Friday, June 26, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!


I took a break this morning, went down to the beach, stood on a tall rock, tried not to fall. Did yoga. The sun bounced off the cliff face, throwing rays into the late afternoon, while my girls pretended to be mermaids, singing and chirping and complaining about sister things. I listened to the birdcall and the sound of the waves licking the rocks. I tried to visualize the sturgeon and striped bass that forage under the water and mud for shrimp and crab. It smelled of healthy brine, of life.

I tried to stop time and examine my place in it. I looked at my life on a timeline, plotted the steps and missteps, thought about all the paths which will diverge in all the yellow woods of all our futures. I thought about what is at the core. What matters. Love. Empathy. Justice. Understanding. I did not fall, but I allowed for that option. I was happy not to fall; the rocks did not look inviting. They were green and slick, but sharp enough that they would have changed me.

I watched sandpipers skip off the tops of the breakers: heard the gulls cry their lost-love sea-songs, screeched laments and horrors. I focused on my breathing and pulled the warm air deep into my lungs; felt my heart beat, sending blood through my veins. When I felt like I was focused on nothing as much as one can be focused on nothing, I asked myself what had happened this week. What mattered. I thought about y’all. My wife. Kids. My friends. My family back east. I thought about the stories my students are writing. It seemed right. Maybe it is right. I thanked the beach, and I will return to it.

Friday, June 19, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

Dear Me with some faith and hope,

I know you want to believe that the people pulling the strings want to keep all the yo-yos spinning. It's not true. They want you to keep staring, they're keeping the tension up. Dude, those yo-yos could fall at any goddamn time. You need to accept that it's a sham. You're right, man. You're 100% right. Adults are assholes, politicians are criminals, Cops are degenerates, and no one really cares. Not really. Not the president. Not his wife.

The people with morals are obvious. You see 'em. Sometimes they're assholes or too passive or afraid of confrontation or too combative, but they give a shit about something. You're right about the people who appear too put together. The ones that never offend anyone and ooze through life. They're doing shit behind the scenes that you can't even imagine yet.

Brother, you are not a bad guy. You're not. You're mad, but there are good reasons to be mad. You don't like bullshit, but who likes bullshit? Why is being into bullshit desirable? You're not broken, man. You don't need to punish yourself so much.

Music is more important than almost anything else. Words, too. Books and birds and songs and fishing and friendship. Those are the things that matter. It's not on you, the fact that other people can't see it. It doesn't make you simple or strange.

Beware of the fucking Christians, man. I know you believe in some of the principles and you want to think all those Sunday mornings meant something. Some of them are OK. There are a lot of wolves in sheep clothes. A lot of pederasts in white robes. A lot of crooks and drunks talking pious bullshit. They're sick. Beyond help. Don't try, just watch your fucking back.

I'm sorry the world is such a pile of shit, but you can't fix it all. Fix the streets around you. Fix the relationships you have. Worry about making the lady at the bakery happy. She's lonely, and she cares when you crack jokes. It means a lot to her.

Email your Mom. She worries, and worry is poison. Hug your friends and tell them you love them. Don't drink so much. Stop trying to kill yourself. Take a deep breath, bud. Just breathe.

Sincerely,

Me whose heart was broken, healing

Friday, June 12, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

How much is your life worth? Seriously. To you. It ain't worth shit to anyone else. Maybe your family. The motherfuckers you bowl with. Shoot hoops with. Shoot heroin with. But nobody really cares, man. Ain't like we're running out of people. They're coming out of the goddamn woodwork. We're thick with 'em. We're choking. Can't breathe.

I mean it ain't like you're famous or pretty. You're just a human being. No one cares about the thoughts you have and the fears you harbor and the hopes you've defaulted on. Dude, look. The whole world's a fucking whore. You're just a John.

You think God cares? You think he's out there? If he is, he's laughing a sick fuck laugh while his creation destroys itself. That's right. Clearly a Him. A white Him. In case you were wondering.

You think the kids are gonna care? Fuck, man. The kids are carving pathways through their brains. They're courting anxiety disorders and nerve malfunction. They want their legs to twitch when they try to sleep like mine do. They have Xanax and ASMR porn. The fuck they need you for? They don't care about themselves, you think they waste time wondering about your wrinkly ass?

