Friday, December 30, 2005

Way to go, Ed

For monkey 0 and for the real-life Ed.

Ed felt it right as the ball left his fingers, a perfect throw, rolling straight as the path to God down the lane, lights shining off its surface. He closed his eyes to hear the sweet clatter as the ball hit true, ten pins down.

"You ever hear anything so pretty?" asked Ed, turning back to his boys.

Cecil shook his head, slurping suds from his moustache, "You're on fire tonight, Ed."

"Throwing with the angels," agreed Johnny, angling up to the ball return, his long fingers slotting into his own ball.

Throwing with the angels. Ed nodded, in a state of grace, something special tonight. He knew he had that magic 300 in his fingers, he just had to step aside almost, a simple perfection speaking through him.

"Whatever happened to that Sherry?" asked Ed. He could still remember the feel of her lips on his cheek last year, after his second 300 game, always thought it was her nominated him for the Hall of Fame in Kalamazoo. The way she looked at him sideways from behind the counter, shiny red lips in a little smile like they had a private joke, just the two of them.

"She married that Kosanke fellow," Cecil slumping back from a sorry throw, "From last year's All Star's?"

"Moved out to...Illinois, was it?" Dick rolled his head against the back of the bench, Ed guessed his shoulder was acting up again.

"That girl had real class," Ed nodded his way back to the lane, last throw of the game, head full of Sherry and her long brown hair. Even under the alley uniform you could tell she was built like one of those girls on the mud flaps, tiny little waist, hips rolling under the edge of the shirt. Too young for him, he knew, but she let him dream. Ed held his hand over the air, thought again of her breath on his cheek, her gentle voice in his ear: "Way to go, Ed."

His fingers slid into the holes like home, the ball warm and alive in his hand.

This is a good night, he thought, letting go, rolling true as the word of the Lord, the boys jumping up almost before it hit, he could hear them yelling his name, a perfect 300, stars shooting behind his eyelids, his heart swelling up, he turned around to see their faces once before tilting to the floor, Sherry's voice in his ear, calling him softly home.

"Way to go, Ed."

Thursday, December 29, 2005


This is my very late post for monkey 0's topic.

Stanley dropped the cherry from his cig down between the couch cushions. Bad scene, man. He stuck his hand down after it, quick, moved it back and forth. Nothing. Shit.

Stanley dragged himself up and yanked the cushion off the couch. No smoldering kernel, no ash, no nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing, man. Not even crumbs. The bare couch was as clean as the day the plastic came off, however many damn years ago that was. Fifty or something. Crappy old flowered couch, and he'd been eating and drinking and smoking, playing cards and getting drunk and farting and even had a chick once or twice on the thing, and there's nothing there. Clean as a baby's bottom.

That shit's fucked up, thought Stanley.

He was standing anyway, so he lifted off the other two cushions, knocking his dead cig off the coffee table, and rocking his beer where it stood. Stanley lunged for the beer, caught it off balance, spilled some on the cushionless couch, but managed to save most of it. He was about ready to take a pull when the puddle of beer on the bare seat started moving. Not like running like spilled beer should, man, but like gathering itself together and looping, brown and shiny, toward the crack, that long crack at the back of the couch.

Stanley put down the beer. How many had he had? Damn, not that many, only four or so, just a regular weekday, but damn him if that puddle wasn't slipping right into that crack, leaving the couch as clean as Sunday morning.

Stanley sat down on the coffee table, and looked at the couch. It sat there, not saying a word back to him. It was just a couch, just a raggedy-ass old couch. Maybe it was just curved funny so that everything that landed on it slid to the back. That was it. Stanley nodded once, then knelt on the couch and reached into the crack.

And he kept reaching, pushing his arm in all the way up to his shoulder, his hand waving around in fucking empty air. He yanked his arm back, fast, and pulled the couch away from the wall, knocking it against the coffee table. The beer went over again, but Stanley didn't even stop to see the liquid foaming out of the can, sliding quietly into the crack. He was busy running his hand over the back of the couch. Nothing, just the back of the couch. Wall on the other side.

Stanley stood up. He looked at his right hand, the one he'd stuck into the crack. It was warm. Warmer than his other hand. Shit, it wasn't 40 degrees out and his heat hadn't worked for a month. He was used to the cold. He held his two hands next to each other, and the right one was radiating heat.

Stanley went back around to the front of the couch and laid down on it. He pried open the crack. It was just dark down there, but something, a warm breath and a scent.

Fuck, was that flowers?

Stanley scrabbled in closer. No, it wasn't just dark, there was a glow down there, far off, like sunshine from another room, and...he pried it open just a little further...he heard a breeze, wind through palm leaves. And the scent of flowers. And...Stanley pushed his head as close as he could...ocean waves, lapping against the beach.

The far-off cry of a seagull.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Billy gets a camera

Click to see larger photoWhile I can never hope to be the thing of the moment, nor am I always watching, I do now (thanks to the stupendous Mr. Billy) have a camera.

I am therefore dangerous.

The father of the girl in the pink boots, for example, was - rightly, as it happens - suspicious.Click to see a larger photo

I promise, this is not about to become a photoblog. I just had to show off my new toy. I'll throw in a picture now & then, but if I find it growing into an obsession (a distinct possibility), I'll find another home for the pics.

Want to see more from my day at the beach? Trundle on over to Flickr.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Billy unplugged

To my highly attractive and obviously brilliant readers: I will be away for a few days. No cell phone access, no T.V., no internet. On my return, I will repent of my lazy blogging and everything else I've neglected. Or, at least, have a few days of furious activity followed by weeks of torpor and sloth before the guilt piles up again.

I know, you can hardly wait.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Promiscuous Billy (90.18%)

I've been a bad blogger. I haven't been posting, haven't been leaving comments on the brilliant blogs of brilliant bloggers who leave comments on mine. I haven't written about things found between couch cushions yet, either.
And today I find out I'm also 90.18% slutty, thanks to the Slut-o-Meter.

For all the other things, I will mend my ways, I will.

But the sluttiness, well, I don't think I can help that.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fake leg

"...but you know she has a fake leg."

"Fake leg? She don't have no fake leg, she lyin to you."

Some mornings, I like sharing the bus with teenagers. These two were having their conversation around me, like I wasn't even there. The boy was the one telling about the girl with the fake leg. He was small, deep black, sitting with a pudgy white boy. The skeptical girl was little, too, but you could see she was already almost a woman. She held herself very still, her dark hair carefully combed back from her face.

"No, I'm tellin you, she have a fake leg. She got run over, it got run over, and it broke."


"Yeah. It got run over an now it's fake."

"She lyin. You don't get no fake leg from havin your leg broke. You just get a cast, like I had last year?"

"No, it was broke, an it healed, an then it got run over."

"An I'm tellin you she lyin."

"I see her today, I'm gonna kick her in the leg."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Old Ranch Dies

Mom grew up on a ranch.

At home she held court in the bedroom, propped against pillows on the king size bed, Dad's abstract-expressionist canvas spreading across the wall above her; a wingless angel in yellows and oranges looking down. I see her most often there, in a flowered caftan, my brothers strewn around the bed talking, Mom's legs crossed neatly at the ankles. I would lie at her feet, my fingers tracing the scar that curved around her ankle bone where they put the screws in.

Summers we went to the ranch. Grandma and Grandpa kept it going well into their eighties. Mom was different there, in jeans, riding a horse, in the garden with me and my sister, picking strawberries. We'd sneak a few into our mouths along the way, heavy with summer juice.

The ranch was alive to me then, games of Marco Polo with my brothers and cousins in the yard. A nest with robin's eggs just out the window of the upstairs bunkhouse. Shucking corn in the dooryard. A hand slipped under the fluff of a hen for warm eggs. Grandma bustling around the kitchen, apron over her faded flowered dress, Grandpa chewing on a piece of hay, pulling off his work gloves before sitting down.

The ranch is gone now, lost. Sold after Grandma & Grandpa's deaths, fallen into mud and neglect. But Mom saw its death long before. She knew a different time, when the bunkhouses were full of ranch hands, Mom as a girl, with her sisters, carrying pots of food to a tableful of men. When Grandpa called her Tommy, and she pitched hay at his side.

I wish I could bring it all back - Mom and the ranch, the poplar trees and Grandpa's hands around a cow's teat, ringing milk against the metal wall of a bucket - I try, with words, but it's never enough.

Mom, maybe, was more successful.

Old Ranch Dies
Uncle Tone played Bonies with us
in the dooryard dirt, between
the poplar trees; heifers,
horses, mares in stick corrals;
collected from their disconnected
skeletons, sun dried, bird cleansed
for our farms and barns.

Uncle Tone lived that summer
in one of a row of cowhand cabins
made of wood so old it held inside
the cool and ancient light.

We watched him shave
from an enameled basin, chip-pocked,
filled with soap scum on the water, cold.

He worked the leather razor strop,
lathered up. I thought saddle soap
would serve better on his tooled face,
than the floating bloated stuff.

He applied the edge and grated
upwards, laying swath by swath;
made a map like hayfields mowed,
with only fringes top and bottom
left, for a sidewise scythe.

His face wavered in the mirror
and he turned and flung the basin
empty to the dooryard,
water arcing a continuum
where poplars stood in rows
armed against the wind--

And made a sheltering place
for owl, pivoting his face
as he spoke--

Of how the pigs got out that day,
left us clinging to the screen door
while aunties grabbed their brooms,
sweeping courage in stampeding clouds
doubling the other way--

Of how we three rode sandwiched
flank by flank upon Old Ruth,
among the cottonwoods--

How, in the grainery we slithered
in within the bins of wheat--

And how we stood inhaling leather
hanging smooth inside the saddle house,
soothed in the gloom of the light.

