is, how connected, and that even though I am away from home it still exists, it is right there behind me and with enough time I could walk it, like nothing could keep me from it and nothing could matter more or fit better than it does, all these lives but there’s one that’s mine.
I can’t be certain if those shapes below me are snowfields or low clouds. I can’t be sure where I am, well, only most generally, en route, somewhere between X and Z. I can’t even be sure I’ll make it back, can’t take it for granted that I will even survive these mundane travels and while statistical truths should negate the need for faith at all, still that’s how I comfort myself, not with odds or facts or evidence but with pure emotion, the kind that lets me believe that you make me invincible, or at very least inseparable, always headed home.
“I produce commercial photography.”
That’s what I tell a person who asks me what I do for a living. Not so many follow up by asking me what that means, but I’ll tell you: It means I find places and people necessary to set-up a fake situation that, when photographed, looks somehow or relatively real and natural. Or supernatural. They do it in the movies all the time, they build a scenario to the point where you know where an imaginary being lives, how they’d act, the places they go. They build say a space city that you accept as authentic – sure, that’s a space city, one probably exists somewhere and that’s just what it would look like I bet.
So, picture a single-frame of a movie, and you have a commercial photograph. Only the goal is rather different for the photograph, a more sinister goal if you bother to consider it...the goal of the photograph is to sell you something. Commercials too, but I don’t work on those. I make the advertising pictures you see in magazines, no I don’t take the pictures. I just bring the elements together. See that new Lexus did not just pull up into that barren desert at just that moment, the windows aren’t usually black and hey take a look at the license plate, or the lack of one. That party where the beer is causing all that fun didn’t happen. We faked it. That chemistry between that willowy brunette and sculpted, ultra cool fella? Well, he’s gay, and she didn’t speak a word of English. I created it. I set the situation up and someone with tech skills and better taste than me shot the picture after approving the various elements – this girl, that place, those pants for sure, we love them – and now you believe it. Or at least, you don’t question it. Maybe, if we did it right, you feel good or bad when you look at, depending. And the fact that you’re looking at it says we did our job. I did my job. You stopped there.
So, I produce commercial photography. On January 7, 2007, the gods of irony saw to it that I spend my very own real, actual birthday setting up fake birthdays. The template was an office party. Only our office was hipper than yours. And co-workers there cared more about their buddy’s birthday than most people do their own kids – we had streamers, banners, balloons, a hula theme complete with skirts, tikis and coconut punch bowls. Oh yeah, and those co-workers and their buddies? All fabulously good looking. And, incidentally, unable to work more than ten minutes without demanding a drink of sparkling water. Through a straw. Don’t mess up those perfect lips.
I turned 43 that day. I’d cut my own hair a day before and people had the nerve to tell me I “ruined” it. But that’s only after I pointed out my handiwork – handiwork I was personally very fond of. What I mean is, I cut a foot off my hair and no one noticed. I figured it would be like that. I also figured it would be like this: After faking birthdays all day long, replete with elaborate cakes, candles, and chorus after chorus of “Happy Birthday to You” (I do good work – the singing adds authenticity and I tell you it takes some do-it-yourself Enthusiasm to keep a crew engaged and in key for ten straight hours), my own cake would come, and the chorus would turn to me. It was sweet and well-intended, but by day’s end, seriously, who wants to hear it? And since I wasn’t producing my real birthday, someone else was. And that someone else didn’t have my experience or timing...candles weren’t lit, we all stood around waiting, suddenly no one had a match...okay, maybe I’m making it sound worse than it was, but truly, it was awkward. Me standing there with cheer and surprise on my face, not wanting to disappoint, and all the while the clock ticking, the one that pushes us into overtime, big expenses, and problems... So hurray the cake was lit and covered with baseball player figurines – a distinctly nice touch – and one last hoarse round of Happy Birthday, me still singing loudest. And I blow out the candles and spend my wish hoping to get out of there on time, out of the space we were using cause each fifteen minutes beyond six o’clock is going to run an extra couple of grand, no matter how nice I am to anyone, and no matter that it’s my birthday.
So maybe I rain on the parade by not having a piece of cake but instead doing what I can to pack us out of there – but by the same token, I didn’t keep anyone else from enjoying a piece of cake, and sure enough, people did, while the Birthday Boss packed and swept and hustled. But my birthday wish came true. We were out of there in the nick of time.
Let me add here that I was working out of town, as in, not in the town I live in.
But I was working “local”, they call it, meaning I was basically “pretending” I lived there, paying my own expenses for the trip, an investment in my overall earnings. It had its pros and cons. I stayed in an admittedly funky yet strangely comfortable motor hotel located on one of those gigantic LA intersections, seemed like twenty lanes converging, yet, there were often people walking on the sidewalk – not scary people really, but it kept me from opening my street-level window (or rather, kept me from sleeping with my window open) so my little room – devoid of any artwork whatsoever, which may fall into the pro category, or may not – was kind of hot. The pool in the courtyard was empty and had yellow security tape – KEEP OUT – around it, but the little wooden booths nearby reminded me of travels in South America. I thought of the motel as having a certain European sort of feel, but truth is I never – and I mean, not once – encountered another guest. I was keeping work hours – out at 6am, back sometime between 9 and midnight and never heading back out again. I struck up a sort of comraderie with the desk clerks – three of them, one in the evenings, one in the mornings, and one that was sort of a floater I guess, he the only male, and, in his 40s, considerably younger than the two women I’d encounter.
It was the man who was at the desk when I decided to cut my hair. It was late, well, maybe 10pm, late for a drugstore. I asked if one was around. “What do you need?,” the desk clerk asked in hoarse rasp.
“Scissors,” I said.
He opened a drawer. He had an accent. “What size? What for?”
