Nietzsche and the Earthworms

Nietzsche and the Earthworms

I thought we’d broken up permanently after the angsty tickle me Emo years.  In the tilt-a-whirl meanderings of my early twenties, Nietzsche was gravity.  The bummer friend always waiting in the corner.  He helped explain the world in a way that I could understand.  The absurdity.  The lack of God.  The will to power in the people I never quite found a way of understanding.

We were an unlikely pair. He came with me everywhere in various paperback forms.  I attended a few meetings of his fan group, the Nietzsche Society.  Everyone was so serious and thoughtful and respectful of each other’s time to speak.  I don’t know that (before or since), I’ve ever been part of a group that paid more mind to what they were saying and how they were listening.

As the notches of life crept towards thirty, my anger subsided and we drifted apart.  He faded back into the recesses of a dusty bookshelf and I wandered on towards Hesse and words that came from the east.  I really never looked back and life just went on in its usual fits and starts for years.

After my father passed, I began to see echoes of the absurd.  People were more confusing again and I withdrew into silence, the greatest weapon of the sensitive.  I’d lie awake at night and through the moonlight I could hear a faint knocking.  Almost like an unbearable fragile rose branch tapping on the far side of myself.  I ignored it.  Turned up the fan I use for white noise and watched as my thoughts spun out and out of control.  So many months of trying to reach out and clasp the version of myself that floated just beyond reach, but she couldn’t be caught anymore.  Mostly because she wasn’t there.

Nietzsche returned one night uninvited.  He wanted to rehash the old issue of eternal recurrence (to be brief…it’s namely that time is a flat circle and the same life is lived over and over again in the same sequence end over end forever without any chance of escape).  In my twenties I thought when God died, the singular most awful and creative sentence as repayment would be damning us to repeat everything.  I think that’s why I ran to words of the East.  We could reincarnate and atone and change our fates forever.  Honestly though.  Who knows?  Both, neither, one or the other: all equally possible.  Those who solve the problem don’t tell secrets.

I think retrospect is a way more useful way of marking one’s progress through time than a calendar.  I sat up from bed and decided that I didn’t want my thoughts to spin out of control forever.  I thought about the moments in my story that were good.  The ones that still make me catch my breath when I revisit them.  There were so many I’d forgotten! Somehow I drifted off into sleep and finally slept until morning.  The next day I decided to try to make new good moments to add to the collection for sleepless nights.  It wasn’t easy.  Sometimes we find ourselves unwillingly and unwittingly playing a supporting role in our own life and a more active role in stories that aren’t our own.  It takes a lot of presence to step out of the story line.  I signed off of social media (facebook namely) because I realized I had been spending so much time and energy staring at a screen filled with voices and noises that were affecting my well being and I wasn’t a part of any of them.  I had to make good forever moments on my own, by myself, and in real time.  I don’t think that can be done on a phone with emojis and thumbs.

Every day I’m trying to add more of the good forever type moments.  The ones I spend by myself seem to have the biggest effect on my heart.  Most of them are outside because that’s where I prefer to be as much and as often as I can.  The greatest ones are secrets, but I’ll throw out a few.  I curled up with my cat and listened to the rhythm of her purring for an hour.  I freed a ladybug from a spider web (sorry about that lil arachnid friend…I owe you a fly).  I am memorizing the whorls and swirls of my dog’s fur (he has cancer and they told me two months ago he would probably have 3 months left). Those are just a silly handful in my growing collection of things I’d love to do over and over again.  When people or situations are stressful or uncomfortable, I find myself asking whether they are worth stewing over not only once, but again and again and again.  I haven’t found a single one yet that is.  The foods I eat are better and healthier.  I’m finding myself more patient with people I would typically want to flip off or curse in whispered Vietnamese.  It’s making my skin fit better.

