Tuesday, February 19, 2008

maybe I should blame television

It was Tuesday and the world was already burning.

I woke up with a hangover to the incessant blaring of my alarm clock, hit the snooze and dropped back into a nine minute dream fragment. A glimpse at a better world.

Everything makes sense in dreams. No matter how absurd, how twisted, how impossible in the real world of waking tedium, everything fits in the dream. It’s so easy to want to stay; I was ripped back into the world by the clock’s burst fire siren, hit the snooze again. I would have to get up sooner or later. But later just seemed like the better choice. After snoozing four or five unfulfilling times, I finally rolled out and into the shower. Downing the cold remains of last night’s drunken ramen, I made myself pretty for the crowds: hair, strategically edgy suave outfit, jewelry, shades. Figuring I could make some coffee at work, I left my apartment bleary eyed and miserable. At least it was cloudy.

Ever have those days where you feel like tearing the world down around you? The power of the Almighty returning for one last go round to topple the columns and visit your wrath upon the heathen masses. I’ve thought about it, when the rage seethes beneath the surface, never able to come out and play but still always begging. Fairly often actually. Often enough for me to start self-diagnosing psychological problems. Wondering if I really do have an antisocial personality disorder. Or maybe I’m just borderline. I had considered whether I should jump from basing my diagnosis on a cursory perusal of the internets to actually talking to a professional (always wondered what one might say) but I never got around to it. Assumed it would be outside my price range.

I considered joining the army for the discipline and the general ease of living life without the burden of responsibility. Or really for an officially sanctioned position of power over life and death, damn close to omnipotence or so the story goes.

Learning how to fire a lightweight, high caliber vicious beast of an automatic weapon was a strong draw, so too the rush of knowing, really knowing that I may die any day with my gun in my hand and my rifle at my side. The freedom and release of such awareness is something rare experienced in this “rational and civilized” world. Though I suppose that wears thin after awhile, once you get used to it. A body will get used to anything and once it’s another routine, well, what’s the point?

Deciding against the rule bound nature of this man’s army and really being opposed to hierarchy and social control on a fuzzy moral basis I figured I would never peer through a sniper’s reticule and wink at a bastard before the pink mist carried his soul off to the hereafter. But that didn’t really stifle my homicidal curiosities and while I would never find myself comfortably placed among any of the formally licensed to kill goose stepping crowd, it doesn’t take a whole lot of initiative to swing a sledge hammer in a clean crushing arc to kiss the comparably soft flesh and bone of the pleasantly shaped human skull. All you have to do is get them to lie still.


I got to the bookstore about 20 minutes after opening.

Nestled comfortably among the vermin runs at the base of the obelisks to the slaves of capitalism and the gods of cultural production we attract the bare minimum of customers to our rare and used books and more than our fair share of common and enduring dust. Which suits me just fine. I get around to cleaning (moving the filth around with the best of intentions anyway) from time to time out of some sense of pride in my work. But as the boss shows up never to almost never, the hours are almost always mine own. I’ve come up with some fairly ingenious ways of passing the time.

I unlocked the door, flipped the sign, made a pot of supremely sub par coffee and got down to the business of the day: reading the free newspapers I had been handed coming out of the subway and making sure nobody stole anything. Like the world still has book thieves. At least it was quiet.

The first customer was a hoarder. I doubt he even knew how to read. The old guy was in all the time checking over everything in the recent acquisitions pile, anything I decided to feature as a book I found interesting, and always asking if we got in any new first editions. Every time he came in he bought something. Random shit. Fantasy paperbacks, classic works of high modernist fiction, obscure theory texts, big full color art books as long as they had naked ladies in them, but never a first edition. I don’t know why he kept asking after those because despite the selection he never seemed interested in any of the titles.

He was the only company I had all morning. Just him and my thoughts.

Murder’s a tricky thing. Taking a life anyway. The priests and the holy men will tell you that it stains the soul. That it binds the victim to you for eternity. Not just this life. Eternity. A debt that can never be paid. And no matter where you go or what you do or how many candles you light, prayers you say, incense you burn, good deeds you do, forgiveness you ask for, bottles you drink whenever you close your eyes you will see him staring back at you in disbelief, confusion, pain, then nothing. But I never believed anything I was told. I just always felt that I could do it. That I had the capacity to take on the role of the fates, cut the thread, and walk away unscathed. But maybe that’s worse. I guess it boils down to a fascination with the forbidden, the taboo, the unheimlich and a certain always drink the Kool-Aid, try anything twice, life is about the experiences you can’t write home about philosophy. But that only works in theory. Or maybe it was just one of those days.


