I was on my last smoke. With a capital "K." Like the day. The non-domed capitol rose just above the bus stop, beyond the church transformed by religion into the hippy, rainbow organic local proletarian food and supplement shop. Surgery tomorrow. Forcibly remove the divine one from my fingers for the last time. Excitations and palpitations would cease on my walk up the 3 blocks from the court house and up the 3 flights of stairs. I couldn't believe it. I never thought of it. I ate all the twinkies I wanted. Hostess cupcakes were like a meal, filling and sumptuous and textured pleasure. The watchwords, the buzzwords came flying at me as I imagined myself puffing out my last one on the stairs between the environmental group and my suite of offices. My friends at EMS. Laughing. "Gotta lay off the cheeseburgers, Shampy."
Dang. Cholesterol. Saturated fats. Blood pressure. All of that.
I took a last drag and did the usual. Foot twist and hand shake. Back to the grind.
Layla Finkbine was on the line. Not again. I had nothing to tell her about her case. Maybe she was just trying to sell me another gold chain. I don't know how she hoodwinked me into that purchase. Her commission was two percent. Two percent of a hundred fifty was not so bad for smiling and telling me how much she liked me and that she hoped I didn't leave because she really wanted me to do her. Case. She made that pause. And I bought the necklace. Clever little literalist. A litany of linguistics used to my detriment and her benefit. What would I do with a gold necklace? This wasn't New Jersey. It would freeze to my neck on the slopes. It would chill me out as I wandered around False Outer Point.
I am the prince of the dumb-butts.
"Hi Shampy! How are you doing?!" Bright and bubbly. I hate talking on the phone. More than breaking a bone.
What the heck do you want?! "Hey Layla. How are you doing today?"
"Good-good! I know, I know, I've left you 3 or 4 messages, I'm sorry, I know you're so busy."
"There's nothing new to tell. The hearing's still on the 14th. Pretty standard stuff. I'll just run down the basics at the hearing. You know. Ask you about your job, your daily routine, any problems you've had with the father..."
"Oh! Oh! He got drunk Saturday night and left me a bunch of drunk messages. Some of them were quite threatening. He was slurring his words. He said he was going to kill me."
I had seen Dave that night at the Perimeter. He had tried to buy me a pint of Alsace Porter. An oxymoron if I ever considered such polarity. Which I rarely do. I said I couldn't accept and tossed him a couple of crumpled ones. He insisted. I insisted. He insisted. I said I could be disciplined by the Committee. Oh, well, in that case. He relented. Victory, yet again.
"You have a copy of the tape?" I checked my hotmail. "Bring it by - it doesn't matter if I'm here, the secretary will make sure I get it - and I'll submit it." I looked up the mountain, saw two ravens riding thermals down, one of them doing a flip, the other copying, now gliding, I could hear the rustle of air as they bristled through the feathers, passing my window and perching on the roof of the youth hostel across the street.
"Ok. Ok. I'll see you around twenty past four." I hung up the phone and started clicking. Rhythm remedies.
Not everybody wants to be like me. Sometimes not even me. But most times I just figure, what are the options. And things come to a resolution. I get worried, paranoid even. Then the realization evolves, it's just the prop 19 in me. Slowly sifting through the detritus of my mind, pulling it up, releasing a noxious odor and perplexing and scaring me, before I finally whisk it all out and proceed to get ensconced in the daily call and response that is hotmail.
The phone buzzed and pulled me back into the dreary, grey-skied day. My green tea had been sitting by my computer getting cold over the last two hours, the leaves making the brew more and more bitter as the day grew wider.
"Geez. What's up your poop-shoot this morning, little one?"
"Sorry, roly-poly one."
"There's someone here to see you," Johanna said in a sing-songy iambic lilt. I knew she wouldn't tell me. Oof. I'll have to get out of my cozy chair and put my shoes on. Well, maybe no shoes. But my feet were nice and warm on top of Allie. A Siberian husky that liked to curl up underneath my little computer table. Was it lunch time already? Was it twenty past four? Maybe that walk with Penny this morning up Dead Man's Gulch wasn't a good idea. I looked at my computer. I'd written the appellate brief that I'd been researching all week in spare moments between phone calls and filings and mailings and court mailbox runs and all that constitutes the practice of law. I was tired of practicing. When do I get to do it for real? Ha. That joke Dewitt Babcock told me one day in Austin. He delivered it was such passion and intensity. It wasn't all that funny. But it was. It made me smile. And I still think of it. Duffy just shook his head in a "please god, why me" beseeching-until-the-end-of-days-plea-for-mercy. The Last Apache. That was me.
I got up, my warm and thick REI socks nice and paddy as I shuffled into the hall and over to Johanna's office, the reception area.
"Hi Elaine." What the heck is she doing here? She lives in Pelican Grief. It's a day long ferry ride or an expensive flight on Moorfest Airlines.
"Hi!" She was holding a box. She looked down at my feet and smiled and then looked at Johanna and they both shook their heads in a tsk-tsk manner. I was mortified. How unprofessional of me. I'd have to check the Professional Responsibility Guidelines on meeting clients in a Mexican wedding shirt and no shoes. I hope she doesn't call the Committee.
"Come on back to my office," I said as senatorially as I could.
"Oh that's ok." She held out the box. "For you." Johanna rested her chin on her hand and watched, amused. "I made you a cake. It's lavender. It has lavender oil and petals. I heard it was your birthday. I felt bad about all the things I thought about you. Before I met you last week in Pelican. I could tell you really cared. When I called you about Earnest cutting my brake-lines you didn't seem to care or believe me. But after meeting you, I'm so glad you're helping me. Johanna told me it's your birthday on Saturday. Happy Birthday." She hugged me.
I thanked her and we chatted for a bit. I needed to edit my brief and copy it and have it notarized and send it out in the next hour. I was distracted. I couldn't relax until it was done. Then I could eat my sardines and rice. And lavendar cake.
Hugs, Handshakes and Salutations.