I’ve read a lot of books and teachings that were supposed to reveal the secret of how to live a good life, filled with all sorts of step by step plans and schematics.  I’m learning that they are just books, not without merit of course, but just somebody’s words.  Living a good life, one worth repeating, means participating and writing and directing your own story.  Not to say that there won’t be downs and swamps and snares and snakes and Scorpios and trenches.  I know when my pup passes, the thought of living that moment forever will level me.  Real power comes from making good moments in spite of those times.  I’m hoping I’ll scrape myself off the ground eventually and keep adding to the stash of beauty.  The alternative would be sitting in it forever.  And that would mean Nietzsche would leave me for good.  And I’d have to start wearing all black again which means dry cleaning expenses and more frown lines.

That leaves the worm connection.  This last rainstorm left quite a few puddles on our dirt driveway that ended up filled with earthworms. I took a stick and moved as many as I could out into the field so we didn’t run over them.  I’d always thought that rain flooded them up and out of the ground.  I just learned yesterday that they actually breathe through their skin and they suffocate if they dry out which is why their rich soil gifts to us are so deep underground.  Rainstorms allow them to surface and migrate faster and safely to another wormy home.  The rains give them freedom to journey. Maybe they look forward to winter and the good worm memories of the open road?

I hope that Nietzsche finds his way to anyone reading this.  If only to help you really live your very best life on your very own terms and in your own secret ways.  It’s nobody’s business what memories you pack to keep you warm but I do really hope you keep the best ones hidden safely in your own hearts for days when the rains come.


Real Men Eat Raw Pop Tarts

Real Men Eat Raw Pop Tarts

I was halfway across the Richmond Bridge when my phone rang. His voice was shaking and he ping ponged back and forth from laughter to tears so quickly I could only make out one sentence.  “I’m out!”.

For most people, that usually means a myriad number of benign mundane things.  I’m done with work, done with a party, done with a sentence or a relationship, etc.  Sometimes we say it instead of goodbye.  But he wasn’t most people and he didn’t use the phrase lightly.

I met him on a fall morning after a night of heavy rain.  Telegraph was littered with leaves and finally smelled clean.  I was reading a book of Rimbaud poems when I heard someone whistle.  I ignored it and kept walking but the whistle got louder and more insistent.  I lowered my book, and there perched lotus style on top of a garbage can was a Gutterpunkus Americanus in a green hoodie.  He lifted a book from his lap and it was Baudelaire.  We laughed and I bought him a blueberry bagel.  He told me he went by the name Exit because that was the greatest magic trick he had yet to perfect.  We had both already read our books so we traded and I walked home reading his Les Fleurs du mal.

Every once in a while you meet somebody that has no starting point.  It almost feels like you continue on from a place that you don’t remember.  A place without any of the awkward getting-to-know-you introduction of barriers and guards being lowered.  Sometimes it lasts for just a moment while other times it extends for a lifetime.  There’s an expression in Italian “colpo di fulmine”, or lightning strike (which is usually used for romantic love)- but I think it applies to anyone that comes along who is instantly a kindred spirit.  Exit was one of mine.

He was a brilliant and prolific writer.  Kind of a strange cross between Burroughs, Thompson, and Kerouac.  He’d spent so much time on the road that his stories had the same free feel to them.  No word was misused or misspelled but they all snuck up and kicked you in the gut when you read them.  We used to meet at the little brick wall on the abandoned lot at the corner of Telegraph and Haste.  He came armed with napkins, coasters, flyers- anything he could fill with words- and he read them to me out loud.  One day he came with both of his arms wrapped in bandages.  He said that he’d been working on magic but hadn’t gotten it down just right.  He said they’d shut his theater and locked him up for a few days for trying.

He eventually left Berkeley and meandered east again.  Every week (usually every 3 days), I’d get a stack of letters and writing from him or knick knacks he didn’t want to lose on the road.  The postmarks were the only things that tracked his journey.  He settled in the Midwest briefly and got a good job as a garbage man.  He loved the empty streets of early morning and digging through the treasures some people called trash.  One morning he found an old typewriter, so then all of his letters came typed.  He fell in love and got his teeth capped and finally seemed happy for a while.  He never mentioned what happened, but the postmarks began to change at some point and off he went again.  But the letters always came, along with chapters of a book he was writing, and sometimes t shirts or patches or cards he’d gotten at Comic Con.

