“OM…AHA! is a continuation of Good Morning, Wednesday, and the process of finding the magic in the mundane. They are the meditations, realizations and observations from this new state of mine . . . Nebraska.” 

– Rourke

 

 

November 24th, 2021

 

Before I woke I was in it. I had come out of delirium and into dream, going through the deep recesses of my unconscious. Scenes in the mind were brought forth pointing me towards something sacred, something hidden in the darkest part of my being. I did not have to consult a shaman. I did not have to take ayahuasca or LSD. It was there, pouring out from my pineal gland into another existence.

I was here on the corner of 50th and Chicago in Omaha. But I wasn’t, really. I was somewhere else. A tall building in a foreign land. Why I was here I do not know. The reason escapes me. It did even then as I stood in a large open room thousands of feet off the ground floor where normally there would be a cubicle maze, but there wasn’t. It was open with desks in manicured rows about the place and on each desk there were large white computers domed in shape that seemed to be swallowing the person who occupied it like a giant helmet. All of these computers seemed to be doing something but what it was I haven’t a clue. Perhaps they were sucking the imagination from those that occupied them. And I had a feeling that every floor in the building would look much the same. And as I made my way through this room someone with me recognized that something was off. This place wasn’t what it appeared to be. They were hiding something here. Whomever they were. Those who keeps secrets. Those who withhold the truth. That they. How this person knew I couldn’t say, but I could sense it too. There was something off about it. This friend stranger and I got out of there and soon we were in a bathroom down the hall. The bathroom was a big white room with employees in white shirts and ties and slicked black hair and they all looked the same going in and out one after the next in an endless stream and my friend and I stood off to the the side where there was a large grated vent on the wall, one the size of a door, and we stood there and waited until an alarm went off and every single one of these drones had emptied out of the stalls and left the room. Then my friend removed the door and we entered.

It was a long narrow corridor like a catacomb, the walls dark and dank with a faint light down at the far end of the thing that seemed miles and miles away. We headed towards it. Soon an echoing became known as we made our way. A distorted ballroom music as if the Caretaker were somewhere in there and the closer we came towards it the more distinct it became. More defined and beautiful, though it still crackled and popped. Sand in the grooves of my mind. We passed a dark figure sitting crouched against the wall, mumbling an incantation. Meaningless words to most though meaningful in their madness. We moved on. Further and further down the long hallway. Soon more of these figures appeared. One after the next. Each of them with their own bent ways. The more we passed, the more we recognized these abnormalities. These quarks. Some talking to themselves. Others moving their limbs like contortionists. One of them was licking the walls. Another had three hands. And then we were there, at the entrance to where the light came in and the music played in beautiful lilts and the threshold opened up into a cathedral like space, walls of stale concrete and large pillars in rows along them. Above us the light passed through pale glass and there was no way of knowing if it came from the sun or from the false lighting of the building. At the center of this great room there was a grouping of the most fantastical creatures I had ever seen. All of them dancing to the music that seemed to be emanating from their being. And I knew right then that they had been banished here. Not only because of how they looked, but by what lied within them. What they were capable of. They were grotesque flowers that bloomed with real beauty. Real truth. They could not deceive who and what they were. It would be impossible. They could not hide their existence, their form. They did not resemble anything human. No simian-like features. Not one of them could be recognizable walking down Dodge towards downtown. Or sitting at a table outside Blue Line coffee smoking a cigarette and reading a novel by Murakami. Some of them held a physical shape like the small round headed thing without a face that felt the pain of others and could heal with its embrace. Or the one that could create worlds with sound coming from a giant hole in its body like cymatics from a Tibetan prayer bowel. Then there were others that held no form, really, though they were visible. One a phantasmagoric phantom with a rainbow like body that resembled two connected optic nerve tails that trailed off into a single unit. A beautiful thing that I would later see in a vision in which it became hardened and grey like the stone walls around us by way of insults from those who looked upon it without curiosity or wonder like an idea that gets killed before it is born. And I stood among these creatures and observed them. They became known and seen by me and I to them. They had accepted me into their fold and knew they could trust me. I was not there to harm them. To destroy them. But to observe. To share what I had seen. To tell everyone what lies in the darkest parts of us. What is not out there, but in here. Right here. Beneath the workings of the thing.

What happened next I don’t remember. I don’t remember what they all looked like or why they had been shoved down into the bowels of mediocrity. I don’t know why dream tigers become docile house cats, languid and lazy. I don’t know if there was anything to do about it, only that it be known that they were there, waiting. Existing. Being. That they are there should anyone seek them out.

When I woke up I was covered in sweat. My blanket and pillow soaked through. The body working without ever taking a step. My mind infinite existences, waiting for my eyes to close and finally see.

 

 

November 17th, 2021

 

The world is garbage. That’s what she said to me over the metallic tones of rage and syncopation ringing in my ears.

I leaned in over the bar.

“Is that what you really think?”

She nodded with certitude, her sentiments emphasized by the distortion emanating from the three-piece on stage that called themselves Cat Piss. A distinct and familiar odor of guitar, bass and drums. Banshees screaming into a microphone.

Who hurt you? That’s what I wanted to say in that moment. What did someone do to you to make you think that the world is garbage? But I didn’t.

“You’ve never experienced something beautiful?”

“Why? Is this supposed to be one of them?”

“It could be.”

“You’re setting the bar awfully low.”

She turned and walked to the other end of the bar before I could say another word.

  I recognized that nihilistic mask, acting as protector from ever feeling something good so that she couldn’t get hurt by that which is exalted. Praised. Expectations laid to waste. I couldn’t blame her though. Even heroes can be letdowns. Why would I try to persuade her otherwise. It wasn’t my place. Nor the space. Some people struggle climbing out of a dumpster in order to get a clear view of the balancing act that attracts us to this circus. The hordes gathered round to witness and participate in this tragic comedy filled with tears and laughter. Sure, it’s a mess. But there’s beauty amidst the grotesque. I’m sure of it.

The following day the words still lingered. The world is garbage. I thought back to a few days prior when the first snowfall of the year lightly dusted the streets of Omaha. How I walked in it down 50th and felt the cold snowflakes lick my face, cover my sweater in their arabesque shapes. I felt warm and glad for the cold climate creeping in as I sat in Lola’s and stared out at the cars passing along Dodge, the smell of coffee and sweet flour baking. The smell of prosciutto and eggs steaming with parmesan. I thought about Becky, the forty-two year old woman I met at PTL who changed the course of her life at the age of thirty-six by becoming a chef. I thought about the woman at the BFF Members Ball with her large breasts dancing on her chest as she laid with her back to the concrete floor, topless, working it with all she had, the magical creatures of the Pet Shop and their floral affiliates howling, hollering, cheering her on. I thought of Garrett that night at the Sydney, working the floor to his own rhythm with a glass in hand as if he were Jerry Garcia in an endless groove. His long dark curls swinging about his head. I thought of Guff and her gift of The Giver. That story of an insipid world full of false feelings, and how Jonas, the new Receiver, began to see and feel with clarity the world that once existed. Our world. And how he wanted to share his new discovery with everyone. His family. His friends. Only he couldn’t. It was forbidden. And how he fled into the unknown toward the Elsewhere, to return the memories of the past to his people so that they could feel again. The love. The pain. The pleasures. All that encompasses the human experience.

The world can be garbage at times. Sure. It can be hell. Suffering. Loneliness. Corruption. Murder. Rape. It can be a thing clawing at the inside of your skull for days. Months. Years. All that resides within trapped, wanting to break-out, to escape because the pain is too great and the ways in which we’ve pantomimed the past gives us little in how to navigate the madness we’ve caged while our lives get hurled towards that finality . . . DEATH . . . Even now, as I sit here waiting for the words to arise within me visions of my past come to mind and I am saddened by my own actions in it. By the way I’ve treated my friends. Strangers. Loved ones. How I’ve lacked the capacity to hold space. To ask questions. Understand. Set boundaries. Let another feel something real. Whether or not I agree with it. And as the days grow cold I continue to wrestle my own ineptitudes in order to get a grasp on the fact that I am a monster, a thing of rage and light. I am a beast with impulses that are not to be suppressed within a frame, but to be harnessed. Expressed. Channeled. Put forth with purpose. I am not my external circumstances, and I am not my inner conflict. I am the choices I make in spite of them. I am not an entity in a vacuum. This is happening, and will continue to happen so long as there is a heart pumping beautiful blood through my veins.

How can the world be garbage with goodwill and flowers and sunsets and the moon lit up in the vastness of space with all its stars and galaxies whirling to the music of their own creation and MUSIC! What about music! Concierto de Aranjuez in low light. And what about inside-jokes and belly-aching laughter! What about that! What about silliness and children and farts and sneezes and dreams and green things and orange and blue and yellow too! What about them. What about friendship and warm fires with good wine and what about jumping into a pile of dead leaves and what about light on wet concrete and what about our abilities to bargain with the future, to sacrifice in the present for something that may possibly come to be. What about touch. What about making love. What about books and sharing and inspiration. What about ideas! And what about this, right here, and the way those four words were breathed past her lips and came to life, how they stirred something in me. How this energy between us has been moved, shifted, transferred. This thing between us that never dies. That never ends.

If that’s all just trash, then consider me a custodian.

 

 

November 10th, 2021

 

It starts slow . . . It starts with nothing, really. Nothing at all. Just the chair and being in it. Sitting. Waiting. Nothing else. Just waiting, or not waiting because nothing else matters. That’s all there is to it. It’s this. And before you know it’s happening, you’re doing the thing without wondering if anything will come of it.

