Sunday, May 29, 2005

Steve's in love (scratch fiction)

Steve shook his head, his jaw throbbing, the blood pulsing through painfully with every pump of his heart. He opened his mouth and closed it, slowly, but Jules was still in front of him, still hopping foot to foot, her little hands fisted in front of her face, "c'mon, c'mon," she was almost whispering, almost seductive, she wheedled him to take a swing at her.

How did it get this far? All he'd wanted was her digits, she seemed so sweet and she fluttered those big blue eyes at him. He shook his head again, Jules bobbing and weaving like the featherweight she'd be in the ring.

How long had she lived in his head before he took this baby step, just asking for her number? How many times had he laughed at her jokes, stolen glances at her out of the corners of his eyes all gritty from his swingshift, he's done with a hard day's work and all he wants is some suds and Jules' digits, it's taken him all these weeks to get up the guts, his big hands clenching and letting go beside his hips.

What had he said?

What did he always do wrong? Was it is smell, the way he walked, wasn't he saying the same things all the other guys said?

Steve tasted his own blood in his mouth, and knew there was something different about him, his tone, his look, something that put women on their guard around him, but she was the first one who ever popped him.

All Steve knew was, this was love.

"...and the stars, and the cars, and the bars, and the barmen"

(Not scratch fiction)

Y picked me up at the airport, one arm hanging out the car window, cig between two fingers, head cocked to one side while he talks, driving with one hand, eyes half-closed, lanes and traffic signals bare suggestions to Y, we progress like water through a stream bed, stream of water stream of consciousness, the car following the conversation, you might think I'm white-knuckling it, but I'm lulled, tranced into a fatalistic calm by the meditative near-misses that wash off our backs like water, we're fish in the stream.

I gape at the narrow Boston streets, my first time here, not bothering to hang a jaded indifference on my face, letting it glow bare out the passenger window, brick buildings that would have been piles of rubble after the first California quake, standing for a hundred years and more here, wooden shutters, cobblestone streets, pubs, churches, the Commons all swimming by.

I drop my bags and we pick up people and it's on to Harvard Square, smokers all crowded around the outside steps of the first pub, it's Karl's birthday, he's been celebrating already for hours, eyes drowning, and we sing to him - I've never seen him before and probably never will again, but I sing to him with the rest - we down our beers & then crawl to the next pub. The Brit woman has been drinking too much, and keens to us, one foot in the taxi, "C'mon, c'mon," but after she disappears into the belly of the cab we convince Y to take us straight to another place, we want to dance. Y's driving no more impaired than usual with cig, and phone, mumbling to the Brit that we're not following her, we can hear her digitized whine through the phone.

We set ourselves up with mojitos after fighting past the dancers struggling in the front of the bar: it's Latin dancing, we can't wait to finish our drinks before getting out on the floor, bodies bumping up against us, passing around a drink, I dance with my colleagues, all of us work in translation, the languages shifting as we shout in each other's ears, I let A lead; she's far stronger than me, K is Brazilian & I mimic her samba, dancing the perfect antidote to six hours in a metal tube hurtling through the sky.

Two a.m. comes too quickly, we're out on the sidewalk talking to the band, rumors of the party moving on to Someone's apartment die when we learn that Someone has nothing to drink there. A plastered Bostonian in painter's whites is talking up A and K, insulting Y, and when he starts a vaguely racist rant that begins, "when I was in the joint..." we fade warily back to the car, out on the road, and into the night.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Billy gets interviewed (or, be careful what you ask for)

Monkey 0 has interviewed me. And may I just say, monkey - yeesh, thanks for the softballs. So, here's to it:

1a. why do bad things happen to good people?
Because the gods are irrational savages, more like the immature, bickering gods of Greek myth than the all-knowing, all-compassionate, all-powerful God of monotheistic traditions. Just for example: Gary, the god of blowdryers, is jealous of any mortal with better hair than his, and regularly sends freak gusts of wind to ruin your perfect hair day. Jealousy of mortals in general is a major motivator for these gods, so good people are a natural target.

1b. why do good things happen to bad people?
See 1a above. Also, the gods are easily bored, so they like to fuck with us, just to see what happens. And everyone knows it's the bad people (see also: The Godfather, Boogie Nights, Bonnie & Clyde, and Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, just to name a few) who are by far the most entertaining.

Either that, or the world and its ways make no more sense than your morning bowl of cereal. One might as well ask why the good Cheerios always get eaten first, because, after all, we all get eaten in the end.

Unless we get Raptured first.

