My Monkey

I am sitting in a Los Angeles hi-rise, at a desk with a view of the entire city, staring out at the endless lines of cars on the freeway, the rows of houses on grids of streets, the world as we are expected to live in it. I am on a conference call regarding a new project and can sense the excitement and adrenaline building, as the faceless execs on the line contemplate their next score.

My brother is lying on the floor of a trailer in a sun bleached Florida town. He has gained seventy pounds and has needle sores on his arms, hands and legs, infected holes ringed bright red, with scabbed edges and pus blotted in the center. His overgrown hair has accumulated dust. 

Empty prescription bottles, fast food wrappers, discarded magazines, spilled ashtrays, plastic soda cups, pizza boxes and wadded cotton balls obscure a molded, mildewed carpet. Ant lines snake through it all. A tilted, crud-laden overhead fan lists and groans with every turn, threatening to unmoor itself from the ceiling above him. The constant TV displays another game, part of another season, among years of meaningless wins and losses.

He is snoring, a half-full Big Gulp settled below his sternum, rising and falling with each deep breath, frightening monster exhalations broken by a choking cough. Amazingly, the drink does not spill. Next to his foot sits an oversized bowl with Lucky Charms drifting in the remains of milk. The nightstand is piled with plates, cigarette packs and small change, and the dresser top is strewn with soiled clothes. Tangled speaker wire pokes out of a corner and connects to nothing. A rancid, lurid odor hangs over it all.

The summer sun streams heat rays through the bent open blinds. The light that strikes his face illuminates an open, toothless mouth. Somewhere under the room wreckage lies the partial set of false teeth that I bought him last year. But that was when he had a couple of molars left to attach it to. He has sweat through his t-shirt and shorts, more than once. The wall bordering his mattress has a filmy stain from where his body has rested against it. The scene could be the aftermath of a nuclear accident. 

I hang up anonymously on the conference call, unable to listen. I place cash in an envelope, with his name printed on the front, above the address of the place he lives in the town where we both grew up. I add a note that I know he will not read. But I imagine that, on a day when he gets no mail, he may spot it in the garbage at his feet, shift himself toward it and see that I have told him that I love him.

I stick the stamp on, walk down the hall and slip the envelope into the company mail slot. An immediate calm encompasses me. The weight of the day lifts like an emotional balloon. Somewhere in my inner vision a speck of future reappears. I suck a breath of relief, knowing that I can go on. For several minutes I feel light and free, as if nothing is wrong. Back in my office I notice that I have left my drawer open. I stare at the half-full box of envelopes, the half-empty book of stamps, and next to it my last pay stub. I shove the drawer closed, disgusted, angry and sorry, promising myself that I won’t do it again. 

 

The End

Scam

I am making up my universe as I go along.

I have no obligation to abide by yours.

The whole thing is open to interpretation.

There is no understanding it.

There is no figuring it out.

There is no answer to discover.

There is no solution to any mystery.

There is no way of knowing it.

There is no future day approaching where we all ‘get it.’

Missing Person


      My car battery died and fire burned the hills when I took the room at the hotel. My
brother had been coughing up blood from his mattress on the floor. The small house had
looked sorry as I’d driven away. In the hotel room, I awaited a message that never came.
Instead there was pounding on the floor above and the shower ran incessantly. It strained
the hotel pipes. They groaned and shuddered like a frail body trying to hold life. Scarlet
came over to me in the coffee shop. She should have carried a warning. She had three
children down coast she wanted to forget and was starving herself thin.

Scarlet had left a two-story colonial in a gated community with an SUV in the
driveway. The freeway ran past my room, nonstop. Single drivers staring vacantly filled
the lanes. Scarlet had lipstick on her teeth. She had told her husband she was going to
a weekend seminar on beauty. I’d driven my brother to the pool hall yesterday. We put an
hour on the meter and stayed ten minutes. Before the drugs, my brother was a good
Catholic. He taught me to iron and how to make a wave in my hair. He wore cologne.