“To cut my hair with,” I said.
“What?What? You can’t cut your own hair.” I told him I’d gotten the same story all day at work, but that indeed I could, and that I would like to. “There’s a place right across the street,” he said, pointing to the darkened Supercuts across six lanes, “Wait until morning.”
“I don’t want to have someone else cut my hair, I like to cut my own hair, I just need scissors,” I told him.
“Cutting your own hair at ten o’clock at night is a crisis, not a hair cut. I will not give you scissors. You are having a crisis. Wait until morning.” And he closed the drawer and turned away.
Back in my room, I found blunt-tipped kiddie scissors in my travel kit, and did the deed. Like I said before, I like it. And funny, the desk clerk – there still or again in the morning – was the only person that actually noticed: “You did it. You cut your hair. I admit it now, it looks good.”
So the clerk noticed. And liked it, as did my three paid assistants, they liked it too (once prompted that a change had taken place). Frankly I didn’t give a shit that anyone said I “ruined” it – that’s LA for you, not the bluntness, but the hierarchy of long locks over a more punkish do.
Anyway, I’m not really a local.
I was spending my birthday working out of town. I made a birthday plan with a friend, a good friend, but in my bones I knew it couldn’t happen. I knew the job would own me, and local or posing local or whatever, dinner plans had been made for me. Dinner plans with the bosses. I was to spend my birthday night holding my exhaustion in, nodding and listening and smiling, with the clients.
Wait. I like the clients. And the photographer who planned the dinner was careful, brazenly arranging people at the table in an effort to keep the “creative” folk (throw me recklessly into this group) at one end, and the “business” folk at the other. I was tired. My throat was sore. To my left a group became very engaged in talk about real estate investments, then investments more generally. It’s not my topic. Across and two my right the matter was Politics – often a preferred topic when sitting at the “creative” end of the table. But not tonight. The launch point was a particular retail entity known for unfair business practices and low prices – a particular retail entity that these “creatives” happen to do the advertising for. So it was me against the world, countering the argument that “poor people have no choice” with my own observation that “there is always a choice.”
I could use this forum here to highlight to you the pertinence and brilliance of my particular counters and viewpoints, because surely the pertinence and brilliance of my debating is what led to my client saying, “Well that’s just a typical, rich white liberal talking.”
When struck in that manner, it is very tempting to brag about one’s own economic humility – in my own case, the truth is I grew up poorer than anyone at the table. I grew up poorer than my friends from big families who think they grew up poor. My clan jumped from apartment to apartment – the kind of apartments that allowed dogs – running from creditors. I went to twelve schools in twelve years. I’d have two maybe three shirts and one maybe two pairs of pants, and I’d rotate them, never wearing the same combination two days in a row. This is not metaphor, it’s my truth. True too is the fact that I never felt poor, not once, and never even really thought about it.
I had a scholarship to a state college but couldn’t keep my grades up, so after the first year I worked full time and went to school full time. I didn’t like school as much as I liked having a job, but I got by. I wasn’t a star, but I made it.
Like most producers, I just fell into it. Or, put another way, I just got lucky. After college I worked in a record store. We sold concert tickets. The concert promoter offered me a part-time gig driving him around on show days. I was responsible. He liked me. Gave me chances. I made good. Burned out on concerts and did a few commercials, same sort of work. Switched to photography cause it was more in line with my art degree, thought I’d learn more about taking pictures. And I did learn more about that, and about what I wanted, and what I didn’t want. Stuck to producing. Still conflicted about it. Selling soap when I should be helping children. I tell myself I do what I can. I give money, volunteer sometimes. I never shop at Walmart.
It is neither elegant nor wise to brag about one’s poverty, and it is certainly not humble to point out one’s humility. I fell into that trap for a second, thinking I was defending myself. But I caught myself, and I stopped. I regained my composure and smiled and nodded quietly, listening a little easier than talking had been, my sore throat aching and me suddenly completely exhausted, visualizing the long drive back to my motor hotel and thinking to myself But it’s my birthday, it’s my birthday, it’s my birthday.
Plane Trip #75
There is a super old man sitting next to me, they brought him on in a wheelchair so I'm holding in my pee, don't want to climb over and don't think he can get up. I followed him down the jetway and the man who was with him (who's now sitting further back) was being so brusque and nasty to him, I felt awful.
So I was kind of glad when the old man was seated next to me. He couldn't open his mixed nuts, so I helped. Or his pretzels, so I opened those too. I liked helping. He was struggling with his cookie too so I leaned over again to open the package and he just barked at me: I GOT IT. I GOT IT. Which made me feel stupid for helping him so informally and worse made me feel stupid for kind of wanting to help, to feel useful, like maybe I was using the guy to feel like a hero or something.
But every time I helped I thought to myself how I just love when someone helps me, helps me put my bag up or helps me get it down or even when the flight attendant brings me water - help is rare and it makes me feel warm and nice and that's part of why I try to give it back, because to me it feels good. And actually as I was helping the old guy I was thinking that it will be okay to be that old someday, flying on a plane, people will help. It will be okay to be old cause people are basically good natured and when my hands are knotted up and don't work so well anymore or when I move more slowly or typical things seem heavy it's going to be alright cause there are people like me, or like the really nice flight attendant on this flight who, when he asked the old man if he'd like a salad or a sandwich and the old man said, "Yes, sounds delicious," came back to the old man a minute later and said (rather slowly and loudly) to him, "I am so sorry, I am just so forgetful, did you say you want the warm Ruben sandwich? Or the cold lettuce salad?" (Knowing of course that the old man would want the sandwich, the match of lettuce, garbanzo beans, fork and quaking hands really no match at all, and thus with his query so politely framed offering the old man both dignity and an ideal outcome). I mean to say I was feeling good. Hopeful and helpful.