We touched base on aol when he could get to a computer.  Clunky car phones turned into cell phones so we actually got to speak again because he hadn’t returned to Berkeley and didn’t intend to come back.  Certain bits of his book told me why he hadn’t and wouldn’t but those are his story and not mine to tell.

“I’m out!”.

Once I got to the other side of the bridge, he’d calmed down a little.  Enough so I could understand what he was saying.  He’d contracted something from a needle.  It wasn’t treatable.  He said it finally helped him figure out the magic trick once and for all.

At that point, I understood what he meant.  I pulled over to the shoulder of the freeway and we both cried for a long while until the phone went dead.  I thought I’d lost the signal and waited for him to call back, but he didn’t.

A week later, I got a package in the mail with a cd in it and a note saying it was the soundtrack of his story.  On the cd he’d written “Nexit”.

I never heard from him again.  I checked the mail for a long time thinking maybe he’d just found a place to hide.  The cd was the last of it.

Todd overdosed in Santa Monica on April 13, 2008.  He’d finally perfected the magic of leaving. He was 38 years old.

I’ve never had another friend like him.  He was gentle and sensitive in a way that left him without armor.  The world sharpens its knives and salivates when people like him come along.  The funny thing is, his goodness and pure goddamn way of moving through life left him stronger than any of it.  His writing and his sparkle made him a force of nature and a teeny sunbeam that were untouchable.  I only know that now in retrospect but I wish he’d known it then.  I don’t think his war was with a world trying to stamp out his spirit.  I think the war was with himself, for thinking that’s what it would take to really feel like he belonged here.  And he just wasn’t willing to do that.  But he brought beauty and kindness and that made him belong here more than anyone.

For some reason, there is a piece of his book that planted a BLT toothpick flag in my heart all these years.  It was a scene where a boy is trying to show off for a girl at the beginning of their silly love story.  He tells her, “Real men eat raw Pop Tarts”.  When she isn’t impressed, he says “With enough duct tape, I could save the world”.  She responds, “so, do you want a Pop Tart or some duct tape?”.

Exit was the duct tape.  In my little world anyways.  I miss him every day.  Every once in a while he sneaks into my pen and I write something he would’ve said.  When I read it to myself, I hear it in his voice.  Those are the moments when lightning lingers.


Nerdy Love Poem

Nerdy Love Poem

Artists never seem to paint the heart.

I imagine too much paint would be needed

to cover the holes or even out the scarred margins

of most of the things

most of us spend

most of our lives

trying to forgive or maybe just forget.


I pin mine to my sleeve now

because it kept falling through the hole

where my inner child used to live

before she chewed her way out

taking the sugar and spice and everything nice.

She left a note with the snakes and snails saying it wasn’t me

she needed to see other people.


Last time I looked,

held the ragged thing to the light

it was still beating.

There were cat hairs, grass bits, an Elvis earring, and buttons from clothes I’d never owned

stuck to its skin.


I expected him to run

the day it first came out of hiding,

back to someplace where things like that aren’t legal.

But instead he pulled off the tamale pin on his truckers hat

(He keeps his there to remind him to think before feeling)


There were dog hairs, 2 marbles, a Hotwheel, and a love note to the Tooth Fairy

fixed all together with Big League Chew.

These days we’re learning to draw each other’s faces with nothing but cheerios

and if we threw our hearts at a wall,

they would break into 100 butterflies we trained to play kazoos

New Zealand Shepherds and Leprechauns

New Zealand Shepherds and Leprechauns

The following excerpt is completely and embarrassingly true.  Don’t judge me.  Or park next to me.

