Snow Globe

Real life has been suspended.  Routine is upended,

a chess board topples pieces to the floor. A snow globe

is shaken, and our streets go dizzy, lonely and cold.

We are at war with the very air.  Numbers and charts

could not make real the fear; it took death

to show us, to tilt the board, to shake the globe.

It took death in our own town, on our own clouded streets. 

We live behind curtains and long for before,

and it shortens our breath ̶ ̶ this knowing, this seeing

a wolf leaning quietly against every door.

Stuck

                I’ve unwittingly spent the last two years of my life getting an Associate’s Degree in Stuck.  This is among the less lucrative fields of study, and I’ve never heard anyone bragging about this achievement at cocktail parties.  It was expensive, it took a lot of time and effort, and it takes determination to see it through.  But, I ended up learning a great deal about being Stuck.   So, for the benefit of those contemplating this field, I’d like to share what I’ve learned: 

Enrollment. There is a magical process for getting enrolled! You won’t even know it happened, and you’ll be perhaps in your second year of study before inklings of what’s happening begin to leak into your gut. Interestingly, these inklings will often serve to solidify the undercover nature of your pursuit, because by then you will have learned in the Rationalization class how to think about it. (Rationalization is a pretty easy class, but it is quite necessary for continuation, so don’t take it for granted.)

Cost. Holy shit, is this an expensive school. If I only knew up front! (But see ‘Enrollment’ above). This is tricky stuff. Besides all the money you spend on living, and coping (see especially ‘Substances’ below), you learn that while in school, you’re not making the money you would have made by working at a job instead of being Stuck. This latter deficit is known as ‘Opportunity Cost’ and you won’t find that class on the syllabus!

Independent Study. This degree is unique in that all students are Independent-Study and so anybody can pretty much get enrolled, regardless of demographic. I certainly didn’t think I would be the type of person who could swing it, but the tremendous flexibility of the Program allowed me to continue through one nowhere experience after another, and without regard to what I thought I wanted out of life. Hats off to the progressive nature of the Program.

Mail. I learned that mail needn’t be opened. The Mail classes were proving grounds for who really wanted to be Stuck, and those who couldn’t leave mail alone ended up leaving the Program. It sort of functioned as a weeding-out class similar to Organic Chemistry or Physics, I suppose. But, once you learn to abandon your mail, your odds of being Stuck go way up. The Rationalization class proved very useful here, e.g. “I don’t have room for one more piece of bad news in my Life.”

Life. Speaking of Life, I was taught in the Program that there was something in my life so bad that I deserved to be Stuck. I didn’t believe it initially, but when I raised concerns about the possibility that other people might go through tough times too, and were not necessarily Stuck, I was strongly reassured by the Administration that although this may be true in some respects, I was special. I had a special grievance, and certainly belonged in this school. (I think that this reassurance happened right around ‘Enrollment’ time, but I can’t be sure as it seemed to happen magically).

Sleep. The Sleep classes were my favorite. One every semester! I learned that sleep makes all problems go away and that the more you sleep, the more credits you get toward your Stuck degree. So, on any given day, if you don’t want to ignore mail, use substances, rationalize away issues, or do anything counter-productive or self-destructive, you can just Sleep. Getting college credits for sleeping most of the day away is like getting interest on money in a bank! And it sure feels good. This might be the thing I miss the most now that I’ve graduated.

Substances. OMG where do I start?! This has to be everyone’s favorite class, second only to Sleep possibly with certain people. I learned the value of active obliteration, and how things can really be other people’s fault and one can feel even more ‘special’ with respect to grievances as substances kick in. And, here’s the crazy part: you can feel like this and feel happy at the same time with the aid of substances. Gold!

                Relationships and Feelings.  There are no Relationships and Feelings classes taught in the curriculum, and these subjects are expressly forbidden in this way:  if it is found out that you are thinking about, let alone studying, relationships or feelings, you will be kicked out of the school.    

                Tomorrow.  Every morning starts with the mantra “There’s always tomorrow!” much the way the Pledge of Allegiance is taught in Elementary Schools.  I, and I suppose others, said this warily in the beginning of the Program, but, sure enough, by the end I was chirping this out with confidence.  They know what they’re doing at this school!

