My wife and I were in a large multi-story loft in a room full of dead people and animals that we we loved who are now gone. It wasn’t heaven, unless heaven is a loft on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. There were also unfamiliar faces and animals as well as people we know that are still with us. I remember a hybrid monkey / cat coming in the window from the fire-escape who had long, crooked fingers like roots that crept up beside me and slowly, very deliberately felt the contours of my face as though it was blind. We became friends.
The dead people were mostly relatives and all looked youthful and healthy as though they were at their prime age in life. My mother was busily zipping around getting things in order. Kristen’s grandmother and grandfather sat in ornately carved wooden chairs next to each other holding hands. Of note was my wife’s very cheery and youthful uncle - looking dapper at perhaps 30 years old. (Who just passed away earlier this year at age 71.)
There were numerous people and cats running amok from room to room in some kind of odd celebratory chaos. I remember wanting to ask my mom a question about Shakespeare but she held up a finger and dashed off. I walked about the place - which had cavernous, high ceilings and massive, castle-like doorways 10 feet high - all trimmed with elaborate wood finishing. Every room was abuzz with conversation. The cacophony of voices made it difficult to discern what it was all about.
Some dirty faced red-headed kid tapped my hand and indicated that he could probably get my car started; that is, the ’73 Galaxy 500 with side-pipes parked in the alley. The same one I took to the junkyard in high school after the engine blew on the highway. I told him to have at it.
Finally it was time to leave and I descended via the fire escape, a couple of cute girls smiling through open windows as I passed down by their lofts. One asked me if I knew any magic tricks. I responded that I did, and reached into my pocket for a deck of cards, but my wife nudged me to keep moving. I indicated that I would show them some magic on my way back. The younger one laughed and said, ‘Oh, silly! You’re not coming back.’
Friday, May 30th, 2008
An ode to public cell phone users…in the spirit of Bukowski
Put down that cell phone before I kill you
As rude as the smoker
More frequent and annoying than the telemarketer
As dangerous as the drunk driver
As thoughtless as the serial killer
Public cell phone users
(Iâ€™d rather a knife through my ear, please)
Than listen to the soul-sucking wag of tongues
Flickering over their neon keypads
The ubiquitous cell phone user has invaded every corner of public society
And infected it with wasted and butchered dialogue
For all within earshot to hear
A cancerous virus of inconsideration
They are on the buses
In cafÃ©s and coffee shops
Theyâ€™ve infiltrated once quiet bookstores and parks
Where the echo of their vapid discourse continues to resonate
Long after theyâ€™ve moved on to the next trite conversation
Their diatribe and laughter and exclamations
Of joy and sorrow and indignation
Are a poor reflection of the basest mediocrity
Their bloviated inanities rudely poke the sides of us
Who want nothing more than to avoid
This assault on our individual introspectionsÂ Â
Their words linger in the air
Like the poisonous formaldehyde of cigarettes
And always drifts towards those of us
Who can stand it the least
They are blind pilots of ignorance to all around them
Behind the wheel is no exception
That their own and others lives are in peril
Is of no consequence or concern
The speedometer is neglected
Nearly as much as the mirrors and windows
As if they are the last drivers of the apocalypse
On deserted roads carved out to the respective paths
Of their superficial existence
Drive on, construction worker
In the pickup with the 10-ton payload
One hand to steer is enough to stay clear-and that could be
But why are you always driving right behind me?
Drive on, soccer mom
In the mini van with the kids in the back
The gossip is good and going slow is okay
But please not on the entrance ramp to the freeway
Question the public cell phone user:
Do you know?
That your voice is significantly louder
We can hear you better
Than the person who is supposed to be listening to you
That the people around you just donâ€™t care
Where you are meeting this Friday after work
Or what shoes go best with that plum dress-you know the one â€“ the one with the white flowers on it
Do you know?
Weâ€™re touched that you love your girlfriend
But say it to her face, sheâ€™ll appreciate it more
That your conversation is so disjointed
Pointless and uninteresting
That itâ€™s impossible to ignore â€“like an aural wreck on the highway
That everyone around you is silently cursing your existence
Thinking bad things about your mother
And hoping the brain tumor develops sooner rather than later
We are all thinking these things and more, dear public cell phone userâ€¦believe it.
You have died a thousand times at the hands of total strangers.
Even through headphones of our IPODâ€™s
Your dull, half-witted speech snakes its way into our ears
The drone of insignificance deafens
So please â€“ put it down.
Killing you may be out of the questionâ€¦
But to slap the shit out of you might be worth the charges.
