Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Getty's Cove Redress

My stress level was at a boil. Days before Sasquatch, I still hadn't secured a camp site. I combed a 30-mile radius around the gorge: several places reminded me that it is, after all, Memorial Day weekend and they had been booked for 8 months. Not one to give up, I would call them weekly hoping I could catch a cancellation. Someone had to be dying, somewhere.

The penultimate week found me frantic, and there's no squeeze toy like a credit card. I was upping the ante on not having a place to camp by making erratic visits to sporting goods & retail outlets, charging more and more camping equipment that it was looking more and more likely I would not get to use. But it was to make me feel like I was effectively doing something while waiting for the universe to get me out of a stalled momentum.

On the last day before leaving, I had 2 leads. Riverside Camp Ground & Inn - who keep 5-10 spots unreserved (if you check in before noon, you'll pay for the previous day as well), and Getty's Cove - a whopping 150 first-come, first-serve unreserved sites that begin filling up at 8 a.m. Odds on the latter, even though I couldn't conceive getting there that early...however: I was already feeling queasy about the Cove.

Their website offered no phone number to call. Front Page HTML dating back to the 90's - when everybody's uncle decided to create their own web page. A site counter on their main page that was stuck at one. The only hint at the personality of the campground? A rambling run-on fragment: "HIKE,BIKE,SWIM,FISH,BOAT,SUN,SOCIALIZE,PIC-NIC,BBQ,RELAX,& Many Many Other Thing to Do." I asked my sister - an avid camper - what the place is like. "It gets a little loud, but it's a fun place". Sometimes I forget how different me and my Graham Cracker sister are. But I figure, everyone is going to be there for the same thing, right? 225 camp-sites, mostly people tired from 12 hours of music. It'll be fine.

When I pick up Jen on day one of the festival, all my stresses dissipate. None of this is bouncing around in my head anymore; it's happening and we are on our way. There is no more preparation one can do. I tell her our alternatives, and when we reach exit 136, the decision is concrete and we make a right turn.

The car ahead of us is turned away at the entrance. The young pimply staffer seems to sum us up and makes a quick decision that yes, there are sites still available. They are full, but we can find a spot somewhere. Warning sign number 2. But we are wayfaring travellers with limited options, and agree to the terms anyway. "No Refunds".

On finding somnambulistic security, our relief is brief. A crawl down a long gravel roud surveys dry ground and rampant youth. Young, impossibly young, nubile, chiselled and cut partygoers. Competing sound systems erupting from several quarters. An inflated, dense population. Camping tents are packed side to side and a few setups have spilled heavenward onto the bluffs and rises. And Jen is so polite, saying this reminds her of a rave she'd been to. This mitigates my discomfort, a bit.

We find a parking space and set up our tent. In retrospect, we were probably doing this on someone's site...but it appeared everyone was doing it. There were tents anywhere ten square feet of flat land invited one. We had a few hours, and walked about the grounds. We joked about being ten years older (at least!) than anyone else we saw...and we admitted to each other there ain't anything wrong with ogling when there was so much fit young flesh to feel up with your eyes. We were united in our mutual novelty (however, looking at the competition, I see images of bringing my bathing suit for a morning swim float away into the distance).

By the time we returned to our tent, a Ford F-150 had snuggled it's way onto the tight site. We applied makeup and popped in contacts as 8-Bit's Suck Ma Dick blared from its speakers and filled our temporary quarters. The classics. The grounds were ensconsed in towering rocky hills, and I pointed out some drunken climbers posturing at a jutting precipice. "I think there's going to be some casualties this weekend." Jen didn't seem to mind should this happen..."Could you imagine how Bree would have handled this?" "Oh, she would've hated this," I say.

We zip up the tent, and I have a brief thought about whether I'm leaving anything of value behind. And we get back on the gravel road. Jen points out a girl changing into her bikini top. I'm definitely piqued, but I'm also wondering why everyone else isn't heading out to the show...despite boats packed with drunken teenagers and rap music or hard rock hits of the seventies cranked from several quarters, I hold on to this belief that we are all here for the same thing: to exhaust ourselves at Sasquatch. I am so fucking wrong.

Through day one of Sasquatch, my denial takes root and my optimism grows. Jen's comments about a rave conjure an image in my mind: hundreds of people happily dancing or ambling about high on ecstasy, while I'm lulled asleep to the beration of techno music. I can deal with this; there's a comfort to it. I can really deal with this. When I get away from the gang at Sasquatch for a few minutes, I'm texting Marika:

Me: If I play my cards right, I might be committing statutory rape tonight.
Marika: I say, if there's grass on the field, play ball.

But this is the way of my denial. As the hopelessness of a situation climbs to a forbidding peak, my optimism increases to illogical levels.

Day one of Sasquatch wraps up with an incredible performance by R.E.M. We are soon on the road, and I'm fighting sleep as the headlights light a landscape lulling in its anonymity. I only want to sleep. Jen is quiet. I almost drive by the entrance to the Cove - I have to put the car into reverse to return to the entry - and then I'm awake. It is the adrenaline and fear, and what the car's beams reveal by light over the next several minutes...

We have to creep slowly down the gravel road: there are drunks in droves, walking backwards and joking with each other about how they'll get rundown. The general store and public showers are an octupus of inebriated, equilibrim challenged and vibrating, lines of people. And we make our way by, at two - at four - miles an hour. Once past the initial throng, some ashole takes to flashing a strobe ray light into my rear view mirror to destroy my vision and slow me down even more. It is personal and I can't do much about it: I just want to get past the people, the bonfires, the music...and get to the tent.

I slowly swerve around beer bottles; I rescind the driver-side car window to better enable a severely challenged sailing. Something breaks and shatters against the side of the car and I immediately close the window. There is wetness and I know nothing more. It had to be that fucker with the light, or his friend, or something. I have a clear path where the road widens and I do not find a parking space - I park off-center from the road where I'm not blocking anyone in. Because I'm polite like that. Jen and I disembark into a war zone.

There is no ecstasy: just drunk people. There is no rave: music is invading space from every quarter. There are hoots and hollers and Yeeeeaaaah's that rise above the music. And the ladies are suspiciously absent; the atmosphere is masculine and asanine. I see no point in pretense at being cool and wrap a light around my forehead designed for reading (for real: I had a notion that I would read a little of Hitchen's God Is Not Great as my pretend rave played lullabye); Jen and I get what we need from the trunk and make the long 100-yard walk to our tent.

The entry is unzipped and open, but this is no surprise. It doesn't look like anything was stolen; certainly someone would have taken my glasses and destroyed them if this were not a simple case of a drunk accidentally crawling into the wrong shelter. Just to be sure, I scan our sleeping bags for jizzum or the evidence of condom wrappers. We cannot be more urgent about slipping into our coccoons, something that defies explanation. The car, parked in some random (not-here) place, had to be a safer, more appealing option. But we were physically and mentally exhausted. We didn't have the energy to help ourselves. It was a little after midnight.

Since I forgot one, I grabbed a bunch of clothes for a makeshift pillow. We didn't wish each other goodnight; sleep was a goal that was outdistancing us amongst obstacles of shouted hollahs and shitty music. The next four hours were torture - because I did approach sleep! I would feel the soft touch of going under, and something would retrieve it. The onset of a snore, a racing chest, or a disturbance beyond the thin wall. I kept checking over at Jen; she seemed either to manage sleep or manage to keep her eyes tightly shut. I was imagining my car upturned in flames. I would hear spitting gravel in the distance, and resigned myself to a guessed-at fate: some monster truck was going to four-by through our tents. I was uncertain if I locked the car. Thinking this did not help at all.

