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BUY FOR THE KINDLE READER:
Reflections at night when the dark is good and we see farther. A short meditation.
Brief Tales on a Whim.
Meditations on the 60th Anniversary of Hiroshima What would the end of the world entail? Do we boast that we can imagine such a thing?
3 short stories. $3
In the apprenticeship period hopes are high.
The manuscripts are under $8.
RIPE STORIES AND FRAGMENTS
There was noticeable disgust among people who had heard him. It seemed absurd someone would make this declaration in the middle of a party; the object of which was to pair off a man and woman. But, ironically, that night after the festivities he went home in the car of a young woman, who later told her friend that she had spent the whole evening talking about their work." Yes, my work," she said again. "He wanted to know all about my work."
That started a chain that had continued unbroken for a year and a half. He swore off women to "purify" himself. "It's the exchange of fluids that is so damaging. These secrtions only occur in arousal and people think they are completely natural. But,let me tell you, those secretions contain worlds."
And now he was explaining to a neighbor, who had recently moved in the next apartment; explaining about the boast he had made and how young women had come through the door with their personal problems and how they all left satisfied. "You see my friend, for years I have been intimadated by women in my dreams who tell me what I need to know. I can even tell you how it came about it you like." The neighbor had recently separated from his wife and had moved deliberately into the most dispirited neighborhood he could find so he wouldn't be distracted from pulling the loose ends together.
He told himself not to become involved in any way with the people of this neighborhood and keep secret as possible his whereabouts from former friends and family. He was in the middle of changing jobs, a fact that piqued the interest of this strange guy who invited him over for some wine.
The women would meet the host, Allen, through a friend or at the various jobs he worked in and around the Bay Area and, at times, he had as many as three women come visit his one after the other, all bringing some nagging psychological problem with them or as one had put it, "the nag of the female,." But most of all he loved talking about work, his work and their work. He was proud of the fact he kept changing jobs "to keep stimulated, not get pinned down." He would always offer up employment options to the women who came by.
He was not handsome or even a smooth talker but rather awkward in his gestures with spent eyes as though he'd seen too much, too quickly. And his personal habits were those of an impoverished animal who leaves its nest or cave to inevitable decay when it smells its own death. But always the women felt, after visiting him, that he was a special man and always defended him when some foolish or ugly rumor spread behind his back.
He lived in the flatlands of Berkeley in a building that resembled the Alamo. It was an integrated neighborhood of lower-class working people, students, drifters, artists but not a coherent neighborhood in any sense. The people lived their lives privately and few paid any attention to what was occurring around them unless it was suspicious activity.
No one knew when he had first made this boast. No one knew quite sure where he had come from; only that he appeared one time at a gathering of the Unitarian Church where a folk group had been advertised and afterwards, there had been a party and during the dancing and conversation he had mentioned to a stranger the boast which became more and more pronounced as he met more people in Berkeley.
"I am never going to live with a woman." And it was a boast not a giving up of the possiblity. More a challenge to other men that being seperate from women, living apart from them was a great initiation into true manhood. "Pairing off is so commonplace. And in the end doesn't the man exploit the women and the woman exploit the man?" He was not liked and people would turn away in disgust as he made his boast. "And I'm experienced with women!" He would say defensively. "I've had them up and down and all around. It's not that."
The neighbor was drifitng in and out of the conversation. "This man is afraid of his own shadow," he thought before thinking on his own situation. His days had become ritual after six months. As soon as he woke up he would remember where he was and remember that he had accomplished nothing and then he felt a stream of poison-like dream remnant snake through his mind which drove him out of the little apartment and into the streets of the neighborhood. Several blocks away stood a breakfast hole where he ate his omelets with coffee and read the morning newspaper. Then an hour after he had left his apartment he walked up toward the center of Berkeley first to stop at Provo Park set in front of City Hall. He would sit on an iron bench under the sad leafed elms and look out over the browning park and uninterrupted traffic bounding around the perimeter until his mind alternated with the sound of his own voice and the drone of traffic. Then he would raise himself and go to the orange, gibbous library several blocks away to browse in the stacks and filter through the magazines in the alcove. In early morning he reversed himself and by the time night had fallen he was back in his little apartment preparing to open a can of soup.
On the table in his tiny room, he had put a photograph of his wife and two children against several books and as he looked at them the thoughts of the day vanished. Occasionally he would hear the strains of a guitar on the other side of the wall. The guitar played a popular song and would continually interrupt itself as though it was trying to play something else. But always it returned to the popular song.
The first time he had seen his neighbor he had ignored him, passing him off as a wanderer of some sort. He looked half-mad and re-inforced his thought that he would leave "this place" soon or he too would be crazy.
He would be gone soon enough. .
"Only a very sincere man would make a boast like that. Perhaps he's a mystic, a monk," he thought about Allen.