Scarlet had stretch marks on her stomach. She had torn family photos and kept the
scattered pieces in her purse. One had a man’s hand on her hip. She said she needed to
lose all that she had known. She would adopt an African boy; she was ready to go there
now. In the dark she slithered atop me and squirmed like a hungry reptile. We could not
see each other. I awoke to the pounding at three a.m. and four a.m. The front desk did not
answer. I could not dial out. Scarlet claimed she was psychic and stared at the ceiling. A
message was coming through for me. It was an emergency. At the room above me a sign
on the door warned maids not to enter. No one answered my knocking.

I began to notice how long quiet lasted. My brother was artistic and could walk on his
hands. He juggled and won money shooting pool. He was especially good at Beatle trivia.
In a dream I put a body in a drawer. The house would be repossessed, and whatever was
in it. I used to wonder what drove people crazy. Now I couldn’t imagine what kept them
sane.

Occupants passed without smiles or nods in the hallways. I wondered in whose mind
my brother was still alive. Scarlet heard cops order a man out of a room and force him to
the carpet. There are no musical numbers, parades or announcements before, during or
after important transitions in life. The last photo taken showed my brother bloated and
pale with his cue stick in his hand. Hopes and dreams give in to the silent decay of the
everyday.

The pounding and the aching pipes were a heartbeat and a nervous system. You know
who it is, she said. I had always said I did not want to remember anyone I loved as
a corpse. We can never know who will leave who, Scarlet said. When I left he had on a t-
shirt and underwear. I worried that he needed a blanket. What were her children’s last
images of her, I asked. My children are alive, she said.

I opened my eyes to a piece of paper on the nightstand. Through the curtain I saw a
suitcase on a broken wheel. Someone struggled with its shifting weight, an unresponsive
mass. I read the note. It said the dead come every day. They are tsunamied, snowed
under, crushed, blown away, shocked, quaked, landslided, rocked, swamped, burned,
exploded and eaten alive. Some waste away, forgotten. Those do not count the ways that
people kill each other. Or themselves.

Show’s Over

For entertainment, we prefer a pretty woman to terrorize, assault, murder and dismember in the first two minutes of every police and detective cum forensics investigation show. When the show’s over, we get the real thing on the news.

In our current mass psychosis, others have defined for us what it means to have this experience—being here and now—and we believe it. No questions asked, or at least very few. The truth is, we don’t know. We don’t know completely what it means to have this life experience until we live it ourselves. Why accept a definition of it handed down to us from other people, many who obviously got it wrong?

Reality Chick

This chick I’m seeing keeps urging me to trip. I’m apprehensive about it but she says acid might do me good. I’ve been saving up days for a vacation and was thinking of a cruise. She thinks I need a change of consciousness. I’m forty and have never owned a refrigerator. I don’t keep an address book and have not made out a will. I do my own laundry. I lost touch with my family years ago. Coworkers are friendly to me but we don’t socialize. No one but this chick has called me in a month. She’s dropping hints that we should move in together.

She says a trip will dissolve my ego. I am hard pressed at a job and on deadline. I have shown up late, missed meetings, deleted emails. She reads Huxley and great philosophers. My apartment is the fifty-third place I have lived. We got evicted when I was a kid, lived behind the pool hall, then in a condemned building. This chick claims the entire universe is her home, and mine.  She works temp assignments, has a studio with velvet curtains. The effects of hallucinogens come on like a shadow, if I remember correctly. She lights candles and burns incense, plays Indian music. It erases all boundaries, she says about the psychedelic.

We drink wine and talk as if there’s a future. She’s a hedonist, she says, living for the now. I have moved from one anonymous box to another. Sometimes I sit on a bus bench and imagine there’s nowhere to go. It’s comforting then, to come back inside. I have been waiting for something for a long time, but I am not sure what it is. Her ex gave her the tabs, if I really want to know. This chick keeps a copy of Alice in Wonderland under glass, in one of those see-through tables. She loves Disney and fantasy but dislikes being seated near children in restaurants. I had a dream that doom is approaching, and there’s no getting out, only waiting.

