Tuesday, March 3, 2015

an antibiotic for purpose

Last night I was terribly close to a place called nowhere.  In the middle of some interstate in the 'middle of the night in the middle of Tennessee, I drove. 

I enjoy getting lost in the billboards. Places that offer realistic representations of Civil War experiences.  Sorrowful people who claim that drunk driving or plastic surgery is the answer.  God owns an awful lot of these signs.

He tends to fall towards the areas of guilt and blame.  Often he reminds you how lost you are and this is not a message one wants to hear in the middle of nowhere without a working GPS.

There were many Fireworks stores.  A certain amount of pride seems to be associated with the ownership of a building that could explode with the slightest application of heat.  Rocket Rays.  Big Daddy's.  Shootin' Steve.  Georgia/Tennessee Firework Warehouse.

 Not much pride in naming that last one.  Indeed it was the largest facility off the interstate that peddled bottle rockets and the owners clearly decided to market to bulk shoppers rather than brand seekers.

"Honey, you know the kids prefer them sparklers from Exploding Eddie's!"

More miles and more restaurants with names that reminded me of the sounds a body would make after eating there.  Pop's.  Squeaky's.  Grumbles.  I passed them all by, my own rumbling stomach rejecting the idea of biscuits and gravy in the middle of the night.

I was terribly close to running out of gas.  One station took cash only.  Two more were closed and now I was on a strip of interstate direct out of whatever the latest 'end of the world, people are gonna start eating people' movie.  Was that that a mountain or valley that occupied the dark space to my right?  I didn't know. 

Why did I eat all that Indian food for lunch?  So many rest stops without bathrooms and here I am a gay man in the middle of the night contemplating finding a bush to relieve myself behind.  How would that sound in court when I'm arrested for solicitation?

Then over the hill, salvation arrived in the form of a gas station combination trucker stop with showers and Asian massage chairs.   I turned in and promptly ran to the bathroom only to discover my belt was stuck which I yanked on in desperation  until the buckle flew off and cracked the mirror.  Relief at last.

After filling up the tank I decided to indulge myself in  one of the Asian massage chairs for a ten minute back rub.  The worries of my world melted away. The raw hum of tractor trailers and pinging bells of convenience store doors opening and closing provided just enough harmony and rhythm to call it a holistic experience.  On my way out the door the attendant asked if I wanted any fireworks.  Buy One Get One. 

I woke up in a hotel room confronted by a sense of fakeness.  Who was I to do this new job?  Why did I think I was a writer? Why do I have so much trouble navigating a world where everyone else seems so comfortable and at ease?

After exercising and a quick breakfast in which I confused deep fried breadsticks for turkey sausage,  I sat down to write and instead read about John Steinbeck's diary which he kept while writing The Grapes of Wrath.  Do I have a story in me to tell?  Do I have the courage to step back and stop what I am working on now to really discover what I need to write about?

Is searching for purpose a virus?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Repentant Enemy

Ray drove through the back neighborhoods to avoid being recognized. There was a fork in the road by the old gas station and he tried to remember which way to turn to get to Main Street. He thought it was to the right, but he decided to take a left instead.

He saw the small house almost immediately. It was under a tall oak tree dripping with Spanish moss. The grey paint on the building had flaked off to expose the crumbling wood underneath. An out of control Azalea bush had eaten the shell driveway and the front yard was a wall of tall grass.

Pulling up to the curb, he rolled down the window to get a better look. Everything smelled of wet leaves and sweet olive.

When he was five or six years old he began to suffer from horrific nosebleeds. They were vicious outpourings of clotted veins and gushing fluid that nauseated the most stoic of the doctors who tried treating him. Unable to determine the cause, their only suggestion was to hope he would outgrow it.

A priest even came to their home, first to have dinner with his parents, then later that night to pray over Ray and douse him again and again with cold water from a small vial. He kept bleeding through it all.

One afternoon his mother and aunt took him for a ride in the family’s old green station wagon. They drove to this house where a short woman with white hair stood in the yard clipping flowers from the bush. When she saw the car pull up she put her hands on her hips and called out.

“You know you’re not welcome here.”

Ray stayed in the car with his aunt while his mother walked across the pristine lawn to talk to the other woman. After a few minutes she invited them all inside.

The women sat at the kitchen table talking while he played in the living room with a coloring book. He put it to the side and looked around the dark room. There were pictures of people everywhere, and paintings of angels and some things that he didn’t know what they were.