"Well," the guy went on, "I'll treat them like sisters." And that was true because women came to him often for advice and though they may have had many illusions in their minds, they always left the young man with the perfect advice they had been looking for.
They sat opposite each other with a jug of wine between them and discussed their lives with alternative tones of openness and distrust.
The apartments they rented were boxes; fit for one person and no more. Red Spanish tile lay broken on the roof and the bright red steps leading from the sidewalk to each apartment had become dull and spotted by the black marks of rotten walnuts falling from the old tree in front.
At night the neighborhood became exceedingly quiet as though everyone were in prayer. The Santa Fe rolled freight from Seattle to Los Angeles along the tracks laid narrow through the neighborhood and at nine o'clock the whistle blew each night like an excited sentence before trailing off into the dark.
Phillip's daughter came to visit every week-end and at nine o'clock, as she was preparing to go to sleep, she would imitate the whistle as it shot through the backyard and into the dim room.
Phillip and Allen had finished their third glass of wine. Allen had asked his new friend about his divorce and Phillip was managing in his mind the rationalizations he had made to cover this particular pain. It was a sweet pain because now he was free and moving to his own tune. But, it was painful because divorce is an enormous pain and each divorce replicates the millions, if not billions of divorces that have happened through time. They are bundled in the genetic code and released each new divorce so that the divorcing members were driven to visit the hellish regions where all is combat and fear.
"Well," he said slowly, "we were going different directions. She wants her dreams worshipped and that's asking plenty from a man who doesn't worship much of anything."
He paused and looked at the strange, new friend and then felt embarrassed about what he had said. Allen was stroking the black beard he had recently grown and then fit a cigarette between his lips and waited until Phillip had finished before he lit a match. "What's the use of talking about these things to someone who hasn't gone through it? That's an understatement. Especially to someone who has sworn off women or dreams that he will."
And this answer, "I dream of women all the time. They are speaking to me in my dreams. Do you think that's crazy? Well, I don't care if it is. There now, they'll speak to me, the dreams of 'em anyway and...they tell me the things I need to know."
Phillip stirred in his chair and began to think of an excuse to leave. But then Allen laughed. "Don't be put off by that- people who say they don't hear voices are insane."
Phillip began to laugh a strange laugh and then shrugged his shoulders. He thought to himself that the man was harmless and simply wanted to impress a stranger with the occult and sublime power of his own loneliness.
"In fact, right now, a woman is speaking to me- yes, that's right- she's telling me bad things about you. But...now she's terrified and angry- no- not at you but what...ah, she's gone."
Phillip stood in exasperation and threw out his arms, "We've been drinking too much wine!"
And then Allen asked him again whether he thought he was insane.
"Aren't you putting the wrong kind of responsibility on my head?" Phillip answered. His voice had pitched an octave higher than usual.
"I simply want your opinion," Allen answered.
"Wouldn't that be a judgement rather than an opinion?"
Allen laughed with a pixyish flavor and his eyes nearly closed so they appeared as slits. "I'll decide whether it's a judgement or not."
Phillip drew in the air of the room and looked at the strange neighbor who up until a week ago had been unknown to him.
As he thought about it, he suddenly realized how much information he had given Allen about his private life- how that information had been drawn from his mouth like a lovely, honey-dipped string. Within a week he had revealed more of his past to this man than he had to any other person in a lifetime.
"1...I don't think you're crazy. But I don't think you're a normal Joe either."
Allen's eyes flamed open. "Ah, a cross between insane and a normal Joe. Hm. What if I told you I believe in angels as well?"
"I would suggest that you go visit another century."
"Bravo! Could be done, could be done."
"I'm an educated guy," Phillip was saying. "I have never given thought to the existence of angels but something in me rejects the idea off-hand."
Allen got up out of his chair and retracted three steps to a cage hanging in front of the hall closet. Inside the cage a stoic Parrot observed the room, blinking quickly out into the dim, candle-lit surface with Phillip now deep in shadow, drinking his wine.
A laden stick of sesame seed was held up for the Parrot who bent its head and pecked at the stick until it brought it into the cage and fit its talons over the crusted seed. It had two evil eyes and looked matted. The floor was littered with seeds and droppings. "He rules the roost," Phillip had thought at one point. Later in the year he discovered that the Parrot was a dangerous bird but now he saw it as a harmless thing, owned by a harmless nut, his neighbor, looking sometimes like Charles Manson.
"We're no more intelligent than this bird here," Allen said. "It has been listening to us for the last several hours and is bored. Not only is it bored but it is laughing at us...whether we know it or not."
"You read the birds thought I guess?"
"It's face tells the story of its thought. Don't you think?"