Conversations cast shadows against our little tent's scrim: "Dude. This is not your tent." "Uhhh..." "What did I tell you? Go find your spot. You're in the wrong place". "Yeah, but..." "This is not your spot (raised voice). What do you want me to do?" The drunker of the two moved on and a fight was avoided. Or another: "Did you just piss on that tent?" "Uhhhh...why, did you see me?" "Fuckin-aye, man, that's sick." "But I had to go." "Yeah, but fuckin - piss in the ditch, man".

Of course, I thought it was our tent. Only by chance, it wasn't - small mercies. Speaking of small mercies, there were 2 rain showers that drifted into the cove during the small hours. The first was pleasant: the campground died down to an occasional shouted "Fuckin Rain"; the second drew a drunken chant of "no more rain" from a dozen people. Evilly audible. Still, the rain seemed to dampen the drunken energy for a few minutes at each stretch.

I was unused to seeing the morning sunlight before 5 a.m. I arose from my astrally-travelled state, not quite sleep - and emerged from the tent. I was concerned about leaving Jen there alone, even for a few minutes, and as I embarked on my walk I kept looking back at the tent. There were still forty-some people about, the hardcore and immunized, and I didn't want them invading our tent. I made my way to the car, where I verified all doors were locked and was surprised at how ineptly I parked it. It was very close to the middle of the path and begging abuse. I noted it was an exploded egg, not a beer bottle, that hit the car. I chanced on a HoneyBucket, which was unsurprisingly not-flowing over. As I quit it, I looked at the dried-up inland rivulet and counted the discarded beer bottles and half-rack cartons, and posted a theory about where all the human feces were really going.

I tried for sleep again and succeeded. I succeeded in spite of some ass aping an Indian chant to the morning sun. There was still music playing. There were still zombies about, and there was still ribaldry. But the checksee put me at some ease, and I slept for 2 hours.

By seven, Jen and I were both awake. We unceremonially set to taking down the tent even before vocalizing a decision that we wouldn't be staying here another night. I think we were both utterly defeated. We had travelled from having no reservation to having all the reservations in the world. The only path we could see was out of here - and any alternative sounded inviting at this point.

When we arrived at the Riverside Inn, they had - after checking - one campsite available. I was a limp rag hanging over their counter; the ending scene of Poltergeist playing through my mind. Even good news was absorbed numbly.
We set up site at this new ground. It was away from the water, and I wasn't going to be able to use my swimsuit again. We were a three minute walk from all the amenities we needed. But all the challenges in the world were removed from us, and we could concentrate on the complications a normal camper must face: how to go about brushing one's teeth? Do I want to make a trip to the bathroom now, or should I wait a few minutes? We could finally relax - our neighbors were gay to the right and yoga enthusiast to the left. We got a kick out of how cosmically cruel were the past ten hours.

Still, the Cove left it's mark. Following the next night's deep sleep (Jen dealt with my industrial snoring, trying to make me feel less conscious about it -"all boys snore!"), I had an urge to do 50 pushups - my fading competitiveness given an urgent boost by the hardbodies of Getty. But mostly, it was dreamy. Whatever noise sent us to sleep was nothing, nothing, compared to the chaos that sent us running like a pair of wayfaring travellers turned refugee. The penultimate RELAX of the Cove's script was finally found in a place where capital letters kick up their legs and retire.

That morning, a helicopter sped over the Columbia river towing a large rectangular box below it as I read through Haruki Murakami's After Dark. I turn to Jen: "Probably one of those cliff people from the Cove". She tells me that the same helicopter flew over the river the morning before, but I dismiss it. "I'm sure they're dying all the time, falling off that cliff. I wouldn't be surprised if they lost someone every day. Look, it's the perfect shape of a coffin." And I inwardly dreamt they were carting away the fucker that egged my car.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


As soon as we were on-site, we were off to Yeti stage to see Throw Me The Statue. I couldn't plan for a better introduction: there's something invigorating about new bands with a lone album under their belt. Throw Me delivered a great set of strong energetic pop music, and they pack so many melodic hooks I think the world will be hearing more from them in the future. After the set we went to check out the grounds and hook up with Glenn & Ezra before returning to Yeti to catch the last half of Joshua Morrison - someone I wanted to check out per recommendation. The music was good, I loved the cello - but some of the more sombre music is hard to absorb in the festival environment. It's definitely worth checking out some more.

Then came our first conflict: Vince Mira and the Ray Kay Trio versus The National. I think both acts topped Jen's or my 'must-see' lists, and it sounded a little too convenient when we heard some rumblings that The National had cancelled. Glenn and I figured we'd give Vince Mira a couple songs before hitting the big stage and confirming The National news, but we never made it.

I'm calling out Vince Mira as as the big highlight and hit surprise for the three day festival. No building up to a crescendo here; it's just the way it unfolded: broad daylight, three hours in, music I'm pretty familiar with and wouldn't usually listen to on my own. This kid (sixteen years old!) has a voice a thousand times bigger than his diminutive stature. He can deliver a dead-on Johnny Cash and the Trio do a remarkable job executing the familiar songs with rockabilly energy...but Mira's voice has a richness & more distinctive bass than Cash ever had. Glenn & I kept putting off taking off - I felt like I was in the presence of something truly special, and at the end of each song I was eagerly anticipating the next one and getting to hear that voice again. There's also that feeling of shared awe that, if you're lucky, you occasionally get to experience in the anonymity of the festival atmosphere: you're not the only one getting converted today. Please, go see him. You'll thank yourself for catching this guy in your own backyard: he plays the Can-Can every Tuesday.

The New Pornographers took us to the big stage for the first time. I've seen them before, I love their music and I love that Neko Case is more prominent than when I last saw them touring behind their album Electric...that said, it was a strange though energetic comedown from the previous act. They did manage to close with a memorable, ass-kicking cover of ELO's Don't Bring Me Down. M.I.A. played the big stage next; I wasn't feeling the tech-revved hip-hop (though, when do I ever) - especially from where we were sitting. Most of us took off for Okkervil River, getting news along the way that The National did indeed show up, and would play a later set at the small stage. News about how the M.I.A. set would get chaotic with a hundred people dancing onstage wouldn't reach us until next day (unless I'm one of those hundred people - and I doubt I would've been - I still don't feel like I missed out).

The end of the day was tightening up. I didn't pay much attention to Okkervil, prefering to become an annoyance about getting to The National a.s.a.p. How many suicide letters have I written with Alligator on repeat? The answer is five (only 2 extant). I'm very sentimental about this band.

Though excited about seeing them on the small stage, it wasn't much more novel than seeing them at the Showbox. It was a bit of a letdown. I wanted them to be overwhelmingly loud, to blow me away, but their output was muffled in the wind. The others headed to see the Breeders before the end of their set, but I still wasn't about to move. The next hour would find me on my own...I caught the last 15 minutes of the Modest Mouse set (catching "Spitting Venom" might be highlight number three for day one), and took a chance on an accidental hookup with the folken at the Breeders.