2. the Russians have just been faking all this time and finally they launch a massive all-out attack by hovercraft and take over San Francisco along with most of the western seaboard. you escape capture and retreat to the hills. what is your plan?
Along with my fellow escapees, I organize a matriarchal society in which each female gets her pick of several husbands (or wives, in the case of lesbians; and we necessarily have to share our spouses, as, sadly, women still outnumber men). Our peaceful, Utopian culture thrives in the rich farmland of Mendocino county. Rather than foment rebellion, we lure the Russian settlers to our community one by one with our excellent marijuana crop. Eventually, under the tutelage of the new members of our society, we perfect our vodka output and soon convert the remainder of the invaders to our way of life. This becomes a political wave that sweeps the country and finally sets us on the path to peace on earth and bounty for all its inhabitants.

Or, I take along a stack of Tarkovsky movies and practice my Russian in anticipation of my eventual capture.

3. we all have memories of an unforgettable teacher, someone who came along during our formative years and brought something really special and unique into our lives and now occupies a warm, sepia-toned corner of our memory. equally inevitable, sadly, is the teacher burned into our psyche in flaming letters of hate as high as the very outer reaches of our imagination. share with us, if you would, a story of the latter.
You caught me off guard with this one, monkey 0. I've been dredging up long-lost school memories for a teacher worthy of my hatred, and I fail. I can only surmise that this is due to my highly-developed talent for forging my parents' signatures, allowing me to simply avoid the teachers I didn't care for.

There was one legendary harridan who presided over 5th grade in my elementary school. Mrs. J was a classic Wicked-Witch-of-the-West type, complete with bird's nest hair, warts, and obscene flaps hanging from her upper arms (which she displayed in sleeveless shirts even in the dead of nasty Mountain West winters). She tormented my older brother for a year (she was known to despise boys even more than girls, and was rumored to have thrown a pair of scissors at one unfortunate kid), sending him home every afternoon with a stack of math problems on mimeographed sheets half-an-inch high.

The year before 5th grade, my family lived abroad, so when I returned to school on the first day of 5th grade, I was no longer on school rolls, and therefore wasn't assigned to a teacher. What twisted instinct was it that caused me, then, to voluntarily sit in Mrs. J's classroom? Her beady eyes instantly divined my family resemblance to my detested, beaten brother, and she smelled new blood. What lust for Dickensian drama burned within my 10-year-old breast in anticipation of a year of gothic conflict?

Whatever it was, I recall keen disappointment at learning I'd been assigned to Mr. F's class instead. That dispersed quickly, however, as I gazed at Mr. F's dark skin and flashing teeth. His faintly accented English danced me deliciously through 5th grade, and my perverse attempt at self-immolation was mercifully foiled.

4. there are certain animals you're not allowed to have as pets without a special license from the feds. jaguars, for instance. which one's at the top of your list?
Humans. Followed closely by - coincidentally enough - jaguars.

5. and finally, just because I know you have mad skills, give me:
5a. love in ten words,
5b. hate in five,
5c. confusion in three,
5d. and, finally, perfection in one.
Oh, monkey, slipping me the shiv wrapped in flattery. You will not see my revenge coming. But it will be sweet.

5a. Honey, see that giant zit on my ass? Could you...?
(Or, for the more romantically inclined, Antigone's reason to Hémon for choosing death in Anouilh's version, "Do anything for you except change my essential beloved self.")

5b. Ecstatic desire for _____'s humiliation.

5c. What the fuck? (Oh, that was too easy, wasn't it? How about "Football players' stats?")

5d. Rebellion.

interview game official rules: offer void in IN, LA, CO, AL, and HI, and where prohibited by law. leave a comment if you want to be interviewed. if you do, I'll ask you five questions. you update your blog with the answers, and you'll explain the rules and include an offer to interview others in the post. when someone asks you to interview them, you ask them five questions. and if you press the button that gives you a million dollars but kills someone you've never met, then the creepy guy in the suit comes and gives you the money but then he takes the button away and gives it to someone else you've never met.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Barbarians at gate 34

The Ugandan cab driver asked where I was born, but hadn’t heard of Las Vegas. I told him the desert, the Mojave, and he asked, “Are people civilized there?”

I knew what he meant - he talked about the nomadic tribes in Uganda – for him, civilization is a simple thing, wearing suits, driving cars, hospitals and schools and toothpaste and macaroni and cheese in a box, but I thought about his question while I watched the mother and daughter in the airport.