Suffering from an extreme case of boredom after waking from my noontime nap, I rubbed one out in the well stocked porn and erotica section to lurid tales of young boys seducing their mothers with fifteen inch cocks or the ease with which a surprisingly attractive and well proportioned woman can convince another surprisingly attractive and well proportioned woman to taste her forbidden fruits until the sweet nectar flows. They came illustrated.

My girlfriend called me as I was finishing up and chatted all light and breezy as if last night had never happened. I never make the claim that I understand women or try to situate the problem of my relationships solely in the fairer sex. I am none so delusional. But this girl was making it damn hard for me not to make inappropriate generalizations. I agreed to meet for a late lunch. Not a normal occurrence but as most of the customers would show up during regular lunch breaks and the after work “rush” I figured it wouldn’t much matter if I ducked out for a hour or two.

It was a drowning in smarm fancy hideaway that I knew was going to be a problem as soon as I saw the façade. Just like her to suggest it. It’s not that I can’t handle the elegant life or know which fork to use and not to wipe my face on my sleeve in public but I have a general aversion to the wealthy and even more so to the hangers on of the wealthy. Sure the diners at the joint were going to be the kind of people that my crowd would exchange mutual sneers of disgust on principle alone, but they generally mind their own damn business. Nothing worse than having a waiter look down on you, a maitre d scoff because your salary is only slightly higher than his. I can understand how a trust fund and a life soaked in luxury can give a man an inordinate sense of self-worth and entitlement but you expect a least a little solidarity among the equally oppressed. No wonder I don’t like “actors.”

She broke up with me before entrées showed. I had just started nibbling on table bread when she dropped all the usual one liners. Communication breakdown, growing apart, knew this was coming, staying friends, etc. But I didn’t see how clichés had anything to do with her blowing strangers in dive bar men’s rooms. Or maybe she had finally met the right stranger. Finally found the guy who wouldn’t be an utter disappointment when she hooked her cunt and claws onto his gravy train. I don’t know why she made me come all the way out here for this. Staying at work would have been more fun. I downed my scotch, her martini and left.


Back at the store I grabbed a beer from the mini fridge and tore up the note some douche had left on the door about being closed during the afternoon. I’m sure he had waited salivating, pounding on the door, begging for just one page, just to smell the spine, the binding glue for twenty minutes. And then another twenty after writing the note just so he could see me read it and then really tell me off. Fucking losers. Like the world is going to end if some bibliophile can’t get his fix. For the day I had a grand total of oh about twenty customers and maybe half of them bought something. When I closed up the only people I had to kick out were a couple of fourteen year olds trying to discover their sexuality in public. World don’t need scholars.

Normally after closing up I shuffle my way down the street to this nice cozy little bar where they know my name and the generous barmaid smiles at me enough that I almost believe that she likes me more than my tips. The music on the juke is usually solid if slightly skewed to a campy revival of classic rock and songs best left in the coffins they earned in the eighties and clientele is mostly regulars: guys that will leave you alone if you want to be left alone, but an ear to fill when you need to speak your piece. A few nights a week one or two of the guys will drop by and from there we will tear out into the shadows throw back beers at any number of the questionable establishments of the area. Drinking and laughing about the good old days that we probably never had and definitely can’t remember. Or I would go out with my special lady. Not tonight. I wasn’t in the mood. I just wanted to dig a hole and pull the dirt back in over myself. I just wanted to hide away where I could never be found. I just wanted to let my guard down for once.

Heading back towards the subway, a liquor store caught my eye and I figured what the fuck. I hit up the ATM outside, figuring I could that I wouldn’t shopping for two for a while I got a little extra and decided to splurge on something nice. I always feel at home around all that booze. Like an empty cathedral, sacral fonts lining the walls, but no one around to take your confession. But if I was in the mood for confessing I would have gone to my bar and waited for my girl to get off. I circled sanctum, noting the details as only a connoisseur of the fermented can. I stood so long in front of the whiskey bottles that the clerk started giving me and the shotgun under the counter equally suspicious glances. Bad days all around. Finally settling on a twelve year old bourbon, I paid up and started thinking about where I could go to sample the little girl.