Someone Else. Here’s another truly magical part. Anytime I began to feel any reservations about what the hell was happening, or not happening with me, I felt that it was happening to Someone Else, thanks to the excellent Someone Else class I took early in the Program. A pre-requisite to it is the Disassociation class, and that was equally powerful. I feel I learned the tools to transfer negative realities to a cloud in the sky that would transfer the bad energy to someone else that was walking around in my stead. I don’t think I could have lasted as long in the Program had I not mastered this.

                Graduation.  Like I said, I graduated; I’m guessing I wasn’t supposed to.  And things aren’t the same, as they are getting better.  I got too much support and love from my partner, family and friends, I guess.  I’m starting to become UnStuck.  (They don’t even let you say that word while Enrolled!)  I applied for a job today, started exercising again, and am in a self-help group, and am excited about the Spring.

                Don’t let this happen to you! 

Rail Gun

I was laying beside my woman the other night in bed.  For a couple of days prior, we’d been in the throes of a sustained relationship ‘disagreement’ let’s just say, but we were closing in on resolution I believed.  And, as she is a beautiful and amazing woman, and it had been several days, I was having amorous feelings.  So, in my usual clumsy way, I began to make my intentions known.

                I was rebuffed.

                My advancements were rebuffed with the immediate and smooth delivery of the following words -and I quote-:

                “I have to know that you love me, that we’re in love, and that you understand me.  You have to respect me, and care about me.  And all the feelings.”  With that, a firm adjustment of blankets and a shift in body posture left no doubt as to the victor in the field. 

                Holy shit, can I just build you a house instead, or win the Boston Marathon for you or something like that?        

                This was a singular blast of feminine firepower that reminded me of the sudden employment of a North Korean rail gun.  These are huge artillery pieces mounted on railroad-like tracks that can be rolled out of granite mountain tunnels in North Korea to fire a blast at the hapless and unsuspecting enemy at a moment’s notice.  Then they roll right back into the mountain to remain protected and ready.

                That’s what I’m lying next to at night. 

                Anyway, I have a newfound respect for my partner.  And,  (Jesus, I hope I get this right) I love her, we’re in love, and I understand her.  I respect her and care about her.  And all the feelings.

                Oh, and don’t worry- we’re back in business now.  But I’m still working on the ‘all the feelings’ part.  (If any male reader knows what that means, please send me a discreet message.)                     

Getting Thin

Although I never liked being fat, while I was fat, there was a big part of it I liked.  In the same way that the best part of doing Cocaine is going to get it, the best part of being thin happens while being fat.  I was fat, but I was always going to get thin, and the fantasy of being thin followed me around like a cotton-candy dog wagging its tail.  The circus is always in town when you’re about to start your ‘program’.   

Besides the positive merit of such hope, the thought did double duty by also slaying the hourly, even minute to minute, negative reminders of fatness.  For sheer frequency of thought, the only thing that competes with it is sex.  But sex is thrilling, and the weight thing strikes at the mind like a deep-twitch strobe light all day, flashing at every mirror, every thought of food, every store window you walk by, and every bit of snug of clothes.  But, hey, the little dog is barking back, and every little yip sounds like Soon! Soon! Soon…and you get through the day.

Then one day you start the program, and it works.  Vegetables, fruits, the occasional lean meat or fish.  Walking, then running, then running trails.  The months go by, the pounds fall off and a new creature is following me—a wolf.  Confident, I strut through life, coiled and strong at every new breakthrough.  People remark.  I develop a disdain for fat people but try to remain gracious.  Meanwhile, I feed the wolf—by keeping it hungry.   

And, eventually, I realize that, for new reasons, I am still always looking in mirrors and store windows, thinking about food, and thinking about how my clothes fit.  And I twitch.

You see, you’re always on one side of the trade or the other, and you must invest every day.  That’s where they get you.

Kevin in the Light

I’ve seen the light.  I’ve seen the early morning winter light filtering through a crystalline Jurassic palace of frozen rainforest in Washington State— and it took my breath away.  Every step tinkled with the cracked and crazed enamel of ice that encased every twig giving the sun diamonds at every angle.  I’ve seen the sun rise quiet, slow and bright over the ocean in a way that connected me to all color, all people, and all time.  I’ve stood in the light of hospital rooms where people die, and are born, and thought the flat light mean on the one hand and miraculous on the other.  And I’ve watched the black night sky punctured by crisp white stars while lying on my back in the cool grass with the one I love and thought that nothing could be brighter.  All of these lights made me feel wondrous and warm in profound ways. 

