My Visit with the Wise One

bobOr,

When Your Dreams Tell You You Everything

Before I met the Wise One, I joined a group of anglers in the night at an old pier, the concrete docks withered by the elements. That night, though winter, felt like any ocean side night: damp, thick, and invigorating. The four of us cast our reels into the sea with the synchrony of familiar co-workers, in fact, that’s what we all were, why we were joined that night—to work on our fishing skills. I was the least competent of all, and I knew this going in, but my form wasn’t too shabby; my wrist flinging back and out with the right timing, sent my hook far into the unsettled dark water.

fishing-village

We began to pull in our lines, and though I thought I hadn’t caught anything, mine stopped, a hard tug fought back. As I wound the reel toward me, a large glob, somewhat purple and iridescent, emerged from the low tide. It resembled a gelatinous pile of nothing at first, then upon examination by me and my fellow fishermen and fisherwomen, we recognized by its dangling tentacles that it was a jellyfish.

No one dared to touch it, though I thought it couldn’t still be venomous now out of the water. It appeared to be dead, then suddenly it came to life, squirming closer to me, until part of it, a yellowish section of its rounded head, suctioned itself to my back. My blue hooded sweatshirt lessened what I thought would the sting. Only a mild discomfort overtook me, like that of a toy dart sticking to your forehead. My fellow anglers offered no help, said little to appease my fear, or try to remove it. They said vague things like, “It’s part of you now.”

And so it was time for me to leave to see the Wise One. I left the fishing dock in a hurry, and ran toward the streets of the village. All the roadways were covered in a fresh layer of ice, solid and clean as a newly Zambonied ice rink. My flat, smooth-bottomed shoes took to the ice with ease, and soon I was skating away into the night, quick and effortless. I thought to myself how much easier this seemed than fishing, how much more suited I was to this new activity versus the last.

jellyfish

I later arrived at the Commune—it seemed as though several hours had past, or least the night had turned to morning. The sensation in my back had vanished, though I knew the jellyfish was indeed part of me, that we were one creature now. The icy streets of the fishing village slipped from my memory, and were replaced with the steamy interior of the Commune. It was a large space with the air of an upscale health food store. Pungent and sweet smells wafted about, mixing with the body heat of tens, possibly hundreds of people. They were all arranged in groups, camped on the floor or on low, soft furniture. They dressed either in long flowing colorful clothes, or very little clothes. Their hair was long and unkempt, matted and thick, or either very clean cut. They were also much younger than me.

Then, the man I had traveled to see, appeared out of thin air, and came right to me, as though we had made an appointment. No one else moved when he arrived, as though they too had appointments and would simply wait their turn with him. He was just as I had imagined: thin, narrow-waist and hips, bony almost, though sinewy and rugged. Only the top of his fuzzy hairline showed, the rest of his ropy hair was tucked up into his striped tam, which rose off the crown of his head like an elongated skull. He wore a green soccer jersey. Here he was, Bob, en carne viva.

 rasta-commune

I told him everything. About the fishing and the jellyfish. He listened with care, and didn’t say much. When I finished pouring myself out to him, he said with dignified equanimity, that, yes, it is part of me, that that’s what jobs do. They stay with you and you cannot separate yourself from them. They are you, the way the jellyfish is now stuck on your back for good.

And then he stared at me, straight into me. I sensed he was about to speak again, and though I thought he was about to smile, he puckered his lips a bit, tilted his head, and blinked once.

“Maybe fishing isn’t your thing,” he said.

bob

With that, the Wise One moved on into the crowd, circulating amongst the rest of his disciples at the Commune. They embraced him and he them, and it all felt so natural that we would be with him in this way, that he had transcended death and was so alive as he once was. Someone off in the distance had offered me something to take, but I refused. I had seen who I came to see.

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Aunt Kathi

False Starts

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We’ve all been there: staring at a blank canvas, that perfect first line taunting you. Sometimes the entire story spills into your head. You see it all play out before you. It’s going to be marvelous.

Then the words come. And this is what you get. False starts. Doomed beginnings.

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Traces of fat around his cheeks and jawbone had layered outward in the past few years, swallowing the distinct features of his once angular face. When Samantha didn’t recognize him, he said, “Hey, I’ve been hungry, okay?”

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There was a huge difference between “Could you sweep out the crematorium?” and “Please sweep out the crematorium.” The former suggested Ricky might be physically unable to do so, yet that wasn’t what bothered him; he preferred to be told what to do.

