|This is Obsidian|
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
One day we found out that an autistic man was going to move in next door. I should remind you that we live in an RV. We rent a site with power and plumbing, but sometimes we have to compromise on privacy. Our south side, our lounge-and-relax area under the awning, is the side we would be sharing with the new neighbor.
I was concerned. How autistic is he? I asked the manager. "It'll be fine, he's very quiet," the manager responded. The manager often tells people what he thinks they want to hear, so I discounted this bit of information. Autism can be a vague diagnosis. It contains so many degrees of malfunction that it has stretched beyond its original meaning of a soul completely lost to human interaction. "A little autistic" could mean almost anything.
When Henry moved in he took a look at me and The Fox and literally said"whew" as if he were relieved at what he saw.
"Whew." Where did he live before he came here? His former neighbors, we later learned, were motorcycle people and meth freaks. Whew, indeed.
Henry divulged little about himself. He said he liked cats. That was fortunate, because our site is something like Cat Central at Vine Haven RV Campground. We have two indoor cats and two outdoor cats, plus a wide variety of feral visitors and neighborhood pets. There's something about this space that draws cats. It might be the plum trees and their abundant population of wrens and robins. We do our best to discourage bird hunting.
There are people who claim their pets have super powers. When I first heard this I was disdainful, but my thinking has changed. Our cat Obsidian is a big brown tabby with green eyes. I've seen him tame people in that Little Prince way, literally capture their unruly spirits and put them back in a more harmonious order. That's Obsidian's super power, the power to restore tranquility.
He's getting old, and so are we. He doesn't jump the fence and climb around with the younger cats any more. He has more important work to do.
Our new neighbor Henry is middle-aged. He is a fearful, cranky and withdrawn man, but we barely know he's here. His social interactions are limited but acceptable. He can be easily upset by minor disturbances. He is so averse to noise that he can be pushed into a ferocious sulk by the mere revving of a motorcycle.
He has been adopted by our two outdoor cats, wise old Obsidian and his sidekick, the comical black and white Cookie. These cats have given structure to Henry's otherwise bleak world. By loving Henry they have tricked him into loving. I looked out the window one day to see the elusive and feral Cookie sitting calmly on Henry's lap. I had never seen her behave this way. It was strangely impressive. Henry is a cat savant, he has some magical affinity that he didn't know he possessed until he moved close to Obsidian and Cookie.
I assume that you, my readers, understand how easily a friendly animal, a pet (if you will) can become a tyrant who turns your life upside down. Henry is such an innocent that he immediately began flirting with disaster. We had to set him straight without setting him off. If he let Obsidian into his home even once, he would become nothing but a door man, opening and closing all day, all night, at the tabby cat's demand. I caught him just on the verge of doing this very thing and rushed to halt the action.
"Don't let him in, Henry! Close your door, quick!" He was frightened and cut Obsidian off just as he was about to slip between his feet.
I explained what had almost happened. I spoke towards Henry's averted eyes and raised defensive shoulders. I spoke to him as I would speak to any intelligent adult. In Henry's heart, the need to trust someone was rising like a powerful burst of magma from a volcano deep beneath the sea. His need to share the cats' companionship was forcing him to emerge from his shell and talk to us. The cats pushed Henry past his fears. I doubt he's had this much social interaction in a long time.
In the next few weeks we learned more about Henry. It wasn't easy but we supported his struggle to communicate. Then something unexpected happened. Henry and Obsidian fell in love. I'm not being flippant. I'm not suggesting an improper liaison. It's just that simple. When Henry left to visit his mother, Obisidian sat on his front step, waiting for his return. He would emit an occasional sob. There's no mistaking Obsidian's sob. He has an amazing gamut of vocalizations, including a perfectly robin-like cheep that must have been useful during his hunting years.
I can't put it any other way. They were in love with a pure emotional connection. Henry's autism perhaps short-circuited his intellectual activity and left his feelings to flourish without interference from the busy mind. I don't really know. I watched this fountain of feeling take shape between Henry and the cats. I could feel its authenticity in my guts.