After they finished their coffee, the old woman knelt down beside him. She placed crooked fingers, hard as nails, across his forehead and began rubbing one of his ears with the other hand.

Sharp words and something that smelled like a car engine burning filled the room. He woke up on the floor, flat on his back. The woman sat him up, hugged him tight and handed him a bloody rag. She made him promise that he would dig a hole in the yard and bury the rag in the middle of the night, when there was no moon in the sky. After kissing him on the top of his head she whispered in his ear that he could not tell anyone where he buried it or the devil would come and steal his feet while he slept.

“Your mama’s a good woman to let me heap coals of fire on her head for this favor. You honor her now and do like I tell you to.”

He kept the promise, burying the cloth behind the rusty tin shed at the edge of the yard, and he never had another nose bleed again.

Ray had stopped believing in God a long time ago because there were no miracles left in the world like the one he had experienced that afternoon. Why were there no old ladies around with magic words and healing cloths who could stop his friends from dying?

Rolling up the window, he continued his search for Main Street.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

one story in three parts on king's day and professor longhair too

PROLOGUE

and there i was wasting time trying to figure out what the purpose of this blog should be. then the girl walked up.  we had met a few years earlier when she was running her first marathon.  and she was blogging about it. at the time i was blogging about what not's and why not's as i worked to discover who i am as a writer.

she asked how the novel was going and several other questions that told me she had really listened to the things i said to her when we talked.  i couldn't remember her name but my picture had ended up in her book.  now she was training to climb Kilimanjaro.

her thing is all about her bucket list as she approaches thirty.  thirty.  what a ridiculous age.  who has a bucket list at thirty.  i'm almost fifty and i don't have a bucket list.

that's mostly because operate on the assumption that there is nothing i haven't done that other people have just read about.  i certainly don't want to climb Kilimanjaro unless there is a luxury tram that takes you to the top with a lovely little wet bar to enjoy.

but this time i listened to her and i agreed it would be fun to find things to experience in this final year before fifty.  (she did ask if i wanted to come along and cook for her so there's still a chance you may read about me flipping rice cakes in a fire pit somewhere on the savannah later this year).


INTERLUDE

it's king's day.  do you know what that means?  it's one of the few things you can count on in life.  the start of carnival season.

my friend holli has been posting these pictures of her and this little boy on her facebook page.  as i recently admitted i am awful at keeping up with the meaningful relationships in my life so i decided to give her a call and catch up and i thought the topic of the little boy in the pictures would be a good ice breaker since we hadn't spoken in awhile.

i'll spare the details but it turns out that the little boy died of a blood disease this past thanksgiving.  he must have been eleven or maybe twelve?  and that's where things started to fuck with me today.

i like to talk about confronting my survivors guilt but i avoid it as often as possible.  but here was this child who had his whole life ahead of him, gone.  did he have a bucket list?  had he done the things he wanted to?

i drive in my car and bitch about how trapped i feel in the routines that I built.  MY choices.  but i'm still alive and that's not fair.

i look at the picture and see it in his eyes.  i've looked into the face of death enough to know when it's in the room.  but there's life there too.  LOOK at HIM!

Aw because it's Carnival Time (if you don't know the song just you tube Professor Longhair and that's the soundtrack to all of this).  That little boy was out there living.



EPILOGUE

i was sitting in the office today and a song came on.  it enveloped me.  i could remember laying on a fringed persian rug staring up at the cracked ceiling of a french quarter apartment.  we dropped acid and lay on the floor listening to the album and crawled out of the third floor window and watched the people walking on the street below and eventually the sun rising over the city.

there are two things about surviving that i want to share with you.  surviving is not living, though you will be alive if you survive, but it's not enough.

the other thing is that you have fewer and fewer people to share your memories with.  who was that person i lay there tripping with on that rug?  i don't remember.



is a bucket list so bad?  a list of things to do?  wasn't it enough to just stay alive?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

pen pals, paint chips and some high quaility stationary. part one

This morning I briefly considered replying to all those Happy Birthday wishes with a message alerting them that by clicking on the link they had made a donation to a Political Action Group in support of underage drinking, complete with an address to a fake website filled with affirmations encouraging a lifetime of bad choices.

Of course I didn't do it.  'Why alienate more people',  is what I thought as I stood in the kitchen suspiciously eyeing the bowl of steel cut oats I was tempted to top off with the rest of last nights kung pao chicken.

