ink to stone

The Beginnings of a Hotdog Party — an abandoned story worth revisiting?

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Burt had been depressed for weeks before he decided it was time to buy a luxury condo and throw a party. The idea came to him after a botched purchase of Amazon recommended self-help books proved to be a fruitless exercise to make “meaningful friendships” because he hadn’t the time to read them. To Burt, though he had soaked up all the information provided on the their back covers, he still couldn’t enact any of the advice provided. He still smiled at the wrong times, looked concerned when he should have joked, and joked when he should have looked concerned. Burt, as per usual, embarraseed himself around his work superiors, emasculated himself around the bros at the bar, and alienated a quarter of Seattle’s female Tinder population, all in a matter of weeks. He gave every book 1-star and a scathing review.

His motivation, like his heart, had been crushed. It was May. Summer, fast approaching and Burt felt as alone as ever. The late snowstorms didn’t help. He watched the daffodils bloom in March and freeze in April. The frozen spring showers kept his spirits damp. It wasn’t until Jon C., his spiritual advisor and self titled “tech recruiting guru” brought up the idea that a change in kitchen counter tops could do a world of good for Burt.

“Have you seen the granite counter tops going into these places?” He asked Burt, referring to the plethora of high-rise condominiums sprouting weekly in the city.

“Yes, the granite counter tops,” Burt said in the same uneasy tone he always uses when he answers in the affirmative about things he doesn’t know about.

Jon C. flickered his eyelids to control his disappointment and sighed.

“Burt we’ve talked about this bad habit of yours.”

“I’m sorry, it’s hard to admit when I don’t know something.”

“I’m talking about your surroundings, Burt.”

Burt looked confused. He hadn’t recalled Jon asking him about his surroundings.

“Burt, I’ve been telling you to look at the condos. I’ve been telling you to look at construction sites to internalize the visual metaphor into your own life — to build yourself up like a big expensive luxury temple.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t remember,” Burt said, anxiously.

Jon C. closed his eyes again, uncapped a tiny brown bottle of essential oil and took a deep whiff and exhaled slowly. Burt bobbed his head in support. Jon C. slowly opened his eyes, as if he were reborn and continued.

“Are you listening in the evenings like I’ve told you?” Jon C. said.

“I do, but I’ve been going to bed late.”

Burt, I’m asking you a yes or no question.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, no you haven’t, because if you had, you would have been getting my messages.”

“You mean, on the dreamscape?”

“IN the dreamscape, Burt, IN it,” Jon C. wiped his lips with his fingers. “The dreamscape isn’t a platform, it’s an unconscious superhighway we all tread on between our waking hours.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you about this…”

“Burt, I’m talking right now.”

Burt blinked and sealed his mouth.

“These meetings only get us so far, and you know that my best work comes right before bed. I have to be ready for them when they come. When was the last time you received a transmission from me?”

“Umm…”

“Jesus, Burt.”

“I’m not too sure.” Burt felt sheepish for failing his spiritual guide.

Jon C. unwound his legs from his kneeling office chair and walked to one of the ten electro-glass orbs scattered around his office. He pressed his pointer finger to the glass and watched the current strike it. He slid his finger across the orb and the blue snake of energy followed. He smiled. Jon took his finger off of the glass ball and walked to his bookcase. He reviewed his library of new age prophecies, tarot card decks, and the long column of Ayn Rand paperbacks categorized by duplicate and triplicate. “She was so right on.” He whispered to himself. Swiftly, he turned to reengage with Burt.

“Burt, your new condominium needs three things: granite counter tops, a hot tub and Cards Against Humanity.”

“Cards against Humanity?” Burt said.

“Yes, it’s a game where you can be racist, sexist and all the other ists and get away with it because you’re just matching unrelated phrases on two different cards. The most shocking combination wins! It’s risk-free and makes people like you and me feel safe and empowered.”

“Okay,” Burt said, not sure what he and Jon C. had in common besides their beards.

“Do you know what else makes people feel safe and empowered?”

“What?”

“Hot dogs.”

“Really?”

“No, but buy the condo and throw a housewarming party and all your problems will be solved.”

 

 

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The Neighbor

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I was on a call, in front of my apartment building, telling a friend I couldn’t make it to trivia night because I had to get more work finished on my dissertation. He asked, “When’s that going to be finished–it’s taking forever.” “Soon,” I said. I saw a guy fumbling with a couple boxes enter into my building. I quickly ended the call and chased down the door before it closed.