There comes a point in your late twenties when it dawns on you that, most likely, the chances of finding love at the local bar are growing increasingly slim and all too awkward.  Looking back, it’s like the scene in Independence Day when the triangle of escape is closing as you hurdle through warp speed wrinkled space to reach it.

Speaking of Independence Day, now is probably a good time to point out, through years of scientific experimentation, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are essentially two kinds of people in this world.  There are those that are absolutely ok with being alone if that’s what circumstances require.  We amuse ourselves and find ways to pass time.  We park far away from other cars, choose a bathroom stall with at least two empty berths between the next set of feet, and, finally, we show up at movies and sit smack dab in the middle of any empty swath of velvet.

Then there are the others.  The ones that can’t be alone too long.  The ones that park right next to us in an empty parking lot or row of bathroom stalls.  And the ones who, no matter how empty the theater is, seem to feel compelled to thump into the seats directly in front of us.  God bless them.  I’ve tried to understand it, but none of the equations compute.  Maybe it’s the yin and yang of humanity.

So back to the late twenties alone thing.  I was ok with it.  Sincerely.  Mostly.  Maybe?  Until other people got involved and tried to diagnose and solve the loneliest number problem.  My younger sister suggested I try eHarmony because they were having one of their free promo weekends.  Out of sheer curiosity (and the annoying habit of always needing to try something once before I make fun of it), I sat down at a not-so-lonely keyboard and delved into a 45-minute interrogation that probably rivals any prison in any place ever.  Once I finally finished the psychic pounding, I hit send and headed to my favorite local bar.

The next day I got an email saying that I did not have any local matches.  EHarmony wanted to know if I’d like to expand my search.  I thought…well…why the hell not?  Spread that net far and wide yo.  After a couple of hours I got another email.  I had 2 matches.  In the world.  Of all of the people signing on for a free promo of love finding on this planet, I had two matches.  One was a sculptor in Brazil.  The other was a self described shepherd in New Zealand.  The email asked if I wanted to sign up and pay x amount to get their contact information.  I opted out.  Not that they weren’t intriguing, but, honestly, the worm only stayed on the hook when it was free and promotional.  It seemed like a good time to find a parking space away from the others.  No interrogation or personality profile? Check.  No obligation to pay for anything? Check check.  At the time, I was in grad school working on a thesis about (don’t laugh) a comparative study between Taoism, Nihilism, and Quantum Physics.  I could explain that further but I won’t because mostly I was writing a paper about the importance of Nothing.  So naturally when I got matched with a quantum physics professor from UCD, I thought, well alrighty then.  Let’s do this.

We met at a local Border’s because I honestly couldn’t bear to bring cyber dates into real time bars.  He seemed like a nice enough guy.  Little quirky but nice.  He poo-pooed the idea of marrying philosophy and science, but I sipped my Chai and listened and nodded and pretended I knew wtf he was talking about when he spouted names and equations in the field.

Then it happened.  He decided he felt comfortable enough to kick off his scientific shoes and tell me secrets.  Secrets about leprechauns, mind control, and fire.  Hand to God.  I don’t remember how it came up or in what order they were unleashed into the book store.  He told me that he had a leprechaun friend that had followed him all throughout his childhood.  He pointed out the window and said it had just run past.  He told me he knew what I was thinking and I gave him 3 guesses.  The first two were so completely off kilter and bizarre, I gave him a slight hint that the third was within the county of the ballpark just to stop yet another interrogation.  And then the fire.  Once I’d semi somewhat ceded that maybe he kinda knew a little bit about a thought that may have passed through my mind at some point in life, he told me he could set things on fire with his mind.

He could set things on fire with his mind.

At that point, I’d already checked out and was planning on heading back to my local bar where the weirdness was predictable.  Like old stinky socks that, no matter how often you wash them, mold to the shapes of your toes.

I sipped my Chai and tried to contain myself and nodded.  He wasn’t sure if I believed him and asked if he could show me.  Then he offered to set me on fire (with his mind) while I was sitting across from him.  Honestly?  I told him yes.  Whatever got the night moving or got me out of the situation.  Skin grows back.  Time doesn’t.