Uncle Tone could swing a lariat
while headlong galloping the hills,
could bounce it, bellied out against
the wind, that spoke of white-eyed
panic from the day that Golden Racket
kicked his stall apart, reared
and neighed his way out,
splintering the fence.

Uncle Tone played Bonies with us
in the dooryard dirt. Now he's moving on.
His skeleton is in its mound--white bones
are disconnecting, making
bonies, underground.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"We'll be home soon"

"...a relief." Rico was talking out loud, but he didn't think anyone heard him, their feet moving around his head, shouting somewhere far above him, Rico couldn't understand what, but it didn't matter, what Marie had said was right, everything was going to be okay.

Marie had been talking him through the whole thing, getting on the plane and the drink service, all of it, "We're starting to land," she'd said, "just twenty minutes and we'll be on the ground," she seemed to think he was nervous, but it was Marie who was scared when she found out he'd missed his dose this morning. Rico was just rolling back, away from all the noise and colors and realness, like a camera dollying back from the action, and it was turning into a movie, a dream, Rico just sitting back where it was safe and quiet, watching himself bouncing his knees, bumping them up against the tray table, watching his shoulders twitch inside his new blue shirt.

"We just have to get through customs ... We're going to be home soon, and everything will be all right," Marie had her hand over his while they stood, stooping, at their seat, watching the other passengers bunch up in the aisle.

From his far-off spot, Rico saw one of the passengers - the guy with wet strings of hair pulled over the top of his head - look hard at Rico, he was looking at him and thinking Terrorist, Rico could smell it, he smelled what the bald guy was thinking, he looked at Rico and saw a terrorist.

Rico moved his backpack around to his front, it made him feel safer from the man who saw a terrorist, it made him feel strong, he could lift his arms out to the side and look down at it, it looked good, it looked powerful. It looked like it could be real, could be dangerous, could be a bomb.

The man moved his head, jerking it to the side. Rico watched himself flinch back, watched himself break for the aisle, he could see a panic on his face, the Rico he saw had to get out, Marie left behind, he just had to get out out fast.

He didn't see the man in the Hawaiian shirt, though, not until after the shots yanked him right back inside his head, the man standing over him. Did he hear me thinking? wondered Rico. Did he hear me thinking about my backpack, how it could be a bomb?

It didn't really matter, thought Rico, blood slipping from between his lips. Everything was okay, just like Marie said. We'll be home soon.

"I should blog,"

...she said, reaching for the Spiegel catalog.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Our Lady of the Triple T

The Triple T truckstop in Tucson is Our Place, where I meet Mother Mary when I'm in the area. Mary has been a friend for twenty-five years, and though she is fully occupied with mothering now, I still see her, at eighteen, playing Joan of Arc with fire and virtue. For me, there is Jean Seberg, there is Mary, and no-one else.

The people in the Triple T belong out here. Waitress stretched thin by desert wind, wrinkles cut in deep by the sun. Most of them just as happy to be alone as with other people, odd in a private way, peculiar to the desert. A woman not much older than me with flamboyantly rumpled hair and missing teeth. A bony man curved over the counter, moustache dropping down either side of his mouth, running under his chin like chocolate milk, eyes bulging out of his head, following every little movement in the place.

It’s a truck stop that sells massages for truckers, tarantula paperweights, porcelain horses. Girl behind the counter with dyed black hair and fierce black eyeliner might provide other services, as might another girl walking through the restaurant, fried blond hair jacked up tight into a ponytail on top of her head.

A mother with a special, cultivated roll of fat right around her middle, like a careful tire bulked beneath her tight black dress, holding the hand of a girl – more than chubby, her skin filled tight as a sausage all over – cheeks pink with the effort of walking from one end of the restaurant to the other.

Later, Mr. Billy's parents take us into the hills, where Our Lady of the Sierras and a thirty-foot cross overlooks the wide, white desert, Arizona to the left, Mexico to the right.

We follow the stations of the cross up the hill to a shrine at the top. Christ hanging on a cross constructed of those white rocks popular for edging suburban driveways in the seventies.

The waterfall is half-frozen, icicles hanging from the rocks. A cactus beside the fall starts green at the base, shading up to a vibrating violet, “livid” I say, “Yosemite Sam purple,” says Mr. Billy.

There's a small nod to the locals, Our Lady of Guadalupe mural hiding a propane tank. But it is a monstrous, white, blue-eyed Virgin Mary who simpers beside the cross, obscene pink toes the size of golf balls poking out from under her dress.

I can't help thinking my own Mary, of the Triple T, would have made a better model.

Friday, December 02, 2005


A new story of mine, "Raimondo the King," is being published in issue four of Things That Are True.

The theme of the issue was Hills, which sent me deep into a sort of sick-nostalgia centering around the Hemingway story, "Hills Like White Elephants" and that moment in my past when I first read it and how it blew my mind and made me say, "yeah, man, that's just how it is," when I really had little idea how it is.

But then I pulled my head out of my ass and wrote "Raimondo..." which has nothing to do with anything except itself.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"When you have finished screaming, place the oxygen mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally"

A late-night hop from Tucson to Phoenix, the captain is feeling frisky. "And, finally - the aircraft's best feature - the seat cushions may be removed and used as a flotation device in the event of a water landing. Remove the cushion and place your arms through the straps as indicated. You may keep the cushion with our compliments."

The voice trickles into my consciousness like a dream, the attendant at the front moving through her ballet: oxygen mask, seatbelt, seat cushion; her glossed lips breaking open, teeth shining, I'm full of sleepy tenderness for her. She passes me, trembling with silent laughter, her shoes sinking soundlessly into the carpet.

Two rows ahead, a Mennonite woman in white net cap and long dress sits beside a college girl, tight t-shirt framing overflowing breasts, decorated with a fading drawing of a beer mug and the legend, "One more for the road." I catch them studiously looking away from each other, mutual curiosity lighting up the air between them.

The attendant announces that the front is too heavy, four people volunteer to move to the back of the plane.

I take Mr. Billy's hand as we accelerate down the runway and lift off. It's too soon, too smooth, I'm certain we can't hang in the air and take my last look at Mr. Billy's clean, calm eyes before the crash.

Somehow, we stay in flight, dragging the tail upward, it must have been the collective will, all of us brought together in this bright capsule, shooting deep into the night.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

"Parade Shrugs Off Weather, Marches On"

As hard as it is to tear myself away from such gripping headlines, I am off for the weekend to the broad vistas and dusty byways of Arizona. I won't be far from Tombstone, where actors slaughter each other daily in the OK Corral, where living in the past is a way of life for a whole town. And where I may not have internet access.

Reluctantly I turn off the television, fetchingly booted, high-stepping majorettes and bloated balloons consigned to oblivion; I shoulder my bags for the journey ahead.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Scratch fiction in 10 steps

Scratch fiction can be a heady antidote to writerly malaise, lack of inspiration, or not enough time to write. If you're despairing at the pile of rewrites on your desk, you can head down to the bar for a Bukowskian binge, or you can write some scratch fiction. I'm not advocating either, necessarily, but scratch fiction won't give you a hangover, and it's not likely to make that doughy guy at the end of the bar with the greasy hair and spittle-glazed lips look charming.

Step 1: Sit in front of computer.

Step 2: Get up and pour a drink. Sit down again.

Step 3: Get up and yell to spouse (or partner, or roommate, or call a friend). Ask for a topic. If you don't want to speak to anyone, pick up a random book, open to a random page, and drop your finger on the page. The word you land on is your topic.
If you don't like the first topic given, you can ask for another.

Step 4: Type a title. This can be the topic you've been given. Or it can be something completely unrelated that the topic makes you think of. Or that the person you asked makes you think of. Maybe the way his glasses reflect the light while he is thinking of a topic makes you think of a shiny beach ball your best friend had when you were three, that you wanted more than anything in the world, so much you got into a fight with your friend and one of you ended up with a bloody nose, which makes you think about how far people will go for stuff they want, so you decide to write a thrilling short piece about a thief, or a junkie, or a concubine. Or maybe you write about two three-year-olds who get into a fight over a beach ball.

Step 5: Type for 15 minutes or so, until the piece is finished. Nope, don't go back and revise - keep typing.

Step 6: I said, keep typing.

Step 7: Stop. Take a drink. What the hell, finish your drink. You've earned it.

Step 8: Read the piece. Fix typos and/or egregious errors, if you must, but do not revise.

Step 9: Hit "publish".

Step 10: Have another drink.

Wait, I did say this wouldn't give you a hangover, right? Then make the drink fruit juice.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mechanical difficulties

Boris' hands didn't work. No, no, this wasn't happening. He whacked his right hand against the edge of the counter to wake it up. Three people were waiting out front, the store was packed. Everyone was getting meat today, lamb cut into stew-size cubes, a good ribeye steak, a pound of lean hamburger, what was wrong with turkey? Boris wanted to know, for Thanksgiving, you were supposed to have turkey, not hamburger, what were these people thinking?

He butted his hand against the knife, but nothing, he couldn't even feel it. Was he having a heart attack? That would be just the left hand, right? And he'd feel it all down his arm, wouldn't he? This was something else, like his arms ended at the wrists, or, or like his hands were stuffed into giant mittens.

Giant mittens, he was thinking about giant mittens and the blond guy with the lamb shank was looking at his watch. You don't have to do it so dramatically, Kiddo, thought Boris, I know you're impatient, at least you have your hands.

The store was even crazier than last year, Boris could see a baby screaming over by the paté, hanging on the mother's hip, the mother serenely, obscenely oblivious, tossing paté in her cart like there was a shortage. The rich are different than you and me, Boris said to his wife almost every night as he climbed into bed smelling of a thousand slaughters, Maria yawning and turning over, They're just people, she'd say, but she didn't see them, visibly annoyed at having to do their own shopping, it all came down on Boris' head, one of the last of the live butchers, they all thought of him as their private servant.

The worst were the over-polite ones.

