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?"


"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


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.