Thursday, June 25, 2009

Last Night I Walked

Last night I walked with my childhood friend. We journeyed from her neighborhood in the Marina to a place that I had never visited. On our way, we passed motels that I had glimpsed in the past from the windows of moving cars. Now I walked by them and saw them close enough to touch, I examined their pores of concrete and wondered what secret things were happening behind the blank doors lined up behind the rails. We left them behind us, crossing streets and turning corners endlessly. I lost track of where we were and where we had come from, the path was so complicated, so unexpected, so much farther than I had been prepared to travel. But the air was warmer than I am accustomed to, so the walking was easy, I strolled along feeling pleasantly sleepy from the workout I had had an hour ago and I yawned freely but walked easily. My feet felt lighter than usual. The trees were lovely. Buildings frosted like art deco cakes tickled my eyes and filled me with fascination.
My friend led the way, talking about the things that occupied her mind. The cuteness of her nephew, her own longing for a child, her hope to find a husband, the vampire book she had just read. Because I didn’t know the way, or even where we were going, she bumped into me, as if we were both bumper cars, at every crossroad. Without a word or a gesture, she simply collided with me, causing me to alter my course and make the appropriate adjustments; turning the right corner or crossing the necessary street. This, the way she walked, the topics that she chose for conversation, the way her lines were delivered, quietly and mumbled, all of it fascinated me. I was taking a ride through someone else’s life. I found a way to answer questions and contribute to the conversation without revealing any of the many things that I should not reveal; the things that would make her feel too shocked or frightened. I found a way to fit into the story line and be part of the mechanical show for a night.
We stopped suddenly in front of an open door and glass window and I peered into a place that looked no larger than a walk-in closet. It took me several moments to realize that this was where she was taking me, The Black Horse, a bar that features prominently in her life at this moment. For me, it was as if I had just taken a walk with Alice and arrived before the Mad Hatter’s tea party. This was a place that, until now, existed only as a story, experienced by me through the words spoken to me by my companion. It was a mythological place, the set for a scene from a well-traveled play. It was unlike the visions I had built of it in my mind during the storytellings. The bar took up half of the space, the other half was divided between stools where people sat and a fraction of space where someone could squeeze along brushing against the backs of those on the stools.
There was a little space between the end of the bar and the window, and two stools stood there at the elbow and forearm of the bar. A man with glasses and a Northern Face athletic zip up fleece was seated there.
My friend greeted him,
“Hello Peter.”
He stood and allowed us to occupy the two barstools and stood at the corner of the Bar and talked to us. My friend also greeted the bartender, a petite young woman with dark curly hair. The barmaid, Vanessa, brought over some food, delicious wrapped tofu with sweet and sour dipping sauce. There was no tap. Vanessa served bottles of beer out of an ice filled cooler behind the bar. I was encouraged to buy a soda or some juice from the liqueur store one door down, because at The Black Horse they serve only bottles of beer and cider, no wine, no other hard alcohol, and certainly no apple juice.
I sat at the bar and listened to Peter explain that he awoke each night in a cold sweat plagued by nightmares about work. He was an engineer of video games, stuck making a game he was uninterested in, plagued by many complex and abstract nightmares, hoping to escape from that hell and pursue his greater passion: Green Architecture. He excitedly explained that the bit of highway which runs through the Presidio stands on stilts which will give out at any moment and that driving over that stretch of road was like playing the lottery; chances were you weren’t going to win, but someday a bunch of commuters would, and in this case winning would mean sudden death. He was his most animated at that moment, describing the potential disaster of the collapsing bridge. Then he put on his gloves, made a photography date with Vanessa, said farewell to us, hopped onto his bicycle and peddled off to his date with a restless night.
Another man leaving the bar brought his dog outside, and my friend, who was well acquainted with the man and the dog, flew off of her barstool and rudely pushed aside the stranger that had come to occupy Peter’s abandoned space. The man was so startled that she had shoved him aside to shower affection on a dog that his face showed it, and he tried to make light of it as he mentioned that his was what the world had come to, but I could see that he was offended. I acknowledged the lack of courtesy and then slipped outside to photograph my friend with the dog who received the fan fare of a Hollywood movie star.
A bearded man in a nice suit who had come out with the dog man and another Black Horse patron stood between me and the shot, so I took his photograph instead. We chatted for a while. He had been to my hometown on business, to examine the marketing procedures of the baseball stadium there. During that trip he had nearly perished in an accident that he described to me. He was hit on the freeway by a semi truck and his company car wrapped around the fender and was pushed along the highway at 70 miles per hour. Looking out of his window he had ample time to see the shocked and horrified faces of the commuters in the neighboring lane. He had time realize that he would either be killed, hurt, or unharmed. Then his car at last spun into the divide where he was dinged by several more cars, and ultimately he emerged without a scratch. We agreed it was pleasant to have met and he departed and I rejoined my friend who had returned to her post at the bar.
Now I watched her talk to the man that she had shoved aside. She began to tell him a story about ordering her lunch at the drive through at a Wendy’s and I could see from his face that he was flabbergasted. He could not fathom why she was telling him the story. The story was boring him both in content and delivery. She could not observe any of his reactions, for as she spoke, she never looked at him, but rather talked into the air in front of her face, gazing at nothing in particular. I was delighted by the awkwardness.
I took up the conversation, and, by looking at the man and listening to what he wanted to talk about, I discovered a subject we could discuss. He mentioned Frisbee golf. I asked about it. I ventured to mention pac man…Goloso! Discussing the video games of the 1980’s was a complete hit with him. He worked for IBM in the late seventies. He used to make computers. He remembered pong…I remembered a hand held football game that consisted of red dots and his excitement grew, he remembered that too!
When my friend seemed abject, I broached the subject of the Drive-through at Wendy's so she could tell me about it again and so on it went.
I thrilled in this new arcade. Insert a coin of attention and watch the show.
These people were all lovely and sad and comical. Some were strong and brave and others weak and cowardly, and they all enjoyed answering questions.
I ordered a cider and offered to share it with my friend. Vanessa gave me a bottle and a glass. A little cider went into the glass and the rest stayed in the bottle and I pretended to drink from the glass while talking with everyone and slowly poured the contents of my bottle into my companions cup… bit by bit so that she drank all of it and I fit right in with my bottle and my glass. My uninhibited laughter, my loud voice, my strange humor, they all came to play, unnoticed among this crowd.
When my companion had finished my drink, we said our good byes and strolled off in search of a bigger meal. As we walked, she informed me that she thought she might be in the process of becoming a vampire.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Well, I guess it depends on what kind of vampire. Because I want to sleep all day and stay up all night. I don’t drink blood though.”
“What do you suppose the blood represent in the mythos of the vampire?” I asked, really wondering.
She answered without hesitation, “Life.”
I was struck. That is after all what Renfield cried out again and again: “The blood is the life!”
And suddenly I saw it very clearly, and I pronounced it aloud since she had provided the final key to unlocking the puzzle.
“Yes. Of course! The blood is the life. The vampire takes mortal life and transforms it into immortality!”
She made a noise like a confused grunt which indicated that what I had said meant nothing to her and she did not know how to respond, like the bleep one hears when the windows operating system has encountered an error. I laughed heartily and we walked on through the dark streets, me listening and laughing while she fed me the delicate and warm pieces of her life.