She gets in my head talking about the Sixties, the Beats and purple haze. She has a pile of unpaid bills on her kitchen table. Often, I think she’s speaking to me but it’s to her cat. She whispers in bed as if to spirits around us. I think she may be able to read my mind. If so, she knows that I am surprised at the way things turned out. The meaning of life is no longer a question for me. A career is another way to pass time. Falling asleep is a valid excuse to be absent from anything. History doesn’t matter to the dead. At my age, men have investments, a wife and kids, a home and a dog, two-car garage, office, den and workshop. I have been pulling gray hairs off of my head and chest.

She lapses into an English accent. I wonder what makes me show up for work. I can fit everything I own into my car. I give away furniture, books and dishes. I feel no attachment to a neighborhood. I may be a lost soul, but don’t know how to tell. There are churches in every community. There is no taste or smell to LSD. It’s all groovy is a phrase she uses. This is how I ended up, is a foreign phrase to me. I keep envisioning being fired. New age books say that’s how to make things happen. She sprinkles glitter and belly dances. We are having an adventure on the clock. I still have not read Joyce’s Ulysses. That the dead outnumber the living seems a comforting thought.

I’ve had flakes and freaks for roommates. One place we lived had a bee infestation. People lie about themselves all the time. My own eulogy would be, he failed to make connections but was connected to everything. I am not known for anything. You wouldn’t recognize me on the street. My name won’t ring a bell. There is no one waiting for me. My estimated social security income will be under a thousand a month. Where am I, what am I doing, what do I want, circles around in my head. I listen to this chick chant a mantra. The room we’re in has become the whole universe.

She curls up in a ball and says she wants a house, a yard and a family. I stand over her and feel limitless, unbounded, free. Her ideal home has a pool and a fireplace. I have slept on floors and couches, in rented rooms and tents. She wants to have friends over and barbeque. The hills and canyons are cool places to live. The shore is also good. A view would be the best. I have heard of twelve-year-old best selling authors and twenty-year-old millionaires. By now, reputations are made, fortunes earned, awards garnered. Children have grown. A path has emerged. Fate is visible. I have never gotten a promotion.

I had planned a vacation to lose myself, not find myself. But I am certain now I know what matters. A moment arrives when all that exists is in place. The big picture is clear. In the background, a buzzer has gone off. Expected life spans are updated regularly. We age on cue. There is a vast wheel turning that no one can stop. I must keep pace in the grand design. For a moment, I am afraid. Then I am overwhelmed with the beauty around us and feel an unrestrained compassion for all living things. I know that it, too, will soon wear off.

 

end

Shop-Go-Round and Neverending Talent Contest

The shootings come every day now. Can you remember when they were shocking? They are no  longer shocking. They come two and three and five times a day, all over the country. Murder suicides are an American phenomenon. We lead the world in them, and in other shootings. We shoot on sight, kill kill kill, anything that doesn’t agree with us. Then we watch shootings on TV.  Well, there’s no shortage of it. You can’t turn on anything without a shooting being reported. Every media now has new assaults before the old ones’ blood is dry.

Self-promotion that’s the gig, get a million votes and become a star. It’s an ego contest, with all the glory going to feed the winning egos. We pump up a few people—so called winners—and the rest can go to hell. And those that are considered the rest limp around looking for their lucky break, lotto ticket, fifteen minutes of fame or an appearance on a game or reality show. We’re all like processed food, loaded full with preservatives and coloring and salt and churned out into the everyday to fill waiting lines and malls and fill traffic jams and jobs at computers and comprise crowds at events that celebrate the same useless crap of life—processed music and formulaic movies and cardboard food and phony religious leaders at money-sucking churches and censored news and information that urges you to care and get involved and contribute and be your best and kill the enemy.

Therapy Session 2: The Business Trip

I’ve always attracted psycho chicks. One wanted to show me the razor cuts on her calves. Another called and hung up repeatedly the first month I knew her. That same one sprayed perfume all over me in an argument. A different one had me fuck her in dirt once, and then really hard on a seawall. The ex put a tail on me when we were together. Most of these chicks were in therapy. Two were therapists. I’ve never been able to shake this karma. Even when I landed a spot at a reputable firm and they sent me on a business trip.

