Sunday, December 24, 2006

We'll be closed for Christmas



It's Christmas Eve and pretty quiet in the city. People are away seeing relatives or hiding from it all in Tahoe or Mexico or tucked deep inside their houses. At the grocery store a middle-aged Asian man is wearing a propeller beanie striped in candy colors, gravely reading a label as the propeller slowly turns. It may be his wife in another part of the store, in full elf regalia, green stockings to tall, peaked hat.

We've had three small earthquakes in two days here. The first one rolls slowly under us as Mr. Billy & I sit on the couch, talking. We stop and look at each other, both of us thinking Earthquake earthquake, is this only the beginning, the leading edge of a bigger one, of The Big One? But it tails off, leaving us dizzy for ten minutes after. Another the next evening, and we watch our bookcases creak and rattle. The third on Saturday morning, as we come slowly awake, Mr. Billy eyeing the glass block that sits on top of the bookshelf beside the bed, tracing a trajectory from bookshelf to bed, while I wonder What does it mean, three earthquakes in a row? and for the first time, I'm afraid. Were we dreaming, we wonder, wandering into the living room in stocking feet, checking ourselves on Did you feel it.

Finding ourselves still alive on Christmas eve, we amble down to Howard's Café for breakfast. The waitress waves at us while we find our seat; a smaller than usual weekend crowd. It suits us just fine. An old man walks through the door, and half a dozen voices say, "Sheldon!" Without even pausing, he turns around and goes out, only to come in again. The waitress in the reindeer horns sits to talk with him, her skirt riding up just a bit to show red tights. I ask our waitress if I can take her picture, and she runs to the back to get her own camera. The three waitresses pose for me. They're beautiful, smiling and laughing, their arms around each other, and I wonder, for just a second, if the ground is shifting beneath my feet.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pink coat

(It's been far too long since I've exercised my scratch fiction muscles.)

Her face was delicate; small nose, fine lines around her eyes. Filigree earrings dropped from dainty earlobes, a tiny pearl suspended, quivering. Her body seemed to belong to someone else, grossly overweight beneath her petal-pink coat, tiny feet planted wide to balance all those pounds tossed back and forth with the lurching of the bus.

Rom couldn't look away. There was something morbidly fascinating about her, as though her body had swelled suddenly, while she was looking the other way; her face, lips pink and soft, was plainly used to admiration.

When she moved toward the door at her stop, Rom felt himself pulled after. If someone had asked him why, he wouldn't have been able to say. It was dinnertime, he should be on his way home, just three more stops on this line, but even as he thought it, following this woman around the corner, her weight shifting ponderously from foot to foot in the cow-like shuffle of the obese, even as he thought of his wife glancing at the clock while she dialled their favorite Chinese takeout, he knew it was too late. He wouldn't be home in time for dinner.

The woman turned her head, her strawberry blond hair swept gracefully back, and tossed him a flirtatious glance before disappearing behind a new townhouse, into an empty lot.

Rom followed, the clash of traffic in the street behind dipping into silence, he could still make out the glimmer of pink in the dark ahead, this lot larger than it seemed from the street, stretching deep between blind, windowless buildings on either side, the sky boxed in as they seemed to grow taller, Rom stumbling now on gravel, the ground cold, even through the soles of his Timberlands.

A voice whispered, almost inaudible, pushing out from the dark at his shoulder, "What is it you want?"

Her voice as meltingly sweet as her face.

"Do you know?" she asked, Rom turning now to face her.

"Is it this?" she asked, unbuttoning her pink coat, Rom feeling a sudden shame, a sickness at the thought of her body, while, like a separate being, his cock stirred.

Rom stood, dumbly, his hands at his sides, while she pulled open her coat, light pouring out from inside, blinding him, the last thing he remembered the distant sound of ocean waves, the call of seagulls.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Yuma

At the gas station, we're behind a black SUV with Arizona plates. Gothic lettering across the back window reads "So Cal." Much smaller, tucked into a corner of the window it says, "One love."

The driver gets out, a shave-headed kid with tattoos creeping down his calves. His wife dismounts from the passenger side. She's blond, taller than him, her hair in a ponytail. As she unfolds, I see she is pregnant. They don't speak, pointedly looking anywhere but into each other's faces.

We go to IHOP for lunch, the International House of Pancakes. Behind us sits a cowboy, hat shadowing his eyes, talking on a cell phone. The place is crowded. Near the wall sit three people and a baby. The young man reminds me of one of my brothers, thin and buzzing with energy. Across the table is the young mother, her mouth in a voluptuous pout, leftover pregnancy fat still pushing her belly out. She looks fourteen. She's eating like she hasn't seen food in months, jiggling her foot beneath the table. Beside her is her mother, no older than forty-two. She and the young man are talking earnestly in Spanish. The young mother looks bored. She puts the baby into a carrier on the floor, rocking it with her foot. She pulls the young man's plate over and tucks in.

To my right is a freckled girl with her family. She cinches her hood down around her face, hiding from her family, from everyone. In front of her is a dark-eyed girl who looks like she is just now beginning to realize how beautiful she is. Her smile is brilliant, blinding.

At the IHOP in Yuma

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Those aren't clouds..."

Driving home through the Arizona desert, long stretches of hard empty. Disintegrating garages and drive-ins eaten away by sun and wind; ruins, like ancient Roman roads in odd corners of Britain. Cockeyed trailers with stripped or rusted cars out front, half-shielded from the highway by palm trees.

I point out clouds lying low over the distant mountains before Yuma. We watch giant saguaros roll by, dancing in couples, arms reaching for the wide blue sky.

Further down the road, Mr. Billy squints through the windshield. "Those aren't clouds," he says.


It looks more like smoke.

Before long, traffic comes to a stop. A firetruck passes on the shoulder.

Finally, we can see the lights flashing ahead, orange cones marking off the scene.
We approach the source of the smoke

I'm clicking away, furiously.
The passengers
Firefighters

I'm thrilled. I can see the wreck is just beyond the firetruck. Traffic speeds up.
We pass too quickly

No, no, no, we're going too fast.
I can't even tell what kind of vehicle it used to be

I didn't have time to zoom out; I've fucked the money shot.

"Shit," I say, twisting around in my seat as we leave the burning skeleton behind, winding up to speed. "Shit, fuck, fuck!"

I'm scrolling back through the photos, foaming with frustration. Dammit, I need more practice with this thing, I could've had a great shot.

Then I stop at this photo.
The passengers

There was no ambulance. Was anyone in there? We couldn't even tell what kind of vehicle it was, before. Was it an RV? Were they on their way home after Thanksgiving, like us? I shield my eyes, looking closely at the picture. I can't read their faces.

I'm quiet for a long while after.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Billy in the desert

I'm off for a week in Arizona. Will bring back stories and pictures.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Contact

My laptop is back, finally finally, purring warmly on my lap, glowing in the dim light of the living room.

I've missed you all.

Tonight, waiting at the bus stop, an old black man, bent at the waist, holding on to the signpost with both hands. A car passes, and he reaches out a hand, hailing it, watching it down the road.

"I need a cab..." he says.

A younger man with gray black skin, missing several front teeth walks by. "You need a cab?" he asks loudly. "I'll find you a cab."

The younger man stands on the corner, eyes open for cabs. It's a busy corner, surely one will come by soon.

The old man thinks every car is a cab.

"Cab!" he says, cranky now. "I need a cab."

Finally one stops on the opposite side of the street. I wave to the cabbie, then ask the man if he needs help crossing the street.

"Wha-?" he says, eyes looking wide into mine, tightening his grasp on the signpost. "I'm not going over there, no. No." He braces his feet against whoever is surely determined to drag him away. His irises are ringed with blue.

The younger man yells at the cabbie to turn around. The cab pulls around the corner, slows, then drives away up the street.

