Monday, June 30, 2008
"I can tell you what was there."
This from a man sidling up alongside him. Only it is a strange voice: as though he were a talking animal, only here it is coming from the mouth of a human being. Is he wearing mascara? He is afraid to guess. He has no time for this; he has real, real physiological problems to contend with: he feels the exhaustion from the heat. He doesn't like the sweat stains he is leaving along the inside of his collar; not now, not ever. He doesn't like where he is right now - every face he passes appears like a walking wraith of fetal-alcohol syndrome: a walking, breathing, argument for abortion.
"That was the question you were asking yourself, right? I can read your face. The look on your face is...obvious. It's obvious to me; it is obvious to all of us."
He wants the man to leave. He walks faster. He does not know what he is missing from this empty palm: he only knows that when he looked at his hand, it wasn't there. And everyone seems to be in on it; everyone knows what he is missing but him. He keeps his lips tightly pursed. He is too proud to ask. Too proud to ask any of these people what has gone missing, especially people he does not know and who have no right to know. Even if they do know. None of this makes sense.
The man grabs him by the shoulders. He is so caught in his own verbal reticence, he acquiesces with several blinks. The key might be given for free. He is not walking; he is standing now. "I don't need to know you..." The man's face rolls left and right, head over his shoulders - back and forth like a blind man in concentration: "to tell you the thing you are missing right now". The man posits a savant's reverie:
"You were the one who let it go."
The man walked away. He watched the man go his way, and counted the seconds as the man got smaller and smaller. One thousand. Two thousand. Three thousand. He watched the man stop at the corner, and suspensefully awaited what would happen next. The man did not round the corner, disappearing out of sight and granting him his freedom. The man did not walk straight ahead, back-turned and torturing him with a confirmed abandonment. Neither did he cross the street, where he might walk along - keeping one eye upon him - as the two of them second-guessed at what the other was thinking.
The man saw another. Another, coming from another direction.
The man sidled up along her, and as she walked in this direction, he could tell the man was saying things to her. Things to frighten her and shove her from her bearings.
In this direction: Oh shit.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I didn't particularly intend to write a shorter novel. However, I did realize that if I were to write another novel equally long, it would take up another decade of my life. I wasn't very keen to do that. I also reckon that publishers aren't intrinsically fond of long novels; they're difficult to convince people to read...or to review for that matter. So I hoped that the inspiration for my next novel could be curbed within reasonable length, 300 to 400 pages. I guess I'm lucky that it has. I did threaten to cut off a digit for every extra 10,000 words above 100,000. All of my fingers are intact
I'm making the same promise: if I ever write anything that takes place on a bus again....
"Rubber band...?" He strokes his beard and lets out "that's some crazy shit."
Two weeks into college. Two weeks in, and all my senses are filled to the brim. It is two weeks of not wanting to fall behind, reading ahead in my text books, exploring where the best places are to get a clear head and study. But fascinating and ruined people keep singling me out to share their opinions of the world. To share the twists and turns by which they arrived at where they got. To share their dance moves. Normally, I wouldn't mind a wild-eyed, greasy long-haired and devil-bearded man dancing on a table in McDonald's at 6:30 a.m. Just not the table I'm already studying at.
"You ever heard of Cindi Lauper? He was in her music video." Since he joined me in the back of the bus, the caboose, the pit: Cap'n Lou has warned me we will be going to war with Iraq "You just watch!". He has informed me, between sips from an oil can in a brown paper bag, that he is a Viet Nam veteran: "The shit I've seen; I know what I'm talking about here." He has let loose an explosive fart: "You got to listen to your body, kid." He is not the first wrecked vet I've met who predicts the U.S. is always on the verge of going to war. Like a preacher sermons on the end days. Like the big event that will make the futile investments in your life worth it. But I don't tell him how inconceviable it is, a war in this day and age. This civilized age. Not going to happen. Kuwait sounds like a country that didn't plan ahead, and they probably got what they deserved.
"Heard of her. But that's not real music." The bus makes a stop on Eastlake, and Cap'n points to a tavern across the street. "You want real music? That place rocked back in the day. Saw Jimi Hendrix there." Cap'n jerks as the bus resumes, and we are joined by a third in the back. "Hendrix. There. For Real." I say it with a humoring urgency, an encouragement to tell me more. To tell me more and get him talking - even though I know it will all be lies - while I sum up our newcomer.
He looks white collar. Executive white collar. Perhaps in his mid-thirties. Wearing cufflinks, and the republican suit with the blood red tie. A pinned tie. I see many three-pieces on the bus, but they usually have a sense of style. A sense of flair. This newcomer is exhibiting an old-money, wall street conservative look - reserved for people who drive their own cars or who own people to drive them about in them. I feel like he deserves a name, just like Cap'n Lou, who is already drawing this polished man in.
"Hey Square, d'ja know Hendrix played there?" The tavern he nods towards is retreating, and Square makes no effort to look or stretch or put himself out in anyway to look at it. "I've heard of him. Not my kind of music." He does, though, seem to put himself out to make no eye contact whatsoever with the Cap'n...who is too boozy to care: "Well, what do you listen to? Everybody's got a thing."
I smile. I can't stop it: this promises to be entertaining. All three generations of us. The 70's loser vet, the 80's financial success, and the student with all the promise for the future. "I prefer classical. The Opera." But he says it directly to me, as though it is my turn to answer. And I try so hard to please: "I like some of it, but I like to listen to a little of everything. Mostly punk. But I like chamber music too. No opera, though."
"It's hotter'n Georgia asphalt!" Cap'n Lou stretches his arms over the adjoining seats as though staking territory or defining a comfort zone. I have to admit, he does look comfortable. "But its a dry heat. Not like jungle humidity. That shit makes you sick breathing it. But the worst is napalm."
Square quietly clears his throat. Seemingly importuned by the other, he stares intently at me. "So. Are you learning to become a biochemical engineer?" motioning to a book on my lap where only the word Calculus is predominantly displayed.
"Biochemical Engineer? Funny you'd get that from this..." holding the book up. "But an electrical engineer, maybe. I just started. I'm not passionate about this. Hoping by the end of the first year I'll know for sure what I want to do. And then there's the war coming, too."
"You just watch!"
"Really. I haven't been following current events; my passions rest elsewhere." And the Square says it like a thespian, with a sigh and withdrawing shoulders. "You should look into biochemical engineering. There's a future in it." I tell him I'll keep it in mind. Cap'n Lou breaks into guffaws.
"Look at you, in your suit. Talking big words. Ain't you burning up?"
Something I hadn't noticed. I feel sorry for this Square; he is obviously out of place here. And he has a heckler, already. I'm curious what put this man so far from his element, but not that curious. And my stop is coming up in a few more blocks. I give Square a sympathizing smile and a roll of my eyes: crazy drunk. I pull out my wallet to retrieve change, and my girlfriend's photograph is exposed.
He leans forward, inquisitive: "Is that your beloved?"
Cap'n is less interested in my photograph - but echoes in mock condescension: "beloved...!" And I show the photo to the Square: "I don't know if I would say beloved. But this is my gal. Selena."
He reaches towards his attache. "The Goddess of the Moon. She is very beautiful. You are a fortunate one." Cap'n Lou now wants to see; he flicks his fingers with a give it here motion. I lean towards him but do not hand over my wallet. He nods in appreciation. Square has removed a slight stack of white business cards and is motioning to hand one to me, and as he leans forward all three of us make an odd huddle.
"This is my beloved."