Henry leaves the campground for treatment four days a week. When he first went away, Obsidian was inconsolable. He went into a paroxysm of grief. He stared into space for long periods. He moped and cried. But Obsidian gradually learned that Henry ALWAYS comes home. Thus our cat friend's tranquility was restored. He knows Henry will be back and that's enough to comfort him. It took him a few weeks to get this; I watched him unwind and relax. I watched his attention return to his world: the falling leaves and the showoff Cookie with her bounding up and down fences and trees. Obsidian resumed his lordship of his domain. The lost baby possum was under his protection. The upstart kitten Stinker was not welcome and he meant business, even if he had to hire Cookie to teach Stinker a lesson.
Now Henry has left for two weeks. He has gone to Connecticut to visit his sister. Three thousand miles! cried Henry in terror before he was picked up by his ride. The enormity of this journey, its scale and distance, were almost paralyzing. I shared with Henry my own fears about travel: the feeling that I'll never get home, I'll be trapped in some alien environment without the solace of my place and my people and animals and the routines that keep me from flying apart. Henry and I aren't so different. This bit of one on one engagement gave Henry something to take with him on this unprecedented trip. He had shared an emotional link with another human being. And he had given his heart to a big brown cat with green eyes.How different is Henry's world today? That's not for me to say, but I suspect that it's just different enough...enough to make a difference.
Friday, May 4, 2018
I was driving sixty miles an hour on Southbound 101 when the car abruptly died. It was my nightmare fantasy come true. My trusty '98 Jeep just stopped. The radio went off, all the gauges slid to zero and I was coasting to a halt in a busy freeway lane. I tried to restart the car. I had no lights, no nothing. Not even the emergency blinkers.
I was terrified. Vehicles were hurtling towards me at seventy miles per hour and they had no clue that I was dead in the right lane. Should I get out and run for it? Should I wait here? I didn't know. It seemed more honorable to stay with the car, to go down with the ship.
A Highway Patrol car materialized behind me, its lights flashing. Forr the first time in my life I was pleased to see Law Enforcement flashing its lights at me. The officer walked briskly to my front window. He gestured to me to roll down the window.
Problem is, I can't roll down the window. Nothing works.
"Put it in Neutral, sir. I'm going to push you to the shoulder."
Thank god thank god the gear shift works. The CHP officer squares off behind me and bumps my fender with his big front pusher bar. The car moves! Oh!
There's another CHP car about two hundred yards upstream from us, slowing traffic by weaving across the freeway. I get to the shoulder and the officer appears again. He shouts at the closed widow. He thinks I'm a moron. "Have you got Triple A, sir?"
"I do. I do. I do." I feel like I'm getting married. "I do I do", I stutter, my nerves shattered, my forehead bathed in perspiration.
"Call 'em right now. What's wrong with your vehicle, sir?"
"I don't know, it's been running fine and then, suddenly, whammo! Dead. D-
" Do NOT exit the vehicle unless supervised by your tow driver. Stay in your vehicle! . If this was tomorrow I'd write you up but I'm feeling generous today" . I'm praying the policeman doesn't notice the passenger side front mirror, because it's taped on with duct tape and is not glass but a piece of reflective plastic whose images are distorted beyond recognition.
I call Triple A and wait for the tow truck. I get texts every few minutes relaying the progress of my rescuer. When the tow truck arrives it conveys me to Bowens Automotive Repair, a garage that I picked at random off the internet. The mechanic does his tests and I absorb the diagnosis: My alternator is shot. The car needs a new alternator. Price tag: Five Hundred Dollars.
I have no choice. I call my partner to pick me up and drive me home in the other car.
The Other Car. The '96 White Chevy Blazer. It was once a luxury car. Leather seats. Key fob operated remote lock/unlock. We haven't driven it in four years because it doesn't start. I would presume its got a dead battery but I swapped another battery into the car and it still didn't start. So, maybe a blown starter motor? Bad solenoid, frayed ground wire?
The Jeep has always been our go-to car. I haven't had the money to repair the Blazer. But now I must buy a new battery. If there's something else wrong with the Blazer I'm wasting my money but I follow this handy rule: If the car doesn't start, and the battery doesn't charge, replace the battery. Maybe the swapped battery was dead, too.