The younger man walks away, shaking his head, frustrated. "If he won't take a cab when I find him one..." I think I see another cab on the opposite side of the street. I ask the old man if he could cross the street with my help. He seems to be considering it when he spies another car.

"CAB!" he cries.

I watch for a taxi on my side of the street, when a bus pulls up. "Cab..." the old man says, then climbs the stairs onto the bus.

The younger man reappears. "He find a cab?"

"Got on the bus."

"Well, good. I figger, I hope someone helps me out when I'm old, you know?"

I nod and thank him. My bus is arriving. Time to go home.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Laptop down

To my charming, attractive and terrifyingly intelligent readers: my laptop is bollixed, screwed, mangled and nearly ashcanned. Normally, this would only be an inconvenience, as Mr. Billy is generous enough to share his with me; but as Fate likes to have a laugh now & then, Mr. Billy's laptop is similarly kaput.

So, my digital umbilical severed, I have to cadge lunch-hour time on the day job computer to let you all know this: I haven't forgotten you.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Full moon on Haight

The bus is late. I've been standing here for twenty minutes, while the bus stop fills up with people. A woman with a cane found a transfer on the sidewalk, still good for another hour. There are no takers; we all have passes.

Taxis troll by. One slows as it passes, the driver looking hard at me. I shake my head. Do I look like I want a taxi?

Still no bus. The moon is hanging just over the Walgreen's across the street, looking like a bright piece of candy. I'd like to reach up and pop it into my mouth, moonlight dribbling down my chin.

The taxi from before comes around again, stopping in the bus lane. The driver leans across the seat.

"You fightin' the feelin'? Don't fight the feelin', girl."

He's looking at me. Why me? I look around at the other people at the bus stop. Do I look like I can afford a taxi? I want to turn my pockets out to show how empty they are, but I don't have pockets.

"C'mon baby. I'll give you a discount of...twenty-five cents."

I have to laugh at that. He's getting into it.

"Fifty cents, then, whaddya say? Don't fight the feelin'."

He notices the woman standing next to me.

"Hey, I know you. I used to wash the windows in your neighborhood. Remember me?"

"Oh yeah," the woman's voice is deeper than his, like it's rising out of a tin pail of rocks, "I remember you. Didn' know you washed windows, though. I'm on disability now. Got a bus pass."

A couple comes out of the diner behind me.

"You're welcome to call me if you like," says the woman, "although it isn't a requirement."

She kisses his cheek, and walks away. Was it a date, or a job interview? Who the hell says it isn't a "requirement" to call?

The bus, finally. Two buses, one right behind the other. The one behind is empty, but I'm grooving on the people. I take the one in front.

I sit next to a woman covered with freckles, so deep and beautifully dense, it's like alien skin, like brocade, like a decorative tattoo. Her eyebrow is pierced.

In front sits a white man with a service dog at his feet, so blond he's almost albino. Beside him is a blue black man. The white man asks the black man if the dog bothers him. He says no.

The white man rocks in his seat, an extended nodding, constantly renewed assent. Beside him, his neighbor rocks in counterpoint. His movement is impatient; at any minute he'll rock himself onto his feet and off the bus. The blond man places one thumb on his knee, spreads his hand, measuring the distance from his own knee to the knee of his neighbor, his pinky hovering a naked millimeter above the other man's knee, until he can feel the electrons bouncing off the stranger's legs. He retracts his hand sharply.

Out the window, I see a poster for America's Next Top Model. A collection of arms, legs, breasts, blank faces. All these girls smashed and reshaped like playdough; I can't tell one from the other. Is this beautiful? I'd rather look at the people on the bus, the men rocking back and forth, the freckled woman next to me.

I think I'm in love with her. She's talking on the phone.

"Yeah, well I think she's still trying to deal with her mother's death, you know? She's seeing - she's Catholic, right? - so she's seeing this nun, like once a week, and this nun told her about a big cross in Burlingame. It's like this big cross, and you leave your problems at its foot, you know? So that's happening tonight, and I thought I'd go with her..."

Or the old woman across the aisle. Skin wrinkled and creased like a foil gum wrapper. High, proud crook to her nose. Well dressed. She could be a duchess, riding the bus. A button on her purse enjoins me to "Be Green."

My stop. I pull myself away from the freckled woman, the duchess, the rocking men. I wave at the bus driver, stepping off. The bus pullls away into the night, lit up inside like a rolling living room, like another person's life, warm and alive, glimpsed for a minute, then moving on.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Road trip

Gold N Silver Inn, Reno, NV.



Hal the Pilot. Women's room in Wendover, NV.


Basque breakfast at the Toki Ona Bar in Elko, NV.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Legalizing tyranny in the United States"

When I began Chemical Billy, less than two years ago, I had an idea of being a political blogger. I soon realized, however, that I had neither the time, the contacts, nor the expertise to add anything new to the discussion. I decided instead to stay with the type of writing I know best, my own twisted view of my corner of the world. But this is a time when, as a citizen of this country, I feel it is necessary to climb onto my tiny soapbox and add my little voice to the chorus.

I've just returned from a road trip across the desert to the town where I grew up. Any trip to the desert is emotional for me. John Updike described the experience well, in reference to his own hometown: "I loved Shillington...as one loves one's own body and consciousness, because they are synonymous with being." I love the sun-blasted emptiness of the desert deeply; when I lived abroad, curled up with homesickness, it was the savage desert that I pined for, that for me represented America and all I love about it.

While I was gone, I didn't read the news. No internet connection, no newspaper, no television. So when I returned, full of love for this wide and ragged country - for slot machine jockeys and maternal waitresses, for transplanted Basques and long-lost relatives and old friends - I was shocked to see how completely we have betrayed ourselves, and so quietly, with barely a whimper in protest.

I can see I've buried the lede, but it's hard to know how to approach such a brazen abandonment of the ideals that make us Americans, of the very foundations of our democracy. I'm talking about the detainee bill that is virtually guaranteed to pass the senate today. I'll let Glenn Greenwald explain what is contained in this bill, with far more clarity than I can:

Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald: The legalization of torture and permanent detention

And the Rude Pundit brings it down to essentials (the Rude Pundit is known for being, well, rude, but the only obscene word in this post is "evil"):

Regarding Evil and American Identity

Any parent of a wayward kid will tell you that it hurts most to see one you love doing wrong. It hurts me, right to my core, to see fear eating away our national morality. I love this country, all of it, and more than anything, I want it to do right. No idea of "safety" is worth trading our souls for.

And just how "safe" does this bill make us? It makes it legal for the president to decide that anyone, citizen or not, is an "enemy combatant," and can be held, without charge, forever. It will now be legal for the president to decide, say, that because of this post, I am a threat to the safety of Americans. He could then throw me in prison in Syria, and have me tortured, for the rest of my life. I would never get a trial. Sound extreme? Maybe it would never happen - I sure hope it doesn't. But there is nothing to keep such extreme things from happening now, except the good will and conscience of the president. It's all up to him, now.

I hope with all my heart that we can turn this around. I hope that we can vote in some people who will stand up for the America I love. I will not believe that it's too late for us, not yet.

I could go on and on, but it's all been said, and much better, by many others (though clearly, not enough). Back to my regularly scheduled programming, and pictures from the desert, soon.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Billy on SFist

Readers who have been with me awhile know about my long-running love affair with Muni. But, as in all relationships, we have our spats. And since I've adopted San Francisco as my home city, Muni service seems to have been on a long downhill spiral, eliminating and reducing routes, pink-slipping hundreds of drivers, not to mention municide. SFist has done a grand job of keeping editorial focus on the continuing problems, and several weeks of a bad commute finally prompted me to write to their Dear Mr. Ford column (as well as to Muni itself) under my meat world name. Imagine how tickled I was to see that SFist had published my letter while I was off in Utah-land. Thanks, SFist!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Billy on the road

Mr. Billy and I are off on a road trip to dance at my dad's wedding. I'll miss the city: the woman I pass on the way to work who stands out front of her dry cleaners, grimly hula hooping; an Indian woman in a lush gold sari, grooving to her iPod; the man on the bus with great loops of skin for earlobes, carefully cultivated; but Utah offers its own attractions.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I fall in love too easily

I fall in love every day, sometimes twice.