It was 4:30 in the morning and I was flying down North Samson Highway, hugging the edge of the island up to False Outer Point, a broken radio and a tape deck full of magic mushrooms, the 3 Spacemen of Spacemen 3 were in a short-haired battles with the sound of my tires crushing and gliding through the day old slush and butter that the macadam had become. I kept the windows open to know what was under me. Quiet meant danger and no sudden moves. No braking. No accelerating. Maybe a gear shift. Barely a tug on the wheel. I've seen plenty of cars on the rocks getting lapped by the waves the day after a snow shower, zipping off in the middle of the day, drinking a bush and smoking a K and barely going 35 on a 45. I was pushing 70. I was nailing it. I had 2.5 miles to go to the point and I reckoned I could float all the way there no sweat.
No rocks crashing through my field of vision. I just let the tube take my Subaru, slowing down 60 felt safe, but way too fast. Finally the hill, 50, a curve 42 and ice - too fast, a down shift, 34, 20s, the parking lot, a curve into, teens. circles and back gently leaving the front tire tracks, and slow and crawl to a stop. I turned the key and got out to look at things.
There was a whale. I wondered what he was doing so close to shore. Retard. Probably drunk. Depressed he got rejected by the squiffy little vixen at the whale watering whole. Suicidal, probably. What kind of whale is near shore, half out of water, trudging along dolefully, if not mulling over some past dejection that seemed like it would never end? Maybe like me, he's just enjoying some time along, drifting, seeing what he could see. I felt guilty. He looked at me. I waved. I felt bad for what I thought about him. He's probably a very nice whale from a good family. He didn't try to scare me. Blow chunks at me. That wouldn't be very neighborly. His presence alone frightened me for a second. I looked across the road and saw a fire.
I walk over. He and his family were cooking some fish on a fire. It was a nice night. I saw green in the sky. Red as well, I think. I think his kids were about 13 and 15. His mother and wife were there. He was listening to a police scanner.
"Ah. Greetings, lawyer-boy."
"The thieves are out tonight. Breaking into cars around the Perimeter."
"I was just there."
"You're a lucky man. Nice to see you." He held out a fifth of jack. I took a swig. I put on my French Petrel LED headlamp and turned it on. Third Eye blinding everyone else. Fragway and I turned off all the lights in the house and went into the bathroom the evening I brought it home. I had it delivered to my office suite in town. I had just cleaned the bathroom after an afternoon of skiing, and we went in to look at the gleaming porcelain. P. Saint joined us, jealous, after saying how ridiculous we were to do what we were about to do. It was beautiful. P. Saint pointed to the alabaster bathtub, the shower curtain pulled back. The window was open. It was 27 degrees out and it felt like a peppermint. "You missed a hair." Sorry! Miss P. Fraggy and I started to laugh. "You missed a hair! You're in big trouble, mister! BIG trouble!!"
I took another swig and came back to the present moment. I took out a stone artifact from my left pocket and a metal and plastic tool from my right. Dolores, my houseplant, had just been trimmed. Her bush between her soft petal grew so fast. I plucked them every few days. I don't think she minded. I utilized stone, metal, plastic and Dorothy-detritus and lifted off, "Take good care of it."
"What choo talking about Willis?" Paddle Warrior loved this. The entire family was laughing at me, and him, by way of me, who had given him an opportunity to tell a funny.
"Bite me." I re-utilized and attained a state of orbital refraction with just a hint of reflection in order to be decipherable. I just smiled.
"Ha." Paddle warrior swigged slowly. "ALWAYS nice to see you, lawyer-boy."
"Lawyer-boy. Harrumph. Bite me again." The family laughed and laughed.
"YOU better watch it Paddle Warrior, lawyer-boy will SUE you."
"Yeah right. He couldn't sue his way out of a paper bag." Another classic. I was loving it. Better than Seinfeld. I took in a deep breath of crisp air. It was nearing 5. I had to be in court at 10. And had to prepare. I took my leave, paused for hugs and handshakes and salutations, and resumed my travels, heading slowly down the hill and over to my house, which was halfway between Paddle Warrior's fire at False Outer Point and the bridge over to Venue. I liked living next to the Channel. I got home in about 6 minutes and took a nap.
I Felt Bad for Days.
It was around 9:20 when I walked into the courtroom. Empty. I took a seat and opened up my briefcase I got from Kmart for free. When I was checking out, the cashier winked at me and passed the briefcase over the scanner and there was no beep. I asked no questions and did not point out the lack of beep. I bought a little suitcase with wheels and the briefcase because I had to do a lot of trials in the neighboring islands, scattered throughout the Alexander Archipelago, so I needed something I could check into the Moorfest Airlines luggage system. And some sort of container for my legal papers. What better than a briefcase. Nice leather looking and hard, not like all those soft-shoulder-strapped satchels that people were hoisting around these days that had many hand-holding options. This one just had an old school rectangular handle, the kind that men in hats used to carry.
People started trickling into the gallery, waiting for their cases to be called. A few lawyers in dark, almost black, wool suits started circling around, looking for their clients, armloads full of accordion folders and worried looks on their faces.
Cecil Tewksbury the Third walked by. I caught his eye, looking up from my notes for my oral argument coming up on jurisdiction in a case where one party was stationed at a military base when he fathered a child. He moved Outside before the child was 1 and never came back. The mother wanted him to pay child support, so he filed for custody to get out of it. Now he wanted to move the court case Outside. Real classy. I’d just get her a network-paid lawyer, just like me, and she’d be fine, but what an ordeal. Marines and babies.
Cecil Tewksbury nodded as he walked by. I was surprised. The last time I tried to talk to him was under the awning outside the Imperial. It was raining. It usually was. I wanted to make amends, apologize, for a miscommunication, a joke, a call and response that had angered him so that he grabbed me by the collar and said, “I’m gonna kill you! MY MOTHER JUST DIED!”
Fragwayy was there. He grabbed me and stashed me in a taxi. He let out a deep sigh. I was silent. The taxi sped off over the bridge and up North Samson Highway and down the steep driveway to the cluster of cabins where we lived. I reached for some crumpled ones to give the driver, but Fragway was faster. We got out of the cab. I mumbled something, expressing thanks and sorrow and goodnight in a single syllable. We went to our respective cabins.
I felt bad for days. When I apologized and Cecil did not accept, I felt like getting even. But what would be the point? Things would still spin around and incidents would get lost as incidents continued, no end in sight. They’d remain in the minds of a few, but would be replaced with other concerns and obligations.