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Greg flung his paddle into the mosquito-infested stream. “That’s it,” he said. “I’m done with this shit.” Liza gripped her paddle until her knuckles turned white. She knew, after all these years, fundamental differences with things like religion and politics wouldn’t break them. Setting up a tent. Parallel parking. Folding laundry. Kayaking, however, would.

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On January 1, 2000, I woke up in the cargo area of an SUV, hands bound behind me, duct tape over my mouth. I was still wearing all my clothes: khaki pants, white T-shirt under a green wool vest, and boots, all of which reeked of booze and spit up. The night before came back to me in flashes: waiting in lines at dive bars on Galveston Island’s strand, whiskey shots, cameras flashing, standing on the beach around a bonfire, then nothing.

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And while we men with big brains might desire those women that love men with muscles and money, we tend to be satisfied with the women—those few women—that go for men with intelligence.

2015 Top Baby Names (Girls)

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Baby name trend expert Nameberry* and the efficient record-keeping, lovable government office the U.S. Census* have released a rare preview of the top baby girl names for 2015.

Names based on nouns, adjectives, or poorly crafted adverbs:

1. Birmingham

2. Talbot

3. Roget

4. Coriander

5. Story

6. Peril

7. Bevel

8. South

9. Wildly

10. Sable

 

Male names soon to be appropriated for baby girls:

1. Cooper

2. Alvin

3. Commodore

4. Scott

5. Trevor

6. Lloyd

7. David

8. Carl

9. George

10. Frank

* Nameberry and the U.S. Census did not release these names. Purely a joke.

Sullivan’s Proxy Shrugs

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Remy hangs his slacks up on his one hanger with the two clips he stole from his employer Macy’s, so the pants dangle ready for tomorrow’s round six in seven days of the holiday shift. Tomorrow’s the big day—the last grab for whatever people can get. He knows he has to press his pants in the A.M. though hanging them out like this—long hang—lets the wrinkles out some. Six days of wrinkles though, might be tough and in the A.M. He’ll likely have to ask Selma next door for her iron (again) so he can steam them on his bed before going back into the store.

He stands in his Levi’s—just changed—and his crew V-neck shirt, hair pasted back when his nine-year old son Paul comes in and says, “Dad can we go, please, Dad, can we? Tonight’s the last night to get one.”

“Yes, we can go. Are you ready?”

Paul’s been ready all night.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

The lights at Sullivan’s lot are on, but the place is empty and the candy-striped awnings are down. Remy’s not sure if this is from the recent terrestrial hurricane that knocked out power and ripped up trees in various parts of South Pasadena. Either way, the place looks ransacked. Not a good sign.

“They’re out,” Paul says. “God damn it. They’re out.”

“Son. The language.” Remy pushes Paul’s shoulder so the boy moves in his seat.

Remy parks and they get out and not even a clerk or the crew is in view. There’s no one cutting of flocking or nailing a tree to a cross.

“Motherfucker,” Paul says.

“God damn it, Paul. What did I just tell you? Now stand still.”

And it occurs to Remy he stands still all day long. He’s been standing still for a month in those slacks, his first job in over a year. Why, he doesn’t know, other than he was told by his attorney Mr. Minshue—and others like his manager Delilah, and Paul’s resource teacher Miss Gloria who he would like to ask out one day but is probably too young or taken—that he has to stand still to get the things he really wants in life. This didn’t work with his ex-wife and Paul’s mother, Margaret.

Young Paul cries. He falls to the pavement and cries so hard it fogs up his glasses and makes Remy want to cry. Remy debates scrapping up all the needles on the ground and slapping them on a wooden post and taking it home and putting the puffy white felt skirt on it just to make Paul stop crying.

A plump man in a black beanie comes around the corner of the last bit of candy-striped awning still up.

“You Sullivan?” Remy asks.

“No, just the name of the outfit. Real Sullivan’s been dead for years.”

“Nothing left, huh?” Remy says.

Sullivan’s proxy shows the empty lot with a flourish of his chubby hand covered in a glove with the fingertips cut off. “You see this?”

Remy flourishes his hand to his son. “You see this?”

Sullivan’s proxy shrugs.

“You better get me something,” Remy says. “Anything.”

Sullivan’s proxy says, “Pretty much all we have is this here wreath.” He points to the center beam with a lone light bulb on it. And that sleigh with the Santa.” He points back to the Sullivan’s sign and a plastic glowing fat elf and reindeer leaping up into the sky. It was probably bought by Sullivan when he first got into the business it’s so worn and tired. The reindeer is the red-nosed one and its hooves have faded from black to white so instead of strong reindeer hooves he’s got little cotton socks on.