But now I'm just feeling like a busy body, or self-righteous, like that woman on a flight a few years ago who was "rescuing children from Haiti" and wearing a tee-shirt that said so, "HAITIAN CHILD RESCUE 2004" or something like that; I remember how awkward I felt because she was doing a good deed, yes, but seemed so egotistical about it, and racist too, saying how the "natives" thought a cleft palette meant the little girl she had in her arms was "cursed by the devil", and how they, in their ignorance, left her to die. But meanwhile she had a needy baby in her arms, and what did I have? A computer? Some hipster jacket? So who am I to feel condemnation when the "rescue worker" is at least doing SOMETHING, and me, just watching, critical...
Anyhow, I'm now avoiding eye contact with the old man, lest he have to look upon this shitty do-goodie brat that serves only to demean, to remind him how old he really is but ha ha ha the joke's on her, she'll be just like me someday, old and rickety, and she can see then how it feels to have some righteous little punk open your peanuts like you're some goddamn baby or maybe ha ha ha the joke's on her anyway, cause she probably won't live as long as I have anyhow, what with her Pepsi, cookies and butter.
Perhaps my most generous acts are invisible ones: Not drinking even though I'm thirsty and not getting up to pee even though I have to. Perhaps acts are ONLY generous when they are invisible.
I concentrate on that for a while, distracting myself from my bursting bladder.
Along the Canadian border in November and flocks of birds fly north. I’ve been warned of pending catastrophe. I keep checking locks but some things won’t be kept out. There are mice in the kitchen and I fear what they leave. There are mice in the rafters and at night I dream them winged, flying north, terrifying as birds. Outside it pours, just a matter of time until the basement floods. The roof will cave in, I stake out the middle floor, checking locks and yelling at the top of my lungs, only in part trying to scare away the vermin.
It smells like snow. It is not snowing. It is just cold.
Maybe I’ve had it wrong. Maybe snow smells like cold and it’s easy to mistake.
Maybe it’s just been too long, my summer-and-warm-autumn nose perplexed by the usual scents of winter, which is either here or coming, depending upon whether your particular orientation declares Winter by calendar, temperature, snow or length of day. Thursday I was coatless with the top down on the car. Saturday the empty garden hose was frozen like a stone snake. That isn’t to say it won’t warm up again because it will. The question becomes whether it will come within months, or days; whether it comes when I am still like I am right now, or whether it will come once I have changed.
Dining with Millionaires
When you were dining with millionaires you didn’t realize that that was just another way of serving them. They let you sail their boats and ski with their daughters, but you were serving them then, too. You may own the café now but you’re still bussing tables. And taking their orders it only just occurs to you then the dynamic that is playing out here. And of all the things a man in your situation might think, the one that occurs to you is: Stay useful.
Was it enough that I grieved for the little bird?
I spotted it on the ground in my own backyard. It moved along the patio, burrowing into fallen leaves. Its feathers were puffed, it looked juvenile but there are no baby sparrows in November. It let me get too close. It breathed too hard. I thought about a box, about something to keep the bird warm. I had some place I needed to go to. I reached toward it and it flew, just a little. I told myself it was alright. I figured it probably wasn’t. I didn’t know what to do. I go inside, hoping it will fly away, or somehow disappear. I step back out and its on the ground again. It digs along the base of the fence, to no avail. There is no place for it to go. I think about the cats I’ve chased out of the yard. I pretend the bird is preening. I think about a squirrel I once saw out the window, sprawled in the dirt beneath the maple tree. I banged on the window, it didn’t move. I thought it was dead. I was afraid it was dead. I went outside and startled it, it had just been sleeping. Really, it was sleeping on the lawn. The squirrel was fine. I think I saw that squirrel that day so I could believe on this one that that little bird is okay. There’s really nothing to do. What comfort can I offer the bird by terrifying it? It occurs to me to kill it, but I never could. My kindness is to let it suffer. My kindness is to hope. I hope that I hope rather than pretend. Pretending is kindness too, spent mostly on myself.
I hope it’s enough that I grieve for the little bird.
I pretend that is.
Plane Trip #74
I looked out the window and thought We are desperate for rain. I’d forgotten it was winter. There is no ice and no snow. This palette is not drought but dormancy, the hibernation of growing things and fields usually hidden, or rather, dressed. Dressed in white. Today is just brown as far as I can see, call it tan perhaps, or sand. There was a time when this land was not cultivated.
There was a time when this vantage was impossible.
Impossible: Or so it seems, ice and snow headed south. But this has happened before. I am considering this, a particular time a particular flight the particular man I was sitting next to then. I remember his hands, baseball lover’s hands. His son played college ball. I remember.
Then Pilot says To the left you’ll see the diamond, beautiful even in winter. Seated right, I missed it.
What I see instead I imagine: The pilot’s hands.
Baseball lover’s hands.
After his girlfriend dumped him he found that he was suddenly and completely in love with his wife. Just like that all of the things about her that had bored and bothered him didn’t bore or bother him anymore. The wife, oblivious to the affair and in love with her husband all along, did notice the sudden wave of affection, and passion, and she reveled in it. She bloomed in the light of his adoration, and became herself more beautiful somehow, more worthy of it. She fixed herself up a bit more or more often. She threw away her favorite sweatshirt, the one she used to wear when she was sick but had taken to wearing whenever she watched t.v. They set up a date night. She started taking yoga class and switched salons, updating her hair.
But romance can be expensive. Just take date night: There’s the dinner, cocktails, wine; an outfit or at least something new; maintaining colored hair. And of course the babysitter. Plain young thing, but it made the wife uptight whenever the husband drove her home. She wasn’t sure why.