"Um, excuse me?" Blondie was actually tapping his toes. "Um, I don't mean to be difficult, but, um, I do have an appointment?"

Like making it a question made it all right, meant he wasn't being ordered around, wasn't a servant who belonged to anyone with the bank account to shop here.

Boris brought his hand down hard against the counter. Nothing. He looked at the growing line out front, all of them in their Ferragamos and Armani, Prada handbags and matching little dogs to stuff into them. He should climb over this counter and show them what a man was, he would roar like a bear and smash the glass into glittering bits, he could see it, could see himself standing a head above every one of these little faded people, they would scream at the sight of his massive fists...

But no. Boris let his arms hang dead at his sides. He couldn't even make a fist.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


A Tibetan Lama came to my office last week to perform a blessing.

We gathered around the long table. Lama Kunga sat at one end; in front of him were peacock feathers in an ornate holder, a censer of incense, a bell, cards that were printed with Tibetan prayers, a Play-Doh container. The Play-Doh didn't look all that out of place, sporting the same saturated colors the Lama wore, clean and bright.

LamaHe gave us a little background about the ceremony, instructed us to hold "happy family thoughts" during the prayer. He put on his glasses, held the cards so he could read them, and began to chant. He would run out of breath as he reached the end of a card, drawing in while he flipped the cards over. He is an old man, but his voice is strong, thousands of lines appearing and disappearing on his face as he squints at the cards, wrinkles up his nose to adjust his glasses. The chant continued, and his breaths became heavier, he would draw in through his teeth, noisily; the hands holding the cards were the hands of a much younger man, small, unlined, smooth. He lifted a bell, ringing it at intervals, the chant winding down the table, out onto the street, into the afternoon.

The chant finished, he stood and handed one of my colleagues the censer, telling him to swing it back and forth, handing the peacock feathers to another. He led us like ducks through the office. The holder for the peacock feathers also held water, and he would pull out the feathers and splash a drop of water in each room, on each desk.

It was much like the blessing ceremonies led by Kumus in Hawai'i, the chant, the water, the duckling procession from room to room.

Afterward, he showed me the charcoal held in the Play-Doh can. For purification? I asked. He nodded, eyes wrinkling up with his smile.

I told him my ancestors, Native Americans, would burn sage for the same purpose. He nodded and pulled a stick of incense from a small box.

"Smell," he said.

It smelled like sage. He smiled again, gently, and told me to keep it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Early dark

It was already night outside when I rolled down the stairs to the street. My office is above an overpriced furniture store, and one passerby was unprepared for the spectacle. As he walked past the glowing window, he spoke, in a conversational tone to no-one:

"It's all white," like it was pulled out of him involuntarily. "Everything is white in there," he went on to explain, disappearing down the street.

I checked for evidence of a cell phone. Not even an ear bud.

But he had a point.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Gentle city, confirmed

Quigley was in town for the weekend again. More cabs. We rode like royalty through the streets, Laotian cabbie laughing amiably at everything we said. He was 20 minutes from the end of his shift and dropping us off in the posh section of town; his day was winding up neatly.

We took Q on a stairway walk, peering into people's backyards, dizzy views on both sides. To the left, rows of houses leading out to the ocean; surf's up, Mr. Billy's wishing we were out there, watching the surfers. To the right, the rows are jumbled and lost entirely, the park a vast green pelt below us, downtown further to the right, the pyramid, the Bay Bridge.

We're climbing down some new tile steps, on the first landing we pause and direct Quigley to look up. The risers make a mosaic, a sun, brilliant yellows, oranges, reds, mirrored shards sparkling along its rays.

At the next landing, we look up again. A moon against a deep lapis blue. A little girl hops up the steps to the top, hangs on the handrail. "It makes a picture," she says, "it has names on it!"

Names of the people who contributed, in one way or another. Chuck and Celia. Gomes. Hu. Jackson. Painted inside the stars. A doctor's name on a bat, flying across the bottom of the sky.

At the next landing, the blue narrows between two mountains. Sky and earth. Birds and animals carrying names. The landing below that, a river; below that, the river empties into the ocean.

At the bottom, we would like to stand and admire, but there are three women gathered there, two elderly and one middle-aged. The first, and youngest, in a loud voice: "I mean, sure, the stairs are great, but the traffic, people slowing down to look, and the bus. I told them, sure, they could do it, but just paint a red curb here, but did they listen? I mean, this is a narrow street, and you can't believe how noisy the bus is..."

We move away from her, a bus going by.

Quigley has a way of drawing out strangers, asking questions in a completely open manner, irresistible. Our Pakistani cabbie at the end of the night has been in San Francisco for three years, driving a cab since he arrived. Q wants to know about his worst experiences, the scariest. Our cabbie shows his eyes in the rearview mirror. "Nothing all that scary," he says. We press him, Really? we want to know, "No, really. Some interesting people, yes, at Castro & Market, but this is a friendly city." He goes on to tell us that he married a woman from here. You see, Quigley, it isn't just us, just a visitor's experience. It's the city.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Cat food

Say something clever, Marjorie. Say something clever and maybe the nice man with the clean fingernails and the suit that looks like it might have been pressed this morning will buy you a drink.

Marjorie shifted on her barstool and opened her mouth, then closed it.

You're never clever when you need to be, are you? In three hours the perfect line will come to you, it'll wake you up when you're sleeping - alone - when you're fast asleep it'll wake you up, and it'll be too late then. This guy's already looking at his watch, could be a nice watch, hard to tell from over here, he's going to finish his drink and leave, and you'll go home alone tonight and every other night for the rest of your miserable life, you'll be wearing brown skirts and orthopedic shoes in just a few years, opening cans of food for your million and two cats, one of Those, old women in cardigans with hand-crocheted TV cozies and giant doilies for the kitchen table, house smelling of cat pee and Whiskas.

No, there's something else out there, and it's not this little man, there's something else, maybe if I just put down my drink and get up, it's right on the other side of the door. Just once, Marjorie, put down the drink, and step outside.

Marjorie set the drink carefully on the bar. More than half of it was left, and it was good gin. She spread her hand on the padded edge of the bar, red nails shining wet, chipped on the second finger, she couldn't remember when she'd done that. She lifted herself from the stool, slowly, like the floor might shift under her, stood, smoothing the front of her dress before walking for the door.

The man in the suit looked up as she passed, wondering if she said something, sure he'd missed something important, what did she say? but she was already at the door, already pulling it open.

Here it is, Marjorie, you're doing it, there's something different already, it isn't daytime, is it? but daylight is pushing out from behind the door, she could almost feel it, leaning on the door, it's Day out there, not the evening of the day she left, but Day somewhere else, the light like a nuclear blast, like the face of God, step out into the day, Marjorie, you were right, this is it, she could feel the heat all the way in to her bones, and she stepped outside.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Seven minutes to write

Computer is back! I've missed you all...
Rain today. It acts on me like springtime after a long winter - I'm alert to every scent, every sound. It's dark now when I bus home from work, and lights shine back at me from puddled water on the street. I take a different route home, walk the last few blocks, passing restaurants, their light shining out into the street, people inside dry and warm, moving slowly in the light, a tall blond man in the taqueria looks out the window, he's Stan Laurel, stretched. His enormous flat blue eyes pick me out in the dark, trying to slip silently by, raindrops scattering out from my umbrella.

Another block, the curry place, the naan maker grins suddenly out at me, flattening dough on his hand. I wave. In the next doorway, a man sits on the ground, I've seen him before, he's blind, always on one corner or another, empty cup by his knee, wishing passersby a good day.

At the corner, the doughnut shop, a man in a knit cap looks stunned, staring down at his coffee, skin pale in the flickering light.

I stand at the corner and think about the blind guy a few steps back. I see him more than any other neighbor, but I've never met him. The rain's turned me soft. I turn around and go back.

I kneel down, saying hello, shamefacedly handing him what I dig out of my wallet, introducing myself.

"I'm Francis," he says.

"It's good to meet you, Francis."

He holds out his hand, a little high and to the right. I reach up to take his hand and shake it. The dirt lodged so deeply in his wrinkles, they're pure black lines, like his face was scribbled with a marker, but his hand is warm, not as rough as it looks. One eye nearly closed, the other, hazel, wandering off to one side. I realize I'm kneeling in water.

I get up, something fatuous dribbling out of my mouth, "Take care," like I'm his mother, "it's cold out..."

"Yeah," he laughs, "It is, a bit."

No shit, lady, he must be thinking. Thanks for pointing out the obvious.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

This is Chemical Billy

monkey 0, who is always watching, stopped by the other day and snapped some photos.
Caitlin and Blanche

Dad, if you're reading this, the cig is just a prop.

And in case you wondered, monkey 0 is eight feet tall.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Note: Computer in hospital, I'm stealing time on someone else's laptop just now, so I will be brief.
Walking to work the other morning, I saw first a delicate foot, wrapped neatly in a scarf, gold, red, black. A man holding the foot like the prince with Cinderella's shoe, kneeling on the sidewalk in his suit, eyes looking wide-open toward the owner of the foot, dark circles under his long lower lashes. I clear the fence and now see her sitting on a step, in rich, impeccable hijab, flawless skin flushed, a fat tear shining in the inner corner of her eye, gathering enough weight to slip free, land splashing on the cement beside her tiny hand.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

But there's always time for scratch fiction

Arlene leaned on the counter, jiggling one foot behind her. "I wonder what they're looking at?"

"Huh?" Norman was looking at the smudge she left on the glass, he'd just Windexed and she was hanging all over it. Little dolt. She looked good out front, though, the rich guys loved to buy jewelry from her, never mind she had no idea what she was talking about. She'd hold a gold chain against her neck, hanging into her cleavage and say, "Every woman's skin looks good with gold," and they only had to focus long enough to pull out a credit card.

Right now she was sprawled all the way across the counter to get a good look outside.

