entry_111People in Virginia, you tell them you’re moving to California and they all chuff and get that same look in their eye. I call it the, “So sleeping with your own family members ain’t good enough for ya now?” look. According to Virginians, we on the west coast all lead lives of frivolity and perversion. I say fine, let them think that. There’s no point in arguing with someone whose idea of couture is possessing lawn furniture that will accommodate their gigantic asses.

I kid them, of course, but they should realize that disparaging divergent lifestyles does nothing but illustrate the same narrow mindedness that would get them kicked right out of the self-administered plastic surgery parties that we in the west enjoy almost every weekend.

Exploring creativity through body modification is a beautiful thing, especially when you do it surrounded by friends. After a long week of protesting there’s nothing that takes the edge off like inviting my closest activist friends over to my solar-powered submersible for a weekend of free love and bacchanalia featuring round after round of cosmetic performance art.

A typical operation will take one to two hours, and always concludes to supportive cheers – and then the real fun begins. Sometimes we like to fashion ourselves after the hottest stars, but it’s far more amusing to carve our faces after lesser known personalities so that our friends can try to guess who we are. It can be a real challenge to see past the swelling and blood, sure, but interpretation is an essential part of any performance.

“Oh. My. God. You are the spitting image of Gina Lollobrigida!”

I’ll blush, which for the first time causes physical discomfort. But my admiring friends really seem to love my self-styling handiwork, and that always outweighs a little discomfort. I tell them, “the neck is Zasu Pitts though, see?” Give me a scalpel and a compact mirror and I’ll give you Pia Zadora before you can write a blog entry.

Nods of approval. “Tres subtle,” one of them says with obvious reverence, until we’re all interrupted by more excitement, “Hey everyone, look! I’m Jesus Fucking Christ!” Good times. The rest of the weekend we spend recuperating as we watch the manta rays and dugongs frolic beyond the bubble dome windows.

I’ve never understood a Virginian’s almost impulsive need to judge, and I would remind them that just because we’re physically incapable of smiling or weeping – temporarily – it doesn’t mean that we don’t have feelings.


I have a constellation of blindspots, mainly because I don’t respond well to physical damage. If something ill should befall my person I simply avoid looking at the site of damage from then on. That body part becomes carne non grata, and I quietly but efficiently erase its name from the front register.

Why have I taken things to this extreme? Because when reading a description about fruit just past ripe is enough to make me feel squeamish how can I be expected to cope meaningfully with the horrors of personal upkeep? I don’t think I’ve seen my teeth since I graduated high school, but people tell me they’re still white. But I’m only realizing now that my capacity for untreated pain is vast simply because my fear of treatment far outweighs a momentary discomfort. Or even minor dismemberment. Avoidance is truly the best medicine, especially if you eventually want to look somewhat like a zombie, which I do.

The year I stubbed my toe was particularly informative. This wasn’t a normal stubbing, where you hop around like Dick Van Dyke for a moment and everyone laughs. This is one of those stubbings where you hear an unfamiliar sound like celery snapping, and your pupils dilate, and your skin loses all its color, and you go silent for the rest of the evening as the party hosts wonder why they invited you in the first place. The first few days after the incident found me gently probing and massaging the remnants of my toe, though I never looked at it. In fact I didn’t catch a glimpse of it until nearly two years later, and then only because someone told me it looked fine. Which is does. Pretty much.

A few weeks ago I forgot the valuable rule of physical conservation (i.e., “Don’t do anything.”) and decided it would be helpful to open a bottle using nothing but a screwdriver and the edge of a concrete step. A few minutes later I could be found in the bathroom, lights off, tearing open the bandaid box with my teeth as I held the pieces of my thumb together with my other hand. I won’t see my thumb again until around 2005.