The card I hold in my hand is a business card, a grainy photo on the left and a paragraph of names - a jumble of pseudonyms - on the right: Miss 666. Wife of Baphomet. Diana. Arbitrer of the Moon. Na'amathe. The Cunt Goddess. And more. The woman looks mostly normal - perhaps forty, with a busy Ogilvie home perm and a secretary's employee of the month photo-sitting smile. The only occult thing about her is the mascara application, upward egyptian curliques where crow's feet begin their advance. Without the resume, I wouldn't have pegged her for Satan's Mistress, but apparently she is - and pretty proud about it. Square is looking excitedly at me, eager for my response. Too excitedly, though: the hand holding the remaining cards, bending the ends between thumb and forefinger, loose their hold.
Dozens of cards burst blooming into the air like a firework, coming to rest over the floor of the back of the bus. Square is befuddled, a self-disappointed look of shame curtains his face. He catches himself, and is down on his knees picking up the cards. In his suit. It is a sight.
Cap'n Lou grabs one as Square is reaching for it. As he takes it in, he stands up: "You're kidding right?" And he throws it down at the humbled Square. He walks and wobbles as far as the rear entry. "A Satan Worshipper. You're kidding, right?" And as he turns to us to say it, he is white as a sheet. Like he will be infected by either one of us. He dismounts at the next stop, only a matter of seconds, and I'm happy that his moments of discomfort are brief.
I'm having my own conflict absorbing the moment. "So, have you been together for long?" It is all I can manage as this suited man scrambles over the floor. There might be an issue about his idol being facedown on a surface so readily tread.
The bus isn't moving. The Cap'n is outside, pointing to the back of the bus, and the bus driver is trying to interpret this commotion: the excited drunk outside and a man at the distant opposite of his vehicle, doubled-over as though he took one to the stomach. I mutter under my breath: "You don't have to answer". And I go join the Cap'n. When I join him, we have nothing to say to each other.
Monday, June 23, 2008
And that is the key; the pressure is coming from inside.
There is no lynchpin but the one of your own choosing. No physical draining to relieve a pressure imagined. Sometimes, you cannot independently - logically - arrive at a solution; you need something smarter than you.
Sometimes a solstice can turn things around. And.
Centrifugal is an imaginary force...
Saturday, June 21, 2008
A couple working for a hospital in Duluth joined him. They exchanged names, and immediately the two were remarking on the second class from the morning: "I know Bob has done some auto-discovery work for determining what we have in-house..." "Right. But that's only on the Windows side. We have some unix and Linux components that the administrators have been too busy to turn over to us." "Cowboys. If we could get more buy-in from the top, the pressure would be there. It would be pretty easy for them; I know they're already monitoring all those servers...the information is already there." He turns to him: "Just a kick in the pants, right?"
He mumbles and stutters. There must be something wrong with these people to have joined him; there must be some crisis in confidence, some inherent desperation that would prompt them to ask for the take from the guy who couldn't appear more disinterested. He scans the room for all the seats they could have taken.
"I think everyone in our I.T. is on board. It's been a challenge - as recent as six months ago we were 'auto-discovering' from an Excel spreadsheet..." He waits for laughter, but they look to each other as though he can't be possibly be serious. "No, I'm serious! Here's what you do: find someone in a general platform support role, someone who loves to write code but is stuck in writing the guidelines and standards that govern it. Take them out to lunch, get them on board with what you are doing...management is only there to pay lip service to it. For leadership, they want this to be low investment, high return. Don't count on them, regardless of what they said in class. Really: make it grass roots, make it fun, and lead people on with the attention they'll get if they succeed. That's how I did it." They look at one another. It's not a very technical approach; it's not the language they are used to speaking in. "We don't have a platform support, and I don't think there's a person in our department like that! Everyone is overworked!"
"Overworked fixing stuff or overworked implementing projects? Before you answer..." He leans into them conspiratorially: "your answer determines whether you should be here at all. I mean, keep in mind; we're all here to learn how to track - on failure, by change, and so forth - all the technological assets in our shop. If you fall into the former group, you seem to be doing fine. So fine that you can expend your resources to send them to a dog and pony show like this. If you fall into the latter group, well then: kudos."
He feels bad for the Duluth couple. They lean back as though regretting the table they chose, and he wants to make it up to them. "Google 'auto-discovery tools'. You'll probably find something for free. Someone has coded this already. Someone has always coded the good stuff already. Google it, and toss in the platform you're worried about. Print it out and hand it to your SME. Just doing a little thing like that will show you're vested, and you probably won't have to take them out to lunch." Saying the word makes him look over at the buffet and all the leftovers that will be trashed by the time they gather into forum groups. A dull bell is rung overhead. "Show's about to start. Here's my card - " He whips out a couple and crosses out the title 'Change Manager' and writes 'Windows Specialist' on one of them; he hands them each one: "I seem to be changing jobs every six months. I gave up on business cards. I should just have a set written up with a generic 'IT Professional'...at least the phone number never changes."
Two hundred of them herd at the sound of the bell. He reaches into his back pocket for the badge and flashes it as he passes through the doorway into the conference room. And realizes, he didn't ask for the business cards from the Duluth twosome: either they never want to hear from him again, or they left them at home. It happens.
There is one more lecture before the day ends with forum groups. The last lecture will address the value derived from an implemented problem and change management process that will add value to your corporation due to the minimized need for production support resources. He looks at all the people crammed into the room and makes a judgment: the more people a session is designed for, the less applicable it will be to any one in the room. He thinks: I'm not usually this jaded about these conferences. It's a nice break away from the office. Is it the subject matter? Is it because of all the preaching about how bad things will never happen when there's more up-front investment and attention? Is it because of the way they gloss over the investment required to reach this utopian, perfect state? He thinks about the personalities he works with, the varying degrees of touched inspiration and checked-out laziness. The programmers who get excited to give you a solution to a problem you never had in the first place. The administrators who are content to meet the requirements of their duties but have a fit when something causes them to change the way they look at their jobs - like a new federally imposed auditing procedure or having to deal with a new vendor required by a credit card company they already have a good relationship with. The leadership that wants to see this utopia, but won't sign off to purchase the products that will bring it.
Isn't this where the contention comes from? A defined process that should work everywhere, anytime: but it isn't proven to work anywhere in the real world, so for now: you buy the conference books like they are the Rosetta Stone for how you should be doing things. You meet other people in the industry and you learn to talk the way they do in this imagined utopia. You make baby steps towards reaching this Promised Land. And who knows: this shit may not make a difference by the time you get there. It could take ten years, and what could happen in that time? How many snake oil salesman will show up to give you an ineffective technological solution? How many shifts will occur in the economy? How many times will you ignore your own requirements because you were so thoroughly charmed by a solution to another's problem? Because you were enamored and intoxicated by a new complexity promising to take the hurt away?
He doesn't pay thorough attention. He takes notes through the first fifteen minutes before being carried away by his internal, skeptical questions. The call to break into groups brings him to attention and identified by the purple block on his badge, he walks to room 10E.
"Hello." He can barely keep his eyes open.
"Cindy and Rupert are from Croening; John and I work at Finnish. Where do you work?"
He tells them. He tells them it's funny that all of them are seated at the same table, considering that none of them are working for companies that provide technology as an external service; none of them are individual contractors. "Just noting it. Not that there's anything wrong with it: I just thought they'd be smattered about through these groups..."
"So. What are you're points of pain?" He finds this is the best question to get the ball rolling, and Cindy rolls with it.
"I think we're pretty good: we have a good problem and trouble management in place. It's the change and the configuration that are the most difficult..." He breaks in: "Do you find that your configuration, getting a hold on your inventory...don't you feel like that is the first thing you should get defined? It seems these things are encouraged in the wrong order." Cindy: "Right. I think that's a known. The definition...the requirements for each of these processes...they're going to be best defined in the order of priority, right? I mean, we know when there's a problem. We know when something is broken. It's easy to cut a ticket for that. It's just the looking forward, so we can see what changed in the environment. For what reason the break occurred."