The Cops don't care, man. That's clear. Straight up; everybody was all: hey, maybe you should think about the way you treat black people. The way you beat black people. They're not just meat, black people!

And those motherfuckers came back angry. Wounded! They shot tear gas into the face of incredulous humanity. They beat on Moms and kids and even black men. Who'da thunk it!

You can go to a Trump Rally, but if you get sick and die, that's on you. Ain't nobody give a shit about you. Don't try to convince yourself otherwise. We care about the stock market. We care about flags. We care about ourselves because we don't think anyone will care about us.

And we toss and turn, trying to find comfort in the bed we made.


Friday, June 5, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

We can't let the dust settle, whip it up; stir that shit to a frothy loam, ignore the slack-suited simpletons slinging side-street sermons.

Don't let yourself be soothed. Don't let them blow smoke on the bruises, the cuts, the indignity.

Put your fucking flag away!

Goddamn it, put your flag away; nobody is attacking nothing. We're trying to make it mean what it is supposed to mean.

Don't look into their eyes. Don't look into the blinking cyclops eye in your living room. Don't turn your head. Don't drink it away or try to excuse it.

Listen to your kids. Your kids are mad, and they have a right to be. They've figured out there is a big world beyond the trailer park. Beyond the gated subdivision. Beyond your closed mind.

Believe none of what you hear until you have chewed on it, digested it.

If your neighbors avert their eyes, you're probably making headway. If your neighbors smile grim greetings and shake their heads, congratulations, you found a relatively nice place to live.

Why aren't you mad? Why are you so mad and directing your anger in the wrong direction? Man, anger is a magnifying lens. It focuses. Take the warmth of the sun, and turn it into fire.

You know that hot rush of clarity you get when you're angry? That's truth and justice, and it's beautiful. Stoke it carefully, share it with your community, and we can make our communities places we want to hang out in. I promise. You just have to stare into the heat without blinking.

Without turning away.

Friday, May 29, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!


American Cop

Everybody freeze, now thaw; don’t worry son, just the small hands of the law. The small minds of a few programmed automatons, the diminishing returns of oaths vomited from lurid mouths. It don’t matter where it started, but it started in the South. 

The underworld is full of darkness, and the confederate flags wave from rusted pickups while black children play. Just another day.

It’s a disease, this hating, this anger. It’s cultivated inside you, curated. They say, come on down to the outrage store, pick a minority to blame it on! Don’t matter, brother. It’s all a con. 

Epstein didn’t get killed in the street, but then again, he wasn’t forging checks.

Don’t you know you can’t trust Science? The answers you seek are in a book of fables, stories told by hucksters and visionaries, twisted by Kings and Kindgdoms. For Profit. 

Salavation ain’t free, boy.

You want security? Find a scapegoat. You want Happiness? Bezos will trade you some for a little more gold to line his coffers. Or he says he will.

I’m sick of writing this bullshit, and I think I’ll stop. This is a day to see the American Cop. Do you see him? White face with square jaw over schoolboy war fantasies and hard-boy tattoos. See this fucker? This fucker is going to kill a dude in broad daylight. In the street. With witnesses. On Camera. Because he FEELS small. You see that fucking fascist? And the guy next to him. And the two guys accelerating the murder? You see him? Good. I saw him, too. And I’m not going to let y’all forget this time.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

Listen to the night song, creeping

Dark shapes moving on gentle breezes

This is the promise, given

You will die here

And tomorrow, when yesterday

Roars into your ears

Like an angry child

And red-faced guardians abound

You will sit here, by the fireside

Hearing the new sounds

The fat man is coming, smelling blood

You are a cheap suit on a mannequin

You are propped up on poison

You are a disappointment, and you stink of sadness

You are the damsel who seeks out distress

You are twisted human longing,

and the world has heard your screams.

Friday, May 15, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

Celery

Mom is super tall, covered in smile. Most of the time. Sometimes, the smile is gone. Sometimes, the smile being gone is a message in a bottle; sometimes it is a cannon blast across the bow of your misguided ship. Sometimes, the wooden spoons whips the air into song, crashing as it lands. Sometimes, you’re sitting, looking at the way a Grey Blue Heron stands.

