Thursday, August 21, 2014

the far-reaching Splendor of the poet Mudd

I had been blasting the music, so I turned it down to an elevator music volume. I stretched out on the sofa, head tilted just right on a soft pillow from the bedroom. It had been a rigorous morning so I thought grabbing a quick nap prudent. Before the poet Mudd was to call. Gather and quiet the faculties in the event he would choose provocation. We've been known to disagree. Sturdy up, in other words. Mudd might want to argue. He has little sympathy for the feeble.

Odd thing: just earlier I had responded to the question, What are you working on? with the much too vague answer, Several pieces that I waffle between. But my response wasn't too vague because it was less than fully truthful. It was too vague because it minimized the full degree of my waffling. Some mornings, in the same writing session, I'll work back and forth between three different pieces. Long pieces. What will hopefully eventually become long pieces.

I have no idea how this process got started. I get disgusted with one piece and rather than erase everything I've written I click over to different piece. I turn on the computer in the morning and start opening files. I hate the idea of this practice. I hate the practice of this practice. Pour into one thing and come up when finished. That's how to do it.

But that's not how I do it. Hate it or not hate it. I put words here and then I put words there. A friend told me not even two months ago to just push through the trouble and come out on the other side. You'll see, she said. I agreed with her. Sure. Makes sense. Plus, she was speaking from experience. Good. I'm glad I ran across you. I'll do that. And the next morning I started two more pieces.

So I laid my head down and instead of counting sheep I counted pieces I've opened. Considered the progress, or lack thereof, made so far. A sort of cataloging. This one, magical realism, ok, coming along, this one next, I don't know yet, two different POV approaches with it but basically the same material, first person here, but yes, same story, okay, genre attempt here, not going great but not terrible either, and then this one, newer, so my enthusiasm level is still high, dystopian, and yes, it's going alright, probably better than alright, so far, don't jinx it, and then this other new one, hmmn, a genre (thriller maybe?) attempt, but may end up dystopian or literary, what the hell is it anyway, who knows who cares, did I forget anything, what am I forgetting? I  just need a quick nap. Fuck me but can I at least get thirty minutes sleep here?

I couldn't fall asleep. I kept feeling like I was missing something on the list. WTF, I said to myself, the list isn't important, I was only trying to get my mind quiet to go to sleep. Not to give it something to agonize over to keep me awake. Then I was visualizing my document folder, scanning the titles, down one row and then down the next, amazing what the mind takes pictures of, slowly scanning, no rush, marginally hoping that this new exercise would put me out. I smiled internally when I came across Prodigy: _______, the subtitle yet to be determined, but admittedly, I am a bit too fond of the Prodigy part of the title, even if I change it to, A Prodigious ______, or something else altogether, you know how it goes with titles and writing in general. Take the pleasure when it's there. Don't look back if you can avoid it. Grab today and tomorrow when it comes. Until it doesn't. (Yes, I am very aware how hypocritical those comments are based on somewhat recent events. An apology will come. Sooner than later.)

Although I couldn't get to sleep, the experience wasn't unpleasant. The couch fit well today and so I didn't have to stir much. That's relaxing in of itself. My brain had slowed considerably, not quite a reverie, but perhaps a pleasant haze, somewhere between the two, my questioning thoughts now more languid, less inquisitive, hell, I might just doze off after all, when a dominant thought showed itself, Write the Ministry. Go there and report what you see. You already know what it looks like - look at the stationary, you described it, in detail. Remember? Don't worry about Brazil. I'll tell you what happens in Brazil. Just go and describe the Ministry already. Find out what those fuckers are up to. What's one more piece to work on? You want John to die of old age already?

Can a thought be that many words, multiple sentences? Probably not. Reporting after the fact is not an exact science. Whether it was a voice or a thought - neither feels fully correct or incorrect - I consider it much the same. What the hell, right? So I opened and formatted a blank text document. Ready to go for first thing in the morning. Let's see how many words I can get on that page the next few days. I suppose if I find out what those fuckers are up to John will find me with the rest. Or not. It's not like I don't have plenty else to do.