Exchanged texts brought us together for R.E.M. By the way? The best spot is dead center just beyond the inner circle of the main stage. A nice mix of freedom and perfect sound. Of the 6 times I've seen R.E.M. live, I'll put this at number two (because you never forget your first time). Michael Stipe was in usual form, but Jen and I agreed he looks better, more fashion savvy...and healthier...than ever. The set lived up to the new album's material - high tempo and high energy - even the onset of rain couldn't mar the set. Harbor Coat live? Sweet! The frenzy of the set was broken up by two songs: Drive (who would complain?) and a very memorable Let Me In that had all the band members circling Peter Buck at piano. Another magic turned by live shows: songs that make me go 'meh' will forever have a new significance. I'm also happy to report that this is the first time I've seen R.E.M. live and didn't hear the alterna-tonk of It's the End of the World...and didn't miss it one bit.

I've seen "Awesome", it seems, a dozen times. Strange to see them outdoorsy like. "SN's afro" was usurped by the able Reggie Watts, who happened to be a few yards behind us. If you haven't seen this band yet, by all means: do it. You will be charmed by Dave's interpretive dancing and Evan's dead-on John Linell (of They Might Be Giants). Unlike previous shows, I didn't get to press palms with the band - sad, since I feel like we're skunk brothers by now.

Saturday was going to be an exhausting day. Jen & I didn't get much sleep the previous night (more on that when I wrap this up) and I was going to find any opportunity I could to nap in the grass. We caught Truckasauras next on the small stage, a band made for late night dancing playing a mid-afternoon set. They aknowledged it. The music was pretty good, despite the uphill setting...a band I'll check out locally when the next opportunity arises. We caught a bit of What Made Milwaukee Famous on the medium-sized stage before settling in at the main stage for Cold War Kids. This was high-ground sunning time.

I liked Cold War Kids. It sounded like serious music. I'm a serious guy. I can visualize walking into the record store and buying their album. NOT the best tanning music, but hey.

Tegan & Sara: 2 songs and I was set. I can only take so much much sun. Jen and I had gone street-level for the set, and I was increasingly distracted by how much UV was hitting the left side of my face. If only I could rotate the entire gorge 90 degrees counter-clockwise. I found a grassy depression between the big and the medium stages where I could catch up on my text messages and just lay and not do anything for a little while. We were eventaully rejoined with Glen for The Presidents of the United States of America - for a couple of songs, anyhow. From there it was off to Mates of State. I enjoyed their set at the middle stage, though the smell of human feces began to hang all about. Jen got to hear her favorite song, though we didn't stay for the entire set. Or did we. It's possible we did. Saturday was definitely the most muddle-headed of the three days.

Glenn led us to Michael Franti & Spearhead - ok, he led us to a beer garden close to it. I like to think Glenn and I bonded at this moment. I got a kick when he talked about looking forward to seeing Michael Franti & Spearhead, and Jen told him who we were listening to. Sigh. Reggae-inspired music and the fans who don't know they're listening to them.

For the second night in a row, I went AWOL. I was amped to see Malkmus; Jen and the others wanted to see DCFC. I've already seen the Cab at a previous Sasquatch, so I headed for the mid-stage and caught the end of The Kooks' set. It was a fun set. They have that Kinks meets punk, British invasion sound - makes you want to go home and spin the Mt. Rushmore soundtrack. This was also a rare occasion when I showed up very early for the band I wanted to see and was able to get very close by the time Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks came on.

I've been on a Pavement/Malkmus kick for about a year now. I've seen them once before - the muscle twitch that initiated the kick - and it was great to see them after being thoroughly informed. I was packed amongst a tight, weed-smoking crowd...and it was impossible avoiding the contact high. It was a great, loose set. It was my only Sasquatch moment where it came to me and watching someone play guitar, and the set ended with wishing I was home so I could strap on my own.

The Cure: we met up again. I commented on how I've never seen the Gorge packed to capacity. Jen tells me - "It's the Cure - you didn't get the memo?" Regardless. We made it through half the set and beat a retreat.

What happened to The Choir Practice? Sure, it's day three and exhaustion is setting in...but we thought we were only twenty minutes late for their set. Seems we missed the whole thing. If that wasn't awkward, we hung at the small stage to catch Whalebones as well. They are touring to support an E.P. Is that why they only played 3 songs? (though we both appreciated when they asked if anyone present was staying at Ghetty's Cove. They're going to get points for that).

O.K. The Hives. We set up shop at the Main Stage, and this band was fucking incredible. Infectious energy, and a lead singer that knows how to play the crowd. Master of ceremonies indeed. Makes me want to rescind anything I've said since 2003 about bands that dare to keep the "The" in their title.

Everyone has seen Built To Spill, right? Well, I hadn't. I can't let go how I quit my job in 2002, and how constant listening to Perfect From Now On weighed heavily in my decision. I saw them for about ten minutes at Bumbershoot that year, and it was horrible! Michelle and I had snuck into Key Arena and the sound bouncing about the place was forbidding. Even when they lit into Freebird.

Cool of Jen to endure some alterna-guitar rock with me. It was an okay show. I wanted more volume, more vocal. This finished the triumverate of my must-sees, and I walked away with some mixed feelings. I was happy they didn't do a bunch of covers, which they are prone to do. I was especially happy they served up Traces from their last album and Distopian Dream Girl from their archives. It might be a simple case of only getting to see them when the window of worship has passed.

After BTS, I took another nap. Jen stayed at the Main Stage for Rodrigo Y Gabriela, followed by the Flight of the Conchords. I was able to catch half of the former, all of the latter. Both were impressive sets. Now, I don't want to give the impression that I was narcoleptic through the last few days. I think I can only stand in a spot for so much time! While I was away (the same grassy knoll), I was meditating. So much different. On this particular occasion, I was meditating on a young couple who scurried behind a cargo container that held thousands of bottled water goods. They disappeared for a moment, between the container and the fenced off winery...then reappeared to grab a recycling bin and drag it out of site behind the container. Well, someone is getting laid, or a blowjob, or whatever. I was then interrupted by a drunk who could not handle the angular degree of the slope on which I rest.

Jen & I met up after the Conchords to see Jamie Lidell. Finally, I dance. Everyone danced. He did his motown, Stevie Wonder thing, he did his beatbox thing, he did his DJ thing. Considering how behind on time things were running at this point, no one expected an encore. He did one anyways. Another high recommendation, go get his album or go get him live.

Finally: The Flaming Lips. My feet hurt.

No, really: The Flaming Lips. The "U.F.O. Show". The headliners of all headliners. And wasn't this the first show Jen and I caught back in September? It was. It was remarkably the same show, but with more nudity and more flying saucers. There is no such thing as being underwhelmed by the Lips. I'll leave it at that.

And my greatful thanks to Jen for driving as far as Ellensburg. Even though I really never nap.

Her Interior

I only required a brightness, clean lines and a modest assembly of places to sit and relax. Over the course of weeks, I would set materials about - things that either defied categorization, meaning I had no place readily defined for them - or things that demanded attention, but not immediate attention. Days would come and go, and these abandoned objects, by rod and cone, would become real, demanding entities in my brain. My mind would become as cluttered as my comfort space, my thinking less linear as thoughts navigated through an obstacle course. Inspiration would get derailed by an unsustainable attention. Eventually, I would grow frustrated and stand in a doorway. Survey what truly needs to be saved. More often than not, the promise once held by an object lost all value in my need to achieve clarity. They were widows. Hanging threads. Having committed to the cleansing, they would either find their way to the trash or get a second chance somewhere where they could exist out of sight. My momentum would take me into every corner of the house, even the places that did not affect my thinking so. Clean and purge. I would attend to every detail as though my home were a car and I wanted it waxed and buffed by sundown for a beach cruise...only the person I wanted to impress was myself. And it would work - I might question why I didn't do all of this sooner, but it would work and I would have a pleasant, focused evening. It would be only me and my inspiration - which could be any number of things - but importantly, my mind would be free of the distracting notion that it needed to be somewhere other. Settled.

