ink to stone

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.

IDENTIKIT — SECTION FROM MY FIRST NOVEL — MEET THE ARISTOCRAT

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My friend Jesse Montini-Vose and I are working on turning my first novel into a series of short animated films. Here is the first sketch and a section from the first chapter. 

Surprised that the Aristocrat knew her name, she snapped her head back to face him. She studied the terrible scene in front of her: the hooded man, the guillotine and the roses, and felt terror for the first time as if she was unaware of the danger she was in before, and had just now realized the severity of her situation.

“Why won’t you let me leave?” she cried desperately. “Can’t you see that I’m wounded and need help?”

“…”

His silence made her ashamed and she dropped her head in misery. Every creature within the oasis relaxed and allowed the evening breeze of the late sunset to pass through them. The aristocrat looked down at his coat and picked a piece of lint from his lapel. The collective exhale of the oasis normalized and the Aristocrat looked up, but refrained from pressing Beth any further. He turned in his chair and resituated his body, crossing his legs.

“There is no bother looking,” he said.

“At what?” She thought, defeated.

“It has been healed.”

Beth felt around her stomach, but couldn’t find the pain; the hole had been plugged. She felt actual fear in the bullethole’s absence.

“What are you?”

“…”

She closed her eyes to escape. She returned to the opaque plain of her subconscious and stood beside the petrified bodies of Alex and Cole, who still lay where she had left them. She looked up into the blank atmosphere and saw a black crow flap its wings overhead. “Crow?” She said, confused. The bird hovered overhead. She worried that he would get tired and fall. A snap popped at her feet and drew her attention down to Cole’s hand punching through his rock mold. The blue hand felt around for her ankle, then a black loafer came into view and ground its blunt heal into Cole’s icy flesh. The Aristocrat pivoted and swung around on the hand to face Beth. His lanky body towered over her and his chest heaved at her eye level as he peered down at her.

“These corpses are worse than bullets to you.”

“They were my friends.” She mumbled.

“Corpses will always be dead.”

“And memories?”

“Burn them.”

He raised his arm and attempted to place his hand on her shoulder, she pulled away and opened her eyes — she was back at the pass and caught herself from falling off of her horse.

“Twice in one day.” Their voices said together in her head — the Aristocrat sitting again at his chair.

“Stop it.” She yelled. “You have no right to be in there.”

“But I must know.” He said.

More ivy climbed up the legs of his chair.

“What?”

“I must know what brings you here?”

“I told you, I don’t know. I’m only here to cross over the mountains.”

“You are lost?”

“No.”

(He read her thoughts)

“You have a very limited concept of time to think that I am strange. If you knew where you were I would not be so wicked to you. You would know me quite well and know me as part of the mechanism.

“Mechanism?”

“Yes. So, I ask you again, what brings you here?”

“Brought me?”

“No, brings you. On what moment did you arrive?”

She closed her eyes to think, to disappear again. However, he still stood close to her in her mind, unwilling to give her peace. She jumped back, startled, but this time unable to pass back into consciousness.

“Shall we take a walk?” He asked.

He turned away from her and looked out onto the flat grassy plain.

“What secrets must mingle here?” He asked himself aloud.

Beth stood and watched him scan her thoughts.

The Aristocrat grabbed the collar of his mask and pulled the heavy canvas bag from his head and turned back towards her. Beth’s eyes mapped his face; for a moment unsure of what was missing to make it so grotesque. The lower jaw of the man was missing and all that remained were a set of decayed molars rotting at the back of his splintered mandible and a sick tongue unrolled. In contrast, his upper teeth were pearly white and hung down, exposed for exhibition. His nose was thin and pointy. His eyes were clear and encircled with bruised eyelids and a thin pair of bleached eyebrows to match his white periwig. His pallor was as if he had walked inside from the cold.  He ignored Beth’s hand pinching her lip, and in one unconcerned flourish pulled a blue kerchief from his coat pocket. He wound it tight and tied it around his head so a triangle piece covered his teeth.