Mom’s sunglasses cost more than a month’s rent on a two-bedroom flat in the city, engorged jewels (w)ring her neck, weighing down fingers and wrists, belly and breasts smashed and mangled into a white suit, mouth gaping and chomping, yogurt doesn’t require mastication but her glittering lips worked and twisted like she was tearing raw flesh from bone, mouth wide open tongue sliding out. Daughter beside her with the flat belly of the young, jeans around her hips, an inch of skin showing, you might believe in redemption for her, seeing that tender belly exposed to the world, if you don’t raise your eyes further you could believe in heat and life and guts in the girl, but let your eyes drag up to her face, more gaudy, vicious jewelry along the way, and there the mother’s face twenty-five years younger, there the same open-mouthed barbaric chewing, same eyes floating dead and jaded, her mother didn’t teach her child civilization, what she learned is money can excuse anything.

My Ugandan cab driver in his neat black suit and quiet voice asked me if the people in the Mojave were civilized.

Not really, I said.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Music for airports

Mr. Billy is a fan of putting that album on the iPod where it was meant to be heard: in the airport. And I agree, usually, all that air and space within the score gives the whole experience an outworldly sensation, quiets an obsessing brain, brings a circle of peace in close around me.

But this trip, I chose Prokoviev's Romeo & Juliet, and all the draggled travellers became tragic heros. There were Lord & Lady Capulet, in their polo shirts for vacation, there Tybalt, earrings crawling up his left ear. Romeo with hair brushing past his collar, trying to look like he wasn't with his parents.

There Mercutio, the lithe black guy dancing down the concourse, eyes alive, ready to laugh.

Juliet was on my flight, mouth carefully closed over braces. Expensive black leather jacket, Mom's hair dyed to match hers, Dad too loud for them both.

Amazing grace

Pair at the airport: fastidious, effeminate white man, all the blood civilized right out of this one, beside him a woman - maybe Filipina - perfectly beautiful. Perfectly coiffed, perfectly attired, perfectly bored. She lounges with perfect grace, perfect disdain, moving with a strange, slow languor, as though suspended by invisible wires.

They're on my flight, across the aisle from each other a few rows ahead of me. I can only see him, as he fishes wetnaps out of his jacket pocket and businesslike wipes down his seat, the armrests, headrest, breaks out a fresh one and sets to work on the tray table, bottom and top, including the latch. Now he offers an array of wetnaps to his invisible companion across the aisle, sorts through them, apparently to choose the correct variety, opens it and pulls out a wetnap, crumples it precisely before handing it across the aisle to her.

Late in the flight I head to the toilet, and she emerges, posing for a moment, narrow hips cocked, before delicately holding open the door for me, a wetnap protecting her oddly large but elegantly placed hand from door microbes. I enter, and the seat is up. Oh. Huh.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Chemical Billy East

On Friday I'm off to Boston, for a week and a half.

I will be relying on the doubtful connection at my host's apartment, so posting may be spotty, but I trust I will have New and Different things to write about there.

"Nothing happened today"

...wrote King George on July 4th, in his 18th century blog.

I'm not so confident that nothing happened, or even that nothing happened to me, but maybe you will thank me for not considering My Flu or My Day at Work blogworthy, maybe forgive me for the long days with no post.

What I can say is not much of interest penetrated the flu-induced fug, except maybe the crying girl tonight, who made for the back of the bus with her red nose, mouthing her grief to the air, tears running down her pink cheeks.

So, this entry is for her - bless you, crying girl.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Curiously, George

...became aware of something solid, vast, and fast-moving above his head. The sky was cement. At his feet, the sky, and, and, something else.

An enormous canine had its jaws clamped around George's foot, slavering and panting around his foot, George hanging helpless, upside down, watching the sidewalk overhead. Pant, pant, click of obscenely huge toenails.

Where was the man in the yellow hat?

Why couldn't he move his arms, twist around and free himself from this ridiculous position? His eyes felt flat, like discs, like buttons. Pant, pant, click, click.

Was it something he drank?

A creeeping dread invaded George's consciousness, washing up the back of his mind like a swarm of ants. Was he, like Gregor Samsa, metamorphosed? Don't be surprised that George should know Kafka, the explorations of a curious mind can take one down many paths, you didn't read about George's adventures in alchemy, in philosophy, in nuclear physics.

Never again to feel his limbs stretch on their own, mouth stitched on, stitched closed, eyes shining buttons, never again to be seen, to be heard, un-Pinocchioed, from real monkey to facsimile, monkey scent gone, golden retriever slobber in its place, curiosity forever passive, a thing, a toy, a doll.

(for Sylvana)