The weather has changed. Something is coming. It's cold and the wind has picked up over the last few hours. Clouds are starting to crowd the horizon. Shadows seem exaggerated, people more hurried. Around the thin curled lip of the low crescent moon a halo has appeared. Not one, but two faint icy rings poised in perfect stillness, a sapphire diadem suspended in a plum colored silken chest.
I spend most of the day on an edge that no one else sees. Every thing rubs me raw. I have wet sand between my heart and my soul.
Royal daughter must wonder why I am so clingy. It's usually her voice that pleads, "Hold you! Hold you!.." Not today. She is the only warmth that I feel, the only thing that seems solid and true. We listen to The Replacement's "Can't Hardly Wait" over and over again, dancing together in the warm sunlight that spills lazily onto the floor through the dining room window. Each time the song ends she says, "More! More Dada more!"
We go visit shaky old grandparents. Children always seem to run home.
My head is freshly shaven. I had a most amazing meal. I will climb into bed early and rise before the sun. I feel apprehensive, slightly distant, yet animated and ready.
I have to tell myself, I'm not climbing into "The Mercy Seat" tomorrow-
I'M JUST GOING BACK TO WORK!
The television has really helped me to understand the decline of The Roman Empire. I think of the excesses enjoyed by a jaded republic. Savage maulings, elaborately choreographed bloodsport, humiliation and death. Each display more audacious than it's predecessor, but never quite gruesome enough to sate or truly repulse Rome's worldly onlookers. It is said that an emperor's reign was judged by the offerings of The coliseum.
Should I thank The Discovery channel for this knowledge, perhaps a give a grateful nod to The History channel?
How about Fox? -Yes! The Fox Network has taught me everything that I need to know about the decline of a supposedly sophisticated civilization. Tonight "The Littlest Groom" served as my textbook.
The premise of this little gem is that a midget must find a mate amongst twelve women. Some of the women are "big people" and some are "little people."
The show is filmed "Bachelor" style, in some large tacky estate by the sea, where every date unfolds in an unbelievably exotic locale, like the crater of a long-dormant volcano, or the deck of a dead tycoon's multi-million dollar yacht.
Except "The Littlest Groom" has been shortchanged. There are no lush swaying palms, no softly breaking waves to spill across pale sands, no moonlit ocean to lap at the base of darkened cliffs. No, our little guy gets to romance his harem in a run down skateboard park, by a concrete pond with bamboo fishing pole in hand, at a putt-putt course. The plants in the would-be villa are plastic and the carpets came off the rack at Home Depot. To further emphasize the disparity, our tiny gladiator is dressed in an array of ill-fitting suits, all looking like they have been pilfered from Gary Coleman's long lost wardrobe.
As if the appearance of "The Littlest Groom" isn't a sure harbinger our immanent collapse, enter another little combatant to the arena-
Enter The Donald! Someone has actually attempted raise Donald Trump from the dead, and they have almost succeeded. Despite his wealth he is still stuck with a two dollar comb-over and an incredibly heinous gold-plated apartment. The sheer ugliness of the whiny Wall Street Wannabee contestants that clamor for The Donalds approval on "The Apprentice" is enough to keep me glued for a few minutes. Just a few minutes...
Is our culture the Hell that everyone is supposed to go to if they don't change their ways? When we officially become The United States of Sodom and Gemorrah I don't think it will be gay weddings and Janet's Jackson's nipple that gets us there.
As spectators in the coliseum we are enthralled with bigger obscenities. We remain glued to our seats watching beautiful bikini clad citizens battle it out, manufacturing relationships, cheating, lying and screwing over absolutely anyone to win one million dollars.
That's not a great sum after one renders unto Caesar.
I finally picked up the remote and turned off the tube when poor, tired wife went to bed. As "The Average Joe" went from panoramic to pixel, I just had to say it-
I prune away winters damage, trimming back the silvery broad stalks of the massive cardoon plant that dominates the entrance to our side garden. Poor, tired wife pushes royal daughter around garden on her big red tricycle. I count the days silently while they circle around, laughing together.
