A man passes me wearing gloves that have had the fingers cut off. His coat is too long, the golf bag rolling behind him contains no golf clubs. His hair is curling out from his baseball cap and the bill is pulled low over his face. I see him again an hour later, walking one direction or another for no more than a few hundred feet at a time.
I am ideologically afraid of him, afraid of the thinness of him, for knowing that it resides in me as well. I can see what constitutes who I am weakening, and wonder if, when he saw his own frame becoming over encumbered, he too went in search of heavier burdens. I wonder if his skin was once as thick as mine used to be. I wonder if he too used to take the blame, if he too used to look in the mirror and see the good and the bad honestly. Above all I wonder if these virtues were what gave him the impression he was strong enough to take on the life that broke him.
I came to California kicking and screaming. Fifteen years ago, when home was still a rural town in northern Utah, and California was home to too many people, most of them probably robbers. In hindsight, my fear of robbers may have been well placed since Wells Fargo would eventually play a role in the destruction of the housing market and then leave us with the bill but no home to send it to.
But life went on, and I grew to love this state in spite of all the financial hardships that came with moving here. And when I say I love this state, I am mostly talking about Contra Costa. I love the way the seasons change here, subtle and modest. The people are crazy, there are more self-proclaimed eccentrics here than anywhere I have been. I salute their honesty, their tolerance for absurd pet theories, and their unwillingness to hide behind a veil of like religious beliefs and quiet, lip-pursed conformity. We have a melting pot here that has yet to start burning. What we pay for rent is outrageous, but it helps to symbolize what it means to us. Career fields are inundated from carpentry to photography. Whatever you choose to pursue here, you do so with the knowledge that you are, or will be, the best at it. And I think we come here, and stay here, because we appreciate the challenge.
And are you still skilled in appreciating the sentimental little observations that used to dance their way into your face and smile down at your dish scrubbing hands? Your tank was no more than a third full at the time, and your hands these days, are devoted to much more inspired tasks than dish washing, but do those darling little observations still seduce you with so much ease? Or are they instead splintering battering ram after battering ram on an accidentally formed callous?
All the bones out there were people once, you may do well to remember that.
This notion that if we let our guard down, if we pause to appreciate the beauty in our lives, we are tempting fate and fate will inevitably punish us. This strangling, paralyzing, deprecating fear of happiness. It is worse than our reality, much worse than our present. It is the apple of my internal enemies, my Dow Jones Industrial free falling in my frozen, post 9/11 market. Asymmetric warfare. One bad perceived reality playing its cards so well it defeats the good ones.
I have, in spite of any fell clutch, nothing to fear that isn’t fear itself. I could do myself no greater disservice than to hand my fears, over the back of my bleeding mind, the driving whip. Fear wants nothing more than to rob me of the time that is available.
This present moment could never be different, to entertain any other notion is to lay down arms and wait for death.
Illusory or not time evades me, all of the time. It slips through me constantly, past me, and away from me and away from all things until it is gone. Matter may very well be conserved by laws of the physical world, time is lost liberally. This is one of the swell things to be counted on. It is as sure as it is unwavering, and I know that I will never get a day off, that time will never cease to thunder down into my head and roar past me into the fog of lost memories. This will continue as a certainty until I am a lost memory too.
But the pen touches paper like a hammer and chisel touches a windshield and time shatters. Suddenly I have something more permanent than my memories, more permanent than myself. More permanent than the memory of who I was. This pen cuts like shears through time and continuous change and it carves a small spot in eternity for the events of a single day.
Provided one has the talent to recreate it.
In recent months I’ve been infuriated by my failure to find a constant, something that I could write and know to be true. If wisdom slapped me with her right hand I would study it, and she’d slap me with her left. I was under the impression that she would have irrefutable proverbs written on her palms and if I could claim them, I could find success.
Every time I would open my mouth to speak I found myself silently formulating counter-arguments to whatever it was I had wanted to say. This happened frequently enough for me to become bitterly resolved that truth was an impossibility, that I could rely only on the notion that every right answer I found was going to be a little bit wrong. But that bitterness dissolved when I discovered that what I’d really stumbled into was an equilibrium, a beautiful shade of gray in a world that I’d mistakenly labeled as black and white. Right and wrong have come together to harmonize with love and misery, humility seduced confidence, aggression exposed her stomach to compassion, and knowledge became an understanding of my ignorance.
I washed out a coffee cup in the bathroom sink, filled it with wine and scribbled about having tried and failed to make the room more human by turning on the television. Then something more about how heavily it smelled of bleach and damp towels. I told her I was half the person I was a year ago, “broken or at least very badly stripped.” We slept fully dressed, I pleaded that she at least take off her shoes, but she refused.