The moment of battery replacement is fraught with tension. Will it, won't it...start? I connect the new battery, turn the key in the ignition and....hallelujah! It starts right away. Oh, what a relief.
I drive the Blazer to work the next day. We've been using the Blazer as a storage bin. Its rear is filled with linens, dishes, books, tools, all kinds of stuff loaded up to the line of sight in the rear view mirror. If we put any more stuff in there, I won't be able to see what's behind me.
I drive to work. I work. I prepare to drive home.
The driver's side tire is flat.
Shit! Where's the spare? Is it underneath all that storage?
No. It's under the chassis, riding beneath the rear wheels. The problem is that the tools for jacking and removing lug nuts is underneath the dishes, the linens, the books.
And there's a trick to getting the spare to come free, a trick that I don't know. I've been using a sledge hammer to whack at the wing nut that constrains the spare. I whack it and the nut turns but it's not coming free.
I begin to unload the stored goods in the cargo compartment. Maybe there's a special tool, something to help me understand the spare tire conundrum.
A motorist rolls up beside me in the parking lot. He's driving a Blazer.
"Are you stumped by the spare tire riddle?" he asks.
"Totally stumped." I admit, raising my shoulders. The back of my t-shirt and pants are black with asphalt and tar. I don't know this, yet. I can't see it.
The Good Samaritan emerges, opens his rear hatch and pulls a variety of jack stuff from a compartment.
"If you take this to a pro tire shop they won't know what to do either. It's the great Blazer Spare Tire Riddle." It turns out there's a hidden slot next to the license plate. When my new friend inserts a blade-style tool into the magic slot it turns a cog and the spare tire DESCENDS on a cable until it hits the ground and I slip it off the wing nut. There is no thread. There is just this clever but now-obscure arrangement.
Flat tire off; spare tire on. Drive to the tire place. Spend $120 to replace the spare. Okay, the car runs. As I drive, I see the one thing THAT I MOST DO NOT WANT TO SEE. The dreaded SERVICE ENGINE SOON light comes on.
I hate those lights! Hate em! They utterly destroy my peace of mind. They are the manifestation of worry on the Material Plane. As we all know, The Material Plane is dominated by concerns for automotive hygiene. If you don't got transpo, you don't got shit.
I try driving the Jeep. I'm too scared by the friggin' SERVICE ENGINE SOON light on the Blazer.
The Jeep takes me to work the following day. I detour through Novato and prepare to drive to Petaluma. I'm going "the back way" because north-bound 101 is a parking lot. It's always a parking lot from 3 to 7 P.M. five days a week. What is this insane life we live? Why do we spend four hours a day sitting in automobiles?
I'm heading for South Novato Boulevard when a giant cloud of steam erupts from under the hood. GIANT CLOUD OF STEAM! NOT GOOD. NOT GOOD.
I pull into the parking lot of the last shopping center before I embark on twenty miles of rural winding roads. I buy a jug of coolant and I fill the Jeep's reservoir with the gooey green stuff. I wait twenty minutes and I attempt the drive home. The Jeep runs, somewhat jerkily, and I spend the next forty minutes of back-road driving in a state of profound alarm.
I make it. I'm home.
I know a little bit about cars. That kind of volcanic eruption of steam can indicate a water pump has gone bad, or the thermostat has failed, or the radiator is toast. Or all of the above.
My neighbor, Mike, knows about cars. "I'll change your thermostat," he says cheerfully. Mike is attending AA meetings and has just got his thirty day chip. That's not an issue for me. It just adds to the air of tension: Mike struggling to stay away from drink. His wife has quit smoking and is on Day 27. My neighbors are deeper in poverty than we are. No wonder Mike eagerly volunteers to change my thermostat. Mike is all over the place helping people.
I purchase a thermostat. Mike replaces the old one in about ninety minutes. He doesn't want to charge me. I give him fifty dollars. The new thermostat works, the Jeep stays cool.
I didn't want to mention this before but it just happens that the Blazer's registration is due in a week and I know, for a fact, that SERVICE ENGINE SOON means that it will not pass the smog check.
Nonetheless, I feel safer driving the Blazer and I take it to work the next day.