Sometimes its staring at the walls, at all the things one accumulates in a lifetime. The books. The pictures. The furniture. Anything that can happen in a moment and become something else. Sometimes it’s letting go of what isn’t. Sometimes it’s a blank page that remains blank for hours. Days. And then something happens. First with a word. And then another. And another one after that and then it starts to take shape with marks and lines and it doesn’t make sense but that’s okay. That’s how it starts. There really isn’t any other way to go about it. It just happens after awhile. And then everything begins to connect because the mind has been affected in a certain way. Glimpses of imprints impressed upon the mind. Acted out and superimposed. An existence that tickles the inside of the skull. Like standing there, staring down at the golden leaves on 50th halfway to Dodge. The cars passing along to and from Underwood. A warm day before rain. Maybe the last in four months. But that’s not important because you’re in it. Headed down the road. And the world goes its own way as it always has, you going yours. On it. A part of it. Connected. Moving. Or not. It doesn’t matter. And the aches and the breaks take place though there’s not necessarily a say about it. That’s just the way things go but you participate nonetheless. Why not. It’s happening. This and that. Then something else.

Sometimes its sitting in the black leather chairs at the low bar of Pageturner’s with the low yellow light of the candles, the darkness of the place holding you there with a friend or no one at all or the drunk sitting next to you who leans over and says something, not making any sense and so you order a House Jam to speak his language finding out he’s not much older than you, living at home, trying to change the course of his life from selling crack in Minneapolis to selling houses in Dundee. “I had to think bigger,” he says. Some dreams born of a struggle. And after awhile, after he’s talked in circles about the thing, it becomes clear that the answer isn’t there though it’s part of it and so you get up and head out into the night, down the road towards whatever comes next.

Sometimes you have to follow the thought. See where it leads. Perhaps it points you in the right direction or at least help the realizations become clearer. Less pixelated. More defined around the edges so that the colors become distinct. The images more bearable. Sometimes you become the symbol. The thing missing for someone else. The piece out of place for another. You become an identifier, an aspiration. A direction out of complacency. That death. But that’s part of it.

Sometimes it takes a text at 8:20 in the morning from someone you love. Sometimes it takes a lot of doing nothing or doing something else for it all to become clear. Sometimes it’s putting a period at the end of a long rant, not as a finality, but a placeholder for something else to begin.

 

 

November 3rd, 2021

 

Nine months. That’s how long it’s been. That’s how long I’ve been here on Fowler Avenue. Between these walls. Sitting in this room. Staring out the window at the bare limbs of the Ash tree, at the snow and the green things and now the fallen leaves covering the earth, the tree bare once more.

It is strange the way life twists and bends. How in a matter of moments our worlds shift, flip, go from this to that and then something entirely different. Something new. Experiences hold no shape. Their containers change from face to face. Cada cabeza es un mundo. And I’d argue that every second is much the same. Our hands cannot grasp at the wind in much the same way Time slips past our vision. That healer. That conjurer of happenings. One moment this page could be as expressionless as a blank face and in the next a schizophrenic symposium from a solipsistic wordsmith . . . It’s true . . . And much more can happen in the expanse of 273 days. The constellations change and with them so, too, do our lives. Our temperaments. Our outfits. In nine months a population can percolate to an uproar and then dissipate without so much as a whisper. In nine months we could be sipping cold suds on the red surface of Mars. In nine months a life develops in the womb, all the little nuances of growth that go unnoticed, and be birthed into being, joining the rest of us in our becoming . . . In nine months our fingernails grow an entire inch.

In nine months I have made a space for new memories. New instances. In nine months I’ve watched the inside of our home grow into a garden. Each room blooming to life with color and warmth. Guff’s green thumb going to work. I’ve watched the way the sun shifts, reflects off her mirrorballs and splashes the walls with little balls of white light. I’ve watched the way the pictures change as she continues to play with their placement. Her constant reminder that nothing stays the same, that she too is an evolution. A process. Preparation. In nine months I’ve collected the sound of the church bells from down the street on a cool day with sun bright. I’ve sat with Tom, our neighbor, and listened to his stories about the FBI knocking on his door because his ex-wife embezzled funds from the bank that employed her, or when he used to fly planes and how he crashed in a corn field and walked away without a scratch. In nine months I’ve watched the same young man walk past my office window in his own syncopated way. Each step an off-beat. One then two then a tap of his shoe on the sidewalk before moving on, cautious not to step on any crack for fear it may break his mother’s back. For months I saw him coming and going always with a water bottle in his back pocket, a bottle of hand sanitizer in his front right, phone in hand, staring at it as he walked, listening to the Nebraska game or whatever else he played on the thing, but always staring at it as he walked with dark glasses and frazzled curly hair, sometimes with his two round dogs. And sometimes Guff and I would see him as we drove down Military by the park there or sometimes near Benson or clear down Keystone near Cass. Always the same way. Always syncopated. Head bent. One arm behind his back.

In nine months many other strange things have occurred on Fowler, like the time there was that violent storm that woke me up in the middle of the night with things clashing and crashing and clamoring about outside hitting the roof and me, alone, jumping out of bed to see the Siberian elm in our backyard bending like a palm tree and I not knowing what to do, never living in the midwest before, pacing around the house as light flashed outside the windows, saying SHIT SHIT SHIT thinking it could a tornado and wondering if I should run to the basement and before completely panicking checking my phone only to find out it was a severe thunderstorm that left a large gash in the siding of our house and the rest of Omaha without power for at least a week and so resolved went back to bed. Or the time I couldn’t sleep and saw a flash of light slash across the ceiling as I laid there with Guff sleeping peacefully beside me and in my curiosity got up to look out the window and not being able to see going to the back deck to get a better look in my boxers, finding out it was a cop searching through the back window of a car on the street below and then how the scene quickly escalated with more patrol units arriving and blocking off the street and a helicopter circling overhead. And then I woke Guff up and we stood in the sun room and watched the whole thing unfold with officers circling the place, standing watch in the bushes just beyond our back fence with their night vision goggles on in case someone made a break for the back door. And then our roommate joined us drunk with a beer in hand, as if to make the thing feel more like we were watching Cops, all of us speculating, thinking it could be a hostage situation or domestic violence and then hearing over the loudspeaker a voice say, “COME ON OUT SO WE CAN TALK ABOUT THIS.” and then another voice yell out, “I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING!” As more and more patrol units arrived the whole thing becoming a spectacle and I wondered if we were the only ones who were watching the whole thing going down and if it would end in a bloodbath or an arrest and in the meantime listening to our roommate tell us about his crush on his cousin and his grandmother giving him her blessing on the matter and after two and a half hours of standing around waiting, watching, wondering the thing dissolved and slowly the cars peeled away, the whole matter over leaving the street as silent as it had been before and us not knowing if they got him out of the house or he’d finally given himself up.

In nine months a lot can happen. Nothing is what it was and there’s no going back. In nine months we either carry the things that have come to pass, or leave them dead in the dirt and move on. In nine months we might even come to love the thing we hated, accept what we haven’t, and so grow closer to the person we can possibly be.

 

 

 

October 27th, 2021

 

It was on the corner of 50th and Radial Highway at the gas station there. He was standing outside the white van screaming at the top of his lungs to the woman behind the wheel. His clothes disheveled. His face dirty and caved in at the cheekbones like any other amphetamine addict. And he was screaming . . . Belligerently. The woman was small and frail and sat timidly without saying as much as a peep.

God, I thought. What a monster.

The sky was grey and a cold chill swept through the Benson area and the rest of Omaha. I pulled my jacket collar up around my neck and held it close to my body as I pumped twenty dollars worth into the Volvo. I looked around to see if anyone else was seeing what I was seeing. Heard the growl of discontent. There was only one other car at the pumps and the man seemed to be minding his own business, ignoring the whole scene. The woman in the van inched it forward and the man screamed again.

“STOP! DAMNIT! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!”

Then he got in the van. Closed the door.

When I was done pumping I drove past and got a good look at them. These two creatures, existing. Inhabiting the world and so making their own mess of the thing. And I wondered how it came to be. These two. What bound them to each other. What kept them coming back for more. Him and her. They were older and their skin leathered though it makes no difference which generation stakes its claim on any poor soul who seems to have accepted their ill-chosen state. But what do I know. Maybe it was paradise for them. Maybe she had a quirk for aggression. The tone of his voice did her in. Gave her the goosebumps. Made her tingle all over. And maybe he wasn’t at all dissatisfied with his frail partner. Maybe he preferred the submissive type. Got his kicks from obedience. The woman gleamed straight ahead. Her face stone still. Eyes blinking in her head. He gave her a mouthful but I couldn’t make out the words. Then I was gone. Headed down the road.

Words swirled around my head as I drove. My mind trying to rationalize the behavior. Find the commonality between us, as I too have raged incoherently at my partner. Made her suffer at the cost of my own pain at the belly of my being. Ripped down golden tinsel and stomped out the YAY balloons above the hallway. Tore at my hair as if to rip it from the top of my head. And as the scenes played on I became horrified.

Oh no . . . That could be me.

And even worse.

That IS me!

I cringed and felt the gut wrenching truth grip me. Tear at my insides. A wave of sadness followed and the tears came and rained down my face without me wanting them. When I reached Capitol Bindery my face was wet and I sat immobilized. I couldn’t move. I cried uncontrollably. My whole body convulsing.

Go on, a voice seemed to say. Go on and end it. What good is it to keep going, to carry on in this way. You’re only adding more pain. Creating more suffering. You’re no better than those you point fingers at and hurl your judgements . . . Remember when you said your goal in life was to diminish the amount of suffering in the world? Remember that? How you professed it with pride as if it were bequeathed by some higher power . . . But what you failed to see your own pain. Your own suffering. You forgot to look inward into your own dark cave for the treasure that you seek. So you moved on. Covered it with drink and weed and books. You thought knowledge would give way to wisdom. But all rivers run into the same sea. It brought you here, to face the monster in you.

