Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Accident

Time didn't matter any more. Blind and bedridden, Allen slept when he could and tried to ignore the blipping of machines when he couldn't. The blindness was still new and it astounded him. It was so powerful. It took so much and gave so much. He could hear conversations from fifty feet away. He could smell the rib joint at the end of the block. He had never imagined before that there was so much to see just inside his own head.

Nurses fluttered in and out. He could not see them of course, but it made him picture a soft summer afternoon, drifting in and out of a nap, watching the thin curtains billow and then retract. This is how he saw the nurses. Occasionally, he imagined them as old time nurses with white uniforms and the little hats. He would never have been able to connect the soft, caring hands with green scrubs and neck tattoos. The blindness was a blessing.

Pain. A lot of time to think about pain. Everyone experiences pain, but not everyone gets to experience real  pain. The accident had left Allen broken. His pelvis, shattered. Legs snapped. Spine a jumbled mess of jigsaw laziness. His pain was a vibrant, living thing. It made his breath catch. Sometimes, a muscle would spasm and his brain would erupt into a bright, ungodly red. Throbbing. He would grind his teeth and swallow it. Sometimes, the pain would turn him off. Blackness. Sometimes, the nurses would.

He liked the pain, though. That's what they didn't understand. They were always pushing morphine on him. And pills. The morphine was unavoidable. He always said no, sometimes they listened. The pills were easily disposed of. He liked to wake into the think, why God? Why me? And then to remember. To have the remembering wash over him like acid.

The doctors came by. They liked to look at him. Amaze each other with the details. A man that should, by all rights, be dead. And he would focus on the pain. He would dive into the bloody madness of it. And sometimes, the pain almost made it OK. His mistake. Their lives.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Old Man

The wind cut the sunshine...sliced it clean in half. I was sitting on a pier...I liked sitting on piers. The gulls were laughing and my collar was up, neck hunched down. I didn't hear him coming, but it didn't surprise me either. He was wearing his old down jacket. No hat. Of course.

"You need to come back home, son."
"Fuck! What the fuck do you mean 'why?'...cause that's where you fucking live..."

His voice trailed off near the end, as heads turned toward us. He smiled and shrugged. No one cared. He put his hand on my shoulder, which I practically dislocated shaking free. He wrapped his fist in the front of my windbreaker. I was on my feet before I could think.

"Don't what, Nancy?"
"Don't fucking touch me."

I turned and started walking away, but he followed.

"You're a fucking tough guy now, eh?"
"You sure? You talk like you're a fucking tough guy."

His fingers were curled. His hands itching for it, you could see it. He walked forward until our noses were almost touching and jabbed me in the chest. I looked into his eyes and laughed.

"Something funny?"
"You know what, Dad? You're a fucking bully. You've always been a bully. But you're old now. I'm bigger than you are. I'm sure as hell stronger than you are..."
"So, you touch me again...ever...and I will kick the living shit out of you. Got it?"

His eyes narrowed and then grew wide. You could see it registering. I had four inches and twenty pounds on him now. I lifted weights every day. I moved even closer to him, his eyes level with my nose.

"Do you get it, old man? You don't have the power any more."
"As long as you live under my roof..."
"I'm working on that part, don't worry."

He was shaking with anger and suddenly the whole thing was hilarious. I had felt small for so long; it had happened without my realizing it. I felt a little sorry for him. A little. 

"Hey, bud...sit back down..."
"By blood, old man. By blood."

I pulled a cigarette from my pocket and lit it. He winced. It felt good. I turned around and starting walking, but he didn't follow. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I don't need you to tell me shit. I already know what you're going to say and then what you'll follow with, I can see it all in silver, shimmering silkworm strings. Your opinion means little to me and so much means little to you except you. You mean everything.

With that fucking look again. I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to laugh, cry, or call a doctor. Maybe all three. I'll watch your eyeballs roll down me until they're plop on the floor. Then, you can look up to me.

I am eschewing all human contact. Scuttle back to your holes. I want none of it. Your weak-kneed excuses and mental travails. It all makes me tired. The kind of tired that you want to fall into because the blackness is so deep.

Shit and grasshoppers, son. That's no way to tie a fishing line. Who the hell taught you to do that?

I've been hanging with the wrong crowd, and I got the stink on me. That's what you say. That's what you look like. Save the broken artifice for someone who needs a cause. I already got one.

Play your cards, son. Play your cards. I don't care if it's UNO, you play 'em and you hope just like the rest of us. Heart attacks don't give a fuck about your bank account. Your kids aren't gonna thank you. You'll feel good about the whole thing, though. Stigmata.

So, ramble on Billy boy, and fuck the folks behind you. We're going on a rabble rouse and you're not invited. You're old news and no one wants to hear your shit. It pours from your mouth like sickness. You are sick. That is why you are tolerated. You are the old dog that no one has the heart to shoot.