The first time I met my neighbor was in the elevator. He cradled a box of papers in his arms and looked at the elevator’s floor buttons like they were about to tell him something interesting. There was another box at his feet with an Irish drum and a ukulele in it. I said, “Hi.” I said, “Nice bodhran. Nice ukulele.” He said, “Yeah.” That was the extent of it. We got out on the same floor, walked to the two doors closest to the elevator, and acknowledged that we were neighbors without acknowledging each other.

The next week, I saw a strange man get out of a green hatchback parked in front of the apartment building. His small, tasseled, black leather coat awkwardly hugged his soft body like an ex-girlfriend. He wore a newsboy cap, oval glasses, and fucking bike shoes cloaked by a pair of baggy boot-cut jeans. He turned, looked at me and either smirked or sneered, I couldn’t be sure. His beady eyes followed me as I passed. I felt that he was as judgmental as me. What a dick.

A couple weeks went by without seeing my neighbor. I forgot about him. His little coat, his newsy, and his wire rimmed glasses faded from my memory. But then he returned. It was hard to tell if it was him at first sight because it was nighttime and he had a head lamp on. He was by the front door, standing over his road bike, plunging his spandex-wrapped cheeks between its top tube. He was fiddling with his phone. I approached. He didn’t look up. I held the door for him and waited. After a moment he looked up, and then shewed me. Shewed me with a flapping hand. Shewed me and then smirked or sneered. I stood my ground, held the door, and he looked up again, raising his hands like he didn’t understand. I said, “Oh, I didn’t hear you say anything and thought you were swatting at something.” He said, “As if,” and looked back down at his phone. “As if.”

At 6am the next morning the knocking came. It started as a soft tap on my bedroom wall. It had a rhythm: boomp, boomp, boomp. But then it grew louder and faster, and then there was a soft whimper followed by a loud growl. A sex growl that was so vulgar and tactless, I felt less annoyed by being woken up by my neighbor having sex than sorry for his partner. But after his egregious sexual release, I heard her giggle, giggle like it was cute. Cute sex growls. I looked over at my girlfriend and she was staring at the ceiling. That growl will be seared into her mind all week, maybe longer even. The growling continued, every morning, the loud animal-like interjection soaking through our bedroom wall.

Things were going too far. The boomps and the growls and the annoying howls from his two miniature long-haired terriers began to wear on me. I couldn’t write in the morning any longer, I couldn’t read at night over the irregular strumming on his ukulele. I prayed for peace and quiet, for evenings in silence and mornings filled only with the sound of chirping birds and the whoosh from the local bus driving past. But things continued to get weird, and the frequency of our meetings increased.

The following week, I went on a walk to clear my mind and who was it coming toward me in full gallop but my neighbor, wearing an olive-green, wrestling onesie and a red, white and blue terry cloth headband. His pectoral flaps oozed through the straps of his ill-fitting suit, and I could tell the depth of his bellybutton from 50 feet away. Half inch. He and his girlfriend drew nearer, and I could hear him giving her running advice about proper running form. “Make your spine an oar.” “Envision that your feet are rocks wrapped in pillows.” “Don’t look at me, look straight, past the finish line, to your goal,” he said, all in the span of thirty-feet. They passed, and he gave me a nod.

It was at this moment, just after his incoherent mansplaining, that I realized that this psychopath is happier than me. In fact, way happier than me.

The reckoning came yesterday. It was a long day at work. My hands were swollen from swinging a hammer all day. The elevator opened and he was standing outside his apartment door in a blue kimono, both his dogs tied around his leg, with a bowl of cereal in his hand. He slurped a thimble of milk from his spoon and looked up at me. His dogs began to circle and bark. I’m sure the expression on my face asked the question that he immediately answered. “My dogs need a break from the apartment,” he said. “But this is the time of day where I don’t allow myself to put any effort into anything, so I can’t walk them.”

“I wish I hadn’t put any effort into anything today,” I said.

He nodded in agreement and pulled the lapels of his kimono a bit tighter to hide his chest hair.

“I have a regiment,” he said. “Sex daily, coffee daily, work M through Fri, lunch at 1pm, run every other day, bike to work three times a week, ukulele every night to settle my existential disquiet. All great, but it’s the hour after work, the block of my dia” (why he said day in Spanish, I have no idea) “where I don’t allow myself to put any effort into anything, when I feel the most special.” His face made that pained crease again; his smirk or sneer, I realized, was a signal of his hope that you understand what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. “Shit man, I must be boring you though,” he said.