He swells up with the same kind of idealism that the group running the conference suffers from. "Yeah. I think everyone is at the same place. But, if you start from a top down model: define your assets, define the processes or changes that affect it, and then at the very bottom, have a way of tracking when it breaks: that seems the way to go. The dogma & the industry have been moving from the bottoms up. There's a lot of talk of removing the pain of fixing these problems, making everyone's life more beneficial for not having to put out fires. Which is a pretty tall order...it almost sounds like the goal is to eliminate problems before they happen..."
"I'm sorry, did you say dogma?"
"You get the point. They're promoting a preset logical structure. It would work wonderfully if I were starting an I.T. shop tomorrow: I could follow it to the letter. But all of us have processes already in place. I take back what I said about not having I.T. or contractors here. We're in the same boat to figure this out - shops that are long in the tooth, set in their ways, trying to figure out how to resolve the new methodology to several hundred people and management set in their ways and values. Where implementation has outraced the management of it. You know - your exceptions to standard outnumber the benefits from having defined the standard..."
This strikes a note with John. He is looking at me askance, writing me off as someone who has nothing to offer to the discussion: "Okay, so we want to create a CMDB...how do we go about doing it?"
There's an irresistible silence. I feel like John was negating my thunder, and his question is answered with a lull, so I ask it. "Do any of you see the return on investment? It's been bugging me." John rolls his eyes - he's already profiled me as a troublemaker. Cindy looks a little relieved. Rupert is on the fence: "But that's not why we're here. We're supposed to find solutions. Even to the problems that are prolific. Suppose you found the one answer to all your business' problems and could solve it overnight - you'd feel pretty good about that right?" His tone is getting personal and it confirms that I'm the rogue and outcast at the table. But I'm feeling a complete breakdown coming, and answer him: "Even if this were the answer..." I swing my arm about the room, taking in and addressing everything, "I'm not sure how I would feel about it. I would still have a development and a production support division, right? I'm not going to fire off all my P.S. folks; do you think that sounds like a good idea? I happen to like when things break. Even if it takes people away from their project or value work...it makes them familiar with the systems they're working with. The other day, I had this situation, and because Anil had to fix a problem with a job he had never worked with, he came up to me and told me how he noticed a few things he hadn't noticed before. Anil kicks ass. He found a better solution than the batch we had in place. He re-wrote a design part, and we've reduced the transaction time by seventy percent. So. There's something human about that: I had this kid with something to prove, and he took advantage of the current environment to up the service levels we had in place."
"Ummm...none of this has to do with a CMDB. That's the requirement. Even if it is just to get our assets in one place."
"Google it. Really." I have moments where I wonder why these, and not other people, are sent to these conferences. "Do you people not realize when you've been sent on a wild goose chase? I can see it now, you probably have shit like this budgeted so you don't lose it for next year. But here you are, taking it all seriously."
"There's no need for language!"
Cindy's right, there's no need. "I guess I've been doing this too long. This is the second version of the second methodology that I've had to...learn? Humor? I'm not sure anymore. I see what it promises - I see how heavenly it all is. I also see a complexity that...put to the grindstone of the reality we deal with every day, amounts to a strange...theological methodology." Rupert's eyes light up at the word theological. Probably some Jesus freak. "Come again?”
I'm already regretting my words. "Okay, theology may not have been the right word. What I mean to say is, you have contention and conflict in place. You have problems. So, you are sent off to a conference to learn how to minimize and eventually eliminate these problems and contentions. Only, what they tell you...is that that entire system you have in place...is the thing at fault. The contention has only been moved. It used to be, the grief came from having to respond to that 2 a.m. call to fix something you don't know the first thing about fixing. If you are good at what you do, you hit it hard and figure it out. But by saying that these are all processes that will eliminate this by specific definition...it just seems like you've added layers and layers to the fix."
Rupert seems to want to take me on: "So, you throw resources at fixing things. I can see the cognition required in that. But aren't you foregoing a metacognition?"
"I think that's where I went astray and said theological. It runs parallel to the way so many people look at the world. Yes, it's a noble effort. But for every little problem you fix, you don't have to worry about that problem anymore. Buying into a process that assumes it can keep problems from happening...doesn't that seem a little weird to you? Think about it. It broke because you didn't do it right in the first place. Instead, we're going to have you design something a thousand times more complex, but based on the true and eternal and double-checked authenticity of our requirements, you won't have to fix a broken thing. Even though your coding was shown fallible in the first place."
This gets a laugh from the table, and Rupert speaks up for the group: "Well, I see where you're going with that, but that's the direction the industry is headed. Smarter design. Better requirements. More tracking of the workflow. This seems to be a personal problem for you."
And even after making these people laugh, he feels like he's had this moment. He's getting further and further from them. They only want their CMDB, and that's understandable. They want the technical resolution to a problem; this was probably the only action item they were given for attending the conference. Do they know how many steps it takes to figuring out what they want in their CMDB? No - they probably are focused only on the number of platforms they have, and the degree of granularity they need to report on failure. "You are making this unnecessarily complex," he tells them. "But I wish you the best. I hope, after working your fifty hour weeks, you are still passionate enough to deliver what has been asked of you. In your spare time, y'know."
Rupert had been sitting next to him, and his body language tells it all. It made a shift, so that he would have to look over his shoulder to him: "I don't know the situation where you're at. Just let us move forward - I think we've heard enough from you. Some of us see how there can be a gain or value in this."
He thinks about his atheism. How much bearing it can have on this. But he shakes it off; it is just a matter of his interests being distant from the interests of the conference. He stands up from the table. "I think you're right, there's nothing I can say to help you out in this. It's true; I might be a little exhausted and jaded at it all. I'm sorry for wasting your time - sometimes I look away from the immediate problem, at the big picture and the architecture of it all...and I'm overcome with a sense of futility. Again: I could see the value if I were throwing together an I.T. shop tomorrow. As for resolving all of these processes in an organization for where the current processes are working effectively...let's throw a number at it...let's say they are 95% effective...I guess I don't see the return. I'm caught in a situation where I'm asked to improve something nearly perfect...and you can't understand how frustrating that is." He steps back, and returns his chair to the table. There are several moderators dividing their attention across several tables, and the one nearest walks over to them.
"Is everything all right here? How is it coming along?" Along with the badge he has a whistle around his neck.
He feels like all the eyes are on him to answer. He made a commitment when he stood up. He tries to be funny: "Please don't blow your whistle. I was just leaving. And you know what? I'm going to leave, I'll order your library of books later this week, but I'm going to leave and I'm going to charge where I work as though I were here the entire time. Yeah, that's what I'm going to do. From a cursory look, what you are selling is logic couched in technological terms that any individual in the eightieth percentile...and I'm guessing we're all there or higher? Could have determined on their own." He looks to his table, but no one is making eye contact with him.
"Okay, we do get the occasional response like this. And you're welcome to leave. It's not like we're going to tell on you. If you can come up with a solution to your problems on your own...well, share it with us!" The man tells him he's not going to tell, but he was twisting the whistle in his fingers from the moment he arrived at the table. "You know where to find us! There's a process for improving the process..."
He's not sure why he hasn't bolted. "I feel like I let my little group down. I'm sorry, you guys. I hope you implement this, I hope that even though you are the ground force in your corporation, you somehow get your leadership converted and backing you. I hope you can chisel out a bit of market share with this. Since none of you are in direct competition with me..." And he finally breaks into a smile. "It's funny, there's a personal investment too. Our lives, our careers...I guess I just want to say, think about picking your battles." And he turned to leave. Finally.
The complex was located deep in a suburb. As he left the building, he looked to his car. Really, this is a nice place. It is so quiet, except for the children laughing. Which isn't a bad sound. You can learn to live with that sound.
He walked the far stretch of the parking lot to his car, parked on the outskirts. Before he realized he would be trapped inside for lunch, he had parked his car as far from the building as he possibly could, thinking it would be nice place to eat. The nose of his car abutted a chain-link fence, and beyond was a small public park: benches, pond and monkey bars. Several children were playing on the other side, as two mothers sat on the bench talking to one another.