Today it's two women at Trader Joe's. I first see them in the parking lot, talking with each other and gesturing so emphatically that I initially think they're speaking in sign language.

One is a skyscraper, the tallest woman I've ever seen. Dressed conservatively, in a below-the-knee skirt, black pumps and nylons. Long straight hair, parted in the middle. Legs like lampposts. Her companion (of course, of course) is tiny; maybe five feet tall. Messy red hair, fierce freckles, thrift-store chic.

Inside, they park their cart directly between me and the shelf I'm scrutinizing. I forgive them this minor transgression; I'm ready to forgive them almost anything. Skyscraper Girl's neck is ridiculously long, her head bobbing bewildered far above her shoulders; she looks just like Alice after a bottle coyly tempted her: "Drink me."

Her face is smooth, unlined, girlish. She may not even be done growing yet. She can look right over the top shelves to see what's in the next aisle, and the next.

I'm dizzy standing next to her.

In the checkout line, I peek through my eyelashes at their cart: two cartons of soy milk, soy ice cream, cheap champagne.

I picture them in front of the fireplace in their apartment, empty cartons of dairy-free treats and champagne glasses tumbled on the rug, Skyscraper Girl's head pillowed in Red's lap, like Alice dreaming of Wonderland.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

If I was a man

If I was a man, I'd walk big in my boots. I'd spit on the sidewalk, and sit with my legs wide apart on the bus.

If I was a man, I'd be secure in my opinions. Other men would nod sagely at what I said. I would be an expert on everything, and nobody would doubt me when I say it is clearly a problem with the timing belt.

If I was a man, I wouldn't own a mop.

If I was a man, I would smoke Marlboros and squint into the sunlight. I would wear the same style of jeans I'd worn twenty-five years ago, and leather boots that held the print of my bare foot.

If I was a man, I would drink beer every day.

If I was a man, nobody would tell me not to go there alone. I would know how to fight, and how to win. I would know the logic of meat and bone, and other men would make way for me on the street.

If I was a man, I would grow a beard, or not.

If I was a man and I wanted a job, I would walk onto a construction site and be given one. I would make buildings grow from bare earth, and reduce tall buildings to piles of rock. I would get dirt under my fingernails and callouses on my hands.

If I was a man, no stranger would presume to comment on my haircut or my outfit.

If I was a man, I would ogle women. I would stare at their hips, their breasts, their necks lifting from collars. I would imagine the feel of their hair on my lips. I would consider any one of them mine by right. In looking, I would possess them.

If I was a man, I would hold my cock proud in one hand. I would write my name in the snow.

If I was a man, my woman would bend to fit me. She would shave between her legs to please me. She would grow her hair long, and dress in my favorite color. And when I get bored, I would trade her in for a newer model.

If I was a man, I would take any suggestion to change as an affront to my essential self.

If I was a man, I would be in on the joke. I would never be expected to cook. I would be invited to poker games. I would not think about my looks. I would choose to wear a condom, or not. I would not be measured by the cleanliness of my house. I would have children I didn't know about. I would not have a skin-care regimen. I would be offered a cigar. I would be forgiven if I brought flowers. I would not write thank you notes. I would not wonder what to wear. I would be picked for the team.

If I was a man, I would walk big in my boots, and I would rule the world.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bus writer

He's at least seventy-five, maybe in his eighties. His face is bright red, a fringe of silky white hair around a bald top. When I walk past him to a seat in the back, he jumps, swinging his face around at me, eyes bugging out like I'd just straddled his lap.

I sit behind him. He's holding a fistful of crumpled notebook paper, the wide ruling not big enough for his looping handwriting - each line of text takes up four lines of paper.

I can read it over his shoulder.

...but Mr. Berghof said that he preferred a rural setting. After a light meal dinner on board, Berghof indulged in a "coffee-brew," as the phrase goes.

C-- continued...

The old man bunches up his shoulders like he can feel me eavesdropping, a burning on the back of his neck. He puts one gnarled hand flat on the paper, covering up the words, then folds it emphatically into thirds, scrawling something on the backside before shuffling it with the other papers he holds.

He straightens his sheaf of paper on his lap, then tucks it into a blue folder, automatically putting it down to his right, as though he expects to find a filing cabinet there, instead of the floor of the bus. He swivels his head around, looking for his truant filing cabinet before shifting the folder to his left hand and setting it on the seat beside him.

He drums his fingers on his knee, then reaches again for the blue folder, removing the sheaf of papers, and turning the folder inside out before replacing the papers.

My stop is coming up. It's only reluctantly that I leave him behind, glaring at me accusingly when I dare to pass him again.

His words stay with me all day. Coffee-brew. Does the phrase go that way? I've never heard it before. Is he a nutcase, or a successful writer? Is there a difference?

Coffee-brew, I think, walking to work. Coffee-brew, coffee-brew, coffee-brew.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The long ride home

I sit near the back of the bus. In front of me is an old man, with his middle-aged son. The old man is talking, an endless stream of words dribbling out of his mouth, his son looking out the window.

"I know I've always been a negative person, there was a thing in me, this negativity, I don't know how to get around it..."

A beautiful young black man sits with a friend. He turns to look out the back window, showing tattoos on his long neck.

"People are killing each other over water, man," he says, gesturing with a paper bag, "and here we are with croissant sandwiches." He shakes his head, an orange-red gem flashing brilliantly from one earlobe.

"Your sister's the same, you know," the old man is spilling out a lifetime of words, the sun shining through the thin tissue of his ear, "Negative, negative, all of us, the whole family..."

A woman with blond hair pulled into a tight bun gets on. She carries a bouquet of pink tea roses, the petals tender as a baby's lips. Her face doesn't match; she squints and grimaces, mouth hanging open.

Behind me, I hear a woman talking on her cell phone:

"So I asked her what she saw in him, and she showed me his letters. His letters. I said, 'Girl, of course he's gonna be writing you good letters. He's in prison. He doesn't have anything else to do...'"

A plump boy comes toward the back with his mother. She pushes him toward a seat while she sits across the aisle. They're speaking Spanish, but I can tell he objects to his seat: a homeless man sits beside him. The mother trades places with him.

"I mean, she was the one who called the cops on him in the first place. And she's all like, 'no, he isn't like that any more. I mean, I didn't know he was a child molester...'"

"Negative, all of us. Even you. You're negative, all the time..."

"...and she's all, 'No, he's totally changed, he's different now,' and I'm saying, well, how do you know? I mean, he's been in prison for years..."

The homeless man holds a chunk of bread with both hands. He's a white man, but his skin is burnt ashy. He gets off at Haight, and I watch him walk slowly down the street as the bus pulls away.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Escape the World

Mr. Billy and I are just back from a trip to my childhood town of Provo, Utah, strung out and sleep-deprived and sinking gratefully into the freaky embrace of our adopted home of San Francisco.

Every visit back to the old country triggers a spell of schizoid reaction in me, ratcheted up a notch or two on this trip by our timing; we were there for the run-up to the We Are More Patriotic Than You Orgy, otherwise known as America's Freedom Festival. From the baby contest to the Grand Parade (my moment in the sunlight of the Grand Parade was as a flower, waving adorably from my flowerpot on some beauty queen's float when I was six), and climaxing with the - wait for it - Stadium of Fire, Provoans' patriotic fervor gets Bigger and Better every year.Balloons ascending into the Provo sky to mark the beginning of the Freedom Festival

My favorite part of the festival is the hot air balloons, and this year we got to see them up close and personal - more about that in another post.

