entry_93When I awake there’s shouting, and for a moment it’s 1983, and I’m back at the Institute holding an oily rag in one hand and a canteen of gasoline in the other. Then I remember that they never got any charges to stick, and I shake the remnants of sleep from my skull.

“Fucking kidding me!” comes the voice from outside. I roll out of bed and go to the kitchen window, squinting through the grit in my eyes. Indistinct white shapes coalesce into a truck parked at the opposite corner. A man beside it, working with his hands. It’s a PG&E truck. Another man high up in the bucket at the end of a crane boom, amid the wires.

Some of their words are lost over the diesel churn, but the yelling comes across just fine. “You fucking jimmied it?” Thirty feet up, the man in the bucket tugs at his control panel uselessly. The guy on the ground did jimmy it, apparently. I wasn’t even aware that people still jimmied anything, but I’ve been letting such things pass me by lately.

“Look, Jack,” says the ground man, “… been something … talk about, … gimme a second, okay?”

The man in the basket rips off his hard hat and throws it at his familiar, who dances out of the way. “No. No, you unlock this shit right now, man. This is bullshit.”

“Or what? You gonna write about it in your blog?” The man on the ground makes finger quotes for the word “blog.”

Basket man is incredulous, his hands out in an open question.

“Yeah, now what?” continues ground man. “… think … secret? How long did you think … putting me in your blog?”

I can feel my face muscles bunching up against the unrelenting sun, and I withdraw into the relative dim of the kitchen, and the tension unreels like a loose kite. I remind myself that I’m supposed to be ignoring things like this. The fact is that it’s becoming more difficult isn’t because I’m not getting better at ignoring things–I am. No, it’s because stranger and stranger things are happening to me. It’s like I’m being tested to see just how much I can ignore.

It all began with a simple goal: to concentrate. It followed that any concentration that I was able to achieve while others were distracted put me ahead of the game a little bit. Added to my power, whatever. It seemed natural that this was a worthwhile endeavor, so I started by ignoring the most obvious things.

I simply filtered them out, the car alarms, babies crying, sirens, and traffic accidents. It was easy. These are things that anyone can ignore, provided they have to urinate badly enough. More of a struggle was ignoring glass shattering against the wall, bones snapping like twigs, and gunfire in my left ear loud enough to cause an extended ring. But before long I registered these disturbances only as part of the ongoing whisper of ambient sound, and my emancipation from the sonic gestalt seemed complete.

But things got stranger then, as if some universal dynamic were compensating for my newly fortified filter. A woman wearing only a mesh of red latex spikes served me complimentary lemonade at a benefit for people lost to Burning Man in the wake of the dot com bust. I resisted. A man named Thigpen Proulx set up camp on my front lawn for an entire week. My inattention was absolute.

But now this. The men outside are still shouting at each other, one above and one below, as if in a kind of reenactment of Romeo and Juliet gone horribly wrong. And should I not be ignoring this too?

I never really acquired a taste for solipsism, but I seem to have found my way unwittingly to the center of something. Is this attention–this responsibility–something I’m required to bear as a penalty for a tactical neglect cultivated to glistening perfection? Is this what it comes to, this… insistent plea? Is reality as we know it nothing more than a spoiled child vying for our individual attention?

Sometimes I sit in wonder that things are and continue to be. Surely the molecules that make up the myriad forms around us will at any moment fly into a caustic soup. The more I ignore the things around me, the more I feel reality’s need for acknowledgement. It hums all around me, imminent, and myself at its center. A flash, and I’m blasted by fine hot pins, and the push and suck before eardrums rupture, before the ground goes out beneath me, before the feeling of falling forever.

And then I’m back, before it all happens. The thought of it is a joke. A threat. A promise.

No one said life was easy, that’s what it comes down to, and if I’ve noticed any queer escalation then it stands only as a mark of my own imminent invincibility. I think I’m on the right path, and the universe is feeling threatened. This is the bed I’ve made, and my determination to ignore that fact must be unwavering.

Letter Writing Campaign

entry_92Having returned from my interpretive dance motion capture session in Brussels, and with an extra free week on my hands still, I have decided to spend my time on a new campaign to urge the medical community to perform a new kind of cosmetic surgery. This is the text of my letter.

To whom it may concern,

Lately the phrase that’s been going through my mind is “bellybutton transplant.” Can you imagine it? How intimate! How sensual. What if it became the new fad of the rich? Forget the gold band–let’s swap navels.