That’s not to say I’m completely inflexible. If the disfigurement is impossible to hide, and the reaction is likely to be worse than the pain, then I can be coaxed into action. In high school I had my nose severely broken when I turned a corner just as some hall urchins were playing hallway golf. The sound of the ricochet of the ball, to my recollection, was louder than the inter-class bell. The denial response was immediate as I turned down help from the responsible parties, and marched dutifully on to my next class. I was the first one there, and sat alone knowing that something was amiss, but unable to figure out what I should do next. Perhaps nothing then? Excellent choice. I started to remove the books from my bookbag when I realized that I could see my nose through my right eye much more prominently than through my left. “Fuck,” I said, more with resignation than anything else, and marched off to the clinic where I promptly fainted.

So you’ll understand me when I say that the calm I exhibit as I await the day that scientists are able to upload our minds into robot bodies is nothing but pure facade. Get me off this meat bus. Just don’t make me watch when they actually execute the procedure.

Language Creeps

entry_109Process-eez. The word haunts me, only it’s not a word. Not where I come from. But a word doesn’t have to be a real word to be worthy of loathing. It can be the sound the word makes as it slides over the palate, or merely the image it invokes. Me, I’ve always been sensitive to texture. With food it’s not so much the taste that turns me off, but how it feels on my tongue (not to mention whether I suddenly realize that I’m eating, which is another horrifying topic). Sounds can hold terrifying power as well: the sound of an old man swallowing his apple sauce, or the crinkle of napkins, or the dull chalky drag of teeth across drywall. And what are words but choreographed sound?

Feasible. Ointment. Nugget. Treat. Nutriment. Suckle. Moist.

Words have the power to make us cringe because of the particular ways they tinkle through synapses. “Moist”–the single most feared word in the English language–is as cloying as treacle, with snaking feelers that wend their way betwixt the cerebral lobes, and then tie themselves tight as a tourniquet. And as you can see, most of the words used to describe “moist” are nearly as abhorrent as their host.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we spend a great deal of time avoiding the words we hate, whether by keeping a close eye on the company we keep or by the unceremonious slapping of palms to ears. There are occasions however where we find ourselves in situations that demand that we just sit there and take it like the weakling kid with the permanent limp, and usually it’s at the office.

Our company ingested another company a while back, and its staff came aboard as foreigners. Friendly they were, to be sure, but they had their own way of doing things that brought on a clash of microcultures, detectable only by myself. That they contaminated our meetings with their particular meeting rituals was obvious. But far more sinister was the way they introduced to our lexicon all manner of foreign words, rife with long, drawn-out vowels and extra syllables. Indeed, the fact that my otherwise reliable comrades were oblivious to this was a major point of concern.

“Processees.” If there was a totem word to which the newcomers all supplicated it was this. The bastard plural of the word “process” combined with… What? I don’t know. Facilities? Diocese? Herpes? Menses? They used the word far too often though, often going way out of their way just to savor the extra long EES festering there at the ass end of the word. “We’ll need to adjust the production schedule to account for new development processeeeez.” Hercules, manatees, bees knees.

So imagine my horror when the word began to propagate like a virus, sometimes right before my eyes. My compatriots fell like old trees before the sheer will of this alien minority–they with their precious processees–and would abandon their own pronunciation in the middle of the meeting. In fact I once witnessed the pronunciation switch in mid sentence, with a “processes” to the fore, and a “processees” aft. I was careful to avoid the word altogether, because if they control your words then aren’t they, in a way, touching your brain? Licking it? Lap lap lapping at your melon…?

By now just about everyone has given over to the new way of speaking, but as much as I’ve always considered myself a progressive futurist, I will never utter that word unknowingly. Incidentally, this is, in fact, how the world evolves away from us. It’s inevitable; as cool and as current as we think we’ll always be, at some point we’ll see an innovation for what it really is: a corruption, a degradation, a devolution. And we’ll dig in our heels in, and we’ll ossify, and the young moist ones will find our resentment amusing, and then we’ll be forgotten altogether.

I’m thinking these very thoughts as they call on me at the meeting, and I’m caught off guard, and yanked back into the present with something new: a secret acid determination. I prepare a response, readying my fingers for the devastating “air quotes.”

