Friday, February 19, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

The notes are sticky, man. They're hanging from the ceiling: fat, purple and swollen. They're gonna drop on your head, drown you. You're going to have to swim for it, and you might beg it to stop, but thin man gonna keep blowin' that horn. Motherfuckers are gonna keep slamming those drumsticks. That fat man with the big ol' bass is gonna rewire your shit, retune your heartbeat. Ain't nothing to do but drink it in, keep swallowing so you don't drown. 

Shit gets hot all over town.

That guitar run went up your spine and played it like a xylophone, son. Sounds like plastic, wasted misery. Sounds like Chicago on a summer night, screams over those flat punches. Get it in the gut; close your eyes so it can't take you over, Buttercup.

Light one up and lean out over the fire escape, shit's just turning up. 

It don't matter if you can understand the words, man, you get the gist. You gotta chew on it like gristle, get the juices out of it. Let 'em run down your throat while the fast women run up and down the dancefloor, collecting heartache. 

It's a long night, and you ain't got but one heart to break. 

So, let 'em bang the drum, the beat, the summer heat. Let the politicians lie and the poor folks suffer. Let folks freeze solid and call it American Perseverance. 

America is going cheap. It's on clearance. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

Lost

The cliff face is steep, sheer. The drop will be deadly; you know this, but in this knowing you learn things about yourself that you would rather not know. You learn about fear and anguish. You learn about self-reprisal. You learn that your bluffs are sometimes just bluffs, and that your stubborn streak could kill you.

The smart play is to turn around. Clearly. There is nothing to prove here except to the hikers who will find your body at the bottom. Figure you slipped. They won’t understand that you were proving something to yourself. They won’t see that it mattered. 

So, it won’t matter.

You don’t realize as you hang onto the rocks that you will still be reliving this moment far in the future. 25 years later, and you still wonder if you could have made it to the bottom. And, if you had, what would it have meant. Doesn’t matter. You climbed up, went home, got drunk. Played some shows.

The cliff is still there. You will never find it. But maybe, someday, it will make sense. Maybe someday you will forgive yourself for being so lost that you couldn’t make a decision. Couldn’t do right by yourself. You didn’t figure out a way to die, so you had to figure out a way to live.

Sometimes, it’s a long walk out of the woods.

 

Calm

You’re in the eye of the storm, but don’t get comfortable. Outside the eye, everything is chaos. You can’t feel safe, no rest. You can’t relax because those tropical winds will suck you right the hell of that momentary calm. Send you reeling. Farmhouses flying by and Aunty Em, Aunty Em, was that a little black dog?

See, that Dog got sucked right out to sea. It’s drowning now. Bermuda triangle.

People are going to swirl by you and it’s tempting to reach out and touch them, grab them, pull them in towards you where everything is peaceful. Quiet. Careful, they might also pull you into the maelstrom. And maybe they’re having fun out there. 

Just because you like peace and quiet doesn’t mean it’s good for everybody.

This is last time you will ever feel at ease if you don’t find a way to stabilize yourself. Winds blow and the sky will get dark. There will be thunder and lightning. Still, the eye is one of your own making. You just have to make it. One man’s calm is another man’s storm.

Friday, February 5, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

I climb this hill because the hill is there; maybe from the top things will look different, but I figure they'll probably just look farther away. Like looking in binoculars from the wrong side. I smoke a cigarette because the wind is picking up, and I want to watch my smoke baptize the city, the grid of the Mission district laid out like a compulsive graph. The swallows tear up and down the side of the hill, snatching meals on wings that I cannot see, but still believe in. They are there, I know they are - the swallows aren't crazy. 

In my back pocket is a pint of cheap whiskey, and it is enough to pause the entire universe if you drink it fast, so I do. Two long draughts. Spit a few times if you feel like it's gonna come back, it helps. If you can keep it down for a minute, it's all gravy. The warmth starts in the belly to the lower back, the sun goes down, and the lights come up and they twinkle with whiskey giggles.

I light another cigarette.

These places you carve out of life can come to dominate everything. You can spend hours obsessing about getting drunk, then do it, only to regret it almost immediately. Or, it hits right, and you get a respite from everything, but re-entry is going to fucking suck. That's alright. That's why God made taquerias and liquor stores. 