My hands trembled. I held them out and looked at them. I could see them before my eyes but I couldn’t feel them. I became lightheaded and leaned back in my seat. Closed my eyes. The voice continued.

You lack the courage to be vulnerable. You lack the strength to tear out your insides and hold them out for world . . . You’re afraid. Afraid of what they might think. That they might think you’re foolish. A coward. Weak. But now look at you. Blubbering like a baby at the harrowing truth. You are a mirror. Can you not see? You are a mere reflection of the pain you inflict. Everything you think and believe in your soul will come to surface in the way you see others. The way you act towards them . . . So go on. Get it over with. Get on with it.

I ignored its attempts to persuade me. I ignored the imaginary threats for intangible objects, knowing that it wouldn’t solve anything. The world would go on suffering with or without me. And I remembered then a quote a friend used to say often. The love you withhold is the pain that you carry. And I began to wonder if the pain I cause is in direct correlation with my inability to give love. Give it freely. Without restraint. Shower it on those closest to me. Strangers. Beggers. Theives. Dictators.

Beside the bindery there is a gallery, and in its large window sat a dummy with a woman’s face, the head bent in a sorrowful way but the mouth was showing its teeth, grinning with a forced expression. In the dummies’ lap there was another head. This one a man’s, and it was looking up at the other and it, too, was grinning. And I wondered if that’s what we do. If we just smile it all away. Put on our face. Play the persona. Shove the feelings down deep in our guts and walk the earth disillusioned. Make the suffering more insufferable for the weight they carry. For the heaviness of it all.

Suck it up! Grow a pair! Be a man! Stop being a pussy! Get over it! The old order seems to say. The Past’s solution to trauma that has created a whole world of people without the proper tools to cope with experiences that leave us feeling hopeless, empty, alone, and so perpetuates the cycle of misery and coldness. That turn us away from one another. Isolates us even more along with the screens and the news and social media influencers.

I took a good look at the dummies in the window then, at my own reflection beside them there on Vinton with grey clouds and the cars passing by and I knew full well it was within my power to change the course of my life. To take the river and bend it to my will. Though it is no easy task it is possible to be the masters of our own selves. Sometimes, to make it better, we have to take one step back in order to take two steps forward. We have to get a good look at what lies before us. We have to renegotiate our contracts with life. Create new boundaries. Understand the conditions in which we’ve placed ourselves. Then we can begin again. With mirth. With love. With a new burning ferocity to live without restraint, so that all the warm things that seem to get swept under the rug of bitter rhythms can find their way back into our relationships, our connections with one another.

I’m no a monster. And neither are you. We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve been given. And there’s always a choice to do better.

 

 

October 20th, 2021

 

Sometimes there’s nothing to say. Sure, there’s the want and need, perhaps, but nothing comes all the same. There is silence. A great torrent of nothingness sweeping through the mind. Why not. It has to come. Otherwise we’d continue on set in our ways. I’m no different. I want to participate. To play-act in the thing. Put on my mask and portray the hero, villain, clown. I want to laugh like an idiot. Feel the tears roll down my cheeks. Lick the salt from my lips. I want to scream out in wild rage at the abyss. Hear the trailing sound waves dissipate into the darkness. Let my existence persist, at least for the moment. Undress and caress the world with every fiber of my being. Give purpose to the blood in me. Why not.

Fall has come to Omaha. The autumnal tapestry covers the land in its soft golden light. A gust of wind blows down Fowler Avenue and shakes the Ash tree in our front yard, freeing a few colored leaves. The dead ones scratch across the asphalt and brings some life to this quiet street on a Tuesday afternoon. I hear it from my office window. And after a while I go outside to see what it’s all about. Sit in it. Read Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.

There’s a moving truck in our neighbors driveway. They got a new heater.

“There’s no reason for it, but we did it,” my neighbor says to me as I feel the warmth of the afternoon sun on my skin.

I put the book down. Opened the garage. Grabbed the rake. Shuffled the leaves around the yard. There is something nostalgic about it. About this time of year. There is a knowing in the silence of things that will come to pass. Of stories untold that too die in the silent way a tumult can feel like a rushing wave of silence. Our lives are perhaps one of the many colored leaves that, too, die out and fall to the earth and so become part of the changing seasons of life like an ecclesiastical rhapsody in blue, green, gold and burgundy. For some it is only a dream deferred. Their souls left wanting. Waiting. Yearning. What is left around the bend but death. Nature’s decay. Persephone’s decline to the underworld. And then the brittle boughs become the bones of our ancestors creaking in the cold, clawing at the siding of our homes. They have come to tell us something, something we know but haven’t quite understood. They say scratching at your window, “This is it! This is your life.” A retelling of the same old tale. One that will sadly have to be continuously told. Not to all. But most. I know I need that from time to time. I need a swift kick in the nuts to wake me up from slumber of monotony. I need Autumn to show me that the light diminishes and dies out sooner than we’d like and so brings the slow creeping cold climate with its demise. I got the leaves in a pile and emptied them into the trashcan. Put the rest in the planters for mulch. Spread them with my hand. Felt the earth with my fingers. When I was done I went back inside and sat back down in this chair. Stared out the window at the tree in the yard and the light and wind blowing the canopies beyond the houses across the street, the leaves shimmering like scales.

Some days are easy with nothing to say. There is the work and the life and motions of it all and there is a quiet reservation in the belly of my being that knows everything there is to know and so there is only the living, of feeling the sun and listening to trees in the wind and the colored leaves wrestling with their impermanence.

This may be my favorite season yet. What else is there to say.

 

 

 

October 12th, 2021

 

The last time I saw her they were wheeling her down the white corridor to cut her open. Moments before that she was writing out her will. She was sitting there, curled up next to me with her phone in her hands and every so often she’d pause and stare straight ahead as if looking far off in the distance. I knew right then with certainty it was possible to be in more than one place at a time.

What was she looking at? What did she see? A home for Millie? Her camera equipment? Her house? These were probably her first thoughts. But then again, I like to think she was in Iceland. Or Brazil. Thailand. Crossing the Pacific Ocean in a single boundless thought and back again without effort. I like to think she saw her favorite people in that instant and felt the love bursting forth from the center of her being and have it pour over the world and wash us all in that magnificent light. I knew whatever it was it wasn’t things but people, and places, and moments. And I knew then that whatever was going through her mind it wasn’t a thought anyone else would have in that moment. It was her, completely. Whatever it was it was going to be playful, even with Fear curling out from the corners of the room. She may have been thinking to herself, “Who gets my mirror balls?” Who gets to keep her spirit alive when she’s gone. Who gets to reflect her light. Who gets to see all sides of her and find their own reflections within them. Who gets the good stuff.

On Monday I came home from the bindery in the early afternoon and found a few empty pots on the front porch, soil strewn all over the place, as if whatever she was doing became irrelevant and then forgotten. I entered the house and found her grey and sullen and lacking the verve she’d had that morning. She told me the doctor called with new information. Everything she thought before was not. Instead of one ovary it was possible they would have to remove both of them and the ramifications of that procedure would change her physical and emotional health for the rest of her life.

“I did some research and found out it affects my heart and lungs and my respiratory system. It affects my sex drive and can send me into menopause early.”

This was not good news.

We walked around the neighborhood and she shared her fears with me. All the thoughts whirling around in her mind. I listened. There was nothing else I could do. What did I know about anything. I’d never had surgery. I’d never lost anyone truly close to me. Here was someone who’s been through it all. Who knows loss and pain and the terrible dispositions life tends to throw our way and she just let it out as we walked and I listened, as best I could.

When we got home we played card games for the rest of the day. We played games we’d collected from thrift stores and garage sales and piled into a cupboard above our fridge. We sat down and learned them and played and we fought and we argued over the rules and quickly forgot about it, because after all, they were only games, and it was fun losing to her and seeing her get excited, throwing her hands up in the air, screaming with her eyes closed. She had proven her hypothesis that instead of getting in an argument like a ball of snakes we would argue over trivialities and so leave room for love and appreciation.

  In the morning it was dark and quiet. The roads were empty. When we arrived at CHI Immanuel the parking lot was empty save for a few cars. Inside there wasn’t a soul, only an empty lobby and a phone placed outwardly on the front desk. Beside it a sign telling patients to “dial 1 if there is no attendant on duty”. Guff picked it up. Pressed the button.

“Hi. I’m at the front desk and there’s no one here . . . Uh huh . . . I forgot where I’m supposed to go . . . Oh, ok . . . Hello? . . . Hi . . . Yea I don’t know where I’m supposed to go . . . I’m having surgery . . . There’s a waiting room ?. . . Yea, I see it . . . Ok . . . Thank you.”

She hung up.

We walked down to the right past the pharmacy and the waiting room was just there on the left. An elderly woman in a wheelchair and possibly her daughter were the only ones in the place. We walked up to desk.

“Hi. I’m here for surgery.”

Guff gave her information. The receptionist fingered some paper work.

“You’re not supposed to be here for another hour.”

“They told me to come in at 5:30.”

“Hmm. Oh yea. I see it . . . Sorry I haven’t woken up yet.”

We took a seat and waited and that’s when she started on the will. I sat beside her. Waiting. There was nothing else to do. Then someone came and got her and she followed them to the back. About thirty minutes later they called me back. When I entered the small room #25 Guff looked scared with her mask and hairnet crooked on her head and the large gown loosely about her little frame, tubes and wires going this way and that as she lay there in the bed. I could see the fear on her face. I tried making her laugh. Mocked the nurse who talked a mile a minute and did a strange dance when she left. I leaned and kissed her through our masks and asked her how she was doing. Her eyes reddened and teared and I knew I’d hit something.

“I don’t like all the attention.”

I listened. Sat back. Noticed how the nurses and anesthesiologist and technicians and anyone else who came into the room spoke to her in an over-protective tone. As if their words could soothe the possible tragedy. Again her mind was reeling.