"Those people, what're they looking at?"

Norman stepped around the counter and ducked a little to look out the door. People were standing outside, looking up. Dozens of people out on the street, all of them looking straight up into the air.

"I'm due for a smoke," said Norman, reaching over the counter for his pack and lighter, "You watch the store, I'll see what's up."

Norman chuckled at his little pun, walking out the door, up the two steps.

He stopped next to the guy from the salon next door, squinted up at the sky, tucking a cigarette into his mouth.

"What's going on?"

The salon guy shook his head, half shook it, still staring up, mouth open, eyes wide.

That was funny, the August sun was right overhead, full wattage, but the salon guy wasn't squinting. Norman frowned upward, striking his lighter.

The flame went out, his cigarette hanging in his mouth, unlit.

"What the fuck...?"

Something was falling out of the blue sky. Snow. It was eighty degrees outside. Norman looked around. Everyone was still, staring up. Cars were stopped. Arlene was leaning slowly out the door, her face turning up.

"It's not snow, it can't be," said Norman.

Nobody said anything. Huge flakes drifted down, thicker and thicker.

Arlene froze where she stood, halfway out the door.

"Look," said Norman, "This is stupid. It's not snow." He lifted a hand to catch some, to show them all it was something else. Five, eight flakes landed in his palm, on his fingers. Slowly they grew translucent, he could see individual crystals, like when he cut out snowflakes in school, rounded scissors clipping out perfect little triangles, diamonds, circles. "No two snowflakes alike," his teacher would say, but Norman's were, all of Norman's snowflakes were identical.

More flakes lighted on his hand, the first ones melted into tiny lakes, fresh flakes caught on the shores, losing their perfect whiteness, crystal bones showing through, then dissolving into water in his palm.


My trusted computer has given it up. Forgive me, then, if I'm lax in answering all your (highly entertaining) comments, or light in posting these days: all my computer time for the immediate future is borrowed computer time.

Luck is with me though, the crash happened the day after I finished my massive re-write. Yes, I backed up the book. I feel as though I'm looking at a bullet hole left in the wall just after feeling something buzz past my ear. Life is grand.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Nobody counted on rain

this Tuesday, even the weather report showed that little sun graphic, no cloud, no dripping rain. But it showed up anyway, girl in a sundress, arms wrapped around her waist, running across the street, old Chinese couple bending in toward each other at the bus stop, heads touching.

I'm walking fast away from work, dodging the drops, sweat and rain soaking into my skin, I hear a scooter coming up from behind, scooter motor putting, and another sound layered on top of it, I stop and turn to look.

Scooterist coming quick up the road, helmet but no jacket, spreading bib of wet down the front of his shirt, arms shaking, his mouth wide open.

He's laughing.

He passes me, laughing, shirt stuck to his skin like wet toilet paper, laughing, he roars down the street.

Monday, October 17, 2005

I need another avoidance activity

When I'm avoiding working on the novel by blogging, but I can't drag my carcass in the general direction of an even half-assed post, I know it's bad. I'm pages from the end of a huge and way too time-consuming rewrite, but those last few hundred words are slippery. Damn things keep sliding away, collecting in a big puddle just underneath my keypad.

Clearly, I need to drink more.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

October 16

Today is my mother's birthday. I can't bring to mind a single one of her birthdays while I was at home, not one. Only after moving out, calling home to wish her a happy birthday, she and Dad would have gone out for dinner, or, often enough, postponed until she felt well enough.

For our birthdays, Mom made cheesecake, baked, sour cream icing and blueberries in a glaze. Sweetened with honey instead of sugar. Bricks of cream cheese, cold from the refrigerator, softened an hour or so on the counter, it seemed to take hours more wearing it down with the wooden spoon, mixing in the honey. We crushed graham crackers in a bag, rolling pin over and over. Butter melted on the stove, fingers blending warm butter into cracker crumbs.

I remember her hand over mine, pressing the crust into the bottom of the springform pan.

Strawberries or mandarin oranges ringing the top, blueberries in the center.

A small piece would leave us sleepy in the living room, bellies round, my brothers' legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles, conversation turning lazy, hands behind our heads, laughing.

Often enough, Mom would already be in bed, energy enough to make the cake, but running out, like a car low on gas, her smile wearing down, by dinner shrunk back to the bedroom, Dad fixing a plate to take in, how many birthdays when she couldn't hold it up long enough to have a piece of her own, a sliver maybe the next day from the fridge.

She was sick so long, ever since I can remember, we thought she'd outlive us all.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Billy in Zion

I am off for a short trip to Utah, but will post when I return.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

As if death were a daily routine

Samuel loosened his tie, squinting up at the sun. His beige suit looked dingy in this sunlight, he could see grime at the cuffs. Should take it to the cleaners, if there's time. Tomorrow.

He looked at his watch. Half an hour before the meeting. He shouldn't be out here, should be going through his notes, but the office was so cold today. Sun warm on his cheek. Samuel turned his face up, stopped on the sidewalk, a woman grunted almost running into him, bent her steps around him, the other people on the street following her, flowing around Samuel.

I am a rock in the stream, thought Samuel, his face to the sun.

Angela wasn't happy with him this morning, he was slower than usual, holding her up, holding the kids up. They should have made it to school okay, though. She kept bumping into him in the kitchen, You still working on that coffee? Bumping, then moving around him, it was easy enough to adjust.

A lot of people out on the street at this time of day, thought Samuel. Lunchtime, why don't I ever come out for lunch?

He liked the feeling of hundreds of people moving around him, shoulders brushing against his, voices, thoughts crowding into him. He could smell hairspray, and cheap cologne, and bad breath, even that was something, Samuel breathed it all in.

I never liked crowds before, thought Samuel.

Samuel drew in another breath, and it stopped. He let go and tried again. It was caught in his chest. Caught there, hung up, and now he couldn't let it go.

Already, thought Samuel.

He looked at his watch. Ten minutes to the meeting. They would have to start without him. Just as well, he never did look over his notes. He wondered where Angela was, this time of day. Did she go out for lunch? He thought maybe she did. The kids, his girls, would be in the cafeteria, green trays, fish in a square, peas or lima beans. He could hear kid voices bouncing off the floors, long cafeteria tables. He looked around at the people on the street, then up at the sun. He tried another breath. Nothing.

I wish I'd worn the blue suit, thought Samuel, as his knees gave, bending, falling slow to the sidewalk.
Thanks to Maqroll and Deniz Eskisi

Monday, October 03, 2005

Nothing wastes

A friend recently wrote a book, the first part of which takes place in 13th century China. The main character's grandfather dies, and the family enters a three year mourning. As part of that mourning, the father "...spoke every day to his children about their grandfather's life and character."

My mother died in January. These are different times, and our rituals have been diluted, watered down and thinned out to a barely discernable skein of gestures: coffin, funeral, flowers, eulogy. But grief expands beyond the designated days or weeks of mourning, airplane to visit family, time off work, sympathy cards.

Her birthday was in October. Dad makes a calendar every year to track family birthdays (we're a big family, and growing, birthdays populate every month), and each month features family photos, often of the birthday girls or boys. So I turn the calendar over to October, and there's Mom. Mom in yellow, holding a yellow rose from the yard. Mom in the kitchen, gesturing like Vanna White. Mom in the snow, on the phone, in the pool.

Mom through Dad's eyes. Theirs was a great love, an affair amplified through years of retelling, a towering legend they built together (a poet and an artist), with the collaboration of their kids.

I'm edging around my point, creeping up to it by degrees. I've wondered how best to mourn Mom, to acknowledge her life without creating an idol - a doll - of her. And this is where I land: I will tell her story. In pieces, not comprehensive, not whole, but my stories of her (single-point perspective, like late Medieval art). And, I will post some of her poems alongside. So, at least through the anniversary of her death, I will use this forum - though not for this exclusively - to say goodbye.

Other posts:
Storm in August
October 16
Old Ranch Dies

This poem seems entirely too appropriate.

Nothing Wastes
Struck from the rock
Out of the fume of smoke,
The first spark spins.

Hastily, I feed it
What small tinder
I can gather;
Plunder woven
Out of vacant nests;
Outgrown down, small twig things
(Bird breast-bones, polished
Pinky fingers, skeletons of trees)--
An excess of debris
Feeds flame
Sent spiralling

Above the glaciered stone,
Above the eyes flow,
Frozen into streams.
Feeds flame avalanches devastate,
Log jams, useless even
For a tomb. Springs fire
Releasing streams to melt
In torrents and run down,
Dislodging stone moves
Fractionally, from my prison
And I see, finally

That nothing wastes.
Not windfalls, winter leavings
From her nests, not spent
Trees. Not pain. No waste
In death--nor in the
Bitter taste, the offering
Of suffering
Upon the breath.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Help Billy

I've lost my way in blogland. And I'm asking you, dear readers, to help me find my way back.

I'm nothing without comments. I live for your comments. I am a comment whore. I'll go back and read a good comment fifty times in a day. And then I'll want to write more stuff, and read your stuff, and leave comments, and the beast feeds itself.

And I can't help noticing, my comments have been mighty thin lately.

So, I'm asking for your input. What would you like to see more of? Less of? If I must post cheesecake photos of myself for Half Nekkid Thursday, then by golly, I will buy a camera and strip.

There seem to be three different types of things that I write, and I'm taking votes on which you like best.

The first would be found objects, little scenes or people I observe about town, like Paleface or What Shondelle doesn't know.

The second I'm calling true stories, more personal (but not confessional) posts. See Billy goes under and Storm in August.

Last of all, of course, is scratch fiction.

That doesn't mean I'll necessarily eliminate the others, but you might give me a clue as to what works and what doesn't.

And if you want to see me write about something specific, or try something completely new, throw me a suggestion - I love a challenge!

"Too much oxygen..."

On the bus the other day, a soft voice piped up beside me. "What magazine is that?"