I said hey and looked back at my notes.
9:47. Almost performance time. I was first. I hoped the gallery wouldn’t fill up. It was nearly three-quarters packed with nervous parties to family court actions. I hated talking in front of people. I hated talking. I like people.
A cool stream of blue-tinged spirits.
It was dark when I got home. Froggy seemed to be in a bit of a pickle next door. I took off my check-mixed Van Heusen shirt and changed into a nice cotton t-shirt, made in Guatemala, and a Patmygenes fleece and went to investigate.
“C’mon in,” Froggy said after my fourth knock.
“Froggy McDaniel! Greetings! Another shift at the boot-and-shoe yard complete. It is time to enjoy the remains of the gloaming.”
He looked annoyed at my barely decipherable hello. I set down the Sapphire, glowing lavender from within, depressed the LCD-centered button in front of the device, and a cool stream of blue-tinged spirits flowed into my two ounce porcelain Japanese tea cup from a gleaming chrome spout that emerged, telescopically, from the surface. I pressed the button again and deposited a dream of Mumbai into a titanium cup that I had purchased to take on my walk-about around the Arctic Circle last summer.
“Up yours…dickhead!” I offered as my salutation.
Froggy snorted and sipped from the teacup.
He began. “God. It’s embarrassing.”
I tipped my titanium. The blue juice gently calmed my beaming, overactive neurons in my brain. Reading law books had that effect on me.
The greenish ring around my pearl dropped watch-communicator that hung around the leather strap belt that the elephant had given to me began to pulse slowly. 11710. I had nearly forgotten. It would have been baby donkey’s 79th birthday.
I took my leave and went back to my cabin and sat and reflected. I watered Dolores and picked off some detritus and felt her leaves. There was a small button of furry-sticky substance that I took off.
Everyone called her baby. Walking through the hill around Rothemay, the family summer home in Darjeeling, her brother would put her on top of his shoulders and walk through the tea gardens in the shadows of Himalayas. He would call her Baby donkey. She would get so mad, little six year old baby stamping her feet with the anger of a herd of elephants coming into town for rampage and a post-tantrum buffet of fruit.
Everyone called her baby. Younger woman, men, elders, everyone. “Camman acha, Baby?” How are you. Assamese. Bengali. I was never sure.
After baby visited Venue, Baltimore came over. I gave her a bar of soap that Smally and I had made. Peppermint. “Your mother is a BEAUTIFUL woman.”
Everything seemed nice.
Now I remember why, 2 years without the porpoise. It was 2 years ago.
I was driving back from the Marilyn Monroe Memorial Library in Fairtown, it was about 15 minutes away from Venue, out the road. I stopped at the light, looked at the electronic bulletin board. The BVFD was accepting applications for volunteer fire and rescue positions. I looked them up on the network.
There were pictures of crashes. Men in dangerous clothes putting out fires. Mangled cars. All just a bike ride from my house. Things you don’t want to imagine happening. Things that are unimaginable. I made the necessary arrangements to meet someone in charge, biked up there and hung around. The girls were making cookies. The lads were grilling meat on the portico. Everyone offered me something. It was very nice. I was worried about the blood and needles. The stress of a life dependent on transforming my knowledge into small, precise muscle movements.
Everything seemed nice. They showed me around. The men’s quarters, like a dorm room. The showers, men in towels shaving and preening. They used deodorant. I was not surprised.
They told me about the blood tests they would require. I would no longer be permitted to spend time with my porpoise friend. Sure, the whale was ok. Whale watering holes were no different than the ones used on land that had the imprimatur of the Committee. Porpoises were part of the unwelcome. I couldn’t understand why. They had developed a test at the Institute for Human Virility in Baltimore that could detect all species a person has associated with. If you were in a house with a German shepherd or a Siberian husky, the test would know. The test would know about Allie the Siberian Husky footrest. They would have questions about the high levels of genetic material from this species. They would accuse me of improper relations and demand an explanation, perhaps even bringing formal charges.
Worse than that was the detection of my association with porpoises. Whales were slow, lumbering and lording. They drank the Alsace Porter, oxymoron in a bottle, just like people. That’s what they did for fun. Went to coves where a few of the jazzier-cat whales would be harmonizing and laying down peat beats, reflecting and deflecting off underwater rock formations, bits of boats floating above, mingling in the close coves until a rhythm emerged. Some of the cows with different pitches would proffer a melody and a few of the bigger mama whales would chime in with a backing harmony. Whales would sway and sip their Alsace Porter and all was good, except when someone got too crazy and got too much air and got beached and died. It happened pretty regularly. Every weekend, especially after the open mike night at the cove.
The porpoises were different.
The porpoises chewed an underwater plant variety of Dorothy. The Committee did not like above ground use of Dorothy and removed people for its use. The porpoises were beyond the reach of the Committee. When people interacted with porpoises, the effect was the same as putting it in a pipe and smoking it. No different. The same pleasant, energizing, calming, focusing and wandering effect. But the substance itself was undetectable. So they had to search for the porpoise.
I was in trouble.
I decided not to continue. I couldn’t tell them why. I just didn’t show up again, didn’t return their messages. Porpoise genetic material would disqualify me. And then the Committee would know. The risk was too great. It was quite a disappointment. When I found out that Gandhi was a paramedic in South Africa, I began to draw parallels that were unfounded, most likely. Both attorneys. Both paramedics. Both…assassinated? If that was the result of going down that path, I did not mind the disappointment so much.
She wasn’t yucky.
Papa and I were drinking tea, sitting in woven chairs on the worn wooden deck in the back of the house, looking out at the channel. The tide was so low that you could walk across almost, except your boots would get stuck and in a few hours you’d be stuck and under 20 feet of water.
“I was on the network.” Papa sipped his tea. “I heard from the chicken lady. She thinks I hate her.”
Papa gurgled into his tea, lifted his head up, and declared, “WHAT?!” And contained laughter in order to contain tea from spewing through his nose, a painful occurrence no matter what the temperature. “Why would she think that?”
“I have no idea. Women. They are very emotional. But perceptive.” I sipped the tea. Cloves and cinnamon and elachi and fennel and pepper.
“They talk TOO much.” He paused, as if searching for the solution. “I will take you to India. We will find you a WIFE.”