She seemed quite vulnerable at times
and I patted her head lovingly.

"You're a good looking guy."
I explained after I took the photo

She didn't want her picture taken.

Each night he woke up in a cold sweat.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Life In The Slaughterhouse Of Desire

You have no preference, no desire that was not planted within you by some alien force, some cultivator of needs and wants. First your parents gave you their inherent assumptions and prejudices. Then they gave you to the world. As soon as you could sit up right, they gave you to the television, and from then on it planted the seeds that sprouted into your every yearning, your every dislike. Fat women repulse you. Lean ladies give you an erection. You are harder still for sneakers and frosted breakfast cereal and a Corona with a slice of lime. All of these compulsions and repulsions which define you and make you the particular creature that you cling to be, they have all been generated in you by a radiation from without.
You are like some little fish that was spawned near a nuclear reactor and so has three eyes and feeds on glowing algae and accepts that this is all part of the nature of a fish. This is true. To be impregnated by the impressions that are orchestrated to inseminate you and cause the gestation of some desire is all part of the nature of a hairless ape. It is not at all unnatural, what has been done to you, what is still happening to you. Someone out there has figured out a way to make your nature work for them. Some clever entity, a corporation, a church, a nation, has discovered that man kind was made to be exploited and rose to the call and became your exploiter. You think it is important that you do like bubbly soft drinks or don’t, that you prefer a fine wine, or an organic tea, or a pale ale, or the piss of a German prostitute.
This defines you. You think that this is who you are. You think that it somehow matters. And that is why you buy what they want you to buy. It happens all so naturally, that you never notice or suspect that there is no reason in the world that you should need a cream to make your tits firmer or a gadget that magically removes the shell from an egg, or an after shave named for a medieval weapon. It is assumed that we must of course all look like the figures posted on the billboards. The first words we read on our own were those we saw on a billboard advertisement as we rode in the back seat of mom and dad’s car, or from the back of the cereal box set on the table before us as the sticky sweetness sent shivers through our budding neural system.
Our curious nature was given signs to interpret from the earliest age, and the meanings of these signs were always this:
“There is something that you want and we have it.
There is something that you need and we can give it to you.”
And so you came to them as soon as you could articulate a few words or a phrase. You told your parents what they should buy for you. Which plastic toys manufactured in China would bring you happiness. Which drive through restaurants, where the meat rendered from sickly animals was deep fried in boiling hot grease, would finally satisfy your hunger. What labels should be present on your clothes and shoes. You were consumed and never noticed, never wondered what was fattening you and eating you up, slowly, ad by ad, penny by penny, day by day.
You will be happy when you have…
You will be whole when you get a…
All you need now is…
Then the world will be at your feet, you will be all that you ever dreamed of becoming.
But the truth is that they supplied the dreams and it is you that will be groveling at the world’s feet for your next fix. You were born into a web of black magick without any hope of escape, without any notion that there was anything which needed to be escaped, like pigs in a factory farm, who only know that the next meal will come soon and never imagine the brightness of the sun that they will never see or the horror of the slaughter house that is their destiny. You are no more and no less than that which you were cultivated to be.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Magic of Completion