We left in the morning like the room was sinking, headed south towards Mendocino. Breakfast was good, I drank an Americano and watched her sip the froth off an apple cider. She went to work perfecting her design.
We drove a block and a half more to the Macallum house, where the receptionist slighted us for the benefit of an older couple. So we wandered from room to room, failing to find fault in the authenticity of the place. Even the slight gave signal to its authenticity. The receptionist eventually gave us a map with directions to the cypress grove, after warning us that a ceremony here would cost $1750 just for set up and breakdown. We found the grove and photographed it. As we were leaving, a mother asked us to take a picture of her and her baby, I took two.
The headlands were beautiful. I walked out on a narrow bluff to drink it in, and it evaded me. I could see the flame, but feel no heat. We drove north again, and then down and underneath a bridge we had crossed in the morning. I photographed it while she stayed in the car and tried again to simplify Victorian architecture. Anesthetized, I stood beneath the bridge, bent over backwards for a unique perspective, jumped over the creek where it was thin and then crossed it from rock to rock where it was wide.
We stopped two more times before we drove home. We ate soup as she tried desperately to finish her project and I looked back through my pictures.
I asked her to seduce me when she came to bed and then fell asleep almost immediately. At three thirty in the morning she woke me up, not wanting to tell me how late it was. When I woke up again it was ten, three hours after she had left for the city.
My patient companion.
I walked into a pizza parlor last night. In the twelve seconds it took for me to ask for a slice of pizza with artichoke hearts I received two or three impatient looks from the cashier. The man behind me, when it was his turn, was bold enough to ask about the “now hiring” sign out front, interrupting himself halfway through to ask if she, the cashier, minded if he asked about it.
She said it so quickly I barely saw her lips move. He stammered and finished asking his initial question; which position were they hiring for? She told him, in a tone I found presumptuously apologetic, that they were only hiring people to make pizza. Knowing that he wasn’t qualified to make pizza, or at least thinking it now, he moved on and placed his order.
“Hi Ron” I said to him as he sat down.
“Do I know you?” he asked me with a face so devoid of hostility or amiability that it was impossible to tell if he was bothered or even surprised by my knowing his name. I told him I was Jacob’s little brother, and his face lit up, he called me by my name without hesitation. He asked me about my siblings and my mother with genuine interest. I was reminded that men can in fact possess bottomless wells of kindness. It was impossible to tell that he was autistic as he asked me about my plans for school. I loathed the woman behind the counter for being incapable of sparing him half a smile, for not knowing, as I knew, that he was one of the most kindhearted people in this city.
Maybe it’s our culture, but maybe it’s our species that is bad at falling in love. Everywhere I look I see people consistently failing at it. We approach love backwards, we’re trying to light the filters of our cigarettes, trying to hang paintings on smooth walls.
You or I will walk into a party or a bookstore and inevitably someone will catch our eye like a hook catches a fish lip; this is usually the first of many erroneous falling dominoes. You’ve met a stranger and you’ve imagined wearing them around town, and you’re beginning to hope that they won’t be a stranger for long. You can be cautious, if you’re wary of the other party discovering your lusting, if you’re wary of their knowing that you don’t know them at all. But with luck you’ll find that their looks aren’t their only appealing characteristics, with a little luck you’ll find parallels between the things you both appreciate. Perhaps you’ll discover that they’ve been to all the places you’ve been, and that they want to go to all the places you want to go. Perhaps you’ll make unbiased observations, in spite of your wanting to seduce the unknowing individual. Perhaps, after a few months of cautious prodding you’ll convince yourself that you’ve found the one, perhaps you’re ready to find out if the feeling is mutual.
And it is.
You’ve exchanged words in line for coffee and you went on dates and you’re in love, everything fell into place, everything is perfect.
It’s a reality, love at first sight exists outside of Hollywood.
But I think you’re building a house out of sheetrock, trying to save money on lumber. I think love hides in the old world, the world you knew as a child. Love rests on the branches of the friendships you had before you had the capacity to care too much. Love runs through the sprinklers, and you lay it down on the sidewalk. Love comes first, you love first and lust after. It’s far too easy to pursue the love of those you’re attracted to. The brave seduce the people they know they love.
Wealth is a simple matter of not locking your keys in your car. It is a matter of the words coming out of your mouth sounding like the words inside your head, and seeing beauty without looking straight through it. Wealth is a simple matter of lucidity, and I would pick up trash off the street to have it back. But the world is at my door and I know that it is here to collect. I pay for it and let it pass me by, wishing I had the good sense to look closely at it. And I know that the rent is too high, that my income is too low, for this exchange to keep taking place. But lucidity eludes me, slipping behind the furniture, and I’ve misplaced my keys and forgotten to feed the fish and the world is at the door again.