I look over to my seatmate, a bearded lady with thick glasses, hair in a neat ponytail, ash-colored skin. I think she's a bearded lady, but here in SF we have all the ranges of gender and between-gender, she might be mid-transition from male to female or vice-versa, or someone happily in-between.

Her voice is sweet as soft-serve ice-cream.

I'm reading The Week, and I show her the cover. We discuss the articles, how CSI gives criminals ideas, how hookworm can cure allergies, how leeches are making a comeback.

She calls across the aisle to a woman standing up, "Mama, you wanna come sit on my lap?"

She giggles as the other woman shakes her head.

"Oh my," the bearded lady says, "I've had too much oxygen today!"

I want to ask her about this, is she taking oxygen treatments? is this just an expression of hers? some other sort of treatment that involves oxygen? but it's my stop, I get up to let the other woman sit beside her, and she's talking and giggling, hand fluttering above her breasts, and as I step out of the bus, I can hear her exclaim:

"My oh my oh my, too much oxygen today!"

Monday, September 26, 2005

Into the blue, part 2

Something something about high desert air, crackling with autumn snap, it gets my mind wandering, nostalgia cranked up and keening me deaf. I want us to stop the car, get out, scrabble in the dirt, that clean desert dirt, purified insect skeletons and empty weeds, I want to poke at stinkbugs and chew on a piece of hay, climb into a creaking saddle, feel my thighs chafe on leather, smell of horse and sage and haybales.

Mr. Billy says sage doesn't grow this high, this far north, so maybe I'm not missing much, hurtling toward Carson City in Punkin's car. But after finding there's no there there, turning around in downtown Carson City, and back back to Tahoe, I'm foaming at the mouth to get out of car out of doors out out out.

It isn't until morning, though, that I blow out of our room onto the shores of the lake, blue sharp as a blade in 30 degree weather, but I'm stripped to bikini, head forward I plow over sand into water, sand turns to mud and still I push ahead in in in to the lake, deep breath and dive.

Underwater it's blue and quiet. Not the shock of cold I expect. My hands fan out beside me and I'm up above the water, boats bobbing, and down again feet and hands moving slow, dreamspeed in the water, I'm not cold not shivering, I could stay out here in the quiet for an hour a day no-one would know Billy the mermaid, deep in the lake.

But then I notice I can't feel my feet.

Back to shore, mud then sand, feet coming to life like hibernating bears, shrieking up at me.

That day we started back, homeward. Freeways past the towns, who knows what each town is like, all have the same McDonald'sStarbucksBordersGap out here by the freeway, if there is a difference, it's tucked away where all the people live. We pull off the freeway for lunch, and a sign points to Town Centre, McDonald'sStarbucksBordersGap in fake Olde Time style, town itself miles away, safe out of sight.

We pass Folsom prison, and I hear the Man in Black singing the Blues about the train going by, but all I see is cars and the same stores over and over and churches as big as barns, as big as malls, as big as stadiums, the smaller the town the bigger the church, a cross the size of a landing strip on the side, Jehovah surely able to see it all the way from heaven.

And still I want to pull over, jump out of the car, bury my face in desert dirt and dream back to kidhood on Grandpa's ranch, potato bug rolled up in the palm of my hand, eggs hen-warm, hollyhocks knocking against each other in the wind.

But I know it wouldn't do, wouldn't come close, the smell of the road, the stripmalls, the churches too strong, so I put my seat back, and try to sleep.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Friend Quigley, staying with us last week, wondered if his impression of San Francisco as a gentle city was skewed, having only seen the "nice" neighborhoods.

Tonight, waiting for the bus where paint curls off buildings, smell of decades-old cigarette smoke and mildew drifts from the corner cafe, a man with white hair to his shoulders waits with me, porkpie hat, hook for a hand clasps the strap of a duffel. A trim man walks by, suit so impeccably tailored it takes a minute to realize his legs are half the length of mine, he stands no higher than my ribs.

A finely built woman, dainty in a pink sweater, deep mahogany skin, ponytail, face of a man, walking quickly the other way.

Hipster taping flyers to the telephone pole, tattoo of ten arrows pointing away from a black center circle.

A man in a baby mohawk and combat boots, wide chin, broad shoulders.

The bus arrives, and mohawk and hipster move toward the door, but mohawk stops, arm out, blocking the hipster.

He nods gravely at me.

I move past him onto the bus, a dumbfounded Thankyou trickling from my mouth. I find a seat and the others climb aboard, hipster laughing and shaking his head, mohawk last, walking past me without a glance.

I finish the ride alert to this odd grace, and think Quigley's perception is right, there is something softer here, something gentle, a welcome for people who aren't at home where we grew up, a shared nostalgia for places that would never be ours, I can talk about us here and it sounds truer than it ever did, a community of unmatched puzzle pieces, we're remaking the picture every day.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Tag, I'm It

A slow-moving blogger gets tagged, courtesy of Joseph K.

So, to business.

Ten years ago. I had to look at my resume to refresh the old memory bank. Miserable in Seattle, though not yet in servitude to Microsoft, deliriously thrilled about going in to work every day in part because it got me away from the Thing I was living with, known here as Mr. 8-ball. I was beginning to wonder if being a grownup meant emotions were dampened, muffled, my last passions already tasted and gone, if adulthood meant a flattening out, nothing left anymore but Duty, Responsibility, Compromise.

I was wrong.

Five years ago, I was roaring through the desert in a Miata with Mr. Billy-to-be. After a day of driving, we would emerge from the dusty car jangled and wind-buzzed, giddy with adventure. One month before, we had gotten engaged, and two weeks before, we had quit our jobs in Seattle. We were trying to see as much land as possible before a) I went to a reunion in London, and b) we moved to Hawaii. Did we have jobs in Hawaii? No, we did not. Did we have a place to live? Nope. Who could wish for more?

One year ago. Note: squeamish readers may wish to skip this bit. Our fantasies come true, we'd been a year in San Francisco, blissful, Mr. Billy and I both working jobs we loved, in love with the city, still thrilling to all the things we'd missed in Hawaii, when something broke loose inside me and I started bleeding. Or rather, didn't stop bleeding as I should have after my regular period in August. By mid-September, I'd been bleeding for a month and starting to feel a little less solid, a little like I was standing on the border between this world and...something else. I gushed through October and November.

I remembered a roommate of mine, years ago, showing me his mother's journal. His father didn't believe in doctors, and she had started bleeding. The last word in her diary, before she died, was: "Gush."

A day or two after making Thanksgiving dinner for several friends, the bleeding became hemhorraging, and it was a long slide from there to emergency rooms, medications, transfusions and surgeries. After one minor surgery, one major, and one middling, I still don't know what it was all about, but the bleeding has stopped, there's nothing left in there to bleed.

Yesterday, our friend Quigley, staying with us for a few days, treated us to brunch in a neighborhood café before disappearing into a cab to the airport.

Five songs I know all the words to. Huh. This is not necessarily a list of songs I love, because I can never understand the words in songs. These are songs I had the liner notes for.

Elvis Costello, "Beyond Belief". Leonard Cohen, "Sisters of Mercy". "America" from West Side Story. "O Come O Come Emmanuel," 15th century French hymn, I think. "In Our Lovely Deseret," Mormon hymn.

I wish I knew all the words to a Clash song, but there it is.

Five snacks. Grapes, cheese (any kind), Trader Joe's multigrain crackers, chocolate (dark), the brains of virgins.

Five Things I'd Do With $100 Million. Lewis Black would pay an excellent salary to someone to be his personal ball-washer. As I don't have balls, I'm stumped. Pay someone to tell Joseph K every day that the supermodels he's dating are really into him. Make a platinum (gold is so eighties) statue of my cat, and hire a staff to worship it and evangelize for the new religion.

Build good, solid low-income housing in New Orleans.

How many is that? Oh, oh, yes. Buy a house in San Francisco. Only way that will happen.

Five places I'd run away to. That special little room in my head. No, you can't come in. My grandparents' ranch in southern Utah, the way it was when I was a kid. The treehouse my dad designed (not built - yet) for the woods on his land in Pennsylvania. Lisbon. Almost anywhere in Italy.

Five things I'd never wear. Those heels-that-look-like-tennis-shoes thingies. A tube top. Slacks, just because of the sound of the word. Slaaaacks. Shudder. "Nude" nylon stockings, actually a disturbing orangey color. One of those little American flag pins (I'm more patriotic than you. How come you don't have a flag pin, huh? Do you hate freedom?)

Five favorite TV shows. The Daily Show. Deadwood. The Sopranos. Six Feet Under. Off.

Five greatest joys. You know who you are. Finishing the book will be up there too, soon.

Five favorite toys. Hm, the pink one with the little vibrating...ooooh, you didn't mean those kinds of toys? Stumped again.

Five people to tag. If you've stuck with me through this whole ordeal: The monkeys, obviously. Yes, that means monkey 0, bluemonkey, and mommonkey (Jill). monkey 0 and bluemonkey, I know your blogs are mostly fiction, so feel free to fictionalize, if you must. Blondemonkey, once you get on the blogwagon, consider yourself tagged.

Oh, I'm drunk on the power! To round it out, I'm tagging both Anne and Anna.

You're It.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

What Billy writes

This blog has clotted into three amorphous lumps, more or less fitting into one of three categories:

True stories. This shouldn't need any explanation. But what the hell, words are my world. It is what it sounds like - personal experiences - though if you're looking for confessional, look somewhere else. Revelation happens at the edges.

Found objects. The world outside my obsessive-compulsive brain - and more specifically San Francisco - drops these moments of grace and horror in my lap. I try to scrape a little of the flavor and press it between the pages here.

Scratch fiction. Fiction at the speed of typing. I go on about it here. It was born with monkey 0. Consider me an early adopter.