“I’ll take ‘em.” Remy lifts Paul up off the ground. The boy’s fists are full of needles and the steam on his glasses disappears from the bottom end, exposing his blessed brown eyes.

“Yes, we’ll take ‘em,” Paul says. And it sounds like he’s about to say an expletive, but holds his tongue. He looks at this Dad for reassurance and Remy pats the boy on his head. It’s going to be fine. It’s going to be just fine.

Stage Dive

 

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Through a sliver of unshielded window, the midnight sun seared a line on Rebecca’s face that she had tried to avoid the minute she, her boyfriend Gil, and the fifteen-member marathon team tucked themselves into that corner of Chilkoot Charlie’s. They were still buzzing from the 26.2 miles they ran eight hours ago and they squawked about various portions of the course and the wonderful air and bonking. With bellies full of river fish and microbrew beer, and under the darkness of the bar, protected from the sun that wouldn’t dip again until fall, there was no way they were leaving anytime soon.

Rebecca was one of two people in the party that wasn’t a runner. Others had brought their spouses and partners, but all of them ran, or did some form of extreme endurance sport. Skye, Lorenzo’s girlfriend, was the other, and though she teased Lorenzo about lubing up his nipples and scrotum, she too was addicted to endorphins and spent her Saturdays, undercarriage lubed too, on the seat of a road bike. Skye had had one beer and was laughing hysterically. She paused and turned to Rebecca.

“Meg Ryan,” Skye said. “That’s who you look like! Like a young Meg Ryan.”

Rebecca faced Skye but got her face caught again in the sliver of sun. Damn it. Stop looking that way.

“I’m serious, girl, you’re such a cutie.” Skye reached over Gil and slapped the table in front of Rebecca. Rebecca caught the twinkle of Skye’s engagement ring. Lorenzo had proposed to Skye the day before when the group took a tram up to Mount Alyeska. Lorenzo got on his knee in the snow and looked up at her, in front of everyone, and Skye said yes. He called her his angel and he stood up and kissed her. Everyone took pictures with their IPhones.

“Thank you.” Rebecca tugged on Gil’s shirt. He looked at her, cut off in midsentence with Lorenzo.

“What’s up?” Gil looked into Rebecca’s face. She saw his bothered look again: forehead cranked up so the three lines came to a gathering point, his eyes flat, not as bright as they were when she saw him at Mile 8—he was on fire then, his arms and legs moving like windmills, his mouth open and inhaling and exhaling gulps of air—or at Mile 24 (the last Rebecca saw him before the finish line), where his eyes glowed wild. It reminded her of her cat Shadow back in Reno, how his pupils, when about to pounce even the toy mouse, flared out, almost cancelling the field of green behind them. Its only focus to kill.

“I’m tired,” Rebecca whispered into his ear. “Can we go back to the room?”

“One more drink, okay. Are you having fun?”

“Yeah. I’m having fun.” Rebecca patted his leg. She was so proud of him all day, loved to see him in his moments of glory. It was his sixth in two years. He’d been really making a go for this racing thing. Every day was something about running, or shoes, or what to eat, or who he was going to run with, or how far they were going to go that day, or how far they went the other day. He talked about creams and special socks and split times and shaving off seconds. Do you want to come? he always asked, and then after a while, he stopped asking.

“I need to use the bathroom.” Rebecca wiggled out the table and her eyes hit the light again pouring in from the outside. She squinted at her watch: 12:50 a.m.

The bathroom, like the floors of the bar, were covered in sawdust. A girl was in the stall on her knees throwing up. Rebecca recognized the skinny ankles in ankle boots as one of the girls on Gil’s team. Rebecca knocked.

“Give me a minute. Please.”

“It’s Becca. Gil’s girlfriend. Is that Katarina?”

The girl heaved followed by a terrific splash into the toilet bowl. “Can you get me a paper towel?”

Rebecca returned to the stall and pushed the door inward. The girl stood up. She was in a tight white skirt and a sweater that hung off her shoulder. Her hair was wet on one side.

“Thanks.” She wiped her face.

“Too much to drink?” Rebecca said.

“I guess.” The girl belched. “Kathrina.”

“I’m sorry?” Rebecca stood at the mirror with her.

“It’s Kathrina. Everybody gets it wrong.”