To complete a task is an act of magic. Glowing and beautiful in parallel lines of simplicity and complexity. Completion is the final draft of a text ready to print, the last drop of paint on a canvas, the washed dishes after a satisfying meal. To follow the circular path of intricate detail until what was conceived and planned is completed, that is an act of magic.
Think back to childhood, when we wanted to be astronauts and ballerinas and firemen. When they told us we could be anything. The story books read before bed spoke of immense, great dreams. I remember it clearly. I wanted to touch the moon and walk among the stars. I wanted to be a famous artist, I wanted to own an island. They told me I could do anything. But then I went to the first ballet class, that evening, we did not wear sequined tutus and we were not gliding through the air, it was not how I pictured, not what I wanted it to be. I remember doing stretches on the floor. I was an open hearted child with no discipline, with no concept that this was the first in a series of necessary steps before I could dance on my toes and move like a winged fairy. I never went back. This was the first of many beginnings with no end.
It is true, we can do anything, yet, we don’t know how to do it. Dreams are nothing without discipline. Without devotion and practice, they will forever remain in the outer realms of hope. Like clouds, we may see them drifting overhead, beautiful, pink and purple and blue, they float like marshmallow angels, always out of reach. My parents didn’t lie when they said I could do anything, but how could I achieve without learning to finish even the smallest of tasks?
A goal is a series of steps. It might be a product, a career, an astronaut, a printed book, a degree, a type of knowledge…they are end points that require real work, a set of completed smaller goals that mount and build like rows of bricks are lined up until a house is built. Each step must be taken with care, with glorious attention and devotion. But what if you cannot walk?
My parents didn’t make me go back to class. No one explained that the path to become a tutu wearing ballerina is to stretch the body and make it limber and lean and as pliable as a piece of cooked pasta. They let me quit after the first class, they let the dream die with my laziness, with my complete lack of purposeful attention. I spent my youth in a virtual comma, a little girl in front of a TV set, the tube my mom always threatened to throw into the pool, but never did.
Dreams can crumble in a moment, or they can dissolve in layered years that people describe as “reality.” With this outlook, reality is needy children, reality is bills and the necessity of a paycheck. Reality is bleak and gray and as ordinary as asphalt and crumpled paper. “Reality” is here the absence of magic, the absence of hope and dreams, creative bursts of enthusiasm. It is the acceptance that life is a series of failed attempts, a thousand uncompleted tasks.
I used to envy writers, I looked at painters in awe, “how do they do it?” I wondered in wide-eyed disbelief. How do you make a book? How do you conceive and produce a play? It all seemed like a mirage, they were the “do-ers,” and I? I was the lost soul in a desert of hopelessness, on the razor’s edge of “reality” and abandon. I wanted to make, to do…
“She wants to be a paleontologist,” I heard the little girl say. They are great dreams, dreams of conquest, achievement and beauty. They are open and honest and the hope of a young, un-jaded heart that still believes everything is possible, that ability knows no limit. But the girl hates doing her homework. The little girl has no discipline. How will she break through the obstacle of laziness? How will she learn that the enormous goal is a collection of minute steps? Steps that she must walk, one by one.
Anything is possible, but we need to learn how to “do.” Each small, completed step is an act of magic. With completion, it’s possible to regain the essence knowledge, the conscious habit, that tasks can be completed, that goals can be achieved. At the beginning, you should set yourself goals so small that it is inconceivable that you wouldn't achieve them. As you gain the deep knowledge that you are in fact capable of completion, you can add to the difficulty of the tasks, but always in a very gradual manner. Slowly, the essence will rediscover what it knew during your childhood:
Everything is possible. There are no real limits. But the illusory limits that reside in your persistent habits, those can be as real as a brick wall, as real as the coming of the darkness after a day full of sunlight and blue sky.