The Mexico Centrifuge Nosebleed

entry_108Mexico was a traumatic experience when I was a kid. With my brother I traveled to the Yucatan in 1982, where our uncle guided us strategically away from pesky familiarity of tourist traps and civilization, and toward the less trafficked areas replete with local color. A socially stunted thirteen year old, I would have found a trip to a new Radio Shack almost seizure-inducingly overwhelming. Not used to being out in the sun, my skin had a eerie computer club paleness. I was lanky, and wore my white tube socks pulled up to my knees. I was foreign to this world, and it rejected me like some incompatible transplant. Especially in Mexico.

Adversity lay in wait for us at every turn, and I remember clearly the flat tire we got on an uneven dirt road overgrown by high grass, and our subsequent rescue by two shady men in a rust-eaten van. And there was the drunk who threw his arm around me, shouting “iNo puedo leer!” And there was my paroxyism-racked bout with sun poisoning, hardly soothed by the the hastily prescribed nostrum of the local medic. And there was our uncle’s food poisoning, which prompted several men to come into our hotel room to take him away, leaving my brother and I alone in Mexico, maybe forever.

But other than those few incidents I managed to be completely miserable.

Having finally made it to a small town in Quintana Roo, our uncle lightened up on the culture aspect of the trip and agreed to take us to a street carnival that had been set up in a nearby parking lot. But not before reminding us that parking lot rides were no substitute for experiencing the flavor of the real Mexico. I thought he might be referring to the tainted fruit, but I was looking forward to something a little less vomit-oriented.

The sun had fallen hours ago, but the air was still thick from a day’s heat. Colored lights through the park’s trees brought our shoes scuffling across the lot’s graveled asphalt, stronger with each step. There was a distinctly Latin sound to the calliope music, and the shouts over the metallic, mechanical surf of roller coasters were foreign, though interpreted easily enough.

At the edge of the carnival grounds stood an idle attraction: the centrifuge. This is a concept ride more than it is an experience ride, and a diabolical one at that. On an experience ride one derives enjoyment from a journey of discovery and surprise. The concept ride is something understood at first glance, and it’s usually the destination one seeks rather than the experience. That is, once the concept is understood, it’s survival that one most looks forward to. But a kid, intoxicated by spectacle, will be gleefully indiscriminate when it comes to attractions.

My brother and I, our pupils dilated with awe, tugged our uncle toward the contraption like rabid dogs tugging at their leashes. He wasn’t interested though, and released us to our own fates. He said he was going for a walk instead. Down in the cylinder, our backs against the padded wall, we looked up at the operator as he barked down some unintelligible words. I saw that he was actually younger than I was, surely an indication that this carnival had enough of that Mexican flavor to satisfy anyone. Were we doing this right? There was not time to contemplate this, as the hum beneath our feet tugged the world above into a labored spin.

As the cylinder approached a certain velocity there was a hydraulic whine from below, and the floor began to drop away. The principle, of course, is that the centrifugal force brought on by the rotation is just enough to keep objects fastened to the inside rim of the wall. And indeed, the novelty of being pinned did provide a few minutes of amusement. My brother and I wondered aloud what would happen if we spat, which is just about when the operator felt it was time for a little midnight constitutional, and left my brother and me to our business. I looked down at my feet and saw that I had actually dropped a couple of inches, and that my ankles now hung down past the lip where the floor met the wall. I suddenly had the image of the floor coming back up and crushing my ankles like a trash compactor. Inching upward was exceedingly taxing, but I was motivated by this possibility. “Are you slipping?” I called to my brother. I thought at first that the trick was to be as still as possible, but the fact was that the centrifuge was not spinning fast enough to keep us in place. We’d been in there for about four minutes when I began to get dizzy with the exertion of trying to stay above floor level.

The operator was nowhere in sight.