Then, her interior. I could make no sense of it. It was all ambiguity and expiration and dischord. There were signs of affect. Of neglect. Of suspended activity. I would sit on her floor among bread crumbs and tracked cat litter, strewn sheets of paper and children's toys. Purveying the cerebral vomit of so many interests, so many appetites, too many personalities. Tired plants would beg for spare change. Mounds of dishes resigned to rust; a kitchen counter resembling a salt-battered shipyard. Everywhere were whispers of immediate gratification and ignored consequence; a pleasuring that limps instinctively forward in defiance of cognitive maintenance. It was a squalor of petulance and indulgence. The apartment was an overpacked suitcase fit to burst, its air a heavy thick drowning. I could never be at ease here, and I wondered how she could either. I fought a meddlesome urge to grab anything, start cleaning: but where could it go? Where would I begin? How long it would last.

Her interior was no soft place to land. It was a menagerie of attention deficet and derailed inspiration. A rat's nest of tiny abandoned hopes and wishes and caprice. A junkyard or a collapsed attic. It was no place to quietly exhale; no place to let a mind float adrift.

Her interior was no place to be; we would quit it for the streets. Perhaps this was her comfort, to spend as much time away from herself as possible...existing as a derivative from the self we cannot escape. To become one's own shadow. Having walked among the detritus, I can appreciate this. To recall it all, my breaths become low and my hopes become wrung tight. Her interior was her nervous breakdown. Her coffin.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Siff Notes (I didn't go to SIFF)

“You’re still here!!”

Well, I got shit to do. Do you know how I pay mind to all these people with nothing better to do than glom onto a mob protest? I’m protesting right back at them, treating today as "business as usual". Also, having an entire department to myself is hard to resist: I can crank up The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life and not wince when Frank sings – “he puffs, he puffs up – his sanctified erection!!!” - one of several songs about the late Jimmy Swaggart. It makes me feel secretly irreverent in this professional cul-de-sac, and I’m most productive when I’m blasting music against the real world, anyways.

But I turn down the volume. The person exclaiming this to me is one of the top managers, probably still here as a show of solidarity for all the employees asked to come in today. There’s no context for what to expect the day following a riot in your own backyard. Most everyone came in; spent their day getting nothing done as they filed in and out of conference room 8A. They would loiter a few minutes watching CNN, gauge how long they had to stick around, eventually give up on the workday. An email went out at noon, describing the social climate in the streets, listing the official marches scheduled to take place today - along with a warning that planned marches could become UNofficial at a moments notice. Oh, and be out of the office by 2 PM. You’ve been warned.

It was now approaching four. “Yeah, I’m just finishing up. Just being stubborn, I guess. I hate letting a mob influence what I’m going to be doing today. Even if nobody ever knows I’m making my own little stand.” Mr. Manager isn’t all that impressed. “We have a real situation here, and we have to make accommodations…I know, we never asked for any of this. But whatever you’re doing, it can’t be as important as your safety.” I tell him okay, I’m logging off – and I tell him my bus is right outside the door on first avenue and getting out of town shouldn’t be a problem. He checks to make sure I know what hotel the company will put me up at - just in case.

I wrap my sling case over my shoulder and a need to get out of the city, the same impulse that overtakes me every day, sweeps me forward. I know I’ve been illogical. I’m torn between thinking we’ve learned and prepared between day one – where nobody was prepared – and thinking that, like an insidious disease or a cancer, anyone wanting to make trouble is going to learn from day one and adjust their approach.

A secret part of me wants to be part of this mob. That’s how I spent my lunch: I walked over to 5th and University and shouldered my way through a thundering roar of voices directed at a pair of hippies operating a ten foot puppet of the grim reaper; they stood atop some poor civilian’s car to do this. I took in all the people – the homeless, the itinerant, and the intense: I was compelled to classify each person I observed as either a true protestor, or someone who scuttled into this fray - someone wanting to be part of some feigned anarchy. I noted the number of high school aged children I saw, and I had to admit: if not for age and maturity, I would be sitting alongside them. All but for their dispossessed look: I had grown up with political notions defined by the Dead Kennedy’s and Minor Threat, and I’d like to believe – had this been a different time – I wouldn’t be some eye- shadowed emo squatter acting aloof where the action is happening. These were confusing moments for me, seeing adolescent dreams played out by others as my adult mind tallied up the damages to public property. The only rebellion I could muster was a cerebral one – a smooth reasoning and flattening of my straining adrenaline.

The official afternoon march was permitted to head south on Second Avenue, then eastwards on reaching Spring Street. My building faces both first and second - I catch my bus on first, so I only anticipate heavier re-routed bus traffic. I have this all played out in my mind, my only fear being the moment when Metro suspends bus traffic – as they did on the previous day – before my opportunity to get out of downtown. This happened painfully at 7 p.m. the prior evening, so I think I’m safe. The previous night was horrible. Michelle ended up trapped at the clothing boutique she works at, while her boss and some hired hands drilled plywood boards over the shopfront windows - all the downtown businesses were in crisis mode and doing the same (though in her case they really did lose a couple of windows). Getting her out of downtown was a challenge: I had to track, from home via television, where the violence was errupting while we anxiously communicated scenarios where we simply don't get her home that evening. By midnight, a path of vandalism was developing that led up Pike and Pine towards Capitol Hill: we coordinated a quick pickup that found us slowly creeping down second avenue to the viaduct, surveying the police presence at each intersection.

It begs the question, why did I go into work today? Beyond the already stated indignation at protest, I don't have any answers. There were no human casualties the day before, just a lot of damaged property. To my knowledge, only one person had been inappropriately pepper sprayed. There just didn't seem like enough of a lingering threat to anybody's life, and even if there were: there was a slight allure to being near it. Being at work was more interesting than watching and waiting for something to happen on the television; this way I was a heartbeat away from the physical drumbeat.

As I cross the street and arrive at my bus stop, I can hear the march in the distance. The 54 bus is already there - less than 100 yards away - but the noise echoing from Second Avenue is making me nervous. In the few seconds that it takes the light to turn from red to green, the noise changes from the loose unison of pedantic chant to the cacophony of human outcry. Green. The bus bursts forward like it has urgent information the seven of us waiting to board are uninformed about; it opens it's doors before coming to a complete stop and I hear the pok-pok-pok of tear gun fire in the distance. Everything is going wrong.

The next several moments are hurried. Individual shouts are becoming immanent and distinct against their mob equivalent backdrop, and I am the last to board the bus as I see through the windows dozens of people charging the intersection at First and Union. It is not unlike the arrival of locusts: they interweave between cars, run over the hoods of vehicles, they move quick and bee-like and it is impossible to know their intended destination. I grab the nearest seat, and they've arrived at the bus and they are pounding the sides, slapping their palms against the window. I take the time to flip them off. I immediately regret it; there's a good chance this bus is going nowhere.