James exits the Box for an evening out: others gathered

The first chuckle came near the bottom of page one. A short, almost timid, burst. It shouldn't even be labeled a chuckle - little more than a polite ahem. But then others from the audience followed suit, and with increased volume. The chuckles once started continued while he read the balance of the eight pages of text. So, as is often the case, for simplicity sake, the label from the last gets applied to the first, and whatever lays in between. Thus, they all chuckled.

The astute reader might say - What, chuckles? It sounds to me like laughter. Why not say, they laughed, and be done with it? Because they fucking chuckled, how's that, astute reader. Because there's implied in laughter an honesty, a spontaneity, that this audience lacked. One chuckle at a time, they blurted lies. Call it one long nervous echo.

He finished reading and it was quiet. No one said anything while the reader arranged his typed sheets in front of him. Like he was setting a place at the table for dinner. A formal dinner. No hurry, this one. Once satisfied with the arranging of sheets, he uncapped a pen and surveyed the room. James counted eighteen mouths. Plus his own.

The reader sat forward, pen moving across pages, while they plied him with words like they had chuckles. Which was more galling is impossible to declare. James thought they played some odd game. Each trying to top the other? Where are the hidden rules? Funny, this one said. Yes, yes, they nodded. Good stuff, that one said. Yes, yes, they nodded. I believe you've got it there. Yes yes, fuck, you know the rest. You might have found a niche. I do think so. Maybe a touch up, here and there. Smooth it out, you know. Tighten up a few things, not much. Get it out there then. Yes yes yes, they almost all nodded.

When Pound tried recruit Frost, he said they squeezed the water out. That's what they did. Huh, say again? Squeeze the water out, you see. That's all we do. The best remains. Only squeeze the water out. Expertly, you'll see. Frost said what the damn hell and returned home. Then he wrote Good Fences.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

little room with a big name

You'll hear all about the Box another time. James has written volumes about it. Others would say: Not That Interesting. I will admit that compared to the old writing space, this new writing space seems like punishment. Harsh punishment at that. And yet

no one or no thing can get James out of there. He must relish the ordinary and desolate. The disconnect from everything that breathes. The absolute stillness when the Pandora stops and he doesn't notice for several hours.  Before long he will throw down a mattress in there. Piss in a can. Think to close and lock the door when he sits down to write.

So he's found something that pleases him. Time will tell what that produces. Maybe he will share a piece of something he's working on. Or maybe he only reacts to the burn in his head. Hurry hurry hurry. Get it all down now. Like any of us have anywhere to be.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

the familiar Stranger visits

Recently I adjusted the chemicals in my body. The details are unimportant. It was an effort to fight back against mental lethargy, or even, infirmary. An effort to reclaim my ability to think as I once thought, and not so very long ago.

It is too early to claim any lasting victory but I believe I have, at the very least, turned the tide. My brain seems function better. Grasp concepts better. Stretch to envelop a thought versus retreat from the enormity of it. Or, accurately appraise the thought as not so large after all. 

But today I noticed something odd. I would label it wondrous if it hadn't frightened me so. I was writing and concentrating on a piece, three hours in, thereabouts, when I felt like my brain's circuitry was on fire. Gently burning, but definitely burning. It was an odorless sensation, so I couldn't identify it by how we all come to identify burning - by sniffing - but I was nonetheless certain it was burning. It felt how the smell of burning would feel if not a smell. For a good minute or two I sat and tried to identify the sensation, the feeling, as something other than burning, to re-categorize it into some other category that was less frightening than the idea that my brain synapses were burning, on fire, presumably from the exertion I had just subjected them to. But there was not another category. My brain was burning.

As I sat there feeling afraid, I realized I was also thrilled. Excited, at least. That I was able to once again exert my faculties to the point that they wished rebel or resist or self-destruct, whatever this oddness might be, well, damn it but that felt good. The thought of it, correct or not, felt good. Surely anybody might feel the same had they spent even half a day walking about in my muddled head. Finally, liberation! The Short Happy Life of Francis McCumber, and all that. But, the fear remained. Very much side by side with the elation. Also, a bit of anger. Just when I was beginning to feel like I'm getting back in the game and then - Game Over?