As I'm coming home on North Petaluma Boulevard I hear a sound like a very large motorcycle cruising up on my driver's side. Wow! That's loud! I look to my left and I see no motorcycle. There's no traffic at all. But the Blazer is crunching and flubbling. It sounds like a propellor blade being demolished by a potato masher. The Blazer is behaving as if it has the hiccups. No question: another tire is flat.
I get over on the shoulder to inspect the damage. Holy Shit! The tire is literally shredded, it's nothing but four inch strips of rubber hanging from a punctured black matrix of nameless stuff.
Call Triple A. Second time in three days. An hour later the big yellow truck pulls up. A toothless rail-thin old guy gets out, grinning happily, and tells me that my tires are sun-damaged. They've been sitting for too long and the heat has soaked the oils out of the rubber. They're all about to blow at any second. I need to instruct the tow truck man how to get the tricky spare out from under the Blazer. Once the tire is changed I drive straight to the tire place and get four more new tires. That's "OW!" four times.
There are days when nothing goes right. When to touch a machine is to wreck it. Or when one makes an error due to a lapse of attention that causes a ten foot fall off someone's deck into a bed of blackberry bushes. I'm having one of those days. I put on the coffee. It's a stove-top espresso maker. I wait for the boil, wait and wait. I smell something burning. Uh oh! I take a pot holder and lift the coffee maker. Oh man! Oh man oh man! I forgot to put water in the bottom part of the Vigano stove top coffee maker. Now the rubber gasket has melted and scorched the threads and the coffee maker is a casualty of Morning Mind Mush. In spite of the damage, my partner is greatly reassured. My error is comforting to her. She thinks she's "losing it". Now she knows she's not the only one who's "losing it".
I must locate a smog shop, a Star Certified Service Center, one of those in cahoots with the smog-fighting money-sucking bureaucracy of the DMV. I pay for the smog test. The Blazer fails. How much, I ask, will it cost to fix it so that it passes the rigorous standards of our state's air-quality guardians?
The Blazer needs a tune-up, a forward oxygen sensor, a rearward oxygen sensor and a catalytic converter."That would be about nine hundred and fifty dollars," answers the mechanic, whose name, Kelvin, is stitched onto his dark blue jump suit. Kelvin's wife/receptionist is named Tran. They're Vietnamese.
How many times have I said "shit" or "fuck" in the last three days?
"Kelvin," I ask, "is there some kind of discount for the poor and the elderly?" I have been poor my whole life. The 'elderly' part occurred while I wasn't watching, about three years ago, when my left hip began to feel as if a strong man was applying pressure to it with a vice grip.
There is, in fact, a program for the poor and the elderly to pay $500 towards smog repair. I get the papers downloaded and send in the application. A week later the grant arrives. Five hundred of that nine hundred fifty dollars will be paid for. Hell yeah!
The smog repair takes two days. I wait eagerly for Kelvin's call. At last the phone rings. "You passed your smog test," says Kelvin. I'm so happy! I'm thrilled.
I had needed a victory, any victory, a small victory, whatever, I'll take it.
"But there is a problem, I'm afraid," says Kelvin, and my heart takes up residence at the ends of my toes. I can feel my pulse down there, bumpity bump, pulsing up through my toenails.
"A...uh...problem?" Fuck! Shit!
"I think your water pump is about gone."
"You think, you THINK. Is it gone or isn't it?"
"I don't know. There was a pool of coolant under your car when I came in this morning."
How much does he want to repair the water pump? Well, you see, one should also replace the thermostat when one replaces the water pump.
Four hundred seventy eight dollars.
Stop everything! HOLD THE PRESSES!
I'm not stupid. I check online and a water pump plus a thermostat costs about sixty bucks. My neighbor, my pal my buddy Mike will do any automotive task for fifty dollars, gladly. The work boosts his self esteem and it keeps him out of his RV and away from his jonesing wife.
The Material World is a challenging place. Our current model, this 21st century science fiction hip-hop deodorant-peddling appearance-worshiping stage set is peculiarly complex, is like a cross-word puzzle without a solution. No one wins in the Material World. All endings are bad endings. If I'm lucky I will die quickly and without indignity. If I'm lucky. Meanwhile, as I wait for the denouement of my life, I must endure and meet the challenges thrust into my face by the invisible spirits of Destiny.