Both look so radiant to me, pale freckled skin flushed crepe myrtle pink under the perfect midday sun. I rake up piles of rusty brown clippings. As I stoop to pick them up I think of how much fun I could have with royal daughter making paper out of the dried leaves. Kingdad recently read about the ancient process of paper making and thought it would be a good springtime project to share with inquisitive royal daughter. Kingdad is clearly a dreamer. Pushing royal daughter around on her red tricycle is a more realistic ambition. Hats off to poor, tired wife for being the anchor to this family.
Leave wonderful outdoor family scene behind to visit new jobsite. Lots of paperwork awaits to cushion my reentry into the well lit dreamless world of work. A long drive affords me time to contemplate the impact this monumental change will have on us all. All of the windows are down. I listen to Ostad Lotfi play his setar and recite Rumi poems in Parsi. His voice so earthy, sonorous. I understand everything he says of longing and the loneliness of love.
I see beloved infectiously optimistic ex-coworker at new jobsite. I do my very best to interpret this as the good omen that it surely must be.
This family needs good omens.
Another perfect day. Trees so recently dressed in fluffy white snow are starting to bud. Long dormant bulbs force bright green shoots through the warming ground. Birds lustily pick through emerging new grass in search of plump worms and slow moving beetles. Pairs of small Finches are starting to build nests in the thick clumps of ivy that frame the front porch of our little house.
Every living thing under the warm benevolent February sun seems to have a new agenda.
Kingdad does. I am preparing to return to work. I have a nest to feather with steady paychecks and product discounts. The slow perfect fall and winter spent at home with family is over. Gone are the days of Persian lute music and toenail painting, of long decadent naps with snuggly royal daughter, of non-stop "hey, meet me for the Indian buffet," of walking to the park to swing, of going anywhere royal daughter and kingdad felt like going that day without the ugly tendrils of a timeframe snaking through the foundation of our joy.
My dreamy kingdom is collapsing, it's sleepy fun-loving citizens falling into the mouth of an ugliness that cannot be escaped. Amarna, Pompeii, Minoan Crete, Alexandria...
This is the last work-free weekend poor, tired wife, royal daughter and kingdad will share together for a very long time. The surreal gorgeousness of the morning light is a taunting reminder, a flawless last meal, a vision of the throne I am about to abdicate.
Now out into the beautiful day we go.
Each night at this time, the train tears through downtown, as quickly as a child hurries past a graveyard.
The train is a rusty iron lightening bolt racing past abandoned buildings, broken bottles and unseen homeless camps, past rows of stillborn taxicabs and the petty streetcorner disputes of whores. Gunshots and the howling of stray dogs vanish in the wake of it's deep rumbling voice. It's low troubled whistle echoes across deserted one way streets and down trash strewn ravines.
When the train passes into the deeper night of other places, my day vanishes into silence. Gone with the day is the laughter of precious daughter. Gone is the welcome sound of poor, tired wife coming home from work.
There is no flourish, no Wagnerian "Gotterdammerung" to mark it's death. Just the faint oceanic murmer of the heat cycling on and off, the dull hum of the refrigerator in the darkened kitchen, the lonely passage of the distant night train. I imagine the rustle of pigeon feathers underneath the overpass,
the cold bony face of the moon peering through the open tiers of the empty parking deck across the street from the old post office.
The dishes are washed, dog and cat curled into slumbering question marks, daughter and poor, tired wife wrestle with dreams. The day is over.
The day was fantastically light, warm, so beautiful and noisy. The sounds of wet snow slumping from the tops of leafless trees, of moisture being forced from the ground by the sunlight's long golden fingers. All things rushed forward towards the open luminous door of a day that forshadowed spring.
Daughter spent the day stringing sentences together, teaching me her ancient clever language. Holding my hand and pulling me to the window saying, "See Dada, see, no snow Dada!" Grandparents came over and daughter held court.
And now it has all melted.
The loudness of the day borne away in the hollow belly of a boxcar.
Vodka tonics are to adults what real snowcones are to children. While daughter is lost in her dreams of the what the coming snowy morning may bring, kingdad is busy making his snowman tonight.