It wasn’t so long ago I swiped an LA Times off a doorstep, drank coffee at Burger King, lived with my mother. But I wear suits these days, and ties. I charge drinks and meals to the company. The hotels offer turndown service, with candy. A valet I never see collects my dry cleaning. I sign my name everywhere I go, that’s all, just sign and go. It gives me a kind of immunity. I’m bolstered by perks, insulated by corporate connections, excused for long lunches, saved by do-it-all secretaries. But my status change hasn’t freed me from this peculiarity I have. I just attract more expensive lunatics now.

She came up to me in a DC pub and asked for a cigarette, but said she doesn’t smoke. My mother smoked for fifty years. This one had almond eyes and carried a suitcase. She pulled legal papers from her purse—parts of a lawsuit, crumpled, wrinkled, lipstick and food smeared. A judge would have laughed them out of court. She was suing her husband. He had tried to have her committed. She had fled her apartment and was staying with an Arab record producer. She said her father was a legendary songwriter who had willed his lyrics to her. My mother’s will was a small scribbled note that said, “take everything.”

There was ice on the sidewalks outside. We took several taxis to clubs that would not let her in. My mother took me to bars as a kid, put me in a booth with a soda. A man with tattoos on his arm and beer on his breath used to come around on Saturday nights. The psycho chick wanted to run away to Sierra Leone. I mentioned they were beheading people there. She stopped the cab to call an animal shelter and plead for custody of a cocker spaniel. Most of the drivers seemed to know her. I gave one a hundred dollar bill for a ten seventy-five fare. She carried a painting with her into a restaurant, one of hers that she felt close to. She spoon-fed me tortellini at a cheap bar. At the next stop she ordered a sixty-dollar bottle of champagne. We toasted my company.

She asked a maid who was better looking, me or a photo of her husband. She unloaded her suitcase on my hotel bed. In it were a Muslim rug and a belly dancer’s belt. We had sex once on the toilet and twice on the sink. I closed my eyes rather than look at myself in the mirror. She stayed up until three a.m. singing. Her audience was a snow flurry and lights from buildings twenty stories high. My mother had entertained the troops during the war. I saw her once in the bathroom, wearing garter belts and applying makeup.

The walls shook and the TV came on by itself while I slept, the psycho chick said. I had a hard time shutting her up. I was scheduled for an early morning meeting, the kickoff to the entire project. I have an internal clock and never need a wake up call. The men at work wear the watch and the ring; it’s a tribal thing, I’ve decided. She heard pounding on the ceiling from the room above, she said. I have never missed a deadline. My mother held my hand and said she wanted me there the rest of her life. I have tried every drug except crack.  Someone is trying to reach you, the psycho chick cried.

I used to be unable to imagine twenty years at the same place. Lately I eat lunch at my desk. There is no longer a number to reach my mother. I am surrounded by coworkers with capped teeth. They know where they will be tomorrow, and the next day, and the following months, and for years, until the end.

The psycho chick had demos, killer songs, she swore, guaranteed hits, locked in the apartment. Coffee has become the most important ingredient of a day. It bothers me that the little thin strip won’t stay put behind the wider section of my tie. She demanded cash for breakfast and settled for eight dollars. My mother’s voice was only a whisper at the end. I’d tried to calculate how much time she had left from its sound. I was wrong by two days.

I used to hate flying, but now I believe the middle of the sky is where I belong. I had always shirked the nine-to-five routine, ridiculed that way of life. I’d resisted conformity in my clothes and attitude, was not interested in clocking in or climbing the ladder. Now I have accepted my metamorphosis into a good, middle-class citizen. There is nothing dangerous or unpredictable about me anymore. I have gained a few pounds and don’t have that lean, hungry look. I’ve become comfortable, dulled my edge, cleaned up my act and gotten in line, merged into the masses, moved on to the kind of life that others understand.

End