I refrained from uttering my usual refrain, then reconsidered and said, “I don’t want a wife. It’ll ruin my LIFE.” And I began to breathe in short spurts, trying to contain a burst of laughter and the concomitant nose spewage.
“I hadn’t been in touch with the chicken lady in 14 years. What can I be mad about?”
“Bitches.” Papa said, shocking me temporarily with his language. “Bitches ain’t shit but good people.”
“Papa! Such language.”
“Sorry.” We sat silently. Autumn leaves were gathering in the yard. “Is this person…Allison?”
I wondered why he mentioned Allison. I hadn’t seen her in years. We attended university together. We were friends. I think she was enamored with the spices and strange lilts in humorous places. The fabrics and the food and the hospitality. Perhaps mistook it for something more, something personal just to her. But she began down a road that was littered with the detritus of the husks of everyone she knew. A negative opinion of everyone spawned a chasm between us. I couldn’t speak freely. I couldn’t mention anything without some sort of long lost event and a hateful, spiteful bitterness permeating all around, a satisfaction in the trashing of another human being, a so-called friend, a college chum. A denouncing of a person and a smug diffidence towards anything but her revelry in her hate.
Plus, I would never do her. She was yucky.
The chicken lady was a lovely soul. I had no idea why she thought I hated her. We had a fiery parting of ways, but that happens between girls and boys, different wants, disappointment, a changing of a relationship, a stable friendship gives way and changes and expands and contracts and eventually reaches a balance. Even 14 years later. We were always friends. I never stopped being her friend. I was just sad for awhile. Missed her. Hoped she didn’t hate me. Prayed she wasn’t mad at me. Most of all, wanted to know what she was thinking. About me.
Plus, she wasn’t yucky.
Tightly Wound Bundles of Energy.
The next day I woke up tired. I couldn’t sleep much the night before. Must have been the tea. Tea after 8 in the evening. Can’t sleep. Maybe shouldn’t sleep. I don’t know. You’re supposed to. 11 to 7, or something like that, 8 hours, 8 glasses of water, 8 days a week. 8 hours a day of work. The rule of 8’s. Maybe it’s all off and that’s why everyone is always fussing and fighting. Maybe 6’s. Then we’d have 4 units, not 3. An extra one to go on a long walk. Can you imagine going on a 6 hour hike every day? Every day would be like a holiday. Maybe I’ll try it next week.
So the next day I woke up at 8. The dreaded 8’s again. How it can be anyone’s favorite number is beyond me. It’s Weeny’s favorite number. She was born on 8.8.64. 8 times 8 is 64. I guess that’s a good reason. But still. For everyone else, 8 should not be the magic number. 8 should be the devil’s number. 888. Oh no! Recoil in horror.
I took a shower and put on my check-mixed Van Heusen cotton shirt and some LL Bean canvas pants and some leather Raichles made in Italy. Not very lawyerly looking, but I got the job done. Papa was sleeping in the window sill, next to the potted plants. Too wasted on the Mumbai to walk gingerly down the steps to the beach where his “cabin” sprawled out over 6,ooo square feet of glass and steel and light. He even had a lookout tower. I was jealous. He was always chilling with a different lass from beyond the perimeter. Last week it was the Brazilian one. Before that Gabriela, from Austria. They come from around the world to stay with him, hang out and talk, cook meals leisurely in between bouts of scribbling equations on napkins and scrap pieces of paper. Sometimes I save them and try to figure them out. It would take several years before I could actually make my own analysis. I understood what was happening. What they were trying to describe. How hydrogen and helium fall apart in the middle of the sun. How the particles flow through all the opacities, the miasma of fire and gas, the trappings of light, the transformation of tightly wound bundles of energy into glowing streaming particles, caught by an orbiting observer, number transmitted to a satellite dish, stored on big 18 inch reels of magnetic tape, extracted through the Cray supercomputer, and eventually plotted on a simple graph to show the progression, the energy dissipated, the movement slowing, the temperature dropping, the lone particles slowing and bonding and reforming the helium, the hydrogen, and bombarding the earth, the atmosphere taking the blow, the slow, lumbering descent, spinning in logarithmic spirals, landing gliding melding with the water, the air, the land, the food, the balloons, the cars, the oxygen, bathing everything, slick and cool, waking into light and heat. Slowing until they are nearly asleep. Barely moving. Softly pulsing. Suspirating silently. Serious calm.
I let him sleep. I think he just doesn’t like being there without other people. The house was too big. I told him he should get some roommates. He said he’s too old for roommates. Isn’t everyone really a roommate? He pondered. Hated to admit my common sense.
I ate some cereal. It was 8:42. I left the cabin and walked over to my brown Subaru. The chicken lady had asked me what color it was, when I was still in Stinking Creek. She was in Murrell’s Inlet. I drove to the coast to see her.“This in NOT brown. It’s a kind of champagne.”
I drove into town. I got to my suite of offices at the Logoff Complex at 8:52. Traffic and weather on the 8’s. The dreaded 8’s. Maybe that’s what made us all so tightly wound bundles of energy.
I logged onto Hotmail. There was no sign of the chicken lady. I tried not to think about it. I wrote her just on Monday. Maybe she’s busy. Maybe she isn’t thinking hateful thoughts. Maybe she isn’t telling her boyfriends what a dork I am. Maybe she really thinks of me as close friend, someone on the same channel, who enjoys me as much as I enjoy her.
Plus, I need the eggs.
There wasn’t much going on. No hearings or trials this week. Couple of stories to tell, life on a float house over in Cake, on the south of Prince William Island. Lady’s husband was so pissed he shot the dog in front of the kids, got a rope, tied it around a rock and the dead dog and down floated the dog into the sound, little ones looking and sad. Why. Did you kill our dog. Will. You kill our mother. Will. You kill us. Why. Are you so mad. Is it the taxes. Can’t do what you want. Can’t find enough fish. What do you want to do. Why are you doing this. How can we understand you. Ever.
That one was simple. Don’t forget the dog, my boss said, and Jane, the fast-talking, quick thinking other attorney in our little boutique firm. I put in the dog. Poor dog. I didn’t really think about it as I was preparing the affidavit. I didn’t really think about the effect that would have. On the kids. On the judge. The horror.