I 've spent half a century running my mouth about things that generally piss people off and keeping any remaining folks at arm's length.  Perhaps it was this bit of insight that led me to decide I was going to spend less time on Facebook and more real time in pursuit of actual relationships with those around me.

To satisfy that goal  I turned on my computer and asked my FB friends if anyone wanted to be a pen pal.  Yes, the habit of young children in which you practice phrases in other languages or compare what your state is like to theirs. At fifty I wanted someone to write letters to.

 Of, course I hadn't written a real letter in years.  It was easy when you were a kid. 

"Hello.  Je m'apelle Robert.  My favorite color is blue and I like to read comic books."

Not so easy to do as an adult.  After a lifetime of Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart I know longer understand what constitutes the shades of the spectrum.  Though I may not have realized it when I took the leap from eight Crayola's to the big box that had actual silver and gold crayons it was a pivotal moment in life.  Perhaps it was just the first step in a lifetime obsessive behavior  that sometimes manifests itself in the paint chip wall at Lowe's.  Now I can only express myself in tonal qualities that reflect exotic locations and questionable fruit.

"I love your living room, what colors did you use?"

"It's Casablanca Cigar with a touch of Opium Den.  The trim is Dragonfruit"

"Is that the one with the little spikes?  Aren't they poisonous if you don't cook them?"

And that's how I end up wasting an entire afternoon researching dragonfruit instead of writing letters.  Inevitably it led to videos of botflies hatching and cats riding motorbikes.

After that I discovered there is a new electronic journal that you can spend time emoting to.  It's programmed to ask you questions like, "Why do you feel that way?" and "What will you do about that when you see that person next."  I don't want a journal that I can't lie to.  This is not the future I'm interested in.  I think a return to the best qualities of the past is what will really enrich my life.

That's why I've decided to write all my letters on parchment paper with a feather quill. 



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

On the road to losing myself...

There really is no difference between the known and unknown.  Or at least I used to think so.  It's all just things.  Things that fit into categories or situations what harbor within themselves easy solutions.

People like to say things like, "It's better to know than not to know.". But the only real difference between the two is how you react.  Of course I once read on a toilet paper holder in a dive bar in the French quarter that 'Shit Happens, what matters is how you react to it".  I also saw this in a fortune cookie one time.  Chuckle now at the connection of such knowledge while you eat and then relieve yourself.  It would appear that both ends agree on that message.

So, what is it that I don't know?  I guess for the few years after coming out of the math haze the thing I knew very little about was myself.  The vehicle for my purpose.   It was challenging, like a doped out Rip Van Winkle.  Things that I thought I enjoyed ten years earlier were no longer relevant. 

Food, music, movies and television shows.  Clothes, things that people said and did for fun.  I had stopped somewhere in the late nineties.  Stopped altogether.  When I came out of the other end it was like waking up in a different world.  I was completely lost.  Or so I thought.  Now I understand that I had actually lost the things that constitute what I have, thrown into memory, passed away into a distant world that I no longer could live in,

There were so many things I had to learn to do again.  Like relating to other people which is something I was never good at to begin with.  Now there was a distance to my relationships brought on my decayed and devastated nerve endings in my brain.  

How odd it was to have lived a life for ten years and not know who I was, what I enjoyed.  Things I had not sat around and considered were now, suddenly, relevant.  I wanted to know myself.  But there wasn't anything there.  What I had known, was essentially unknown.

Now, just short of turning fifty and being HIV positive for twenty years (my anniversary is just two weeks away.  The one when I got those test results). I am going to embark on a bit of a journey, one in which I get lost in the unknown.  But not the unknown behind me, rather an exploration of what is in front of me.

I want to stop letting the past be an excuse for why I fail all the time.  I want to be the person I always dreamed I'd be.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

in which a fat headed angel tells me what to do

last night an angel burst forth from a facebook post.

without a single trumpet, hosanna or blinding light to fill the room, i was faced with a messenger from the other side of wherever we exist.  to be polite i offered it a cup of hot chocolate which it immediately declined as it lacked not only any type of digestive system, but a body as well.

it was basically just a head precariously perched atop some little wings.  being who i am i immediately took the fact that it was not an archangel in my presence to mean that i was just what i have been concerned about.  i'm ordinary.  just a regular guy without a grand purpose.

that was on my mind earlier in the day as i sat around watching one television broadcast after another and reading one blog post after another about resolutions and beginnings and how to define and redefine and redo your redefinitions in the new year.