“Should I be more concerned?” Her eyes seemed to say though she was stygian and calm.

Then they rolled her away.

Three hours later I was in a Consulting Room, alone. I looked around the place. Drank my coffee. A nurse came back and told me the doctor would be with me shortly. Time dragged. He didn’t come. My mind began to lean into the shadow. I looked at the floor. At the couches and chairs. Followed the pattern with my eyes to keep the thoughts out of my mind. Anything to distract myself. Anything to keep the darkness at bay. I wrestled with the thoughts and then it hit me. Wait! What’s going on here! Why am I in a Consulting Room? Why are the doors closed? What’s taking so long? A room with no exits becomes a purgatory. On one side there is the waiting. And on the other, the results of the procedure. I thought about the events that led up to this moment. The last minute change of information. The effects. The long walk around the neighborhood. Why did I buy the flowers? For what end? We tend act towards the results we desire, but that’s not always the way things go. I tried to think of her outside this place. To see her face in another context. Like the first morning in her bed. Or riding bikes through Manhattan. The night we returned to Omaha and our new home. Her first gallery show. I shook the thoughts. No. This wasn’t a reality. It was only in my mind. I picked up my book. Fanned the pages. Read words that never registered. I got up and moved around and then sat back down in the same seamless movement. And then the door opened. The doctor entered. Closed the door behind him. He sat down and looked at me intensely.

“The procedure was perfect. She’s doing great.”

I breathed easy. A sense of relief and joy came over me as the doctor showed me pictures of the operation. The contents extricated from her body. He was proud of his work. I was too. When I went in to see her she was full of life. Her hair was down and she talked as if nothing had happened while eating a cup of applesauce.

“They have free applesauce,” she whispered. “And ice cream too. Do you want some ice cream?”

I laughed and shook my head no.

“But it’s free!”

She walked out of there and into the light and we talked about things that have not yet come to pass as if they would and that’s just the way it is.

 

 

October 6th, 2021

 

He was sitting with his back against the white wall of the parking garage. Red and blue lights flashed across his face. Cars passed in hesitation. Confused. Afraid. A horn clamored around the place. Wailing in an echo chamber, sounding alarm. Four officers stood around him, questioning looks of reproach on their faces. Scolding blue uniforms. Authority with a badge. His mouth ran a marathon. Words sprinted from his tongue. Adrenalin kicking on all cylinders. Pumping. I bet he couldn’t feel a thing. How could he after what he’d done.

Friday was the day and I woke up with a migraine like the ones I’d had before. Electric pressure shocking my temples. Throbbing. My hands numb. Half my face, too. I looked around me. At my nephew, Brixton, that blonde youth of imagination. I look at Guff. At her face. I know it. Her bangs and grey eyes. The eyebrows parted by her little crooked nose. Lips thin and sincere. I see them both though their names won’t come to mind. The feeling of the words are recognizable like trying to spell out mumblings in my mind. But there’s nothing, really. Only distortion. White noise and that damn pressure pounding into the side of my head.

My mouth moves.

“It’s happening again. My head hurts. My hands are numb. I can’t think.”

Guff sits at my side. Says soothing words.

“Relax. Drink water. Lay down”

I take her prescription and soon I’m asleep on the couch again.

When I wake the pain is still there. My brother drops three pills in my hand. Colorful capsules of purpose. Remedial tic-tacs. I look at them in the palm of my hand. Something in me cringes. I don’t like that I have to rely on them, that this is the solution. Temporal panaceas in place of neurological pathologies. But what can I do. I’m out of sorts. It’s the only way I’m going to operate for the day. I throw one back. Then another. Take a sip of water. Swallow. More people enter the condo. The bride’s father. Her brother-in-law. His soon-to-be son-in-law. Light follows them in and slashes a blinding flash over my eyes. I feel like vomiting. I don’t. They sit around and make gestures. Move their bodies. Say words. I’m on the couch working my way up and they’re talking to me. Being cordial. I tell them I’m out of it. Can’t function properly. The brother-in-law hands me some edibles. A package of sour rainbow belts. 100mg.

“This’ll do the trick,” he guarantees me.

I take a strip out and chew it. Swallow that too. Then half the Big Mac he hands to me. Whatever works. I take the third pill my brother gave me. Drink more water.

Finally I’m up moving around the place. Getting dressed: socks and slacks and shoes and dress shirt. Two-day old boxers. There’s someplace to be. The clock is ticking. Everyone starts loading my brother’s truck with decorations and decor. Golden accents. Pampas in vases. Candles. Details of a celebration. Their union. Then we’re off. Into the day. Reality slurring past me. I drink more water in hopes that either the pills or THC or greasy meat work their magic.

By two in the afternoon we’re at The Red Horse Barn in Huntington Beach. The setting. A red L shaped building with stables all around. In one of the rooms the groomsmen sat around a square table, drinking beer and old fashions. Talking about work and their youth. Somewhere the bride and her maids put on make-up. Get their hair done. Put on beautiful gowns. Then there’s pictures of the families and the ceremony with the sun falling behind the trees and flowers as a canopy. The vows of love and commitment. And when it’s over, after tears of joy and the rings and the first kiss as newly weds there’s more pictures with the bride in her dress and the two families now one. There was food and drinks and dancing and a photo booth. There were speeches and the cutting of the cake. I drank enough while this was happening in hopes to kill the pain. To distract me from my headache so I could be present and enjoy my brother’s day becoming a husband, of celebrating with Guff and my family. We danced and I got to watch Guff work the place over with her affections and curiosity. She was everywhere while I sat there or while I danced and I saw her win over the hearts of those closest to me and those I’ve never met before.

At one point I realized I could still feel the affects of the migraine. My hands tingled. My head throb occasionally. The drink wasn’t helping so I tapered off. Drank water. Sobered up. After the wedding and the goodbyes and the clean-up the wedding party and friends went out on the town. The Bungalow at Pacific City. A club on the beach made to feel like a frat party or spring break every night of the week. I felt disconnected from the scene. Out of place. Guff did her thing. Asked questions. Listened. Her curiosity bridging understanding and connectivity. Hearing peoples stories. I sat and watched it all happening. My brother’s new wife on the table dancing. Flashes from the crowd. Social media content. I got tired and sat there, spaced out. I wasn’t interested. I was partied-out. Exhausted. I leaned in and told Guff and then we were out of there.

On the way back to my brother’s, after we picked Millie-dog from her sitters and were on the 55 headed for Newport, there was a CRASH! A flash of white smashed against the side of the Volvo. A brand new white Range Rover blindsided us and then sped off.

“Holy shit!”

“Ahhhh!”

“What the hell was that?!”

“Oh my god.”

We looked at each other. Looked around us. Made sure we were still in one piece.

“It’s an old car anyway.”

She was right but it didn’t change the fact that this asshole was already zooming off into the night, through a yellow light, cutting across three lanes into a parking garage at Triangle Square without regard  that he’d just sideswiped a vehicle at nearly 80 miles an hour. Suddenly I’m wide awake and I pressed on the gas to go after him. Guff got on the phone. Called 911. Gives them our coordinates. Another white SUV gets between us. I keep an eye on him. Try to snap a picture of his license plate. He speeds around a turn. The car in front of me throws on its brakes. The Range Rover disappears out of sight. I make the turn, see his taillights cut around another turn, going deep into the earth. Finally he’s there, in front of me, backing up into a parking spot. I pass him then whip around and block him in. I shoot out of the Volvo fired up.

“What the fuck are you thinking?! You fucking hit us you asshole!”

“Calm down, bro. You swerved into me.”

This asshole.

The guy in the other white SUV comes out of nowhere. Apparently they’re buddies.

“What’s goin on?”

“Your friend hit us and then tried to get away.”

“I was right behind him the whole time. I didn’t see anything.”

These assholes.

I scream at him. It does nothing.

“Bro, I’m smarter than that. I’m not going to incriminate myself by saying it was my fault.”

I wanted to put a fist in his face. This asshole. Guff puts a hand on my arm.

“Calm down.”

I relax. In no time five patrol units arrive and immediately they’re on him. They surround him. Question him. An officer separates us. Asks us our story. We tell him. Meanwhile I see his mind whirling. His tongue gets tripped up.

“How much did you have to drink before you left?”

I hear him say a number, incriminating himself, but I can’t remember how many. They make him walk the line and he can barely stand. His steps are like an old man with rheumatoid arthritis in his knees. They set him against the wall. Sit him down.

“Do you feel bad?” Guff asksed considering I’d been in his position before.

“Not at all. I wasn’t as reckless when I got my DUI,” though I knew I had been reckless before in other ways and suffered the consequences. I’d been stupid and knew I had to learn my lesson one way or the other. When I got my DUI I had left the bar in a state of bliss with the windows down, cruising along Riverside Drive in Lake Elsinore and Van Morrison singing Into the Mystic through the speakers without a care in the world. I had been pulled over, not for my recklessness, but for a license plate light gone out. I’d been pulled with an excuse, not behavior. The conditions were different, though I realize it was necessary for me to go through it. I had been reckless. I’d thrown caution to the wind many times before and did whatever I wanted. There had been times I could’ve hurt someone, or myself.

After two hours of the ordeal they put cuffs on the kid with Gucci shoes and rose tattoo on his neck and put him in the back of the patrol car. The next morning we left California for a twenty-five hour drive straight through all the way home to Omaha and Porch Fest and a Lumberjack party and the morning after that I sat at my desk and stared out the window, the morning light falling on the autumn leaves of the ash tree outside. It felt good to sit down and do nothing at all.

