Oh, my soul


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Imagine I’m a mime berating your neighborhood. Fences become scaffolding for my ARGH! skins; I plaster them on everything. Great big ARGHS! on windows and gates and your cul-de-sac becomes my exclamation mark.

By the time you gasp, you’re covered in assorted ARGH! stickers, ARGH! patches, and a cute ARGH! hat.

“Oh, my soul.”


Episode Link | Archive Item | YouTube

Endnotes

If you imagine that well enough you will understand the public shame I am facing. A collection of plug-ins, scripts, podcast solutions, and possibly Terms of Services, have colluded to destroy my creditability and happiness.

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A Bit Further In

I felt lift
the lifting handle move
of a crouch car door grab.

Like I was the tactility-enhanced model
of a spatially normalized dark-explorer.

A voice perked up,
glad for not forgetting the coffee;
Its little ears vanish.

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It’s a Concert

In the deep woods,
A few fences down,
Country music plays.

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Behind Your House

In the easement (let’s say)
a bicycle wheel is rusting into a splintered utility pole,
as (just for fun) a pile of green glass encroaches
upon (why not) crumbling concrete.

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Clearance

Nylon Flux Drive
nuclear-powered
avoidance-machines
Buy one get one one half.

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Squeezed

It is twilight. There’s a chill in the air. It’s November but it’s not quite winter in these parts yet. The cloudy sky looks fake. It looks like a children’s book recreation of a sky. It’s chalk and charcoal and crayon. Hard edges softly meeting. Weaved textures. It’s dark out here. And lonely. No, lonely isn’t the word. The word is scary. It is cold and dark and scary. I am alone on a compost heap.

The compost heap has been overgrown with grass, and it is covered with leaves. The ground is soft and give in under your feet. I pick and root around the soil. I’m having fun smushing it down. I like to pick out pebbles, and stems, and little bits of little things out of the heap. I find an onion. Or a potato. It’s a potato shaped like an onion in layers. It’s already been cut. It tastes like an onion.

It’s a still night and it’s getting colder. It’s awfully quiet out. The soil is warm and damp and it’s fun in smush in and dig through. I take a short stroll to the other compost heaps. They’re mostly all the same. The moon is hidden behind a tree. I walk back to the original heap.

I have misplaced the onion I was eating. I think I find it. I lean down to pick it up. But it’s more like an onion onion. This one isn’t precut and the outside turns green. It’s like it’s an onion embedded in an avocado. I pick out the most oniony parts to nibble on.

I hear voices in the distance. I stand and stretch. It sounds like they’re talking to me. Or trying to. Or just wanting to talk to me. But it’s lonely out here. And scary. And I can’t see where the voices come from. They’re making sense, these voices. They are talking about things I don’t understand. I like these voices.

I stretch and look up at the innocent sky. I stretch my arms out shoulder level and lean back and look straight up at the sky. I feel like I should talk back to the voices. I try. I can’t move my mouth. All I want to say is “love.” But I can’t move my mouth. The more I try the scarier it gets. I close my elbows and now I want to scream. I want to scream but I want to listen to the voices. You can’t scream and listen to voices at the same time.

I decide that I should fly. I haven’t flown in a while and I miss it. I think I remember how to. It’s always scary at first, but then it gets better. What you do is jump. And you jump again. I remember. I jump. I see the top of the trees. Then I see layers of clouds. And then I see stars. I wonder if the voices come from the stars. When I still can’t say “love” I say “happy”.

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Nostalgia

OK. Here’s the scene:
You’re helping your family pack up a dead house.

Here’s what you know:
Charlie is your brother-in-law. He was married to your sister for thirty years.
Leland is their middle son who died some 15 years ago. His death spurred their decision to move back to Texas.
Linda is your sister. She is moving back to Alaska. She’s been through some hard times. She’s here.
And your nephew, Ben, is here. You’re getting to know each other.

You are going through boxes of the dead. Faded photos. The ashes of Charlie and Leland.
You find several Zippos. You begin to wonder about the kind of guy that carries a Zippo.

You see him in a cowboy hat, bumping down the dirt roads of rural Texas in a pick-up truck. You see him turn up the radio to a favored classic rock song. You see him thumping out time on top of the cab. As the song winds down he looks out the window. He winks at you over the top of his of sun-glasses, and it makes you giggle.

