Friday, July 31, 2015

Just Offstage

This blonde actress and I were on a sound stage, sitting in the front seat of long '63 Chevy hard top.  We were shooting a scene for a movie.  The stage hands kept running about, switching the plywood backdrops that were arranged around the car, reflecting different backgrounds and locales.  They switched from desert scenes to city streets to dense tropical jungles.  There was the Eiffel Tower on my left, and then the Aztec Pyramids on my right.  Confetti showered on us as we made our way through a parade of extras inflated by stagecraft and camera trickery to look five times their number.

Wardrobe continually changed our costumes in a flurry of colored fabric to match these backdrops.  They tossed an Hawaiian shirt on me, and then a cowboy hat, then a fedora, then some other hat besides.  They wrapped a scarf around the blonde's head and put her in sunglasses as she dragged on a long black cigarette holder, so blaise' as everyone fussed with her.  I pretended to drive the car and wave to the crowds.  We travelled the world in minutes and never moved an inch.  It was all arranged and rearranged around us.

When the scene was done, I got out of the car to go make a phone call.  The backdrops were pulled away, and the car was left sitting in a dingy grey concrete warehouse.  The blonde stayed in the passenger seat, powdering her cheeks and checking her makeup in a pocket mirror, still in character, still in the illusion of the scene.  I went through a door that opened onto someone's apartment with plush orange carpet and darkly papered walls.  I spotted a rotary phone on a table across the room, but as I crossed over to it, the stage hands pulled away the walls and took the phone and the table, revealing them to be fake flimsy props.  I went through another door and passed into the bedroom of the apartment, but again the walls were pulled away, and then again through another door, and then another, and every time the walls were pulled away.  I just wanted to get to a phone and call someone out there in real life.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Late Fees

One night, in the middle of a loud party with blasting music and bottled beers and people all crammed into this small house, I suddenly remembered that I had a movie that I needed to return to the video store.  I went to the bedroom, and on the nightstand beside the alarm clock I found the sleeve that the movie had come in, but the VHS tape itself was no where to be found.  I looked under the table and under the bed, but there was nothing.  The bedroom was full of people too, and I shouted over the music to ask them about the movie.  They shook their heads and swigged their beers and just grinned at me.

I think it was those grins that really got to me.  Like they knew something and weren't saying.  I started yelling at other people.  Someone had to know where this movie was.  Someone had to have done something with it.  I dreaded having to pay the fine, or even worse, the exorbitant fee that the store would charge to replace the movie altogether.  The party kept on, heedless of my desperate frustrations.  It felt like the whole of my life hinged on finding this movie and returning it.  Otherwise it would be that thing forgotten, coming back to taunt me years later in sudden recollections, that one last piece of never finished business, that one drop of corrosive acid falling down the bottomless pit of my stomach, my head swimming, caught in the endless vertigo of that dark descent.

No, that movie had to be somewhere.  In the kitchen I confronted a man with a moustache and a dark complexion.  I was certain that he knew something; I don't know why.  He began to get violently angry at my accusations.  I felt people crowding in behind me, and I knew that I was pushing the matter too far.  I was going to end up getting hurt.  But someone knew where that movie was.  They had to know.  I kept at the man with the moustache, agitating him to the point that his beer bottle shattered in his fist.  His nostrils flared as he clutched the brown shards of glass.  The suds dripped from his hand.

Still, despite myself I kept yelling.  I felt the people all pressing in behind me, and I turned and saw that they were all friends and family of the man with the moustache.  This was his house and his party.  I didn't know any of these people.  I was a stranger here, making wild threats at the host.  Hostile faces bore down on me in all directions, growling, seething, drawing ever closer.  I would never find that movie.