He flung away his backpack, setting it on the hood of his car. He sunk his fingers into the chain link and climbed all ten feet of the fence. He was haphazard about his dismount, and once over he just let himself fall into a roll. The ladies’ heads turned.
"Hey. Hi. I got out of my seminar early." He told them as he stood and straightened himself. He brushed some dirt from his legs. "It didn't go well. I think I wasn't into what they were saying." His mind was lit up and racing: he knew there was no way that these women didn't see him as a threat at worst, or the most eccentric man they've met, at least. He still had his badge. He had just climbed a fence in a $500 pair of Salvatore shoes. He was tucked in, professional-looking, and had just fallen ten feet out of the air. One of the ladies looked to his right, and his eyes followed: there was a break in the fence designed to allow sane people access.
"No, really, don't worry about it. I'm Jan. This is Meg. We bring the kids here every day during the week."
"Oh, nice to meet you. My name is Dean. Dean Marlowe. The boy on the monkey bars. What's his name?" Meg speaks up - "That's Jed. He didn't do anything, did he?" And he tells her no. "Nothing at all. You'll be watching, you don't mind if I talk to him do you?" Meg looks to Jan, then back to him: "Umm, sure. Do you mind if I ask why?"
And he's already stumbling forward. "There's just something I learned today. I learned something, and I want to share it with someone. A kid. I think a kid is the only person who could understand." And he could sense their concern, but he dragged one foot after the other forward. Meg and Jan fell away from his consciousness.
"Hi." Jed was focused on not breaking a bone. He was a quarter of the way mounting a rainbow shaped arch of monkey bars. "Did my mom send you over?"
"Oh, no!" He replied. "I'm just a friend. So you come here for fun every day?"
Jed saw that this was going to be some talking. Talking he hadn't planned for. He rest the front of his body over the bars and turned his head to this new man. "Almost every day. Some days I have Soccer. And I go back to school soon. My dad is teaching me multipication, he got me a book."
"Pluh. Mulipluh - cation. How old are you?"
He takes one hand away to count: one two three four five. "I'm six!" But he didn't take away the other hand. He laughed a little inside at how the boy was almost completely vertical, but was smart enough to not give up his grip entirely. "So you're six and you are multiplying things...that's pretty good!"
And the boy went on: "I'm smarter than the other kids. My mom and dad tell me so. And I have violin. I have violin and soccer and school." "That's quite a schedule!" But already he feels his heart breaking; whatever he wanted to say to the boy is falling away from the front of his mind. But he asks it. He thinks it is the question to get the ball rolling: "So what do you do for fun?"
"Fun? I don't know. My dad likes soccer. My mom likes the violin."
"But what do you like to do?" He's given up on giving advice. The boy is putting up a challenge he is not ready for. What did he want to do? He wanted to shake this little boy, probably draw the attention of the cop he sees from the corner of his eye: shake this boy, and tell him not to ever grow up. Don't believe in what adults tell you, and when you get older, don't trust the things you put in the place, to replace - all the things the adults tell you. He realized he didn't go into this with a plan. He switched gears. He just listened.
"I like to play on the bars. I like coming here. I'm almost to the top."
"Well then, let me leave you alone. You look like you're doing a great job." And the boy beamed at him, and it was a consolation that warmed his heart. "What's the highest you've gone?" And the boy tells him - "I've gone one, two, three, four."
"Do you know what they are? Four what?" And the boy just tells him "Four of them". He tells the boy, "It's four rungs. Each one is a rung. One rung. You've made it up four, and you've made it four rungs. Do you want to try for five?" And the boy looks away and matches four to five, because multiplication is something he only does in a controlled environment: with his father looking over his shoulder. "Yeah!"
He says it with an enthusiasm. An enthusiasm that makes him feel like today was worth it.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
It was a warmth he needed - to be among people. He didn't really get these people or understand them. Theirs was an inpenetrable world. They were all inpenetrable worlds! For too long, he'd interred a self-assurance that he needed nothing but his own wit and will. For too long, he ignored the life line and soft place - the woman he thought would always be there - and never made the connection that his confidence, security, bravery and risk-taking relied so much outside his wit and will: it relied so much on his knowing, deep down, that he would be loved at the end of the day. That she would be the warm body he lay next to at night and reassure him that if nothing else, he was not alone. When she changed; when she was able to relocate so readily, she took his foundation with her. So he just wanted to be among people. Being alone brought him to look at his mistake. Occasionally, he would try and see it for what it is: long in the tooth, friendless and alone, a shell of a man moving forward with the momentum of a bad habit and the occasional relief of a deep sleep. But he didn't want to accept it.
So he tried to be with people. Even if he didn't understand them.
He tried too hard. They knew he tried too hard, and they hated him for it.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
She gushed with loads of compliments about how healthy I'm looking: it was nice to hear! I've been conscious over the past few weeks over how bloated I got over several months of drinking and hanging out in bars...perhaps my week of vegetarianism is paying dividends. I haven't made any diet declarations yet, and I'm definitely not eating healthy per se; for now I'm just going to ride the no-meat eating and see where it takes me.
The pic is from Hawaii, a year ago. One of my favorites for the eye contact.
You couldn't have asked for better weather. Michelle and I recited an affirmation to each other: "We aren't going to let ourselves be bothered by the crowds. We aren't going to get pissed off when people are talking over the music; we're going to communicate this to each other and move to a better spot. There are things worse than having the backpack of the person in front of you shoved into your chest." And a few others; we traded them back and forth as we walked to Mercer and made the turn under 99. This was new to both of us; neither of us had been onsite from doors open to doors close.
It had been about ten years since I last saw Robyn Hitchcock. Last time I did, he was headlining Bumbershoot at the old Coliseum. It was a bit strange when he encouraged, from the stage, the crowd imagining a large blade sweeping across the Coliseum and beheading everyone on the floor. Then right into "Balloon Man". This time we would be seeing him in the Opera House; Tuatura was opening. I talked him up a great deal to Michelle.
Michelle at the time was going to massage school - she was into any music that could relax and not compromise her alternative leanings. So Tuatura was a perfect fit. Since everyone was politely sitting at the noon hour, there were no contentious backpacks. Being in the aesthetically lit Opera House while the sun is at its zenith...that's a bit weird, though.
Tuatura was a revolving door of musicians and feast of ambient sounds. Their first album remains a fave to this day. When Robyn came on, he was joined on stage by members of Tuatura (Scott Mccoi! Peter Buck!) before I really understood the incestuous relationships and inner band workings of all these local musicians. I beamed when Michelle approved of Robyn.
We migrated to the main staage to catch David Byrne. Neither of us had big expectations; it was an opportunity to sit in the stands and relax for a couple hours. We were treated to a great set. I think it was special since Mr. Bryne has been performing solo long enough to where he just decided - fuck it - I'm going to do Talking Heads songs. It's a festival, after all. There's a mix of frustration and respect when you follow a lead singer beyond their own band and a desire to re-create your own virginity manifests in leaving the history that everyone knows you for, in the dust. On this occasion, David Bryne came out on stage wearing the oversized suit - this time in hot pink - and all intentions were clear. It was a huge, unexpected, pleasant surprise.
After that it was into the familiar. We caught Kristen Hersh at the westernmost stage. Well, most of it. It was effing hot, I'd forgotten my sunscreen, and we were exposed. Mind you, this precedes the genius of Sunnyborder Blue. Kristen was very finicky about getting her guitar in the right tuning while the crowd baked. We saw some friends of ours, said hi, but only made it through half the set. It's a little weird to fall short of a fanaticism in retrospect: I've learned every song I possibly can, of Kristen's or the Throwing Muses, on the guitar.