He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.  Then he looked out the window where the leprechaun had run past ten minutes before.  Then he looked at me wide and crazy eyed.

Nothing.  No fire.  No red cheeks from embarrassment even.  When the intense googly eyed séance ended, he said he was tired from grading papers and maybe we could revisit it another time.  We walked out into the parking lot.  It didn’t escape me that he had parked in a group of others.  I told him I was in the group and pointed at a random sedan.  He waved and drove off.

I walked alone to the back of the parking lot where there was only one car.

Muses on the Storm

Muses on the Storm

A dear friend of mine recently thanked me for being here because she said it makes her feel like she isn’t alone.  It caught me off guard.  For quite a few days.  The aloneness is something I always just figured was balled up and stashed only in my own turtle shell.  It got me thinking about life and about people.  It’s teaching me how to see everyone from a different vantage point.  A bittersweet one.  Maybe we are all just trying to do our best with that feeling of being alone and it just looks different for everyone.

Sometimes the inconsistency of the sharp edges of this world is overwhelming.  Trying to be a good person doesn’t always make sense now that kindness doesn’t have much currency.  When I get too deep and lost on the backroads of my own heart, I grab a pen, close my eyes, and let it write.  The voice that comes through isn’t mine but it always brings me comfort.  Whether one calls it a muse, God, higher Self, etc., I think the voice is there deep inside of everyone.  Waiting.  I don’t bother much with placing any ranking or importance on which metaphor gets people through this life.  There isn’t any one way or place to shelter from the storm.  Mine finds its way through fluent chicken scratch.

I’ve never shared any of the scribbly storm writing before.  Today, for some reason, it feels like a good time to start.  I tip my hat to all of the gentle wayward souls navigating your way in a place without rules or maps of places to hide.

‘If you’re not getting a clear answer or picture, sometimes you must simply tilt the question on its ear or try to paint your story upside down.  Perspective is never constant.  For the right words and colors stem and flow through that which is sacred or stemming from joy.  Leaves fall, whether or not there is any wind to guide or push them from their silent places.  They merely fall in their own time.  One needs to allow these things to transpire of their own accord, like water gently finding its way through tree roots and the myriad birds that rise up in a resounding YES!!  More life please!!

So breathe Child with yourself and through your soul.  Allow life to happen within you.  The feathering of new dreams takes place in the stillness on the head of a pin.  Know that the world is stretched wide and ready to catch you at the slightest hint of tumbling toward dark places (though they are there necessarily).  Light or trembles of time struggle to narrow a gaze on brighter things to light the footfalls before you.

There is reason without rhyme, but when rhyme and repetition cause muddled thought or muddied pools, we ask that you smile.  Breathe deeper still.  Allow yourself to be caught by the eager hands of your own heart in a world that, at all times and in all ways, adores you.

When feelings become echoes of lives already lived, it becomes time to allow yourself to change and to herald that transformation of belief as do the smallest birds at the breaking of dawn.  You will never see a leaf drift upwards and cling to a past season of tree.  So too should you not create a wind that would carry you back to where you’ve already been.

Life is meant to be a journey.  Shifting and drifting.  The completion is not the focus of the soul- but rather a culmination of all the good you bring to this world just by breathing and stepping light-footed where the path is lit before you.  Tears, like leaves, are bound to fall in their own time.  Allow them to water the seeds of better days.  There we will find you.’