Please, read at your leisure, and comment liberally. I particularly look forward to rude comments.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Into the blue

"This is Puny Human territory," I say to Mr. Billy, car careering around the bend, four-wheel drift toward the car-size gap in the guard rail, torn metal edges hanging over the void, I can't help images flickering across brainscreen of Mr. Billy and I in our metal box, hurtling end-over-end, whistling air broken by crunch against cliff wall once, twice, three times before slamming to rest at the bottom of the gorge, our meat mixed with metal and glass, buzzards circling.

Rocks the size of semis hang above, crags and trees below, and ahead, spread out like a centerfold, deep blue of Lake Tahoe, twinkling at us, lolling in the late afternoon sun.

We are sharing a condo with old friends Punkin* and Blueberry*. Mr. Billy & I get the loft bedroom, no door, but a shallow window that peeks out at the parking lot. Downstairs off the living room is a deck that juts out over the beachy shores of the lake, and a voyeuristic view of the hotel swimming pool and jacuzzi.

It's late when we set out for dinner, Punkin at the wheel casually telling us, as he misses another turn, that his night vision is "for shit", we blast out into the night, pointed toward the state line, $8.95 prime rib dinner sounds good to me.

We open the doors of the casino, wary of lizards, that homey casino aroma of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol-soaked carpets wafts into our faces. I am weepy with nostalgia.

Tahoe casinos are Vegas without the glamour, the class. The machine clamour muted and sad. Greasy-haired white folk hunch over slot machines, yanking methodically, prayers on their nicotine-stained lips, "Thistimethistime, baby, giveittome baby giveittome." It's weirdly quiet, slot claxons muffled, no dinging bells, no coin clatter heralding a win anywhere on the floor.

Punkin veers toward the machines, quarters shining ready in his fingers, but Blueberry isn't having it, she speeds up her pace, beeline for the restaurant, and we stick at her side. I've always thought that being born in Vegas immunized me against the desire to gamble, softly glowing machines holding no promise, no seduction for me. Punkin is squinting at the slots as we pass, "One of these has to take quarters, c'mon honey, just three quarters, that's all," but we're already at the feeding place and Blueberry pulls open the doors.

She scans the scene, greenish-hued humans crank their eyes up at us, then back down to their heaped, glistening plates, poking dispiritedly at the brown mess collected there.

"No," says Blueberry, "we aren't eating here." Punkin has caught up with us and he nods in agreement, his appetite for prime rib and slots slackening in equal measure. We turn on the spot, back through the casino, down the stairs, past the two-story high stone fireplace, me casting one look backwards, if I were Lot's wife, I'd be a pillar of salt, and out into the night.

To be continued...

*Names changed to protect innocent friends who did not know their vacation would be Material.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Billy heads inland

I decamp for the shores of Lake Tahoe tomorrow morning. This isn't really our vacation, we're just piggy-backing on friends' plans, so I've no idea where we're staying, what's planned, anything, really. You, kind readers, now know as much as I about my immediate future. Never been to Tahoe before (though I was born in Nevada), so, hey! anything could happen.

I expect to be out of blogrange while away, but hold out hope for good material.

Until I return...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I am seven years old

...and still afraid of the dark.

I know this: while occasionally seduced by a good ad campaign, I almost never think it was a good idea after I see a horror movie. So I try to resist (yes, I'm The Person ads are aimed at; I see something shiny on the little box with the nice people in it, & I think, God, yes, I never knew it, but I do need Spray-on Hair), I do. I haven't seen a horror movie since a friend rented The Ring, and I didn't sleep properly for over a week.

But there was this commercial on last night (oh, those gorgeous people in the little box, they are so convincing), for this new horror movie, something terribly stylish and gothic, all shot in deep sensual shades of gray, a beautiful heroine so poignantly suffering, things half-seen, temptingly, and I'm sucked in, I'm there, I'm thinking, yeah, yeah, let's go see that movie - never mind I haven't been to a movie in months and months, never mind that I don't know how to un-suspend my disbelief, that horror movies get under my skin, that there are images seen when I was nine burned onto my brainscreen that still freak me out, no, let's go to that one, yes, as soon as possible - and then, just at the tail end of the ad, a couple walking down the street with an umbrella, they look toward the camera, and then, and then, their faces melt, jaws and eyes gaping hideously open.

Aaaaaaah! Aaaaaaah! What is this doing on my television!? No no no no no, it was just an ad, for Chrissakes, you can't be putting images like that into my head with an ad!

Last night, getting up to go to the bathroom (a depressingly frequent exercise), brain in that soft, half-sleeping state...and that image, that stupid image, seeps into my head, gaping mouth, goggle eyes. I'm awake all the way, now, and talking myself down, think about something good, something pleasant, think about work, think about kittens, think about anything, but now I'm rushing through the hand-washing, now running flat-out back to bed, now climbing in next to Mr. Billy, shaking.

Why is this getting to me (and tonight I made Mr. Billy - a Media Professional - pull apart the image and explain to me how he think they did it, and Really, he says, It was kinda cheesy and cheaply done), why this one stupid, fucking, studio-created image, when there are real-life, real world horrors happening in my own country?

Monday, September 05, 2005


Dwayne dreamed about her hand, the way she would sleep on her side, left hand over his stomach, so he could look down in the light from the street and see her wedding ring, the big dent in it from when she got her hand slammed in the door of the delivery truck.

Sleeping, he would feel her hand there again, then wake to the stink, to a flashlight moving by, to the blackest night he ever saw. He wanted to drift off again, back to his cool sheets, Honore's sleeping breath behind him, but the fat man less than a foot away started up that moan, that high-pitched sob that creeped Dwayne right down to his bones. "Help me help me, somebody come help me..." No, man, Dwayne, wanted to tell him, Nobody's coming, this is it, we're on our own, but he wanted to believe it, too, wanted to believe that someone was coming, any minute now, any minute and he'd be back home, in his own bed, Honore rubbing a hand over her whole face, yawning like a little kid, like she did every morning, sleepy eyes looking up at him through her fingers, smiling from a sugarsweet dream.

Dwayne blinked his eyes, no difference between open and closed, black inside his lids and out. A thousand people packed in around him, a head rolls against his foot, a whispered argument, feet scraping across floor, he thought he heard a girl the night before screaming, crying, saying Stop please stop, but he couldn't tell where it was happening, the sound comes from everywhere in here.

It would take a hurricane to pull us apart, Honore, thought Dwayne into the night, to wherever she was. He turned his head to duck the memory coming at him fast, her face before the wind took her away, not scared, just looking at him wide-eyed, trying to say something, she had something important to say, but the wind swiped it away, then her, like a story book, like a fairy tale, she disappeared.

Tomorrow, when the reporters come, Dwayne will find a box lid; will print in large letters one word, he'll hold it up for the cameras to see, this is his purpose now, the only thing that matters:


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina: "...a test of our moral compass..."

There aren't enough words to tell how angry I am at the response of my government to this disaster. It is so much worse than it had to be.

The only thing for it right now is to do something, maybe offer shelter.

Or, donate here or here.

Meanwhile, the soul of New Orleans survives.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

I don't believe in writer's block

No such thing, doesn't exist. I believe in Laziness, in Every Word I Type is Shit, in Getting Stuck for Too Long on One Chapter, in No Ideas, but I don't, don't, don't believe in Writer's Block. It's Santa Claus and the Devil with a pointy tail and Odin and the Tooth Fairy. Doesn't exist.


Something creeps in on me, an almost-belief sliding up under my hairline when I'm sitting on the bus, wishing something like this would happen (I live in San Francisco, I ride the bus - where's my half-naked crazy lady?), all the while arrested, staring openly at the beautiful woman/girl standing near the front, half-crouched, eyes rolling wildly around, she looks Malaysian maybe, black hair neatly pulled back, beautifully embroidered jacket and badly stained sweat pants, mouth half open, eyes terrified, the bus comes to a stop and she lunges for a seat like it's a lifeboat, brushes perfectly manicured fingers over her shining hair and breathes again, eyes calmer, but focusing on nothing.

And I think, I should be able to use that. But it goes nowhere, I'm mystified by her, I want to stay on the bus and follow her around, read what's scrawled on that manila folder she holds, ask her name and listen to the voice she speaks in, but I have to get to work, I have to get off the bus and walk the same seven blocks I walk every morning, my brain running over and over the next chapter in my book, why can't I get past this one part? and I look up, I'm already there, already climbing the steps to the office and I've come up dry, again.

But I don't believe in writer's block. I can't, because if I did, I would have it.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Saturday OCD - lunchtime update

A quick update on yesterday's post: my New Orleans friends are fine. I did finally call them, but of course the circuits were down by then. But before bugging out, they got out an email saying they were pointing their wheels out of town, and this morning they called. They're in Memphis, waiting it out, trying not to think too much about the home they'd made and left behind, walls painted, pictures hung and homey details settled in. The storm was not as bad as it could have been, so there might be something there when they return.

I'm hoping.

And for those of you who were wondering about the title from yesterday, about "OCD", and thinking, "This isn't about obsessive-compulsive disorder at all, just a rambling post about a wet cat," well, you're right. You see, I meant to write about how, now that the cats were clean, I had to clean everything the cats might possibly come in contact with. And then everything that might come in contact with anything that might come in contact with any of those things. And so on. But the post was already too long, and I realized nobody really wants to read about how many times I had to check to make sure I locked the door, I did lock the door, didn't I? Well, it wouldn't hurt to go back and check to make sure I locked the door, just one more time. And I know I went back and checked, but did I really check? Surely there's time for me to just go back and be absolutely sure....

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Saturday OCD

I should I really should be calling my friends in New Orleans, to see if they're okay. Are they bugging out, or staying put? I know they're the stay put type. But I just can't help these pictures in my head of them being tossed around, picked up and smashed down. Yes, I know tornadoes are not hurricanes, but I just can't reason with the pictures in my head.