There's more. This had happened once before, a few days earlier, similar scenario, and perhaps because of the shock of it, the newness of it, I felt at that time only the fear and none of the elation. Maybe that is why I thought then that I recognized this peculiar burning in my head (the sensation of it felt exactly the same both times, and I didn't mention this earlier but, it felt as if had I sniffed hard enough, long enough, surely I would smell the wiring burning; but, because I did not - the fear was so strong I just couldn't bring myself to do it - and because, given another chance, or ten, I won't sniff long enough, I have no way of knowing for certain if this is true or not) as something inherently familiar to all of us. Some thing we are all programmed to recognize when we make its acquaintance. I felt certain Death was moving about in my head. 

In retrospect, both times I experienced "it" the same. It felt as if I was being - turned off? Not exactly. Fade to black, they say in the movie business. Yes, more like that. But the fade to black hadn't started yet, though I felt I stood very much on its precipice. I felt surrounded by Fade to black. Maybe "I" was the only thing that was not Fade to black. The other distinctive feature is that it didn't feel of my doing. It didn't feel as part of my internal processes, although surely that was my circuitry burning. But I never felt like my circuitry chose to burn, or malfunctioned in any way to cause the burn. So as I sat considering, auditioning explanations, the only answer that fit, and immediately fit once discovered, was Death. Moving about my head. Burning - maybe those are just his footprints? Dawdling (will he allow me a few more words like he did the critic Stewart Gerald Stuart, as regrettable as that decision may have proven)?

I'll admit, there had been times, more frequently than I would admit, when the idea of a long rest, an actual restful rest, was appealing. It began feeling like Path. Is my time spent, I wondered. Has the best of it passed? Yet I continued, put a foot in front of a foot. That is what one does, even when at times it feels like waiting. Killing time, an awful phrase, but there it is. All this while the questioning - to what end? What do I move toward? Do I move in any sort of purposeful fashion or do I merely wander? It feels I only stagger.

The poet Alan Mudd once told me that I will never know I do not exist. We may have been sitting on a patio enjoying coffee and cigarettes and conversation. Enjoying ideas and each other's stubbornness. But it's much more likely bourbon was being over-consumed, Mudd insisting in his insistent drunken way when he instructed (yes, Mudd often self-appointed the position of instructor on the topic of deity) me such. Hell, he may have meant to say something entirely different, which, as humorous, and plausible, as that thought is to consider, it's also irrelevant, because stammer or not, fumble about or not, spill his goddamn bourbon or not, he did, after all, manage to spill those particular words out. Once out, once heard or read, they attribute to him, and that is that.

An admission: my affairs are not in order. There is much undone. Almost everything. Words unwritten, words unsaid. What regrettable timing, I say. I expected timing, you ask. You are right of course. I suppose magical thinking finds root in all of us. In some quadrant of our unawares it flourishes. The unconsidered. Unchallenged. Unexamined. Please forgive the excessive negativity. It is unintentional. And, no, I am not trying to be funny. These are the words that come right now. Shall I just go sit in the corner and be silent? It is too late to pout now. Finally, that is obvious. So I'll push forward the best I can with what I'm given while I wait for the burn to come again.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Things to do at the Motel

The whores had been going hard at it all night. Since after eight anyhow. End of month they get themselves busy. Bills to pay, like everyone else. So the constant foot traffic above my head and the thumping and scraping of the bed made it hard to get to sleep. The goddamn trucker convention they decided to have in the parking lot outside my door made it impossible. One of those fuckers must've breaker one nined all his good buddies about the whores. It was near 3AM when I finally sat up in the bed and said, Fuck it.

