Saturday, January 31, 2015

Thinking only of Gray

November 7, 1980

The air around closed in, a stiff gray sheet sharp at the edges and yet curiously blunt like the end of a butter knife.
I move through it and feel like I’m getting nowhere after a restless night, pushing and pulling against this fabric of non-reality I feel enclosing me.
My girlfriend had the same chill as the air, and infinitely more distance, even through we sat in her car with the heater on high.
We stare out into a vacant street where the street lamps struggle to illuminate the world, shrouded in gray and uncertainty.
It is the wrong kind of day to ask for a commitment I already know isn’t possible, as if I have become part of this stiff gray that makes her future less certain, with anything I say only adding to the gray that way the car fumes huffing and puffing add to the gray that surrounds us.
She is not angry, only confused, confusion we could not cure despite the long ride back from West Jersey where the fog was less thick, but no less debilitating.
She needs to move on to the next phase of her life, she says, grad school if not in Colorado then some where equally remote, not just in distance, but in thought process.
And I struggle a bit like Othello, not over other human being, but over a concept and a condition I have no control over, and feel a bit like Lear in not knowing if I am a fool.
We have come full circle, and yet have not landed quite where we started, but rather like some in some perverted universe, we have turned everything inside out, and twisted this grayness into something that binds us, and we struggle to untangle its ends so that we might make sense of it.
I’m not 17 anymore and so I cannot flee this moment the way I did back then when I ran to join the army as if it was the French Foreign Legion. She was the one who has to move on.
And so with that said, I crawled home, a slug laden with salt tears, weaving through the gray until I set my key in the lock of my door, and once inside, felt stronger if not stronger, safer, if not safe, rooted but not settled – startled awake later to a gray dawn by her knock on the window, shattered when she asked if I minded us seeing other people.
I couldn’t breathe – the gray closing in so firmly around me, as to fill me up and leave me speechless – all my clever metaphors draining from me the way the blood must have drained from my face.
And lying beside her, inside her, feeling her shape around my shape, I wondered if I would feel anything like this again, thinking that this moment would have to endure through time vivid down, but clouded over time into a gray memory I would struggle to maintain as real. Salt mingling on our faces as we wrestled again in imitation of love also fading into gray.
We’re caught here. We’re locked in this binding mess with no way to break free, love binding us like a twisted sheet while other desires yank us away.
I watched her rise early, dress, and leave, and listened to the clatter of her shoes down the alleyway, her last smile lingering in the gray mist that filled this previously safe place so that no place was safe, and now I sit here looking at the cracked paint of my cold water flat, thinking only of gray.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Clinging to empty air

Friday, January 30, 2015

I sit in the desk I started out in, window behind me that no longer looks over New York as the masters of revision pound in the pilings until my fillings fall out.
I feel this place in my bones, as if it has seeped into my blood and I can’t get it out of me.
We liked to think we control our own destiny, steering our fate this way and that, when we all live our lives like Captain Ahab pursuing something that eludes us for so long we wonder if it is real.
This space is a world of cubicles, out of which we somehow manage shape reality, and we become like store clerks cast into a sea with sharks, managing to save ourselves only by learning to swim faster than the sharks can, or out think them, or sometimes, become as they are, and gobble them up before they devour us. Do this long enough, sometimes, you just want to stop swimming and let whatever happens happen.
We live here with the illusion of power, watching big egos work themselves up into a frenzy, only to get deflated when they are cast down.
Those who survive longest in that game are the ones who don’t believe their own hype.
But it is all so seductive – this idea of being on the inside and being with people who matter.
The sad ones are the ones who discover too late that it is all an illusion and that we are only as powerful as we are useful. The ones who work at it hardest and are savvy enough to read the water for when to move or not move, last the longest in this fish bowl filled with budding sharks.
Loyalty means little except between those with the closest ties, mostly people who grew up together in old neighborhoods, building a union not originally political or powerful.
Position gives people the most power – whether it be someone in a corner office issuing orders, or someone in a city hall. But position is not the person, and once the position is gone, the person reverts, and becomes nobody.
A few have power that is self contained, something that can’t be given or taken away easily, a self-centeredness that defies the concept of traditional power – but this is such a rare commodity as to not exist in the real world: Jesus had it, Gandhi, too, but few others.
Sometimes, you have a different kind of power that wouldn’t be recognized as such, learning to duck and weave like a skilled boxer, avoiding punches that you know would knock you out if they connected.
This is a skill I’ve learned over the last few years, even though my basic tendency is to fight back or confront power with power.
But surviving is often more important that feeling important, and in the end, those left standing are the truly powerful people.
I feel sorry for those who got seduced and then fell to the wayside because in most cases, they were deluded into the belief they could hold onto power simply by clinging to the rungs of those who have power, and they are shocked when the rungs of the ladder are yanked from their grasp and they find themselves clinging to empty air.
In some ways, I’m a voyeur, a silent observer watching the rise and fall of powerful people the way fisherman watch the rise and fall of tides, able to predict some of it by watching the phases of the moon, but unable to do anything more than watch and sympathize.
What I want most out of this world of cubicles is to leave on my own terms, to survive long enough so that I won’t be grasping empty air when I’m done.