“It’s rude to show your teeth to someone.” He said, turning only slightly to make slight eye contact with her.  Now, shall we?”

Beth’s world went dark. It brightened to a bustling café. He looked around in wonderment, scanned the white walls, the ornate crown molding, and the brass handrails of an iron spiral staircase that stood behind Beth. She stood at the opposite end of a round granite tabletop.

“Sit.” He said, as he took his chair. “Oh, my this is wonderful.” He gasped. “I’ve been forward in time, but never outside of, well…” He closed his thoughts.

However, Beth hadn’t heard a word from the Aristocrat. She was looking at a table on the other side of the room at a young woman wearing a white dress and black cardigan. Her hair was short. It was her. She sat with a young man wearing a black suit and a rounded white collared shirt. His brown hair was parted. Beth was unresponsive to the Aristocrat’s ploys to rouse her attention. She looked at the two, ensnared within the vines of melancholy, saddened by a memory she felt guilty to have forgotten.

“Guilt?” He questioned rhetorically. “No, no, your youth is nothing to mourn.”

His cold white hand pinched her chin. She pulled away, shuttered, and gave him a disgusted look.

“I’m not feeling guilty.” She snapped, noticeably upset. “I just don’t want to be here.”

“In your past, or with him?”

“Neither.”

“But, he seems like a nice boy?”

“A coward, actually.”

“I see.”

The young man stood and walked to the front counter. He collected two cups and saucer in his hands and returned to the table. He leaned forward, fumbled in a last ditched attempt, but the china crashed to the tile floor. Everyone in the café turned to see what the matter was, but Beth looked away.

“I want to leave.” She said, affected, nervously looking out the café’s large front window. “I’ll take you to where I can hurt you if you don’t let me leave here.” She said, now understanding the power of her own mind.

“They’re so in love.” He said, disingenuously.

All went black.

FIVE DAYS IN NEW YORK CITY

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The fog had been thick for days in Seattle and that wet molasses which had descended from Alaska got me all caught up in myself and I needed to die in a good way and get out and forget about New Zealand too and become all that newness that comes when you leave home. I wanted all the heavy in my life to glance off my shoulders and I watched those good and bad memories slide off the airplane’s wings when it took off. I fell into New York City in the late afternoon and got wrapped up in her iron veins and was spit out in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and watched football at Cody’s where our waitress Kelly treated us like royalty while we drank pitchers of the local IPA and I was already making plans to never leave. I ended that night with a shot of grappa to wash down the wood pigeon ravioli I had just swallowed. The scent of big city and autumnal decay filled the blanks and I turned off whole.

The next couple days kept me spinning and loosing where north was or where south should be or where west was when the sun was going down. All that was there were building tops and stacks of brick, and limestone and granite edifices hammering their permanence down on the cityscape. Scurrying in between their toes were us little ants running around digging in the sand, forging paths which were erased as soon as they were dug. Footprints are impossible to imprint in cement, and you can’t make records of the past in New York City I don’t reckon. All that is there is the present and I liked that so much that I didn’t mind about getting lost in Manhattan. In fact that’s all I wanted to do was be lost.

Whenever I got hungry I ate a slice of pizza or a buttered bagel and every time I got thirsty I had a glass of water with a red wine and looked at my map while everyone else at the bar looked at their phones or the NY Times or sat chatting with a friend about this or that. I found the tether of a thousand conversations, the footsteps and heel clicks, cars honking, the rumble emanating from the subways the most refreshing braid of chaos. Seattle and Dunedin disappeared in her folds, which they had needed to for quite some time and I felt less buried than free and less forgotten than apart of a collective stream of volition, like a powerful river I suppose, and the last time I had thought of that was when I was in India flowing down stream with the wheel traffic. So I walked everywhere with everyone.