Stare at the sun and let it burn you. Why should you be any different? What makes you so goddamn special? Pick up a shovel, like the rest of us, and start digging. You're gonna need somewhere to sleep.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Deal

He sat in the driver's seat, music low, telling himself this wasn't insane. Paul put the money under an old coffee cup in the holder. He didn't know this dude. Had never seen him before. He tried to breathe evenly...worst case scenario, robbed. Not like anyone is going to kill a stranger in a busy Chevron parking lot. Not like the cops give a fuck.

He saw the man in the rearview mirror. He was big, but not muscle big. His skin was the color of Fall. Black coat, black cap. Paul unlocked the passenger side door and the big man slid in with surprising agility. He reeked like weed...good sign. They did the fist pound. One potato, two potato style. Paul fucked it up.

"You Paul?"
"Yeah, man...what's good?"
"Man, I'm telling you. The purple is fire. Straight fire, man. It's all good, but this is the top shelf. You know...we all about the indica in the Bay."
"Right. Can I ask you something?"
"What up?"
"You advertise on Craigslist...that doesn't, like, sketch you out a little?
"Naw man, you just gotta be careful. You can tell, you know. I knew when I talked to you yesterday you was legit."
"You didn't ask no stupid questions. You didn't want to meet right away. You didn't ask me to break the 'ounce rule'...BTW, now I know you straight, so you can buy as much as you want. But that's it, man; you can tell the cops easy. And my boy is over there in that car, so I ain't much concerned, feel me?"
"Yeah, I feel you."

Paul could practically feel the red dot on the back of his head. The big man slapped a ziplock bag into his hands. The car was thick with the smell of it...he looked inside and a smile spread slowly over his face. Magma.

"Yup, that's some good shit, man."
"The best. $35 an eighth, $55 for a quarter, $100 for a half..."
"The money is under the cup, man."

The thick fingers thumbed the twenties.

"You can count it...I would."
"Alright, brother. Your number is in my phone now. Call me anytime. I threw in a gram for making the drive."
"Right on...respect, brother. I'll be in touch."

Paul got the handshake right the second time. He pulled out of the gas station as the man got back in a very nice car. He pulled over when he got around the corner. He laughed and pulled the bag out from the seatback where he'd stashed it. He pulled a bud out and held it up to the sun. Fire. He put the bag in a tupperware container and pulled back onto the main road.

Jesus, Paul thought, you really can get anything on Craigslist.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Shadow Moon

The sky is so clear, blue to the point of absurdity...a faint outline of mottled moon hangs above the tree-line. I am friends with the moon. I have spent many hours, lying flat on my back, grass tickling my neck, staring at it.

Sometimes, where I live, the moon is bashful, hidden behind wisps of cloud...a cotton ball stretched to infinity. The moon hides, appearing in brief flashes, coloring the whole of the cloud-soaked sky. A blanket of vapor. I have never seen this anywhere else.

I always point the moon out to people because, well, some people don't look UP. I'll never understand it. My daughter is impressed that I see deer, frogs, hawks, sunsets. I am teaching her to look. So, I tell people to look at the moon, considering it a favor, and they often look at me like I am insane. There are some things I will never understand.

Past the pigeon palaces and shift-eyed beat cop malices...the lyrics come back when I first awake. I don't know why. My mind resists waking because it likes to play. I don't blame it.

This past week has been one of the most bizarre of my life. I have seen my neighbors cry, rage, laugh, comfort, and accept. None of these things are easy to do. None of it is easy to watch.

I have accepted my age. This week, perhaps for the first time. In exactly two weeks I will be 35. The winter solstice will usher in a new age of epiphanies and shortcomings. I want to help carry furniture, but I have injured my back to the point that I can't. I would still do it, but my wife won't let me. And she's right. The pigeons are coming home to roost.

You pay for your sins and you hope you will be rewarded for your triumphs, but sometimes you get both and sometimes neither. I've spent Christmas Eve in the ER more than anyone should. That's not going to happen this year. I feel a strange, sniveling pride. You take it where you can get it.

You can't go back and revise your life. I'm glad. I would probably change things that shouldn't be changed. I'm happy with the voyage that has brought me here. So what...I've traded some cynicism for a little hope. Cashed in some brain cells. You live with the choices you make. You live with the choices you don't get to make, too.

It's been an odd week, and a dose of sunshine does a lot of good. I am wiser now than I was a week ago. I have seen the power of nature. I have seen the compassion in people. And life goes on. The good parts and the bad. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The web...

There is one leaf gently bopping on my tree. I'd say undulating, but I've never liked that word. It's overcast and I'm sitting here thinking about people. We're a pretty amazing lot. We come in all sizes and shapes. Different levels of pigmentation. Different beliefs. But in the heart, where it really matters, most people are pretty similar.