 

 

September 29th, 2021

 

The culmination of our experiences and emotions stack up like Southern California traffic. They get bottlenecked up to a point then explode out into open lanes, the pains and congestion assuaged in an instance of relief that spreads throughout and across the surface of our being. Then there is only the wind coming in through the open windows as the road rolls past as if nothing happened. This is the cycle, the story of our lives, our relationships with each other, ourselves, our work. After resolve the boulder tumbles downhill and the whole thing begins all over again.

The open roads of Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and Nevada came to a screeching halt on the 210 west towards Pasadena. Red lights stacked up as far as the eye could see with smog and the sun up there going to work on a grey morning. We were no longer in the climate of green things but of the desert and rock and chaparral and traffic. As we wormed our way towards Los Angeles Guff and I dusted off some residual attrition from the road, her body and mind lopsided from my corrections rather than compliments. It’s much easier to try and change others than myself. It’s less vulnerable to point a finger than to roll my eyes around internally and search out my own faults within and make the adjustments. This is no easy task and the fact is my ego doesn’t want to take responsibility sometimes. So in order to feed her need of reassurance and love I did my best to formulate words of my affection towards her in a state of fatigue. From my perspective my inarticulations seemed to have little affect. I became frustrated wrestling with my on ineptitude to help her understand how I felt about her. I had a brief meltdown right there in the mobile menagerie of sedans and pick-up trucks and big rigs. I couldn’t quite get it right. I had to work and rework the wording to say it in a way she could understand in order to connect. I could see in that instance why the world is at war with each other. It takes great strains of effort to set aside the ego and the barriers built up over years and generations, to sit still and listen and hear with pure ears the words and not the stories whirling around in our own heads.

By the time we exited Lincoln off the 210 we were back on solid ground headed into the hills on Fair Oaks with the small one-story houses lining the street. We pulled over and did a quick change of clothes, brushed our teeth and swiped our pits with deodorant after the long stint without grooming. And then we were ready for whatever came next.

Zorthian Ranch sits tucked up against the San Gabriel Mountains in Altadena, California. This architectural junkyard was built in 1954 by Jirayr Zorthian, an Armenian refugee who narrowly escaped the genocide of that people. Instead of an ill-fate, Zorthian ended up at Yale studying art. His work was well received in the creative world and after a marriage gone south he came out clean on the side with the property where the ranch resides. Guff and I parked at the base of the mountain and walked the premises. We came across a small man chipping away at a piece of granite the size of a sumo wrestler. The artist covered in white granite dust, standing before the large stone, stopped his work and waved us down.

“Hello!”

The artist’s name was Yoshi. Yoshi was working on a bench system for a park somewhere in the area. The system was of large granite pieces that fit together like a puzzle and he was working out the shapes of the things with a hammer and chisel and stone grinder. When we asked him how long it took him to make one of the pieces he laughed and said, “I’d rather not think about it.” Yoshi had been on the ranch for several years before moving around the country then returning almost thirty years later. He knew Zorthian and had been to many of the parties on the ranch.

“I remember one time when there were curtains behind him as he sat on a large cushion, and then from behind a cushion a naked pregnant woman came out and began dancing around him. Not long after, more and more naked women came out and moved around him. I tried my hardest to get the image of the pregnant woman out of my mind,” he laughed.

When we asked if we were in the right place Yoshi pointed up the hill.

“Up there.”

We shook hands with the artist and got back in the car and headed up the dirt road past a bridge on the verge of collapse winding into the hills. We were the first to arrive. We parked and got out and walked the grounds, admiring the strange textures of the place. The walls of each structure varied. Some seemed like a mosaic of brick and concrete mixed with debris from a demolished building. It was home to throwaways taken and repurposed into sculptures, the roofs corrugated metal and hard plastics. Metal sculptures were carved and reworked into strange shapes, painted and placed in beautiful display. Wind chimes of pipes and screwdrivers, nuts, bolts, clanging and ringing into the air. There were cows and goats and pigs and roosters on the property amidst run down campers and buses used as domiciles for local artists and Airbnbs. Back in the day people came from all over to enjoy the company of Zorthian, everyone from the likes of Warhol and Bob Dylan, Buckminster Fuller and Charlie Parker. Today the property is used for music videos and tv shows for its unique architecture and views over the hills and downtown Los Angeles standing like a ghost in the smog and the ocean just beyond.

Not long after our arrival the bridal party showed up like a caravan headed for Burning Man. There were conversion vans built-out and lived in and there were trucks with tarps draped over racks as coverings for sleeping quarters. They came in boots and strange hats and they came from Denver and Berlin and New Mexico and Omaha and all over the Los Angeles area. There were opera singers and drag queens and fire dancers and artists. Some of them worked on movie sets and some of them played music at festivals or on the road and some of them were comedians to lighten the place up. It takes all kinds and this wedding party was no different. After we unloaded everything from the cars and got situated it was almost dark and the whole thing started with a bottle of whiskey. Weary from our travels, Guff and I hit the sack early. In the middle of the night I woke up to the howls and laughter of this mad congregation off in the distance and as I laid there in my tent I heard a grunting and hacking coming closer to me. I opened my eyes. Beside my tent an old man with white beard unzipped and pissed right there in the dirt near my feet, just outside my tent. In the morning I heard word that the same guy drove down the hill drunk and got stuck in a ditch. One of the employees of the property had to call a tow truck to pull him out.

In the morning the wedding party was already hard at work, arranging flowers and setting up tables and chairs with boxes of Portos pastries all over the place. Every possible combination of sweet and savory, and there was already weed and wine and beers and bodies moving around kicking up the dust. I watched Guff do her thing with her camera while I followed and ran messages between the bride and groom and held flowers and water bottles and the bride’s sunglasses. I watched Guff orchestrate the whole thing. She was commanding and sweet and complimentary. She moved this person and that and they listened to her every word. I loved the way she worked. Her understanding of lighting. Timing. Her eye for moments. How the wedding party should stand. What looked best. What props to use. Where. She photographed all the small details. The wedding dress. The rings. The displays and odd trinkets of the place. The “first look” of bride and groom. Knowing how to capture those intimate moments when no one is looking (or so they think). At one point the bride was found weeping in the kitchen, saying, “I’m glad Anne isn’t here to take pictures.” Though she was right there the whole time with her camera. Or the time the groom was sitting alone outside and we came around the corner, his eyes red with tears running down his face, cigarette in his hand and she trying her best not to be seen to capture the whole thing. Then the thing happened and I got a glimpse into her world. With a camera I had access to anywhere, anything, anyone. Shooting as her second I could move around freely without the eyes of the wedding on me. I could, if I wanted, walk right up to the altar and kiss the bride with my aperture. No one would protest. Not a soul! Because I had a camera. I was documenting memories.

The wedding was a bouquet of flowers. It was a festival with live music and entertainment, Frick Frack Blackjack and hammerchlagen. Everyone surreptitiously digesting and inhaling and snorting. It was a wedding on acid inside a piñata . . . At least for some. The party went on into the night and at four in the morning when Guff and I made the long trek down the dirt road to our car in the cold morning shivering all the way down, we could still hear the music, some of the attendees up until the sun rose the next morning, never shutting their eyes at all even into the next day with Bloody Mary’s, one of the guests walking the grounds in his birthday suit who later fell asleep by the pool naked, his junk tucked between his thighs giving everyone a horrifying stare-down as they swam. I didn’t think it would ever end. I just sat and watched everyone dance and move and talk. There was laughter and tears and there was so much in such a short period of time and then it was all over. The sun went down over the horizon. The mountains distant and dark with the lights of LA scattered across the dark earth like tiny galaxies living their existence long after ours would be over, and in the morning everyone would go back to their ordinary lives. The groom and bride would start their journey as husband and wife. A new chapter with more experiences and emotions culminating, disastrous and loving, as they chaotically navigate this beautiful union.

Relationships seem to be the key to unlocking our hidden selves. Each person that enters our lives teaches us something we never knew. When I look in Guff’s grey eyes I see my own reflection, only, it’s not the version brought out by her being. It’s the one of barriers and learned behaviors. I like to think there is a circadian rhythm that pertains to connectivity and relationships. In every relationship we are either moving in accordance or away from it. These days I constantly wrestle with my ego, not sure if the old order of my being serves the future I see for myself. I’m trying my best though, to align with it, to walk the copper path towards the life I envision. I have Guff to thank for this. I have my friends and my family and myself. And you. I have you too.

 

 

September 21th, 2021

 

Our relationship almost ended before we arrived. One moment we were in complete understanding on the I-70 writing a new contract for our union, and the next it became fissured in a fit of fatigue somewhere in St. George, Utah. Now I’m sitting at the rooftop lounge of the Ace hotel in downtown Los Angeles with a Mezcal Negroni in front of me wondering how I draw a conclusion from the whirling cacophony of dirt and drag and drama of the last few days . . . Maybe it’s best I start from the beginning and see where we end up.

Guff and I left Omaha Thursday morning before the sun ascended over the eastern rim of the Earth. She slept in the back while I listened to the humming music of the highway and by two in the afternoon we were already in Denver, the verdant islands of western Nebraska amidst corn and soy bean fields far behind us. A friend of hers was getting married on a ranch in Altadena on Saturday and she would be shooting the wedding. I was tagging along to act as her second behind the lens. Our plan was to stay with my parents Friday night before heading to Zorthian Ranch at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountain range. There was no time to break up the drive so we pressed on into the Rockies all green and gold from Aspens with ruddy and rosette rock on its western slope. It was my first time crossing these magnificent mountains so I took a couple rips of a joint to celebrate the occasion and wondered how miserable it must have been for the earlier settlers heading west, or the miners in search of a piece of gold during the harsh winters.

As my mind went to work in such a stoney state I held my hand out the window and felt the wind whip between my fingertips. I felt the tingling of air under my nails as my hand soared up and down.

“I never want to stop playing with the wind,” I told Guff. She agreed.