No offense to the recently departed-
I would say that I woke up feeling like a corpse, but that would imply that I actually slept. Sure, I copped a few snores, maybe even dribbled a little into the pillow, but this was after I took enough Ibuprofen to stun a mule. For someone with my threshold this is a lot. They felt like M&M's in my hand at 2:38am. Weighty and magical.
Poor, tired wife got up at 4:30am. I have no idea how she does it. She ferries between worlds with little complaint.
I however do not. I am old and broken down and that's that. At twenty two I did not anticipate seeing thirty, so I lived like I wouldn't. At thirty two I was so pleased that I had surpassed my earlier expectations that I proceeded with proven "live it up" agenda. And then the sun rose this morning and I woke up a few short steps from forty with about four cups of lukewarm coffee to greet me.
I just lost it. It guess it takes a lot more than two hours of sleep and four cups of crap coffee to give me that special happy to be alive and oh so glad to see you feeling. Even two and a half hour nap with queen-snuggly-daughter did little to ease the rabid inner bear of kingdad.
Now I understand how Louis Farrakhan feels. Yes, there is a conspiracy, you are all out to get me, and today is proof of it.
Daughter has conned her way back into bed. She never left it really. Being warm and snuggly just works for her. Must remember this as I try to get my own way with others.
Find it so hard to conjure up warm and snuggly on the few hours of sleep I've had. It is so much worse for poor, tired wife, although she never looks it. Kingdad has never looked very lively- EVER! So a few missed nods and it's Keith Richards that winks back in the morning mirror.
Had another horrible migraine few days back, this time with added nosebleed and tingling useless extremities. Am looking so relaxed I'm sure. Have MRI scheduled on Sunday to see what's trapped inside my aching brain. Can't wait to explain vast burnt patches from days of youthful experimentation to doctor. Who knew back then?
Poor, tired wife took turn at cooking breakfast this morning while daughter ran around in her stripy red pj's, demanding non-stop Elmofest.
Elmo has returned. He's like Robert Downey Jr. You think he's history, and then he's fresh out of rehab and back in your livingroom. She just can't put him down. Kingdad sips hot coffee -thank you poor, tired wife- and reads the paper. Nice way to relax before job interview.
YES, JOB INTERVIEW!!!!!!
We can't roll change forever, can we? How else can we provide daughter with the goat gouda she so deserves?
Quite a drive to appointment, quite a beautiful day. Warm and bright, trees budding, slender green grass emerging from damp clumps of long fallen leaves. A faint mist rises gracefully from the densely packed piles of dirty ice plowed onto the roadside.
I feel awake, energetic, freshly shaven, perhaps even handsome viewed from a few car lengths away. I am a Volkswagen commercial, salt and pepper Caesar do, roll necked pistachio green sweater, God Speed You Black Emperor pouring heroically from the open sunroof.
Interview goes well, offer made. A lovely number is tossed across table for my consideration. Manage to stretch tight feigned smile across gaping fears. Loose myself in coolness of water glass. Lots of hand shaking. Finally escorted from hell-hot conference room.
Much to think about on way home. Images of rapidly growing daughter emerge from cascading showers of money. Daughter reaches out for me and I am not there, I am too busy working. "Dada?" Daughter walks across a lonely landscape, tripping over sharp upturned edges of 401-K plans and incentive payouts, desperately calling my name, "Dada?" I cannot put margin reports down...
"Where the hell was Dada?" This is all I hear as I head home, a fast-moving silver thought bubble lost in Saturday traffic. It's so hard to imagine missing one moment of wonderful, magic-being daughter's life.
So many reasons to pull over on way home. I walk into the edge of the woods and look straight up. Bare tree limbs spill across the satin sheets of a pale azure sky. Dark tresses spill across tufted cornflower blue clouds. A passing jet pulls a thin pearl tinted thread in it's wake. The wind is cold. The sky is an unmade bed.
Nick Cave taunts me as I creep home to unsuspecting family,
"It's a wonderful life, that you bring..."
So strange that our culture goes to such extremes to avoid the truths of our being. Thoughts of intimacy, sex, and death really touch that magic nerve in people. Our American culture has a sporting relationship with the trio. If it is not something to be attained and mastered, then it is taboo.