I was thinking about standards. Surely there were international standards for the operation of such machines. There was nothing to worry about. The operator, young though he may have been, was obviously so experienced that he wasn’t concerned, and watching over us would have been overkill. Anyway, another minute or so and we’d be off and heading toward the next ride.

But minutes crept by and there was no one in sight. In fact, the operator had probably left to go mug our uncle, who was even now being held at gunpoint in some dingy room with a naked bulb swinging back and forth overhead casting sharp shadows against rotting walls. I was sweating from the heat and my nose was running. I glanced up at the trees twirling by overhead and felt nausea setting in. “I’m definitely slipping,” I called out to my brother. If this went on for much longer I feared it would be my consciousness that would be slipping.

Eight minutes into the ride I wiped my nose, leaving a fresh red streak across my forearm. I sniffed instinctively as I tried to recall what the operator had told us as we’d boarded the ride. Perhaps it had been, “This centrifuge requires some repairs.” Or maybe, “I need to go find you some barf bags, I’ll be back.” Or even, “I don’t work here, what does this handle do?” Every muscle sang from fatigue as I tried to keep from dropping into the darkness below, inching up the sweaty wall one body part at a time.

At ten minutes into the ride I was trying to think of happy things, and testing to see whether it was easier to hold my bile with my eyes closed or open. Closed? Open? I had images of astronauts in my head, their cheeks stretched back toward their ears as they underwent similar centrifugal forces.

And that’s when the operator returned.

I was beyond feeling any anger toward him. My primary thought centered around keeping my feet from being clipped off at the ankle long enough to find solid ground.

In the parking lot my brother and I stood as still as possible. I swallowed repeatedly, and stared at the ground, which appeared to be spiraling slowly away. Our uncle found us again just as the effects of the centrifuge were wearing off, and he told us of another ride he’d found that we’d probably enjoy. He pointed at an imposing device with eight arms. From each arm dangled three fiberglass cars, which the machine shook about like tassels on an exotic dancer. I wiped another red streak down my other forearm and considered the beast. The young are resilient, and trauma doesn’t last when the world’s moving fast. My brother and I looked at each other through dilated eyes, and then tore off to the next contraption.


entry_107The usher is using a small flashlight to show people where their seats are. The way he wields it it’s not even a tool, but rather an extension of himself. He has one normal hand, and one lightbulb hand that exists to show people where to sit. In fact when someone approaches him to ask about something not related to sitting, “Pardon me, where are the restrooms?” he uses his lightbulb hand to point up the aisle, and then to the right. That’s not the use his lightbulb hand was intended for, but already he’s adapted. If he had an itch I’m sure he would scratch it using the warm red glow of his lightbulb hand. Later that night he finds himself frustrated as he tries to feed himself with it. Foiled by the lack of articulation in their lightbulb hands, his species will eventually die out, their bulbs fading, eventually, to permanent darkness.

Deaf folk, when they communicate by sign, use the same parts of their brains that hearing folk do when they communicate. So they say. I’ve tried it before just to see if it’s something that I can tap into, and I think I can feel something. In fact I feel the same thing when I try talking with my toes – that sense that I know what shapes to make with them for each phenome. There is only one correct position, and it’s not arbitrary. And the same thing applies to a few other body parts I’ve tried talking with, some of them internal. They don’t always have constructive things to say though, so I tend to keep my conversations to myself.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the mind is sticky, and it hesitates to cede control back to the mouth. This can be a distraction. I used to play Tetris at the office for hours every night just to deaden the day’s accumulated existential agony, and driving home afterward I would always see the cars as Tetris pieces. In my mind I devised strategies for fitting my car into the spaces between the other cars, and anticipated with satisfaction the feeling of blipping out of existence.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the line between the self and the world is so easily blurred. I think it’s part of the coping mechanism that keeps us from freaking out whenever we see ourselves in the mirror. If we were aware of how freakish we were at all hours of the day, how could we ever get anything done?