In the spirit world

Friday, January 30, 2015

          I walked to Hoboken yesterday even though the hill up from my house still clung to ice and snow from the blizzard that was not a blizzard, and people still did not shovel the little we had.
          This is the luxury I missed when working ten years in the Bayonne office. On better days in spring or fall, this is a spiritual walk, one in which I let the air weave through me as I find new routes along a well trodden landscape to get from where I am to where I ought to be.
          In winter, the challenge is greater, but so is the satisfaction in arriving safe both in the morning, and then later in the evening, home again.
          Sometimes, I walk listening to music or poetry, but just as often, I leave the ear buds and simply listen to the ambient sounds of the world – starved for nature this part of the world lacks, and the old river I used to jog along each morning as regularly as a religious service – seeking some spiritual being that I know exists but cannot prove – only feel.
          I always ache for spring, even when fall comes, for the buds bursting over me and inside of me. But at this particular time, the need is most acute, as my boots crunch through ice and over piles of frozen snow under which new growth stirs, echoing the hidden stirrings inside myself.
          During this walk I thought about my old arch rival from grammar school, who I searched to find for years and only discovered by accident that he had passed away. His older sister died late last month and her obituary mentioned his predeceasing her.
          He and his side kick had spent most of our eight years in St. Brendan’s picking on me until I finally got fed up with it and beat them up – a somewhat comic affair since I ended up sitting on top of one hitting him in the head with his own shoe, while rolling the other down the grassy knoll in front of the school door.  The scout master came out to this comedy and expelled both of them from the troop, aware of just how patient I had been for so many years.
          Oddly enough, this rival met a mutual school mate years later and asked about me, saying he really missed me.
          Indeed, we sometimes become more spiritual connected to our enemies than those we see as closest to us, and often these relationships last when none others will, even in the absence of seeing each other – as with me and my rival.
          His side kick at St. Brendan’s also died, but of the usual drug-related circumstances I would have expected, deteriorating in that hazy, uncomfortable, and unsustainable excess of the 1970s. But my rival was different. He’d been married and divorced, and when last word came, he was still stinging over the loss.
          I had other rivals since – punks both high and low, cool and uncool, mean and mean-spirited, but none ever filled up my time or attention like my first one did. And in walking in the cold yesterday, I sought out his spirit in that world beyond this, just to tell him all is well and that over the long years, we shared a plain of existence few others could achieve. This is beyond the idea of forgiveness. That happened long ago. But through the long mists that have hung over our lives, I think I came to a better understanding about his needs and mine, and how we most likely strove for the same thing and simply took different routes to get there.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Am I dreaming or what?