Think I'm reaching for this one? Just watch The Bachelor. Unless People Magazine plasters winners past and present on it's cover, we rarely stop to wonder what happens between the happy contestants once the game is over. Should we be asking ourselves why we are OK with the game format?
How many of us are actually at peace with our lives? Not many I think, perhaps this is why we are all so eager to avoid the mention of the word death until someone is asking us which side of the yard we would like our ashes to be scattered over.
I hope I don't die tomorrow, because I don't know where I want my left-overs to be left.
I think people are almost as afraid to love as they are to die. It's really impossible to control either and this is why it is so easy to deny both. Notice I choose not to use the word "escape" here.
If I do die tomorrow at least I have shared my love. Both the beauty and the ugliness of it. When I am tossed into the mulch pile no one will be milling around wondering where my heart was.
Old dying friend died tonight. He waited until he got home to give in. I hear it was
quick and peaceful. I knew he would wait until he was where he wanted to be, at home.
I kept a candle burning for him in my garden these last two days, and now I will keep one burning for the people closest to him, his girlfriend, his family, the people that will reach over in the middle of the night to see if he is there, the people that will want to pick up the phone to hear his voice on a birthday, or to see if he is coming home for a visit anytime soon, to see if he is still clean, or where he is playing a gig.
My moments with him are long past. I have no lack of memories to conjure up. I've missed him often, long before cheap opportunist cancer showed up, like People Magazine, playing upon my regrets and contorting my emotions into a selfish, tasty read.
I did not need to see him to know who he was, what he was, and what he thought. I knew him. It was so easy to love him endlessly for this.
I got to tell him this before he died. How lucky am I?
I was cooking dinner for my girls when he left. I am happiest when I am in my kitchen cooking for the people that I love, I am at home then. I hope that he felt the same way when he decided to go, happy to be home.
Just returned from visit with old friend and former roomie.
He is 36 years old, was diagnosed with cancer less than two months ago, and he is DYING RIGHT NOW!
As I drove to the hospital I thought of all of the things that I wanted to say to him. So many thoughts and memories to send him on his way with. I really just want to let him know that I truly love him, and that he has made my life so much more interesting by appearing in it from time to time.
I have not really seen much of dying old friend these last several years. There is no reason for this, it's just the way our story together goes. He is intense! He is intimidating. He is a very ancient soul indeed, and I have always regarded him with complete awe. For me this is rare. Dying old friend has survived so much. He can just look through you.
As I turn the corner in the long freshly waxed hallway I approach dying old friend's room and I loose it. I have not seen him in months, and now I have to see him shrunken and pale and preparing for his death. He cannot avoid it this time.
He is full of soft tumors and his lungs are quickly filling with fluid. He has been put on narcotics to ease the constant pain and pressure caused by the tumors. He is a recovering addict and I understand from his girlfriend that he was not crazy about the idea of dying high. He has great difficulty breathing.
There are at least twenty people sitting on the floor outside of his room in the wing. Because he is worsening so quickly, the doctor suggest that small groups of people go in for just a few minutes at a time. I am standing near the slightly open door to his room waiting for my visit. He sees me, he smiles, his eyes so large, he weakly waves me in and mouths my name.
Everything that I wanted to tell him vanishes as I look at him. He is so thin that I can see his organs bulging through his tight, ash colored skin. He looks at me for a moment and he tries to sit up. He holds out his hand. It is tangled in tubes. I take his hand and lean into him. I lay my face into the hollow between his neck and shoulder. He smells so familiar to me, yet he smells like death, he is being eaten up as we hold each other. I cry and tell him that I love him so very much and that I just want to sit here and hold his hand for awhile. He smiles again, just for a second, and then he is twists in pain.
He cannot get comfortable, every way that he moves hurts him. It hurts him to be still. He groans and I see that he will die very soon, to escape the discomfort of drowning in his own body. I hold his hand tighter and just think of how easy it always was for me to love him.
I have to go about my day tomorrow with the knowledge that he will close his eyes and die while I am changing a diaper or washing dishes.
I decide to leave a candle burning in my garden for him tonight and hope that he passes quickly, without fear, holding someone's hand while he sleeps.
Somedays are actually a bit different. Some days seem to belong to no one at all, no one living.