Monday, July 20, 2015


I was watching a news piece about this famous white-haired old millionaire.  They showed snapshots of him in a suit, laughing as he popped the cork on bottles of champagne in light-festooned ballrooms of the late 1970's.  They showed his boat on the ocean under clear blue skies, and he was standing at the deck in a sailor's cap waving his cigar in the air, blonde beauties in swimsuits lining the rail to either side of him.  The showed his secluded mountain estate atop a long road that climbed through the pines.

They spoke about his love life in that typical way with just a hint of scandal and a patronizing indulgence for the weaknesses of rich old men.  At the height of his fortune, he had met his third wife, a young brunette with curled and feathered hair.  They showed her smiling photograph, and they mentioned something about her teeth, and it was then that I noticed that something looked a bit odd about them, like there were too many or they gleamed too brightly or extended back too far beyond the bright red lips.

They cut to an old clip of an interview with this woman.  She was explaining that she'd had her lower jaw removed due to cancer, and now she wore a facial prosthetic.  To demonstrate, she unhooked the prosthetic jaw and removed it.  The woman interviewing her then revealed that she too had a prosthesis.  She had a plate in her face that extended from a dental bridge on the upper left side of her mouth on up to her left eye.  She popped the glass eye inward, and then slipped the prosthesis out through her mouth, leaving her face drooping on the left side and a dark hole where the eye had been.  And then they cut to the cameraman, already in the process of removing his prosthesis, and on it went until I felt like they'd set off a chain that would end with everyone everywhere having a facial prosthesis, the whole world turned upside down.                      

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Leaving the Park

My family had all spent the day together at the park, having a picnic.  At twilight, when the sun had dropped below the hill that overlooked the park and it was getting too dark to keep pitching horseshoes, we began loading everything into our cars.  The table cloths and folding lawn chairs and foil pans of chicken were all shuffled and packed away in the dim yellow dome lights.  Once we had everything squared, I started my car and swung it around, and there was one of my nephews, a little boy of about three, standing in the beam of the headlights, standing out there in the open, giggling.  I was so startled that I jerked the wheel and went off the pavement into the grass.

This caused a great deal of commotion, and the boy was pulled aside and scolded for getting in the way, and I found my tires spinning in ruts in the muddy grass, and a bunch of us had to get up under the front bumper and heave and push until the car was free.  And then we were on our way again, following one another's taillights in a long procession, until we merged with the whole streaming sea of lights out on the freeway.  The nephew looked back at me from the rear window of the car ahead, his wet eyes red and sorrowful and sad.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sick Day

I had stayed home sick from elementary school.  It was a frigid winter day with ice crusted on the windows.  My bedroom was at the back of the house, far from the furnace and slightly colder than the rest of the rooms, and I was sick in bed, dreaming all the stale dreams of a day in bed underneath all the layers of blankets, huddled within, pretending to be deep in a cave, leaving that one little hole for light and air.

In the afternoon I watched my cartoons on the the black and white TV that sat over on the dresser at the foot of the bed.  In my excitement over whatever show I was watching, I started bouncing on the bed and I made a gesture like I was about to throw something at the TV.  Just as I did this, I noticed one of the kids from school peering in at me through the frosted window across the room.  He had his red gloves cupped around his eyes, and his face pressed to the glass.  I could just make out the shape of him through the ice.  I didn't think anything of it.  I just gathered up my thick bundle of blankets and wound them around me and rolled back over facing the other way.

But later on in the evening, as I got out of bed and crept out into the hallway, I heard the voices of my classmates coming from the living room.  I came down the hall to find them gathered around messing with our old stereo cabinet, the type with the wooden lid that lifts up to reveal a turntable and radio dial.  My father sat in an armchair among them, a darkened silhouette shape against the rosy light of the winter evening window over his shoulder.  I couldn't see his face, couldn't see what he thought of all of this.  My classmates just kept fiddling with the stereo knobs and laughing and telling my father how the kid had peeked in at the window and seen that I wasn't really sick.

