Bowling with Tom

Bowling with Tom

Dear Future Self:

Should you happen to find Tom Waits bowling in the next lane again, I implore you…lay off the beer.  Give yourself time to come up with a witty but politely non-intrusive ‘hey there Tom’ and sing a riff of 16 Shells from a Ten-ought Ball.  Or maybe ask him if bowlers in Minneapolis send Christmas cards too.

Be creative.

Whatever you do or however it is phrased, please refrain from telling him you use his music for cooking ambience…and, should the urge strike to give him a simultaneous bro pat on the shoulder, just keep eating your cheese sticks.

Uff da

Why Grown Folk Shouldn’t Do Math

Why Grown Folk Shouldn’t Do Math

I wish daylight savings would come, if it must, on Saturdays.  Only (selfishly) because I work on Sundays and the tricky magician origami folding of time and sunbeams is very confusing in a half asleep state.  I don’t have an alarm clock anymore…because I can never seem to remember to buy batteries for it…so I rely on my phone to keep on top of the arbitrary transformation and reassignment of light.

At midnight (or whatever time is designated by the powers that be for the transfer) my phone didn’t subtract the hour as I slept. For some unknown reason, deus ex machina decided to flex its muscles at 9am.  Which wasn’t helpful.  Don’t get me wrong, I respect anarchy in just about any form, but since I’d already spent half the night doing math problems in my head about how much sleep was left, it switched the denominator and left me wandering about the world in a haze.  I can’t remember which clocks I’ve changed so every room I walk into is a potential time warp.

Once my brain starts going with math problems, it’s all but impossible to stop the random number crunching.  I calculate seconds until an anticipated red light, the steps it will take to get to the corner, how many red cars I’ve passed on the last couple of blocks, the change due to the person in front of me, etc.  Kind of like playing solitary for hours until you finally win, there is always one problem solved in a way that satisfies my brain so it can move onto other things.

Today it was a population problem.  I should back up a few steps (not counting them thankfully anymore at this point) and say that I recently watched the first season of True Detective.  There were a handful of lines in it that still have me processing and deconstructing and trying to spit out a little calculator spiral of paper that says ‘solved’.  One of the quotes was about human consciousness being a tragic misstep in evolution, essentially making self awareness an aberration in nature.  The cure that the character proposes is to stop reproducing.  Let nature get back to being nature.

I started thinking about human population this morning and its rate of growth.  Most couples I know have two children so I used that as my starting point.  I’ve heard a handful of times from people that they stopped at two just to replace themselves.  So then the math kicked in.  One couple has two children.  Each of those two children also has two children.  And so on and so forth.  1,024 children would be the product of the tenth generation (a span of more or less 250 years…only just slightly older than the United States according to a 1976 quarter I have saved to use for scratchers because it’s the lucky one).  Going a little deeper, if you add up every life, including the original couple, there are 2,038 people total.

Good lord.  That’s depressing math yo.  Sorry.

Basically, I guess my brain is trying to say that there are a whole lot of footprints coming down the chute on this planet in the next eye blink.  Imagine beaming all of those people here all at once right now and think about how long it would take for the world to flip the bird and phoenix burn itself into ash.  I don’t think very long…and I wouldn’t blame her.  It’s high time we really really (really) start bumping environmental issues up in the queue of importance if we plan on the tenth generation having anything resembling an inhabitable planet.   Although I opted not to have children, I’m no less responsible for the welfare of those that have.  It’s part of being human. It’s time we get our proverbial shit together.  I don’t know that Mama Earth can give anymore of herself without our help.  And we shouldn’t expect her to forever give more than we take.

 

Shedding Skin

Shedding Skin

Now the starting over

after the erasing of all finite things

we are reduced to simple and necessary

but surviving and living aren’t the same

I’d leave the dying part to those with more time.

When one foot is in the air,

we’re coming and going at the same time.

Is there a difference anymore?

Might as well find a rhythm and just start moving again

without going through motions.

What lasts will linger

even when lingering has breathed its last.

My wings are taped on backwards

so the only answer was to switch shoes

shift to a higher gear

where F sharp is always F sharp

and E’s and G’s come and go.

Melancholy dissolves like sugar in time,

infinitely like breath and song.

Mostly because dissonance is its own analogy

one better left for the choir to solve.

So let’s dance then!

Laugh our way through love

turn everything on end

so our tiptoes touch the stars

leave the rest for beggars and thieves to call their own.

Shedding skin doesn’t mean losing.

In a sky full of twinkling holes

there’s no way of knowing

what waits on the other side

 

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.

Match.com?  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.