but hadn't my new year already started?  my birthday was just two weeks ago.  isn't that when i should have commenced the creation of a new me?  (if so then the new me is very much like the old me with lovely little excuses to avoid working out (oh that dead possum on the side of the road, how cruel is the world), to wait until the last moment to do something (but i live in the moment!), and just plain old avoiding things (oh, look how shiny that is!).

one little segment that caught my attention was when it was suggested that you choose a single word to focus on for the year.  now i lack the discipline to focus on a single thing at any one time.  so to have one word be my defining element for the next 365 days is a bit daunting.

but i sat in the back yard next to the creek and opened my heart chakra and cleared my aura and chanted and prayed and meditated while watching the dogs do their business and writing down a little list of things i needed to do, and searched for my word.

and in the silence i heard the word, "proscuitto".

no, that couldn't be my word, could it?  i love it certainly but not enough to eat it for the entire year!  (that's a lie!)

i listened again and i heard, "cappuccino".  but i was trying to avoid caffeine with the new diet, despite the big keurig coffee maker that sat on my kitchen counter.  no, there were too many other choices that would matter more.

and that's why the angel showed up.  without a single blaring horn or lightning strike it presented my word written on a flowing banner.

disciple.

we argued for awhile as i refused to follow anyone nor subject myself to believing the opinions of others to which the little floating head reminded me of all the news blogs i follow and then the embarrassing moment when i realized the word was actually 'discipline'.

'for you have asked for organization but without discipline you are simply obsessively compulsively moving through creation.'  (yes, yes i did ask to be more organized years ago but that had more to do with my keeping track of where my bills were and balancing my checkbook).

discipline.  it sounded binding so i rejected it.

'my word for the year shall be RE.'

'but that is not a word!'

'RE as in REview, REnew, REdo....'

'that is a prefix!  you cheat!'

well, yes it was a cheat but i've cheated death and bad luck so much throughout my life it's one thing i do well.  but the little angel was having nothing to do with it and so we wrestled.

and it was nothing like what i thought, no thunderous roar high atop a mountain.  we more or less tumbled around the kitchen for awhile (slippery little creature being just a fat head with wings).

'discipline!'

'RE!'

we knocked espresso cups to the floor (i must buy those demi-tasse spoons i thought!)

'discipline!'

'RE!'

we knocked the computer over and the angel told me i wasted my time with nonsense postings and i reminded the angel that it had sprung from a post about a salmon cream cheese bagel i had eaten, verily from the very picture i had taken of it!

and so it went until we were both spent and the little creature shouted that i should do whatever i wanted because i had always done whatever i wanted and was i pleased where it had gotten me? (paraphrased.)

well, that stopped me in my tracks.  and in a puff of smoke, and the squeak of a kazoo it vanished leaving behind the banner with the word discipline written on it.


well, i'm awake now and redoing a few things around the house.  i deleted the news blogs i spend so much time searching for conflict in.  i cleaned the kitchen and tossed out the pile of proscuitto i've been hoarding since christmas.  and i made myself a cup of tea and sat down to write.

i'm going to go for a walk and spend ten good minutes clearing my head of thoughts.  i'll probably call my brother who i've been avoiding all year and then later i'll light the fireplace, wrap myself in the banner the angel left behind and spend my day in RE!





Monday, November 18, 2013

recipes for my soul

i tackled the age old issue.

on a cold night, should there be liquor in my hot chocolate?

it was an easy answer the minute i saw the old bottle of creme de cacao in the closet.  (closet? or pantry?  it makes me sound like i have flavored alcohol between my poorly folded fitted sheets!)

i could probably just put it all under the heading of beginning a month long celebration towards my birthday.  i crossed a particular line this past saturday.   one month to one year before turning fifty.

here's the thing about living past the point you planned to.  you run the risk of everything being a giant disappointment.

i mean, i was supposed to go out in a flash and a bang and the stories they would tell about me would be legend.  except i'm the only one who remembers these stories because everyone else is dead and instead of being legendary they are just mere memories.



it's been a crappy couple of weeks.  my car was broken into, my wallet stolen, the heater stopped working, the a/c is still broken and i accidently payed a credit card company four hundred dollars instead of forty dollars and now i'm broke broke broke.

also. also i remembered tonight about that one time i took a neighbors cat and dropped it off in another neighborhood.  it got me thinking about how much of an asshole i've been to people including my own family.
the regrets are starting to pop up a bit too regularly for me these days.

it's the issue of old age.

Friday, November 15, 2013