We worry. We laugh. We like to watch small children do the things that we used to do. We appreciate when someone makes us laugh on a rough day. We love least the good kind. We are not as selfish as we seem, it just takes a good kick in the butt to remind us to be human sometimes.

One of the things I have always liked about apartments is that you can see your neighbors. When we lived in San Francisco, our apartment faced another complex across the street and we saw everything our neighbors did. And vice versa. Pretty much everything, I should say. We named them all. Sometimes we waved. Sometimes they hollered when I played guitar too loud. Mostly good hollers.

Sometimes I think about the web. That's how I see it in my mind. Each of our lives intersect with so many others. There is a liquor store across the street and I know the people that work there pretty well. They know I have a cat (we always forget to buy litter). They are nice to my girls. Then there are the people at Safeway, the deli, the bait shop...and, of course, there are neighbors.

You really realize this when you have a four year old. I spend a lot of time pretending to be people who would never imagine in a million years that a whole family is playing a game that involves them. "You be the guy from Target with the hat, Dadda!"

When bad things happen: death, illness, tragedy...our differences seem to vanish almost instantly. It no longer matters who thinks socialized medicine is a good idea or what sports team wins some silly game. Thrown into a cage together, many animals will fight to the death. Humans generally find their commonalities and cling to them. And we never know, except in brief moments of clarity, who is in our web.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I can hear the rain in the gutters, a soft ticking, flash images of the old days in the news room. I wonder where my electric typewriter is...

Contrast. I think it is all about contrast. Grey skies make colors sharper, smiles warmer...hugs last a little bit longer these days.

Rain is an interesting enigma. The central valley gasps for it, children play in it, adults run from it. And when those rain drops get together to form a gang, there is no stopping them.

It's our fault in a way. No one said to build roads and houses. Used to be the rain could go wherever it wanted. Water was everything, carving canyons and reshaping the world.

You can't be mad at water. You just can't. You can't be mad, period. Things happen...things that we have no control over. This makes life both exciting and terrifying. It is what it is.

A lot has happened in three days. A lot, but not enough.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


It is hard to watch people suffer when you are NOT suffering. Because of an arbitrary choice. My Paupa always said to buy a house on a hill. I can't afford a house, but I have always lived on the second floor. One tiny decision...a signature on a lease...and we escaped the water that our neighbors couldn't.

It is hard to sleep at night, snuggled up with cat and family, knowing that downstairs there are people realizing that they will never get back what they lost. And it isn't even just the "stuff". The worst thing to lose is the feeling that everything will be OK.

There have been, and will be, far greater tragedies than what happened here. But we try to ignore the possibility.  And we succeed for the most part. Hell, I've lived half my life knowing that a huge earthquake is coming...scant miles from a fault line. And it is...coming.

But the immediate problems...and well, a wise woman said it was bad timing. And that seems like a strange way to think, but she was right. This is a time of year when people should be happy, warm, looking forward to lights and parties and a new year.

It is what it is. Everybody gets their turn. We ducked it this time. I am left only with an impotent frustration. The 'what ifs'. What if I'd checked the storm drain before the storm came? What if the city had kept it clear? What if we lived on higher ground?

It is a strange thing, this lingering frustration. Tragedy and redemption. The story of humanity.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The water...

You wake up at four to the storm, bleary-eyed and awe of it. The band-saw wind and the dancing trees; you're grateful to be inside, staring out the mottled window for a few minutes before you return to sleep. Thinking about water. Magic, really. It is our friend. Except when it is not.

Sunday morning, you stroll outside. Your daughter wanted to jump in puddles, but they were drying up. The sun was trying to set things right. And then you saw the video. Waves of water coursing through the parking lot, up to the fenders on your motorcycle...your neighbors car with it's bumper near torn off. But you didn't connect it, see. Not on a sunny Sunday morning. Just: "Wow, look at all that water." And then on to Christmas errands. You didn't think what it was like on the first floor.

Driving past broken trees and castaway cars on the freeway. That cold feeling is starting to play chopsticks on your spine. Your cell phone rings and your wife tells you that all your neighbors' furniture is outside. Firetrucks and cleanup crews. Now, it's real. Life on the second floor goes on, but your downstairs neighbors are standing shell-shocked, trying to decide what is salvageable. Trying to smile. Doing a surprisingly good job, considering.

And now the stories are starting. Christmas presents ruined. Furniture decaying. Sewage contamination. And you're up there on the second floor, and you're trying to find the world's biggest bandaid.

Sure, it's painful. You start thinking about the kids who won't get the presents their parents saved for. You try to put yourself in those shoes...everything gone. You wonder what the water took. Furniture can be replaced. What about photo albums? What about the drawings your children did? What about the feeling of security? What about the storm that is still coming...?

It's the people that break your heart, though. They're not complaining. They're helping each other, sharing food and trying to make sense of it. They're smiling and laughing with shock-wide eyes. But they won't be beaten by the water. And now you understand more than ever what the word 'neighbor' means.