From where I was sitting, I could not see through the bus driver's eyes. I could not tell if we were hemmed in; I could only say that from my window the cars next to it were frozen in place. The bus lunges. When I try and imagine what the driver had to deal with in this situation, I'm at a loss. I can't escape thinking that he instinctively accelerated - without consideration for the people outside. They were already everywhere. The bus moved forward, and the fist pounding trailed away from me, back, fading to the back of the bus. I could not hear it over the sound of all the chaos around me, but it would soon become apparent that a similar police blockade had been set up on First and University.

Though the bus was outstripping the marchers in the Southbound lanes, dozens of people had already made it down the opposite side of the street. The police reacted, and the bus headed into a big cloud of tear gas.

The cloud was visible and everywhere. You could not see it inside the bus, but it was thick enough that the world outside it's windows turned to smoke. The effects anticipated the visual: everything in your head feels so congested that you're fooled into believing you can't breath, your throat grows thick and your eyes fill with water. Imagine being stuck in the moment before a sneeze, only not as precious. It is intense to the point of pain, and I was not the only person down on their knees on the bus floor (the other was a senior citizen. but hey).

It would appear bus driver was hero and culprit: somehow he managed to navigate through the blockade to the next block, but also? His was the only window open in the entire bus. The other riders were hysterical, crying: once he made it past University, the driver brought the bus to a halt. There was no other moving traffic about. We appeared to be the last ones to get out.

All faces were twisted in nausea, mine included. The bus driver resignedly opened all the doors while I made my way down the aisles to make sure everyone was okay. No one was having a severe reaction. There was an elderly woman who wanted to get off the bus and I told her she should wait, the driver is trying to air out the bus and there won't be another behind this one. I tell her this through a thousand winces and blinks before getting back to the bus driver, who tells me he'll be okay. This is when I see his wide open window, realizing he got the worst of it. There's an opportunity to play hero: "Why don't you let me drive the bus down to Columbia?" He's huddled over in pain and doesn't find this funny. "No. Just let me sit here a few minutes".

I tell him I understand and I walk up and down the aisle trying to explain to people that we're just stopping for a few minutes. I'm not sure why this seems to have affected me less than others; I'm still physically inhibited by the gas but so many people about me range from extreme discomfort to outright pain. I stop to put a hand on the shoulder of a woman in tears, responding to an external show of misery. She's actually okay - I'm responding to a physical emanation. After a few minutes, I feel the bus moving forward and I return to my seat.

We make it to Columbia. Though there is no conceivable answer for how it was arranged, there is a medic car that the bus arrests behind: the bus driver disembarks, walks to the nearest wall, and collapses. Two EMT's rush to him to give him attention as another fresh bus driver gets on the bus. He lets out a whooo-eeee: "ugh, smells like you people have been through something". I tell him how we drove through the tear gas and how everyone wants to get home. He is full of good humor, he tells us he'll get as there soon as he can.

As we pull onto the viaduct, I walk up and down the bus opening each and every window.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Missing Chez Gemicki, Who Wouldn't Have Minded

Do you know Ben you are the only one who hasn't pecked my head about more treatment,that is the sign of a true friend.I may scratch another 12 months if I am lucky,but do I want to do that with an ulcerated mouth and chucking up all the time,no I don't.Time I have left is for having fun fun fun.The girls and I have hit Greece,Spain,Portugal,America,Canada,Mexico and France,made a huge dent in my critical illness payout,infact there is only about £10,000 left so you can see it was as you would say a blast.I am so glad I got rid of Lee and that was because of you,never realised just how bad he was til I talked to you.We have been here before,me off to France in the morning.This time I am not driving,mini munches and me are flying first class,then we have a driver.I just wish I had got rid of Lee years ago.You didn't miss me mate,you have been with me through the worst of it and I truly have no fear.Things took a sudden turn for the worse but I have lost so many friends who didn't get the chance to enjoy themselves.How much did I enjoy the SK concert,they kept me company through my treatment.I have said goodbye to everyone who matters,you matter alot to me.I saw your lovely city,I saw lots of America ,how fat are people over there,they are huge,I have never eaten so much in all my life,everything is so cheap,I loved it,I would never have gone there but for talking to you.Don't worry about my girls,when I go to my Mum they will both be very well off and they are going to live with my eldest sister,insurance advisor has made sure they will be well looked after and provided for.They both accept my decision,I am not being selfish,but quality rather than quantity.If there was any chance of a cure then I would try for them,but there isn't,I knew that when I had chemo last time and I bought myself some time.I could do it once ,but now I know what it entails,I couldn't do it again.Sorry no paragraphs or punctuation,I wasn't expecting a reply and I am tired and lazy.I hope you and M have the best life possible and Camile,you deserve it.I had better trundle off to bed and I wont email you again,sorry if I have upset you,but I had to say goodbye.You are a special friend to me and please believe me when I say I am not scared,I am just practical.It's not how long you live,but how you live.I have had so much fun,I have such nice friends,If I could live til a hundred and one,or lose one friend,or one special day,I wouldn't trade it,no chance.I thank you for your friendship and this time tomorrow I will be in France,with some very good friends.Take care and pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease don't work so hard,you are a special special fella ,don't waste one single day.Remember the Gemicki philosophy of all work and no play makes Ben a dull boy.So Tiger goodnight and godbless and thanks for being there,it made a huge difference,you made a huge difference Lots of Love Chez x x x x

Sunday, May 18, 2008

On Meditation

It’s lost a lot of its esoteric appeal.

Perhaps because we expected too much of it: something transcendental from within or some stimulus from without, making our not doing something for an hour – or fifteen minutes, depends upon your threshold for inactivity – worth the time invested. Maybe you’re lying on your back, maybe you’ve contorted your legs into a fine pretzel and tried to will your ass to rise a foot off the ground. Or you just close your eyes and imagine, let yourself drift freely. But the bottom line – you want some return, even if it is a calmness you carry with you for the rest of the day.

There was a time in my life when I belittled the idea of meditation, writing it off as a waste of time and whimsical pursuit. Guess I had little patience for whimsy. That was a turn-off, as well as its proponents – at least those I’ve known. Either they were people who are easily pigeon-holed as escapist or people wanting a little more mysticism in the world. In other words, their insisting on meditation and raving about its benefits fit very nicely in a ready-made profile – with meditation a necessary, correlative behavior. Meanwhile, my skeptical nature passes judgment on just how messed up these people’s lives really are, and I have a difficult time seeing how meditation is helping with the things that really matter. Even one of my heroes, David Lynch, has been stumping about the artistic/inspirational benefits of transcendental meditation. Sadly, his book about it coincided with laying a turd of a movie, Inland Empire. The world continues to reinforce my negative notion.

But I’ve turned a corner on it.

I’ve always had a broad, negative interpretation of the word consume. I was never satisfied with a definition targeting the material objects that we ingest or buy. I’ve bought into a notion that we are by default, always consuming: we consume scientific and theological knowledge; we consume lifestyles that are idiosyncratically individualistic or follow a nice cultural script; we consume our own thoughts as we rethink them and we consume others as we listen to them. Our appetite – whether seemingly sated or unquestionably hungry – exists in our mind, and it is never turned completely off. From day one, people, we are eating ourselves and the world around us, alive. We’re all living on the clock, and time is our tender…our attention our account. Even as I type, I am paying and I am consuming.