“Oh, sorry,” Rebecca said. Their clothes were from two different stores, perhaps two different eras. Rebecca was in a fleece and her comfy jeans and had her hair combed back. Kathrina looked like she was shaken out of a Pointer Sisters concert. Kathrina ran the water and collected a drink with her palm. She swished and spit.

“You’re with Gil?”

Rebecca noticed Kathrina’s collarbones­—so angular and even with nothing on them, no extra skin or fat. Her skirt hugged her hips in a way that made them look like an upside down triangle. Rebecca’s arm itched under her long sleeve. She scratched and nodded in the mirror. “He’s my boyfriend.”

“Lucky girl.” Kathrina grabbed a towel and wiped her face and the corners of her mouth. “All better. See you out there?”

Rebecca smiled and went into a stall. On the toilet she laughed about all those runners. They can just pick up and go like that. Like animals on the hunt.

She needed some air. The Chilkoot’s bouncer asked did she want a hand stamp to come back inside. She shook her head and walked out. The sun, low on the horizon, faced her head on. At least it looked like dusk now and not the middle of the day. She didn’t like the idea of drinking in the middle of the day. She hated, in fact, going to Gil’s hash runs on Sunday’s where they would all run around and chase someone and chug beers, and then when they got back to the park where Rebecca and all the runners’ mates waited, they would drink more beer, like a big party. They called themselves drinkers with a running problem.

She looked down Spencer Road and then down at her shoes. She wore Adidas, like Gil, and could just get running up the street if she wanted to. She could be one of them if she was so inclined. She wasn’t as fit as they all were, but she could get there. She knew it.

Gil stepped out of the bar. He shielded his eyes. “It’s so fucked up that it’s bright right now, right?” he said. “What time is it?”

“One,” Rebecca said.

“What’s wrong?” Gil held her shoulders.

“I don’t belong here.” Rebecca hugged herself. It wasn’t at all cold, but she shivered.

“You mean here at the bar?”

“I mean here. With you and all your friends.”

“We’ve talked about this a million times. You have your stuff, I have mine.”

“Why did you stop asking me to join you? To run with you.”

“What? When?”

“You just stopped all of a sudden. Like one day. You asked me all the time to come running with you. Then you stopped.”

“I don’t know. I guess I thought why keep trying. You don’t like to run anyway.”

Rebecca turned back toward the sun. It wasn’t as bright outside as it was in the bar. In the bar everything was dim, and so your eyes had adjusted. You could see everything for what it was, but outside was this other illuminated world, if only a slice of it. She did hate running and the whole group and all their endorphin snorting bullshit. She went along, maybe, because she liked Gil’s legs and his stamina. He could go on and on in bed. But that wouldn’t mean anything if they stayed together and kept raising Shadow the cat, or maybe got married and had children. It would get old, and she would have to either convert, or do something even more extreme. Something more disciplined than running. Nature walks were her thing. She loved to wander into the outdoors at a nice slow pace. Maybe she would just stay in Alaska and be a mountain guide, or move to Nepal and become a Sherpa. Who needs to keep running all the time?

“You’re right. I don’t like running,” she said.

“Well, there you go,” he said.

“Yep. There you go.” The sun dipped further on the horizon. It looked like it would go down for good, or at least for the night, but it just hovered there.

The bouncer called over to them. “You two coming back in? It’s last call.”

“Be right there.” Gil turned to the man, then back to Rebecca. “So what do you mean? There you go?”

“Go. Go back in. I’m going to watch the sun rise up again.”

“You’re not coming back in?” Half his body was turned to the entrance.

She looked at his tall frame. He never wore flannel in Nevada, and that three-day stubble was for show, too. The guy hardly went a day without a shave and a month without a haircut. She pictured the mirror where she saw Kathrina standing fixing herself up and put Gil next to her. They looked right together, like rock stars after the show, needing their fans to validate them, or move them along face up, being pushed by hands on arms raised high, after they staged dived backward—a snow angel plunge—into the throngs of worshippers below them.

“Are you going to go back to the room?” he said.

She breathed in deep and nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I’ll be fine.

Gil shrugged and turned back to go into Chilkoot Charlie’s. “Okay, well I’ll see you there.”

“Yep. See you there.” Rebecca waved at him and turned away from the sun toward Delaney Park. The beams that held the Finish Line sign were still up. She picked up her pace and walked toward it. She breathed in the fresh air, pulled off her fleece, and tossed it to the ground. There had been piles of clothes earlier when they all took off and stripped down.