The husband meanwhile is oblivious to the issues of date night. He’s not the one balancing the checkbook, he’s not the one shopping for the kids, or fixing them something to eat before they go out nor is he the one placating them when they realize Mom and Dad are leaving. He just pays the babysitter, always includes a wink and a little tip. He’s the one who picks her up and drives her home. He is further oblivious to his wife’s jealously, and at first is oblivious to her anger. But the latter keeps brewing.
Date nights end. There is a new bulky sweater for the wife to watch television in. The husband finds another girlfriend. His wife is happy when he works late, hoping for more money, a little extra breathing room.
It goes on like this for eighteen months, until the new girlfriend leaves him and he falls in love with his wife all over again.
They spotted her husband leaving the hotel bar with another woman. They were at their ten year reunion in Concord, New Hampshire; who knows what he was doing up there? What were the odds? They hid in a deep booth rather than encounter him, and debated (rather briefly) about whether or not to tell his wife. When they arrive home, they sit their friend the wife down and tell her in detail the sorry truth: Her husband left the bar with some slut.
A series of looks flash across the wife’s face but in the end there’s little reaction. Or at least a lot less reaction than her friends expected, and not a single tear. Afterwards, the friends call each other on the phone, discussing the nature of withdrawal and shock and the symptoms of suicidal tendencies. They worry about the wife. They feel just awful for her too. They expected her to weep, maybe even to thank them - they did go out on a limb with that confession and they’d thank her if she did that for them, of course they would. But the wife doesn’t mention it again. She doesn’t call any more often or seem any less together and the friends fret her apparent denial to the point that they agree that something must done. They decide amongst themselves on a sort of intervention. They confirm amongst themselves that’s there no such thing as a perfect couple after all.
So they sit the wife down again. It’s clear to them she should leave him. It’s clear that she should want to. They describe in detail the woman in the bar: Her age, her hairstyle, what she wore. They tell her she should pack a bag. They tell her she’s still young.
The wife listens quietly with folded hands. She says I appreciate your concern but it’s okay.
What’s okay? Her friends cry. It’s not okay, he’s a cheat!
But really I don’t mind.
Don’t mind? You must be kidding! Really, you don’t have to put up with this.
It’s okay, says the wife, I know about it. I do it too.
What? Ask the friends.
And it’s strange, they came over pitying her. And left, disappointed somehow and hating her guts.
How do you see the shape of your life? She said. She said: How do you see the shape of your life?
Answer her: Sometimes a circle, sometimes a square...
That’s not what I meant, she said.
She never understands you. Thus leading to triangles.
She is a kind-hearted woman; she didn’t want to hate him. She spun her hate to pity and she pitied him instead.
Then she asked herself: Would I rather be pitied, or hated?
So now she hates him again, kind hearted woman that she is.
Best friend yeah, sure. But I was still pissed. She knew it too. Kept her distance for awhile.
Then she asked me: Are you mad at me about something?
I told her Yes and I told her why too, but I’m pretty sure it was the Yes alone that did it.
We never spoke again.
It was her dream to make a movie. It would be a good one too. She knew she was pretty but she didn’t know if she could act. And maybe her own story was a little bit boring really. But she could make a movie. It would be as if making the movie was reason to make a movie; like making a movie would make her boring story interesting.
She moved out west where everyone was pretty and it was hard to find a job even waiting tables and it was impossible to live off of even if you did. No rich man scooped her away. She wound up in the sex trade. It started out okay, and she told herself it was just for awhile.
She’s not as pretty as she once was but her story is finally interesting. But she’s lost her taste for movies, and sex and rich men that often scoop her up but never take her away.
She lost her taste for movies and sex and everything else.
She wished for poems but all she got was puns and rhymes. She just needed some kind of structure in that way.
He sent her love letters. They made her flush. She was terrified someone might read them. They were corny and poorly written. She knew what she was bad at and didn’t do it. But this one, this man, he was brave – as in: Romantic. Or, he was arrogant.
He would send her love letters and they’d make her flush. Corny, terrible love letters. Sometimes with candy or flowers. She just couldn’t imagine exposing herself in that way. And she doesn’t.
She would never pour her heart out like that. And she didn’t.
Maybe one day she’ll burn them.
He got real sick and nearly died. Weeks in intensive care and me right beside him but he pulled through. We pulled through. It seemed miraculous at the time, like a miracle.
We had a couple of good months after all that.
But now I hate that bastard more than anything and if I’d known when we was sick what this would come to; if I had only known then how crazy lucky I’d had been if he just died; how blessed. I dream about it now - the grief, the mourning… and the life that would have come after it. I guess it could happen again, a chance like that.
I hate to think that kind of opportunity only comes once in a lifetime.
The first snowflakes ever fell from the sky just today. There were not so many of them but so thrilled to be arriving here, charming, dancing or just dancing around like little children in the park. Or in waves. Their joy reminds me: Don’t be afraid. Turn your face to the wind, it is not here to harm you. Wind carries a surprise, and it just can’t contain the secret; it’s Wind’s nature to hint. It whispers: Winter is coming. Wind speaks to me like this, it knows I understand completely. And just like the wind, I can’t contain myself, either. I tell you: Winter is coming. Me and Wind, we hope you understand. How snow makes ugly things beautiful, and freezing water turns us into god.
Six Days in North Carolina
I thought he liked me but there was nothing personal about it. He was in a new place and needed a friend for a little while. Over southern breakfast I knew already he would leave without so much as a goodbye. But I had the last laugh. I was never his fucking friend.
I asked the man if it is usual for snakes to swim in his water. He said No, it’s special. Having never been here before, it is my own truth that every time I stand here I see them. The next day I touch one. Later, he holds one for me, like he knew.