And the entire world is doing it, there’s always demand for it, and we’re getting more efficient and faster about the business of stuffing things into our eyes and ears. It is no surprise we are in an ‘information age’; what is surprising, is that we can suspend our defense against people wanting our attention – or just a societal pressure prompting you that your attentions need to be focused on something – long enough to comfortably go to sleep at night.

I’m not about to put a value on what is consumed. Be an atheist or theologian, see if I care: you’re both eating something up. Macrobiotic or McDonald’s; John Coltrane or Madonna; Mann or Grisham. Pursuits? Don’t mind if you are studying to be a yoga teacher or blazing a trail as a tweaked out graffiti artist. Whether your cause is noble – like finding a cure for cancer – or tangential: street corner musician. You, me, we’re all consuming. This has been a bit of a leap of faith for me, since the idea of inputting and outputting strike a beautiful balance. And it might be for you too. I’m basically saying, when you think you are inputting, or taking in, you are still consuming.

And it’s become a bit of an obsession for me. I mean, how do I turn it off? How do I embrace an impulse that negates itself, that implies that nothing has to come next?

After aborted attempts at multi-tasking it (you can ‘meditate’ while weeding the garden or doing other mindless, repetitive work), I began putting aside time and space to meditate. I’m not putting any expectations on it – I don’t care if it makes me happy or more virile or gives me the power to fly or throw balls of flame at my opponents. I’m not expecting it to remove emotional pain or give me a metaphysical high.

I just need to turn of the consuming. Just for an hour or so.

So, I’m going to be one of those people to recommend it…surprise! I think anyone can relate to how engorged our minds are, and I think most can relate to moments in our life when time stops, we feel a little out of our selves, and we enjoy the suspension in that moment. Everything feels in synch and nothing is placing a demand upon us. Well, you can force it. The key is focusing – or not focusing – on what meditation could do for you. Just go into it without asking any question whatsoever.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dreams Conjured

The earliest worth noting, or the earliest I am capable of recalling for the lasting indelible impression. There was no plot. It was a sunny day at my grandparents – the one’s who lived down the street from me. I was on their creaky back deck, and there was a party going on – a brass band was there, the Seattle Mariners were there, and the Hawaiin Punch Cartoon was there. There may have been others. I was very ambivalent about sports in my youth, so it is odd the Mariners were there. I was at least intrigued that a cartoon character could be in my dream, though I felt he was a little unruly and overexcited. As for the brass band…I’m not certain they were playing. I feel like there were just a lot of people milling about with horns, trombones, and tubas. I may have been eight or nine years old. I woke up wanting to be back in my sleep, relaxing with and making new friends. New friends I had absolutely nothing in common with.

Another came a couple years after living on my own. It was a characterless studio apartment in SeaTac; I was working nights and though I didn’t know it at the time, I was deathly sick. When I say working nights – imagine the worst possible schedule. Sometimes from 9pm to 9am; sometimes from midnight to noon – I would work 4 days on, 4 days off. I had a tough time determining whether I should spend my off days getting back on track or trying to keep myself up all through the night. Anyways, the dream. There was a mad, loud, slow thumping at my door. This is in the tiny studio apartment. And I push my brow to the eyehole and ask who is out there but I cannot see a thing because whoever is on the other side is covering it up, or leaning against it and hurting. I ask who is it, what do they want. And I hear these animal like noises from the other side, like someone in pain or the straining sounds of a dog being trained to speak like a human being. I open the door, and once the door is cracked the thing pushes its way inside. It is like a man, but so tall he cannot stand fully upright in my studio. He wears nothing but a loincloth diaper and his unwieldy hands are larger than my head and he is lunging and grasping at me. In a strange way, he reminded me of Baby Huey. Man Child. The monstrosity looked to be more of baby fat than muscle. I try to get away, I try to communicate – but I cannot look into it’s eyes for his Neanderthal brow. He lumbers and grasps and continues to make these strained noises from his throat, chasing me around my tiny studio. I jump over the half-wall enclosing my bed to get away, but this only stops him momentarily. I try to fake one direction, then another, but he isn’t fooled and he is a lot quicker than I think and he finally gets me – gets his large hand on my shoulder and pulls me to him and then he gets the other forearm around me, pulling me in and then I wake up. Or I think I do. I believe I wake up in my bed where everything is black and there is the thumping at my door again. Only this time I don’t get up to go to the door; I lie there and try and shout who is it only now it is I who sound like an animal that cannot form words. Then I wake up for real, in a sweat, with a dry throat in mid-misshapen vowel formation. I think this is the only dream within a dream I’ve ever had: where you think you awake but don’t. My heart was racing. I had to get up and look out the peephole to be sure everything was okay outside.

Then, several years ago. It started so pleasant. It was the silvery blue of twilight, and M & I were staying in a seaside town. It looked European, with cobblestone steps everywhere and nautically themed shops that looked like they were constructed from old pilings and dressed in abandoned fishing nets. It was a charming place, and though we knew we had to get to dinner soon we were distracted by so many little novelty shops – we spent a lot of time in a well-lit haberdashery where there were so many shoppers that we were all shoulder to shoulder. We are packed like sardines, and we talk and joke with these people who just like us want to buy a hat or a scarf and move on. M & I finally make it back out to the walk-way, and we spy a little place that has windows into a basement restaurant where there are numerous white clothed tables with little lit candles – when we hear the screaming from far off. People begin running about, or just walking fast, in different directions. I lose track of M, and join a young bohemian couple and walk quickly with them, but they are just as curious about this as I am. Then we see the lights. Out over the water, there are long red beams that reach from the earth’s surface and up into the sky, too many to possibly count, and they slice through the water and the landscape as they move about in no discernible direction, cutting quickly and slowing darting about. They are everywhere, they are bright, and I turn to one of my new companions and they say this is probably the end. And I agree with them, but none of us feel urgent about it. We walk slowly down to a pier and find some large rocks that will serve as seats, and we’re a little sad, looking at each other’s pink-hued faces…but we’re also in awe of all the destruction going on about us. Somewhere far away the landscape is afire, and more people join us and just sit and watch but I do not see M again. It grows very quiet; the beams make no noise and a lone siren in the distance is drowned out by the waves hitting the rocks. There’s something magnificent about this ending, and I wake up.

Just a side not one dreams. I love the settings. It is often the most memorable thing about my dream. One time the entire dream took place in a wet world of grids. NOT like TRON. The entire world was on a grid barely wide enough to walk upon, but from nowhere water was flowing across and pouring down into the interstitial void. In another dream, all was tunnels. Large tunnels, like Subway sized – or like the NY dance club – but the walls were made of roots. Intertwined tree roots. Or the city I dwelled in for one night, where there were only parking garages. I was trapped out on the streets, and every entrance way – whether it was ground floor or 3 stories – was a parking garage door. Oddly, there were no flying cars in that dream.