“No, not really,” I said, in a state of confusion and pre-hilarity. “I’ve noticed that you take your regiment seriously.”

“You mean the kimono? Yeah, I’ve got a costume for every phase, changing into the right uniform for the job,” he said. “Helps me complete the task.”

His little greasy dogs stared at me, tremoring in place.

“Well…” I said, taking a step towards my door.

“What’s your best part of the day?” He said.

“Eating.”

“Besides eating,” he said. “Carnal desires are dope, but I’m talking about that human shit.”

“Human shit,” I repeated. “Okay, writing.”

“I knew it. I knew the construction thing was a front.”

“…”

“I mean, you’re not a football fan, I can see it, so you start tracing it all back, and nothing makes sense, man. You ever trace it all back while you swing that hammer, but none of it makes sense?”

His lips turned into the letter ‘o’ and he stood assertively still like he just dropped an existential A-bomb in our hallway.

“Yeah, well choosing the path of least resistance can keep the pedals moving, but a bicycle can’t get you over an ocean,” I said.

“BOOM!” He said and opened his fist, palm to the floor, to imitate a mic-drop.

“Keep doing you, man.”

“You too.”

I turned into my door.

“I forgot to mention,” he said, “that we play Settlers of Catan every other Friday night at 8pm if you and your lady want to come by?”

“What do you wear on your gaming nights,” I asked.

“My periodic table t-shirt,” He said, proudly.

“Sounds good. We’ll be there. This Friday?”

“Naw, next.”

I entered my apartment and both my cats were there to greet me. It smelled like the cat box. Feline wasabi. I pulled off my work clothes and looked at my dirty face in the bathroom mirror. Despite the grit and dust, I knew I looked better than I have in a long time. I reached for the hot water knob when I heard pounding coming from the other side of my bathroom wall.

“Put me in a story,” my neighbor shouted. “Enjoy your shower.”

“Yep,” I hollered.

I took a long, hot shower and watched the sediment on my body funnel down the drain. I toweled off and shaved. Clean, but alone. Liz was still working at a coffee shop up the street. I thought to myself, “I quit drinking nine weeks ago, so why do I feel so depressed?” My little cat waited outside the bathroom door and looked up at me when I opened it. “Have you ever tried to trace it all back, Kitten?” I asked her. “Tried to trace it back and ask yourself, ‘why do I always wait outside the bathroom door while dad takes a shower?’” She gave me one of her gravelly smoker’s meows, and I took her as answering, “No.”

I checked my email and saw that my university will not extend my deferment for another year. “It’s been four years… pay and finish or don’t… we don’t care…” was the gist of the head of the Postgraduate Department’s email to me. I checked the box and sent it to the trash bin.

I tried to write but was too tired to put down anything meaningful. I need a regiment, I thought. Liz came home and I told her I love her. I’ll write good words tomorrow. Better words tomorrow.

 

Throw Away Faces—The Cell of Nostalgia

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XI

       When I was a child in Glasgow I could see Ben Lomond[1] on a clear day from my father’s office window. It was not often but when he was free he would tell me stories of the Highlanders that lived above the city. He told me tales of the Highland caterans[2] stealing livestock for blackmail and tales of Rob Roy[3] MacGregor’s blood feud against the Duke of Montrose.[4] I would look at the dim outline of the mountain as he recited the long list of events that led to both the Stuart Rebellions.[5] And when he was done with those stories we would look down onto the city and he would tell me about the riots that took place against the Union with England[6] and the Malt Tax Riots.[7]

He said long ago our family were Highlanders, but not anymore, no matter what my grandfather and uncle said. He said that we were outlaws, but at a time when most men were. Back then there was enough lawlessness going around between those abusing their powers and the malnourished, that it was pointless pointing fingers at people from so long ago. Ben Lomond and the city below it held these stories.

When I was a few years older a factory was erected next to my father’s office and blocked our view of the Highlands. Ben Lomond was gone and Glasgow was too for that matter because all we could see out of the window was a wall of stones.

“They brought the Highlands closer to us,” father said, to console me the first time I saw that the view was erased, “all this stone and mortar is from there.”

His words did not console me. I recall it was about that time that I stopped daydreaming about the Highlands, what my ancestors might have looked like, and of Rob Roy. The tall buildings kept my eyes turned inwards, when maybe lang syne the vastness of Scotland’s countryside made men more contemplative of their relationship with the wild. Our summer visits to the Isle of Skye never made me feel that way. I remember my feet always being wet, and shivering in bed with little more than a sheet to keep me warm.