You are banned from the word pretty. But it’s a reflex, like how one firework elicits one vowel sound, and the subsequent one another. It really was pretty. I couldn’t help myself. Or him.
She is terrified of spiders. I let it crawl onto my wrist and take it away. I am terrified of her. I’ve seen how she talks about people.
He is blunt and he tells me: She’s not your fucking friend. He’s not my friend either, that’s the funny part.
No, no. You misunderstand me. I loved it there.
I don’t want to hate but can’t help it. I wake with hate in my chest. I exhale and hate makes my breath bad. I want to let it go but it keeps coming back up. I want to love. I want to pity. I try to picture kind things. But I wake from dreams of him and dreams of an axe; I curse the dream as I curse myself for remembering it. Still I hold tight to that dream axe. I lie awake and sharpen it. I smile as I swing it against his hideous neck and for a few hours after I am free from hate, the peace of revenge taken in its place.
I’m scared of being scared. I’m scared it makes me weak. I’m scared weakness leaves me vulnerable and I’m scared vulnerability is dangerous: Show it and someone will strike you there. I’m scared of failing. I’m scared of losing. I’m scared of hating. I’m scared of love because love leaves a weak spot. Love is just another way to hurt me, and I’m scared of being hurt.
It’s been what twenty years? But in fleeting moments I can’t remember just plain forget and wonder hey why haven’t I spoken to...and I swear it’s just a second, less, but there’s the first shot bang like I forgot to call or something then the second one bang, the one when I remember that we’ll never speak again.
I hate how much I love you. It leaves me feeling vulnerable. The only way to hurt me is to hurt you. And I’m scared of being hurt. Take a look at this. Can you see why it stops me, why it moves me? Tell me is it truly beautiful or am I just in love?
I grit my teeth to keep from biting, my hands shake in little fists. Tenderness does not come natural. I didn’t want to live forever until then.
Wait. It’s you I want to live forever.
For Dad, My Patron Saint of Baseball
Not all of you will understand, I’ll say that to start out. It helps to be a sports fan, first off. Better yet to be a baseball fan, specifically. And though I hope this isn’t the case for you, I’m afraid you have to know some grief too, that sense of missing someone, of wanting nothing more than to talk them, and perhaps pairing with that the idea that only they can understand what you mean or what you’re feeling – but they’re gone.
Baseball knows a long season. It starts with exhibition games in March, and starts officially in April, Spring, the nexus of eternal hope. On the first day of the official, non-exhibition baseball season, every team – no matter how unlikely such a thing may seem – every team has a chance. On paper your team may look terrific, brimming with the potential to fulfill your dreams or break your heart. On paper your team may look downright unfamiliar, yet you know going in you’re likely to fall in love with them. Or your team may look weak, or feeble or full-up terrible. But on the season’s first day, you are still believer. On the season’s first day, we’re all tied first place. Early in the year, any team can hold that place for awhile.
Well, predictions and affections aside, I’ll fess up my team was never in first place. Not really. They lost the first game of the season. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but my father once told me that of all the teams that missed their respective championship by one game, something like ninety percent of those teams lost the first game of the season. I’m not sure if that’s true, but the lesson stuck. Every game counts, and there are one hundred sixty-two of them.
That’s part of what I like about baseball, the everyday-ness of it. To those that listen it is a sound more steady than rain. Ballplayers have a job just like the rest of do; they go about it every day, like working men.
I also like the green-ness of it, starting and ending again just after an equinox. It marks a period of long days, of planting and harvest, from buds trembling to falling leaves. Spring can seem so long along come autumn, especially as far north as I reside. But with this game there is a constant presence of it, I see the playing field in July and October and think of April - sometimes the one passed, more usually the next one coming. Because in ball-speak “next year” means “April”, and if your team lets you down, you’ll start thinking about it in June.
My team had a miserable April, meaning we played badly, offering little reason for optimism, and losing a lot of games. By early May I had next April on my mind again. I was comfortable with that too, the psychoacoustics of the radio relaxing rather than thrilling, the green-ness of the season enough.
Things turned around in June and by July we were hot like the weather. We hung close enough to the real winners that we could feel like we belonged there. By August we were thinking April again, but this time we thought about the April passed, what would have been possible if hadn’t been so lousy back then. We might be in first place, if only.
But we never really were in first place. I was in Boston when we held that title for all of a couple of hours. It’s called a “half-game” when you sit out while another teams plays, or vice versa. We were in first by default. The “real” contender played and won, extending their reign. And my team lost, despite how very badly at that moment I didn’t want them to.
That happened twice in September, first place by default. And I don’t mean to be dismissive of that particular thrill because it means we were in there. We were in there. We were going to get there. I think all fans knew this eventually.
Now it’s the last day of the season and I’m at the game with my family. Math said a specific sort of sports miracle – finishing the season in first place – was possible, however unlikely. We were late in arriving to the ballpark, and the miracle mathematics were becoming fine print, illegible. My team needed to win. The first place team needed to lose. My team was losing, the first place team was winning, by a lot.
My team does what they need to, they win. My family cheers and jumps because no matter what, we were okay. We went from bad to good. It’s a thrill and relief in one’s life experience to see that such thing is possible. We were heading to the playoffs, the post-season, and it really doesn’t matter how we got there.
Meanwhile...the miracle does in fact occur. The ballplayers like the fans are dizzy with joy. My team finishes in first place, and in fact this is the first time all season they were firmly there. We were in first place for one day. The right one.
Sure I can draw all sorts of life-lessons from this experience. I can live optimistically because I have witnessed impossibly wonderful things. I can stay young forever because I have seen that one perfect day can overwhelm a seeming eternity of less perfect or even awful ones. I can draw hope from mere survival. But in real time I hug my spouse, and I hug my nephew and he lets me even though he hates to be hugged. I hug strangers, and we slap together our upraised hands, we will remember this day forever.