I couldn’t imagine. But that’s all I did.
The radio was on. I was listening to the latest reports. Destruction by fire and ice. The perimeter was shrinking due to loss of land mass. Things were not safe Outside. There was a race to store resources. Wheat and legumes were scare. Something about a small shift in the chemical composition of the soil, brought about by 100 years of chemical additives and a scorcher of a day that acted as a catalyst. Once the temperature dropped that night, a kind of shockwave exploded through the first few feet of soil, from Minnesota down to Texas and into Mexico. There was no grass. No tomatoes in the garden. Flowers floated away for the last time. Farmers stood stone-faced as the last caravan of grain and corn and soy drove off, leaving a dead field, carcasses strewn about, everything that had touched it perished slowly, barely able to crawl and unable to yield to the last call. The Cornell Cornstalk that had killed the Monarch was out of control.
I turned it off. Why worry. There will always be enough food. The seas around here are full of fish. So bountiful. Plentiful. A minor setback overall, a huge problem for a few, but it would be ok.
I got some water and slipped a benzo into the void. Some sort of sedative, my dealer, the chicken lady’s escort friend, sold me some near the eggs at the Atavistic and Proud Supermarket. It used to be an A & P. Atlantic and Pacific. Taken over by the International Socialist Organization. I was never sure what their beef was. The stuff was the same. The prices were no different. The workers bitched about sweeping the floor and some of them sported beards and leg hair and as they walked without a sense of vigilance they wafted through waves of patchouli that lingered and clouded and obscured the smell of the cantaloupes.Some kind of sedative. Like Ativan. Xanax, Candy told me, slipping a couple into the pocket of my check-mixed Van Heusen button down shirt. “First one’s free,” she gave me a hug and pecked me on the cheek. She smelled like lavender.
One Day I Will Do a Lot of Things.
I had an emergency hearing down in Fetch the next day. I slipped some Dextro into the mix, down into the void, and pulsed out a trance like transmission to all around. No one could tell what I was talking about or thinking about. Blissed out on a powder run in my head, slipping through fields of scree on a tubular bell curve, crunching and patiently led down a smiling hill into a seriously calm valley. The pull rope was empty when I was at the bottom and I slowly slid up to the top. Another day.
Moorfest Airlines was not too busy. I was early. I took out my smart pad and looked at pictures of the Serengeti from the National Geographic flight site. Geared specially towards Moorfest passengers. Served up through transmitters located in the armrest, the signal was always sublime. Flashes of color washed the screen as soon as I stepped into the waiting area. “Chill, you’ve got some time. Coffee or Tea?” I pushed coffee, two dollars and 24 cents was charged to my credit card. I walked over to Seattle’s Best and my coffee was poured, name on the sleeve, I waved, held up my smart pad and sailed away on winds of caffeine as I sipped and walked over to the round table that sported the 4 varieties of milk and cream and 8 types of sugars, honey, and sugar substitutes. I got some heavy cream, a couple of spoons of honey and a pack of sugar. Stirred things up and launched. Orbit was soon reached.
I wasn’t concerned about the emergency. It was all frivolous. I had the mother’s back. The people at the shelter did not trust me or my office. Maybe because it was a free service. How good could it be? I spent hours on the phone, just trying to allay their fears about what was going to happen. I couldn’t guarantee that the dog killing father wouldn’t get custody of the little ones. There were no guarantees. They just wanted to run. Away, down south, outside the perimeter, where they could blend in with all the other untrackables. No smart pad, no networked life in balance, finance and food, coffee or tea at one’s fingertips. They thought running the outcome was certain. The father would not have the kids.
I kept trying to make them aware of the danger of capture. Outside the perimeter, there are no guarantees. Everyone is subject to the strictest scrutiny if they are apprehended. That’s where the numbers were backing up their wanting to run. No one is apprehended. People just chill all day, growing little vegetables and playing with the porpoises that play in the inlets. Some people actually built a network of water-filled tubes, so the porpoises could come inland. The last report I heard said the water networks extended 10 miles in from the Pacific. Like a Roman aqueduct. They even had a separate tube for fish to eat. They spawn inland, small fry head out to the ocean, roam for a wonderful life, come back to start the cycle all over. They could always find their way. People would have fish show up right in the kitchen. Sad and beautiful. It was a perfect system, blending in nature and man-made. Nature-made.
I really wanted to go Outside. I’d never be able to rejoin any of my networks. I wasn’t ready to do that. I’ve never met anyone who lived like that. It seemed so primitive. Maybe one day. If I save a million dollars. But how would that happen on my Legal Cares salary? I could write a novel and become a millionaire. But that was so last century. I’d just set up my own portal, like the few others. That’s where it’s at. Portals of porpoises.
I went back to the waiting area. The smart pad glowed yellow. 26 minutes until boarding. I had time to drink my coffee and use the bathroom 3 times. I liked to unload properly. The flight was only 20 minutes or so, but I like to be comfortable in those little seats. It’s probably only 45 miles down to Fetch. One day I want to kayak and camp down there. Flow with the tides, take the ferry back. One day I will do a lot of things. Today, I will drink coffee and read about a lot of things.
I wondered where the chicken lady was. Maybe she was on the network. Sitting somewhere in piedmont, hills huddled against the horizon, tapping on her cyborg, communicating with people all over the globe. But me. That was 4 years ago. I don’t know why I’m thinking about it. Time passes, memories fade. People come and then they go, oh well. That’s just the way things go.Darker yellow, about to blend into fuchsia then slowly approach red as the pixels received their orders and marched down the visible spectrum.
A Squeak or a Chirp.
Fetch went ok. Nothing permanent determined. Temporary custody order with supervised visitation for the father, in effect for 7 days. 7 days! I’d have to go down to Fetch again next week.
Sunday morning. Papa was emerging from his glass enclosure, smelling like a floral citrus pattern. The Monarch Rises. A palpable current in the air. He was holding a book. The Collision Process. He still hadn’t explained his chapter to me. I wanted to know. He probably thought me a half-wit. I had no advanced degree, besides a license to steal, which is what a law license is, except I was giving it away and not taking anything. Legal Cares got funding from the Perimeter Authority and did not charge clients. I could have been living in my own glass house instead of a clapboard, corn-stove heated cabin. I was an embarrassment to my riches. Sometimes I figured I shouldn’t have bothered going to college. I could have just got a job at the Atavistic and Proud. I’d be making better money and have better health insurance. Unions.