Upon my first break from university I visited our new country home in Bearsden. The white-capped Ben Lomond was framed inside a windowpane rising above my father’s desk in his study. It meant nothing to me, but it did to him and so I smiled and said to him he did the right thing to move mother away from the retched smoke of the city. 20 years had been too long in one place and Bessy, our old castle, had become a prison.

 

[1] Ben Lomond: Mountain north of Glasgow located at the foot of Lock Lomond. It’s doubtful from Enoch’s central Glasgow location on Byre’s Road that he could have seen the mountain, but I made it so.

[2] Highland caterans: A Highland band of marauders, professional thieves, and/or mercenaries.

[3] Rob Roy MacGregor (1671-1734): A Scottish outlaw and folk hero. A traditional Jacobite, MacGregor was pro-Stuart and Catholic. He was also a cattle herder, and engaged in blackmail to protect people’s herds from theft, sometimes from his own theft.

[4] Feud with the Duke of Montrose: After losing his lands he (MacGregor) waged a blood feud against his dispossessor, James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose. The tales that follow include a series of adventures where Rob Roy escapes capture and execution. Bloody brilliant!

[5] Scottish rebellions of 1715 and 1745: The 45’ explained earlier (Pg. 47, note XXX) both were failed uprisings to reinstall the Catholic Stuarts to the English monarchy.

[6] The Act of Union 1707: At this time, England and Scotland were two separate states, each with their own parliaments, but under one monarch. Following the War of the Three Kingdoms (1639-1651) and the Glorious Revolution (1688), which saw the overthrow of the Scottish Stuart Dynasty from the English throne, the new Protestant English monarchy increased its effort to consolidate power on the isles. Scotland, politically fractured and near economic collapse, was forced into union in order to open England’s colonial markets for trade. The Act of Union expanded English control in Scotland at a time when Scotland was looked at as a threat, and physically speaking, a harbor for England’s continental enemies to exploit, namely the French.

[7] Malt Tax Riots: Began on June 23rd, 1725 in retaliation to the imposition of the English malt tax. As the economic promises of the 1707 Act of Union had yet to materialize, Scottish citizens took to the streets in protest and openly riot. The fiercest riots and anti-English sentiment existed in Glasgow.

The Elusive Salmon

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Across my little apartment is the city locks. The locks see every boat coming in, or going out to sea. Though there are a lot of boats coming and going there’s also a good portion of the day when the locks are empty, and when they’re empty in the late summer and early autumn, schools of spawning salmon enjoy the peace by leaping out of the water, and going plop back in.

I say plop because that’s usually all you hear. It’s not as easy as you might think to spot a jumping salmon. Try as you may, staring in one spot and waiting for a salmon to jump is a fool’s errand.

Today’s Friday, and I have no work to keep me from the locks. I was also here this past Monday, and the Friday before last, not working, instead listening to the salmon go plop.

The rest of my time spent has been in my apartment. I’ve been on the computer, looking through job postings. With the click of a button, another resume goes into the blackness. For each prospective employer, I tell them that I’m qualified, a quick learner, and nearly perfect. I wait and watch for a reply. I wait, and watch.

While I wait, I try not to think about how hard I’ve worked to be broke, how maybe my quest to define myself as independent, unique, and a stand-alone has greatly compromised my ability to write a good resume and cover letter—I can’t seem to connect.

I finally pull my eyes away from my computer screen and make something to eat, and when I return, another rejection letter has been sent from a web address that begins with, “donotreply.” Cowards.

All these rejections come when I’m not looking. It’s the second I break my will to force good news that the tech world tells me to keep fishing (and to follow them on Twitter, etc.). I get angry, and then sad, and then I tell myself that I’m an anomaly, a force of nature that their vetting algorithms cannot grasp or define. When these half-truths escape my lips, I become thirsty for alcohol; for a cigarette before I return to my seat at the gambling table.

Yesterday, I spent the day doing something different. My mother had called to tell me that my brother lost custody of his daughter and threatened to kill himself. He texted me later and asked me to take care of his life insurance policy. He then turned off his phone and disappeared. I spent yesterday hunting.

When a salmon goes plop and you turn to the noise there’s a gentle wake. It spreads and rolls from its starting point in perfect symmetry. The succession of arches spread until they are swallowed by the bigger currents surrounding them. They die into the fold.

My brother’s wake continued for some time before he jumped. Not off a bridge, or a building, but by text message. He contacted his daughter to tell her that everything’s fine. He was alive.