If you are looking for isolation and solitude there is nothing quite like a graveyard at night. Not for the faint of heart or those afraid of running into demons of the deep, spirits from the ether, ghosts roaming the earth unsated, and teenagers smoking pot. Little more than a small closed park with a more than average stock of bones in the ground, I use the place as an escape, a refuge. From the noise, the pressure, the outside.

I have my favorite places. One has two massive sixteen foot angels with each with a harsh almost menacing aspect guarding over the grave of six year old twins. Another is a really out of the way marker, a small foot by foot square of marble half covered with weeds and set under an oak tree with no name, just dates. Here in the darkness are monuments to life and its frailty fairly yelling their stories to the world if anyone took the time to happen by, but no one does. And so their graves mark their dying, cold and alone, in far more poignant ways than ever intended.

I picked a lonely tree in a slight depression near the center of the grounds, as far away from the streets and the car horns and the sirens and the barking dogs and the screaming children as you can get in a city this big, this full. I drew the bourbon from my bag and uncorked it. I took a pull of the smooth amber goodness: white oak casks, silky, but with just enough bite to remind you that the proof is up around a hundred and it will kick if you aren’t careful.

He had probably been following me for a while. Since the cash machine or maybe he noted my wallet in the liquor store. There wasn’t much else for an explanation. I was dressed decent, stylish, but not like I had money. If he was looking for a whale he would have gone elsewhere. I figure he was looking for a sure thing. And if he hadn’t stepped on the twig and showed his hand before I got good and drunk odds are life would have turned out just a bit differently.

He told me not to fucking move and flashed a poorly crafted knife that showed a chipped but razor edge in the whisper of moonlight peeking through the clouds. I nearly dropped the bottle. I nearly fell. I nearly shit myself. Instead I just froze. And not because he wanted me to but because my fight or flight reflex seemed to be running on slow motion. But my mind was reeling. I was not in the mood for this.

He was already twitchy; throwing looks all around as if he figured he had been followed too. Unlikely that anyone else was going to be around though. Not on a school night. You could tell he wasn’t practiced at this, but even less practiced at someone saying no to his shaky hold of that dime store blade. I asked god if this was it, if this was the end. Instead of an answer, all I got was a blur, a vanished instant of eternity. Something must have spooked him. A stray noise drifting in from the outside, a carrion bird settling into the tree, the gentle murmurs of fate, some other hidden secret of a graveyard in the witching hour. But he lunged with his blade and before I had time to think my left arm was bleeding and my bourbon was all over both of us, glass fragments lodged in his skull. I was panting, heart pounding, adrenaline coursing through my veins. Senses sharper, more fully alive than I have ever been. He wasn’t moving.

The EMTs pronounced him at the scene while I was still explaining my trespassing tale to a couple of overworked cops who were too tired and jaded to do much more than nod at the appropriate places, dutifully insisting that I leave no detail out.

I had never killed a man. Until now.

It was emptier than I expected. Cold, hollow. Boring, almost.

Maybe I should blame television.

Monday, February 18, 2008

lonely days in paradise: an early fragment

3,000 days of sun. Continuous blinding fury. The shade is minimal, fleeting, and scant help. I spend the afternoons carving coconut husks into shapes of memories and delusions, fast sipping aged rum. Sleeping away the rest of the timeless moments, A perfect Buffett fantasy. But i was getting restless. A wisp of a cloud crossed the sun as i finished my latest masterpiece. I downed the last of my bottle and got up. I needed something to do.

public transportation

The N lurches along in the stifling darkness mumbling platitudes to the ailing tracks. Desperate and alone, we hid behind newspapers, ipods, and blank faces jarring with over-thought ensembles silently mouthing prayers for sunlight, weekends, escape velocity. we are the seething masses of humanity gone in the teeth and like so much back ally trash just being pushed idly to and fro by the shopkeep's stoned stepson.

Like a live action tale of human misery. No sleeping beggars or fire breathing preachers on this car, no young lovers in the obvious bloom of passion being carried along to their next joyous adventure, nothing to draw us out of ourselves and bring the sneer to our lips at the inconvenience, the gall, the greener grass we don't really believe in. Just dull, listless eyes that can almost see the ghostly shackles; keeping us complacent, defeated. the only thing that keeps us plodding along is the vague notion of a destination and the numb cant: it could be worse.

As we finally emerge into the abysmal daylight out on the bridge, a collective shudder makes its way around the car. We put on shades, pull down hats, turn from the windows in fear and anger only to turn back. The illusion of fresh air and freedom brightens some, starting wistfully over the water towards the shining pinnacles of the financial district, the ocean, that vast emptiness that is never empty enough, never free enough; just cold, bitter, and mocking. But mostly we hide, wanting it all to be over. The trip, the train ride, everything. Mostly we just want hope to finally give up, lie down, and die so that we can let go, so that we can give up.