“Likey-likey!” papa proclaimed.
What? Squiffy already? Not even 7:17 in the A.M. I needed to start stashing the Sapphire.
He could tell what I was thinking. “No, no, no Nothing like that.” Grinning like a Cheshire Capybara, “A spot of Yerba Mate with my friend Ray. Was talking to Ray. Ray is a porpoise. Except I didn’t talk to him. Ray was at church. If you catch my swift, little dumplings in a cheese sauce. Some are reluctant. I prefer a GOOD breakfast. Coffee. Egg. Toast. It is written. Let us go to Likey-likey for our morning post-church repast. Except we will forgo the church, the chapel, the temple, the mandir, the guduara, and proceed straight to Likey-Likey! Do not pass Go! One ninety nine. Nothing can compare. Where are my keys? Have you seen my keys? What did you do with my keys? Come along.”
I fired up the old maroon rice burner. Set the gears to Move, and we started moving. Down the edge of the island, over the bridge, skirting the city, up towards the dump and the brewery, where the big warehouse markets, the big boxes, opened around 10 on a Sunday.
The radio didn’t work. My headphones were around my neck. I didn’t want to drive and listen. I could. I preferred. But the cameras would catch me. I made sure my shirt was buttoned properly and my seatbelts were fastened. Everything was visible to the vigilant. Everything.
I parked at the edge of the Likey-likey lot. Row C. “Very good! Now we will be able to find the car!” There were no cars anywhere nearby.
“Row C. Don’t forget.” I said seriously, believing my inner wizardly urchin that had arisen.
“Pshaw! There is no one around! Let us advance.”
We walked through the empty parking lot, my head turning constantly, looking for cars. We made it through the macadam and up onto a large white concrete walkway, protected on either side by parked cars. It led straight to the front doors of Likey-likey, which opened as if by magic as we approached.
A single file escalator led upstairs to the café area. After a brief bit of congestion at the foot of the transport mechanism, involving a woman and her scared son, a bearded gentleman trying to maneuver a baby-containing perambulator, we alighted and were whisked up to the 2nd floor. Windows all around, I walked in circular and figure 8 patterns until I found the price announcement. Then I proceeded to the service line. “Can I help you?”
“Make it two.” Papa said, raising a hand with a couple of fingers pointing towards the ceiling.
We found a sun-filled long wooden table, right next to the windows. I got up to get some ketchup and napkins. Papa had placed his bacon on my plate. Which I ate. Not the plate. After 8 minutes or so, sitting in the full sun, my Banana Republic Luxury Blend – body 65 cotton 35 silk 5 cashmere trimming 52 cotton 26 silk 16 nylon 3 cashmere 3 lycraa/spandex – was burning, almost hot to the touch of my back. And it truly was a luxurious blend. Like no other.
“We should have called Weeny. She lives right here.”
“She would not have come. She does not rise prior to 10 am on Sunday.”
We ate the rest of the meal in thought-wandering silence, broken only by a few rhetorical questions and a squeak or a chirp in reply.
The First Time is Always Difficult.
I didn’t know what was happening.
Everyone was worried. I was flowing through the switching stations, the nodes appearing like desolate souls on fire. Punching at nothing, arms akimbo and swaying, I fell to my fears at False Outer Point. I couldn’t see the point. Where were we all going? Would there ever be a time I could sit back and take comfort in thought, a series of random reactions to a series of random events? A point in the continuum of life where I could say, I have accomplished something and now I can be satisfied? Or would I always be on a perpetual quest to reach another level, when the only level was the fruited plane, the absolute unsanctioned device. A mechanism of twisting and tossing.
I would not go calmly. The serious calm. The even keel. That was gone. That was when I was in control of the things people expected to be in control of. Going inside and outside. Eating when I’m hungry. Being awake and vigilant when I’m not sleepy. But they would have none of it. I didn’t know why I was there. I didn’t do anything, did I?
The Committee had told me that my emails were evidence of a life out of balance. I told them I was fine. There was nothing wrong. I was really happy, in fact. Euphoria. I remember reading that in a P.G. Wodehouse book about a man and his butler, Jeeves. I read it curled up in a maroon recliner while listening to my new vinyl copy of “The Long Run” by the Eagles, playing it on an old German Grundig radio-turntable console. My thoughts were unfurling before, unfettered and free. I felt happy. Like I could do anything. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me.
The medical staff from the Committee pointed to a poster on the wall. Indicators of Disabused Reality: (Approximations of Insanity.) Thinks there is nothing wrong. Does not admit there is a problem.
It was ridiculous. It was that book. Catch-22. How could I be in that book? How could this be real? If I say I’m fine, everything is good, that means I’m in a flash-bulb state, a manic sensitivity? I didn’t understand. So I say I’m not fine, and then I’m ok, but then I’ve admitted I’m not fine, so I stay here locked in the ward of long-lost lust and sorrow? When would I get out? I began to get more and more anxious. I wanted to yell at them and tell them that I am fine. I wanted to smash something, break the glass of the candy machine. But how would that look?
You sent emails. It is obvious something is wrong.
Now I understood. I was with my friend Ray the porpoise. We had just been skimming over the waves, drafting in the hollowed out mass of air, escaping and flowing through a passage that opened for just a brief time, never to return, where we would see things and meet people that we would never have the chance of encountering again. Time was of the essence. Time out of mind. There was an urgency, a forgetting of everything that had gone before or would come again. The only thing worrying us was our next move, our next breath, our next eye blink, our next apoptosis, deep within us, our cells spinning from phase to phase, birthing and dying, exploding and evolving, fighting the intruders and guarding the entry point, the virions trying to get access, linking on another carrier that would give access to the center, the replicator and kaboom, they would flow out, a 1000 fold and into a few more cells, and replicate and replicate as the defenses were mustered and the body slowed and the fight continued. But balance remained. Our cells were intact. The intruder stopped and repelled permanently. They knew what to do the next time and it would not get so out of hand. The first time is always difficult.
