Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fast Friends

I had a cozy little house out in the country.  All my relatives came over for a Sunday afternoon get together.  It was a warm July day. The place had a busy feel about it.  All the windows were open, and the screen door groaned on its hinges as everybody kept going in and out.  There was something going on in every room.  I came across my aunts sitting around the table in the kitchen.  I walked in on the middle of their conversation and got into some small argument about the way one of them had used the saying "apples and oranges" incorrectly.  She seemed to think that it meant to make something look bad by comparing it to something similar but better.  "Well, they're both fruits," she replied, when I tried to explain the mistake. It was one of those kinds of arguments that keep doubling back on themselves and everyone's points become more convoluted and nothing gets resolved but it ends with everyone laughing.

So I walked off shaking my head and went out onto the side porch of the house.  I could see that my neighbors had dug up a shaded patch of ground in their back yard in order to lay a foundation for a swimming pool.  All the kids, the ones from my family and the neighbors' kids as well, all sat around the edge of this pit, fascinated, as though they were going to be able to swim later that same afternoon.  They kicked their dangling legs against the loose dirt, their flip flops hanging by a toe.  A green leaf drifted down into the pit, prematurely fallen from the branches above. The shadow of a cloud rippled through the grass in the small field between the two houses.

My cousin came along side me and nodded towards the kids across the yard.  "They all became friends as soon as they heard about that pool.  That's all it takes with kids."  I smiled at that and went back inside to the clicking sound of someone stacking washed dishes in the rack beside the sink and all the commotion around the TV in the living room.  It was a nice lazy day, no troubles, life flowing as easy as the breeze.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Little Town Below

I was in a high rise office building over in Eastlake, enjoying the panoramic view afforded by the windows along the far wall.  I could see the whole town spread out on the slope of a hillside.  It looked so small, as though it were just a model of the town, constructed in someone's basement, an artificial light source set up behind the potting soil hill to simulate the glow of the grey sky above.  The woodsy areas just looked like weeds or tufts of wild grass that had sprouted up as a result of the model being long neglected.  A few broken telephone poles looked as though they'd been patched with splintered segments of popsicle sticks. It seemed that the more I looked, the less I was able to shake this illusion.  I peered closer, straining my eyes to reconcile the reality of what I was seeing.  The cars had that toy gleam like they were made from diecast metal.  And yet, I could see the tiny people bustling about in the streets.  I tried to touch one of the cars, hold it in my hand, but my fingers just pressed the cool glass.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Of Poetry & Roaches

I was watching a movie called The Life of Dawn Marquis.  It was apparently the story of the famous poet Don Marquis, but a few Hollywood liberties had been taken and someone had thought it would be clever to recast the poet as a female.  The title character was a squat, rotund woman with dark hair pulled back and knotted into a tight bun at the top of her head.  She had chalky, pale skin and wide, rheumatic eyes all bloodshot and purple, as though she had been in bed recovering from an illness.  She had a pronounced downward hook to her nose and a timid way of quickly snatching at things with her hands, holding them like pinchers hanging down from her wrists. The odd impression this habit made was further augmented by a coat which she always wore that was made from a bundle of wild black feathers.

The story mostly centered around the courtship between this Dawn and her husband, those romantic earlier years spent strolling around Manhattan under a shared umbrella, the neon lights reflected off the wet streets.  The husband wore light colored suits and he had a pointed goatee and he spoke in a slow and stately southern drawl.  He would take Dawn's hand in the crook of his arm, and she would huddle against him, sheltered from the world.  On several occasions, this husband claimed to be blind, but this appeared to be some private joke of his, as he had no trouble reading the menus in restaurants or navigating the city's streets.

The movie took its time getting around to the matter of Dawn's poetry.  It seemed to proceed, as such movies often do, under the assumption that the audience knew the fame of its subject and the success which the story was leading to, and would watch in anticipation of it.  There were hints here and there, scribbled notebooks, early frustrated attempts to write, rainy days of disappointment.  And then came the scene in the cafe.  She sat over lunch with her husband, showing him some of her recent poems and fretting over the fact that whenever she tried to dig down into her deepest feelings something botched and ugly would come out, something unacceptable, something she felt she had no right to say in her own voice.  "It would sound better," she said, "if it came from something that was already considered loathsome, like a louse or a cockroach."