I spent yesterday guessing where my brother could be, but I didn’t know until I did. I haven’t seen or talked to him. I’m not at all ready for that.

Some boats have arrived now. In particular, a fishing vessel with three deckhands chattering in Italian. The salmon are still jumping, and I can hear that language too. I’m too tired today to apply for jobs. It’s a fool’s errand anyway.

Today, I came to the locks and saw a large salmon, looking green and pink, she jumped right in front of me while I was looking at the boats waiting to go out to sea. She went plop and I saw the whole thing.

 

Prologue: A letter, a manuscript, and plenty of murder still to come

Co-Dublin-Dublin-old-image-of-Trinity-College-and-Bank-of-Ireland-c.1910s-with-vintage-tramsPROLOGUE:

Dear Doctor Dooley,

You will not remember me, but you tended to a friend of mine who died many years ago. At the time when we met outside Glasgow I had no idea that we would be linked through a common fate, death following us wherever we settled. Unlike you, I did not choose an occupation waged inside the crypt; I became a lawyer. As I write I am aware of the irony entangled within my words, and I will leave it for you to ponder. I will say, however, that it was not the opacity, rigidity or even the aridity of the law that deadened my heart, but rather its miscarriage, and further still a disturbed individual who waged an ill-conceived crusade against a miscarriage of justice through an evocation of evil.

It is not my intention within this letter to explain the details of my ill-fated journey into the forests of the American frontier. Rather, I tracked you down some years back to find that you had long since departed for Ireland and I let the case rest. It was not until last week that I picked up the newspaper and read about the strange murders taking place in Dublin and their disturbing similarity to the murders I experienced in Seattle when I was a young man.

I have spent the past few days writing furiously to reconstruct the events of June 1889 in Seattle, as I saw them. I know of no one else in Dublin, and I am sure, based on your standing as a doctor, that you have the proper friends to contact if this manuscript moves you and perhaps compels you to inform the Royal Irish Constabulary of the innocence of the girls suspected of murdering their fathers, and also the resurrection of a killer. I leave this manuscript with you in good faith, as I left my friend in your care many years before. Let us pray for a more positive result than the conclusion to our first meeting those many years ago.

 

Your servant,

Enoch Campbell

The Sailor

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He was scared and I was sorry for having to draw blood a second time. He was a sailor, an alcoholic; a dry docked man too old to sail with a son cemented on the shore. His liver was crying for a break and he cried out when I stuck him a second time. He pleaded, “Don’t stab me again.” The Medic nodded at me to stick him until the blood was milked good to sample his blood sugar.

On the rig he was sweaty and grey. His heart rate started to crash and the medic asked me, “Josef, could you please undo the patient’s shirt.” We pulled the rig off to the side of the road. He was dying, or at least it looked like it. It felt like it. I stopped breathing and then I did breath and I became loose and open. We double-checked his patches, I swabbed his arm, and the medic gave him something magic, his BP cartwheeled then jumped back up, like an impossible acrobatic trip up a flight of stairs.

“I’m cold,” he said after a while.

I put a blanket around him and we continued for the VA. He had been in the navy. “That’s where I learned to love the sea,” he said. “I’ve passed through the Panama canal more times than my son has come down from Alaska to visit me,” he said. “Four times,” he said.

His son was in his dad’s living room when we had arrived on scene. He looked scared. The old man was worried that his son would never come back again because he got sick. “I’m weak and old,” he said. “I think you’re brave, sir,” I said. “No, I’m old and scared of everything,” he said. I didn’t know what to say to that, but I kept him talking until we arrived to the ER.

I keep dreaming about him. I keep dreaming that it was just me in the rig and I didn’t know how to fix him and he died.

Snippets: The Water Park

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She said that there is nothing funny about tragedy, and I said, “You forget about irony; if I were to read the paper one morning and see that a water park caught fire and burned to the ground, I would take my next sip of coffee with a smirk and nod to our indifferent universe. From there I would flatten my lips and ask my personal god for a reason. My personal god wouldn’t answer me. This is the causal loop where tragedy and comedy become one. Where the silence is deafening and the water park is no more.”

“So it’s funny because it’s a water park?”

“Basically, yes,” I said to her, “on fire.”

THROW AWAY FACES — SECTION OF A CHASE SEQUENCE IN OLD SEATTLE

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I jumped over the body of the splintered man and looked up to the roofs above. There, a silhouette stood looking down at his good work. He then ran along the ledge, then turning inward and out of view. There were two ways out of the alley, north or south. I elected to trot south.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” The Chief yelled.