And we plunge back into the darkness.
"it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah."
- Leonard Cohen

Finally the sun dipped behind the buildings, leaving his world in shadow. He debated taking off the sunglasses now that they were no longer absolutely necessary, but decided against it. A fashion statement is a fashion statement. And nobody ever knocked the Blues Brothers; they were on a mission from god. Maybe he was too. She should be calling soon. It was just about that time. She had promised to call when she was close. she said it would be soon. He wasn't certain how soon. he didn't wear a watch and didn't want to take his cell out again to check the time; it would only highlight his impatience.

And then he would start getting anxious. And desperate. He would assume that something more important came up and that she wouldn't be able to make it. He would assume that something more important came up and that she wouldn't be able to make it. he would assume that something bad happened. He would assume that she left him for one of her ex-boyfriends, or her secretary, of Danny, the man she worked with on nearly all of her projects and had nothing but good words for. Or a woman. Besides, it was too early to be concerned. He had a fairly good time sense and there was no need to go to all that trouble just to be sure. When the time was right, fate would stem in and the phone would ring. All else was meaningless.

The wind was picking up. He ducked inside Pangloss Coffee and relented, taking off his aviators. Wearing sunglasses inside isn't a fashion statement. It just makes you an ass. He slipped them into the breast pocket of his micro suede blazer and surveyed the room. Not bad. The talent was out in force. The wall clock read 7:19. His estimation had been fairly accurate.

Despite wanting something a little stiffer than caffeine, he knew that he had to be on point when she called; more so when she showed up. There was no margin for error anymore. Whatever chances he might have had in the beginning were likely gone by now. He was far too old to get away with being a party boy lush on any regular basis. He ordered a medium coffee and a double espresso. He still had minutes to kill and it wouldn't hurt to wait for her here. It would make the rendezvous more convenient. They had enjoyed coffee here together on several previous occasions. it would save the difficulty of wandering around strange corners playing Marco cell phone Polo. He drowned his espresso in a raw sugar and then downed the whole cocktail at once. The definition of bittersweet. The coffee he left black and to cool. The clock read 7:24.

He needed something to do. Sitting at the window watching the strange faces drift past in the streets wasn't enough. He kept seeing strange visions. She kept walking past in the arms of other men. He was just about to call out when he realized that the woman was blonde. He slid his cell out of his pocket, put it away without glancing. She told him that she would call. He could not break protocol. She would think that something was the matter. And then he would have to tell her and that would be embarrassing. Or he would lie. And drive the wedge just a little deeper. He sipped his coffee. The clock read 8:06. He picked up a newspaper that had been left behind but couldn't focus on the inane gossip and hackneyed writing. The woman next to him was twittering on her cell; doe-eyed and oblivious. The baby talk was insufferable. No, you hang up. His coffee had gone gold and bitter. He finished it off with a gulp and a grimace.

an object lesson, or a lesson in objects

The bottle is full, just opened. Settled on the floor with half a dozen of its empty cousins; impatient but waiting. Thursday afternoon is a rare time to be laying into scotch without garnering looks of disdain for the good citizens of the world, but in the dark dining room there are no judges, no spectators. It’s a chipped glass that he tips the long elegant bottle into, the neck just barely caressing the rim. He doesn’t need ice. He doesn’t have an ice maker or ice tray even. But he doesn’t need ice. He takes his scotch neat. He likes that: neat. It’s the opposite of his life but the description par excellence of his bottle. This new, clean, unsoiled bottle. Soon all of that will change. The bottle will become half empty like the rest of his life, fall to ruin like his marriage, his career, his health. But right now she’s beautiful. She’s whole. She’s perfect.

The bottle is full, just opened. The floor is covered in broken glass, the remains of six or seven bottles of liquor by the looks of it. But it’s Friday night and that’s cause for celebration no matter how bad your life is, how fucked up your job is, how shitty your sty is. So he tips the bottle into a coffee mug and fills it damn near the brim. Here’s to life. Here’s to booze.

The bottle is full, just opened. His eyes are bleary and he is uncertain of a great many things. But the whiskey brings clarity of a kind. He doesn’t remember what day it is, but that hardly seems to matter. He brings the bottle to his lips and tastes freedom, escape, oblivion.