Sigh. I miss dreaming.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Untitled I

there by the grace of god go i. by a blood orange sunset underneath a chiaroscuro of silver and grey and black cloud. by and by. my bald feet read the ground steadily, a path littered with dead leaves and twisted exposed roots and hard cooled dirt. there is no breeze seeing the day away and the naked limbs of contorted branches are still. not a twitch. and i come upon them, huddled by a pit of embers. god’s children. waiting and patient.

and you are here, why? - the man opposite me asks. and i tell him i am only moving forward to a place like this where i can rest a little while before going on and finding some sanctuary and some people who i can trust. i sum him up: he is a clown. grease paint and flower hatted. a wilted dangling daisy. if you want to trust, you will trust – it is that easy. – he says, as his eyes drift back to the pit and the dull light exposes his chrome painted tear. i ask him if i am welcome here and he only shrugs. it is as good a place as any, if it is company you desire – he says.

who leads you? - i inquire. is it you? and he tells me no, i simply saw him first and made the assumption; the first to speak is often only that. we don’t even ask ourselves that question, who will lead us. perhaps this is our strength, that no one asks that question. or when they do, it is only when they join the group and they quickly learn that it is an irrelevance. but here - take my seat. perhaps the next to arrive will come from the same direction as you, and you will know how it feels to answer the question. i have to relieve myself, it’s only natural you know, it is inevitable and i do not know for certain when i will return. i may not return, if i come across a better place than this. if that happens, i will likely stay there. and he stands up and dusts off the face of his trousers and turns to go.

there is little heat from the dying fire and i look at the remaining faces. a woman with raven black hair and a tattooed ankle bracelet. a small boy who is dead behind his eyes for none of this has anything to offer to him. a man perhaps old enough to be my father, not quite though, who cannot take his eyes from the woman. an elderly woman in wraps and scarves who will not stop shaking.

and i talk to the tattooed woman first because there is something hopeful about her. she is still young enough to have hope. trust is such a thing to ask for, she tells me. you cannot rely on anyone but yourself. you have to watch out for yourself, first. and i’m at a loss and i cannot argue with her on this. i say that it is at least a noble thing to look for, and she responds by pointing to the boy and pointing to the elderly woman and she asks me, when we three tell you different things and you believe you trust all three of us, what do you do then? and i tell her i don’t know. but, i say - you wanting me to not be fooled and illustrating this to me so that i will not be hurt. surely that is a step towards wanting to be trusted? and she laughs. or, it could mean i’m the least trustworthy here.

and the man who is older than me asks her why she didn’t include him in her lesson. fuck, you are needy – she tells him. isn’t it enough that i’m fucking you? and you’ll be the next to leave, just watch. this new one, i can tell, he’s flashing on me. i can feel it, a woman knows. you…the real reason, well, you might actually be trustworthy. i think that’s why i didn’t include you.

he leans back, satisfied with this. and he turns to the elderly woman, as though he has changed his affinity and having been validated by one, seeks a new validation in the other.

the old woman does not notice him and only shakes. she only shakes and keeps one eye on the boy. it is a maternal eye, though she is well beyond the point of having to worry about such things. – he has no mother, she says. the boy lights up, no longer only a stuffed toy. do too, he says. i have a mom. and she loves me. the elderly woman says that she knew his mother, and he may as well have not had one at all. she growls it, to no one in particular.

do you meddle in other people’s lives? i have to ask her this. her words are cruel, and the sympathy i had for her is vanished. i tell her these are cruel words to tell the boy. but it is true, she insists. it is better that he know now than wander through this world thinking different. you are so concerned with trust, imagine the trust this boy places in his mother who is indifferent to him. someday he will find on his own someone he can trust, and he’ll never find it if he does not understand who he cannot trust, first. she continues. i am the only one here who has seen it all; i’ve been with men who loved and fell out of love with me, i’ve been trusted and betrayed; i’ve trusted and been betrayed in turn. i’ve seen how cruel and how wonderfully people can treat one another. i’ve seen how good natured an idiot can be and i’ve seen the pettiness in the intelligent. i’ve seen how the days never stop unfolding through you, regardless whether they are bound to bring hope or bound to bring despair. i have seen it all, i have felt it all, and i believe i’ve come to know and i believe what i say.

and for why, i ask her. why is it that you believe so? how is it that you can trust your own belief? is it simply for having survived, that your trust has been reinforced? did the distance between your thoughts and your words get shorter as you aged?

i did all i did just to get through to heaven, she tells me. and I could have been this boy, this girl, this man, or you. and I would feel it so. it has nothing to do with my age, but the spirit i lived it in.

then, i realized where i was.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Zappa Plays Zappa

I love the guitar; I hate the guitar face. Like you’re not pinching any ordinary loaf – you’re pinching a marble loaf. Or you’re trying to sharpen a pencil with your asshole. Bleh. My apologies in advance for Steve Vai.

I’ve anxiously awaited this DVD since I saw the show at the Paramount in 2006. The first run of the Zappa Plays Zappa tour was something magical and momentous. I don’t think there was a soul in the building who didn’t walk out singing the praises of Dweezil for restoring so faithfully the music of Frank Zappa. Sadly, there hasn’t been a void…it just hasn’t been done with such integrity or relevance.

There’s been The Persuasions’ A Cappella release…the Ensemble Modern has faithfully taken on some of Zappa’s orchestral-leaning compositions. And don’t get me started on the Project/Object that frequently makes its way through town. Reproductions to this point have either embraced a very isolated part of Frank’s oeuvre or cashed in on his more absurd leanings. Dweezil Zappa set out – picking a brilliant representation from a catalogue that condenses sixty-five albums – to bring the music of Zappa to a new generation. And he does acquit himself successfully: he brings to the table the most convincing reason why you should be out buying Zappa’s work by the armload.

From a musician / composer standpoint, Dweezil may have a strength that his father didn’t. He acknowledges immediately that he is not the ringmaster his father was; he does not pander to the ‘toilet-humored’ music his father indulged. The DVD is bereft of lyrical tunes. But of all the work put forth by father or son, this DVD may be the most convincing evidence of Zappa as genius composer. Sometimes it takes another person quoting the original to appreciate the thing being invoked – and that is the underlying theme of these 2 spliced performances. Carefully selected musicians executing some of Zappa’s most challenging compositions. The result is a success: a balance between inspiration and intimidation.

When I discovered Zappa, I found something outside of pop music as I understood it. Differentiating between Rock, Dance, R & B, Country…lost its relevance. I interred this idea that there was Pop, Jazz, and Zappa. Pretty simple: he managed to create his own genre and universe. Zappa also taught me there’s a big difference between songwriters and composers. Like between poets and novelists.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mother's Day


“You’re not being cute! Do you think you’re being cute? I want you to just settle down back there!” She snaps her head towards the back seat, her face twisted into mean geometric shapes. Pointed glasses. Inverted triangular brows. Parenthetical mouth with drawn lips. “I can’t drive and pay attention to what you’re doing. I can’t do this right now. I want you to be quiet.” But this is the opposite of what I want to do: I want to sing, I want my sister sitting beside me to sing along with me – I can lead and we’ll make something of this, and I want my mother to sing along too. It will be a moment, it will be something magical. But she’s so angry and I quiet down. I quiet down for a moment, but already I feel the urge to express overtake me, and I start again in a softer voice. She lets it pass for a few moments – she hears my voice raise slightly in volume – and even in my tiny mind, I can feel her shoulders tighten and huddle. “Please. Quiet. Just let us get where we are going, and you can sing all you want.” And I stop again. I stop again and look out the car window into the rain, the downpour of rain whose expression is irresistible. I can see the rain clearly to this day. It takes some time, but the child will come to realize the relentless drops mean something different to a mother trying to shuttle her two children into JCPenny’s.


“Mom just saw her old boyfriend.”