“In summary, I think we’re on track to have a really good quarter, as long as we continue to deliver on each… Holy shit! Spider hands! Spider hands – I’ve got spider hands! Ooh, it’s all attached to my brain – I can feel them wriggling! Sharp stones in my wet pink mouth, and jelly sac eyes! I’m a skin bag of meatballs!”

We’d go mad. Thus the mechanism that keeps the reality of it all from becoming too abstract. It assures us that it’s all safe, and everything is as it should be. Even though it’s clearly not. I watch the usher and the first tears fall from my slimy, squishy eyeballs.

Notes from the Cell

entry_106Dear Diary,

Yesterday I was caught in a fight in the courtyard, and we didn’t come out of lockdown till just now. Johnny Digits and his gang, they were making noises at Manolo’s group–which, there’s been tension between them ever since Zico was put in solitary for mouthing off to a guard. And suddenly it was like a tornado hit. I’m still not sure how that happened, but I’m hoping that today I might be allowed to breathe a little. You always go back to the basics, I say, especially just after I’ve taken my “medication” and the warden has us in lockdown. Always back to the basics.

It puts me in mind of my formative days though. Nothing has changed much, really. You’d think I grew up on the streets because of my explosive disposition and the mesh of scars I wear like a pink and white striped unitard. But I grew up in a palatial estate. Dad still worked for the UN then, and spent most of his time in Geneva where he had chain dalliances with the wives of foreign dignitaries. I never saw him much, even though I always beamed when people asked me who the man in the portraits was. Mom though, Mom and me were tight.

As I remember it, she’d throw cocktail parties almost every night. It was like a ritual. To me the whole ordeal was a bore, and I’d taken to menacing the guests when Mom wasn’t looking, just to keep myself entertained. But even then there was something underneath, something I brooded about when I was alone. And it wasn’t a feeling that I could keep bottled up. I think I must’ve been about ten when I first asked a guest, “You want a piece of this?” and really meant it. I didn’t have a lot of respect for the people Mom had over, it’s true, but I don’t think she did either. She was just keeping up appearances, which isn’t something that should be discounted. It’s part of the lifestyle. Oh, she could handle herself, I know, but I guess I felt protective of her just the same. Crowds of idiots would come by just to rub elbows with us. The way they would fawn over the topiary and my mother’s hairdo with equal praise, always laying it on real thick. They all wanted a piece. And Mom would shake their hands and smile. They were no better than the shit we used to fertilize the gardens, that’s what I read in her smile.

In the evening, just as the sun had dipped below the horizon, Mom would be overseeing cocktail production in the kitchen. Meantime, I’d be hiding in the hedgerows bordering the lit pool waiting for the guests to swill their mint julep, or to laugh their easy, open-mouthed laugh. I wanted their guards to be down. And then I’d creep up behind them and scream in their ears as loud as I possibly could. They’d trip over the patio chairs trying to get away from me sometimes, and the guy at the piano would jerk his hands away from the keys, and there would be this utter silence. That was a beautiful, transitional moment. I’d get all pouty then, and tell them I was emotionally sensitive, and I would start to cry. Those days I could cry as easy as you please, and it worked like poison. I was a towheaded kid with ruddy cheeks, and my trembling lip act was heart breaking. As the guests rubbed their ears, not sure whether to buy it or not, I’d flash my blade to let them know I meant business. That was my ritual.

I think Mom knew about what I was up to, deep down. The first time I was in juvie was for bludgeoning our next door neighbor with a wiffle bat. Oh, this cow had been nipping at a margarita all afternoon, and she’s going on about how nice the weather is like it’s the second fucking coming or something. I’m minding my own over by the pool–I think I was drowning a mouse, dunking its little head under as it tried to swim. But she just keeps talking: there’s not a cloud in the sky this, and isn’t it a lovely breeze that, and yadda yadda yadda. I remember I look over and her mouth is going, and she has this ‘rita foam in her downy moustache–and I just lose it. Next thing I remember there’s a circle of people over me and I got a wad of someone’s floral print blouse in my left hand. Mom’s combing my hair back with her long pink nails, telling me it’s gonna be okay.