I didn’t know what was happening, but I understood why it was happening.
How to Fall.
Sparkly and bright. Everything was alright. I tipped the pint and set the empty glass on the wooden bar. Looked at Alex. He was standing, scanning the room for distractions and vigilants, reporting to the network on the conduct of the followed. Sometimes it was too much for him. I told him to fuck those jokers. There was music. I was tapping inside. A hundred thousand thoughts. 100,000 thoughts. I thought it was the same thing. But maybe not.
I sipped up my black Salvation Army fleece and headed out into the rainy night. I wore the thrift shop fleece when I came to the Sacred Pint because of the smoke. I kept the pub clothes in a locked metal box that was full of cedar and spruce shaving so it would not infect the cabin or my other clothes or my cat.
Clancy was there with his cart. A capital idea. Open for business from 11 pm to 3 am, selling gourmet fish sandwiches. Halibut and salmon. Grilled, broiled, toasted to perfection. He talked about his aioli sauce. Garlicky mayonnaise I think. Business was bustling, the drunk crowd, always good for a 5 or 10 spot, especially if it was some frat boy trying to impress a stuffy little vixen.
“Can you give me a salmon sandwich, please?”
“GIVE you a sandwich.”
“Yeah.” I kind of lifted my shoulders, smiled, as if to say, “Yeah, why the fuck not, retard.?!” In a good-natured way, of course.
“I guess.” Sighed. Shook his head, long straight hair dangling and dancing. I always wanted straight hair. He owed me a hundred bucks. He was indebted to me, on a spiritual level.
It was the middle of winter, a few months ago, I was sitting on a stool near the entrance of the Sacred Pint. Clancy walked in, he pulled out a book from the front of his pants, in between the pants and underwear, he made clear as he waved it around. Some sort of Buddhist clap-trap. Flesh and Bones. Old as the hills. Life in balance. Inuksuk, as the First Nations of British Columbia called it.
“I saw you driving.”
We picked up a couple of pints and headed to the back, where it was quiet, a nice room and a table and room for 6 or 7 people who would have to talk to each other. I was flying on some heated eaten porpoise concoction. It was another level of thought and expression.
“I want to learn how to ski. I’m going up the mountain tomorrow.”
He gave me my first lesson of two. “You have to know two things. How to stand and how to fall. How to fall is important.”
I sipped, barely needing it. I was unbound. Unwound. And because of this turn of events, I refrained from letting the footfall stomp where they may, spoke through the eyes, and took just a taste of the bitter event in a glass. I thought and ruminated and tried to understand the significance. It was significant.
Shimmery Black Fabric.
No chains could hold me. No wall confines me. C’mon, try. You think I’m blind to see what it is all about. I’ll play your game. I’m sick. There’s not a thing I want to think about. I’m tired. I can’t sleep AT night. I can’t sleep all the way through it.
The fish sandwich was perfect. I walked up to the little hill where I had a view of the harbor where all the big boats bearing many busloads of fat-happy people alighted and walked up and down the street, wandering in and out of the same shiny rock shops as the last stop. Fire and Ice. That Austrian crystal shop. I like going in there and talking to the salesladies wearing their shape-shifting outfits. Large and flabby and bouncy became a lovely slope, a smooth almost extra-terrestial landscape that seem almost unattainable. The shimmery black fabric hints of lavender wafting from the netherworlds, a sight unseen, a thought unfurled, at the forefront, but all I could say was, “Purple rocks,” in response to their query of “Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?” They would show me some amethysts, some crystals in a huff, as if I were not a real customer, no prospects and leave me alone. The Austrian crystal lady said, “Cufflinks. There, there, there and there." Pointing. Not even walking over, taking out a few, like they usually do, and saying, “Isn’t that lovely? They go so well with that color and your lovely eyes.” My eyes were brown. The color of coffee. Dirt. Caramel. Who cares. They worked. Slipshod dimwit. But they didn’t say that. Just, “There.” That’s really all I need. Too much conversation. Like in that Elvis song with a shuffle early 90’s beat, remixed into a club favorite.
The sky was pulsing. Green. I lay back in the sand of the playground, the rain lightly spraying, I thought of it as a nice salad sauce, dressing, and just smelled the things that were floating around in the air. I had a little Mumbai in an 8 ounce glass juice bottle that I carry around for emergency situations such as these.
I didn’t care about getting home just yet. I didn’t have any need for sitting in a little room, using the facilities, so I didn’t have to worry. Plus, I could go to the Logoff Complex to satisfy all my exculpatory functions.
I went for a hike up the Perserverance Trail, until I was about 500 feet above Venue. No one had lights on. Probably no one awake. Most people like light when they are awake. They do not hang out in the dark. I like to talk to people and listen to music in the dark.
Things were beginning to crystallize. On so many levels. Moisture on the trees and the trails. The thoughts in my brain. The alcohol slowly being slung out of the cells, spinning erratically for a few hours, if they could talk they would really give me a word. “NO MORE WHALES.” Is what they would tell me. No emotion. Just a clear transmission of the message. Like a signal fire. I wondered if Jerrold Lynn was drunk on the Stooky. I could call. I’ll just walk over there in a bit. He was never too busy for a tipping a long-lost scattering of the mental particles with me. The world slips a little more gracefully when everything is allowed to collide without thinking of the insurance ramifications.
I continued to walk. None of the animals were up. A couple of low-flying birds swooped by. A deer or two. They always watch and follow me. I am scared of the deer. I hope they do not try to eat my nuts and fruit I have in my satchel. Then I would be hungry. I didn’t mind sharing. So I left some by the tree where I usually see them watching over the town. I backed away slowly, not making any sudden moves, and two little ones came up and smelled the sweet things I left. Like nothing else in the woods. I hope their mother would not be mad.
I shined a light and walked down to my brown wagon.
Playing the Role of Chief Counsel.
It was 4:35 when I got to my cabin. The light had been streaming in for over an hour. I needed a bit of sleep. Maybe a muffin. Definitely a muffin. That could be made available.
I lay down for a little nap. Cool air was flowing in through the cracked-opened window. I slipped under the New Hampshire wool blanket and slumbered. The New Hampshire blanket was always a bone of contention within the family. Weeny saw it, maybe in Stinking Creek, maybe here in Venue.