Sometimes, it’s celery stalks in water. Different food coloring, and you watch it climb up the veins. You do the same things with Queen Anne’s Lace, and it looks gaudy, but who cares. Orange flowers, Green flowers, Blue flowers. Sometimes, you’re running through the acres out back, ducking limbs or plowing through them because you just want to run.

It’s always hot in the summer, and it’s like the heat amplifies everything and mutes it at the same time. The days fall in on themselves and you’re eggshell-walking through them like time is made of warm mud. Can’t even see through it. Sometimes, it makes Mom so mad. You don’t blame her; there are lots of things to be mad about. Legitimately.

Hell, you’re mad.

But mostly, it’s one long afternoon without promise. One stretch of drudgery. One hike through the tangled nonsense of your subconscious. And you stay hoping. Hoping that Mom will keep smiling. That the silent ghosts won’t pull her away like they always do. That you can just cut up some flowers and turn them stupid colors and smile, no wooden spoon in sight.

 

Pretty Dress

You’re looking everywhere but at that pretty dress, because when you look at it, it makes you feel things. You can see other folks staring, and they all got their reasons. Lyle is staring because he’s practically an ape; it’s lucky he’s not humping her leg. The rest of the men are taking quick glances or trying not to look because, I mean, hell.

A lot of the women are pointing cigarettes and bayonets. Ice eyes. Smiling lies. Hell, a lot of women would like to see her drawn and quartered. And that makes sense, too.

Not me.

I’m looking at Loraine in that pretty dress, and it looks just wonderful. Man, you can tell exactly how she felt when she bought that dress. The way she looked at it when she tried it on at Kohls. Brought it home. Called it the Unicorn Dress. One of a kind.

That dress wasn’t a dress. That dress was a little girl’s dream. About Los Angeles, and parties, and driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. It was about paparazzi and glamourous red carpets with cameras going off like little explosions. And it was never going to happen, but that didn’t make it sad. That dress was a rose that grew through barbed-wire. It was a newborn smile, and it was a warm cup of coffee on a winter morning. It didn’t make me lusty. It didn’t make me angry.

It made me glad that there are little girls who dream.

Friday, May 8, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

It was 1997, and I was driving around the streets of San Francisco in a beat up, hand-me-down geo prism that barely made the trip from San Diego. I was new in town, and I felt like a fraud, so I would pick out a neighborhood and just start driving, smoking cigarette after cigarette and stopping for a drink as necessary. It was phenomenal to be young and in San Francisco, and the night was like one long, wet kiss. I had music, I had good books, there was weed everywhere, and it was all mine.

And then I almost got arrested. It happened like this.

I was on one of my drives through the nighttime, and I was in North Beach, home of beatnik writers and drunken deviants. I drove for a while, and then I got out to walk around. And I was no longer in North Beach. This was a recurring problem. I have zero sense of direction, and it is never wise for stoned dudes with no sense of direction to aimlessly cruise complicated city thoroughfares.

So, it was late. Probably close to midnight, and there were some hookers on the block and some crackheads on the corner. It was real fucking authentic, so I decided to take a stroll.

Lose the car and slide out onto the sidewalk, cigarette up, and I’m walking. Head down. Collar up. I walked fast in those days, but suddenly there was a woman damn near jogging beside me, and she was wearing a mini-dress and big, gold hoops.

“You looking for some company?”

“Nope, thanks.”

“Hey man. Can you do me a favor. Dude has been following me, and it’s freaking me out. Walk with me?”

