Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Town (San Diego Serenade)

My town…and, having spent half my life here, it is indeed my town…suits me to a tee. It sprawls and changes like a city and but it feels like a town…someplace to belong not just someplace to be.

It shimmers lazily in the warm South California sun…kissed by Pacific breezes and hardened by insistent but eventually forgiving desert winds…and when the rains fall, as they sometimes do, it glistens with possibility from its winding roads to its powder blue skies.

We welcome in the Marines…we welcome in the surfers and the sailors, the workers of every stripe, the artists of every notion…we welcome in the children of pilgrims and the children of freedmen, the children of all of the Americas and the children of all of the bright world…we send them in and bid stay…my town…this simple, complex, gently golden town…welcomes them all and gives them shelter for however long a season they choose to embrace.

People come to visit…people come to stay…people love and complain, share and covet, curse the clouds and laugh with the sun…my town…this perplexing, utterly rational town…is ever someplace to belong not just someplace to be.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

The First Rule of Fight Club

The first rule of Fight Club is…

I dance with demons and angels and feel, somehow, that I’m not part of any of it…that I am unconnected…that I am loved conditionally and therefore not really loved at all…I dance with demons and angels…I dance on the outskirts of real life…I dance with myself and tell myself that it’s probably not going to be okay…

I am Jack’s rampant ego.

Making kissing noises and smiley faces at the thinning crowd…I tell myself I feel too much…I think perhaps I don’t feel much at all…I paint my face and put on the shows…a clown, a puppet, a puppeteer, a lover, a friend, a wise man, a tortured soul, an unappreciated artiste, a safe harbor, a clueless blowhard in superhero t-shirts and well worn blue jeans…I feel too much…I don’t feel much at all…it’s probably not going to be okay…

I am Jack’s impotent rage.

I look inside for solace…I look inside for freedom…I look inside for protection from the big old scary world…I am a child without a parent…I am a boy without a clue…I am a man without tethers…I am a man without trust…I am a man with love to spare…I am a man who stopped believing in love…in peace…in dreams…in the myth of happily ever after…

I am Jack’s inflated sense of relevance.

I sing the blues because they make me cry…I sing the blues because they make me feel something, anything, even if only for a moment…I sing the blues because no one else will sing the blues for me…to me…about me…I sing the blues because that’s easier than facing the fact that my life has amounted to less than I imagined it would…less than I imagined it had…I sing the blues because…well, because…and it’s okay…and I’m not sure I care anymore…and I’m not sure anybody cares anymore…I am at war and the enemy is me…it’s probably not going to be okay…

I am Jack’s bottomless well of self-pity.

I am…

I…

Damn it.

The first rule of Fight Club is…

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Every Morning

Every morning…every blessed morning…Brian woke up wondering why he should still be alive. Maybe he thought…every morning…every blessed morning…the comfort of sleep’s dark and silent gate was something he should just embrace.

Every morning…every blessed morning…Brian shook off the remnants of gray dreamtimes and searched for a reason to get up…for a reason to get up and pretend to be part of the greater tapestry one more day.

And then the cat leaps on the bed and impatiently demands breakfast…and the automatic coffeemaker fills the thick morning air with earthy pungency…and the e-mail summons him to the computer with a strangely warm electronic ding…and every morning…every blessed morning…Brian made himself rise…relieved his bladder…fed the cat…poured a steaming mug of black coffee…he sat down at the computer and pretended to be part of the greater tapestry one more day.

Every morning…every blessed morning…Brian woke up and made himself find one more reason to be alive.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Another Summer Sunday

The air is gathering humidity in soft steady increments, capricious August heat seeping over the near horizons and into every nook and crevice of the workaday world. The animals have retreated to the comfort of artificial breezes and the people find comfort in dreams of ocean shores near and far.

Dylan is singing…”Sweetheart Like You”…and the man is singing along in a hazy golden spotlight that teases his whiskers and makes his eyes glisten just a bit more than he would ordinarily allow. He needs to shower. He needs to shave. He needs to shake himself from his reverie and make himself useful for a change.

It’s summer in yet another corner of America…it’s hot and humid and simmering with longing and possibility…it’s golden and gray and every shade in-between…it’s another Summer Sunday in one man’s America.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Me and Superman on the Edge of the World

Superman was sitting on the edge of the world waiting for something. I didn’t know what he was waiting for but I could tell he wanted it badly. I sat down next to him. “Hey, Superman.”

He glanced over and nodded ever so slightly. “Hey,” he replied, a distinct sigh in his voice, “what can I do for you?”