Yet there is something melancholy in being able to share this moment with strangers but being denied this delight with my father. See, I try to spell it out for you here, how it felt and why. But my dad just would have known. My team’s not his team but this game is his game. And if I trace my own breathless happiness of this exact moment, I trace it back to a herculon loveseat in Pompano Beach, Florida, my dad walking me through a Dodgers/Giants game, how he explained it all to me that day, the purr of Dodger’s announcer Vin Skully in the background (to this day my favorite sound) and my father pointing at the television and calling it – actually calling it – Ron Cey’s walk off homerun. So I knew my father was a mystic, a seer. And if he were he alive I could pick up the phone right now and he’d answer and I wouldn’t even have to say a single word for him to know exactly how I feel.
Mr. Shitty at the Ballgame
Mr. Shitty has a son who hasn’t yet followed in his footsteps and might not. I saw them together at the baseball game, front row seats of course. The son is twelve and wore team colors special but not because he got them just by asking. The son leans on the rail and watches the game without a peep. Mr. Shitty got the tickets, that’s enough. Baseball is for boys, he brought his son. But Mr. Shitty is a man and a man has things to do like read the paper right there in his front row seat and damn it would be easier if the boy didn’t keep getting up thank you but it just disturbs him for a moment and he’s back at it, business news. He brought a magazine too despite the plan to leave early, even though now the game is tied. And the son protests but Mr. Shitty whips this out: What do you care? Getting up all the time. The son is waiting for his father to ask him Why? Why? Why? But he wouldn’t have the guts to tell him why he leans why he gets up why he doesn’t make a sound so he frowns and he follows, stomping on the forgotten magazine on his way out.
The Best He Ever Had So Far
Fucking her was a profound experience. It was epic. It was huge. It was like burrowing into the soil and waking up on top of clouds. He had never met anyone so willing to please. He had never met anyone so willing to focus on a single sense. He would become completely lost and absolutely found. True in life, true in bed: That one worked her ass off.
And it was great. It was powerful. Powerful medicine. He felt magical, like a magician, like he could turn her into anything. Like he could saw her in half and put her back together again. oLike he could make her disappear.
But any ride becomes dull if the trip gets too long. Or maybe you come to take the view for granted. Sure, but you know sometimes a man just wants to get laid. Simple laid. Like just lie there and take it, or, just give it to me. He started doing other women. He knew it was stupid maybe, but hey. He was a charming guy. Maybe other women are his nature.
She tolerated the first couple of them, looking the other way once and straight up forgiving him the second time when he told her: They’re just little sprinkles. You’re my river and my hurricane. She thought maybe she could go on like this. She thought maybe it was enough to be the special one. She was confused, she wasn’t sure if she really minded or if it was that she was supposed to mind. She pictured herself as his home.
The end wasn’t about other women.
They were fighting. They were fighting and he knew it was because of him. She was the easy one. It made him feel mean. He managed to deliver blows disguised as a sort of benevolent critique, without a hint of anger in his voice. She was clumsy, desperate, boring.
You might wonder how she could fall for this kind of thing, how she could fall for a cheating a heel in the first place and how she could believe him when it is clearly his intent to hurt her. Some suggestions for you: Inexperienced, an alcoholic father, reverent, literal, in love.
She never fully recovered. She became a millionaire. She dresses well. He got a girl pregnant, married, is stuck in a restaurant.
Still they remained friends.
And the friendship survives over the years because each has something the other one needs, or something they need to remember. Inside he believes that messing it up with her was the worst thing he ever did; that his life would be different and better if he just could have...
Inside she figures he feels this way, and she likes to believe she is just toying with him. But...
Part of him wants to tell her. He wants to tell her he was wrong, that he was young then and scared. He wants to tell her that to this day he masturbates thinking of her, touching himself as she touched him. He wants to tell her he made a mistake, a great one and it’s hard to live with it. He wants to say he’s sorry. But he doesn’t.
Part of her wants to scratch his eyes out. Part of her wants him to know the extent to which he wounded her, and to tell him that she hates him. But she doesn’t.
There are lots of hints when they converse. Each of them does or chooses to remember more good parts and than bad parts. Fact is that each is the tie to what the other had and lost; that keeps them civil: Neither of them wants to lose it twice.
So it’s funny, he was her last lover. She will never tell him this. And it’s funny, she was his last love. He may confess this to her sometime when he needs money.
Rain Drowns Memory
It had been so hot, so dry that once heard I exited my bath and headed straight out into rain. Crossed deck, standing on grass not soft but wet at very least, sky unquiet I am balance, silent in it. I lift my face drops tiny stray but I manage, realized against backdrop thunder, high, brief lighting. Remember rain of sultry Yucatan and running in it? Drenched, laughing, it was duress that made sweetness sweeter just like now. Remember rain against tin drowning any thunder sounds? That was Bethlehem, you whispered something in my ear so sincerely I couldn’t make it out and all these years after I still try to, rain louder than theory so again I let it go.
Winter was so mild or even barren that the transition into spring was noted by the calendar rather than my bones. I’d seen green grass in February and tasted soft wet air in March. On Thursday I worked in the garden. I kneeled in the dirt, although that wasn’t necessary. I moved the soil with my hands, though that wasn’t necessary either. When I have known the earth this intimately the lake’s dismissal of its winter ice lacks fanfare. I just expected it to be water, and it was.
I let you know me like no one had or will. I was reckless with you. I gave you everything but there were some things I should have kept. There is one thing I should have saved.
But you lost it. You left on a plane, in a hotel room in New York. You left it on the telephone. You could have gone back for it. You could have gone back but you were lazy. That was your moment, now it’s gone.