I turned back and saw him standing as only a shadow backlit by his men’s lanterns. “I’m running south, you fly north.” I yelled back. The lanterns boggled then turned and with them the chief. I sprinted in the muck to the mouth of the alley and stopped on Columbia Street, facing the fire station. It stood out as if it were embossed with some twinkle of significance I was yet to understand. I could see it burning in an ironic blaze of sharp flames and blistering wind. Then, looking left, into the dead of the streets, the silhouette of long arms and outstretched legs flew across the street. There he is. I ran up the street and connected with his path and turned south onto 2nd Avenue in pursuit. The streets were nearly empty. Random nightwalkers shivered with the gaslight reflecting off the lines of stagnant puddles collected into the wheel ruts of the street. The killer’s athleticism, his mechanical gate sent the staggering bodies against the walls of the decrepit wooden buildings and I was loosing him. The poison from the booze and cigars from earlier in the night broke from their slumber and injected new violence into my bloodstream and I felt as if I was going to be sick. I had to run faster. I had to concentrate.

He turned right. I passed the St. Charles Hotel and turned with him onto Cherry. Yesler’s Hall stood like an arrogant idiot on Front Street. Without lanterns I couldn’t see the shadow any longer. He had evaporated. I guessed left and pushed south on Front and then he reappeared out of a doorway and stood in the distance looking back at me. He turned and continued, hovering over the softness of the street. But, I was beginning to warm up, I could feel the gears in my legs loosen and I coughed out the needles in my lungs and surged into a sprint down the block to its end. He veered right, the triangle block with the Puget Sound National bank at its apex pointing my direction down west with him, and our trajectories were linked because I was gaining on him now and being pulled closer. Together we shot passed Washington St. and I felt the tug of the rope as he cut off the open street and into the entrance of the Brunswick Hotel.

I pushed though the front doors and the garden pattern of the foyer’s long carpet came alive and the dahlia’s bloomed at my feet and her ivy stocks snaked up my legs as I stopped in a huff of panic. “Where?” I yelled to the gloomy skeleton key shaped concierge. Without a word he pointed to the end of the hallway and grinned. I ripped free from the stalks of ivy tied around my ankles and came to the end of the hall. There, to the right was a pine tar and burned oil scented bar manned by a barkeep building a glass pyramid of snifters on top of the cool slate. Could it be that the concierge and the barkeep were the same man? For, they looked the same and pointed the same and administered the same seditious smirk.

I punched through the back door and into the alley. Facing me was a Chinese laundry. A red lamp hummed blood in a window beside a wooden door dog-eared ajar. I entered and the weight of the darkness inside jolted me. The quiet set in. The smell of detergent and starch mixed with the sweet smell of incense. My heavy breathing shook the walls covered with wool coats and shimmering silk costume. My eyes had trouble adjusting, as if they were not meant to, as if I didn’t belong there. In this house I stuttered ignorant in the dark like a foreigner. Tapestries of kanji script pushed out from the hallway walls that I stumbled between to impress upon me that I was perhaps approaching a final act; that this race was to soon come to a sinister conclusion. I reached another door and back out into the cold nigh–onto a laundry platform subjugated with white sheets hanging from sagging wash lines.

“Here is the moon, finally.” The devil said. “How many days has it been since the last time?”

The soft voice knocked me back on my heels and the door slammed behind me, and then a shadow blazed passed. My blood solidified into mortar. I was bricked in, afraid; I had chased fear into a room of mirrors, of white screens of which echoed the alleyway where this nightmare began. The moon indeed was out, showing through a crack between the smoky clouds overhead. All was nearly still besides the sheets gently rippling with the breeze.

“What brings a Scotsman to such an unfortunate place? Could it be for a love of money? Have the English finally taken your wild spirits and made you theirs?”

I hadn’t the bloodiest of ideas what he was on about. However, my warming blood told me that he was wrong; I wanted his life and nothing more.

“What do you know of it?” I said, the words barely spilling out of my mouth.

“What do we know of wherever we are from?”

The ghost’s silhouette appears three deep amongst the sheeted lines, standing distortedly taller and thin from the projection.

“Possibly this is not the most opportune moment to traverse Smith’s social theory, but do you not see yourself living in another time now that your soul is again housed within the trees?”

“Not all Scotsmen are philosophers.”

“No, but the death of culture is a preoccupation that you carry like a stain on your pressed collars, is it not? But, enough of that!”