“Nothing,” I said, “I was just wondering if you’re okay. You seem a little…sad…”

He looked over at me again, his crystal blue eyes glistening with the weight of the world and with the weight of smaller, more human things we might not expect our heroes to be stricken with. “I’m Superman,” he said flatly, “why in the world would I be sad?”

I met his gaze and held it. “Well, I guess that’s the question, sir,” I said, hoping he didn’t get angry and crush me with his awful strength or fry me with his burning eyes.

He started to say something but then he thought better of it and looked away. He looked back over the edge of the world and sighed out loud. “I’m fine, son,” he said, “you don’t have to worry about me.”

Superman and I sat there on the edge of the world in cool silence…looking out into the dark abyss of the boundless universe.

“How’d you find me anyway?” Superman asked after a while. “People can’t see me until they need me…I’m invisible before and after that…they don’t have to think about me before and after they need me…”

“I didn’t know you could turn invisible,” I replied, genuinely surprised. “I hadn’t heard that was one of your powers.”

Superman smiled ruefully and shook his head. “One of my powers…yeah that’s what it is…”

I felt like the intruder I was but I couldn’t just walk away. “Are you thinking about leaving us? Thinking about leaping over the edge of the world and disappearing once and for all?”

That sapphire gaze regarded me once more and I felt naked before his X-Ray eyes. “I think about that everyday, kid.”

A chill went through me. “And then…?” I held my breath not sure I really wanted the answer.

He grunted a mirthless laugh. “And then I don’t.”

“Because you’re Superman,” I said looking away.

“Yeah,” he said looking back over the edge of the world, “because I’m Superman.”

We sat in more silence and then I held out my hand. “Well, I won’t bother you anymore, sir,” I said. “I saw you up here and I just wanted to thank you.”

He took my hand into his and we shook solemnly. His hand which would crush mountains was gentle as a lamb’s. “Thank me for what?”

I thought about the question for a moment and then I said, “For everything, Superman. You’re my hero and I…I just wanted to thank you.”

I stood up and walked away from the edge of the world.

“Hey, kid,” Superman called after me.

I turned, his bright blue eyes were still glistening and his smile was wan but he nodded one more time. “Thanks for… seeing me….”

I started to reply but he stood up and, with a shy wave, he soared away, his scarlet cloak streaking through the star-flecked darkness.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Song

Somehow she talked her way onto the stage. She waved at me and smiled impishly. And then she whispered something to the pianist and then took center stage. The lights went down and the spotlight haloed her. Curious people in the club looked up from their drinks and conversations and the pianist started to play and the rest of the band effortlessly fell in with him.

And she sang a song for me. A simple but incredibly sweet love song I had never heard before. Her gaze was gently relentless and her voice was husky and sultry and enormously arousing. The rest of the people in the club faded away as I watched her sing…she sang for me, that crazy, beautiful, uncomfortably young woman, and I felt my heart melting and surrendering moment by magical moment.

I had told her she was too young. I had told her I was too old. I had told her…

The club erupted into heartfelt applause as she finished and took a bow. She flashed that wondrous smile of hers and then she kissed the pianist on his cheek.

She bounded across the club and surged into my arms. “I make you crazy sometimes, don’t I?” she said, just a bit afraid of what I was going to say.

I looked into her sparkling, earnest eyes and shook my head. “Sometimes,” I agreed. Her face clouded over a little but I bent forward and kissed her forehead. “But mostly you make me happy…”

She smiled and hugged me close. “I told you I’m gonna make you love me, old man,” she said, burying her head against my chest. “How am I doin’?”

I gave her a squeeze and kissed the top of her head. “Pretty damn good, young lady,” I said truthfully. “You’re doing pretty damn good.”


Monday, August 16, 2010

listen

listen...
the universe is sighing,
sighing and singing songs
about yesterday and tomorrow,
songs about forever and songs about now;
the universe is sighing and the sky,
the sky is weeping,
weeping tears of joy and remembrance,
tears of passion and rage,
tears of magic and memory,
tears of the mundane and the magnificent.

listen...listen...listen...
the universe is singing,
the sky is weeping,
the earth is sheltering and shielding
mortal fools from their own foibles and follies.

listen...
to the universe...to the sky...
listen...
to the earth...to the foolish heart...
the foolish heart is sighing and singing,
weeping and laughing,
sheltering and shielding...
the foolish heart is drowning,
the foolish heart is trying to soar,
the foolish heart is...

listen...please listen...
the foolish heart is broken apart,
the foolish heart is trying to come together,
the foolish heart is drowning and soaring,
laughing and weeping,
yearning and mocking,
the foolish heart is...

listen...
listen...
listen...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hasten Down the Wind

…she’s so many women,

he can’t find the one who was his friend,

he’s hanging on to half her heart

but he can’t have the restless part,

so he tells her to hasten down the wind…

We sat in the swing laughing about the time I slipped into the pond and got my new jeans soaked. I was furious at the time…really more embarrassed than angry actually…but now the remembering made us both laugh until we were crying. We laughed about the songs we sang together…we laughed about the times we made faces at the animals in the zoo and walked along the shore playing tag with carefree surf…we laughed the loves we had that us happy and then made us cry…we laughed…

“We always had such good time together,” she said, catching her breath and wiping her eyes.