So, I look back and there is a no-shit creepy fucking dude about half a block back looking at this woman like she’s a pork chop, and I’m the mongrel dog that stole it from him. Of course, seeing how I was raised on southern chivalry, I asked her to marry me and we moved to the country. Or I offered to walk with her. Who knows. We didn’t get fifty feet before the whole goddamn world turned red and blue. Fuck. Then there’s a fat, sweaty cop right out 1970s casting in my face telling me I’m going to jail. The chick is yelling at him that I was being a gentleman. I’m imagining calling my Mom. Hey, Mom. So, I’m in jail. Well, soliciting prostitution, but here’s the thing…

Eventually, the cop relents after we both explain to him repeatedly that he is beating up the wrong tree, almost literally (cops like to get handy with hookers and nineteen-year-old punks). I don’t even have any money. I’m afraid to fuck girls that don’t fuck for money, let alone those who do…

I don’t even know how I got home that night, riding a wave of adrenaline, no doubt, and I didn’t learn a goddamn thing from the experience. But I didn’t go to jail. I went home to the Mission, got drunk with my roommates and ate tacos. A success story.

Friday, May 1, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

Sunlight

Daub of hope for your morning, sir? Spot of optimism? Here, let me rest this feathered lightness on your cheek. The storm is coming, and you must remember. Underneath the skin, wires run. Slick, refractive reverie. You are inches from oblivion, and you have no metrics – your head is a bloviated side-prank. Your ornaments hang off you like cheap linens. Bit of paint will fix everything, and everything has a place, everything in it. Don’t look too close at the body language; this illusion is not made for inspection. Sit down and follow directions.

Rub this lemon juice into your eyes, your abraded skin. Let the sear speak. You are callow and weak. You are drowning and no one wants to save you. Remember that optimism? That smear of hope? You need to hold onto that. Never let go. It should be enough for you. You’re an American, right? So, dream!

 

Cold

Adam was dying. He knew he was dying, and it bothered him, but not as much as it would bother most folks. Adam wasn’t at peace with death, but he was not surprised by it either. The dogs had died, and he would die. The death of his dogs had severed the connection that Adam felt to life; to the goodness of what life had to offer. With each death, he had moved closer towards it himself, and he was ready.

The pain was there, but it was outside him. For days, it had been inside his body like a storm, a chaotic fever, but now it was hovering on the periphery of his vision and he could take an accurate appraisal. He laughed at it, a desperate, fearful laugh that clutched at strength and missed.

As the dawn teased the day, Adam’s life ebbed away. The forest sighed and shook its shoulders. The animals were curious, then hungry, then sated. The night and day continued marching and the life spirit drifted into other clearings as the life force intended.

And there was beauty.

Friday, April 24, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

Fear

The dream is always the same. There is noise and blood, and the air is thick with it. The blood is in your eyes, your mouth. You taste iron, and you feel it run down your throat and, in tracks, down your face. You try to call for help, but your voice is lost in the gurgle of blood and spit and panic. Your heart races, that feeling you get when you know you’ve really hurt yourself, but you need to act quickly. Stay calm. Stay focused. Spit the blood out fast enough, and you might be able to get a few words out. Clear your throat. Spit and yell. There is no one there to hear you. The dream makes no sense, but there is no wonder in your mind. The meaning of the dream sits on the fence of your subconscious: a fat, alley cat smiling. It knows something you don’t. The cat knows everything, but you never will. You will continue to be a conveyance for blood and terror. Until your eyes open.

They probably will.

 

Medication

The ones you want aren’t the ones you need. That’s the first paradox. The second is that they want you to keep your mind straight, unless they’re the ones bending it. There’s a pill to make you happy, but it comes with a price. There’s a pill that makes your hair grow, but it might make you blink twice. There are pills and powders and potions, there always were and there always will be. There’s all kinds of nooks and cranny’s in the world of pharmacology.

Advil is medicine, just like Cocaine. Benadryl and Dramamine? They’re one and the same. The most deadly? That’s Tylenol, you can buy it at school. There are lots of sly lessons for you to learn, fool.

Everything’s medicine. Every show, shot and smile. The world is wide-open, you can see it in style. The side effects vary and may be intense. You may just start stuttering and lose all your sense. You may end up naked and covered in puke. Or you could end up a tenured professor at Duke.

If it’s crack, bribe the cops, if it’s pills bribe a doctor. She’s heard it before, trust, none of it shocks her. And her prescription pad’s magic, it will fix all your pain. Ask all your junkie friends, and they’ll tell you the same.