When we reached the long tunnel that cuts through the rock of the mountain and played her game of holding our breath in an attempt to make it the whole two and a half minutes of the thing. It took me three attempts to fill my lungs and I couldn’t believe that she had done it before. And before long we were coming down the mountain, the light now swinging in front of us and dropping fast.

Western Colorado is one long slide down the mountainside. It goes down down down until you reach the Utah border and then further down towards the Virgin River Gorge before flattening out near the lights of Las Vegas and the Mojave desert beyond. And as we headed down we looked ahead, renegotiating the contract of our relationship. She wanted to know what I was looking for. How did I picture the perfect partner for myself. What was it that made me find fault in her being. This is something we had never really done before. Relationships are a fragile thing held together by a symmetry of words and behaviors, some not even in our control. We do our best, though, creating our character out of experiences in the hopes that our partner can stay in the same lane and signal when they plan on changing position. There had been a lot of weight from the road before we settled in Omaha, and the act of choosing and being chosen had been a constant struggle for us. It was only until recently that I had realized that my indecision was causing much emotional discord in our relationship. Not that she wasn’t enough or that I wanted something, or someone, else. Not at all. It was the simple fact that I had not chosen her. This choosing alone would give her a feeling of safety. By being open with her and inclusive with my thoughts it would give her a sense security. And as we headed further down the mountain it was apparent we had not had the conversation about the direction of our relationship. Let alone our own individual projections of such a thing.

I listened as she asked vulnerable and challenging questions. I did my best to stay open in the conversation without my ego having to feel attacked or lacking in any way. I listened with an intent on understanding. Without this how could we move forward or further in our relationship. If we could not dream together a future in which both of us are a unit working in the direction of that union, then what was the point of being together. It’s scary to look within. To dig deep into my soul and find out what lies waiting there, what my past self pictured for my future, and how that might make my partner feel. Theological anthropology is the superhuman ability to see the direction of your life and align all actions and behaviors toward it. From what I’ve seen and understand, this rare zyzygy in the labyrinth of life occurs very little for most people. Maybe there is a lack of forethought. Maybe no imagination. I mean, it’s no easy task to believe in the destination of the mind. Let alone act upon it. And so we discussed these things. We looked at our expectations. We rolled around relationship in our hands. Looked it over. Discussed what my expectations were in a partner. I did my best to explain what feels right for me in my life and if it made sense for her to stick around. By the time we reached Utah my eyes were heavy and I was soon asleep in the back as Guff drove on into the night and what awaited us. When I awoke we were in St. George.

“I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Then I saw it. The the red and yellow signage. It was Del Taco. I had mentioned how much I missed their dollar menu. It had been nearly eight months since I’d had it. When we pulled up the drive-thru line wrapped around the building and nearly twenty minutes later we had barely moved.

“I need to get water,” Guff told me. “I haven’t had a drink for over an hour . . . I’m sorry I can’t wait any longer for Del Taco on a twenty-five hour road trip.”

I couldn’t blame her. I quickly pulled out of the line and headed for a gas station.

“Are you upset?”

I was. And I told her so. I was disappointed and annoyed. But it wasn’t her fault. I made sure to tell her this. But she was already in her head about it, thinking I had blamed her and that it was her fault. This snow-balled into an argument and soon we were back at our old tricks of trigger and being triggered, of not sticking to our boundaries. By the time we past Vegas we had decided to go our own ways once we reached California. We couldn’t see eye to eye on the matter. We had our stories. We held our beliefs tight. And as the sun finally rose again we were coming into Riverside county through the Cajon Pass with a heavy fog blanketing our perceptions. We could hardly make heads or tells of the thing. She had no more trust in me. The conversation from the night before had faded as quickly as the day came on. I wish I could tell you word for word about what was said. I wish I could show you in words what had happened between us. And I probably could if her and I sat down and wrote it out line by line. Only it would do us no good. It would only confuse the matter even more. I’ve come to understand it does very little for a relationship to replay verbatim the contents of a misunderstanding. Rage has its truth. Fear too. What’s important realizing how the hurt person feels, to recognize they only want to be heard. That they matter. That they have a voice.

By the time we had worked the whole thing out we were in Lake Elsinore and the sun was already breaking up the thick grayness of the morning. Everything was clear. I found out in a text that my father had Covid and so we decided parked beside the lake and sleep in the back on the small foam pad with Millie-dog between us. I woke up in a sweat and climbed over the front seat and sat there staring at the lake and the Santa Ana mountains before me. A few fishermen were casting out their lines and waiting for a catch, only to throw the fish back. I could feel the weight of the day upon me. I had only slept a few hours in the last day or so and the long drive only added a heavier fatigue to the mind and body. Guff lifted her head and saw me sitting there.

“Are you coming back to cuddle?”

“No, it’s too hot to sleep. But get some rest.”

She rolled back over and closed her eyes.

I sat there and wondered how we get caught in this mess like a ball of snakes. What is it about us that causes us to go at each other with ferocity and anguish and pain. Our scars lay deeper than the skin. Our wounds lie in lineage without diagnosis. At one point in the dark morning, somewhere in the desert,  Guff had screamed into the empty space between us, “We’re so ugly! People are so ugly! We are so mean to each other! How can can we expect the world to get better when we’re so disgusting!” And I couldn’t disagree with her. I shook my head in silence knowing it’s a hard truth to swallow. The silent and shapeless world around us on the 15 was silent too. It knew. And as I sat there with the sun beginning to rise, feeling the heat coming on, I knew how messy it all was, how convoluted the past gets mixed up in the present and rips us apart. I also recognized that this person laying peacefully in the back of the Volvo with her dog was one of the purest humans I’ve ever met. That in her contains the whole world. What else could I need.

 

To be continued . . .

 

 

 

September 15th, 2021

 

The place is dark though well-lit. The light comes in through large windows facing Vinton Street and then dies out into a darker light that shines down from half-lit fluorescent lights tucked between ceiling tiles. The ceiling tiles bulge in odd places from years of water damage and hang as if on the verge of collapse like large saltine crackers that have been soaked-through and dried-out and left to crumble at the slightest touch. Below them a darkness rises up from the dark wood floor stained through with glue and cigarette ash and the trails of worn-out souls. And the darkness covers the walls, too, in rows of old books rebound and forgotten, the dust that covers them older than your grandfathers pocket lint. Between are the pages sewn across three generations toward their own possible finality. The first time I entered the place I took a shot of tequila and didn’t come back for nearly a month.

It was early April when I first called Capitol Bindery. The sun finally warmed and had some effect on the white landscape, revealing a floor of punctured asphalt and fractured concrete. I called looking for a smyth machine to sew A WE THING. I wanted the book to have that same quality of earlier children’s books, back before they started using glue to bind the signatures together instead of thread. Kevin Brown answered and then turned me away. He didn’t have what I was looking for. Or so I thought. It was only after a night out at Second Friday that I began to frequent the place. I remember standing among the semi-circle of chairs near the front door. I could hear the voices around me as I stared past the sounds out over the long stretch of this bibliodashery and began to write in my mind my curiosities and wonder. There were stacks of books covering the long tables and large rolls of material stacked at the far end—leather and buckram and all sorts of paper cut from the same tree but with different teeth—and there were large drawers of typefaces and patterned dies scattered about the place, many of them strewn about the three hot foil stampers that spelled out in anagrams a secret language bought from old binderies or from Morris Dolgoff himself whom Kevin’s grandfather bought the bindery from when he returned to Omaha after the Korean War. In my eyes the colors of the bindery became grey and brown and green with its yellow light and strange hues of possibility brought forth by my own hands into tangible objects to be held and read and shared. The mystery and magic consumed me.

Months later I came back to see what I could make of the place.

“I’m a terrible teacher,” Kevin told me as his hands disagreed.

I watched his trembling hands like someone with dementia who sits down at a piano and begins to play the delicate and somber songs of Chopin or Bill Evans. They became articulate and purposeful while always with a cigarette between two fingers, the small grey rivulet of smoke ascending upward. I watched those hands strip book blocks from their tattered covers and place them in a press for their spines to be scraped clean of old glue and mousseline, right down to the pages, and then those hands weaved needle and thread between torn signatures of the classics or old family bibles. Oh the bibles! how they come in droves! Stacks and stacks of them in Spanish and English with little written notes in the margins to be preserved as if great-grandmother’s rosary were in there somewhere with a thousand worries and prayers, and all them falling apart at the seams and they bring them here for salvation as if the death of the book itself would erase all of Genesis through Ecclesiastes. In the beginning was the Word that withers in time and then grows again upon the page! And I watched as the old bookbinder breathed new life into them. They are resurrected by his hands. He then turns to me when they’re completed and says, “I better be getting some fucking bonus points for fixing all these damn bibles,” and laughs easy. The oversew machine hums in contemplation. I nod in agreement with the old master knowing that’s not how it works. He knows too. And when the books and bibles are sewn tight with new end-sheets and the spine is glued to new branded material, it is returned to the owner like a newborn baby washed clean, containing all the wisdom written in its pages.