Is the cup half full, partially full, partially empty, or totally empty? The Highway Patrol Cop did not write me up. The guy in the Blazer showed up as if dropped from Heaven. I got a five hundred dollar grant from the DMV. The battery in the Blazer started the car. The Jeep still runs.
The cup is the cup. Whatever's in it is what I've got. I may as well accept that fact. It's all those things, partially full, partially empty. Life is blessed and sublime and life can be unspeakably vile.While I'm at it, I should check my credit rating. I might want to purchase a recent model used car.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
The U.S. Of A resembles one giant dysfunctional family. Those on the left regard their cousins on the right as ignorant boobs. Those on the right regard their cousins on the left as stuck-up nincompoops. The squabbling is endless. Tempers flare, voices are raised. So long as we avoid doing violence to one another, this is a healthy condition. It's the Great American Discussion. Sadly, History has shown that we are capable of doing terrible violence to one another. The extremist talk that's making its rounds scares the hell out of me. When a spokesman for a powerful gun association accuses "Liberals" of brainwashing and manipulating high school students, I wonder if he actually believes what he is saying, or whether he is saying these things as part of a script. Either way, such ideas reek of malignancy. I don't trust extremists on either end of the spectrum. We're losing the moderate center, and we're losing it to those who have some concealed reason for inciting animosity between Americans. I don't know what a functional family looks like, but I imagine it's one in which members support one another with compassion and generosity. This is not what today's America looks like. Instead of mutual support I see separation, hostility, contempt and rancor. I see blame and a failure of individuals to critically examine their own thinking, just in case they might be wrong about some of their beliefs.
One of our greatest disasters is the connection between politics and money. Only the rich can afford the towering cost of running campaigns. Thus we are dominated by the agendas and tactics of the rich and powerful. We ARE an oligarchy. If we need a reform urgently, before we reform gun laws, before we reform immigration policy, before we change ANYTHING, we need to reform campaign finance. We need to bring a new method of choosing the people who make the laws by which we are governed. We need to get money out of politics. I don't know how we'll achieve that. The fox is already guarding the hen-house. We need something akin to a revolution, one that is miraculously shorn of bloodshed.
American culture is a multi-headed hydra. It's brilliant and it's toxic. Over the decades, life has become more and more expensive in the U.S.A. This "free" country charges an exorbitant price. The complex demands of a consumer society weigh heavily on its citizens. Young people are especially vulnerable when they feel an avalanche of expectations laid upon them. If they're to have a decent future, if they're to 'get ahead' they need to have stellar grades, be models of civic action, join clubs, demonstrate competence in multiple disciplines and volunteer to help the afflicted. It doesn't hurt if they're also athletic and good looking. Who can fit into that template? Who can get into an Ivy League school and graduate with an MBA and show the drive that's required in our heated business world? What about the average kids? It's said that everyone is good at something but the complexity of our culture is robbing ordinary people of a future All the while a torrent of image and information comes pouring through the Internet, television, movies, radio, advertisements and smart phones. This information chaos skews our perceptions and encourages depression and confusion. Take a look at any waiting room or bus stop.. The people aren't talking to one another. Their eyes are glued to the screens of their phones. Americans may be the loneliest people in history.
Recently a depressed and unstable eighteen year old murdered seventeen high school students with an AR-15 assault rifle. Today I heard the tape of a 9-1-1 call made by this child about a year ago, just days after his mother died. I felt such pity for him. I couldn't help it! I'm outraged at his evil, but I imagine that he felt abandoned and terrified.
In a nation of more than three hundred million people, there are millions who aren't being seen and cared for. So many people fall through the cracks, yet we are armed to the teeth and waiting for some catastrophe so we can discern which are the good guys and which are the bad guys. We are better than this. Our president suggests that we give weapons to school teachers, that they may protect their students. This epic dumb idea will create a new class of suicides. We'll be adding Death By Teacher to the already climbing incidents of Suicide By Cop. We aren't going to purge this nation of firearms. Guns are deeply embedded in our national DNA. There are immutable historical reasons for this situation. Guns will always be a part of our cultural nervous system.