Mr. Billy and I drove down Center Street (now with a sign touting it as "Provo's Historic Center Street") where I cruised on Saturday nights with my much better-looking friend ("I get the blonde one, okay? You can have the other one." "No way man, I got the plain one last time..."). On the left is a fountain I jumped into on a hot summer night, just after breaking up with my boyfriend. To the right used to be the library, where I weekly filled a basket as big as me with books to take home. When I'd plowed through every book in the children's section, I was granted a special dispensation to check out any book in the library, the adult section opening to me like paradise.

Just off Center Street to the right, La Dolce Vita is still in business - a restaurant run by a family fresh from Italy in the '80's. I used to read the mother's palm while her glamorous, dark-eyed son translated. In exchange, she gave me rum baba or a heavenly slice of pizza. To the left is NuSkin Plaza, shiny monstrosity plopped in the middle of the older buildings, a creepy, larger-than-life sculpture out front of kids, faces stretched into leering grins, flying around a globe. Mr. Billy says it reminds him of Soviet-era art.

The left side of the street is blocked off for parade preparations.

Mullett Hoover is still around, but Art's Shoe Repair - where Gary Gillmore used to work - is under new management. Gleaming bicycles wink at passing kids from a rotating platform in Bingham Cyclery.

I think it was during the first Gulf War that 200 West was renamed Freedom Boulevard ("Because the more we use the word freedom, the more we can curtail yours!"). The building where I used to take ballet is empty and derelict, paint peeling away like leprosy.

As we ramp up the freeway, I spy a small, hand-painted sign that reads, "Iglesia Cristiana." When I look in the direction the sign points, all I can see, as we speed by, is another LDS chapel.

A billboard shows a soft-focus picture of a young woman, hair pulled demurely back. "Modest Wedding Gowns," the sign reads, "Modest Formals, Modest Prices."

I'm remembering the 4th of July, another year. My dear friend Geo used to live, with other students, in a big old house on Center Street. After the parade went by, Geo tied a stars-and-stripes bandana to her head, and led us on our own parade down the street. We marched with Geo in the sunlight, singing and whistling, waving at the remnants of the crowd as they packed up their blankets, and balloons - escaped from sticky kids' hands - rose quietly into the sky.

Mr. Billy and I are driving north on the freeway. "Escape the World," says a billboard.

Welcome to Utah.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Buddha

We can see sunlight cresting over the Buddha's knee, rays picking their way through kitchen windows, tea on to boil, kids moving softly to the table, hair standing up in pillow-rubbed clumps.

The kids run out ahead after breakfast, tagging each other, bare feet slapping stone, voices ringing back from whitewashed walls. We hang back, our hands full with buckets and brushes and rags, taking the time to talk, squinting up at the sun, while we are still shoulder-to-shoulder within the village; once we come to the grassy edge, we'll fan out, taking up our places along the Buddha's leg.

Our village shelters under his right knee; my family, as far back as memory goes, has had charge of the Buddha's left foot, tucked lotus-wise in the crook of the knee. We are finishing the gold leaf on his big toe a little before solstice this year. A full week to rest before starting again at the heel, where the shine is already dulled, the delicate lapis scrollwork begun last year losing its crisp edges.

The sun is straight overhead when I unpack our lunch. We mimic the Buddha's posture, sitting down cross-legged to eat, looking out across the plain to see his finger coming down to meet the earth; the Buddha forever at the moment of enlightenment, hovering a second before touching earth to let creation know of his epiphany.

This is my last season here. I'm marrying age now, and have to travel to another village to find a spouse. I'll seek out the people in the left knee, or maybe the hand; the villages higher up the mountain seem to have forgotten their work. Even from here we can see patches of neglect along his shoulders, our foot far outshining his face. What little we hear from them tells of a whole different world, of people who don't even know they live on the Buddha's shoulder. They keep the gold and lapis for themselves, stealing from each other, painting their houses and clothes instead.

Nobody remembers who first built the earthworks Buddha, the center of our world. They were our ancestors, working with clay rather than paint. The villages were closer in those days, they worked together, people passing easily from village to village as among family. My own grandfather came from upcountry in better days, wrinkles deepening between his eyes when he looks up at the worn face of our Buddha.

I know he wants me to go up there, bring the old, quiet ways back to them, but I'm only one person, who would listen to me?

So was the Buddha, says my grandfather, his brows casting shadows over his eyes, You don't know what you can do until you've tried.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The beat goes on

I see her on the bus, now and then. She's a tall teenager with flawless skin and close-cropped hair. She doesn't look unfinished like most girls her age; she's already arrived at jaw-drop Beauty, but she doesn't know it or doesn't care.

"'Scuse me. 'Scuse me." She muscles her way toward the back of the bus, where her friends sit. It's crowded, and shoulders and bags and asses block her path. "'Scuse me." Her voice notches up, booming down the aisle. "I won't say it again!"

People skitter out of her way while a woman at the front of the bus rolls her eyes heavenward and hisses between her teeth.

The girl sits like a queen among her subjects.

I find a seat of my own, closer to the front than usual. I can't see the kids, but I can hear them, a miniature universe of drama at the back of the bus. A couple of voices ride up and over everything else.

"You put your foot on my foot!"

"So what? Get over it, nigga."

"You do not have the right to put your foot on my foot."

I take out my earphones to listen, catching the eye of a woman standing in the aisle. We're both smiling, loving every word, when the woman sitting to my right bursts out:

"These kids!"

The woman to my left takes it up:

"I hate this bus!"

Woman to my right:

"They don't do anything about it! There's no security people here to...deal with them!"

Security? I look over at her. Is she serious?

Her mouth is drawn together into a sticky pink fist, her jowls quivering with indignation.

I almost reply, Jesus, they're teenagers and they're loud, get over it, but I see this woman is more than angry. She's terrified. They're young and loud and a thousand times stronger than her. They can't imagine the day they'll be as old as her.

Someday, she will slip quietly out of the world, and they will go on being loud and crude and young - she can see it all, mascara clumped on her lower lashes, hands gripping her purse, tendons pulled taut - she can see them dancing on her grave.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

No gum chewing in courtroom

I stand in line for the courthouse, dark brown boy in front of me, menacing expression trying to cover up the braces glinting out from between his lips. His puffy coat squeaks as he moves. Behind me stands a woman, 6'8" if she's a foot. Elegant long clothes, turban, shining earrings, blue-black skin. She moves like an underwater creature, slow and graceful, granting every gesture the blessing of ceremony. High sharp cheekbones, almond eyes.

The guard at the metal detector is younger than me, smiling apologetically as he rifles through my purse. I'm reassembling bag and purse when the woman behind me sets off the detector.

"Is it my earrings?" she asks. Her voice is baritone, deeper than the guard's, and for the first time I notice an adam's apple. Suddenly, I love her even more.

I have high hopes for jury duty, filing expectantly into the jury waiting room. I'm happy to wait, and look at my fellow jurors. They try criminal cases in this building. I'm dazzled at the thought of years of material, coiled behind one of the courtroom doors.

There are signs posted on some of those doors. "No iPods." "No reading newspapers." "No gum chewing in courtroom."

Jurors become strangely still, waiting to be called. They are individuals outside, but here they disappear, becoming Citizens.

Finally called into a courtroom, rising as one for the Judge. He promises an exciting case, criminal. "Nobody'll be falling asleep for this one!"

Then we're dismissed to return the next day.

Day two, everybody looks the same. Faces blank, waiting. This Judge posts his rules inside the courtroom.

"No!!!reading

"No!!!listening to music

"No!!!talking

"No!!!chewing gum."

We aren't asked to rise when the Judge enters, this time. I wonder if the clerk knows he's back there. But then he starts to speak, his words illustrated by the sign language translator in front. She widens her eyes, her translation a performance, a dance.