The sheet broke, and the man charged thought the rest, landing his shoulder into my chest with such force that I was lifted from my feet and sent back a meter, cracking the back of my head against the ground. But, when I opened my eyes, expecting him to be standing over me to reveal him self before ending me, he instead wasn’t there. I gasped for air, and tried to stand, but staggered and fell back to my seat. Again, he spoke.

“However, I’m happy that you came.” He said. “And, you came right when I had finally figured out my place in this town. Right when I realized where my place was in this miasma of social disunity. I find so much religion in this broken experiment.”

He spoke nonsense, but with such clarity, I could not help but be somewhat captivated by his words; they spun against the washing like American verse, and indeed perhaps he was an artist, I thought. I begun to feel safe, feeling confident in my assumptions that he had no desire to kill me. But, my own relief for life crushed me, for I had wanted nothing else to die, especially by his hammer, and now that I was there, I wanted to live? I deceive myself—instinct over the heart.

“Kill Me!” I shouted. “Kill me.”

“I don’t believe in suicide without principle.” The man’s childish voice stipulated. “Nor should you.”

“I will kill YOU then.”

“A redundancy, truly. Lets not talk in circles. Why not we cultivate our gifts amongst the deaths of others; isn’t that a more constructive mode of expression?”

Then, I heard a crash—what sounded like a door being kicked in—and the warmth of the devil being close withdrew his blade from my body, and I knew he had left. I stood and forced myself to ignore the pain in my chest and at the back of my head, and continued the chase. The connection I still felt—the tug of the rope tied around our respective waists carried me through another Chinese laundry like a weightless spirit. I ended out the other side and onto what must have been 2nd Ave. He stood waiting in the middle of the road adjacent to the Standard Theater. He looked still and black as a stencil, his long coat growing a popped collar into a murderous crown. He looked so magnificent in the street swollen with eroded kanji signage and decaying edifices that I could have loved him. The moon slipped away and the curtain returned. No, I wanted my revenge; there would be no more philosophy tonight.

Dear Joe, THIS is India. — A letter to a friend


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Dear Joe,

Hey, I remember climbing those ancient hills with you to the fortress and feeling out of place without a mustache. I remember the brown ocean of the Arabian and shouting, “I’m on the Arabian!” on a beach full of overweight Russian men with spandex togs and cheese cutter caps. On that swollen beach we met the American couple, Josh and Leanne, and we hung together hard. She came back from the world and died in Texas two weeks ago.

I remember getting lost in Mumbai. I remember the straight razor shave I received amongst a crowd of curious onlookers on that foggy street in Agra. I recall seeing a life lost on the road, but then in Delhi, millions of lives moving on with things. Moving on with things…

India, you sweet bloodletting. I remember watching my past marriage turn from wilted flowers to strange peddles floating down the recesses of unknown rivers: wet cobra backs ticking by finger smudged train windows. I remember the little girl with glasses correcting her father’s english. He said she’d have a bright future. I believed him.

What about Serge—that mad Russian with a porcupine liver? He would have turned to stone if he ever attempted to enter the Golden Temple. As would have Dave. Fucking Dave. I bet he’s still dying in Mumbai. A mess perpetual.

You recall Bangalore—The neon in the dungeons of the market? The countless tuk-tuk rides, living in a demolition derby? I love to recall the giant fruit bats that hung down from the trees of Bangalore like unshucked cobs of black corn.

I remember all these things because they mean something to me. I remember these things as I lay alone on a memory foam queen size bed and feel compelled to burn it if it would fit out the front door. (I suppose houses are built in the West with the beds already inside.) I remember being within a continuum but never within it. I remember being touched on the streets. My skin a story of inequality. I learned to understand these realities and accept how things are—but after some time to reflect—regardless if I agree with them or not.

When we chatted the other day I thought about how much I missed you. How I missed New Zealand too and the illusion that I’d travel forever and never have to deal with all the mistakes I made back home. Well, Joe I did what any man would do in my case and repeated them over and over again until I had to return to the source. I’ll say one thing though, I’m glad I came home to set things right.

I only mention this because now that you are in Wellington, seemingly collecting all the precious things that you plan to hold onto for the long term, I can honestly say that you make me proud to be your friend. It’s good to know that you’re not a captive within my kingdom of memory, but a real friend that recognizes that in that unfathomable universe that is India, we shared time, and we still talk because of that bond.