Finger Barometer

Finger Barometer

I’ve always had a fascination with profanity.  Its uses, origins, etymology, versatility, etc.   There are studies that show people who swear more tend to be smarter and less stressed, albeit less likely to be hired to corporate America.  Where’s the downside?  Not to say that I channel my inner pirate on a daily basis, but sometimes said pirate has to effing Rawrrrrrr.  And sometimes she lets out the aforementioned Rawrrrr in Vietnamese, or Korean, Spanish, French, maybe Italian.  Somehow those were the things people wanted to teach me along the way.  I never particularly wanted or needed to know how to say “F%$# your mother” in Vietnamese but that’s what I was taught at the dry cleaners in high school.  I’ve never used it in a situation where someone might understand, but I’ve been known to mutter it in traffic.  If only for myself and my stress level.  I imagine that opens up a strange door into my psyche but nobody has the key but me and, as the Count says,  ‘Aaah  aaah  aaaahhhh’.


I’ve learned by comparison American English has fairly boring and nondescript manners of profaning.  Sincerely.  I didn’t really know that until I moved to Italy (heretofore known as the mothership of all kickass profanity).  Animals, the virgin Mary, God, the world, inanimate objects are all brilliantly quilted together into phrases that really can’t translate well.  Pig Mary for example.  If I were to say that to you, unless you (or someone close to you perhaps) is named Mary-  no effect.  Other than probably cutting short our conversation.  Such it is.  Most conversations are lost in translation even when the same language is being spoken.

But then there’s the exception.  The finger.

I had an Italian friend who had one of the most colorful ways to express anything at any given time even without hand gestures.  Whenever he’d ask me how I was doing, if my response were tilting anywhere towards the negative axis, he would always reply:  Meglio di un dito nel culo.  Whether it was the weather, my job, the state of the world, my Alfalfa cowlick- meglio di un dito nel culo.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I’ll spare the Google translate.  Meglio di un dito nel culo means:  it’s better than a finger in your ass.  Crude?  Crass?  Yes and yes.  True?  Absolutely.  In almost every situation.  For me anyways.  I don’t pretend to know how anyone else rolls.

I haven’t spoken to that friend in a few years since our paths diverged.  But somehow that expression decided to stay behind.  It wasn’t until relatively recently that I realized it had somehow permeated my mental membrane and, unbeknownst to me, I had been using it as a gauge for life’s progress.

So for today I can honestly say I have 99 problems.  A finger up the bum ain’t one.


Red Truck/Black Stallion

Red Truck/Black Stallion

If bin Laden is still alive, he’s living in a green Acura on a back country road turnout.  It seems as good a place as any since it’s the last point where civilization drops off.  I only know it as the point where wifi and fast food delivery ends.  The wildlands begin thirteen minutes before the dirt road that carries me home. I pass him sometimes at night.   In the front seat, his beard is intermittently lit up by the blue grey haze of a dying cell phone battery and the brief orange inhale of a fading cigarette.  Sometimes I want to pull over and ask what he’s searching.  I never have though.  Somehow I don’t think bin Laden’s who live in their cars want to be interrogated about anything.

There’s also the man with the scooter.  He never rides it, but he wears a helmet.  He grips its handlebars and walks it to and from town.  Together they maneuver their way through potholes and hills and lazy bending roads.  He wears earbuds but I don’t think he plays anything.  He can somehow hear me coming long before I see him and takes care to guide his mount to the shoulder of the road but he never looks back.  One afternoon we accidentally made brief eye contact and half ass waved at each other but it was embarrassing for both of us.  I don’t imagine that will happen ever again.

This is what life becomes when you live beyond Domino’s reach and work from home.  When your closest neighbor is two cow fields away, people become a curiosity.  A precious novelty.  Every human interaction becomes a brief story you watch unfold and fold up again into an origami angel that floats away into the vast silence of no city lights.

There’s a small corner store down the road that I drive to when the vast expanse of space/time into town becomes as daunting as the face of the Himalayas when you’re wearing flip flops.   Usually it’s for cat food or tin foil or the occasional salt and vinegar chip that can’t possibly wait another day to hit my belly.  It’s now the rootstock of all stories and my favoritest of all small corners in this world.  I used to take my dad to a dispensary.  One day we went on a Friday and I mistakenly thought I’d found the happiest place on earth.  That truth held until I first walked into the corner store.  If you could meld the two together there would be world peace.