I go home because that's what you do. I climb the roof with a new bottle and watch the busses pass. Listen to the junkies roar. I came up planning to jump, but I don't want to anymore. 

Friday, January 29, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

The house always wins. You don’t have to believe it. Hell, maybe Vegas is a charity. Maybe all those mobsters just like card games. Maybe you’ll be the one who breaks them, leaves the casino with canvas bags covered in dollar signs, bills and gold coins falling out behind you like Scrooge McDuck. 

You don’t even need a casino.  A dealer. A HOUSE.

There are lots of ways to gamble.

I had a friend once thought he should drive after drinking a few beers. Dumb gamble. He can’t drive anymore. I know folks who put there whole life on the line for fifteen minutes of pleasure or compulsion. Doesn’t matter which. Bad gamble.

You can gamble with your health. I quit smoking cigarettes when I started feeling mortal. Not everyone does. Not everyone can afford “me time” and organic food, either. Drive through a small town in Mississippi and then blame the locals for being 200 pounds overweight with heart conditions and diabetes. A Value Meal costs 5.99. 

Go large, one dollar more.

You can gamble your morality easy. The system is almost set up for it. There are all kind of incentives to take short cuts. All kinds of compromises you can make. Your bank account will prosper if you look the other way. 

That’s what the corporate bosses say.

Me? I’m not a gambler. I don’t play games I know were designed to beat me. I don’t bang my head against the door and expect it to open, either. You get out life what you put in. No free lunches. No jackpots. You may be up for a few hours, months, years, but the house always wins. 

No exceptions. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

The wind is a grey sponge sitting on the straight. Mt. Diablo hides underneath the sagging apron, not scared. Never scared. You know what’s in them thar hills. Every time the wind blows, it pulls a few threads with it, and rain drops in the Central Valley, and, if Steinbeck was still alive, he would call it good. The small boats pull stripers and sturgeon, and sometimes there’s a kind of stillness that only lasts a moment. But you end up remembering it for years. And the smell of rich earth and woodsmoke dances in the updrafts. Vultures circle and we smile at them, feeling optimistic. There is nothing wrong, no sound that the fog can’t muffle. You can get lost in it. And you probably should.

Friday, January 15, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

Both my Grandfathers and one of my Grandmothers served in WWII. My Grandpa was shot out of plane and lost most of his hearing, his sense of taste, and who knows what else - he never talked to me about it. My Paupa and my Nana served. My Paupa worked on airplanes and screwed up his back stepping around in the dark. I don't know whether he felt relieved or angry that he never saw action. He was a pretty practical guy; I doubt he felt left out. My Nana was with the WAVES in San Francisco. I talked to my Paupa a bit about his experiences flying and working on planes. He helped me write a short story. I hoped that it meant something to him to have those memories live again, but I honestly don't know if it was a good thing I did. 

My Paupa was the Mayor of a small town in Pennsylvania for years. He was not a wealthy man by any stretch of the imagination, but he was respected and devoted. He took care of his town, and one of his self-imposed duties was to gather damaged flags, flags that had touched the ground or were worn, and burn them in ceremony. This was something he took very seriously. I don't put much stock in flags or pennants or pledges, but I respected my Paupa, and I loved him very much. I loved my Grandpa, and I adored my Nana. I tried to respect the things they respected because I knew they had their reasons. Reasons that mattered.

Watching someone beat police officers with a American flag hurt me in a way I didn't expect, because I know it would have crushed my Paupa. My Grandpa would have been outraged at his neighbors in the Midwest flying to DC to wreak COSPLAY havoc at the Capitol. My Nana and my Grandma were the sweetest, kindest, and most thoughtful women I have ever known. They believed in manners and not being tacky. They would be heartbroken at what we have become. 

I think about my Dad a lot, too. And my sister. 25 years in the Navy and years with the State Department respectively. I can't bring myself to ask them how they feel about it. We aren't always that kind of family. We keep our cards close and our pain hidden. That said, someday, I will ask, but I already know the answer. I can feel it, an ache, in my chest.