Friday, April 11th, 2008
I purchased this for $1 back in 1992 from an old man who sat on the sidewalk between 8oth and 81st streets on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I don’t know that the jpeg picture will do it justice – but if you can magnify it – you’ll see the incredible detail that went into this. There are numerousÂ messages here – some coded in some cryptic manner – others moreÂ discernable.Â I found itÂ so facinating that I went back and bought several more copies. He was a gray, grizzled old gentlemanÂ who spoke not a word – and had several copies of these printed off lying under a coffee mug to which a small $1 sign was taped. His eyes never left the sidewalk as I approached and placed my money in the cup. He simply pulled out a sheet and pushed it forward.
I could look at this for hours and question…the symbols – where did they come from? What do they mean? What do they stand for? Who was this man? Where did he come from? What does it all mean?Â The mystery intrigues.
So – I made up my own answers. The old man was Kilgore Trout – and this piece of paper is the combination to unlocking the secret keys to the universe.
Go to it.
Thursday, April 12th, 2007
‘Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.’
‘Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John.’
‘Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.’
‘I really wonder what gives us the right to wreck this poor planet of ours.’
‘I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.’
‘I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.’
‘Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.’
‘People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.’
‘Still and all, why bother? Here’s my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.’
‘The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest.’
‘The year was 2081, and everyone was finally equal.
We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap.’
‘To whom it may concern: It is springtime. It is late afternoon.’
‘What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.’
‘Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?’
Wednesday, April 4th, 2007
Are you sure that's him? the cop asked.
He was a real cowboy, this one.
Sure I’m sure
I’ll never forget that face.
It was true.
The stark, wide eyes of fear like amazement.
A bewildering sense of power and control within them
And the terror of wielding it
Chaos and consequences
cracking like thunder.
Just a squeeze away.
Scott carried the bank-drop in a brown paper bag
Cash and credit card receipts from the store
A mild December morning
The city yawned.
2 blocks to go.
Past the bagel shop
Christmas trees lined the sidewalk
As we walked past we laughed about our boss
Whom we dubbed: the Grey Ghost
He was always materializing out of nowhere
When we least expected it.
And suddenly a man with a gun materialized
out of the Christmas trees.
We didn’t expect that either.
Bright eyes of fearful determination; afraid.
There was a pause as silence
rolled over us like a wave.
I remember thinking:
This isn’t really what it appears to be.
Give me the fucking bag.
The man waved the gun like a crucifix
In an arc
as if we were vampires.
First towards me then Bernardo.
My eyes locked on the weapon.
Criss-cross pattern on the handle
I tried to find a flaw, but it looked real.
Heavy with the weight of bullets.
Let go of the fucking bag.
Benny’s face was drawn tight.
I could see the seriousness of all of this in his flat gaze.
The spark of mortality glittered like a diamond
out of the blackness of his eyes
paralyzed in the moment of uncertainty.
The gun then settled on Scott.
Before it moved to his chest,
then found its way to the slight dimple
at the base of his throat.
The Gunman shouted for the third time.
We heard him
but for us, time had stopped
there was nothing for us to do but float in the limbo of disbelief
Give me the fucking bag.
Scott didn’t care about the bag or the money in it.
We were all shocked into astonished immobility.
Both of Scott’s arms were locked tight around the bag.
My jaws, Bernardo’s small fists, Scott’s arms.
The gun moved again
Now just under Scott’s chin.
Beneath his close-clipped salt and pepper beard.
His head tilted back under the pressure.
Its movement seemed to say:
The gun is real. Feel how real it is?
Your life is the distance between this hollow barrel and a pointed copper tip.
It’s waiting in the chamber.
At that moment I thought:
Scott is going to die today.
I saw the deep brown of Bernardo’s imploring eyes
Over the outstretched arm of the gunman
A flannel sleeve of brown and beige and cream.
Benny spoke softly and with a calmness that defied.
Scott. Give him the bag.
In a swift motion with his free hand, the gunman tore the bag away
out of Scott’s arms.
It took him three good pulls to free it.
The third pull ripped open the paper sack as it came loose.
Bundles of cash in rubber bands bounced on the sidewalk
The remainder of the bag and its contents were in the arms of the gunman
As he turned and fled down 79th street
A flap of brown paper waving loosely behind him as he ran.
Sound erupted around us
The world reeled us back into its noisy vortex
A passing taxi’s tires jarred a manhole cover
Pigeons fluttered up to the sky from the steps of the church
The squeal of breaks and the smell of diesel as a bus slowed
Car horns bleated in the distance down Broadway
Subway trains rocketed through the station below and shook the sidewalk under our feet.
Bernardo knelt to collect the bundles
Scott yelled something and then gestured for me to follow him.
Jesus. I thought.