The Indian owners are learning Spanish.  The Spanish speakers are learning Hindi. Everybody knows everyone’s name.  There is a guy in a wheelchair out front that picks through the garbage can.  He sifts and sifts like a miner but never pulls anything out.  I tried to give him some recycling once and I think it offended him.  He doesn’t acknowledge me anymore so I must have broken the rules.  No matter the time of day, he passes his story by the can and waits for his friends to come and go.  Friends like the ever tanned shirtless Sammy Hagar with a Spicoli voice who gets his daily dose of wide mouth Coors.  The impossibly tiny Russian man that stuffs his Stoli pint into his pocket and laughs like I’ve never heard anyone laugh before.  From the tips of his toes to the tip of his nose, it bubbles up and out of him like carbonated joy.  Even getting handed change makes him throw his wee head back and snort into the air above him.

I thought I’d gotten a fair sense and glimpse of the tiniest stories of everyone who passed through or lingered.  Now there’s a new story unfolding.  I’ve seen him three times now and somehow, no matter how much time I linger in the candy aisle, I always end up right behind him in line.

Crisp snow white T-shirt.  He must buy them in packs because they always have slightly off center fold marks…the non manmade kind only left behind by plastic wrapping.  Worn jeans with a mark on the back pocket where chaw resides.  Slightly damp hair so he must show up freshly showered.

**at this point I should probably point out that I am not stalking the jeans man.  The owners of the store like to talk…and talk…and talk some more.  Linear lines don’t exist in this plane.  There is one counter and one register but people just stand around and filter slowly ahead one at a time, from every aisle and direction.  Waiting for your turn is like a hobbit trial so you have time to survey the surroundings.  18 times at least**

In his right hand, slung low by his waist, he carries a bottle of Red Truck wine.  In his left, he has a bottle of Crystal Geyser water.  He never interacts with anyone there which sets him apart.  Just waits quietly and stands perfectly still without shifting his weight.  Water wine, wine water.  Tobacco circle on the pocket.

Three times now I’ve watched this part of his story.  He gets to the clerk and points to a plastic case on the counter.  I’m all about personal space so I haven’t seen what he’s having pulled out of the locked abyss.  Twice the story ended with him walking out with his secret wares.  Yesterday, because of the trajectory and random placement of people in line, I had a different vantage point.  Black Stallion herbal enhancement capsules.

Plot twist!

I don’t know where he’s going or who is waiting for him at the end of his travels.  All I know is that in this back country life of fleeting faces that come and go, he is now the most interesting man in the corner store.  I hope whoever is waiting appreciates that.

The Bicycle, the Pope, and the Sundress

The Bicycle, the Pope, and the Sundress

For some reason, I chose a sundress.  In retrospect I should have been more concerned about other matters, but up until that point I’d clung to the idea that clothing is the closest thing we have to armor anymore.  It keeps people from poking, prying, and digging too deeply.  They see what they want to see and move on.  Maybe sometimes it’s just a good place to hide.

My steed was a maroon Sears floor model mountain bike that my parents had gotten half price.  Whether they’d forgotten or overlooked my lack of cycling prowess, I don’t know.  I do know they drove home laughing.  All the way.  Choking back tears and pulling over at rest stops to walk off the stomach cramps.

Up until that point, I’d never ridden a bike without crashing it.  Not because I was a BMX pro daredeviling off the school roof tops or in abandoned empty suburban pools.  I crashed because my brain can’t seem to make the quick decisions it takes to steer them.  Garage doors, curbs, turns, changes in terrain shortcircuit my survival wiring.  I once crashed into a pole because I couldn’t decide whether to go left or right around it.  I’m not proud of it and mostly like to think I have other skills that outweigh the defect but I don’t know.  Maybe in the metric system.