I got mad, listening to them go on about it.  I had come out from the bedroom still wrapped in one of my blankets, and I let this fall to the floor as I gathered an outraged breath and prepared to tell them all that they had no business staring in my windows and that the gesture that they'd seen had proven nothing and that they were all just looking to start trouble.  But then my father was there behind me, still dark and unseen, and he told me over my shoulder to calm down, to let it go, that none if it mattered as long as I knew the truth.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Big Disappointment

I had taken up smoking again.  And not only was I smoking again, I was caught smoking in the middle of the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital.  The nurse came in shouting at me with half my family trailing scornfully behind her.  There was even talk about a lawsuit and charges being pressed for smoking in a restricted area.  My mother, uncles, aunts, brothers, cousins, everybody glared and shook their heads at me.  I tried to stamp the cigarette out under my heel on the white tile floor.  I tried to explain myself.  I tried to tell them that it was just the one pack, and that once it was gone, I could quit just as easily as I did before.  But every word came out like the feeble excuse that it was.

I slipped away from them and out into the parking-garage that adjoined the building.  It was evening, just beginning to get dark out.  I knew there was nothing waiting for me at home but long lectures, distressed sighs, and bitter recriminations.  Down at the curb in front of the hospital, there was a black-haired girl in a light blue 65 Mustang convertible.  She offered me a ride away from all of this.  I accepted eagerly, and we were off down country roads that unwound in the headlights and sharp lashes of wind in the open air.  I clicked on the radio and the dial glowed gold and there was a warm hum and then all the old songs were there.      

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Instant Replay

I was hanging out with a friend of mine, and we were listening to the baseball game on the radio.  It was a hot July afternoon in the city, and we were sitting on the back stoop in the narrow alleyway that ran behind the apartment building.  My friend started going on about how the instant replay feature had ruined half the fun of listening to these games.  In the old days, he said, a close call would lead to disputes of passion and imagination, marvels of improvisation.  Now they just waited for the replay to settle everything.

He said that his old uncle was a master at this peculiar craft.  He would set up the whole play and go through it beat by beat.  My friend proceeded to demonstrate.  He stepped up to an imaginary home plate and swung away.  He cracked a fly ball into the outfield and barreled down the first base line.  Then he was the outfielder, scrambling for the ball at the fence and then whipping it to the shortstop.  And there he was the runner again, headed for second, and now the shortstop, and again the runner, and then back again.

"Safe," he pronounced quietly, showing that the shortstop never touched the bag, that he had missed it by just the slightest inch, indisputable proof informed by physics, stats, and simple geometry. The play was over.  The pantomime had stopped.  The spell was broken.  It was just a back alley again on a sweltering day.  My friend nodded his head and tossed the nonexistent ball to me, and as a matter or reflex, I reached out to catch it in my nonexistent glove.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

On Higher Branches

Back doing factory work again.  I had my old job as a material handler, running to and fro, making sure the machines didn't run out of dye or material.  But now all the presses were out in the open air of a summer night in amongst a small grove of chestnut trees, and each tree was inextricably bound up with the workings of a different press; the cogs and gears, the pistons and valves, all inter-meshed with the bark and twisting sinews of the tree trunk until it was impossible to distinguish the two.  I scrambled around from press to press, making sure this one had the right dye, hearing that telltale suction noise that warned me that this other one was nearly out of material, stopping just long enough to wipe away the sweat with my sleeve.

Our work involved feeding these trees and helping them grow.  Each fresh load of material brought a wooden crackle from each one of the trees and I could see the branches reach out just a little further in the dark, twisting in new directions, sprouting new leaves at their tips.  On the ground we all bustled along.  There were lights clustered around the press at the base of each tree, and the clink of metal on metal and the rumble of machinery and the abrasive edge of rough voices continued through the night.  But from time to time, I had to climb the trees to fill the dye loaders, and this took me up above the noise and the hot, busy air.  From my perch on a high branch there was a nice breeze and I could see the full moon high above and the yellow blossoms of soft lamplights somewhere below.