And that's when that look of recognition came across her face, her eyes wide and staring.  The moment passed almost unnoticed.  The husband went on, sorting through the sheaf of typewritten pages in his hand and pausing to flip the lemon in his teacup with his spoon.  But she had seen it, that dusty news room, the morning light shining in broken bands through the blinds, the empty desks and the stillness of the hour, and one tiny tired little cockroach climbing up onto a typewriter to set itself to the arduous task of punching out its message one massive key at a time, so that it might speak to all the world.          

Friday, September 26, 2014

Videotape

It was years ago when I was still a teenager.  A couple of friends of mine and I were hanging out at this middle aged woman's house.  We had been sitting around the living room for hours and no one had bothered to turn a light on after the sun had gone down.  So we all sat around in the dark, clustered somewhat obscenely around this women as though we were attendants of some sort, our long shadows cast as a group by the light shining in from the kitchen in the other room, all our faces obscured from one another in the dismal gloom.

Presumably emboldened by her third or fourth glass of wine, the woman suddenly spoke up and asked us if we wanted to watch a porno tape that she had in her bedroom.  She tried to make this suggestion come off in an innocent sort of way, as though she had only just thought of it at that moment, but it was clear that she had been mulling it over and waiting for the right opportunity to bring it up.  I stared at her with a deadpan look and said, "I'm guessing it's hidden in the wall somewhere."  I could see the glint of light in her wine, the dry papery skin all cracked around her lips as she took another sip.  I could smell her perfume like burnt flowers.  She disgusted me.

But my friends seemed eager to find this tape.  They were all over the bedroom looking for it.  They peeked behind the pillows and the dresser and a loose fold of the beige wallpaper all decorated with cute cottages and picket fences.  They pulled out the drawer of the night stand table, rifling through the playing cards and cheap jewelry, reaching back into the recesses behind the drawer.  A sweet medicinal smell lingered in the air.  They all stood around, almost too big for the lamplit room, and discussed any other places the tape might be.

I wanted no part of any of it.  I felt like the woman was using this tape to lure us into some sorid seduction scheme that that would lead from the tape to more wine and then possibly to pills and then to who knows what.  So I just sat on the bed.  The woman had a black and white cat that looked much like my own.  It jumped up onto the mattress and I petted it and talked to it and just forgot about everything else as my friends continued to tear the room apart around me.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Cold Wheels

I was attending a session of an ancient courtroom.  The room was traversed on either side by banks of open stone arches which bore no windows, leaving the room completely exposed to the cold.  It was deep winter and freezing, and the frost and snow dusted into the room.  The gallery of spectators all huddled under woolen blankets as they watched the proceedings.  The advocates, heated by the animation of their arguments, still occasionally wrung their hands to warm them.  They wore grotesque bird masks that made them seem strangely predatory, alien to the affairs of men.  The accused sat recessed in the shadows on the witness stand.  A shrunken creature horrified of the condemnation directed at him, I could just make out the anguished black pools of his eyes and mouth wailing mutely in the darkness.

There was a sense that the case was being rushed along at a clipped pace due to the discomforts raised by the cold.  There was a concern that justice would only be given its most perfunctory due, and that the patience of all parties involved would soon break and the prospect of retreating to warm dens to sit before well fed fires would seem far more appealing than the duty to give this poor man his proper hearing.  A brisk snap of the prosecutor's voice, a number of obligatory bleats of objection and wheedles of outrage from the defense, and a few muffled grumbles from the corpulent judge sitting high atop his bench, appeared to be all the indulgence that the weather would grant to the pursuit of truth that day.

But just as the case was drawing to a close, there was a stirring in the gallery among the spectators.  The judge brought his gavel down to restore order, and just as it hit and the sound of it rang in the grey air, everything else went completely silent.  Startled, I lifted my head and looked around me and I could see that all the figures, the spectators, the advocates, the judge, and the accused alike, they were all figures carved from the coldest stone.  They had been stone all along.  This was a museum piece, a sculpted reproduction of a historical setting.  I had sat here lost in reveries of those long lost days.

I wandered among the stone figures, getting a better look at the scene.  The prosecutor stood defiantly pointing an accusing finger towards the witness stand.  I slid my gloved hand across the smooth contours of the beak of his bird mask.  Ice crystals had settled here and there in the pores of the stone.  I studied that anguished expression on the face of the accused, all those exquisitely rendered wrinkles of pain and worry, all the more impressive because the sculptor had perfectly gauged the effect the figure would produce when viewed from the gallery across the room, all those details subtly suggested from the shadows.