“Yeah, we did,” I agreed.

“How come we never…?”

It was a coy question, she knew the answer, and it kind of irked me. But I let it go. “That’s not who we are.”

“You’re my best friend, you know that don’t you?”

I took in a deep breath. I thought I knew that. But I wasn’t sure anymore. “I love you, too,” I said truthfully, dodging the question.

She winced, just a little, but didn’t call me on the evasion. “How come it feels like you’re pulling away from me?”

Yeah, I thought, how come? Because you keep me at arm’s length because you’re convinced that I love you in a way that you don’t love me….I don’t but you choose not to believe that because it’s convenient. Because my friendship seems to be of absolutely no value to you in your battles with your ghosts and your demons….because the sadness in your eyes always belies that smile on your lips…because I’m tired of watching you bang your head against the same wall and not being able to keep you from it…because I can’t keep up with all of the women you are as well as I could when I was young…because I’m just barely hanging on myself these days and, all notions to the contrary, my strength is not without its limits…because…

“I’m just tired,” I lied. “You can always count on me.” It was not untrue…but it was not as wholeheartedly true as it used to be.

She flashed her sad-eyed smile and nodded. “You remember that night at the beach…”

We nudged each other and laughed like little children. Soon the sun would rise behind us. Soon the world would fill with the symphony of a million people joining a new day. Soon the summer wind would come and sweep her one way and me another. Soon…

"Hasten Down the Wind"

words and music by Warren Zevon

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Recital

I could swear that she favored me with an opaque smile before she sat down at the piano. She took a deep breath and looked at a point somewhere just above my head and she began to play. She began to play, tentatively at first and then with a surer touch. She looked down at the keys, her fingers paler than the ivory, starkly contrasted by the ebony and she nodded almost at a small secret joke that I almost missed.

She closed her eyes and continued to play…a slow, sad waltz I couldn’t quite identify. I swayed to the melody just the same…slow, sad songs always make me dance.

She threw her head back, the spotlight sparkling off scattered strands of white in her dark mane, and sang along wordlessly as she played. One tune slid seamlessly into another…the theme from M*A*S*H…and a sly smile pulled at the corners of her thin mouth.

I smiled…good one…and mouthed the words she wasn’t singing as she continued to play.

Her fingers deftly negotiated the keys and the music…a bit of Tracy Chapman here, a little Bach there; some Billie Holiday, a little bit of Joni Mitchell, nothing original but that was to be expected…filled the space without pause…without acknowledgement of any applause…the spotlight was hers and that was enough. The spotlight was always enough.

She stopped, closing her eyes and celebrated silently with herself, giving no thought to her audience. I stood and applauded anyway.

Eventually she opened her eyes…she stood up and looked out at the audience, her face a study in beatific contentment. I walked up to the edge of the stage and gave her three roses…one red, one yellow, one white…and smiled. She smiled benevolently and blew a kiss somewhere just above my head.

She bowed gracefully and then turned and flowed offstage. The lights came up, the exit doors opened, she was gone. The recital was over.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Gray Man

The Gray Man was sad again. People would be exasperated with his navel gazing if they recognized the shadows dancing behind his big brown eyes…but they don’t see and so they don’t have to bother being concerned.

“It would be funny if it weren’t so sad,” the Gray Man said, his voice a flat whisper. But it wasn’t clear if he was talking about the people around him who don’t see or his own inflated sense of self that made him think his sadness should be of import to anyone other than himself.

Maybe both…maybe neither…didn’t matter…the Gray Man was sad again and nobody saw and nobody cared. And it would pass.

The Gray Man would not disappear to far flung shores. Nor would he take a header off the nearest skyscraper. He wouldn’t even try to explain…he was quite sure that nobody really wanted to hear it…that had been made quite clear more times during his journey than the Gray Man cared to think about.

No, he wouldn’t do anything foolish. The Gray Man would put on his bright face paint and fake a twinkle in his big brown eyes and everything would be cool again.