November 6, 1980

        I ache for sleep and yet cannot, this early morning on this cool day, waiting to rise but aching to remain unmoved – a part of me throbbing from dreams I have while awake, caught in some compromise between consciousness and the subconscious that allows my body to lift itself out while my mind lingers of the edge of dream.
        All my dreams are the same dreams run constantly like a reel to a movie in which I always repeat myself, aching for the same thing I rarely receive when awake.
        I look out a window that sees only dark, and can’t even see my own reflection in the glass as I am undead.
        And I wonder am I moved by thirst for blood, or lust to be something I was not born to be, bound and gagged by some social mandate I never meant to sign – as if in my sleep I traded by soul away to Lucifer and missed out on what I was supposed to get in exchange.
        If someone is going to sell his soul, he ought to get his brief moment of pleasure –or at worst remember what it was he wanted to badly that he would accept eternal damnation for it.
        I must slept at some point during the night because everything seems vague to me except for the throbbing in my temple and my thighs – feelings I usually get when I dream about fucking someone.
        But unlike other nights when I can put a face to the dream, I remember nothing, and I float in the void of memory for a while, until I go back passed the sleep to a memory from before, and I recall leaving my car in the vast emptiness of Lot 6 at school, fearing that someone has towed it away because it shouldn’t be there.
        Like me, the carburetor spews fuel in all direction except for the shaft where it will do any good, and traveling any distance is as rough as riding a bronco without a saddle or pants, and because the gas tank has so little fuel, I could not guarantee making the nearest gas station without running out.
        I took a bus home amid the chatter of Spanish ladies from Paterson and giggling teenage girls flirting with me between giggles – perhaps explaining why I can’t remember my dreams since they likely amounted to statutory rape. And I keep thinking the morning commute back to the campus will be worse, and wonder if other people see what I’m all about from my flustered expression, my pulling out my pockets to feed the exact change dispense on the bus, my dropping books and other stuff out of my bag when I find a seat.
        All I want to do is go back to sleep – if I ever was – and dream again whatever it was I dreamt to make me feel so flushed.
        I keep telling myself the car won’t be there and there’s no point of my traveling all that way in the cold, getting frost bite or pneumonia only to be redirected to some tow yard when I won’t have money to get the car out of hock, and no gas to drive it anywhere with the carburetor spewing gasoline every which way.
        I might get mugged or worse getting off one bus in the center of downtown Paterson to wait for the next bus to take me up the hill to Wayne, the drug dealers mingling with the prostitutes and all of them giggling at me and the dreams they suspect my unconscious will stir up.
        But somewhere in the dreams I can’t remember dreaming, I remember being happy or satisfied, something that I generally struggle to get in the waking world. I like dreams in which I can do things I can’t do in real life, be with people who wouldn’t be caught dead with me otherwise, fix a car I know I will have a hell of a time fixing when I wake up.
        Why can’t I remember a dream in which the car is fixed?
        Why can’t I be content in going back to sleep and letting the world go?
        Why do I always wake up this early with all the chirping going on inside my head that has nothing to do with the chirping of birds outside?
        With so many things amiss in my life these days, why can’t I just drift off and make believe they are solved, while I make love to imaginary people, and complete imaginary feats of bravery – when I know the bravest thing I could possible do at this moment is to get up and go find and fix my fucking car?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Waiting on the storm