Have been painting poor, tired wife's office during "free" time for last several weeks. Poor, tired wife's office is in ancient mansion in the ruined heart of dead city. Before poor, tired wife and co. moved into it, mansion was a home, a USO, a crackhouse, another crackhouse, and finally a roosting spot for thousands of starlings, bats, pigeons and addicts.
Now mansion is a crisis center, surrounded by massive expanse of wrought iron fence. Grand facade of mansion stares onto side of low, flat roofed television station. From the foyer of poor, tired wife's office the sunset is wrecked by lonely upturned ear of gigantic satellite dish, poised expectantly towards chilly, message free heavens. One monolithic bent ear, surrounded by subordinate rows of smaller, lonelier ears, all listening for same unheard voice. Beyond the television station poor, tired wife can see the back door of local homeless shelter.
The only audible voices here are human. Angry and desperate voices. Gunshots occasionally punctuate sentences.
From my vantage point I see a young Hispanic woman walking toward the busline with her baby. She pulls her bundle closer, into the folds of her coat as she hurries pass several obvious gang members. They shout after her, she breaks into a hurried jog.
A bottle is tossed into the scrubby lot outside of the wrought iron fence that encircles poor, tired wife's work place. The ember of a cigarette skips from the window of a speeding cab. The sky is remarkably clear. Low clouds the color of lead and clay roll slowly across the low belly of the pale, aquamarine sky. Twilight sags heavily on the rooftops of city skyline.
Each building exaggerated against the eerie color of the suns rose-gold deathmask. Starlings and swifts vanish into open chimneys, and the ruined skylights of abandoned buildings.
I can smell a match from the street below. Hear the footsteps of a child walking flatfooted beside his drunken mother. Hear the shouts of a whore as she simultaneously negotiates the price of a rock of cocaine and the fee for a trick in a rusty Toyota pickup. Sounds like an even trade.
The afternoon is dying, slowly, loudly, like a drunk, sinking into drainspouts, pouring out into the filthy streets, lost in the idle honking of car horns and roar of empty night busses. Pale persimmon and violet tones mingle and darken. The air becomes cool and thin. Neon messages rip through streaked convenience store windows, phonebooths cast a lurid glow across the tall weeds of mean streetcorners. The windows of a few tall buildings trap the last amber glow of sunset, then expel the brilliant bronze aura into the indifferent haze of fluorescent light.
I clean my tray and brushes in the long, heavy clawfoot tub in the upstairs bathroom of poor, tired wife's office. The soundtrack to "Betty Blue" is nearing its end as I wash the last of the pearl finish off-white trim paint from my brush.
I cannot help myself, I become lost in memory. How many times have I have repeated this scene? I remember painting the apartment of my German girlfriend. So wonderfully insecure and high on Turkish hashish, Nick Cave croons, "This is the Weeping Song..." on the radio as my roller applies perfect coats of paper-white paint to the smooth plaster walls of girlfriend's soon-to-be-trendy East Berlin flat. Taking a break, I sit on the windowsill, back to the perfect cloudless March afternoon, smoking, trying to decipher the message left by each bullet hole in the courtyard wall below.
I remember painting the walls of my first apartment, the first of too many. Choosing subtle tones, like a glaring peachy pink to ward off my self indulgent adolescent loneliness. I feel comfortable in the kitchen and nowhere else.
Hot water rolls from the long brass tap. I squeeze more color from my roller, chalk tinted water spirals over my knuckles and into the drain. I recall painting what is now my daughter's room. I find the most perfect shade of lilac and quickly cover the room with a spraygun. It takes weeks to remove the old cloth and tack wall paper before getting started. I still see poor, tired wife running her perfect, slender fingers over endless lengths of beadboard to find tiny, rusty tacks. We have no idea that guestroom will soon house permanent visitor.
As I connect with painters past and present, it happens. I hear a sound in the hallway. My bag, full of CD's, has been kicked over by someone cresting the top of the stairwell. I feel it just before it happens, a faint chill, enough to make me stop and listen just before actually hearing anything. I race into the hallway, offering, "Hello?!"