It would be better to try to stop being crazy. Because we are...crazy...we're bat-shit crazy. Our minds can only cope with so much signal intensity before they start to smell like fried wiring inside the walls. That's where I would start, anyway. I would accept the fact that I am crazy, I'm disturbed and I need to look for someone who can help me. If I were to pin a diagnosis on Americans it would be that we suffer Bi-Polar Disorder wrapped up in a mantle of PTSD. Maybe I'll call the Norwegians. Or the Dutch.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
I had a job
prying gold teeth from corpses
I had a job
digging graves for thousands
I had a job cleaning shit from train cars
then one day they shot me
in the back of the head.
At least I had a job
until I was dead.
Now I'm with the living
don't know how it happened
these jobs vague memories
stuck in my DNA.
I have a job cleaning bathrooms
that aren't even dirty
I deliver flowers to lovers
I must have been promoted.
If death is fleeting
and so is life,
It's the soul that holds all memory
of many lives and deaths: how is it
that I recall voices I've never heard
places I've never been?
Perhaps I'll live again then move on
and I'll have a job. If I'm righteous
some day I'll be The Memory Keeper
and tell an epic story
like the Book Of Judgment
about which the Rabbis sing.
Friday, January 5, 2018
Souls that shine
souls that blind
souls that rest
and souls that are best
Souls of deepest glory.Souls of foulest depth,
Souls indifferent to
souls imagined to
souls in all the world
souls in the universe
by the trillions
that dance in mighty starshine
that grovel in filthiest muck,
souls know not where they are,
souls that have traveled far,
souls abound, souls all around,
all these souls
are in motion,
moving forward, moving back,
striving for a glimpse
blind to the whims
of the wind that towers above
the souls in a realm that
shines, each soul has a time
to chose where it will go.
Souls can turn to stone.
Souls can be perfume.
Souls can rot.
Souls can survive,
souls can revive,
for the isle of souls is placed
amid the gleaming thrones.
There is a cell where souls slumber.
A well where souls go deeper.
A ladder that souls ascend;
a tiger that souls defend.
A choice that souls make
in a time when souls shake.
Which way will I chose for my soul?
Which way will you live for your soul?
Which way is forgotten by the soul?
Who is the master of his soul?
Who is the soul’s slave?
Who can define what a soul is?
Who can decide what their soul is?
When can I see my soul
in all its raiment?
I want my soul to begin
being a soul. Now.
Monday, January 1, 2018
Saturday, December 30, 2017
Maybe my writing sucks. Maybe it's that simple. Maybe my writing is trite and boring. I must pose this question if I'm to be rigorously honest: Am I that bad? My books, are they not worth reading? They don't sell. Not even a little. They just don't sell. I did some marketing. I won an award and a beautiful review from Writer's Digest. I was reviewed numerous times, and reader response glowed with love. It didn't help.
Has this huge effort been my escapist fantasy?
I don't accept that idea. But I wouldn't, would I? Otherwise how did I put in the decades of practice, the repetition, the rejection? A compelling artist needs to work at the craft passionately and beyond reason. A hundred drafts of one page? I've done that as a matter of routine. I've re-written each of my books five times, ten? I've lost count.
This epic failure is a case of falling through the cracks. I may be the Van Gogh of modern writers. If you thirst for vivid emotion and wild color, it's there in my stories. The catalog of books on Amazon is bloated by a million titles. Why should anyone pay three bucks to download a bit of my life's work? How do I get the attention of readers, of my natural audience?
My books are wonderful books. If you value originality, skill, vision and perception, you should read what I've written. Read "Confessions Of An Honest Man". It's my autobiographical novel. When my book placed in their competition, the editor from Writer's Digest wrote "I don't usually read this kind of book but I feel better for having read it. I will carry this novel with me for a long time."
Read any of my books. If you get bored, you're not my audience. I write for artists, therapists and their clients, boomers who used acid, the curious, the addicted, the recovering, the failed, the intelligent and the sensitive ones...and I don't suck. In my modest human way, I'm glorious.
"Confessions Of An Honest Man:" the link. Confessions Of An Honest Man
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