 

Childhood

The table is so high and, sitting underneath, you can watch the knees walk by and they won’t even know you’re in there. A dozen brownies stuffed down the front of your shirt. Aunt Irene can’t try to kiss you on the mouth. Grandpa can’t try to convince you to recite the poems he made you memorize.

The air smells like homemade peach pie, and the wind is shifting just right that it rustles the cornstalks and whips conversations through the fields like precocious ghosts.

You just stay under that table, boy. You really should. Trust me. It doesn’t get better. It gets harder and more complicated and you end up going places where everyone ignores the kid slipping under the tablecloth with a plate full of cookies. You’re going to wish you could go under there with him, but you can’t because people are suspicious. And jail’s not fun.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

I saw somebody drowning, underneath my foot
my forefathers wore blackface, it was coal soot
they breathed it in and coughed it out
spat it on sidewalks, the color of money
they tried so hard to beat the odds, 
but it ain't the way the game's played honey

and dirty white boys shoot yellow meth
while their girlfriends smoke themselves to death
no one cares if the jones gets fed
redemption costs, try this shit instead

yeah, it's dumb; yeah, it's chickenshit
but them doctors always gonna write the scrip
they'll climb inside you, but don't enable it
don't let them put a fucking label on it

run like a motherfucker and never stop
tip that bottle to the very last drop
life's a bitch, life's a cop
you dodge one kind, and one?
one will be the mountain you climb
the hill you die on
while toothless men laugh
on the way to the soul mines, rotten

Friday, April 10, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

My boss’ name was Tina. She was an Asian woman of about forty years? I was twenty at the time, so I have no idea. She was from China, as were two of the waiters, a husband and wife team of about seventy that got their work done and talked to no one. Every morning, I would (probably not) shave, shower, put on the black pants (size 48) that I bought at Goodwill the day I got the job. They were almost twenty sizes too big, but I would fold the front over and, under my black apron that never got washed, you couldn’t tell at all. I did wash my white, short sleeved shirt, but I did not iron it. And I wore their stupid bow tie. Like a monkey.

Every morning, Tina, five feet with the force of ten thousand suns worth of stress, would tell me that I needed to iron my shirt. I would smile and nod and not even think about doing it. I was aware of a few things. First, it was a godawful job. Terrible hours. Horrendous pay. The only upsides were that the old people were cool, the Mexican dudes in the kitchen were cool, and I ignored basically all their rules. Two, I spoke Spanish and English and no one else could do that fluently. And finally, I just honestly didn’t care about anything. Not really. And I was hung over every single time I went to work. And I smoked weed with the Mexican dudes every single day after work before going home to mainline cat cuddles and bourbon.

There were two waiters from the former Czech Republic. They had seen shit. You could tell. I never would have presumed to ask. They were nice. Friendly. They kind of doted on me in a big sisterly way, and I was OK with it because they were both pretty cute and they had awesome accents. One day, the cuter of the two (who used to tell me about how much she missed her husband, oh the humanity) gave me an iron. I took it home and put it on the counter and then started drinking. And I never ironed my shirt. I never even seriously considered it. The more they asked, the less likely I was to do it. And I had the residents in my corner. And the Mexicans. I called them gringos and they called me vato loco.  It was a terrible job and it was also like a big old hug. I played piano for the residents and they were excited I was in college. I was a king.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

I feel like I should write a song,
But no one wants to hear it.
It’s long and convoluted, probably lacking spirit

And the melody’s all fucked.
It’s got no catchy breakdowns,
And the chorus is never the same twice.
 
It ain’t hummable. It sure ain’t nice.
 
I want to write a battle hymn,
But I’m goddamned tired of fighting.
I’m tired of arguing and lately;
I’m getting sick of writing.
 
No one’s listening see,
And I know how I feel.
I’d rather be stuck in an echo chamber than a hamster wheel …
Maybe.
 
Maybe I want to burn the whole fucking thing down.
Maybe I want to cover the world in bubble tape and kiss the babies.
Maybe I want a time machine, but hell, man. Times are rough.
We’re all tired. We’re all scratching itches we don’t want to talk about.
 
No one wants to hear that song. That story. It’s an old one. And it’s never been good.
 
I’ll just strum this C chord and pretend I’m understood.