You pause there for a while. You smell hay and diesel and dust.
Eventually he looks away, pulling a silver Zippo from his plaid shirt.
You think he is genuine. He is committed. He’s in it for the long-haul. He is in it for the simple joy.
This is a guy that expects permanence.
He expects trouble, and expects pain.
He expects growing old.
He expects dying–
but not at fifty.

Sometimes there’s a redhead. Sometimes you share a smoke with her.
You stumble out of a bar. You get halfway to her house before deciding to go back to the car. Then you’re sitting on a bench. By the time you’re in the car you’re reading Bukowski. You both laugh, until Charlie throws that killer punch of his. Now there is silence. She looks away into the frosty light.

You pause there for a while. You watch smoke swirl around her.
It’s a summer day. You’re in the Arb. Eventually you’re on a blanket on a hidden hill. The ground is wet. She is going through her bag, pulling out scraps of words. Practice letters in Spanish, descriptions, budgets, apartment leads, observations. These are dreams. You are charmed. You join the expedition.
You remember her history. You know she misses it. You know she longs to look back at a future that should have worked out.
You see it now addicts and occasional smokers carry plastic lighters. They work, but you don’t expect them to last. You don’t expect pain, you don’t expect permanence.

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Nicknames

You think it must be a family thing,
He calls you Marcopolis, just as you called her Santa Anna, or Annapolis,
Or, the one you didn’t think of until it was too late, Anna Arbor.

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1975

When Staubach first opened his eyes from the coma he is rumored to have said “oh, the humanity!”

The year is 1975, my forces are assembled on the gridiron. We’re down and demotivated, but we’re not dead yet.

With 24 seconds left Staubach takes the snap, hauls back, closes his eyes and, hoping for a miracle, flings that evil ball.

The bloody Vikings devastate Staubach’s line, it falls like dominoes in an earthquake. The Blue Menace pounds the weary quarterback to the ground. The world spins into darkness around him, later he would describe it as “being chased by a hurricane while on a roller-coaster to hell.”

Pearson speeds past Wright, fakes left, right…Wright stumbles but somehow manages to maintains balance. As Pearson reaches for the ball the Viking roars, calling on the power of his warrior clan. He vaults into Pearson whose body snaps and collapses. The ball lands near his twitching hand. As he’s being pounded and kicked by the relentless enemy he murmurs “can’t we all just get along?”

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Interstitial

1: Rainbow Kid

I suppose this is as good of an introduction as any other. I am walking from downtown. I am walking from a day of walking. From a day of coffee and a day of thinking—where, of course, thinking is too strong a word. It’s more of a day of considering and observing. But mostly it’s been a day of waiting. I’m leaving downtown, passing to the left of campus. I’m on my way to somewhere else. I’m expecting a phone call.

A kid shuffles out of the shadows. He looks at the sky sincerely puzzled and relentlessly confused. He asks “where’s the rainbow?” It’s a fair question. It’s been drizzling or raining all day. I don’t want to be impolite, but I don’t know how to respond. I smile and gesture. I am surprised with the subtleness of that gesture. I am noncommittally expressing camaraderie with a lost leprechaun.

He doesn’t react. He doesn’t budge nor flinch. Mist settles over his eyes as he continues to scan the sky for the missing rainbow. I continue through central campus, through the medical campus and then…

2: The Arb

I’m at the Arb. It’s a quarter till five. It’s not as warm as it ought to be but, in hindsight, it’s not as cold as it would get. There’s an indefinite odor in the air. Wet wood chips and leaves. Newly blossoming flowers and that thick densely sweet powder that reminds me of black women that I can tell are black even when bundled up head to toe in deepest winter. I once followed that scent down the block and into a grocery store so I could prove to myself that I was capable of smelling ethnicity.

That is what the day is like. I have been chasing specters of comfort. I have been following the cold sun and the aroma of the familiar. It leads me here to the Arb, to the musk of decay and the screaming scents of birth.

And I wait. I consciously wait. As I wait I think bitterly of Bukowski. Bukowski and his “No Help for That.” There is a place, Charlie, and it is here, at a rubberized table, at the Arb, on a Thursday, with no wine. I am dressed in sandals and my feet are cold, but it’s good to be off them. I try to see what the sun sees, but I am in shadow.