It’s just that the owner was so rough on her. She decided not to say anything when the dog bit her. I mean, it was her fault anyway, the woman’s, she shouldn’t have grabbed that chicken bone of all things. So she didn’t say anything. Then after the barbeque with her hand all swelled up she didn’t want to go to the doctor. She heard they kill dogs for biting, even when it’s an accident.
She wound up telling her man, the woman did, and he was pissed off. He wanted her to go to the hospital. NOW. She did, they went together, and when they asked her what happened she said that her own dog had bitten her, a perfect cover story: No, it wasn’t vicious, yes it was an accident. Yes, it had all its shots including recent rabies.
An hour later she has an IV of antibiotics going into her – blood poisoning they said, moving toward her heart. By now her boyfriend is so fucking furious he calls the mean dog owner. He tells the bastard what happened: Your fucking dog bit my girl.
The dog’s owner, rough, as we’ve stated here says: That fucking bitch is lying.
Two hours later violence ensues. Someone drives someplace, there’s a fist fight first, then enter a metal fence post... Cops are called. At the end of the day, both men wind up in jail. She’s in the hospital, doesn’t have to deal with it.
Her boyfriend dies in the holding tank. They called it some sort of mishap but the man did have a temper and probably just mouthed off to the wrong guy. Anyway, looking back on it, she’s still really glad she didn’t rat on that dog. She thinks about her all the time and hopes that she’s okay.
Where It Hurts
He was crying. He said I don’t deserve this. Was he being punished? Yes. He was crying. He said I don’t deserve this. Was he being persecuted? Yes. He was crying. He said I don’t deserve this. Was he loved? He was. Does he deserve this? Yes. Or maybe that’s why he is crying.
How He Made Her Feel
How he made her feel: Low and stupid and clumsy. And sexy sometimes. And pathetic, sometimes for feeling sexy.
Ask her how he made her feel and she says: He gave me chills.
How he made her feel: By hurting her, insulting her. By taking things too far.
Ask her how he made her feel: To this day I still miss him.
How he made her feel: Relieved when he left, relieved and very tired.
Ask her how he made her feel: I never did get over him.
A Little Him
He said he left her because she didn’t want children. And it’s true, she didn’t. She couldn’t understand that about him, he is quite nearly an ugly man and his father and his grandfather both died of heart disease. “It’s not about genetics,” he said but to her that seemed like all it was – he wasn’t interested in children generally. He was interested in, like he’d say, “A Little Him.” He’d say: “Wouldn’t it be fun to have a little You running around, a little Me?”
She had no interest at all. No woman in her family had lived passed the age of fifty-two. And there was alcoholism, but she knew those were excuses. She already felt like she never had enough money. She already felt like she never had enough time. And she didn’t love herself in a way that made A Little Her sound at all appealing. “A Little Her.” Her own mother was drunken and cruel. She’s been trying to get away from that. She didn’t have the kind of childhood you’d exactly want to relive.
So he left her for another woman, one that wanted to breed. And truth is, she was crushed by this, really crushed – not the how, or when, or even that it happened, but the Why, the simple Why of it all. Cause see, she thought he loved Her. She really did. But the idea of Him – even fifty percent of him – turned out to be more than the one-hundred percent of herself that she gave him. She thought he loved her. She thought he loved her. She thought he loved her. She thought he loved her. But in the end he didn’t love her half so much as himself. Cause after all, that’s who he left her for: A Little Him.
Our St. Kirby, who smiles down on us from discarded seats high above The Metrodome field; who smiles with that laugh in his eyes because he knows how funny we really are, and we are funny yes; our St. Kirby, who changed us all and made us so proud and so large...
We worried for St. Kirby, because we wanted to love him just like that forever. No, we worried for ourselves, that our own dreams of a hug for a pal our arms won’t fit around might smolder. Because the fact of St. Kirby is that you wanted him to know you. When you watched him at the plate where he was so beautiful and when you watched him in the field where he surprised you over and over you just couldn’t help but imagine the saint’s backyard – that he was shagging your flies, that he was launching your pitches and when he laughed and smiled cause he knew how hard you really tried you’d have a seat in his lawn chair next to his grill, you and the him there laughing, recalling. St. Kirby had a quality that made you want to be his friend. But better, St. Kirby had a quality that made you believe you were.
Today we lost our friend. And that banner high up in those abandoned reaches of the metrodome, we are worried here in March it will become almost eerie. But come April we’ll be proved wrong of course, and St. Kirby will smile down on us like he has from on high, and he will be watching us, laughing at our sorrow and our joy.
Are you so lonely that you’d come to me as friend? Are you so lonely that you’d crack that door, even though the burden of guilt must be so great, knowing what a monster you became?
Am I so broken that I’d take you in and are we so desperate that this fucked path may actually be our destiny?
Hope v. Irony
His kidneys failed and he nearly died. Very nearly. There were two weeks in full blown intensive care, and even after that it took months. It was the worst time of their lives. But he made it. He fought so hard and they did so much and now she is in constant fear that something truly stupid like a tree or a bathtub is going to kill him.
She used to hate him for being so damn loveable now she loves him for being so damn hateful. She could have wound up with him or she could have wound up hung up. It’s when she thinks how bad things got that she feels truly blessed. His evilness set her free. She has him and god to thank for that.
He worked sixty seven years in a factory making building trusses and later drywall, retired a foreman but never got off the line. He was a beer drunk on Fridays and a rye drunk on Saturdays. He loved a bacon and egg sandwich and sometimes ate one twice a day. He died forty pounds over weight and survived prostate cancer before a massive stroke took him at eighty-one. His whole life long he smoked like a chimney.