I took an extra long hot shower. It's been known to steady me. Left my hair wet, combed straight back. Put on the purple shirt the idiot cowboy left behind, his thinking, I guess, that I wouldn't come collect his marker. Fuck me, but people are stupid. I decided on the tight jeans and the giant belt buckle. Then the steel toed boots that could put a man's nuts into his chest, if need be. The black stetson. The black leather coat, even though it was hot as fuck out. This coat drops all the way to the knees. With deep pockets for carrying incidentals.

Fuck, but it's dark, was my first thought after stepping outside. The interstate maybe three stones throw away, all the lights there, and still it was so fucking dark here. The Turk that owns this joint had killed the lights in the parking lot. The outside lamps too. Cheap fucker, that one. So the darkness was real and not my imagination. I lit a smoke and decided I liked the dark just fucking fine. Took a long pull from the pint of Jack and sloshed it around like mouthwash before swallowing it down. I wanted all of me awake.

It's eight doors from my room to the staircase. There wasn't any hurry, so I walked like someone dressed like I was dressed walks when not in a hurry. I smoked and looked around, casually, like a watchman. Saw nothing in the dark. Listened to my footsteps on the cement. Had another smoke and eventually I got there. Seeing the staircase and the room under it reminded me of the time the Turk got over on me. Put me in the room under the staircase. "It is closer to the pool, and the soda machine too," he told me with a little too much smile and a little too much enthusiasm. Fuck, shit place like this, a room's a room, I figured. I figured wrong. Under the staircase when the whores are working full out is a cattle call for every fat fuck in town. Thump, thump, thump, all goddamn night.

The weight of the leather coat plus the heat of the night was wearing on me pretty good when he pulled up. I was sweating, which I strongly dislike. I pulled a cloth from inside my jacket and wiped away the sweat from my face, then the fingers and palms on both hands. He pulled up like he owned the goddamn place. High beams on, right into the parking space in front of room 108, the room under the staircase. Unoccupied at the moment. Even in the dark a shine from his maroon caddy. If something's beautiful enough the light'll find it. Then the door opened and he slid one leg out, then the other. Slowly. Unsteadily, like the drunk or infirm. Maybe both. Or maybe just an old one.

He got the door shut okay, lights off and doors locked, car keys in his pocket, got himself steadied and moving in my direction. He put out a foot for the bottom step without a word or a nod. He started up the stairs with a big fucking nothing, as if I was invisible, or as if I was going to just let him pass because he pretended it should be so. My foot was already on the staircase. Had been there first. And this was narrow passage.

"You pay down here." I put a grip on his shirt. Had a look at his old haggard face. Fifty years ago he probably got more than his share of pussy. Free pussy. But that was then. Old broads probably don't do it for him. "Two bills, mister. Fifty more if you want it bare."

He looked at me blankly. Like drunks and idiots do, everything processing a few clicks slower than real time.

Finally he reached a hand into a pocket, pulled out an impressive wad. A rubber band tight around it, like some gamblers do. Gangsters too. It seems they take special pleasure in removing the rubber band and then peeling off a few bills. The sound it makes is distinct, if done right. But the bills must be reasonably new and crisp. I know a bookie that won't take payment with an old bill. And he's trained up that degenerate lot. Go figure.

The old guy finally got the rubber band off and unwrapped two c-notes from the outside. Fumbled around trying to get the rubber band back around the wad. Four, maybe five grand, I was thinking. If it's all hundreds. A coin flip it is or isn't. Maybe sixty forty it is.

The old guy pushed the two bills at my free hand, my other hand still gripping his shirt, our transaction not yet finalized. Rather than just hand me the money, he was trying to fold the two bills, like for a tip stuffed in the valet's hand, or the maitre d's hand, or the shoe shine boy's tiny little goddamned hand. The folding of the money some sort of custom. Some sort of unspoken unwritten code that no boy can be expected to know. Here, kid - lad, boy, sonny,  - for you, kid, two crumpled bills moved from the big hand to the little hand. The big hand a smile and then not another thought of the little hand. An almost pointless transaction. Meaningless. Except for the spectacle. Watch the little hand disappear the bills into his pocket. Quickly, too quickly. With the speed of the beggar. So well practiced at such a young age. Almost a prodigy. Look. Look. Look. Look. Look.