But avoidance, really, that's my best feature. So instead of calling, to hear them say they're staying put, they're riding it out, to hear them not answer because cell towers are already down, or overloaded, to talk to them and not know anything more than I did before talking to them, instead of that, I do other things I'd been avoiding for months, things that really just needed a bigger avoidance to move me.

So, I bathed the cats. We, that is, Mr. Billy and I, bathed the cats. I had this idea it wouldn't be so difficult. I'd bathed them before. I don't remember it being so bad.

But then, every time I'd bathed them before, it had been immediately after a trip in their cat carriers. They were already traumatized, already freaky and submissive with fear. And, they'd soiled themselves in their carriers. So they were almost as eager as I for a little cleanliness.

But never before had I plucked them from a laze in the sun, comfortably curled in the papasan, looking up at me with trusting, lazily blinking eyes.

When I say them, I'm really referring to the Big Cat, Mario. Our Problem Child. He's a sweet kitty, really, but he was a rescued cat, a street kitty, a marauder in the rougher quarters of Honolulu, a killer of geckoes and dwarf pigeons, abused and abandoned. Stray cats are not loved in Hawaii, being overburdened with them, not being much a part of the culture as house pets. We can only imagine how he must have been treated before being scooped up by the Humane Society and handed over to us, big-eyed, skittish, ducking and flinching every time we lifted a hand to pet him.

Years of patience have mellowed Mario. He's handsome and loving, now, on his own terms. He never extends his claws (unlike Blanche, the little black cat, who doesn't seem to know how to retract hers), never bites. Never scratches, that is, until yesterday.

Mario must be edging up to twenty pounds, now. Not terribly fat, but long and tall and solid all over. I pick him up, and he curls his front paws up submissively. This will be easy, I think.

Mr. Billy has the sink ready, and I carry him over, lift him into the sink. He expands, twice, three times his original size, grows extra legs and paws, reaching out everywhere, bracing against the counter, I wrestle him into the sink and he explodes out, I hold on grimly, turning into my parents, "this is for your own good," I tell Mr. Billy to fill the cup with water, I have an idea of pouring it over him, so far only his paws are wet, and while Mr. Billy's hands are busy with the faucet and the cup, Mario's eyes are rolling madly, he spies an exit, he takes it, a wet, desperate cat - suddenly the size of a tiger - is climbing my chest, he's having flashbacks and just trying to get traction, he's up my chest and on my shoulders and thunk! onto the floor and gone.

Mr. Billy pulls my shirt away, his eyes big as he looks at my skin. Are you okay? he wants to know. I nod, quickly. Should we give up? I ask him.

Mr. Billy, I think, would love to call it off, but he's seen me like this before. He squeezes my hand and goes to find Mario.

This time Mr. Billy holds his front legs while I bathe him, Mario's whole body tense and shuddering, he yowls piteously, loudly, I'm killing him with all this water, but we get the job done, more or less, his tail like a bone, wet fur clinging, I wrap him up in a big towel and loose him to set to work on the other cat.

She struggles, but no yowling, no climbing my chest like a tree, and it's over soon enough. I stand at the counter, shaking and laughing.

My shirt is sticking to my chest. I'm bleeding right through it.

I pull it off in front of the mirror. Three long red lines running up my chest. Another grouping on my right breast, another on my left ribs. You can trace the shape of big paws on my back and shoulders. They're all raised and bleeding, welting up. I expect bruises to form around them soon.

I look like I've been in a bar fight. I consider swearing off open necklines while they heal, but a look at my wardrobe tells me that's impractical. I'm not wearing turtlenecks in August.

Instead, Mr. Billy and I are working on some good stories to explain the scratches. I welcome suggestions.

Meanwhile, I still haven't called our New Orleans friends.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Caution: My street is highly flammable

I want to clean my glasses again. There's something in the air, I can't place it, like someone dropped a box of face powder and it's still hanging there. I take off my glasses, rub them with my shirt, and put them on again.

We hear sirens coming up the street, at first distant enough to ignore, but then Mr. Billy is at the window, watching the lights flashing in the fog, watching them go by our flat, up the street, and stop. Two firetrucks disappear in what I'm thinking might not be just fog, an ambulance pulls around right outside our window, to block off the street.

"Another one," we say, pulling on our shoes.

This one is smaller, we don't see flames jumping out, can't trace its progression from the blackening walls at the front of the building. If it wasn't for the smoke - we're breathing it in now and it's smoke - and the firetrucks, nothing would look out of place.

Neighbors gathering on the street. We shake our heads at each other, "Again," we say.

The hippie guy with the moustache and long curly hair and his family are carting musical instruments - nine, ten guitars - and cats in carriers across the street.

"D'you need any help?" Asks Billy.

Hippie's eyes are big, but he shakes his head. "It's a, I think it's just a small, a small fire this time," tottering past, a cat carrier in each hand.

Pretty neighbor with the glittering diamond in her nose asks whose place it is.

"D'you know Rick, the guy with the -?" neighbor gestures in the region of his head.

"-the hair and moustache, yeah," the girl nods, recognizing the description of the hippie, "it's his place...?"

We look quietly at the firemen filing up the ladder, dropping through a newly-cut hole in the roof, appearing in the apartment window. It's another of those aggregate facade buildings.

"It's too bad" doesn't cover it, doesn't get to the nut of what we're feeling, looking, shamefacedly amused at the coincidence, at how it's only for a fire that we come out of our houses, expose our faces to one another. This one doesn't have that thrill of fear, of shooting flames, adventure! Glory! Heroism!

No, this one is just the quiet consumption of one family's structure, of the things they use to tell about and propel their lives. Their books and clothes and pictures of Sandy when she was four at her cousin's birthday party, Do you remember? - their recipes and plants and baby drawings and outdated calendars and tax forms from four years ago and I wonder what ever happened to that cute little skirt you used to wear? -and from now on everything will be changed because of the Fire back in 2005. Do you remember that? We lost everything.

Mr. Billy and I walk back down the street, into our own flat, vowing to move the cat carriers someplace more accessible, thinking again, What would I save? and in the dark, our living room blinks blue, then red from the whirling lights outside our window.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Storm in August

I've been trying to bring to mind some soft-focus, Hallmark Card memories of my mom. Or anything really, any specific moment. It all keeps getting lost in the narrative, told so often as to have lost its corners, its impact, its three-dimensional reality.

Except - I do remember she had long nails. She kept them perfectly manicured, though she never had them professionally done. At church on Sunday, we would lay our heads in her lap, and she would clean out our ears using the perfect scoops of her nails.

As I got older, I would ask for this, laying my head in her lap, a moment of blissful regression, but every time she would say, "Look at your perfect, pink little shell-like ears. They're just too clean, there's nothing for me to do..."

She was a poet.

While I was living at home, she would ask me to critique her poems. "Be brutal," she would say.

I could imagine nothing more terrifying. How could I possibly critique my mother's poetry? I did though, I tried. I have no idea what sort of half-assed or cruel or pointless things I said. It's all blocked out.

But after I'd been living away for several years, she sent me a volume of her poetry. It was beautiful.

At her funeral in January, I read a favorite poem from that book:

Storm in August
About the time we passed the Crosby House
the wind began to blow, sending whirlwinds
worrying red dirt. Through the haze
the sun burned ominous
behind the bee-bedeviled hollyhocks.

Mother's skirts filled up with gusts,
involving both her hands.
Squinching up our gritty eyes, we held together,
welded hand in hand; one on either side
of Baby Rae, nearly swept away, whimpering
into the tug of wind.

"I've left the windows open." Mother put it
in the wind. "...must go back...houses blow away.
Stay here at Sister Terry's; be good girls..."

Sister Terry did her best.
portioned songs and stories anxiously,
tea party's propitiation, paper dolls to hold
against the winding wind around the house,
filling up the periled afternoon.
The clock said five, but black had blotted up the sky
Lightning panicked when it struck
the pole across the lawn, splintering
and thundering. Lights went out up and down
the street. We groped toward each other;
Sister Terry lit the candles
in a trembling flame, then held us awkwardly.
We soothed each other, holding rocking in her lap.

The storm ran down just before dusk.
She loosed us, blinking in an altered world.
Power poles hung broken, strung among
their lines, limbs of stricken trees
blocked off the roads, littered lawns.
The cottonwood we couldn't span with our linked arms
now lay yanked on its side, roots extracted,
still gesticulating to the sky.

How washed the air! How bright the light
the sun put down behind the hills.

And, mounted on his stallion, Golden Racket,
cantering along the street, sharing shadows
cantering; our father came, wearing
his white Stetson, reining in,
looking like a god.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Remember this when surgery is months in the past, body again elastic, stitches irritating memories, doctor visits rare:

How delicious, walking to the corner store for milk at dusk.

Eating sausage in an outdoor amphitheater, laughing and crying at Cyrano de Bergerac.

Splashing bleach and water across the tiles of our tiny deck.

Sleep, with ordinary dreams - or, with my dreams, not demons out of a prescription bottle.

Walking, hips moving freely, skirt swinging, shoulders loose and open. Those muscles clenched tight for so long softening, letting go. Shifting in bed without anything hurting, or hurting much. This is luxury, this is pleasure.

In two, maybe three weeks, I'm going dancing.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Kitten heels and prayer candles, part 3

Mikhail was face down on the street, watching Saint Joseph, Sacred Heart, the Virgin rolling around, his jaw numb, trying to put it together. That Pedro guy was just a guy at first, just like a million other guys looking at his stuff like it was contaminated, like it was garbage, there with his girlfriend, it was nothing new, nothing different, and the Pedro guy sniffed like he was the King of Siam, he was better than this shit, and he was walking away, but it looked like he dropped something, Mik thought he'd dropped this paper when he turned to go, but all it said was "LOOK RIGHT," and Mik looked right, lifitng the paper and yelling after the guy, but when this Pedro turned to look back he was Mikhail, he wasn't some random guy anymore, he was Mik, but still Pedro - Mik had heard of people like that, his grandmother told him about people who could shift, but he didn't think he would find one on the street in L.A.