Romantics have emblazoned their flesh with the names of their lovers forever. Blood brothers have pledged their eternal bond with the intermingling of bloodied digits. Is cosmetic swapping so farfetched? Can it be long before elective Siamese surgery becomes the norm? And how about genetic recombination? “Now you both can be both of you! Live together, die together. Forget the fly’s plaintive ‘Help meee!’ Now it’s ‘Hug meee!’ And our cellular bonding process ensures a permanent hug – on the inside.”

My only reservation is that people who are essentially bored become obsessive. We have all this time on our hands because we no longer have to hunt for our food, and so begin to starve in other ways. Now we pluck pluck pluck at our eyebrow hairs, always plucking the longest one because it stands out–even sacrificing some of the shorter ones just to get at that long one. Martyrs to the cause.

As a policy this doesn’t work because there is always a longest one. There will always be a longest one, and any determination to even things off by targeting the exception is just not sustainable ecology.

Still, there is hope that we can handle the inevitable promise of corrective mutation. I have a friend who leaves his longest eyebrow hairs alone. I think he cultivates them, one on either side. They’re like twin antennae. If he wore stripes he’d be positively Seussian. He’s a perfect candidate for bellybutton transplant, and I’ve started writing to surgeons and scientists to find someone willing to immortalize their name. Will you be that person? This is only the beginning. My mind is full of innovative vulgarity.

My contact information is below.

Wire Fu

entry_91Back in the early forties–1946 was when it all started for us–kung fu by wire was an art form in its infancy. In fact it’s fair to say that it wasn’t yet an art form, but rather a humiliating form of family torture. At least that’s how I remember it.

My father had come back from the war with all kinds of exotic ideas, which isn’t to say that he was enthusiastic. No, rather his were the kinds of ideas that seemed to weigh on him, as if each one bore down on a corresponding vertebra. I can’t say with any authority that he was a smaller man, but he was less substantial of countenance, often staring for hours, shaking his head, mumbling something about the hunting season.

And then he would come to us with one of his ideas. My siblings and I were four then, and ranged in age from five to seventeen. I was the second eldest, but small–smaller even than my baby sister. Maybe that’s why I was my father’s favorite. But though our interests varied greatly by then, we were always interested to hear what our father had to say on any topic. Mom advised us that this was proper behavior, and we didn’t need to examine the hand-shaped bruises on her upper arms too closely to be convinced of it.

The day my father explained wire fu to us is one that remains very fresh in my mind. “Gather around, my children,” he said. And for the next half hour dad’s words tumbled from his lips as he went into deep theory about the nature of defense, the importance of philosophy, and the necessity of art. And then he explained how the portrayal of all these things might lead to a singular moment of cultural enlightenment if you knew what to look for. As he spoke his eyes remained shut, as if he were reciting passages from memory. When any of us had a question he would fall dead silent, and aim his left eye at the bridge of our nose, and say, “Not now,” before continuing.

We didn’t know it then but he was briefing us for an activity the likes of which our family had never before participated in, one that would in fact bring us closer together. But not in the way he thought.

Billy, my older brother, seemed to grasp what was going on, but he was short with the rest of us and wouldn’t explain. Meanwhile, dad was making a racket in the garage while mom busied herself in her den. We sat, as instructed, on the living room floor, giggling about frivolous things to try to distract ourselves from the approaching storm.

My father grabbed the uniforms from my mother and threw them on the floor. “Suit up,” he said to Billy and me, and stood like a coach with his arms akimbo. He told my two younger siblings to sit by mom and watch. I envied them. I wanted nothing more than to be invisible, but dad’s eyes had already found me. I recognized the two football uniforms, but not what my mother had done to them. The modifications she’d made had turned them into marionette costumes, punctured by lengths of nested cable.

Billy grabbed his costume and started sorting through its tangle while I looked at my father with nascent dread. “I don’t understand,” I told him, and I missed him more in that moment than I had since before he’d left for the Far East.

“That’s exactly why we’re doing this,” he said. “Now be a good boy and suit up.”

In the forties the finer details of wire fu had yet to be discovered, but we spent our entire summer discovering them. We jumped and we kicked, spun and dropped, and we wore our lessons like raw medals on our skin. Our chafe marks hardened and thickened like old hash browns every night as we tried to escape through our dreams. But the worst was that dad never watched us perform. He sat stolid, eyes shut, lips pursed into a gash. When I would protest he would simply raise his hand. “Continue,” he would say.