Again he tried folding and pushing the two c-notes into my free hand. Again he failed. Comically failed, if I had been in any kind of mood to find humor in a drunk old fucker acting the fool in a bad part of town in the middle of the night. My hand snatched the two bills, slipped them into a coat pocket. The other hand loosened the grip on his shirt. Alright. Off you go, old fucker. Room 216.

I watched him climb the stairs. A step at a time, like a fucking toddler. And he was still trying to get the rubber band back around the money. He's a determined fucker, I thought. Have to give him that much. I figured he would eventually get the money wrapped and all the way up them stairs and to the whore's room. Probably give her a better ride than she was expecting, him being old and drunk and all. Them whores tend to size up the johns quickly, form a quick first impression, and roll with it. Evidence to the contrary be damned. So the old fucker'd likely surprise her good. So much so that she'd think to tell the other whores tomorrow over pancakes and coffee at the Denny's. Then they'd all laugh. Where would they be without old fuckers.

Eight doors down, on the left. Not a shouted direction but more than a whisper. If he heard the words he didn't acknowledge. Likely focused on nothing but the finish line. My lips were within inches of his ear when I thought to repeat the directions but decided no point. I sapped him above his right ear with the slapjack that stays in the leather coat. The sound wasn't much. Twenty feet away and you wouldn't hear a thing.

The money he hadn't yet gotten wrapped fell free. Released. His hands opened like puppet hands, the strings being pulled. Slowly. So slowly. The same for his legs. They gave out, as if they had been filled with air before and now were deflating. And so the whole of him sunk towards the pavement. Like the inflatable clown when the music stops and the children run home. The old guy was out cold when he hit down. He landed gently, all things considered. I gathered up the money and stuffed my pockets. Then I sat the old guy up, grabbed a good hold of him with my left hand, made a fist with my right hand and blasted him a good one, square on the jaw.

I didn't like how his head recoiled from the punch, but them's the breaks. Nothing could be done about that. I had to punch him, and a good one, in case the law was ever to come around asking questions. The old guy came on to me, officer. Propositioned me. Asked me to blow him, or fuck him in the ass. So, yeah, I punched the old pervert, just one good shot to back him the fuck up, and he must've hit his head when he fell down. I don't know nothing about no money. Maybe you should ask them whores upstairs. What is he doing over here in the middle of the night anyway? Did you ask him that? Decent folk are home asleep. Sounds like the old fucker got exactly what he had coming.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

shifted spaces

No more 13th floor. No more fifty six windows. No more sky view. No more shimmering lights. The L desk shoved against wall, its design now superfluous. Point my head left or right, it no longer matters. Spin around in the chair - the resultant view identical: wall.

Fifty six windows exchanged for this 9'6" x 8'4". If I were angry about my new circumstances I might ask after the other two inches - the floor plan calls for 9'6" x 8'6" - or I might call this hole a blemish. I might call it a lack of imagination - the architect unable to draw what he was unable to intuit. Every space must be a puzzle to solve or a mistake to admit. So in some drawer somewhere, in some filing cabinet, this building's blueprint says utility room or walk in closet or office and, if this is correct, such label should be affixed in the smallest faintest print because no man wants his errors shouted to the world.

But I am not angry about it. Not in the least. And now my space has changed. And what follows, what is produced or not, from this desk will be changed. And like it or not like it that is how it goes. Yesterday is spent. Nostalgia provides no shelter. Quite the contrary. The nostalgic fellow, when he finally looks up one day, finds himself buried entirely in foreign soil. He recognizes none of it. Not the cool moisture against his skin nor the earthen finality swaddling him. At that moment he may even feel cheated, although it is all product of his own shoveling. Go figure.

So one space has been exchanged for another. Grand panoramic becomes base narrow. Breathe exhale is now gasp and spit. At least this is how it feels at the moment. Opinions could shift as we settle in. Once this box becomes more familiar. As unlikely as that may be.