                But the light that made me feel the warmest happened in a dream. 

                I dreamed I was walking on a long road and was being vaguely escorted by a friendly presence that was saying reassuring things to me.  I noticed that I was drifting into my old neighborhood, as it was when I was young, and that it felt really, really satisfying and interesting.  I could not have been more interested in anything than in observing Salah’s Corner where the older kids used to hang out, and Sergeant Street across the railroad tracks where we’d put coins on the tracks, and the raspberry bushes alongside the tracks that gave us such big red tart fruit.   Here’s where we made little huts underneath the branches of this kind of giant bush, and here’s where Jimmy lives, and here’s where we played cards in the grass on summer days near that picnic table. 

                And the magic was that things in the dream were exactly as they were back then.  People began to come into view, and I vaguely recognized them.  We turned a corner and began to walk up Willow Street.  My street.  The light shifted,  and I saw a group of kids at the green metal fence.  I recognized them.  Scott Kilman, Phil Hobbs, Frankie Enslow.  Then the presence beside me let me know somehow that I was also in that group of kids, and that we could walk past, exchange a few words, but that we must not linger, and that the boy wouldn’t recognize me as his adult and much older self.  I looked again, and saw myself standing there.  I was about 16 or 17, casually leaning up against the fence with my friends on a soft summer afternoon.  I definitely remember that shirt. 

                I began to breathe fast and inquired quickly and urgently:  was there really only to be a few moments?  Yes.  Let’s go.  So we began to walk past and stopped and talked to the kids.  I have never felt such elation and such urgency!  We kept the conversation normal, and they treated us as if we were familiar and normal adults in the neighborhood.  I felt my escort presence scrutinizing me, waiting for me to use the moment, to say something.  The light got stranger and stranger, a cross between all of the other kinds of wondrous light I’d ever experienced.  I told Kevin in some vague way that he is a really good person, but I couldn’t get much more out than that before I found myself walking away with my escort again in the dream.  I don’t remember anything else we talked about at that brief encounter.

                I woke up.  I was emotional–it had seemed so real.  I had missed a chance to impart real wisdom, and I wanted to get that chance back, to give him advice on life, to reassure him, to be close to him and tell him so many things.  

                I have never felt so lit up as when I talked to Kevin at the fence that day.     

The Pigpen

I’d like to live clean, I’d like to stride through life in a crisp, clean, white shirt, and I’d like to be precise and tart in all my endeavors.  But I have pigs to manage. They live in a rudimentary pen up against my house, where thin wood rails encompass a small tilted board hut, a trough, a few buckets, wide flat planes of baked sunburned clay and several precious shaded areas of mud where some of the pigs lay now in the cool muck mixture of mud, pig piss and pig shit. 

I’m there now. 

One of the newer pigs, so skinny, so pink! trots to me eagerly.  Ah, it’s one of my favorites; I call him Dick’s Sporting Goods Rewards Card.  He’s up against the rail, squinting up at me clear-eyed and trying to nudge my leg through the worn wooden rails.  I’ve already had some fun with this little fella’.  Remember the balance ball, and the neat backpack?  Remember looking at the bikes?  Sure you do.  I reach over to scratch the stiff bristle behind his pink sour ear.  Impulsively, he smears his muck-blasted snout against my white shirt cuff and gives a small contented grunt.  See what I mean?  That might be new sneakers right there–maybe even a new bike.     

I survey the yard.  There’s Chase Slate Visa, grazing half-heartedly at a trough, and there’s Home Depot, and there’s CitiBank, and on and on.  All in various postures of need or excess.      

Near the hut, half in the shade and half in the sun, Best Buy and Rotman’s Furniture Card are laying down, heaved up against each other back-to-back for support.  Big old veterans of the yard.  I haven’t tended to them in a while.  They are sleeping, their eyes not quite closed, and they are grunting sporadically and breathing rhythmically.  Each long breath out whistles softly and sounds like “feeeed meeee”.  They all do that when they sleep.  