Phillip poured the two glasses full of red wine again and staggered into his chair. He seemed confused and frustrated at the same time. On top of everything else he had a job interview scheduled for the next afternoon. The Oakland Tribune was offering a position as a copy editor and his resume had got him an interview. All the time he spoke to Allen he was thinking of questions they would ask him at the interview and the answers he would give for each question. "But then there would be thqt one question,, that zinger they try to catch all the candidates. If I can think of that one I will be ok."
"When I mean angels I don't mean the arrogant things you see in old paintings. I'm talking about beings who know when a person is in trouble and arrive at the right time to help that person out. They can be in any guise but they are of a different breed altogether. A person could speculate for years on their origination; that they come from somewhere else besides this planet is as good as guess as any."
Phillip now seemed curious. In his own mind he had forgiven the man's delusions as symptomatic of the times. Something told him that he shouldn't add to this loneliness by rejecting the man or his story outright but to bring it to some resolution even if it was a bizarre resolution.
"Maybe it's true...what you've said." And then with a strong voice Phillip related, "I've always believed there's something behind the UFO's. And not only the UFO's but natural phenomena such as increasing earthquakes and changing weather patterns."
"Yes- less rain and less snow. The drought of several years ago was only a prelude."
Tight-lipped Phillip said, "We'll get through everything."
The candle resting on the wood table had burnt to a thick curdled end and the dried pink wax folded several times inside a tin pie pan. It became evident that Allen no longer wanted to talk about the "end of the world" or angels or voices. The two were silent as men often are when they can no longer impress the other or get one up on him. If Phillip had been able to say, "I know of angels much stronger and more brilliant than yours," it would have sparked a longer conversation.
Phillip finally suggested they go to a club he had recently been too called La Salamandra. Every evening the club provided entertainment by young musicians or else held an open mic for poets and comedians. He had, in this interlude of his life, come to embrace the struggling musicians, poets, and comedians as brothers of a sort who acted out a craziness he felt in himself. Brothers, that is, who were much worse than he because every musician, poet, or comedian he met harbored a grand dream of becoming rich and famous. He had no such delusions.
"No-no," Allen insisted he stay in his room and tell Phillip a story.
Phillip was irritated but agreed to listen to the story. The red wine had pinned him to his chair and he was becoming more worried about the impending interview the next day. Perhaps, he felt, with a bit more success she would return to him and they would be a family again. Or, at least, someone would be impressed by his show of ambition.
The story was long and involved and too strange to fully digest. For one, Allen insisted that the world had ended and only a few people knew about it. And that the turning point in his life was when he read roadsigns believing they were speaking to him and he ended up in a church garden trying to sleep before someone threatened to call the police. "They threw me out! Can you imagine such a thing? A Church?! Where God lives!" After that he decided to die and drove to the desert to perish. He became vague during this part of the story but mentioned a Bible his mother had given to him, among other things. And then his experience of the sulphuric end of the world that he had smelled through fog fingering up the streets of San Franciso early in the morning before anyone was up. "They were all dead but for one bar that was open and when I entered they looked at me as though they were expecting me and several men came up and ripped my shirt off my back and they beat me. That's when I went to the church."
Allen was now burdened with the thought he had entered Hell. It came as such a shock to him that he had forgotten three important "missions" as he called them; to be executed that month he promised to himself. He was travelling through Hell.
There was his mother who he'd left years before. There was the last image of her picked up nearly by accident, so sadly waving from the window, her aging face pressed against the glass. Why had he turned back?
Now it was the city. He stood on the corner of a long street, surveying the motion of machines and the blank strangeness of men like himself. Never would he let his face fall like that but, perhaps, he would hide from mirrors. There were always the chrome bumpers of parked cars which made the body curved and unreal and, naturally, downtown if he had the patience he could stand across the great black-windowed superstructure and spot himself among the moving crowds along the sidewalk. Black windows were made like mirrors so the flesh looked pale and sad.
Now he sat in his favorite chair, lit a cigarette, then bent down to turn the knob of the radio and when the strains of music began he laid back, took the book he'd been reading up off his lap and thumbed easily through the pages, wandering through the pages as the music entered a new refrain.
It was all quiet now. The neighbor had left. He had told his story. They would connect for a while and then he would skiddadle for parts unknown. It was only life. It was important to get the story right. He corrected it each time he told it but only told it to people who he trusted. He had never mentioned the incident to any of the women even though they usually ate up stories like that. No, he thought, it's worth figuring out. "I became different over here. If I hadn't crossed the bridge I would never had moved on. I was going to kill myself, then I got beat up at the end of the world, then I was over in Berkeley. It was the signs! That told me that God was real. Everything in the Bible became crystal clear!"
The music now sounded as if it played from out of the nooks and crannies of the apartment. He put the book aside and immediately the huge Parrot leapt onto his lap and demanded either to be fed or stroked. He began by stroking the beak and then their eyes met for a moment and he was stunned by the familiarity in the bird's eyes.
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