It's even weirder to look at all the acts we missed. Michelle and I thought we were making a tremendous effort as we went off-site to get dinner, but these are some of the acts we would miss this weekend: Beck, Goodness, Sonic Youth, Tenacious D (1997? For Real??), David Cross (though I would stand behind him at a New Pornographer's show a couple years later), Foo Fighters (meh.), Margaret Cho (yes!), Sleater-Kinney (A band I would become very passionate about around the same time they call it quits: I saw them only once), Tom Robbins (O. M. G.). But getting off-site was part of our plan. We wanted to regroup, we wanted a quiet space away from the food vendors where I could whip out my syringe and take my shot inconspicuously. A little reinforcement, for the final round.
Which we had plans and backup plans for: Beck. Failing that, Cake. We saw neither.
We hooked up with some friends from the massage schood who were gushng over El Vez. They were insistent we join. We talked it over and were easy with it: Beck was going to be chaos (in retrospect, I think there were casualties) and we admitted to each other that Cake was always going to be a sad alternative anyways.
Michelle and I saw one of the best shows we had ever seen. El Vez - and the El-Vettes-brought the magic. The revue was an uptempo rollercoaster from start to finish, with great music and overacted drama and a general lifting: sometimes music takes you out of everything you're familiar with and drops you in an unfamiliar place. This was one of those moments. We walked away converts, with no regrets over the shows we didn't attend...
...and that was the last show of the night. We raved to each other as we walked the mile back to our home. We had a slight advantage, getting out before Beck was finishing his set on the main stage. And you might be wondering: okay, a nice day of shows. Four, if you are keeping count. You've been to probably over two hundred shows - and this day is more memorable than any other? Even though you go to Bumbershoot every year and could write a short piece for any one of them? How about the time you saw John Wesley Harding for the first time...or the Minus 5? How about the Wilco / Shins set? Or R.E.M.? Certainly seeing Isaac Hayes or Elvis Costello in the Arena had to amount to something? Or the time you were there late for Kristen Hersh, and went into insulin shock? Or the first time you went to Bumbershoot without Michelle - and even though you went on a life-threatening ride with a beautiful new woman, you had to go home and cry because nothing seemed right to you anymore. Any of it could just as well suit.
Well, we walked home, ranting and ragging over El Vez. We made the trek up Dexter, we thudded the soft steps up to our second floor apartment, and dropped like bags of potatoes onto the futon chair. And we turned on the television.
As we flipped through channels - different shots of a wreckage near a tunnel - we were like archaeologists unearthing a new grief. Princess Di was dead. A skepticism kicks in - sometimes healthy, sometimes conspiratorial - but this is what the television was telling us. Princess Di was dead because her driver was outracing the paparazzi. A stupid reason. But undeniable in it's efficacy. You have a moment where you sum up what this person means to you - nothing , really - but the moment where you sum up what it means to the world quickly follows. And you are submerged in empathy. A saddening empathy that makes you want to kick down your neighbor's door and ask them if they've heard the news.
Michelle and I were pretty much dead to the world when the news hit; all a sudden we are on our feet and pacing as though this mattered to us. As though it could impact us. We kept the television on for a short time...it didn't take long to ascertain that the news was repeating itself...and decided to roll into bed half-shellshocked. We had woken up that day with an ambitious plan of action; we went to sleep bereft of any sense of accomplishing it.
Low's 4 previous efforts set a Mendoza Line for slowcore, making this album a pleasanlty jarring surprise. Not like there was anything wrong with their previous work: they had defined a niche, they created a texture...they owned being sober at 2 a.m. in the morning. Things We Lost in the Fire is like a patient coming out of a coma; coming into life. Where their previous efforts created texture, this album created movement.
Also, Fire is not as jarring a transition as say, the later Great Destroyer - another title that shows it's cards. With Fire, Low conceded very little in their approach - still being very dour and deliberate - but incorporated lush arrangements, warm and familiar chord changes, and the occasional latent rock hook. Instead of relying heavily on vocal textures, a studied approach to the emotionally evocative lyric is utilized; instead of a single sound pattern, a pastiche of style is brought to the fore. This is Low maturing in a single bound, breaking into new territory.
The album embarks with "Sunflower": if you are a first-time listener, you are gauging whether this is the most depressing thing you've ever heard. If you've already plunged into Long Division - you're accusing another band - not Low - of copping Alan & Mimi's impeccable harmony and name and laying it over a melodic track. But that's transition. It sets the tone for the album...sparse guitar work and plodding - sometimes delicately brushing - drum strokes. "Whitetail" sprawls into Low's past and future, with hanging vocals and foreboding musical accompanyment.
But Low delves into a sluggish pop sound with "Dinosaur Act" - a song that invokes the Pixies' Loud/Quiet/Loud formula - and an indication that the band is shedding itself of a resistence to music more accessible to the unsuspecting world. This is even moreso evident on "July", a song that announces itself with a hypnotic and apocalypctic beat - moving through different measures and contexts and leaving the listener with the reminscent lines -
They'll Never Wake Us In Time
They'll Never Wake Us In Time
To be followed by Mimi & Alan's la-la's and month-calling (August, September, October) to the outro strings. "July", along with "Embrace", create a centerpiece to the album: the latter bears forward with a drum pulse as Mimi's vocals lilt and and hang until the song builds to a head. The lyrics imply a tragedy the listener can only guess at.
The second half of the album finds Low flirting with catchy harmonies / arpeggios as they delve into "Whore":
What is the whore you're living for
Is it so wrong to think there's more
There's always one worth waiting for
What is the whore you're living for?
It is a beautiful, melodic, pretty song - with a serious message - and an evil realization: "You want to speak like angels / but you can't." It comfortably moves into "Kind of Girl" - showcasing their easy harmony over folk guitar - before aspiring to the affected pop of "Like A Forest". Relying on a lyrical hook and foregoing musical complexity, this song is a pleasant reminisence: "Goes off in my hands" resounds and resounds.
"Closer" is familar territory, with Mimi and Alan's harmony in-sync and transcendent over the music. "In Metal" ends the album with a preview of Low's future: by relation it is a driving stride and rumble that addresses the precious & fleeting transience of raising a child.
Things We Lost in the Fire is not so much a challenging album as it is an album that might easily go by unappreciated in a year bringing forth a lot of great efforts. It isn't designed to shock or awe, but it finds a quiet strengh in melody and informed lyrics. It separates itself in its uniqueness; a uniqueness that is sublime. Really: if you already own it, give it another listen. If you have no clue about Low: check it out.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
There are two explanations for this: for one, I'm a dude, and dudes shower (unless you are The Dude - and how did taking a bath work out for him? That's right, a ferret gnawing at his 'nads). And the other: in nine years I haven't razed the bathroom to the ground and made it breathtakingly bath taking-worthy.
The “head” is pretty sad. It is the gateway between the master bedroom and the rest of the house, because there was no way to add on to the majestic, original, six hundred square feet while thinking in horizontal confines. This means there are 2 doors: that's a big limit for such a small space. If you happen to be sitting on the toilet, you have a sink in your face. If you are aiming for the toilet, and you have broad he-man sized shoulders like me - you are contorting into an asymmetrical caricature of you in full; if you are hitting anything other than the right side of the bowl you are accomplishing an Olympic feat.
And then there's the tub.
It is an old fashioned, claw-foot tub. Or so I suppose. I haven't removed the sheets of fiberglass in which it is ensconced to really check it out. This is one thing I've learned as a homeowner: tearing things down is an easy commitment to a project that takes months to complete...months that your real full-time job doesn't have the dreamy idealism to humor.
So it is a real tub, kept in place with glitter-speckled white laminate sheeting and black, eroding caulking. Definitely something that you don't want to relax in; not in a prone position. Also: I haven't cleaned it since the ex left. The boys might understand: dude.