Finally, reluctantly, I look up and across the whole yard to the hot wide sunny stretch, and I see Capital One Venture Card.  God, he looks worse than ever.  He is the biggest one, enormous, sickly, bloated brown and pink; he’s lying on his side, budged up against an overturned dented filthy bucket.  He appears to be strangling at the thick folds of skin at his neck.  Elsewhere, his dirty sunburned skin is stretched taut and his stick-feet point at various corners of the sky.  I suddenly realize that he cannot get up anymore, and I am repulsed by him.  Clouds of flies buzz at his anus and slobbered mouth and his rheumy squinted eyes, and he barely has the strength to blink. 

I walk a little closer.  He sounds different today–he’s in pain.  Now I see it, a recent long split in his skin:  another late fee.  The split is slowly spilling pus ooze and watery pink blood that climbs down his heaving belly in spidery lines. 

He is taking determined but very labored breaths; he is not asleep, and he senses my approach.  I think he’s saying something, but it’s not “feeed me”, it’s something else.  It’s barely audible.  I must hear it. 

Carefully, I squat in the muck beside him and lean in.  He rolls his whale eye all the way open and fixes it upon me, and I am startled to see within it my own reflection.  At the same moment, I make out what he’s saying, shallow and rapid–“pig. . pig. . PIG!”

Traffic

As I’m approaching a rotary, there’s a guy ahead of me, on the right side, wanting to come out, and I slowed down and let him out. Sometimes letting someone in holds up traffic for a while, sometimes the effect is very little, but this time it was like not at all. Because what happened was that the guy shot out and instead of getting in the line of traffic with me thereby depriving everybody behind me of one space in line in terms of the time-hit they’re going to take trying to get to where they’re going, he shot across, got in another completely unoccupied lane, and I was caught up to the car ahead of me almost immediately. ‘Almost’ is the operative word here. So it cost the guy behind me a little bit, though he probably barely noticed; now think of the guy behind him, the guy behind him, and the guy behind him. And as you look back, to the 25th guy in line who’s not even turned the couple of corners necessary to be in the right street– as you look at the effect on him: it disappears.

It’s not really like the butterfly thing, the ‘Butterfly Effect’ (the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere; e.g. if a butterfly flaps its wings in China, I could lose Fantasy Football again this year.) Here it’s linear, it’s seeing ahead of you, and behind you, and so is therefore easy to map out. A good math student would have fun with these equations. You can really map out how this happens; you can figure out the ‘time-hit’ that each of your decisions imparts and upon whom and how it is further impacted by the subsequent actions of others.

                What you can’t really map out are the levels of awareness behind you in line, car to car, because at some point people have accepted that when you’re driving somewhere, you will be impeded by traffic.  It’s not like every time you drive somewhere, you expect the streets to be completely wide open.  So, you take that mentally into account somehow.  

                But people cost you time by making those kinds of decisions- like the decision I made to let that guy out.  Small though it may be, and smaller-seeming still the further downstream the decision impacts, I’m culpable for it.  I’m responsible for the downstream, or down-traffic, -pardon the pun-, ramifications. 

The more complex the society, the more traffic there is to absorb an individual decision, however selfish or altruistic it may be, and so people are subtly emboldened to indulge behavior that might not otherwise fly on an open road; and bad stuff flourishes when accountability dissipates like this. When blame disappears behind you in traffic, and people expect traffic, you can do what you want up at the front of the line. Let that guy out, or don’t let that guy out. And if you’re the guy trying to get into the traffic, you can wait politely, or edge out slowly while insipidly pretending you’re not making everyone swing wider and wider to avoid you- or you can charge out in traffic and make people squeal to a stop to avoid a crash.

And that’s what happens to blame in politics. The ordinary citizen expects traffic, and can rarely see what’s happening up front anyway, and so probably doesn’t fully comprehend what’s happening up ahead. That’s what’s going on now. There are politicians everywhere who don’t drive well. Their Unholy Triumvirate of Bad Driving: First, announcing something unpleasant on a Friday, so that by the time folks pay attention to the news again, two news cycles later, the unpleasantry is in the rear-view mirror, superseded by other news the way the latest fashion or pop song becomes the new focus for a hot moment. Second, dismissing mention of prior problems (DUIs, embarrassing votes, criminal associations, hot-mic scandals) as “old news,” which few people can view without distaste. Third, the effrontery of believing that, as a paid public servant, they are not required to answer questions forthrightly, but instead view each question as a chance to parry, and then trot out their party’s talking points.

                And that gives me a new understanding of and a new appreciation for the term ‘gridlock’.”