"Some machinations have been going on," begins the Judge, "the case won't be going to trial today. So that's it, you're all dismissed."

Is that it? I wonder, people filing out of the courtroom around me, Is that all there is?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Catfish

Scratch fiction topic courtesy of my boss. No, really.
Fredo slid the fish onto the pan, clash and sizzle, smoke rising to the kitchen ceiling.

"Only way to do catfish, man. Breading's my own recipe."

"Didn't know you cooked," said Barney, popping the top on another beer, slurping the foam that bubbled up from the lip, then sucking the ends of his moustache.

"Catfish ain't 'cooking,' it's just eating what you caught, man." Fredo plopped a plate in front of Barney, steaming fish lying across it like a body in the street.

"How'm I supposed to eat this?"

"With a fork, dumbass." Fredo had a tea towel over one shoulder, moving around the kitchen, slamming drawers and rattling spoons.

Barney'd never seen him like this. Normally Fredo moved slow and quiet, eyes half-lidded, answering questions in his own sweet time. But ever since this afternoon, since they were taking shots at the target out back of the cabin, Barney able to hit the bullseye at 300 yards with his Dad's old shotgun, God only knew where Fredo's shots went, but they sure as hell weren't going into the target.

"You having any?" Barney asked.

Fredo just kept shuffling things around in the kitchen and didn't answer, Jesus, he was as bad as Barney's wife, what bit him in the ass, thought Barney, before tucking in, the fish hot as a furnace, but the breading was heaven, grease running off onto the cracked plate. Barney got going, it was amazing, he'd never had fish like this before, just kept shoving it in and shoving it in until he felt something sharp hit the back of his throat.

Barney couldn't breathe. He looked up at Fredo, but he couldn't even get out enough air to make a sound, he felt heat building up behind his eyes, and finally Fredo looked around from where he was standing at the sink, Fredo saw him, Fredo would give him the heimlich or something, Fredo could fix it.

But Fredo had slowed down again, eyes lidding down, smile creeping up his face.

"Watch out for the bones, Sharpshooter," said Fredo.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

White hands

Scratch fiction topic tag: Frank
He looked an upright man. Frank fastened his collar, trying a smile in the mirror. Not the slow smile he wore at at night, walking softly into the woods, down past the Stankas farm, looking out for the glow of her white skin against the tree trunks. This was the smile of a young Bible scholar, a public smile, wise and open.

Frank looped his tie over, mouthing his speech silently into the mirror. People would stop on the street to listen, he was sure. He levelled his own gaze at his reflection: he had it just right, a perfect note of friendly compulsion.

Frank stood on the street corner, elevated on an apple crate, Bible in one hand. The workday ending, buildings vomiting out their collection of lost and broken humans. Frank raised the hand holding the Good Book, and opened his mouth to speak.

Years later, people would remember that day. A secretary told her daughter how his hair shone in the dying sunlight, how his face seemed lit from inside. She was late getting home, but she had to stop, as though she had lost the reins of her own body, slowly her head turned to listen. A banker gave up his job that day and became a minister, for the rest of his life telling his flock about the man holding the Bible above his head, how his words burned to the center of the banker's soul, reducing his former life to ashes in an instant. The janitor on his way to clean the school felt the young man's voice pull away all of his artifice; he stood naked at the feet of the man on the apple crate, his sins exposed. Naked, the janitor moved closer to the the man, warming himself in the flame of righteousness.

It was dark when Frank got home, apple crate in one hand, Bible in the other. He felt light and empty as a toy balloon. He would tell her everything, how hundreds of faces turned up to drink him in, how a streetful of strangers worshipped at his feet.

Frank slipped past the tree with the rope swing, the corn house, the barn, trailing his hand across the rough stones of the wall bordering the Stankas farm. The blueberries were ripe, hanging heavy over the wall; Frank took a handful to offer her.

He saw her through the trees, white hands moving in the dark, white neck bent, she danced to music he couldn't hear, dark hair falling across her face. She stopped at the sound of his step, shoe scraping over stone. Her black eyes pinned him where he stood.

Frank opened his mouth to tell of his triumph, to tell the beginning of great things, all of it was there, waiting, behind his breath, but though his news built and pushed, out of his open mouth came nothing.

She smiled at him, the only smile she had.

She reached out her hand and opened his, the blueberries staining his palm. With one more look up at Frank, eyes shining like black stars, she leaned over his hand, taking the blueberries into her mouth, her lips soft against his palm, breath hot, her tongue traveling his lifeline.

Frank shuddered, his mouth opening, he looked up at the trees stretching above him, moving against black sky.

The blueberries gone, all traces lapped up, still she didn't stop, she opened her mouth wider than the world, and bit.

She straightened up at last, white hands pushing back her hair, licking her lips.

The next evening, a thousand people pushed against each other on the street corner where Frank had preached the day before, all of them speaking of the man on the apple crate, Bible in hand. An hour passed, two; dinners burned and wives looked anxiously through curtains for husbands who were never so late. As the earth slowly turned its face toward night, the crowd dispersed, whispering sadly to each other as though they were leaving a funeral.

The last of the hopeful finally bending their steps toward home, a young boy caught something out of the corner of his eye. He reached for his father's sleeve, to tell him the man had shown at last, but it was only a woman, white hands brushing dark hair from her face.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The girls next door

I saw her writhing out of the BMW, a to-go box held like a tray of wine glasses in one hand. Shiny dark hair switching over her shoulders. She wore sweats that were only a thin gesture toward exercise wear; soft material draped over her curves, tiny top showing bellybutton, and, as she turned toward her front door, the word "juicy" arcing over her peachy ass.

They all drive BMWs, all prefer to park cockeyed in the driveway, all looking like dolls with interchangable heads: blond, brunette, auburn. It's impossible to tell how many of them share the basement apartment. It could be one, it could be fifteen, all crowded in together, fifteen pairs of mascaraed eyes blinking slowly open, closed.

There are boyfriends, too. I don't see seduction or handholding, but last month voices scratched up and down the street, hers accusing, his defending. I couldn't help peeking out my window, screened by the curtain, in time to see him stomping away from her door, and - as if with sudden inspiration - heaving her garbage can across the path, blocking her way.

Another night I was dragged from sleep by fighting. It might have been the same two; one or the other - or both - may have been different. The boyfriends as identical as the girls, vicious white boys in short hair and polo shirts. This time her voice whined between sobs, piping high above the empty road. His answer citing the eight hours of hard work he does every day, he doesn't need to come home to this.

Like the mute button was pushed, her sobbing stopped, cut off. I peeked through the blinds to see her white brow slowly grow furrows in the streetlight.

"But, what am I supposed to do?" she said at last, in a clear, matter-of-fact voice.

With that question, my dear, neither he, nor I - your eavesdropping neighbor - can help.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

What to write when you have nothing to write

What do you write when your stomach is grinding out the words to "You're All Dried Up, You Never Had Anything Worthwhile to Say and Now Everybody Knows It"? What do you write when the cats are begging for attention, when your husband is wondering what the surly mood is all about, when the sun is shining outside and if you were a worthwhile human you'd just let it go, let it go and walk outside and take a look around?

What do you write when the soft spring air is moving in through the window, nudging up against you and whispering about a whole world just outside, about people in short sleeves walking at a Sunday pace through city streets, women swinging their hips in cotton dresses and men with toddlers riding high on their shoulders; a Chinese man on the train slipping one white foot out of his shoe, moving his hand over ropy veins and bunions; a boy with the sun shining off his perfect afro, bouncing lightly as he walks; a Japanese woman with her eyes focused just short of the paper in her lap, reading her own thoughts instead?

Maybe you close the computer and take a walk. Maybe today isn't the day for writing.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

420 on Hippie Hill

I'm back at work now, but broken down and wispy long before close of business. I leave the office early this afternoon, climbing onto the bus in my post-surgical fog; still flattened and grim from pain pills and the last drams of anesthetic working its way out of my body.