There is a path down to my right that is bounded by obscenely square garden beds. It will eventually curve into something more organic. It will curve and snake through memories: a girl, coffee, raw sewage leaking from a conduit. The decision to turn the other way. I only saw her once more after that.

An offshoot of that path, a year later, is a bench overlooking a hollow where I wished I had marijuana as I refined a story. I can’t tell which is worse. I stare at the entrance sign and I try to remember if it says anything about bikes. I stare at the trash cans and wonder if I have the strength to walk that far to dump my butts.

  1. The Table

The table top is quilted with fine strands of rubbery plastic. It reminds me of spiderwebs and woodgrain, of packing material and dirt roads. It’s beige, or tan, or a similar color that I’m told guys always have a hard time discerning. It’s the color of this pen tip. It’s a fine weaving of silky strands and pits and it feels like corrugated cardboard, but rougher, deeper. I don’t understand it anymore than I understand flesh.

My goal is to wait for the phone to ring. To have a distraction from waiting for the phone to ring. It doesn’t occur to me how bizarre that goal is. I wait for the thing to happen to take my mind off it not happening. I stare at my phone. I pretend it is to check the time—it’s almost five—but it’s actually to see if I had somehow missed a call.

As I wait I attempt to balance my phone on its short edge on the rough table top. It takes a while. The phone’s bottom is curved, and the table is uneven. I eventually get it to stand. The trick is to get the curve of the phone into a pit on the table. The theory behind this endeavor is that when a call comes in the phone will vibrate and fall from its uncertain balance. I have a smoke while I wait for the fall.

That proud phone stands steady in its commitment. Unyielding and unfailing—even against the cold wind, even against my harsh stare. It’s toying with me—confident and cocky. It’s a game of patience and stamina. Relentlessly refusing to budge. I shiver and I wish and I hope for even a wrong number. I have even stacked the deck in my favor. I eventually loose. My patience gone. My pride burnt out. I slowly stand on uncertain legs and unceremoniously shove the phone into my pocket.

  1. 911

It’s after six. I’m walking back from the Arb to downtown. Back at the spot where I met the leprechaun another young street kid approaches me. He asks to use my phone to report a crime. I’m weary. I have lost enough already.

I’m suspicious. I size him up. He’s young, but tattered. He explains that he tried to use the emergency call box but it didn’t work. I wonder if I could out run this kid, half my age, in my sandals with my messenger bag dragging me down. I think if I react quickly enough I can trip him.

He says his girlfriend was almost raped. I hand him my phone. Not out of concern but because it will be the most action my phone has seen all day. He takes it, turns, and briskly walks away. I stay close. A young girl at a nearby table thanks me, saying that it’s very kind.

He dials, I count three digits. He starts talking. He repeats the story, occasionally pausing for response, he gives the name of a cross street. He thanks the phone, closes it and gives it back. I continue to the coffee shop.

I can’t concentrate on my work. I am amazed that the call went so smoothly. I wonder how the campus emergency phone is not working, if the call made it to the right call center. I check my outgoing call log. He didn’t make a call.

  1. Uno!

I’m at the busstop. It’s almost seven. No-one has gotten back to me yet. On the ground are three Uno cards. Two eights and one face down. I check the bus schedule, I have 20 minutes until the next bus.
I am mesmerized by the cards. I have to know what that third card is. I either wonder if, or hope that, it’s another eight. But mostly I need to know. I want to prove that it is in fact a third eight. As if that would lend some meaning to the day. As if everything would click into place with the reveal.

But I’m terrified that it’s not. What if it’s a five or a reverse? I am frozen between my desire to know and my need to turn the other way. I don’t know what to do. So I stand there, eyeing the three cards. Perhaps hoping for a strong wind gust, or for someone to wander by with the answer. The homeless guy on the bench in turn eyes me with suspicion. He has a long white beard. But I need to know and need to not know what that facedown card is.

I flip it over with my feet. It takes longer than I think it should. I stumble and almost loose balance, but I eventually flip it over. It’s a wild card. There’s your rainbow, kid.

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