The bindery isn’t always like this. Most days are monotonous with the tearing of guts from scientific journals to be bound and catalogued year after year. Or investment reports foil stamped at the end of the month to be passed around oblong tables at board meetings and then later tossed in the trash come the following month. Most jobs are to keep the doors open, leaving potential hanging around like an old winter coat in California. Imagination yawns. Stretches out. Lays with the dust. Gets swept up in monthly bills and conversations with John from two doors down whose talk is guttural and dry like Noam Chomsky. Kevin takes a smoke break between cigarettes. Makes more coffee. Changes the music from Stevie Ray Vaughn to Rob Thomas. I take a seat at the front and watch the world go by including the drunk from Louis M’s Burger Lust at ten in the morning. I think of all the small movements between the major works of my life and realize where I have grasped and been grasped at. Shaken around. Rattled for good measure. I come to the conclusion that this is one where I’ve been grasped while grasping in a strange arm wrestling match with God or the universe or whatever is you want to call it. I recognize the opportunity like an unlocked door. There is something hidden in the place. Something forgotten. And sometimes I can find hints of it snooping around, lifting up stacks of binders board or behind the cobwebs of oddities and relics in the corners of the bindery’s past. I find glimpses among the large cutter and foil stampers. Between conversations with Joe, that old Italian from Rhode Island with all of New England coming out of the side of his mouth. Joe who went to Boys Town and played Defensive Back and could lift 225, “no problem.” Joe now fragile with cancer and thin red beard and smiling eyes who talks of old movies and says, “I love them old westerns, man. Ha ha. Oh man, the way they’d hang your ass for stealing a horse. Ha! Wow. They’d fucking hang your ass for just that. Boom. Dead. Ha ha. Oh yea, man. I love that shit,” as he blows grey smoke about the place. I find it here and there when John has gone away or the customers stop coming in and there’s nothing else to do. I find it there between the dark wood floor and dim lighting and the humming doldrums of the mundane, right there in the middle of all the paper products and their possibilities.

Capitol Bindery is the story of hands and razor knives and glue. It is the story of needle and thread and the heritage of literature lovers. It is the story of creation and rebirth on the lower level of a two-story building that hugs the outside edge as Vinton curves east towards Iowa. It is dead ahead on the long stretch once you’ve rounded the bend at Vinton Street apartments, past El Queztal Market and International Bakery, where the street begins to grow dark in sepia tones and the air smells sweet like corn. Not the corn of Nebraska, but the maize of Sinaloa or perhaps Tamaulipas and Veracruz. And you can imagine it there as it stood long ago along a dirt road with the old street lanterns dimly lit in the night, like someplace like Winesburg, Ohio, when the inhabitants were Polish and Irish and of Eastern European descent with the coming of the Union Stockyard. And as I write this now on Fowler Avenue, as the bells from St. James Catholic Church off  90th street clamor in the soft daylight of a Tuesday afternoon, I can see that the future of the Bindery will be one without bibles and reports stamped for approval. I’ve seen it after I’ve scraped a line of that thick dust with my fingernail. And what lies beneath it are the proverbs of imagination and potential written by those who can dream up something holy new, who can sew the signatures of their minds and bind them for all the world to read. And it will be waiting there for them once they can see it for themselves. I will be too. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Amen.

 

 

 

September 8th, 2021

 

I was going to tell you everything. How it all happened. I was going to tell you how I came to Omaha, about Guff and the road and how we came to be . . . I really was.

I was going to tell you about Jazz Night and our Wednesday coffee dates over FaceTime. I was going to tell you how I bought the van named Modestine with her encouragement and inspiration and I was going to tell you about the long days up to my elbows in grease with her on my mind. I was going to tell you how I cut my lease and sold off most of my belongings including my records to a friend of hers. I was going to tell you about the challenges I faced to make the thing work, how two mechanics told me to dump the old Dodge Brougham and try something newer, that it would cost too much to get it going. I was going to tell you about how I almost gave up on the whole thing, how it became too much at one point and I was just going sell the van and be done with it and find some other way to get to her. I was going to tell you about the pastor on the dirt road by San Tropez, CA who prayed for my journey ahead and about Brian, my bipolar storage neighbor, who drew a smiley face on the back window of my car and how that symbol later became a good omen in the search for an answer to a mechanical conundrum. I was going to tell you about it, how the guy behind the counter gave me the remedy for fixing a seal leak on the transmission after days with no progress and then setting a whole new line of obstacles in motion including rewiring all the electrical in the van and adding a new AC unit. I was going to tell you how the van finally passed a smog test—because the attendant told me “Oh we’ll make it pass no matter what.” meaning I pay him an extra hundred to make it pass— and that got the tags up-to-date so I could hit the road at last, almost a month and a half after the idea formulated. I was going to tell you about how the events of my life at that time aligned with the constellation of my pursuit and then I was off down the open road.

I was going to tell you about how I broke down in every state to get to Guff. First in Mammoth and then Bend, Seattle, Boise, Laramie, changing my oil pan gasket or starter or dealing with vapor lock. I was going to tell you how I’d driven straight through from Cheyenne, eight hours on the 80 like a slug because it was Wednesday, our day, and I wanted to spend the rest of it with her. I was going to tell you about the little brick house on 44th and Pierce and how the scene played out exactly as my mind had seen it. Her running out of the house in bare feet and jean shorts, the air thick with moisture. I was going to tell you how she opened the door and flew onto my lap, legs curled over mine sideways, and how we kissed right there under the tree. I was going to tell you about the lightening bugs in the alley as the night came on and how we held hands with the coming darkness. I was going to tell about the tears and us laying there in bed, our eyes laughing like little kids. How we made love in the morning and just held each other for hours. I was going to tell you how she, in a fit of joy, jumped up and flung open the blinds in one fluid motion, her arms outstretched as if to hug the light and hold it and I laying there still in bed bathing in the warm stuff now washing over us both. I was going to tell you about her love for sharing and how she has a million ideas rolling around in her head at all times. It’s true. I was going to tell you about it. I was going to tell you about how she showed me Carter Lake where she used to live with the girl in and out of jail, the small house that looked like it was falling apart and how it faced the sunsets and how she wanted to buy that little house because of the lake and the grass and how we sat in that grass and talked about her mom and dad now gone and I was going to tell you about the keychain she gave me in her room that says home is not a place, but you are home which made me feel like I was and still am.

I was going to tell you how our first date lasted nearly eight months and how Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How It Would Be to Be Free played around and through us as we pointed north towards South Dakota. I was going to tell about how we fought in Kennebec and then Big Horn National Park, how we fought in Billings and later in Minneapolis. I was going to tell you how we fought in St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Montepelier, New York, Boston, D.C., Richmond, Myrtle Beach and I was going to tell you about how in a fit of rage I almost sent her back to Omaha from Dallas, alone, and how it was raining at the airport, a mist of clouds and cold air, and how I ran after her in the Enterprise and pulled her out of line before she left for good because I could not picture my life without her, but she was already waiting for me to come after her. I was going to tell you how after every fight something beautiful happened like a sunrise party on the Mississippi or a sunset over Niagara or meeting our road Uncle Joe the old poet from Milwaukee with crazy white hair and crooked glasses or Jermo from Billings that grizzly bear with a voice like he’s gargling crackerjacks who shot his 9mm at the moon high on a mushroom trip. And I was going to tell you how she shows me that understanding is like a fine tuned instrument playing beautiful notes of harmony through the anatomy of our union. And I was going to tell you about the drive back to California and Christmas with my family and how they all loved her so much and how we looked for a place to call our home and how we settled on Omaha because of the trees and the people and the opportunities to make a house a home, and how we piled everything I owned into Modestine and how the drive shaft dropped out twice on the way here, once during a snow storm in Prescott, AZ and the other just outside Lincoln so close to our new home and how we waited there in twenty degree weather, screaming at AAA over the phone after 4 hours of waiting and waiting, going nowhere, our bodies shivering, only to finally have a driver come out and move us in on the back of his truck and then he not being able to get the van lowered off the bed because the van was too large and rear end sat like a large dog with bad hips, the thing scraping the new driveway, grinding metal against concrete.

Yea I was going to tell you all about it. I was going to tell you about the sad times and the mad times and the times we laughed our heads off. I was going to tell you how I continue to trip over my triggers while my childhood trauma wears my current face like a mask when all I want is to have my best friend without pushing her away out of fear. I was going to tell you it was her all along, how she is the reason I’ve come to Omaha and why after thirty-seven states and 15,000 miles I’m still working through it all. She, who loves with abandon and speaks her truths and shares all the millions of thoughts swirling around her head, the one who sees it all so clearly and feels it all so deeply and knowing more than anyone that if we can solve the mysteries in ourselves then all the world could be healed. She, the one who says “yes” to living, playing all the time in dreams and bringing them into reality. I was going to tell you about it, and about her wanting to feel safe and good and happy by being open and inclusive and sharing and talking it out until we’re blue in the face. I was going to tell you about her love for tiny things and bananas and Millie-dog. I was going to tell you about it. I was. I really was.

I was going to tell you about it all, and maybe some day I will.

 

 

 

September 1st, 2021

 

I was driving east on Cuming when it happened. How and from where, god only knows. But it emerged or manifested out of thin air or chemical reaction as I changed lanes, speeding past the slow car hesitating to merge because of the construction in front of Amateur Coffee. Images gave rise to sentences and then I was writing the thing out in my mind heading south on the 480. It was a hallucination, really. An ethereal reality simultaneously playing out right along with this one where your  thumb currently swipes up on the screen in your hand…And just as tangible.

How can it not be. Is it not happening at this very moment as my fingers go to work on the keys? Am I not bringing thought into being before your very eyes much like my fifty mile-an-hour daydream? Can you see it? What was not, is. Maybe not verbatim. But it’s no easy thing getting phantasmagoria down word for word.

The lush landscape around me mixed with the desert of my past like water and oil as I roiled in the soup signaling for a right turn onto the freeway. The scenes faded as I checked my mirrors, accelerating into the flow of cars, only for them to reemerge as a comparison between drivers from the two places, bringing me back to the origin of the thought.

There’s a lacksadaisical attitude to the average Nebraskan driver, especially when it comes to lane changes. There’s an inability to zipper properly as a lane dies out. Especially on 72nd just south of the 80 where the dullards of Ralston, suffering from myopia, drone their lives out in the banality of suburban life. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this sort of behavior. It’s found in most places, in fact. It’s a haphazardness, as if no one else exists in all the world. A yawning stretch of passivity. Omaha is less condensed. I’ll give it that. There are far less commuters than Orange County and LA. I can drive circles around this city without ever seeing a line of red lights stacked up for miles on end like a big red slug snail-trailing along the roads and highways. But then again my perception of relativity differs from that of the locale. A fifteen minute drive is a breeze, making thirty a quick trip there and back again. No biggie. No whoop. There’s plenty of open road to go around.