Mik was thinking too slow when the guy just walked quick up to him and now he was on the street, the asphalt pebbles sticking to his face.

He heard the Pedro guy walking away, but the footsteps stopped, and another pair of feet came into view, right in front of Mik. The girlfriend.

She knelt down in front of him and and looked in his face.

She was beautiful. Blue-black skin, long lashes, opening her mouth to yell, red tongue, white teeth, "He's hurt!"

She smelled of lavender. Mikhail closed his eyes and breathed her in. He could lie here forever.

Pedro's feet started moving back in his direction. Mik started to get up, pushing up with his hands, the street rocking underneath him, he could see Pedro now, his bottom half, one hand pulling out of the pocket.

A knife snicking open.

Mik stopped, on his hands and knees.

"Not hurt enough," muttered Pedro, lifting the knife, and Mik raised one arm, trying to get to his feet, but something hot pink flashed in the side of his vision, Pedro falling back onto the street, holding onto his face and howling.

"Come on," the girl helped Mik to his feet, holding a hot pink sandal in her other hand, her breath warm on his face.

"Bitch you bitch you bitch my face" Pedro was howling in the street, Mik looking back at him, prayer candles rolling around, his hands covering his face, the girl pulling him away.

Her hand was warm in his, running down the street, her breath pulling out of her, blocks and blocks before they slowed down enough to talk, their voices coming in harsh around their breath.

"You okay?"

"I think so, thank you...?"


"Thank you, Nichelle. I'm - "

"Pedro," she said, brushing his hair from his eyes, "You're Pedro."

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Kitten heels and prayer candles, part 2

Nichelle walked fast down the street, gripping her shopping bag. Enough of Pedro, enough of both Pedros, she thought, hanging with him was like hanging with a prince or something. Everyone looked at him, knew him, talked to him - he was so pretty - Nichelle, just for being with him, would get the leftovers, people's faces all soft after talking to him, she'd get the last part of a smile, the second half of a How's it going, and that wasn't so bad.

But two of them, Nichelle would disappear completely, like falling into a hole.

Two Pedros. Nichelle wondered if she was cracking up, like her aunt up in Pomona who just sat in her living room all day, her hair going everywhere, talking about how God would tell her when to move.

Or should she feel bad, leaving her man alone with something scary like that? Hell, they'd probably make friends, the whole world can revolve around the both of them, just like it always did around Pedro, maybe sometimes he got lonely, the whole world looking in at him and nobody to look out with. Maybe it would be good for him to share a little.

Nichelle put on the brakes all of a sudden, if she'd been a car, her tires would've squealed.

No way Pedro would share. One of them would kill the other one, and then where would he be. The cops sure as hell wouldn't get it - Nichelle didn't even get it herself.

But she knew this for sure - Pedro was her man, and she couldn't just leave him. She turned around fast, shopping bag banging against her legs, and ran back to the prayer candle stand.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Scratch fiction deconstructed

I've found a few different ways to approach scratch fiction since monkey 0 introduced the meme back in March.

Sometimes I'll be thinking about a topic for a little while, and then an image or a situation will trigger a story relating to it. This story was an example of that: Sylvana had requested a Curious George story, but it wasn't until I saw a dog trotting down the street with a toy monkey in its mouth that the story was born.

Other times, I'll sit down at the computer with no idea at all, nothing, and just start typing. The night this story came about, we had a houseguest. We were expecting a few other friends to arrive in a few minutes, but I really wanted to get something posted, and my guest was curious about the whole scratch fiction thing. So I typed. A few minutes earlier, she had been showing me a picture of a girl she had a crush on, who was involved with someone else, so I pictured that girl. I made the person with the crush into a guy, because I've been working on a male perspective lately (my novel is entirely from a girl's point of view, so I make every attempt to take a break from that), and the story just fell out from there.

The interesting thing to me is that when I write so fast like that, often without any idea where it's going, little things I've read or seen or been thinking about lately will pop up all over the place. It's like recording a dream while it's happening.

Kitten heels is a pretty good example of that. All I had in my head when I sat down was the name Pedro, someone saying the name. So that's what I opened with. I had no idea who was saying it, or why. But as I wrote, it became obvious to me that it was happening in Southern California, somewhere not far from L.A. Nichelle was the name of a friend of mine from Compton - I knew her when we were teenagers, and I was living not far from there - and she seemed to belong in the scene. The dashboard Jesus vendor clearly carried things like the angel with no hands, back when she was new. And, it seems everyone I know has a pair of kitten heels, except me, dammit.

Some readers have asked me to write sequels to some of my scratch fiction, but I appear to have a hard time with that. Often enough, the universe of the story feels hermetically sealed to me; there's nothing more than what happens on the page, that's it. But maybe it's time to exercise that muscle a bit. I'll try first with a "Kitten heels..." sequel, and we'll see where it takes us.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Kitten heels and prayer candles

"Pedro, Pedro!"

They were already halfway down the block, what did this guy think? Pedro wasn't about to change his mind, turn around and buy his lame-ass dashboard Jesus or whatever, and Nichelle just had to whine at him, "Pedro, this one would look so cute in the living room," so now the guy knew his name, didn't he know enough when to give up?

"Pedro, wait!"

Nichelle had stopped and was looking back. She wasn't moving or talking or anything, which was weird enough all by itself, she was just staring, gone all rigid.

"What the fuck, Nichelle?"

Nichelle just slid her eyes slowly over to Pedro, her mouth hanging open, then looked back to where the guy was holding something, something like a paper he was waving back and forth. She dropped the plastic bag she'd been holding like life, the one with her new shoes in them, the hot pink sandals with the kitten heels, she'd been going on about how cute they were, like her whole life was gonna change 'cause she put on some slutty new shoes. But she was too busy now staring at the guy, the plastic-Jesus-and-prayer-candle vendor guy, her lashes so thick with mascara they cast a shadow on her cheeks, her lashes shaking, just a little bit.

Now Pedro saw it, there was something funny about the guy, something familiar - of course it was familiar, he'd just been talking to him a minute ago, it was the same guy - but now he looked different, something about how he stood was creeping Pedro out, something bugged him about it, crawling up from the base of his spine, what was it what was it, Pedro started walking back, the sidewalk so bright and hard in the sun he couldn't see all that good, but something was making him sick right into his stomach, even before the front of his brain knew it, the back of his brain was saying Bad Bad Bad Bad.

But then he was close enough to see. Not like looking in a mirror, 'cause things are reversed, which made the whole thing even more wrong, all the hairs on Pedro's head standing up and pricking into him, this guy was him, Pedro.

The guy opened his mouth and Pedro knew he didn't want to hear his own voice coming out of someone else, that would be too much, worse than hearing it on a tape recorder, so he didn't even stop to think, he just wound up and knocked his jaw sideways, Fucker can land on his ass for all I care, thought Pedro, walking away.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Billy goes under - part 2

I'm in a different room, a bigger one. Everyone's wearing those blue mushroom caps - people lying on gurneys, blinking and looking around, people in scrubs, walking by, a few gathered at a desk, talking "Have you tried their fries? Dude, they are a-mazing. They put like this seasoning on them?"

Bastards. I haven't eaten since yesterday. Not that I'm hungry. But still.

I guess they're all done, it's all over. I don't feel so bad, except. Oh, wait a second, here it comes.

Holy shit. I've never felt anything like this before, not even after the last surgery. But maybe people don't remember pain very well. Plus I had that morphine button before. I clutched that beautiful button in my hand all night. Push the button, push the button, good button.

I don't have a button now.

"Mghlapth," I say. I'm not sure what I was going for there, or if anyone could have heard me, but a nurse appears, looking down at me.

"Do you need something?"

"Hurts," I say.

"Brant?" she says, sweetly, "Need some Demerol here."

Brant moves fast, needle in hand, he or nurse or someone shoots something into the tube that's stuck into my hand.


I feel wonderful. Bless you, nurse. Bless you Brant. This warm wave just washes over me and cuddles me up and I feel a big loopy grin spread itself all over my mug. There's pain there, somewhere, but I just don't care, I don't care, tra la. I look around. Nobody close to my left, but to my right is a guy - a kid, maybe 19 or 20 - on a gurney like mine, big padding on one shoulder.


He rolls his head around, and flashes me a Demerol grin.

"What're you in for?" We are moments away from being old buddies.

"Fltjopblablepepoipwit shoulder," he says, beaming. "Shit hurts, man."

I nod, sagely. Nurses crowd around him for a minute, a curtain is pulled, but I hear him chatting away back there, to whoever is hovering around.

"...I'm a dancer, see, a ballet dancer," he's saying. The nurses disperse, until there's just one.

"Did I hear you say you were a ballet dancer?" Damn, I'm chatty. It's suddenly terribly important, this conversation. The nurse standing over him smiles at me - is it indulgently? and pulls back the curtain so he can roll his head around again and look at me.

"Yup," He nods, his head moving against the pillow, "I'm with the San Francisco Ballet."

"No shit," I say, "In the book I'm writing, my main character is a ballet dancer."

"Wow. Really?" he says. I doubt he would be this enthusiastic without the drugs.

"Yeah! It's called Hoodoo - working title - and," I want to tell him more. How this is no A Very Young Dancer sort of book. How it's actually really dark and creepy and twisted and all tied up with God and visions and I know he'd get it, we're Demerol buddies, after all, but they're wheeling me away.

"Hey," he says, "look me up on the site,, I'm there!" He looks up at the nurse, "She's writing a book with a ballet dancer!"

"'s called Hoodoo..." I raise my hand, waving goodbye, as I disappear through the door.