Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A lot of things.

How do you feel, when you don’t know how to feel?

How do you look into a maddening puzzle box situation, with so many different inputs and so many different viewpoints, with things that are right and things that are wrong? How do you feel sad without feeling guilty? How do you say “hello,” when it’d probably be best to stay away? How do you remember, when the easiest thing to do would be forgetting?

I don’t know.

I’ve never known. But for the most part, I’ve never had to.

I’ve never had that many friends. Certainly, I’ve people that I’ve spoken with, that I’ve called to bullshit about the whats and the haves, that I’ve broken bread with, that I’ve laughed alongside while they’ve smoked and I’ve smiled. For the most part, I enjoy those people, those parts of life. But they aren’t what I look for.

I don’t like crowds, I don’t like parties. I don’t like people yelling in my ear to say what they want to say. I don’t care for “acquaintances”. But friends?

Real friends?

Friends who you’d do anything that is within your power to protect, friends who you’d pay to listen and talk to, friends who you would silently climb fences and trek across muddy pits at three in the morn, just to somehow help them feel better on the night when their pet cat died?

I’ve had a few. Oh me, oh my…I’ve had a few.

I still, have a few. A few people who I trust, above all others. A few people who I wish to converse with, to intellectualize with, to argue with, to be with. More than just about anything else in the world. Which, as always, is where my problem lies.

What the problem is, specifically, is something that I won’t bother to say. The problem isn’t the problem, it’s simply the MacGuffin, the means to the end. And what is the end? The feeling. Always the feeling. Which is where the question comes from.

How do you feel, when you don’t know how to feel? How it is that you should feel? What to do, what to say, what to handle, what to sing, what to shout, what to live by? What to do, for fucks sake? What to do? It’s hard to say.

This afternoon, I was in the bathroom of my local (local? Not quite.) coffee house, where I had been thinking and staring and thinking some more. I washed my face. I washed my hands. And I stared at myself in the mirror, a mirror which has remained surprisingly unscathed, one that has only been touched by a few scratches put there by idle people with a chip and a nail. I stared at my face. At the bags under my eyes, the ones that have been there ever since I was a little boy. And I starting slapping the shit out of myself.

Fast, and hard.

When I walked out of the commode, someone took a look at my face, at the dampness in my hair and the look in my eyes. This person knew what I had done, she could hear it through the door, through the space, through the air. She knew.

But I?

I didn’t know why. For the things that I see, this day and this night, the things that I think about, while I stare into space, as I wonder and I walk, walk, and think…I don’t know how to feel. And once again, my head spirals down into confusion. I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to stare straight ahead and sit perfectly still. I want to sit perfectly still in a smoky room, listening to some long dead musician play a devastatingly mournful tune on a trumpet that he was fucking born to play. I want to hear him put his heart and his very soul through that horn, I want to feel that tremor in his fingers, feel it in mine as my eyes wince against the smell of the air.

It’s often that I waste my time, with images like this. These days, it’s all that I can manage.

But still. Still, today after I’d walked away from things, away from people, away from coffee, away from comics, away from movies, away from things which I know and I love and I think and I feel…I tried something. I tried to get beyond thinking, beyond the commune of cobwebs that gum up my mind with the confusion of the thought, with the dismay of the feelings, I tried something far, far simpler.

Driving through the piercing lights of the Hollywood night, I played my two favorite songs. These are songs that transcend all, to me. They pierce through the moonlit night, circumventing all else, moving beyond all other emotions and fears, piercing their way through air and sea and bullshit and dreams and everything else. Rock. And. Roll.

One of these songs is one that I cannot listen to on a regular basis. These days, it’s one that I save. I save it for me as a last result, a last screaming testament to life, something that digs into my veins, into my bones. Can you feel? Who knows.

I played them. One after the other. Loud. As loud as they could be.

And I screamed alongside them, my sweet-as-salt voice wailing through their pitch perfect tones like some manner of deformed Axl Rose. I screamed.

I forced my body into convulsions, charging my foot towards the gas and the brake, my other foot ramming into the steel frame as it pushed my body backwards, upwards, forcing my flesh against the not quite comfortable cloth of the 13 year old seats. My fists punching the ceiling in tune with the notes. My head, whipping back and forth, my already pained neck cracking against the effort. I screamed. I screamed until my heart hurt in my chest and I could taste the tartness of bile mixed with daily vitamin supplements splashing against my tongue.

And then the songs ended.

With nothing resolved, I turned off the stereo, rolled up the windows, and sat there stewing in my newfound sweat. My hands at 10 and 2. How am I supposed to feel? How?

I wonder if I can ever know. As it is, I know that my life is this way somewhat by circumstance, and somewhat by design. Actions, reactions, choices and chances, moving forward and sideward, but hopefully never backward. I’ve always tried to be a good man. Have I succeeded?