Sunday, January 25, 2015

We wait on the arrival of snow amid conflicting reports, the way we often wait for a train or a plane or a bus to arrive, never knowing exactly what to expect when, only that something will happen.
I’ve lived my whole life in anticipation of something I can’t anticipate, precipitation that comes with the anxiety of what I want to happen verses what does, or even more importantly, what should.
I like snow storms only if I do not have to go anywhere in the midst of them – just the way I like disruption of our orderly existence, mostly because our orderly existence belittles most of us, turning us into robots and our lives into routines.
But then, I hate the aftermath of disasters – be then super storms or blizzards – partly because people do not know how to behave among the wreckage, and the most savage part of our evolution shows itself, greed over small things in order that we might have them when no one else can. Fights over parking spaces or rock salt which diminishes any concept of civilization we might have engendered for ourselves.
Snow storms make me feel lonely, isolating something inside myself as well as outside.
I remember being snow bound in a cabin in the mountains about Greenwood Lake with my uncle one year – the road from his house to the first paved road so thick with snow we could not have walked out even had white out and heavy wind made walking off the side of the mountain very possible.
Our lives had come to a crossroad that winter. I had just come back from the west coast and turned myself in for crimes I had committed a few years earlier. He was giving up his dream of becoming an artist or a musician for the more practical dream of simply getting a steady job. We played cards to keep ourselves occupied, and talked, but tried to avoid those subjects most painful to both of us, the sense of being lost, of not being able to find the right way back to the path we were on before life ripped away our dreams.
I was so lonely inside and outside myself, even this company was welcome, as snow mounted up outside and on the roof.
His was a stone house with redwood beams, more than strong enough to bear the weight of the world upon it. But I was not nearly so strong, and felt each inch of snow mount up inside me until I faltered.
We ran out of cigarettes first, then food, and propane for the stove and heating, and finally had to rely on firewood and the small fireplace we fed cautiously not knowing when the snow would stop or when we could get down the hill to the store where phones were still working and we could call for help.
I didn’t anticipate dying. But I kept thinking of a similar scene up near the Canadian border just after the birth of my daughter, when we had presumed too soon that spring has spring only to have a late spring blizzard seal us up in a farm house where we also ran out of propane and had to use our bodies to keep the infant warm until one of us could walk out to find some more fuel – which I did in the morning having no mountain to fall off of, just a straight road that was rapidly melting before me.
I look ahead to the new storm with less trepidation. This is the middle of the city where we might lose power, but not for long. The biggest risk we always face in such things is losing ourselves, and trying to find paths that may no longer exist for us, and that we might not fall off any mountains, we certainly might fall out of our lives and land in something we never expected, and never prepared for.
While I still like the idea of disruption, I always fear the life I pick up after I pick up the pieces of civilization is not the same life I had before the storm hit, and I wonder, can anyone cling to what we presumed would happen, when something else happens anyway?

Friday, January 9, 2015

The French connection

Friday, January 09, 2015

They killed the terrorists in France today, ending an ordeal that will likely take on the same significance to the French as 9/11 did to us, and will cause the same shift to the right as we saw with the monstrous legislation we call “the Patriot Act.”
These symbolic moments miss the point, of course, and we do not learn from history.
Even when right wing fanatics killed their own leader in Israel, the knee jerk public voted right wing, and so we edge closer to the fascist state everybody claims to hate.
I’m not sure if I should blame media for being part of the conspiracy to scare everybody, but in truth, fear spreads worse than Ebola ever could, and we always react the same way.
A whacko with a legal gun kills a bunch of kids at Sandy Hill Elementary School, and nutty people go out and buy more guns, adopting the NRA’s sick belief in turning every school into an armed camp and every adult into Wyatt Earp.
Recently, I watched a bunch of Dirty Harry films and realized once more just how bad they were and how misguided. Fortunately, I got to see two films back to back, The Enforcer and then Bullet, and saw just how films of the same theme could come to dramatically different conclusions. People with guns are not heroes; they are simply people with guns, emotional, egotistical, power crazed as the drivers that tear down my street many times the speed limit, drunk on the presumption that they have power, when they are mostly losers who need a gun to overcome their lack of importance in the real world.
But incidents like those in France this week, or at Sandy Hill, or in New York at 9/11 only push people over the edge into this paranoia – which either translates into letting government have too much power over us or insistence of believing if we have weapons of our own we can protect ourselves, when all either does is put us in greater danger, the first feeding the fantasies of conspiracy minded that they need guns to ward off some plot by our own government, and the second to believe that they really are Wyatt Earp.
What’s sad about all this is how one thing feeds on another, and how one or both of the two brothers killed in France became radicalized over the reports of Americans torturing prisoners in Iraq – which was justified because like those of the CIA – someone attacked America and we need to hurt someone to make sure it doesn’t happen again, when it always happens again, especially when we insist on hurting people.
The history of the CIA is one of miscalculation and cruelty, a secret society that believes it has our best interests at heart, but we can’t know what they are doing or why, even though ultimately, what they do causes someone somewhere to attack us.
So we can now expect from this French incident another series of aftershocks, attack and counter attack, more bloodshed, mostly of innocent people, who ultimately are the collateral damage associated with governments doing what they want whenever they want to whomever they deem to deserve it.
Meanwhile, fear will make us build more walls to keep these evil terrorists from getting at us, and we will empower even more armed guards who will act as our guardians while making prisoners of us all in the same of freedom.
Such a foolish notion. We never get to the root cause of any of it. We never find out why they hate us so much, we just keep doing whatever it takes to make them hate us all the more.