She walked on and hated the shoes she wore. You can’t fit in just by wearing the same shoes they wear. Those would be the first to come off when she got back to the room. She’d probably leave them, too. And the 40th Mayor’s Marathon hoodie she had bought. She’d leave it all right there next to Gil’s gear bag. Full of his extra shorts and socks and that silly heart rate monitor. She might tuck them in next to the Band-Aids and Vaseline. Parting gifts.

 

 

 

 

Mona’s Kid

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Helen was getting drunk. Saucy, the waiter, poured her another glass of the 2007 Cab and she watched him, first with expectant eyes, then with the slightest guilt; her brow pitched upward thinking: maybe I shouldn’t have another.

            A small legion of Saucy’s cohorts dressed in snug white coats and black pants set the plates on the table. Anders, to Helen’s left, had the sustainable fish plate—seared albacore tuna over a posole broth—and a glass of Sprite. Greg, across from Helen, both hers and Anders’s manager in from St. Louis had the rib eye. It sat in a shallow pool of half bloody au jus staining the bottom of the whipped pile of garlic mashed potatoes next to it. Henry, from Finance, looked down at his vegetarian lasagna and breathed it in. He nodded yes to another glass of the Cab. Oscar, the Compliance Officer, sat next to Henry and finished up his gin gimlet and said “Yes, please,” to another cocktail and a glass of wine. His plate was also the rib eye with the autumn rice pilaf and not the potatoes.

They were in the middle of talking about deep frying turkey for Thanksgiving, which had just past.

“It’s a lot of trouble,” Oscar said. “And pretty dangerous, too. But damn it if wasn’t the best turkey I’ve ever had.”

“We tried it once,” Greg said, “but instead of getting a real turkey fryer, we filled up a metal trash can with oil and heated it from the bottom—over a fire. That sucker got so hot it started glowing! We had to lower the bird into the oil using spears.”

“But it was good, I bet, right?” Oscar said.

“Amazing. Crispy and moist, you know,” Greg said.

Butter and garlic and tannins rose from their table and it was the moment of the early evening when all restaurant managers make the conscious decision to lower the house lights a smidge. Those perceptive to changes in atmosphere notice it immediately. Those on the border of tipsy do, too—like they’ve just been tapped on the shoulder by an unnoticeable spirit.

“See that?” Helen said. “Right when the food comes out, of course. To make it look better.”

“Bon appétit,” Greg said.

Oscar hadn’t seen Henry or Greg in two months. He started to cut into his meat and said to them: “You heard about Mona’s kid, right?”

Henry had just put his first bite into his mouth. He chewed, swallowed. “No. What?”

Greg shook his head no, about to cut into the meat.

“Flew off his dirt bike in California City.” Oscar said. “He’s in a coma.”

“My God, that’s awful.” Greg set his fork and knife down. Henry stopped eating to listen. Anders took his second bite of fish, then a drink of his Sprite.

“How old is the boy?” Greg said.

“13.”

“How’s it look?” Henry said.

Oscar shook his head. He had already put a piece of steak in his mouth and was chewing on it, working it slow, then speeding up to answer Greg. “Not good. Mona’s been off for three weeks. Boy won’t come to. They tried to take him off the respirator but everything started to shut down.”

Saucy came with the sides. Brussel sprouts with roasted garlic and pine nuts, asparagus tips in warm salted rosemary oil, and mashed sweet potatoes. “How we doing folks?” he said.

“Fine.” Anders spoke in mid-chew.

Saucy put his hands together as if in prayer and bowed slightly. “Enjoy.”

Greg stared down at his plate. “That’s horrible. I met him once. Good kid.”

“They should just let him go,” Helen said.

“There’s not much they can do.” Oscar cut another gash into his steak and bent his head down a bit to smell it. “This is a good steak.”

“Fish is great,” Anders said.

“Will you pass the asparagus, Helen?” Oscar said.

“What can we do? For Mona?” Henry said.

“Donate your PTO.” Oscar heaped the asparagus onto his plate. He handed it over to Anders and took a drink of wine. “She needs the time.”

“She used up all her long-term leave when Barry’s mother died in February. That family. I tell you.” Helen sipped her Cab, set the glass down, and patted her chest.

Henry took a drink of his wine. Anders kept his eyes on his plate. He was halfway done with his dinner. Greg shook his head and cut into the meat.

Oscar turned to Helen. “You know, I did notice that. How the lights just went dim.” He cut again, put the slice onto his fork and scooped a heap of rice with it. He chewed and looked up at the chandeliers. They glowed warm though amber-stained glass—the outline of a rose etched in each one with a mauve glaze for the petals.