Not a clue. These days, it’s hard to say. I’ve wondered about this, as I’ve talked to people about the act of missing, and how it feels to be missed. I’ve wondered about it. I miss often, and in the past I have been missed. But when I went about the roundtable, it felt as if it hadn’t happened to me in too long a time. And now, I’m disgusted by how selfish that sounds.


For the most part when I write these, I try to make them have something. A bit of insight, a bit of imagery, a question that I felt should be asked, an idea I thought should be expressed. I try to make them worth your while, whoever you are, and however it is that you’ve come upon these. All I want is thought. I want you to think, I want you to wonder, I want you to ask yourself questions and speak back no lies. I’m neither a Tim Rogers or a Warren Ellis. I don’t hold influence over any corner of the internet, and I’m not a candidate in the coveted race towards the title of Internet Jesus.

I’m just a guy.

But I don’t want to leave you like this. With just my odd explanations of things that did indeed happen, and are indeed happening, if only in my stupid brain.

So let me say to you, whoever you are…if you have a friend. If you have a best friend, one that you trust more than anyone in the world, or just one who you love to talk to, who helps you think in times of strife. If you have a significant other, a lover, a wife, a husband. If you have a father, mother, sister or brother. If you have anyone whom you love, white/light white/heat, or at the very least, you trust with every twinging tendon in your body…find them. When you get the chance, if they are close enough to you, find them. Find them and for the love of Joss, let them know you love them. Hug them, kiss them, fuck them, talk to them, whatever it takes. Look over at your best friend in the world and flash a terrific smile. Look over at the huddled form of your lover, draped in moonlight, and then walk over to where they silently sleep and kiss them on the cheek.

Let people know you care. But please, be wary.

Don’t be like me. Don’t put so much of what you have into others, so much so that when they’re gone, you tear yourself apart with confusion and hatred and love and madness. I love people. I love them all. But I love some more than others. And sometimes, sometimes, sometimes, that can backfire. And ruin you in the process.

Because people have lives, and feelings, ideas and drives. People change, and people stay the same. Friends can become violent, they can turn to heroin in their time of duress, remembering you only as the one who stood in the way of a solution that they sought. Or they might just simply have that look in their eye, the one that says they’re here until they’re gone. Here to go.

It isn’t simple. It’s endlessly complicated, not something easy like “Life sucks and then you die,” or even the more poetic, “Man is born crying; when he has cried enough, he dies.” Life is wonderful. Life is just, by the very nature of its flash-in-the-pan existence. In a universe of chaos, we can be grateful for all. Even when it hurts. Even when it’s unfair. Even when life sucks, and you’re just waiting to die. We move on. Don’t we?

We just don’t know how to feel about it.

I never do, it seems. So I ask you kindly, to friend your friends, love your loves, and live your lives. Dream your dreams, as you sleep through the night, a luxury that insomniacs like me just cannot usually afford.

So that’s one more thing.

One more request. Get some sleep, and dream a lovely dream in my stead.

Goodnight, all.

Sweet dreams.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A walkabout.

Would you ever find yourself in the San Fernando Valley?

Actually, that isn’t quite what I meant to say. It’s too obtuse, it doesn’t properly get the point that I had intended to make. So.

Would you ever put yourself in the San Fernando Valley?

Would you lace up the new boots that you had bought for some other purpose, grab a bottle of water that claims to be from glacial paradise but is really from yet another city reservoir, and journey out to the disconnected land of the dry arid heat, the land that might as well be a part of Los Angeles even though it technically isn’t?

I’m not here to tell you if you should. I’m not here to tell you if you shouldn’t. I’m not going to argue the pros or the cons, and I’m sure as hell not going to decide where you should spend your time if you decide to venture out to the City of Angeles for whatever fucking reason. No.

Instead, I’m going to speak of something just a wee bit more specific.

You see, the San Fernando Valley is my home. For going on twelve years.

Twelve years since I was put into the land with the vast expanses of streets, asphalt stretching out and glittering underneath the wavering air that gives the “city” vistas an eerie similarity to the expanses of ‘Once upon a Time in the West’ (or ‘Kill Bill volume 2’, whichever of those you’ve seen). Twelve years of Mexican men wandering down the street with a small cart, pedaling Chicharron while grinning with a face made of half-toothed smiles. Twelve years of walking by the LA river, watching the multi-colored bounty of the ball pit from a nearby McDonalds, watching as they try as hard as they can to drift away in the squalid dribble of moisture that may or may not be water.

They try. But they’re never going to make it anywhere.

To tell you the truth, I don’t really care for it that much. But through thick and thin, through sickness and health, and certainly through love and hate -- it’s been my home. And for better or worse, that makes it special to me.

And honestly, as with anywhere else, you might be able to find something there.
Something worth seeing.
If you know where you should look.

Should you ever find yourself in the San Fernando Valley?