But I was having an overwhelmingly taxing day at work today. The kind where you lose your focus, and the only relief is to be anywhere but being at work. I took a couple ibuprofen, and that didn't work. I took a nap in the "short term parking" room, and I still wasn't sated. To add to my troubles, I knew I'd be working from 2100 - 0100 tonight from home. Home was not looking like the relief I was looking for.
And I'm not sure how it came to me, but I got stuck on this thought: I'm going to go home. I'm going to draw a bath. I'm going to finally take a bath in my home.
It hounded me to the end of the work day. I took off at 14:30, was home by 15:45, and set to work on making my tub something I didn't fear. Armed with Mr. Clean's Magic Eraser (MADE IN GERMANY; Ingredients: "contains no phosphate" (wtf?)), and another, less questionably toxic bathroom cleaner, I scrubbed the tub down to its drain. It was a process, one that reminded me why I don't do bathrooms.
That took an hour, enough time for other complications to arise: Where did the bath salts go? I swore I had a drain plug, where the fuck is it? It's the afternoon, why am I getting no water pressure? But I tracked down the former, found the second after much searching, and had enough time to endure the latter (though the bath faucet - rarely used - never transcended groundswell brown to a crystal brilliantine).
I've never treated myself to a lavender-salt bath. And I like to think of myself as pretty metro. After taking another 45 minutes to fill the bathtub, this is what I had on my hands:
Not pretty. But I don't intend to have my eyes open for long. While waiting for the tub to fill, I set up a tiny boom box CD player and selectively selected Lindsey Buckingham's most recent album to zone out to; I also laughingly turned a smartass remark my father once made about my more leisurely obsessions into a half-assed haiku:
There he goes my son
He who loves soap and candles
So proud he's my son
And I slip in. The salts feel like I'm bathing in champagne and I double the dosage (it burns a little, but I probably shouldn't have dumped it on my stomach)...and the hours I took to get here are magically erased (TM). I have one bad moment when I realize that whoever designed this tub, designed it with the water escape too low. I cover it with one foot, a small sacrifice.
Look at that. I let them go and rest, and my arms are floating. I'm floating in my own home. Nine years, and I'm only floating in my home now.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Death of a Salesman
So I took my guitar
And I threw down some chords
And some words I could sing
And I soon had a song
I played it around
For some friends
But they all said the same
They said music's for fools
You should go back to school
The future is prisons
So I did what they said
Now my children are fed
'Cause they pay me to do
What I'm asked
I forgot all my songs
The words now are wrong
And I burned my guitar
In a rage
But the fire came to rest
In your white velvet breast
I just know
That it's safe
A nice little acoustic number I think a lot of people who have given up on music can relate to. I had it in a collection of songs I was going to burn for someone, along with Trouble by Kristen Hersh, It's Different for Girls by Joe Jackson, Out of Reaches by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks (the centre piece), Full Moon in My Soul by Robyn Hitchcock, Humble Bee by John Wesley Harding. And a half dozen others. But really, burning a CD of songs is kind of cliche; I deleted the collection.
Monday, June 9, 2008
10/07/1970 - 10/08/1983: 13 years and a day: Because I'm a child and I shouldn't be thinking about work.
09/13/1993 - 09/15/1993: I was working at a temp agency, but had so much faith I would get hired on permanent at the now defunct Aldus. In my last week of hoping, I hear Aldus has been bought up by Adobe. I do not have a backup plan. Too lazy too look for a real job, I end up in a tanning salon.
02/21/2002 - 10/02/2005: I quit my professional job with indignation (though I hang around for about a month from my given notice). I spend a year finishing and starting house projects, I begin drinking (late bloomer), apply for about a thousand jobs in this time (who quits a job in the middle of a technology bust?), go to school to get a k-8 Education Degree, realize I love kids but most of my colleagues are christers - and I have difficulty resolving a teacher's salary with maintaining a house mortgage in heavenly West Seattle; I end up back where I was when I left. Gratefully.
In that time, I've worked at a roller-rink, been a restaurant dishwasher (for five hours), sold photo-sitting packages over the phone (for a week, tallying up a single sale), unimaginatively transitioned to telephone surveys (they rarely checked for the existence of respondents on the surveys, and they paid on commission - so I made over twenty bucks an hour), had steady work out on my own doing field maintenance for a local drug company, worked at a temp agency (everything from moving furniture to processing mail orders), the aforementioned tanning salon (the glory days of high-pressure, bait-and-catch sales of tanning packages: a racket that I couldn't ingest enough cocaine to perfect). And the rest is Information Technology, a vague term I hate validating. I tell people I work with computers; they tell me their internet keeps crashing, and I tell them I don't really do that kind of working with computers.
The coolest job? Roller-rink. Like there could be any doubt.
Child labor laws were pushed to their extreme so I could start work the day after I turned thirteen. In retrospect - I was paid under the table for several years - the laws may have been compromised a lot. The person who hired me based on my dancing skills (The March, The Fox-Trot, The Waltz, The Tango) is no longer living with us, and I'm guessing there is a statute of limitations that stops at the grave. I spent the first year as a floor guard - blowing a whistle to let you know you're going too fast, putting you on the bench if I have to blow my whistle twice. Little thirteen-old me, local rules enforcer and an early taste of my own pretend importance.
Southgate Roller Rink was a family owned business, and I felt a part of the extended family as much as the rink nurtured me as a second home. Dorothy was a gracious and kind employer. Her daughter was my dance instructor. Her son-in-law was second to my father as an authority figure, though in an employer role, he played at being impossible to impress. The older floorgaurd was like a hero to me: imagine Tom Cruise's charisma before it expired into crazy, and you'd have Steve. Working in the snack bar, there was Marge - who had been my Sunday School teacher, and Terry - my first gay pal. Terry would eventually leave and was replaced by my dance partner, Lisa. It was a tight little community.
And I was a bit of a red-headed stepchild. I was goofy, irresponsible, easily distracted: from day one, my focus was on the attention I received for being a floor guard and not necessarily the fulfillment of the responsibilities thereof. I would spend my time flirting with several girls - oblivious to a kid bleeding a bloody nose all over the skating surface. I didn't see playing the music as a responsibility, unless there was a responsibility to bring more Siouxsie or the Cure or the Dead Kennedys to the rink environment. I was an attention whore, and Les - the father figure & senior-senior floorgaurd, let it be known that he saw me as such. When I shaved my long hair down to my skull, my mother asked him what he thought of it. "We try not to give ben the attention he seems to crave" was all he said. A policy of containment.
It's a little weird in retrospect: I had this at such a young age, something that a lot of people want all their life: to be center stage, to hold people's attention, to be adored in spite of myself. To be an exception, to be able to get away with things you shouldn't, to be special. After only working at the rink for a couple years, I could feel it's lack of permanence as people I knew stopped coming to the rink...you know, growing up and into their own interests...finding myself feeling a little too old for my environment but not wanting to let go of it. It remained my full time job through high school. I was there long enough to mature into engaging the responsible aspects of what I was doing, and become increasingly conscious of the self-humoring & self-parody required to be an attention whore with staying power.
I may have stayed a little too long. Late on a Friday night in my final summer, when I was seventeen and knew I wouldn't be coming back in the fall, an excited child rolled and fumbled up to me - pointing to the emergency exit.
"I just saw someone go out the back door with a bunch of skates!"
Now who would want to steal a bunch of roller skates? I investigated the long hallway beyond the emergency exit that lets out onto 16th avenue behind the rink. I opened the door and looked northwards towards the bars, southwards towards the adult book stores. The hindside of the Roller Rink was a much more adult world, and it wasn't uncommon for young people to get dumped off at the rink so a parent could have themselves their own good time. But I don't see anyone with an armload of skates, and I ask the kid if that's really what he saw, and he insists on it.