“Does mother know you are in possession of the New Hampshire Blanket?”
Oh, fuck you, you stupid bitch. Is what I should have said. But I just kind of squeaked, meekly, “Yeah.” But in a couple of syllables. YAA-huh. Like a kid. Did you eat some fruit? What did you eat? You are not eating enough fruit. Eat a banana. Do you want a banana? Oh shut the fuck up, you half-witted marmoset-brained dumb fuck. Is what the kid wants to say. YAA-huh. When will parents learn this lingo? It was so obvious. “NO MORE QUESTIONS.” I pronounced one day when getting a ride to the train station near the flight center where papa was headed with Professor Izzy Kepler from Stuttgart. I had had enough. I was wearing warm clothes. I had enough money. I had my keys. I had my phone. I had this. I had that. Shut up, you dipshit! I wanted to say. Stupid fucking morons, I shook my head after getting out of the car and towards the train platform.
I managed to slip away for about 2 hours. I had to be at the domeless capital to meet with a Congressman to tell him to do his job. Jobs and legislation and all that Scottish electronica that had recently taken my brain captive. It sounded like a pill. Maybe it was. Some secret code in the sounds that stimulate the pleasure zone and strike an endless loop of desire and satisfaction. I could not resist. Like heroin. Oxycontin. Hillbilly heroin. This was Scottish cyanide. Electronic X. Electronic ecstasy. Ear ecstasy. I just couldn’t stop. Please sir, some more dextro? I beseeched the computer chip to yet again spin the tiny disc and access the ones and zeroes, the ons and offs, and transmit it through the copper wire into the sleek silver Boston HD radio, tuned to AUX, directly spiffing out in a smoky haze the file from the silver sleek Nano, the gold connector gleaming, and styles willing and able to control all that had not decided on a form or a function, a time or a trial, a stop or a watched pot.
I had some eye-colored coffee. Don’t it make my brown eyes blue. Blue as an emotion. What is blue? All that is pure. Sky and water. Flowers and not much else. Blue just all over. Shrouded by blue to keep us innocent from the blackness that is all over. The lack of color and the absence of everything. A cold hard steel silver, even that may not be there. At first. But colors explode, nebulas scattered across the universe, in purple and green and every color and feeling imaginable.
So I didn’t worry about the cold harsh universe. There was something for everyone. My eye-colored coffee was losing it pep. The particles were slowing. I wanted them faster. I craved a bit of warmth. Waking up to a warm cup of eye-colored broth in the morning was the ultimate expression of human civilization. Without that, there would be little else.
6:45. Time to get presentable.
“You clean up nice.” Always a surprise. I must be a real dirtball in real life. Today, I was playing the role of Chief Counsel.
It Would All Work Out.
I emptied out my pockets – reindeer leather wallet from the Arctic Circle, windup Shakti HMT watch from India, Sirius key chain with a Subaru key, orange key chain from Home Depot with house keys, iPod Nano, loose change. I was so slow. I was backing up the line. The gentleman behind me took off his overcoat and metallic items and placed them on the conveyor belt to be scanned. Oh no. I thought. I have to remove my overcoat.
I had on a beige London Fog overcoat from the 1960’s. Old school and cool. Like new. The three buttons in front were fastened and it took some doing to button and unbutton them. I felt like a buffoon, unable to zip through the line like a seasoned professional. Another person placed their belongings on the belt. “Sorry to cut in front.” They apologized.
“No no, I’m sorry. I’m so slow.” I finally unbuttoned the top button. My nervousness subsided. I hoped they would not whisk me away to Guantanamo. They could say I had a button bomb. They could say I was thinking of having a button bomb. Which, now, I was. They can see all sorts of things. Could the Patriot Act see my subversive thoughts, stimulated by the strong and quick response to bad behavior? Could my nervousness belie an inner turmoil? Anything you think can and will be used against you. Were the monitors repeating the transmission, up to the five asynchronous orbitals, flowing in a figure 8 above the Americas, North and South? The Committee was unyielding in its insistence that those in the Perimeter have appropriate thoughts.
There had been unrest. Fuck you, Tiger. That became the slogan of the protestors, the sign-painters and spraycan wielders. Someone on the Committee said how he played cricket when he was in boarding school in the English countryside. Being from Detroit, his schoolmates started calling him Tiger, after the Detroit Tigers baseball team. Word of that got out and the protestors seized on it. The elitist, out of touch, east-coast, Ivy League liberal. Fuck you, Tiger. We’ll think what we want to think. And we think, FUCK YOU TIGER. So much hostility.
I was at the domeless capital to talk about the thought conspiracy legislation and burdens of proof. There were a few changes I thought would be helpful to make it a more reasonable and effective law. I was part of the sausage-making.
I had to navigate my way through the scrum of stinky sign wavers. They started yelling at me. I was surprised. I had on a nice lavender-tinged suit and had just shined my black Rockport dress shoes. My tie was thin and my shirt ironed. I felt good about my mission. And then the insults, hurled like a steel beam arcing down accidentally from a crane and through the front windshield of a car driving by below and right before the eyes, a look of wonder as thoughts began to slow and cease.
“SAND NIGGER!!! FUCKING GO HOME TO PAKISTAN YOU FUCKING CURRY-EATER!!! LET US THINK WHAT WE WANT!!!! FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE.!!!!”
I was confused. I wasn’t from Pakistan. I was an elitist, out of touch, east-coast, Ivy League liberal. Why all the hate? I certainly wasn’t from Pakistan. My family had land in what is now Pakistan, but they were detained and removed during the partition in 1947. We had nothing to do with Pakistan. Pakistan formed after my family was kicked out. We weren’t welcome there. The Muslims wanted the Muslims. I didn’t know why these people would say that. I didn’t think it would be worth it to explain. I would have to explain the history and the struggle.
The Committee is pretty fair. Life in the Perimeter has its drawbacks, but maybe the benefits and structure and security were worth it. It was set up so fast, in haste, a reactionary measure, and now it was being refined. It could only get better. There were scores of injustices. Many people suffered. But, there were many like me, warrior lawyers like my friend Tammy called me, who were working and striving to improve the changes to the system. The system was in place. I was sure it would all work out.