And, in this tiny little pearl of fact, exists a single truth: that everywhere is India, and every moment is Delhi, and every up swing is being lost in Mumbai, and every down moment, is that awful bus ride from Agra to Delhi. That every experience with every friend is every trip into the ever present, which to me is the musical faith I place in experience. All this mess could exist in ten thousand Arabian Oceans or in one bottle of King Fisher.

What I’m trying to say is that we traveled light, but travelled hard, much like how we live. Lets meet again sometime.

Yours truly,

Josef

THE STORIES THAT ENDURE

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There were good times and then there were the other times where my hair started to fall out in clumps in my hand and when I’d ask people to tell me how I looked they’d say fine and I thought they were just being nice until I looked in the mirror and everything was in place and I was just imagining things. I’d get a pint and we’d all drink together and I’d wander off in my head every so often thinking about a new story and how we were all going to be a story once the night was done when all of our clothes would be scattered on our bedroom floors, our conversations echoes, and the looks shared between us absorbed and stored away. There were many of those occasions, the times when we would all text each other from locations around town and slowly but surely tighten our proximity to collide at the pub and recite the happenings of our respective days in the cadence of comedy. There were good laughs, and the more there were the greater the magic to multiply empty glasses and fill ashtrays. But the whole time I was feeling this eruption in my heart that I couldn’t explain or control and I knew that something big was growing in me and I couldn’t tell anyone because I didn’t even know what was happening and it was too much anyway.

At night I’d feel like I was drowning — but I eventually learned how to be a submarine in the murk of my subconscious. I’d wake up wet in my room and feel really cold and alone and would want to talk to somebody about it but there was no one except the end of a cigarette and they were the wrong kind of little mouths when I needed a big hug and some self-love to carry me through. But I knew I’d get over it eventually; all I had to do was put more effort into others and get outside of myself.

I’d take walks to the harbor from my office and imagine packs of wolves combing the stretched green skin of the hills on the other side and watch them scatter in a wisdom of full-sprint and hunter’s architecture — chasing down my anxiety and devouring it so I could be normal again. They would tire and look around confused like their prey had disappeared into thin air, leaving no scent to retrace.

When I was a boy I used to watch my father sit at the breakfast table with the cereal box, jug of milk, bowl and spoon always in the same spot. He was in his uniform, but he seemed seldom in his body and I remember being scared if I’d be a ghost like that in the mornings. And at the height of my depression, I’d carry myself around in a sack sewn from my father’s old post office uniform like a bag of hollow bones licked clean by my own wolves. I knew that I was eating myself alive and I was both the hunter and the hunted — so I stopped eating and stopped running. I knew that my anxiety was temporary and that I would get over it; the last thing I wanted was to leave and return home to America. That would be accepting defeat.

This all sounds rather morose and sad when in actuality I was still enjoying my friends, the green hour before sunset, coffee dates, music, cooking, baseball… I was still laughing, still having fun, but quietly housing hungry wolves in my stomach. I couldn’t write anymore. I was all locked up, dry, mouth full of sand, in dream still sinking to the seabed. I was falling apart. It was terrifying to know that I loved what I had so much but would have to leave it for my own good. Most frustrating was not even having a reason. Not knowing what was wrong with me. Not being able to figure it out. Not being able to make it all better. Watching things fall to pieces without needle or thread to repair the damage. Just having to watch it all float down stream. It was heartbreaking. And I remember laying in a cobblestone alley on my last weekend with my shirt off, feeling the cold cobblestones press in my ribs, so in a daze about leaving this old town behind that I couldn’t understand what leaving really meant and what it would mean to everyone. I was near collapse I guess and all the laughs and comedy and pints and filled ashtrays from the good times were just as I predicted, stories, but of a sad nature at that moment because the ease of those moments was temporarily suspended and replaced by melancholy and I felt like it was all my fault. I just wish I could have gotten better. Maybe I should have told someone that I wasn’t well and it wasn’t their fault.

Now that I’m back home and there are no longer any wolves, or a submarine, or anxiety, or little mouths not doing their job, and big hugs at the ready, self-love appears to be blossoming in the dead of winter. I have so much, the same as I had when I left, but even more. I didn’t burn down as much as I thought. I guess people’s capacity to love is greater sometimes than your madness. I feel nothing but gratitude for those I call my friends. Everyone of them.

So, I suppose this is an apology for a poorly written chapter. Perhaps it’s an admission of honesty. It’s maybe just another one of my stories. However, our stories of the times when we were all smiling outside the pub planning adventures together and just being kids are the best. I like those stories most because they’ll be the memories that endure.