His son can barely sit through a movie what the way they glamorize smoking. He’s become an activist of sorts, writing letters to the paper and even getting in the face of strangers, telling them how cigarettes killed his father.
They’d been dating for about four months when one night she overheard him on the phone with his mother. He didn’t know she could hear him. He was talking with his mother and he referred to her, the girlfriend, as “Adorable Girl.” Adorable Girl! So sweet and he was telling his mother all about her. No one could see her and he didn’t know she was listening but still she blushed. She felt all fluttery and it was that very night that she gave into him with complete abandon and let herself fall in love.
They’d been dating not quite five months when she, hopeful fiancée, goes home with with him to meet his mother. The mother’s long divorced and he is her only son. When our couple pulls into the driveway Mother comes running, straight to the drivers’ side. She coos and fusses about her son, his girlfriend supposes this is natural and smiles despite the fact that she’d expected a hug or something like that; acknowledgement at least, really! But she smiles. She’s campaigning in a way, and drunk with love and therefore altruistic. When Mother casts her a glance, it’s from ten feet ahead looking back over her shoulder. She says, “Grab the bags will you Gail?”
Gail grabs the bags, climbs the steps, juggles the bags a bit then opens the door. Mother and son are together in the foyer. Gail stands at the door, a bag in each hand plus a purse and a satchel and it’s only now that her desired mother-in-law stops to take a look at her. The mom straight-up inspects her, like head-to-toe. Gail just blushes and smiles. Mother pulls her hand to her chin and turns to her son. “You’re right Hon,” she says, “She really does look durable.”
Adorable Girl. A durable girl.
Goddamn bitch! Fucking bastard! But really it’s too late for Gail. She’s in love and thus only capable of being of hurt, not of leaving.
She got rid of the baby because he didn’t love her. After that, it was never going to work.
She got pregnant because he didn’t love her. And they’re still married.
They are best friends and they are inseparable. Whenever they think of going someplace, they are thinking of the same place. And it’s not just that they laugh at each other’s jokes but they laugh at each other’s jokes before they even say them – one can just point, and the other knows exactly why and they even find their own chemistry funny, the fact of pointing and half-finished sentences. It cracks them up. They like to drink together. They double date, but surely it’s a bit tough for anyone they bring along. Friends start to call them by a single name, a combination of their two names mashed together. They toast to their new name. One points, and they both laugh hysterically.
When you’re together all the time like that it’s hard to gauge the passing of it; like what’s a long time and what’s a short one. So it could have been a day spent differently or it could have been two weeks away, but something fell apart. It’s not the kind of thing you name or even talk about. But they had one name and such great times and now can’t come up with six words to say to each other. One of them wonders if they were ever friends at all. Only one of them.
Plane Trip #73
Before the door closed, the woman behind me was on the phone speaking to her friend about her friends: How one is skinny but flabby and has cottage cheese on her legs, another cut her hair and looks forty, yes she saw her but it was terrible cause she smokes. There was a list like this.
The man besides me is empty he’s crass to the stewardess and me, “Don’t wake me,” so I keep getting up. The chick across the aisle is likely anorexic and I can’t tell if she’s a woman or a girl. She has pretty lips and bones jutting through denim. I want to ask her how she is so thin and I wonder how long she will live.
On the right is Las Vegas. On the left is Boulder, Nevada. We flew over mountains and they were covered with snow. Next ridges of tan and brown. I wonder what it takes to live there, ridges of tan and brown and then comes red and I wonder why red rock is prettier than tan or brown but it is.
People on this flight are really drinking. It will be morning when we land it was morning when we left and the stewardess carries water and white wine and pours more of one than another. Who is the Bloody Mary for and the other flight attendant waves her hand in a circle: Any of them.
Thirty five minutes to California. A tailwind headed west is strange, yet it’s happening. I ask him what he’s listening to and he says Johnny Cash like to impress me but I had overheard: Johnny Cash was once some time ago. He’s listening to something else now.
The sky is blue and you can see the moon so clear and I wonder what it looks like from the ground.
It’s mostly all just sand and brown and I wonder what it takes to survive there.
It is my own year forty-two. I am reminded to persevere, and to try. It is my time to change things up; my time to pioneer. Don’t act up, just act. Let the number inspire. I waited for this you know.
It comes to pass in intensive care, I hold him in my arms and admit I am far from ready to let him go. I can’t tell if he’s still fighting or if I am. It passes with him in my arms, the only time he sleeps. It passes with him in my arms, the only part I choose to remember.
This story has a happy ending, but I didn’t know it then. Perhaps it takes something that terrible to allow for this degree of joy. Perhaps relief is the greatest joy of all, and I wonder if that’s just, or pitiful.
I told her to stop calling her dog “her boyfriend” even if she was kidding since no man was ever going to go near her if he thought he was going to be on the same level as a dog. I told her flat shoes make her look stumpy and I told her five pounds can make all the difference in the world between being attractive and, well, not. I told her it’s right to color her hair but if she’s going to do it she needs to go lighter, lighter’s better and older women just can’t wear dark hair. I tell her what doesn’t look good on her so she doesn’t run around like a fool. I tell her to keep that mouth shut around men, no one likes a woman acts smart and no one cares what she has to say anyhow. It takes guts to tell the truth you know, more than it takes to hear it. I tell her I am her only friend.
But I love him to very bursting of my heart, doesn’t that count for something? And how sexy can I be if I walk like a newborn calf? How sexy are bunions, I don’t want to know. I told her I don’t use a scale it’s better for my head to go by feel and she says ‘well not for your body.’ I told her my hair is brown and so was my mother’s, brown same as mine. I told her I’m not afraid of being a fool and most people say I’m quiet anyhow. I tell her not to be so sure, and I tell her she forgot about the dog.