I barely notice the lavish sunshine after weeks of rain.

My way onto the bus is impeded; the driver is arguing with an unseen passenger, the driver's braids clacking as she shakes her head:

"You gotta get rid of the cup. I'm not moving until you hand it up."

Other passengers are getting into the act, now, one calling up to the driver: "It's empty, the cup is empty. He just turned it over in his hand."

"I don't care, you gotta hand it up!"

A deep voice booms out from inside, "Let's get this bus moving! We gotta be there for 420 on Hippie Hill, 420 on Hippie Hill, children."

Finally I'm able to move in, navigating around a red toy wagon and the owner of the deep voice, a black man in his sixties, carrying a staff topped with tassels, raffia and plastic leis. He wears a tall felt hat; the brim is laced with rainbow colored fur, the underside turned up to show white stars on a blue background. The top, I see as I pass, is ringed with marijuana leaves. He carries an American flag and waves it at me.

"Happy Thursday," he says, with a big smile.

I can't help smiling back.

The other passengers finally convince the driver to Let it go already, and the bus is away. 420 Man's voice rolls through the bus, rising and falling. I can't tell if he's talking to someone he knows, or to the bus at large. Maybe it's a little of both.

"...if everyone smoked cannabis, it would heal the world...420 on Hippie Hill, children, everything good you can imagine...pot lasagna, pot and barbeque chicken, mm-mm!...that stuff comes from Mother Earth, it's all organic!...Mm, you can see the smoke from here!..."

A blonde guy is talking in German on his cell phone. A greyish looking kid, covered with tattoos, pulls his hood further down over his face. At least five passengers scattered around the bus are drinking forbidden coffee, munching sandwiches blithely.

420 Man goes on:

" Steroids, crack, meth amphetamines - where do they come from?"

Unexpectedly, a hipster chick in front of me answers him, "From men, made by men!"

"...and coca, cannabis?"

"...from Mother Earth," sings Hipster Girl.

"This is our stop," announces 420 Man, standing up & shaking his staff, "Happy Thursday! Happy Earth Day!"

I want to follow him out, go where he's going. I can see, down on the street, crowds of hippies wandering into the park.

On his way out, he stops to wink at those of us left behind:

"I want a greeeen house on my Brokeback Mountain!"

The bus doors close on his laugh.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Police blotter: nude elderly male

A South Buffalo Street caller reported a nude elderly man on a porch in the area

Lloyd couldn't find his wallet. No, he knew he'd left it right there on the coffee table, or maybe on the desk, on the kitchen counter, next to the bed. How could a person find anything, all these papers, all this stuff? Why do we have so much stuff? The mailman keeps bringing paper, slipping it in all innocent through that slot in the door, you hear it shuck in and its another layer of dirt on your grave, another thing, another piece of stuff, seventy-five years of stuff piling up, report cards from when he was eight years old, letters from his mother, bills, catalogs, instructions on how to use the microwave, the toaster, the can opener, seventy-five years of paper, enough to suffocate Lloyd enough to drown a city, and still it kept coming, still that sinister little snick of the paper slipping through the slot, the whole world is drowning in paper and tissue boxes and blankets and keychains with people's names on them and postcards from Hawaii.

Lloyd's hands moved over the papers, the photographs in frames, the band-aids, the tweezers, the reading glasses, it was enough, he was done with all of it. Seventy-five years was enough, too much, it all had to go. His hands locked down on a pile, magazines and Christmas cards and checkbooks; holding it to his chest, his breath coming faster, he pushed open the door, out into the light, and heaved all of it into the street.

No, that wasn't right. No, then he'd just shift it all to the street, to the outside world, and he'd still be in the box, the mail still snicking in every day, no, he had to get out, himself.

Lloyd left the door open, and walked out into the street.

Yes, this was better. The air breathed lightly on his cheek, springtime air. There were cherry blossoms on the tree across the street. His feet were hot in his shoes, so he unlaced them and stepped out, leaving them behind, then his socks, one at a time. He put his feet in the strip of grass between sidewalk and street and remembered the park where he played when he was a kid. Grass like this, soft in April, so green it almost hurt to look, walking along the sidewalk barefoot with his pal Harvey, ice cream dripping over the hand that held the cone, their shirts off, and Lloyd unbuttoned his shirt, letting it float gently to the ground, the breeze in his chest hair.

This was good, nothing else felt like this. His belt was next, then the pants, jingling heavy to the ground, keys in the pocket, boxer shorts last.

Nothing closing him in, now. Lloyd took in a deep breath, and smiled. Down the street was a big, deep porch, like he remembered from when he was a kid, the kind with a porch swing.

Lloyd sat down on the broad steps, cement cool against his skin, and settled back to watch the world go by.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A movable monkey

This tag is a rich vein - I'm gonna have to mine it again and again. Starting off with an easy one:
A Genesee Street business employee requested a
premise check after she reported she placed a stuffed
bear on the bar and now it was on a shelf. She thought
someone might have been in the building.

It's almost poetry, all by itself.


It wasn't where she put it. The monkey, the monkey, she'd put the monkey on the bar, right? It was like this, what do they call it, tableau, thing. You know, the monkey with the bottles, like it'd been drinking, right? It was supposed to be funny. So she hadn't just forgotten, like the cop was implying.

Grace didn't "forget" things like that, anyway. She'd put it on the bar. Now it was on the shelf. Someone was there, someone had been there, this cop didn't know what he was talking about, raising his eyebrows at his partner when he thought Grace wasn't looking. Like she was another nutcase.

The lights from the car moved across the wall, lighting up the monkey's face, blue, red, blue, red.

Grace rubbed her hands together and asked the cops if they needed anything else. They'd checked everything: windows closed and locked, back door locked. Nobody had been in here, they said. She watched them down the driveway, talking to each other, laughing, doors swinging shut on the patrol car. They pulled away, headlights scraping over the room.

Nobody had been here, they'd said, but someone had moved the monkey. Stupid, creepy thing to do anyway. Nothing taken, nothing trashed, nothing else touched. But the monkey was moved.

And now the cops were gone, Grace was alone with it.

I don't wear dentures

"Do you have any dentures, false teeth, metal in your mouth?"

"Just my fillings," I open my mouth, to show her.

The nurse nods, and leaves the room.

"Myer, right?" I hear bellowed from down the hall. An enormous white guy in a walrus moustache and balloon cap covered with cute little cartoons rolls into the tiny room.

His voice fills the room, bounces down the hall, blows up the curtains on other rooms along the way.

"Born in '68, huh?"

I nod.

"I was in Southeast Asia then. Getting shot at. Bombs dropped on me." He's looking at my chart. "Have any dentures, false teeth?"

Nope.

"You digging this rain? 'Course, they don't have rain here, not really. I'm from Texas. If it's raining in Texas and you're under an overpass, you stop the car and get out of it, else you're gonna drown."

He's leading me and Mr. Billy to the operating room, telling a story of a rainstorm in New Mexico. At the door, he stops and tells Mr. Billy how to get to the waiting room.

"Now say goodbye, kiss kiss."

I kiss Mr. Billy, and he squeezes my hand.

"You're from Utah, huh?" The giant vet in the cartoony headgear leads me to an inner waiting room, stopping to put a blue hat like his over my hair. "I knew a girl from Utah. Mormon. Everyone was trying to score with her. Me, I was just friends with her. We went hiking once, and she looked me over, guessed my size. Next thing I know I get a package in the mail, she's knit me a sweater. Fit perfectly. I showed it to all the guys, Ha, I said, you didn't get anywhere with her, but she knit me a sweater. This is where you get off."

He waves his hand at a chair, and disappears through the doors.