We chased the thief.
There were two of them now: gunman and accomplice
Another had come out of the Christmas trees to slow us down.
But he had no gun. His empty hands waved to us not to follow.
It made all the difference.
I heard Scott continue to yell something
But I could only make out bits of it.
...at least see what direction he’s...
I reluctantly followed.
The image of the gun was still fresh in my mind.
I was much faster than Scott
But I ran behind him anyway.
A red Lincoln screeched to a halt at the end of the block
Then raced away.
Scott was out of breath
He turned and we began running back to the store
This time I was ahead of him.
As we ran Scott repeated a set of numbers and letters
I scribbled them as best as I could
on my hand with a grease-pen from the front pocket of my deli-coat
Twenty minutes later we observed the red Lincoln
from the back of a police car
In a crowded intersection of flashing red lights from police cruisers
and unmarked cars pulled up on the curbs and sidewalks in disarray.
We identified the gunman.
Yes. That’s him. That’s the motherfucker.
Then on to the precinct in Washington Heights.
Reports were typed and filed
by the cop with the slight drawl and snakeskin cowboy boots
You’re lucky, he said.
...if you had been armed, or in this neighborhood, they would have just shot you and taken the money.
The cowboy could see our satisfaction
Glaring at the gunman in the cell
Ashamed and foiled.
I often wonder if he wished he had pulled the trigger
or was happy he had not.
It feels good when you get them doesn’t it? The cowboy said.
You know what?
It feels even better when you get them after they’ve fired a few rounds at you.
Back downtown, the store was busy with the Christmas rush.
There was much to be done
But I needed a moment.
I sat in the basement on a cardboard box of canned lima beans.
I flipped through the pages of my book
trying to make sense of it, to escape into the pages of Faulkner,
but I could not stop the cinema of scenes.
It was going to be the best Christmas ever.
Monday, July 24th, 2006
I dreamed I learned an intricate card game from my cousin Kenneth, but I can only remember vague details. The game involves an extremely complex and detailed point system, as it revolves around conceptual theories of human existences”pitting biblical against scientific explanations of how life began. The Old Testament's Adam, for instance could represent the Jack of Hearts, the heart symbolizing the apple as one example, but the characters represented on each card are capable of changing at any given point in the game depending on the numerical circumstances set into play. So while the Jack of Hearts could be Adam, it could also represent Adonis, Greek God of Love, or the popular chivalrous character Don Quixote or perhaps even a more contemporary figure such as Albert Einstein, who was renown for having numerous women admirers. Numbers and the order of the numbers as the cards are played is key, because there is no such thing as a good hand. It simply depends on the cards laid down prior to by you and your opponent who, may not be your opponent at all, but your ally, depending on the string of cards played, the sum of the numbers and the equations and / or icons they represent. Certain sets of numbers laid out in a row denote laws of physics, others evolution, still others mythological and finally biblical. There are also multi-sided dice involved that serve to calculate equations in concordance with the cards. Some dice represent science, while other dice are rolled to determine the outcome of spiritual quests. There is more, so much more, I can't remember. But I'll sit here with a deck of cards, some dice and a bottle of wine, and by God, I'll figure it out.
Thursday, March 9th, 2006
A sprawling European resort in the South of France, perhaps the Riviera. Befriending members of the mafia who are eating at an outdoor cafe. Jovial, fat, Italian men. Later, with some people on a couch–few familiar faces. Distant, past friendships or maybe not. Perhaps Lance, from Decline of the West. A stripper offers to dance. I decline and hold out my hand to keep her away as she is approaching me. She stumbles forward and vomits into my lap. Shot glasses adorn her breasts. The distant friends laugh. Lance laughs. I think of punching them in their faces, but decide to wait. After all, I have friends in the mafia. The bathroom is uni-sex and the toilet seats are all broken or missing. The stripper pulls back a curtain and steps into a shower there.
In the bow of a speeding boat, rocketing through shallow, muddy water down an extremely narrow channel. Several times I am almost flung overboard. But I trust the captain. Another boat meets us head on in the channel. As we rapidly slow down, chocolate water floods over the bow into my lap. The water will make it difficult to hang on once we speed up again, as it slips between my hand and the rail of the boat. I mentally note this and worry. Perhaps I should alert the Captain. There’s a Mandarin Chinese man, very distiguished looking in the other boat. He has a well groomed beard and he’s dressed in a silk white robe with red oriental letters and designs. He’s holding a white box. It says something in fuzzy red letters. I read it. The message makes perfect sense to me. I make a mental note to remember it later. But I know I won’t.
And I don’t.
Time, I absolve myself of your vow to vanquish me.