I skate to the front door and I tell Dorothy; I'm equally insistent on checking it out. Of course I tell her that it's some kid that took the skates - there's no way she would let me go if she thought otherwise. White Center has gotten palpably more violent in the last several years - even the roller rink has a couple of police cars that show up as the sessions end on Friday and Saturday nights. But I love adventure when I sense it, and with her permission I motor down the ramp to street level.
I decide I'll just roll around the block and make a looksee. Chances are, they're long gone. But it is night and night is intoxicating to a seventeen year old adolescent...this is an excuse to roll into bars and ask 'have you seen anyone making off with a pair of our rentals?' I get to traverse a new territory to lay down my authority as a 120 lb. bounty hunter.
I cut through the parking lot of Bea's Pancake House, the last family-friendly post before hitting White Center's seedier boulevard of porn shops, bike shops and bars. There are a couple of made-up girls unlocking a dodge dart - typhoon and feathered hair, tight acid-wash jeans and suede stilettoed boots - and I ask them if they've seen anyone running around with a pair of rental skates - you know, black or white booted, orange wheels? And I'm sheepish about it; I can already feel the dismissiveness & condescension I've come to expect from girls a couple years older than me entitled by their own fake licenses.
"No, nobody with skates." And I thank them, and as I skate away I'm craning my head back at one of them, as she bends over to retrieve something from the back seat of the car. I'm not ready as I slowly turn to look where I'm going.
A man. A solid, balding man. He's juking to the left, to the right, like some spastic ape. I register this much when he's five feet and closing; I'm not ready for his roundhouse fist to the right side of my head.
And I'm looking up from off the ground. I think I remember seeing the sky, and one of my legs making a prohibitive sign across it as all my wheels turned against me. And the pain in the side of my head, and the pain in my back and another pain in the back of my head where it hit the concrete. The side of my head is the least of it. I am sore everywhere, and I'm feeling it as I get on my feet.
He's attacking the girls. No, he's pushing them aside. He shoves one of them away from the car, and she makes a dozen tiny skirting little steps in her heels to keep from falling down. She yells 'Asshole' after him as he is slamming the car door shut. The driver side window is down and I can see him now: probably in his forties, the broken face of a hard drinker, more fat than athletic. What you would expect to find in a White Center bar; and he yells out the window: "Bitch, trying to steal my car, bitch!" And he is still yelling out the window as he slams on the gas, tires screaming, and he winds out of the lot and into the street and away.
The girls take off running as fast as their jeans let them; I am on my feet now and I follow their rapid little clicking heels. They turn into the first bar right as I catch up to them, and I ask them what the hell was that? I have my palm to my head like it's the only thing holding it together. In my mind they are guilty. They are a couple of hot chicks that got a guy drunk and got his car keys, and their running off without checking on the guy that took the punch plays into my indictment. "That was my car! That was my car! That fucker stole our car!" and they forget about me quickly; one asks the other "God, what am I going to do?"
They are on the inside of the tavern's door; I'm on the outside; this seems to be a good time to give up. I tell them I'm at the roller rink if they hear anything. I tell them I was punched. Just in case they didn't notice. And she turns to her friend: "my mom is going to kill me". And my last words to them- "I'm pretty sure I'll be okay." evoke an angry eyeroll. I shut the door to them.
And I skate very slowly back to the rink. I'm not sure I like this new environment. I'm used to being the authority figure looking down, not looking up. I've stepped well far out of my jurisdiction tonight. In my contained world, I have all the information I need and in a small way, what I say, goes. Out here, telling who is right and who is wrong is a lot more complicated. And much less final. And what I think doesn't really amount to much in other people's drama. And so on. I am skating alone back to the rink, and there is no one to hear my complaint.
I am uninjured, and I get as much attention out of this as I can. I tell my story so Les will wish he got punched in the head himself. And I bask in it. At the end of the night, midnight, an inventory reveals that no skates were taken.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
The Beast: First paragraph about my ex, sitting about with no intent to blog in my head. It took a weird turn. An awkward night at a bar pissed me off enough to write, and I finished it barely able to sit up. I tried to maintain a faithfulness to it being about the ex while being pissed at another. 100% true.
Image One: 100% True.
The Dynamic: 12% True. My first attempt at not creating a cry for help.
Recognition: 100% True. Because writing the previous entry was not smooth...
She Moved Through the Fair: 60% True. The Ex was sitting by my side the whole time. And I didn't lose my wallet.
Project Management: Is an ill-conceived piece of crap.
The Giving Tree: 97% True. My grandfather and I are men, so there was not nearly as much talking. Plus we were both chewing tobacco, something I chose to leave out.
Easter Notes: That shit is 100% true.
September Fourth: 100% true. And I'm about 25% over it.
The Opposite of Murder: The first thing I wrote that I have a good feeling about. It ends positively. I'll call it 30% true, since I've been attacked by crows on several occasions and feel like we don't have a healthy relationship...and saving the bird really did happen.
Litter Box: 99% true. I doubt my neighbor was checking me out. This one, and a subsequent post, were vital to me. The diabetes, and my inability to be responsible about it 24x7, 365 days a year, has led to some very frightening moments.
Social Skills: 4% true. But don't I wish it were more 'n that? I get all artsy-like, transitioning from a cumbersome, inept, sentence structuring - to end in a frenetic speed. It was the first time I surprised myself with what I wrote, and it was like sinking a putt on the 18th green after a shitty day of golf; the thing that brings you back for more.
Merging: another from the diabetes monologues, and 100% true.
Progressing: 100% untrue. Mostly, I was loving the style of writing I was engaging with the ending paragraph of Social Skills. Extempore.
The Wastelands: About a person, and I guess it's 100% true. I feel like I'm edging towards something more like prose, and the percentages get a little sketchy when I do...also, the stupidest title I employ.
HI: 100% true.
Leave the Kitten Alone!: 100% true, and really: don't fuck with the cat, ever.
Deconstructo: I felt like I did such a fun job blurring the line between fiction and reality with Social Skills, I decided on a sequel. After all, I've already committed a fuck fantasy to word about a girl I will eventually meet; I thought it would be fun to write how she figures it all out when we do for real. Then I decided to get cute and make it the same number of words as the first, and that was just silly. There will probably be a third, against all better judgment...mostly because Bree and I walked by her one day. There's something about having 2 worlds that don't jive making this tangential brush. I'll call it 15% true - everything about my sleep deprivation at the time, anyways...
Fragments: 0% true, and based on the title: negligible.
Mother's Day: 100% true, more or less.
Untitled I: 0 % true. I want to do more of this nonsense fable stuff.
Dreams Conjured: 100% true. But they are dreams, after all.
On Meditation: Commentary, something I don't usually do. First off, I'm not well-travelled or well-educated; I don't have the authority for it. I just finished Hitchen's God is Not Great, and it gave me an appreciation for how even television pundits are miles ahead of my outlook on things. I think I only wrote this because I was too lazy to finish my own Atheism in an Age of Irreverence which would have been (un)read and (un)appreciated by only one person I know.
SIFF Notes: 100% True. But note how wordy I'm getting.
Her Interior: Again, 100% true with the 'prose' caveat. Although - I love this little piece, and I've re-read it myself a couple-dozen times.
Yetrigar & The Getty's Cove Redress are both 100% true. Really, just travel logs from the Sasquatch trip.
I've Been Thinking About It...: 50% true. I was having a bad week at work with the ex, who was spending all day in a conference room 30 feet from me. At one point she surprised me at my desk, which I was not ready for...and we spent a half hour talking. I wrote this when the thought crossed my mind: what if she suggested getting back together? And the rest is true, though an immature impulsiveness is honest and evident. I felt a little weird about this one, especially when someone wanted to make sure it wasn't true - qualifying it with a 'you don't smoke, right?'
manna for manny: 6% true. I walked by this person downtown and wanted to see if I could write about him. I walked a block to 4th & Pine, headphones on and struggling to get my notebook out in mid-stride. I finally whipped it out, and 2 condoms flew out of my bag and into the air as I did so. There is nothing more humbling than picking up your rubbers (from off one of the dirtier corners in town) amongst a half dozen homeless, adolescent tweakers.