My steps took me all over and one day I walked from SoHo to the Lower East Side, to Hell’s Kitchen to see the M.I.A. show and met a whole bunch of crazies that could share a great time and then agree to never see each other again. This made the whisky burn less but the heart peak and all night felt only like a second. I woke up the next morning and thought about all that I used to have and what I can have in the future and what I had right then and all I knew was that I’d start with a glass of water and figure it all out after that.

That afternoon I Walked down 5th Avenue and swam through stone faces from Central Park all the way to 30 something Ave and went inside the Live Bate and loved how the dim lighting inside let the green and red walls speak nostalgic. In my head towered the cutouts of skyscrapers and bridges that I had only seen pictures of before. The city was real to me finally and that was what I was trying to get my head around over my morning glass of water. And everything after that was just a catalogue of good food and good old friends and art museums and parks and people watching. I thought to myself on a park bench in Central Park when the sun was setting on my last day that I’ve loved everywhere I’ve been and everyone I’ve shared life with during my travels. And the thought made me so relaxed I realized that I was exhausted.

Five days felt like one, but a very long and satisfying day. Living in the moment was effortless. I felt a part of something that had no end goal or sole purpose just an unapologetic attitude for existing. Everyone talks about the energy of New York City and I agree, but for me there was also an absence of absence and a different kind of redundancy far removed from always having one street to walk down or one store to buy milk at or one part of town to go to shop. It was also the diversity that was so invigorating; that there is every kind of person everywhere and we comingle with so many different stories being unsaid but regardless mixing together in the air above our heads. It’s what seemed to me to be an allowance to be whatever it is you want to be and an onus amongst the many to harness that and take it as far as it can go. I constantly had the feeling of diving head first into something and that is always a special feeling for me because it means I’m living. It felt like the kind of place where you could work to get found in or work to get swallowed in, like a spring or a well of endless possibility or distraction. The city is the center of the earth because it’s a profound statement about how we exist separately and together.

I want to be a humanist in New York City.

India Journal—Filthy and Exhausted—Return to Delhi

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11 January 2013

Joe and I have certainly gone mad. Ever since he chewed pan in Jaipur the back of his tongue doesn’t work. It’s funny, but also a little bit worrying.

We cannot pay bills without making mental errors and our conversations have become increasingly erratic and predominately about not bathing, not using toilet paper, and smelling like masala and general funk.

“I’m going to rent a room for an hour in Delhi before our flight out to take a shower.” Joe said to me on the bus out of Amritsar.

“Okay,” I said, “We’ll see what happens in Delhi.” I hadn’t much faith.

The past while I’ve been telling myself that I’m used to wiping my ass with my hand, but it has been a long-standing lie.

I haven’t taken a proper ‘water falling over my head’ shower in over two weeks. My last warm shower was ten days ago. My last cold bucket shower was a week ago. I dream of warm water and clean toilets and drinking water out of the faucet. These are gifts, luxuries of the 1st World that I’m cognizant of and want to utilize, enjoy and savior very much, and for the rest of my life. I’m going to get home and turn the tap on and watch its gliding clean silver pipe cascade into the sink. This I will definitely do.

So anyway, Joe cannot talk and I keep running into things. I’ve bruised both knees, smashed my thigh into the corner of a glass table, and cracked my shin on the corner of our bed frame in Delhi twice. I’m a walking disaster, an absolute Western time bomb of tired, and exhausted, and missing his friends, and missing his work, and missing fresh salads, and of course hot showers.

But, I’m happy. Actually, absolutely happy. Fucking happy. I think India gifted me with this strangely bizarre feeling in my heart that I can only refer to as optimism. I find this ironic, all considering, but life is ironic, and that is where the bulwark of its hilarity, joy and meaning seems to spawn.