Prior to that moment I recall a painting, a text from the book of "He Who Goes Forth By Day..." I don't know if I remember it or just ponder it. But I see it, freshly tinted, deep inside a mountain, hidden behind the irregular jawline of the arid cliffs, in a smooth, deep chamber...
Is the day over when the lamp oil runs out?, when the spirits seep from the rock and whisper you out of the mountain?, expel you to the warmth and safety of home? Did it feel the same then as it does now to watch the sun drop into the open mouth of the west? To watch a mother quicken her pace, clutching her child close to her warm body as she hurries to avoid unseen perils?
I feel aware of time as I rinse my brushes and rollers.
What the hell is that, not three feet from where I am standing?! I feel another chill. I move quickly, throwing the door open. My bag has noisily "fallen" over, my CD's are scattered about. Very strange considering that my bag had only a few discs in it, heavy and flat against the floor.
I stoop to pick them up. Relieved that I know the source of the sound, unusual but not extraordinary I think at first. Only something is not right. I feel watched, cold, and yes, I am afraid.
I look up towards winding, double stairway to see a tall, dark haired woman looking at me as she rapidly ascends the stairs. I call out a hearty "hello!" thinking for a second this is poor,tired wife's coworker. But it is not! When I blink she is gone.
This is no momentary fantasy, I can see the faint brown hair on her arms, the flush of color in her cheeks. I see the reflection of the overhead lights in her molasses brown eyes. I hear her determined footsteps just before we make eye contact. I greet her and stop and she is gone before I can fathom that she is not quite there.
This happened just a few hours ago! As soon as I realize that there is no one on the staircase I throw my things together and leave "coworker" to mingle with paint fumes.
The Ka exists. The eternal bird comes home to roost, like a starling, like a swift, and sometimes we are aware enough to witness it.
The sun has returned. The thaw begins. Like a new tooth, the world cuts its way through the once pristine icy glaze. I'm sure there are those who rejoice at the sight, at the muddy triumph of normalcy. The worn spines of roads, the ugliness of manufactured communities and the whatever-you-want-whenever-you-need-it re-emerging from the wild inconvenient beauty of nature. Thank god we can all get back to escaping the quiet truth of ourselves.
Daughter has friend over for morning visit. Daughter and friend quickly retreat to daughter's room. Daughter insists, "Dada out!" while little pal kicks back on daughter's tiny bed. Has it started already? Is this a taste of what's to come?
The transfer of power from Elmo to Teletubbies was sudden but expected. Given choice between the two, kingdad will take soft spoken, well-dressed euro-tubbies, over shaggy, naked, know-it-all speed freak Elmo. Unlike Elmo, kingdad refuses to be so easily usurped by other. Kingdad's position in daughter's heart must remain secure! Little pal cannot cook daughter breakfast anyway, so threat of replacement quickly diminishes.
Daughter may be fickle but appreciates stability. Little pal -the newcomer- has limited insight into daughter's complex psyche. Move quickly to assert control over situation. Hmmm...turkey bacon, sourdough muffins, eggs scrambled with goat gouda, strawberry milk and yes, clean diapers for everyone.
Daughter and little pal orbit kitchen table until eggs are gone.
Friend goes home, daughter takes long nap, house is quiet. As I wash dishes my thoughts return to poor, discarded Elmo. Where did he come from anyway?
I begin to imagine the seedy side of Sesame Street. I imagine a nicotine stained motel room, solitary window open to the sound of sirens, to the smell of urine and midday humidity. A pigeon coos, the radio is too loud, a fan rattles in the corner, the room reeks of warm machine oil, stale cigarette smoke and sex.
There is a couple. Entwined in an ugly knot of naked flesh on top of thin, dingy sheets. He rolls over and reaches for an empty baggy on the small table next to the bed. He laughs maniacally shaking the bag above her face. She mumbles, strokes his hairy chest, knocks over the full ashtray perched on his swollen belly. More laughter, more mumbling. There they are, I picture them so clearly in my mind, bathed in a cocaine hued post-coital glow, Robin Williams and Macy Gray, noses inflamed, basking like lizards in the late afternoon sunlight.
Elmo a lovechild?! Have I discovered his obscene origin?