Take a walk. Walk past the people idling in the fronts of almost a dozen Pawn Shops that populate a short stretch on Van Nuys Boulevard. Walk past the front of the Police station where, as I was being led along in handcuffs, the officer assigned to me got pissed off because I couldn’t keep myself from whistling a jaunty tune. A story for another day.
Walk past the small shop where I bought myself a harmonica that I never could learn to play.

Walk past the lives and stories of hundreds of thousands of people who are probably more interesting than me. Stop and talk to them, if you can. If you can. But when you finish talking, when you’ve found your moment and moved on, bring yourself to the new destination.

A little grand new thing called “The Metro Orange Line”.

There it is. The first throwback to Southern California’s oft forgotten beacons of public transportation efficiency, the street car. Such a thing hasn’t really existed here since General Motors tore them down with their tyrannical tirade to spread the mass use of automobiles back in the late 40’s. They ripped through the streets with their agenda, giving us a stable full of inefficiently phallic buses which destroyed public transportation in this town, a trend which has continued until this very day. They made a movie about it. It starred a private detective and a cartoon rabbit.

Remember that?


With this new beast, with this private furrow that back-alleys its merry way throughout the length of our non-town, it seems as is if the fates finally hope to make amends for the clogging of our expressways, our passageways, and our breathways with more automobiles than you can loll a dead horses tongue at. Have they?

Shit no. They’ve done something else.

They’ve given us something to see this town in a whole new way. So, once again, it has become time to take a walk. That’s right. Walk. Don’t take the bus line, those silver beasts that glisten like duralumin while being held together by the flimsy rubber neck that never ceases heaving, as if it were drawing air into an iron lung. The buses, they move fast, in their dart like path. But they don’t show what you can see.

So walk. Walk down a road that goes on and on. A new road that never seems to end. Because when you walk down this road, you’ll see things. Things that aren’t quite right, things that only seem to fit in the driest air, in the land where the skies are clear, where the sun beats down and bounces up. Walk down this road, and you’ll get a chance to look inside.

You get a chance to look over the lower edge of a crumbling brick wall, only to see a burned out warehouse that looks as if it would be more comfortable on some forgotten New England dock, the rusty sheet metal withering in the Atlantic chill. See this building, with bits of failing mortar hastily shoved around the steel and the aluminum, trying as hard is it can to hold itself up against the harshest sun, the sun that beats down upon it as if it knew that the building was jus a little bit off. Look at this place. And then look through one of the numerous holes that have been torn in the fading face of the sheet metal.

You’ll see a warehouse full of brand new cars. Sports cars, classic cars. Glittering, purring, trembling. Trying to will themselves free of their bonds. See this. Feel the strength of their endurance, a collective mechanical will that can be felt even if you couldn’t care less about fancy vehicles. And then move on.

Keep on keepin’ on.

Walk through the air, feeling the sweat push its way out of your skin, your body wanting to look at the things about you as well, as well as lubricating your joints, forcing you towards a destination that you might never reach if you only walk. It’s a long way, you know.

A long way, if you’re actually going somewhere. If.
Think about that.

The soil in this area may contain a chemical at concentrations known to the state of California to cause cancer.

Now, think about that.
Think about that as you keep on walking, the road in front of you never relenting. Never relenting, but always inspiring, as all of a sudden, a single man seems to fade in from the haze of the afternoon golden hour sun. He’s drifting towards you atop the chariot of the modern age, a Segway. Slowly but surely. As he gets closer, the hum of his vehicle, although subtle, becomes apparent to you, as it lazily chops its way through the air, whirring along, making you notice even as it tries to hide. As the man passes by, all he does is nod, a motion that is slight, at best. Even so, the gesture must be returned.

And then he’s gone. Wisping away, just as he came.

Perhaps it’s the fresh traces of the aforementioned cancer pressing its way into my brain, but whenever I think of this man, of the Segway rider that came and went as if in a dream…I get an image in my head.

The image is of a man, a classical hobo from a yet to be forgotten age. His clothes are tattered rags, hanging about him with nothing but single threads, the only solid cloth being the striking red kerchief that makes up his bindle. The bindle pole is slung over his shoulder with a brash carelessness that echoes the immortal pose of Kikuchiyo, something which I cannot be sure if he knows. Even if he doesn’t, this pose makes me like him. That, and the squinting eyes of the inquisitive cat which now pokes its small head out of the bindle, looking for a breath of fresh air.

The neo-hobo drifts by. On a Segway cobbled together out of scrap metal and tricycle wheels. Still whirring quietly. Always moving, never stopping. Riding the rail of the road without end.

That’s an image the cancerous road gave me. What do you suppose it might do for you?

What builds in your head as the sun finally drifts down, letting the sweat that came forth finally dry away beneath the newly orange light of a street lamp?

What builds in your head as you still walk forward, letting your effort bring forth new sweat which beads over the dried remnants, leaving you with a dual sensation of heat and cold?

What might you see, that I failed to see? What might you say, that I failed to say?

Should you ever put yourself in the San Fernando Valley?

That’s your choice, kid. Your choice.

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