"Do you have any dentures?" A nurse in another blue mushroom hat asks. I shake my head. Another nurse comes in. "Are you my replacement?" asks the first. The second nods, and the first hands over my chart. "I just started the interview."

"Do you wear dentures?" the second nurse asks.

The anesthesiologist comes in, asks if I wear dentures. Tells me about the anesthetic. "You might wake up with a sore throat," he says, "from the breathing tube."

A resident, assisting the surgeon, sits down across from me. "Any dentures?" He went to med school with a friend of mine. He's young, but says he's been in residency six years.

Another nurse asks if I wear dentures. "What procedure are we doing today?"

"Exploratory laparoscopy," I say, "to begin with. He might open me up further, depending what he finds."

"Laparoscopy?" she looks up at me, "Are you sure?"

"Um, yeah."

She confers with another nurse. "It says laparotomy here. You'd better get down there and straighten this out."

There's a big difference, I think, between laparotomy and laparoscopy. At least I don't have dentures.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fast

The meat suit's been acting up again. Today the surgeon opens me up for a look. I'm considering asking him to install a zipper in place of stitches.

In preparation, yesterday was a diet of clear liquids, today a diet of air and nothing else, not even water, not even my own spit. Under normal circumstances, I am what is called a "good eater." I do not skip meals. If breakfast is - for some horrible reason - missed, I become surly and stupid. I misplace things, like my pants, or my right hand.

But I grew up in a religion with a strong tradition of fasting. On the first Sunday of every month, we fasted for two meals and gave the money we would have spent on them to the poor. This seems a noble thing, and for a long time after I stopped going to church, I kept up the practice.

Sometime in the last twenty years, however, I stopped.

It was also common, in the religion of my youth, to fast for inspiration, something shared with spiritual traditions around the world. I had vague hopes of some form of secular inspiration today, but nothing doing. My head hurts, and I'm hungry.

I guess that religious background makes me want something more from this experience than the gurgling of my stomach. More than once, I thought about the vast numbers of people who feel like this almost every day.

Mostly, though, I want to eat.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The day I lost it

Scratch fiction tag courtesy of monkey0: chastity.

"I remember everything," Raye said, running one hand through her hair, ashing her cigarette before bringing it to her lips, "It was in my Vocational Ed class. Yeah, it was bad enough that we went to the public schools. This was before homeschooling was all the rage. It was easy then to get too much attention from the Feds, so, you know, we did what we had to.

"So, Voc Ed. They'd have people from the community come and give little presentations to the class, you know, This is what it's like to run a dry cleaner, or an auto shop, or punch the keys on a cash register, and this day, they had a hairdresser.

"It was weird anyway, they brought in a guy hairdresser, and he was Puerto Rican, how many of those do you see around here, huh? His name was Alfredo or Alberto, something like that, little guy. I was in the back of the class, like usual, you know, the only people I hung out with at school were my sisters, we were all freaks together in our long sleeves and skirts down to our ankles. Our hair in long braids down our backs."

Raye peeled away a piece of tobacco that had stuck to her lower lip, cig in her first two fingers, she pulled it away delicately with thumb and third finger.

"He said he was going to demonstrate a haircut, and he wanted a model.

"Mother said I'd heard the Devil speaking in my ear, old Satan himself, perched on my shoulder, his long tongue reaching into my ear, hot breath against my cheek, Satan seduced me, velvety voice purring, 'Raise your hand, Rachel,' she screamed I was the Devil's whore now, the last words she ever said to me, and my father pushed me out onto the dirt, not even a change of underwear or a piece of bread, he shut the door blank in my face - but I never heard a voice.

"I felt a heat, rather, starting right between my legs, and running all the way up inside me. My face must have been as red as a stop sign, but I couldn't stop my hand going up.

"I sat down in the chair, in front of the whole class, and I felt his hands slide in under my hair, I heard him coo over it, purring like he was a cat, his fingers deep in my hair, pulling through it. I'd never been touched by a man not my father before. My mother or one of the sister wives braided my hair every morning, and the touch of his hands sent shocks all the way to the center of me.

"'Put your head down, Sweetie,' his voice poured into my ear like maple syrup, if I ever heard the Devil's voice, it was Alberto's, soft and smooth as anything. I felt the cold metal of the scissors against my neck, felt them bite down, my hair sliding heavy to the floor.

"What's that? -No," Raye shook her head, stabbing out her cig. She rattled the ice in her glass at the waitress passing by, "No, of course not. He was gay, obviously. No, he cut my hair, that's all.

"But don't you understand? That was all it took."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

...and as fast as possible

The other morning I was walking to work. It was earlier than usual; the street was quiet, nearly empty. I saw a bus roaring up the street toward me, and I watched it, curious. Buses don't usually run on this street.

The driver must have had it floored.

As it came closer, I could read the destination on the front marquis:

"Nowhere in particular"

It blew past me at top speed.

Billy's back

Hey, I dried up for a while, didn't seem to have anything to say. But I'm back, children, and I don't think I'm going to stop talking any time soon.

I missed you all.

Ned

Ned's feet carried him down the steps into the station. A long corridor, white tile walls. A man tilted toward the wall, white vomit hanging from his chin, mouth grinning open, cackling as his urine arced out, splashing the white tile.

Ned paid with cash. Saturday night, the station was crowded. He pushed through the crowd, standing quietly to wait, his eyes moving over the posters across the tracks, none of the words making it all the way to his brain. He could hear people breathing around him, talking, laughing.

The train stopped and the doors opened in front of him. Ned stepped on board, moved down the train to the center and stood against the railing. He looked up at the people pressing in around him. A full car.

A young girl sat at the window, her face reflected clearly against the black of the tunnel. She was looking down, her face serene. She was beautiful. Ned's heart grew to take her in. Shining black hair hanging to her shoulders, a round face. She might have been Chinese. She glanced up, right into Ned's reflected eyes, her face softening into an almost-smile before looking back down.

Ned was in love.

Ned loved everyone on this train. The couple to his right, the girl sitting, her boyfriend standing, holding her hand. They were talking about a movie they wanted to see. The punk kid with spiked hair and an old leather jacket and a sweet flush on his cheeks. The brother with a glorious 'fro and shining suit. A man speaking Russian with his wife. A skinny blond girl hiding inside enormous sunglasses. They were all part of Ned tonight, not one of them knew how much.

Ned held out his hands to look at them, back and front. They were still. He was ready.

He reached into his coat, running a hand over the explosives against his body. Everything was there. He found the button, under his left arm, and tickled it with his thumb.

Ned looked around the car once more. They were all so beautiful, every one of them. He looked again at the Chinese girl, and her reflected eyes were on his again. She smiled for real this time. Ned smiled back, gratefully, and pressed his thumb down on the button.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Valentine (a week late)

So monkey 0 has tempted me out of semi-retirement with another scratch fiction topic. "Love" is just way too broad, so I'll consider the tag to be "St. Valentine."

Her eyes were wet with love, ankle-deep in tears, staring at her beloved, mouthing the words with him, her hands in his, while he swallowed against his drying mouth, wavering on his knees, holding onto her like she was all that kept him stuck to earth.

Valentine stood over them, pronounced them married, watched the boy close his eyes, his new wife bend her face to their hands, their fingers, woven together, washed in her tears. He'd seen this thing, this strange ecstacy in a hundred different couples, he knew it now before they had to speak, clinging to the shadow of his doorway in the night, the emporer's men ready to turn in anyone suspected; they were single men, the rest of the world should suffer with them.

The emporer may have been right; single men didn't show the weakness he saw in those kneeling before him, the vulnerability, let anything happen to the woman at his side and this man would be laid open, at the mercy of any wandering dog. But Valentine wondered at another kind of strength, the kind that demanded this defiance of Claudius and his enforcers, it matched his own love of God almost, but different, as if God answered back when His name was called, God calling His children with the same heat, the same longing as they call to Him.