14 -13 = 99

Dear Grandma,

There was this one time when I was young and in love that you told me a story about when you were young and in love. You were in the kitchen simmering milk when grandpa got home from work and the two of you started dancing in the kitchen. Your arms bumped into the saucepan and spilled the milk all over the floor. But, instead of cleaning up the mess you and grandpa paid no attention and kept on dancing on top of it. You said that when you’re in love nothing else matters besides moments like those. I imagine now, since your passing yesterday, that you and grandpa are dancing together again, not caring about the spilled milk, or of time, or of anything. You can stay in that moment forever. Your waiting is finally over. 

Your Grandson,

Josef

INDIA JOURNAL—DEATH ON THE ROAD TO DELHI

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January 8th 2013

There was no more fire blanket in Agra. No more mixing of heat waves and smog. Garbage fires burned like tea lamps. Seven boys and a full-grown cow hovered over a dying flame smoking on the street beside a burned out garage to keep warm. We mixed with the cold fog that suffocated the dirt alleyways. The soot soaked precipitation: an amorphous breath storm of nothing, pasted us to the walls, and we roved within it like moving pictograms appear to float in air.

A tuk-tuk chariot dropped us to the bus stop an hour early—an hour 45 in Indian time. We killed the added minutes conversing with two Germans about a tourist wearing a hospital mask taking pictures of a cow eating garbage on the side of the road. Some travelers here keep their head behind a camera, their senses hidden, everything at a distance to remain unaffected and deaf to the present.

We boarded the bus and sat in the very front. Above our heads, a 23-inch television sat precariously inside a cube cutout, propped up by a bible to keep it from falling forward. The bus was over-booked, so there was predictable chaos. Loud words slowly settled into begrudged acceptance. The Germans got on late and had to sit with our 22 year-old driver and his friends. Sardines were running this tin can. Two hours later we fought our way out of Agra proper, and the clock started. This was not going to be a 4-hour bus ride to Delhi.

The highway was a devil’s promenade. Grain trucks, hatchbacks, and motorcycles followed the dragon’s tongue north. The lizard’s cheeks were caked with bulbous sores of poverty—shacks, and camps, and mud hovels inhabited by the damned by circumstances beyond their control. It’s their birthright.

4-hour in, we had progressed 60 kilometers out of the 170 to Delhi. Endless tongue and timeless flatness swallowed time and left us stranded. I was fighting to finish the last two sections of On the Road: Kerouac’s decent into Mexico. At that moment I didn’t share his fascination or his feelings of freedom. Maybe two weeks ago when I was caught up in the bright storm of Bangalore’s flower market, but not now, not on this grey dead road, not on this rusted bus. The breaks hit, we slowed.

I saw the truck veer, the van pull, I saw the motorcycle flip and tumble like a weed of clipped springs. I saw the body of a young man lay like a baby on its side. He had baby feet. Their naked soles, fresh and pink, lay one on top of the other, toes curled in rest.

Time stopped because traffic stopped. Horns blared like trumpets calling the dead to action. Young men leapt from their hatchbacks and motorcycles and surrounded the baby, and like boys, stood there apprehensive to pick up the gentle soul lying so vulnerable and fresh. So, he just lied there alone. Like kings with myrrh and frankincense, the men on the bus all wanted to look at the child, they wanted to see the first born introduced to the world on the tip of the lizard’s tongue, in this universe that had lost meaning. I wanted to see the baby too, but just his feet.

Why no shoes? I asked myself. Why on earth would you ride a motorbike with no shoes on?

Our driver had a schedule to keep and forced his way to the shoulder to pass. The feet were no more, just a pulverized head lying bent back, an ugly retched throwaway face, no longer a beautiful baby boy. The apprehensive boys took pictures with their phones. I saw shoes stranded up the road.

I did something I haven’t done in years. I prayed. I prayed so hard that I curled up like a baby boy in my stomach and wished for the dragon to blow a breath and end this all right now. But, the devil sleeps in Delhi, and we were yet not close enough for him to care.