There’s also the obvious difference in climate. While California is dry and arid, Omaha’s air is thick with moisture. Some days it feels like a hot wet scarf is smothering my face. But like the old Midwestern proverb, if you don’t like the weather, stick around. It’ll change. Which is true. And for that I’m thankful. I like variety. A little of this. A little of that. It keeps me guessing. There’s enough monotony in the everyday life. Like tying shoes laces together or hearing the grocery store clerk ask, “Did you find everything alright today?” To which I want to reply, “I have not found my way to Calabria!” (Which is the land of my ancestors) “Nor have I found a way to bottle all the joy contained in bellyaching laughter to use when I’m feeling down!” Only, I reply, “I did.” And move along. At least Nature knows what’s good for the soul…V…A…R…I…E…T…Y…In case you needed me to spell it out for you. I know I need that sometimes. Someone to spell it out for me. Ask Guff. She’ll tell you. I can be a child. I can be ignorant of what I do not know. Loose my cool in a fit of rage because I don’t understand…Isn’t that weird? To not know something you don’t know. Makes me think of this seminar I attended once and the speaker drew a pie on a whiteboard with slices cut out of it. An eighth of the pie represented what we know and another eighth represented what we don’t know. The third and largest slice of the pie was what we don’t know that we don’t know. Like a blind spot in our perception because of belief or ideology or idiosyncrasy. It is the human-like quality to be our own blockade because of who we are. Not who we can be. I recognize this in myself. I get in the way of opportunity, possibility, connectivity. All because of some interpretation I’ve come to wear around. This mask. This armored suit. This accumulation of past stories, emotions, behaviors. Sometimes they’re not even mine. They’re my parents’. Or that of my parents parents. And who knows how far down the line that goes. Now take that and apply it to everyone. Including the pope. And the president!…That’s the world we live in. Put that in your pipe and snort it.

Now back to Omaha. It’s green. Incredibly green. And then red and orange and yellow and brown with the ground frosted with snow and the sky grey and the air cold and by the time February comes around everyone has had enough of Winter and putting on three layers of clothing just to grab the mail. Spring is a tease not wanting to flash us it’s green things…I get it…I moved here in February. It was negative thirty-five the week I got here. Froze my balls off. Though for me it was only the beginning of Winter. I shoveled the driveway and felt the cold nip at my face and at my hands and in my bones as I drove around on twenty-degree days to pick up furniture with Guff for our new home and enjoyed every bit of it. California, unlike Nebraska, only has one season. The air like a frying pan over an open flame. Its saving grace being a giant bathtub of salt water undulating along the coastline. I like it here. It’s uncouth. With its fractured asphalt and the way dilapidated neighborhoods bleed into brick and manicured lawns. No stucco or rock gardens. And there’s not a single gated community with the false promise of security (If there is I haven’t noticed). Not to say I prefer crime and decay. But I like to know it’s there. It’s a good reminder to know a poop-skid is smeared across the sidewalk just around the corner to keep you on your toes.

By the time I pulled off the freeway at Martha I had gotten most of this down….Sort of…Like I said, the words emerged as scenes. This is only an interpretation. By that time my mind had moved on to the people I’ve met and their good-naturedness and the sense of community and support they give here in Omaha, and I began to think of Capitol Bindery and Kevin, always with a cigarette in his mouth moving about the place, starting a task and then forgetting about it as soon as a customer comes in or Joe the old Italian from Rhode Island, them talking about politics or crazy Eddy across the street or old actresses like Sophia Loren or Maureen O’hara and I thought about how perfect things align sometimes and then it doesn’t, when, just then, a young man driving a large lawnmower with no shirt and a baseball cap came barreling down the hill towards oncoming traffic, swerved left at the light and cut up past the car to my right onto the freeway exit I had just come down. I turned my head as far as it would go until I could no longer see him. When the light turned green I made a left with the rest of them towards 24th, then made a right towards Vinton. I parked in front of the bindery. Got out. Went in the place. I drank black coffee and scraped the spines of old books. Sewed on new end-sheets. Glued them. Drank more black coffee. Talked shop with the boys. Then I came home and it wasn’t until much later that I remembered any of this.

 

 

 

August 25th, 2021

 

I’ve always been a late bloomer. I begin things when others are already on their way out. From career plan right down to growing hair on my undercarriage. Maybe it has something to do with being the youngest of four children. Maybe my broad view of the playing field caused me to deviate from the proper path. Perhaps I was born on the off-beat as a disturbance to the regular flow of rhythm. In essence, I am a syncopation. 

So why am I telling you this? Well, for starters, consider the day I’m starting this column. It’s August 25th, the nearing death of the month. The decay of Summer. You can almost feel Autumn creeping in your bones. Under normal circumstances, a well thought out marketing campaign would strategize. It would draw statistics for the most effective way to capture the attention of an audience in order to push a certain product and drive sales. There would be preparation. A release date. Anticipation would follow a linear path drawn towards the finality of the thing. This was not my course of action in providing a space to vomit my observations. The idea struck me and my mind went to work, my body obediently following in toe. Time has no hold on inspiration. It matters not what day it is, what month, year. Only that it has happened. An ethos watered by the soul. It flowered outward from my innermost being without regard for any external limitations. This is probably why I’ve always been drawn to people living in a similar vein. In literature I always respected those authors who lived a long and quarrelsome life before finally finding their vocation with the written word, the ones who fought through the mundane in order to make a place for themselves in the world. I like the Beats. Bukowski. Mooney. I like the outcasts. The freaks. Weirdos. Those who have chosen to bend reality to their will and separate themselves from the common clay. There is no doubt this is why I was drawn to the Greasy Butt gang and participated in their annual Tour de Franzia.

It was Sunday. The holy day of hangovers. The last attempt at recovery before the long week ahead. Guff and I were entertaining her childhood friend from California and I woke up foggy from a long night of drinking and dancing at Capitol Gallery down on Vinton. I could barely read the newspaper. I remember bits of an article on the futility of colonization. Mainly a quote by Charles de Gaulle warning Kennedy that any attempt at invading Vietnam and establishing diplomacy wouldn’t last for long. It was a lesson De Gaulle learned from Algiers and a premonition for the outcome of the war in Afghanistan . . . That’s as much as I picked up before putting down the paper. The coffee had little effect so I turned to beer to get greased for what was to come.

The three of us arrived at O’Leaver’s a little after 5:30 in the afternoon. A congregation of bikes already lined the railing around the front patio. We entered the bar. A few of the Butts were standing at the counter, waiting for another can of fuel before heading out back. I ordered a Red Stripe and followed their lead. The sun was still high in the late afternoon and the blue sky breathed easy. The Greasy Butt gang were sucking down Hamm’s and shoveling burgers and wings into their mouths at the far end of the place, a colorful array of personalities, ranging in a wide display of extroversion and individuality. Each one of them a world and a megaphone and a delight, their appearances a mixture of fishnets and spandex, braids, cycling caps, glittered nail polish, sandals and tattoos. The boisterous bunch welcomed us and we sucked down a couple more before the ride began.

“Ride the night! Question the morning!”

“Yea, you bunch of dumpster sluts!”

And then we were off.

The Tour de Franzia is as serious as the Tour de France without the competitive edge, and the only accolade that means anything is that you were part of it, that you road the fractured route with your chain and gullet greased, your saddle situated against your grundle, and your legs pumping with abandon, cutting up into the neighborhoods, down alleys, and around downtown to the likes of Willie Nelson and Doo-wop hits with pit stops at parks and bars before the long slurred ride back to Benson. When it comes to the ride there are few rules, but the most important is simple: Good vibes only! It’s about camaraderie and love and a damn good time without inhibitions and embarrassment.

Between the bars there’s the bladder of cheap white Zinfandel, and the art of “the slap” of the thing. It’s a ritual, really, much like sacrificing to a sun God, or losing your virginity. Style matters. The weirder, the better. Each approach to the slap is an extension of personality. There’s intensity. Combination. Perhaps a lick of the fingers. The double wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. Then, of course, the pour. Head tilted back, assuming the position. The grape nectar splashing from mouth to chest and then mixing with sweat. The Greasy Butts howl. Hoot. Crow! They breathe it in. Exhale. Guffaw and quaff some more of the refreshing wine. If it’s one thing I learned, it’s that no amount of Ajax could possibly clean the grease off the seats of these fun-loving freaks. Heed the Greasy Butt gang’s call and you will find yourself hanging upside-down from the chainlink pedestrian bridge on 42nd and Grover, the black nozzle pouring out the clear pink juice into your mouth, then singing Deana Carter with attitude or Poison by Bev Biv Devoe at the Grover Inn. And when the decrepit karaoke host sings “I’m a weirdo, what the hell am I doing here!” You’ll be singing with him at top of your lungs only to soon find yourself back in the saddle pointed north on Field Club Trail as the night comes on, the shadows retreating into the dark foliage from the flashing of the bike lights, then finishing off the final remnants of the bladder behind Ponderosa before flying down the new bike lanes on Harney (now kiboshed by the city), weaving between the cones with the rare cool air, feeling infinite, headed to the Green Room for one more beer before last call shots of tequila at Cali bar.

After six hours the fifteen miles feels like thirty and in the morning there is only confusion and wonder as you crack another beer on a Monday, intoxicated by the purity of this clan that seems to get in your blood, never wanting the fun to end . . . Ride on, you slanted beings of light. Ride on.

 

*Remember to drink plenty of water.

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