So. That was it, then, what these people had, their heat leaping up under Valentine's cold hand. They saw God in each other.

It was almost no loss, then, to Valentine, his life never belonged to him, never belonged to earth anyway. When God called him - roughly, called him in the form of Claudius' brutes - he answered, calmly. Calmly he laid his hand against the stone of his cell, cold answering the cold of his hand. He was almost home, he wouldn't miss the world, much. The sharpening of the axe on stone, singing metal, was just the crowing of the cock, waking him from the dream of life.

The girl, then, wandering into his cell, hair matted, eyes milked over, head at a strange angle, stumbling in, just another lost soul, another girl looking for a hand to guide her, a Hand, and Valentine saw the last gift he could offer, to bring this child to God, he could take her hand and teach her prayer.

Valentine reached for the girl's hand, and something shifted in the air of the cell. He touched her, a voice coming from deep inside her, from inside the earth itself, the white slid off her eyes and they rolled in her head, terrified, her mouth open and Valentine felt her voice reach into him, vibrating through his bones, he saw through her eyes, a mad jumble of colors and shapes, and pulled her close, he could feel chaos moving through her, tearing into him, he held her closer, closing all the sounds and rushing lights down to one thing: his heart, beating in his chest.

Valentine knew, in those moments he held her against him, her limbs winding through his, his hands hot on her back, breath fierce and alive for the first time, he knew that tomorrow, when the axe came cold and bright into his neck, this is what he would remember.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Billy takes a break

As you may or may not have noticed, I've been posting pretty lightly recently. I just realized it's been almost a year since I started this whole bloggy thing. I've loved it, and I love it still - something I owe entirely to the kind and attractive readers who come here on a regular basis.

All that said, I need a wee break. Life in the meat-based world is making claims on my attention, and I just don't seem to have the juice to keep up a regular posting schedule. Don't worry, I'm not abandoning this blog entirely; I plan to post on a much lighter schedule for the next month or so, after which I hope to be back and more Chemical than ever.

Cheers.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Relax, baby. I'm a chicken.

Forgive me, gentle readers, for the long dry spell. Houseguests and flu claimed my attention.

A sunny day in the Haight. A boy stands on the sidewalk, open book in hand, offering to read poetry.

"Read you a poem, sir? No charge.
Free poetry, ma'am?"

New generation hippie chicks in prairie skirts:

"Which brings it back to feminism, and really, doesn't everything, in the end?"

Mr. Billy and I are indulging in crepes when a man struts slowly past the window. He is wearing a short, frilly white dress, the skirt all lace and ruffles, puffy sleeves. Skinny bare legs, athletic shoes. He's scrawny-necked, adam's apple prominent over the scoop neck. He's thrusting his head forward and back with enough sharp force to shake his hair into his eyes.

He's carrying a sign:

"Relax, baby
I'm a chicken"

Later, we see him returning on the other side of the street, breaking from his chicken imitation long enough to check his watch.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Buy my sweet car

Buy my sweet car
Click for larger picture

With attractions like this in beautiful Guerneville, who wants to write?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Billy sequestered

No new posts this weekend - I'm off for a writing weekend with some fellow monkeys. My plan is to knock out the final draft of my novel. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Visible man

Thanks for the topic, monkeyman.

When Arturo was born, there were articles in the newspaper, photos, even T.V., everyone knew who he was, he was on people's minds for about ten minutes, and then the two-headed kitten was born, they moved on. But he grew up, people sucking in their breath when he passed, his teacher in grade school turned white when she saw him, sitting at his desk, just like all the other kids but not. Jack and Sheldon in the playground, watching the school lunch turned to slurry, round flap of meat, mashed potatoes, green gravy all broken down and moving through his intestines, Art holding up his shirt, nothing if not educational.

People get used to anything, Art got used to living after all the doctors stopped shaking their heads and saying he shouldn't be alive, and the world got used to Art, it helped to live in a smallish town, Art couldn't disappear in a city like other people, always the curious want to stare, kids gotta touch, gotta ask Does it hurt, it's endless with strangers, people were used to him here, knew him as much as anyone does, people think because they can see inside you they really see inside you, but Art had his hidden places, just like anyone else.

Just like anyone else, Just like anyone else, Art carried it in his brain while he did his rounds, Why didn't you find a job doing something where people are happy to see you? his mom wanted to know, but even she didn't know, even here, nobody was happy to see him, he reminded them they were just meat, slimy grinding machines at work all the time, he couldn't serve ice cream, nobody would buy, let alone eat with him standing there, blood pulsing through the vessels in his neck, muscles bunching up in his jaw, puts most people off their food. No, this was fine, Art in his little cart, people knew him, could see him coming without having to look at him, hostility covered up in jokes, this was fine, everyone knew where he stood.

Art stopped beside Judge Morton's car, checking the meter, the Judge flapping down the steps in his robe, hiking it up to get at the change in his pocket, "Just stop thinking what you're thinking, Art, I've got a minute left, don't even think about it, I can see right through you."

How many times had he heard that, thought Art, flipping his book closed.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Woe unto them

click to see larger image
The retard pen arrived at last from friend of the moment, jkirlin.

Since I've nothing like the photo skills of jk or prairie girl, I thought I'd fancy it up with a little context.
Click for larger image
There was also an added bonus with the pen...

Click to see larger image






...a mysterious silver coin.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Leftovers

We drive around to the back of the building, where we've been directed, up the ramp marked "ambulance only," out of the hammering rain and under a canopy at the back door.

A pudgy white man in heavy glasses is holding the door open for us. He introduces himself in a quiet voice, shaking our hands. His manner is respectful, human. I think he has worked here a long time.

He leads us down a hallway. White linoleum, fluorescent lights, cheap government furnishings. There are other people working here, walking around, talking, but their voices are low; not the commercial hush of a mortuary, just a notch quieter than most offices. I pass an open door. A man is eating his lunch. Beside him, on a table, is a figure, partially covered. A bare foot shows, its naked sole facing me, a manila tag hanging from the toe. I try to read what it says, but we're moving on.

He asks us to wait. To my right, raincoats are hanging from a rack, a broad stripe of high-visibility orange running across the chest and arms.

Our guide appears with five suitcases. Or, two matching suitcases, two backpacks, an overnight bag. This is what they took with them, on their trip here to San Francisco. Two young women I didn't know. One of them was the niece of a friend. The other was her partner, her lover. They were in their twenties. They packed their matching suitcases - they look new, and expensive - and they came to San Francisco to commit suicide. This is all I know about them.

What do you pack for a suicide?

Mr. Billy is asked to step through the door to my left. I wait for him with the bags. I can see him, through the window in the door. He is talking to a woman through another window, at a counter. The woman is standing on my side of the door. If I lean forward, I can see her around the corner, standing behind the counter. If I stand up straight, I can watch Mr. Billy, signing papers.

She hands him items, one at a time. She states what each item is. Necklace. Wallet. Ring. Comb. Mr. Billy has to initial for each item as he receives it.

I stare at the suitcases. I put my hands in my pockets so I don't open them up, rifle through them, touch each item, each piece of clothing, move the fabric between my fingers, listen for it to tell me more of the story.

What did they pack for their last few days on earth, for their suicide vacation?

Loaded down with their bags and suitcases, we find our way out. In the room I passed earlier, the man eating lunch is gone, but the bare foot is still there. Just outside the door, two men are moving a gurney into a van. On the gurney is a large bag. It looks well-made, designed to stop leaks, to hold together what's inside as it disintegrates. Inside the bag is a body. I can see where the head is, where the feet.

We load the bags into the trunk, and drive home.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Billy has the flu

After a Nyquil-assisted nap, maybe I'll blog. Or maybe I'll have another nap.

In the meantime, enjoy my quote of the day:

"There's no room for personal feelings in Science, Judith!"