“What, on TV?” This novelty proves too great for a ten-year old; I run after my sister into my parents’ room where my mother is exhausted in bed and watching The Price is Right. There is no light but from the television. My sister and I jump on the bed. “He’s in the crowd,” my sister says. She’s younger than me and loves to tell me the things she already knows that I do not.

“Say when you see him again!” as the frame pans past dozens of faces. My mother is heavy-lidded, laconic…wrapped like a mummy in her terry-cloth bathrobe with her arms crossed over her chest. “C’mon, show us!” But she just looks ahead blankly. “So you had a boyfriend before Dad? Is he famous? Or is he in the crowd of people?”

She lights up faintly, a little. “I was probably mistaken. Just someone that looks like someone I knew, I doubt it was him. No, there was just your father.”

“I was just pulling your sister’s leg. It was a joke.”


“Don’t you think it would be fun to own your own restaurant? You would be your own boss; you’d have all these different, new challenges every day. All the people you would get to meet, all the relationships…you could change menus, choose different themes, you would get to work with other business owners to see what you could do for the community…” “So why don’t you? You could go back to school if you want, learn about the business – I’m old enough to babysit – or keep an eye on – Trudi…you can learn about it and get out of your job.”

She was working in a pharmacy as an assistant. Everything was not quite white: the lights, the lab coat, and the labels on the bottles – all displayed different hues of implied drudgery. For most of an eight hour day, she was confined under the anesthetic bulbs to a limited caged space – with a rotating second assistant and a mouth-breathing lead pharmacist. He had made an inappropriate proposition once. She hated any moment when it was just the two of them, when he would unload about his miserable life to her and the bile would churn in her gut wondering if this would lead to another awkward refusal.

“Really mom, you underestimate yourself. You’re really smart and could do better than your job. Doesn’t dad make enough money now so you could do this?”

“It’s not the money…well; it is, since you and your sister go to private school now. We’re a lot better off than we were, but the money from my job goes for your school. And it’s nice to have just in case. Like if your father goes on strike again.”

“But if it’s something you want to do, I don’t care where I go to school.”

“No, honey. It would never work out. I was only imagining how nice it would be. That’s why they call it a dream.”


“I would be so good at it! I love to work with money.”

She’s probably right. If I had any enthusiasm for it, I would hire her as a financial advisor. But my philosophy is to make more money than I need and control my wants to fit my income. This means: no boat, no second property, no feeling obligated to buy something I was never passionate about in the first place. It’s a strategy that has worked, evidenced by a steadily expanding savings account.

But first and foremost, I’m focused on quality of life. And quality of life, for me – is not getting preoccupied with money.

“Well, if you are going to be a radio show financial advisor, I think you need experience in either, uh, journalism? Or like, be an accountant? I mean, I would hire you. Because you’re my mom and all.” I’ve gotten used to the fanciful jobs she wished she had. Sometimes she would become enamored with the lives of people she knew: Christine works as a store window dresser. Sharon is self-employed – she makes birdhouses and travels to different craft shows to sell from her rented booth. Mostly, her fancy rested on whatever she was consuming at the moment. Like wanting to be a restaurant owner because of how exciting it looked in a television drama. Or wanting to be a real estate agent because she and my father were in the process of buying a new house. Lately, she’s been listening to talk radio constantly, and now she’s a financial professional by osmosis.

“Why don’t you find something and really pursue it? You are always wishing and dreaming. You never get beyond just the wanting.”

I think it was the tone of my voice, a mixture of exasperation and condescension. Her recurring pattern – a voiced whimsy that disguised a truly unfulfilled yearning – was disclosed and bared and shown to be something shameful. I could see she was hurt.

“Perhaps you’re right. It’s too late for a lot of these things. It’s not easy when you have to raise two children. You don’t have a lot of time.”

“But I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t trade you two for the world.”


“We still need to get to where…it’s like you said. Ending your life is a factor in your decisions. It recurs; it never disappears completely. And I’m not referring right now to any physiological factors - we can handle those separately. You tell me you were once this larger than life person, this person who loved to be at the center of attention and do things with…what did you say, bravado? And now you hate drawing any attention to yourself at all. What happened to this confident person, and where did this other part of you … this part of you that does not love yourself, that does not feel entitled or deserving to be alive – when did it take over? Isn’t this is how you put it?”

Dr. Bertrand is correct; this is how I put it. Though for me, it has always been de facto: I don’t want to get used to, or love too much, being alive. To the point of desperation or clinging. Life is a beautiful thing when you are living it fully; a sad case when you hold on in spite of life having no use for you. Pathetic, really. And I tell him this, and he tells me that he’s not interested in my ideology of the thing: he wants to know where it started, what created the twisted ideology in the first place. “Tell me about your childhood growing up. The first moment that created an impression that stayed with you.”

“I had a wonderful childhood. It was a great neighborhood, lots of children my age, and my parents were great. I can’t express how fortunate I feel about my upbringing. It wasn’t easy, it’s not like we were affluent or free of worries. But there was always extended family and friends nearby; there was never a lack of support.”

“My parents had me when they were really young. Shotgun wedding and all. It’s funny, I remember growing up how they would lose years in their ages. When I was a kid, I was under the impression that they got married at 22. Then they’d stay the same age for a year…they did this a couple times. Last I checked, they got married and had me a couple months later when they were both 19. I always thought it was odd that they felt me or my sister needed protection from knowing this…it’s not a big deal, right? I guess they were striving for some kind of normalcy. I asked to see their birth certificates when I was older, and they came clean. It’s odd, because if they were to plan out their lives like most people, they achieved what most people want – just started a little earlier than expected.”

“That’s the thing – they had this incredible work ethic, this responsibility – and they did right by it. They didn’t wait for something good to happen, something I’ve noticed I tend to do. My father worked long hours and weekends, my mother spent all of her time with us until at least I was self sufficient. They just sacrificed so much.”

But Dr. Bertrand wants an event. Because it has played over and over in my head, I tell him about the car, and how I cannot shake being told I’m not being as cute as I think I am. And there are other events, other times when I get spastic or unruly or just a little too precocious and my appeals for attention are curtailed by my mother. It is difficult to tell him these things because I’m concerned he will turn me against her, tell me that she could have treated the situation differently and encouraged my enthusiasm into a different expression. That we were opposing forces of responsibility and free spirit. I have a view of therapy shaped by the fiction that every fault is going to be put on the parent – simply because I’m the one paying his bill.

He takes it in another direction.

“You feel like you robbed your mother’s happiness. You feel like you took her entire life, and you cannot forgive yourself for it.”

“You have to forgive yourself. This came before your ideology. You built the ideology to reinforce it.”

When he says this I feel the notion of forgiving myself like some inoperable cancer in my body, and by the maxim that nothing so true can come easily – I know he is right. And I know it shows on my face that I’m agreeing with him.

“You don’t have to justify your existence. So much of how you value what you’ve done with your life is tied to this taking of your mother’s. You hear her dreams, what she hoped for herself…and it bothers you because it imposes this question on you…‘What have you done with your life?’ And now…you are perpetually apologetic. You are asking forgiveness for the space you take up in the world.”

I felt like a puzzle that was disappointingly easy to solve. Or at least, to diagnose. But the knowing had its own liberation. I never thought to mourn my mother’s living life, but I could feel the tears coming at the thought of it - that it was something that needed to rise above the surface and be recognized. And the tears were real, and the notion was validated.