I never forgave dad for allowing Angie to kill Billy. She was tiny, but surprisingly fleet of foot, and when the stud of her cleat caught my older brother in the temple he went down like a side of beef. And then he went up again. And then he bobbed there in the middle of the living room, his cable springs having reached an even tension. Angie began to cry immediately, but I didn’t have anything left inside to cry.

We never again suited up for wire fu, though we did bury Billy in his gear. For his part, dad seemed finally to snap out of it, and he and mom were able to patch up their relationship not too long after they sent the remaining three of us to live with a passing caravan of carnies.

My father had come home from the war missing a key part of himself–the link to his own childhood innocence. Without it he was just a shell of a man. So through us he tried to regain a little bit of that, but though he eventually succeeded, the price was high.

We all learned something from our experiences, and I’m pretty sure it’s don’t fucking roughhouse. It’s dangerous, and best left to trained professionals.

Blackout Period Triple Cross

When we’re children–and I often am–the rules of behavior are guided by caprice, and manifest in heated, primal exchanges in an attempt to satisfy the base needs of one of the involved parties. The beauty of this is its purity, its honesty. It’s only as adults that we learn how to effectively sublimate our needs (to deny) and refine our tastes (to lie). But children are innovative little splinters, and when they find it difficult to understand the rules of the world they will devise their own rules. This is why a child, by himself, will never give up.

We fail when we forget this.

The small band of hooligans with whom I was associated were the authors of many great rules of conduct. From the the proper decorum for backyard brawls to the means of determining the efficacy of a secret fort, everything was lovingly codified, although completely unwritten, and quite beyond the scope of any normal adult’s understanding. This was as it should be, and being taken to task occasionally for our indiscretions was a part of our identity. In fact, sometimes the adults were necessary for diplomacy, inasmuch as we could stand united against our common enemy.

I remember the time Matt threw a snowball at Micky’s head. Micky had totally deserved it, but he was the babysitter’s son, which technically made him untouchable. When the clump of ice took Micky by surprise he shrieked and dashed inside to his mother, who promptly sat Matt in a chair facing the corner. This was a humiliating punishment–particularly as he wasn’t allowed the dignity of removing his wellies–and even the victim of the crime had to sympathize. Having caught our collective breath, we pretended to watch cartoons and ate our afternoon cookies, stealing glances at the back of Matt’s head. Prisoner of war. Micky solemnly got up and approached Matt’s chair.

“Hey, Matt,” Micky said quietly.

“Hey,” said Matt.

Micky’s mother heard this exchange from the opposite side of the house, two floors up. “No one talks to Matthew!” she ordered.

Micky thought on this for a moment before whispering, “I’ll save you some cookies.”

This was how we survived.

But when we were alone–away from the adults–the tools of debate were more organically derived, although coarse. This is a necessity however, as the chance of winning an argument on logical merit alone is as elusive as the attentions of that girl who just moved in across the street. Natalie was her name. An argument on any given subject was often allowed to escalate into ad hominem attacks, and threats or promises delivered on behalf of one’s father were often summoned to great effect.

In our culture this was considered acceptable rhetoric because of the implicit code by which we abided. The only legitimate showstopper, save for adult intervention, was a device known as the “blackout period triple cross.” This was a phrase uttered quickly just after your case was presented to the presiding body, and it effectively locked the argument from any further debate. The ingenious part of the blackout period triple cross was that it not only rendered any further evidence inadmissible, it also reflected the losing party’s protestations back to them. This was known as the “in your face” effect.

But time itself is the ultimate victor. Contemplating childhood is like finding your burgled safe empty, its door ajar, as wind blows the drapes around the broken window. From how many precious ideals are we weaned before we find ourselves transformed into ossified barnacles clinging to the underside of our own derelict adulthoods? What is it that allows us finally to lie to ourselves and really mean it? We all delight in the tragic story of the hero’s fall because it is a story we all know most personally. We were heroes, once.

I will attempt to reclaim the perfectly effective tools of childhood, and more still as I’m able to remember them. Next week I am slated to attend a business meeting, and already I know how I’m going to get my point across. The others will be too lethargic to deal effectively, because my childhood is my bullet-time. My snot-fu will not be defeated. This time I win, blackout period triple cross.