Casanova: When I finish this monster, it will be 25% true. I mean, it takes place in the 50's, a place I wasn't exactly at. It might be my first real short story.
I Get Punched in the Head: 100% True, but one would think I've been punched in the head more than once. Perhaps the fact that it only happened once makes it worth writing about.
There it is. I'm hoping it's a positive promise of things to come. As I wrote this, I kept thinking of any number of music band's greatest hits collections, and how things tend to go downhill after they indulge a retrospective. I guess I have obsurity going for me. I'm trying to think of these as my singles: nobody cared, but I passionately petitioned.
Monday, June 2, 2008
- Lucky bum. I saw them first. Didn't think they were for us.
- You just ask. You just pick em up, ask the nice lady if they're for the taking. Coulda been yours.
- Well I didn't and they ain't. It wasn't meant to be.
- Shit. Manny's probably not going to talk to us anymore. Are you Manny?
Though he was being asked in jest, an answer was requiring serious thought. "It's just clothes. You birds got to lay off. And pay better attention next time." He gets out of it without a technical lie, though he cannot avoid feeling beatific saying the words. Its the threads, acting on him and giving him a renewed authority. His words seem denser than those around him.
Feeling like a leader is something he's missed for years. Like when he headed up that maintenance crew in Georgetown. It was subsidiary to an extensive temporary hiring service - they handled all the paperwork and financial ends at central; he was supervisor over a dozen men and three large trucks. It was the perfect gig. He wasn't responsible for drumming up the contracts. They would be floated to him each week at the Bellevue office (the boys were under the impression he had several afternoon meetings there each week). So there was a lot of autonomy and nobody looking over his shoulder. He knew when to let the atmosphere in the shop get a little loose - let the guys have their fun - and he recognized when he had to motivate them: "Lookit how slow Stan's priming that molding - looks like he doesn't mind keeping the rest of you here late. Guys don't forget to thank Stan..." A great gig, being the big man holding sway. It seemed a little too good to be true, and eventually was. The end came quickly when the temp firm consolidated their services and eliminated most of the subcontracting they were providing, and there was nothing Manny could do as the last jobs expired over the course of a month. He regretfully left behind the only office he had in his life - a single window-enclosed office in a vast workshop, stinking of marijuana and male body odor.
And then there were a couple of bad years. He's heard enough from other people how he's responsible for it. He lives every day being accountable for it.
- Okay, everyone's in. Light's Out!
- Nite Nite, Ladies...
The Christ Church of the Nazarene opened it's basement to thirty of them last week. It's shelter, but it's in the berbs. Because it's in the berbs, there's a lot of rules...but also, there's a lot of discipline. He finds that this helps. He's not waking up to his demons each morning. He's not stepping out and dealing with the ghosts he's trying to escape: bums who never found a place to stay the previous night, still stinking of booze. He appreciates this new gig.
He leaves his job each evening - a certified seller of Spare Change News - to board the bus to Ballard. There's always twelve of them, and he can feel it immediately: they aren't welcome, they stick out like a sore thumb. He's gotten beyond being angry at this. Even though there's nothing wrong with them - none of them are drunk and none of them have had a drink all day, all of them have jobs to go to - but the people who are going to their homes see them as some invading threat, some intrusion, some undefinable devalue on their personal lives and assets. He saw the flyer that went to all the houses around the neighborhood. Basically, the church announced that they were putting a group of homeless up for the night, they were expected to be in by ten, they had subsidized bus trips in and out of Ballard: they were only there to sleep. And here's who to contact if you have a problem with it.
After staying a week, Gus called the number to lodge a complaint about himself: "Yeah, yellow raincoat and long beard. Red Beard. He made some not right comments to my daughter. Stank of booze." They had a good laugh when Gus was making the call, and were ready to erupt with it when Gus got called out. But nobody ever said anything to them or Gus, and the punchline for the practical joke just hung silent in the air. Even when posturing with a threat, the smallest indulgence would not be humored. It made them feel small and insignificant.
Manny put the same threads on each day, the same threads that made the others envious - and filled him with a sense of pride. It was a complete suit of wool. A dress shirt wasn't too hard to find. And a dark wool overcoat. For the completely destitute, it was envied for its warmth. For the recovered and newly competitive, it was envied because he simply outdressed the bunch. Since he lucked out acquiring it at the last drive, the suit had changed him. Sort of upped expectations. He began shaving every day. They had Brill Creme at the Nazarene, and he would slick his black hair back with it. As they set out upon their day, he would sheepishly tell the others: "I've had to sleep with you guys all night. I'm not sitting in the back of the bus with you guys." He would sit up front, where the elderly sat, and he would practice is conversating skills.
He stood all day on the corner of Fifth and Pine, occasionally shouting "Spare Change" - sometimes with an exclamation, sometimes with the hint of a question. He never got sick of being told that he didn't look homeless. Or that if he were homeless, he's the sharpest dressed homeless person they've ever seen. Or, that being homeless can't be all that bad. Eventually, he stopped being homeless. "I'm independently wealthy...I'm just filling in for my brother today. Now he's homeless." "I'm a stockbroker. This is community service." He knew they were in on the joke. He knew that at the end of the day, he was still homeless. But he wanted to be plucky, enthusiastic. Make a good impression, because you never know when someone might want to give you a chance at something better. Something about the clothes was making him think he might want a white collar job. He'd be good at it.
Being in a high-traffic, fashionable area like this had it's challenges. He had to always be on. He could never let up. He had to conduct himself as though all the men had eyes in the back of their heads. And if the women had eyes in the backs of their heads, he didn't want to think about it. It was distracting, and it made him want more in life.
The weeks turned into months. He was scoring big with this job. It had been seven months since he had a drink. He was learning to type at a class offered by the church, and he was typing 90 words a minute. Though he knew he could do better; though he knew he was meant for more. He had been to several interviews at various companies. They paid a better wage, but they didn't pay a wage that was going to make him stop being homeless. Not that it mattered, he didn't get the job each time. Anyways, he was already used to being homeless and saw it as some strange advantage. It wasn't something he had to avoid. But there was something bothering him. Something made him feel like a window was slowly closing on him.
It was the suit.
It was starting to smell funny. He didn't know how to describe the smell. He didn't own a wool suit or a wool overcoat when shit was going right for him, and nothing prepared him for what months of rain would do to it. Over the course of days, he could feel his stress climbing at the thought of it. When someone told him no to his 'Spare Change', he wondered if it was because of him. Because he guessed he had started to smell, too. Even when people were nice to him, he couldn't stop imagining what they were thinking and hoped they would move on before they caught a whiff. But he couldn't not wear the suit. He couldn't get past the visual: how it seperated him from everything he feared about his situation. He couldn't get past thinking how it was some key to unlocking his way out of it.
Then today. The weather made a drastic upturn, shooting to eighty degrees.
Manny stood on his corner. He could feel the perspiration and the sweat, and he watched the girls in their short skirts and the businessmen who opted for short sleeves. The weather had turned, and everything was coming to life in these people's worlds. Cars would drive up fifth avenue blaring their music. Mochas were traded in for slushies. And Manny was burning up. Burning up hot. Perspiration ran down his back; he could sense how he was staining up his dress shirt. And Manny couldn't breath. He couldn't take off his overcoat, and he felt like he was going to expire.
And no one stopped to talk to him. Or to buy a paper from him. Manny felt like this was the game, it was lost, and he was only toyed with before being defeated.