Thus the battlegear of a 17 year old girl’s first day at UCSB was chosen in a world that smelled of eucalyptus, the ocean, shiny new rape whistles from our orientation package, and vague hints of last year’s Keystone trickling down the gutters.  A sundress, an empty backpack, and a godforsaken Sears bike. Luckily I found a reasonably slow and methodical rider ahead of me. I shadowed his every move like a bounty hunter and made it to campus alive.

First class- classical philosophy (formerly known as one of the only GE classes available in the Fall of 1992, now known as the fork in the road of my life):

Simple.  One job:  blend into the background, sit and listen.  The professor began the class asking for the class to call out names of people they admired.  One at a time they rattled off the usual suspects.  JFK, MLK, Mother Theresa, Einstein, Gandhi, Princess Di.  My brain frantically searched through the roladex of people I could mention.  I didn’t take the time to frame the question in the terms of the group.  In my mind then and to this day, I admire people who do necessary things I could or would never do:  garbagemen, the people who suck out the innards of port-a-pottys, people who sew buttons onto shirts day after day, the ones who make sure there are exactly 12 frosted Entenmanns donuts in a box, athletes, leaders of millions of strangers in countries I probably still can’t find on a map. Basically anyone that isn’t living in the trenches of my life, but managing to find the way through their own.

Sit and listen.  Simple.

I watched in horror as my arm shot up.  I didn’t ask it to move but anarchy reigns in the human body at times.  Professor McNamesForgotten gestures to me for my answer.  I felt my mouth open and heard my voice say “the Pope”.  In my mind it made sense.  He was someone whose face and bubble car everybody knew. He had a job I could never do.  Never understand.  One I would never want.  Not ever.  But his job was important to so many people trying to find a safe place to place their faith. That’s admirable.  80 heads turned my way in unison which was awkward enough.  I shrunk down into my sundress where they couldn’t find me.  Then the boos started.  Not kidding.  They effing booed me.  I felt the steam rising from the neckhole of my sundress and became a human sweat lodge for the remaining 45 minutes of class.

Once time ran up and the last of the others shuffled out, I slowly emerged from the dress and shuffled off to the bookstore.  As I was walking, I heard someone running up behind me.  Thinking I was in for a second round of boo’s, I doublestepped.  He ran faster to catch up and, for a fleeting moment, I thought maybe I’d be able to explain what I meant.  Maybe I’d make a friend and we would laugh and laugh over cheap coffee and burritos.  I turned around and he said “Excuse me”.  I smiled.  “I’m sorry to be rude, but I thought you’d want to know”.  Know what? I wondered. He pointed at my derriere.  Interesting development. My eyes followed the exact trajectory of his index finger to the sundress that had apparently been tucked into the back of my underpants for the entire morning as I walked the expanse of campus.


I removed the half dress from its hiding place, hung my head, and headed back to the maroon beast.  With a turtle shell filled with books I slowly rode back to the dorm.  I made my way onto the path and didn’t notice that the terrain was different in the opposite direction.  If I’d thought enough to be tracking, I might have noticed a rider ahead of me deftly steer around a stick jutting into the path.  But I wasn’t tracking anyone.

The stick jumped up and struck at my front spokes with its fangs, temporarily locking them up, eventually paralyzing them, and shifting all momentum in the space time continuum.  The bike stopped.  I didn’t.  I slowly catapulted over the handlebars like the winning throw you see in feel good sports replays.  Slowly, ever so slowly- “Concrete, I’d like to introduce you to sundress….and elbow…and knees.  I’m sorry, it seems as though pride has already left.  Ahh but here come tears.  How delightful!”

Nobody stopped.  They steered around me and zipped off on their journeys.  I scraped myself off of the road.  Ribbons of dress hem fluttered behind and around me.  My bike sounded like the one Debo rides in Friday.  Squeaking every third rotation. Rhythmically.  When I got back, I threw the sundress into the trash.  I opened my first philosophy book. And I read all of it.

The next day, sore and a bit wiser for the wear, I squeaked my way back to school.  I sat in that class and I listened.  And I learned.  And I switched my major to philosophy, and the road less traveled.