I pulled my hand from my glove and held it to the side of the accused figure's face, almost as much a gesture of compassion as one of appreciation.  The stone was cool and richly lacquered.  The face just stared back with that same expression, the head slightly tilted, as though my touch had only momentarily eased a toothache.  This was the crowning piece of the whole scene.  I turned and considered all of the hostility of the room, all of the hostility of the world, focused on this one figure.  And then I put my hands in my pockets and went out into the snowy fields beyond this exhibit, my footprints trailing through the stone archway behind me.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Witch's Brew

I had invented a game for the Atari 2600.  I was considering either "Cauldron" or "Parabola" for the title.  The game was a top down shooter.  The player would control a small fighter that hovered over the top of a bubbling cauldron which took up most of the bottom of the screen.  All kinds of strange herbs and talismans would rain down from the top of the screen, falling into the cauldron.  The player had to try and dodge these items as well as try to shoot them before they fell into the cauldron.   If enough of these items fell in, the cauldron would start bubbling over, turning from green to red and emitting more and more gaseous, pixilated stars that could come up and hit the player's ship from underneath where they were the most defenseless.  Thus, the player would be constantly be caught between the ingredients raining down from above and the noxious stars bubbling up from beneath.

The major innovation of the game was that, unlike most top down shooters where the player simply glides from side to side, here the player's ship would swing out in a wide parabolic arc above the cauldron.   This would create an interesting maneuvering dynamic since the player would often have to swing off to one side in order to get a good angle to shoot something across to the other.  This would keep the game play fast-paced, fluid, and of course, fun for the whole family.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Summer Vacation

It was late summer and my family all got together to take a trip, just like we used to do years ago.  We traveled to somewhere east of here, some old unremarkable town, and we stayed at a bed and breakfast just off the main street.  Our cars were all parked about a quarter of a mile away under a grove of trees out behind the football field of the local high school.  In the dim and drowsy evenings we would take long walks down to this school to get things that were still packed away in the back seats and the trunks, swatting at the mosquitoes in the thick air and straying to the sidewalks whenever an approaching vehicle caught us in the beam of their headlights.

There seemed to be some concern over whether our cars would start or how we were getting home or perhaps even where we were.  But the days just passed by in lethargic apathy, the smaller kids having settled in on loose mattresses in a spare room at the back of the house, the scattered socks and picture books and stale air, the adults all sitting around the living room, passing the afternoons amid newspapers and coffee cups as the sun tracked its course across the front windows and that endless paper strip of sky cranked from clouds to stars, another bright day giving way to another humid night, the proprietor's dog curled up under the shadow of an end table, the crickets out there in the dark, no one really feeling the need to talk. 

There was an older couple also staying there at the bed and breakfast, and on one occasion when we were all sitting around considering what to do about our cars, the wife told us, "The only real vacation is the kind where you're not sure how you're going to make it back. And you don't care."  And so it was with them.  The lady passed away the following night, right there in her bed.  They took her out the next morning with the sheet pulled over her head, the ambulance waiting out at the curb. But there were no tears or regrets.  It was just another thing that came and went. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Brand New Machine

I went back to visit the old plastic factory where I used to work.  The quality control woman was showing me around the place.  I could see that a good number of the old presses had been removed and quite a few others had been gutted for parts, to the point that I began to wonder how the place could still rightfully call itself a plastic factory.  There were just oily pits left on the floor where the presses had been.

But then she led me back to a spot in the back corner of the shop where a crowd of workers had gathered.  I pushed through to the front and saw what they were all gaping at.  It was a completely new kind of press.  Instead of using the crude method of melting the plastic and injecting it into a mold, this new press assembled the part molecule by molecule from a digital blueprint.  Through the glass I could see a set of metal styluses at work, weaving the part together out of arcs of blue electricity.  After this impressively rapid fabrication, the parts would drop onto a conveyor below the machine.

The woman running this machine sat before a silver bank of levers and dials.  She checked the readings on a display and marked endless figures down a clipboard.  I thought about how it would be to work a shift at this new machine.  I figured it would be easier, most certainly cleaner, but probably as mind-numbing as ever.  I pushed back out of the crowd, and left the shop out through the bay door, and emerged into the bright blue day with a sigh.