“That’s the way that works,” the Gray Man said, dampening down the ruefulness as best he could. “That’s the way it’s always worked.”

The Gray Man was sad again. But he’d get over it…he always does.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Ghosts of Michael

The ghosts of Michael visited me in Dreamtime. They are always with me, of course, but sometimes they appear more vividly than at other times…last night was one of those more vivid times.

I was in my mother’s house…the house where I went from boyhood to manhood (with all of the amazing, confusing, bawdy, wondrous, bittersweet glory that still-unfolding journey entailed)…and the ghosts, the sweet specters of memory, were dancing…dancing for me, dancing with me, dancing all around me.

All of the ghosts…the tender ghosts of Michael…were visiting, lingering, haunting. They always haunt I supposed…lingering soft in the ever expanding realms of memory, fancy, and the heart.

The ghosts danced…caressed…laughed…kissed…slapped…mocked and comforted and cursed me…so many ghosts. They spoke of the past…they sang of the future. As always, they were my memory…my fantasy…my conscience…my mirror…my heart, my soul... my universe writ in broad flourishes and in fleeting, poignant snippets.

The ghosts of Michael…blue, gold, and green in the shimmering dreamscape…stayed with me until the dawn called me back to the waking world…they stay with me even into the waking world…they stay with me, keeping safe the past, opening doorways into the future….the ghosts…the always lingering, always welcome ghosts.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Dancer

The dancer swayed for her…danced for her…made her smile and let her cry…when she needed him to. She accepted his entertainments and his devotions happily. The dancer didn’t ask for much in return and she was happy to accept that too.

Taking the dancer for granted was something she could do because it was something she almost always did, something he almost always allowed her to do. When she needed him he danced for her. When she didn’t need him, she tended to her personal affairs and gave him no never mind.

It was, she thought to herself contentedly, the way of things.

One soft gray day, the dancer didn’t come when she called. He didn’t come the second or the third time she called either.

Eventually he showed up smiling a beatific smile that she hoped was for her but, in her heart of hearts, knew wasn’t for her at all.

She frowned, her eyes glistening. “What happened?”

He raised an eyebrow and cocked his head. He was genuinely perplexed. “What do you mean?”

“I needed you…I called you…and you weren’t there.” She stared accusing daggers at him. “Where have you been?”

“Ah,” the dancer said, “I was dancing across town…dancing for myself…and dancing for someone who doesn’t take the dance for granted…it was gratifyingly cool actually…”

“But you love me…”

The dancer nodded. “Yeah, I said that…and I meant it…but that doesn’t mean I will always be at your beck and call…that’s not the way it works…”

She frowned again. “But that’s exactly the way it works,” she protested, “that’s the way of things.”

The dancer tipped his hat and gave a gallant bow. “Not anymore.”

“That’s not fair,” she pouted, “you can’t just change the rules…”

The dancer swayed a bit…twirled effortlessly a bit…and bowed again. “Apparently I can….actually it kinda surprised me too…” He did a slow slide and a gravity mocking soft shoe. “You can’t take the dance for granted, little one,” he said. “Not anymore. I will not allow it.”

She looked at the dancer, feeling abandoned, betrayed. “This is unacceptable,” she huffed, “completely unacceptable.”

“I wasn’t asking for your permission,” the dancer replied, not unkindly. “There are other dancers…mayhap another one who might better suit your fancy…it’s cool with me if you do, I won’t stand in your way…”

“But you’re my dancer,” she said earnestly.

“Actually,” he said, kissing her cheek fleetingly and swaying towards the door, “I’m my own dancer.” He winked impishly and danced through the door. “I probably won’t take me for granted anyway…”

The dancer gave one more gallant bow and slipped out into the world. “I’ll be around,” he promised.

The dancer closed the door and waltzed up the road before she could give a reply.

Monday, August 02, 2010

150 Words: Neighbors

“The gray skies have left early today,” I said.

My neighbor nodded. “It’s a beautiful day.”

Our driveways, side by side, glowed a soft gold in the sunshine that was chasing away the clouds.

We’d lived next door to each other for nearly 30 years but we still talked to each other in clich├ęs and unintended inanities. Spouses came and went. Children came and went. And we still just talked about the weather.

“Are you okay?”

My neighbor winced and then nodded. “Uh-huh.”

It was a lie. “Are you sure?”

My neighbor sighed. “No.”

I looked at the side of my neighbor’s face. “What do you need to be okay?”

My neighbor looked over with liquid eyes. “A hug?”

I held out my hand. “I can do that.”

My neighbor closed the gap and stepped into me. “Thank you.”

“No worries,” I said, smiling. “It’s a beautiful day for it.”