And you know, I couldn’t help but notice how proud she looked. Like I’d graduated or something.

Well I never did graduate, but I learned about blackouts that day. And the funny thing was that whenever I had a blackout somebody would always wind up getting hurt. It was cool though because I got my name in the paper a few times, and when guests came over Mom would always pull out the scrapbook.

The way I think about it now, those were the good old days. That was before I had my big tantrum in 1982 and ended up running through the streets of Brooklyn in the buff swinging around this huge sack of severed hands like Thor’s hammer. I still don’t know how I got to Brooklyn.

Now Mom comes and visits me every Thursday if I’m on good behavior, and she always brings me pictures of clouds. Those are my favorites, cause to me they look like fists, balled up, in slow motion.

I get tired real easy.


entry_105That night I had to sleep over at her house, my mean sitter Theresa told me that the clanking sounds outside were those of the Night Deliveryman, a shadowy figure who scaled tenement walls in search of children. This explanation was corroborated by her husband Raymond, whose principal function was to torment me with flipped eyelids. What they lacked in imagination I more than made up for. To me the Night Deliveryman had a giant head, like an upturned wheelbarrow, and small silvery slit-eyes, and it walked eight feet tall on eight black spindly legs. Its flesh was leathery and dry, and it clung to its skull in tatters. Other details were more intimate: a whisper close to my ear, “Hey…” repeated endlessly, “hey…” and I remember trying to drown it out with my pillow as I lay on the hard parquet floor in the pitch-dark hallway. “… hey…” Still, my kid logic said it was better to be in the hallway than in their room: the Night Deliveryman would have to clamber up through their window before it could get to me.

Now when I think of scary things at night my first thought is: Mid-thirties. You’re in them. So these scary things figure how, again? But still I’ll think of them, and devising the scariest apparition is a kind of delicious torment. Oh, I went through my air-shark phase, and the creeping black web found favor for a time, and also the betentacled glowing tongue – nasty business, that. These days my demon of choice is once again a spindly thing – which is what reminded me of the Night Deliveryman – and I do so fuss over it. I have to get every horrible detail right for it to have the desired effect, which is to make the back of my neck feel vulnerable when I’m sitting here typing this very sentence!

Whew! That was close.

So what about the moment of truth then? Once this thing of yours is good and summoned, the ball’s in your court. What to do? Well first of all there are several things you don’t want to do. You don’t want to check behind you, because acknowledging the possibility of peril actually draws it. One glance over your shoulder is akin to inviting a vampire in for tea.

Running and hiding and screaming and pleading only feeds the thing you fear, which is why scary movies make you feel helpless: you’re sympathizing with a character who is doing the worst thing possible, and you have no say in the matter. You wuss out by looking for the boom in the shot or the reflection of the camera guy in the reflection of the alien’s single black eye. But it’s a different story when the lights go out that night, isn’t it?

There is an answer though, and you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself for failing to realize this on your own. It’s hardly obvious, and certainly not something that would play well in those awful movies you so love. The answer is to drop your pants and shake what your momma gave you, and make the most ridiculous face you can muster. Still with me? Then, when the monster is trying to figure out how to handle this idiot, you go hog wild on the apparition’s ass, plunging your arms like lances deep into its body, and make with the lamprey lips and suck out its salty viscera. The answer, my friend, is bloodlust – you have to find it within yourself. And if you’re not into viscera then you’d better convince yourself otherwise before it’s too late (have you looked behind you lately?).

Maybe that night hasn’t come yet, but you have to be ready. You have to know its in you when the sun is up too, when you’re wearing your stupid lemming khaki pants and driving your stupid lemming SUV, you have to know that you’re lethal, and ready to bathe in entrails. A part of you must fear yourself, because every second of every day you are walking death – worse even than your own darkest fears. Potentially.

And otherwise a pretty good conversationalist.