Trying to organize everything well was the most important thing in John Belzinger's life. He looked at the flow of time, at the relationships between all his relatives, at the way Chronofoam seemed to sit on the window sill right over there, slouching, swinging his legs, and belching, just taunting him on purpose. He knew that Chronofoam did it just to get his goat, but he was powerless to resist the impulse to get mad, and he could feel the heat rising as his face got red and he contemplated pushing Chronofoam off the window sill as hard as he could, and he thought about not caring as he watched Chronofoam fall two stories to the concrete sidewalk down there, breaking into a million humpty dumpty pieces.What would happen if he actually killed Chronofoam? Lots of people talk about it, but few have really tried it. Or maybe there have been many cases of chronicide; you can't be sure. Chronocide. That would be the best thing, all things considered. He would like to spank Chronofoam, to torture Chronofoam, to take Chronofoam by the hair and swing him around, to abuse Chronofoam to fart in Chronofoam's face, to generally and completely eradicate Chronofoam. He hated Chronofoam. There were no two ways about it.
But Chronofoam, knowing everything he thought, reading his mind as though it were scare headlines, looked unconcerned. Chronofoam stuck out his tongue, daring Belzinger to make his move. Chronofoam could care less. Come on, Belzie baby, Chronofoam said. Come on, I dare you! Just come right on over here. Give me your best shot, Belzie. I can take it. You can't lay a finger on me! I know that's what you're worried about. You ain’t a man, Belzie, you're a whimpering little brat, that's all you are. Belzie Shmelzie can't get out of the shoot. Can't get it up. Can't do nothing. Stingy Belzie. Stingy. Come on Belzie. And all John Belzinger could come up with was, "Oh shut up. You're not even making sense. What are you talking about? That's right, Belzie, chanted Chronofoam. I ain't makin' no sense. And you’re stingy! Do you hear me, Belzie? You’re stingy, stingy stingy! Chronofoam said that with like a chant, as if he were a crowd of hecklers at a boxing match. And Chronofoam had this annoying laugh, more like a cackle that went along with the chant. He loved to use it to egg on idiots like Belzie. And there were plenty of idiots to egg on, always. After all, he had all the time in the world.
Hey Belzie! You remember when we used to play Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robots? What a hoot! Smash, slam slam. Plastic on plastic. Knock that plastic robot's head off, come on Belzie, come on. Knock it off! You didn't win then, and you won't win now Belzie! Heh heh heh. Stingy, Stingy!. Ha ha ha. What’s that, Belzie? You want to kill me? That’s rich, Belzie! You can’t kill me, I'm already dead, anyway, Belzie. Don't you remember? Your Ma told you I offed myself twenty-five years ago. Don't you remember? Come on Belzie, come on! Give it a shot anyway. Finish me off, come on, come on!
Chronocide was on Belzinger’s mind. I could kill him, he thought. Chronofoam said,
"What about the time I slugged you, Belzie? Remember? I got you good. You didn't even put up your dukes. And then you went crying to your old man, remember? And he just gave you some story about how he used to box when he was a kid. But you didn't want to have anything to do with it, remember, Belzie? No, no. boxing wasn’t for little Belzie. Nosiree! You’re just stingy, Belzie, you hear me? Stingy, stingy, stingy!"
Belzinger remembered all too well, but he didn't want to think about it. Didn't want to try to have any feelings about it, knew it would tear him up inside, worried that he wouldn't be able to put himself back together, that he would have to ask all the king's horses and all the king's men, and they wouldn't care, they wouldn't do anything, and there would be old Chronofoam; skinny, slouching, with a little peach fuzz on his chin, laughing that annoying high pitched laugh, taunting him, daring him to push him off his window sill, and he remembered doing it, too, but it didn't do any good because every time he tried it, and he knocked Chronofoam off the window sill, Chronofoam would shatter, and a crowd would begin to gather, but just about then he would kind of blank out, somebody hit rewind, and Chronofoam’s pieces flew back together and made that backwards kind of sucking sound and there he was again: Chronofoam as feisty and taunting as ever perched on the window sill, grinning his maniac grin and laughing his high pitched cackle.
Delving into the past. Digging down and down, screwing into the earth with a giant auger, turning slowly, bringing up load after infinite load of loose dark earth. The wet black loam, the sticky clay, the compact sand, the dirty pebbles; It all comes up slowly, slowly falling off the inclined plane of the auger screw as it churns and churns and turns and works ever deeper and deeper into the depths of the ancient ground.
The auger becomes a department store elevator, but it still down it goes, down to the past, down to the bones, down to the cold, down to the heat, but always down and never stopping, through pools of oil, veins of gold, lakes of water, but always down, down to the center, the middle the core, down beyond today and tomorrow, down to the infinite, down to now, to the circle beyond the past and ahead of the future, into the middle of the middle of the center, where nothing goes and nothing stops, nothing's here and nothing's there, riding it like an elevator, eyeing the elevator operator in her pill box hat, "floor 2,938 cream horns, turkeys, and women's lingerie, step back please the doors are closing. Going down. Floor 3,213 ice bergs, fountain pens, and jock straps. Step back please, doors are closing. Going down."
I get off on floor 3,213 and wander down the aisle, which extends as far as the eye can see; extending in a rectangular box of a building, rectangles of florescent light fixtures in the ceiling trailing off ahead of me into a blur as far as I can see, below them display after display of every commodity you can think of: tables of coats, racks of hams, sport utility vehicles displayed on lifts, rising up and down to draw your attention, with cutaway engines and flashing headlights, bananas of every description, green yellow miniature red, whole public markets, sections full of new houses with all the accouterments, any item you could want, and everyone you imagine appearing as you walk the infinite aisle, popping up on the horizon as you approach. You feel as though you were attached to a giant conveyer belt, and have the feeling of walking but not advancing, walking along as the endless merchandise displays roll past. It’s like a giant treadmill, and you’re walking and walking past display after display.
And oh, did I mention the women? There are women on display, too. Not real women it seems, model women. Maybe they’re robots. Oh it’s sexist even to form the thought. So naughty. But there you have it. I roll past the displays, captivated, lost. See what I mean? They have just the right look and just the right shape and beautiful breasts and long flowing auburn, black or blonde hair, and sensitive smiling eyes, and understanding and oh so willing to satisfy your every want your every wish and desire, all for the asking, all for free, all just by saying, yes, all just be wanting it, no harm, no possibility of reproach, no dishonor, all for you, whenever you want it, just say the word. Oh my god.
But we move along slowly, inexorably along. The scene shifts a bit, and now I’m strolling. Strolling along through a beautiful park in a beautiful city that is also on display also one of the commodities, also on a display rack but this one seems to be an extension somehow of Floor 3,213, some kind of annex. I wonder if I’ll ever get back to the elevator. But this perfect park with perfect weather in a perfect city is also available, for purchase, all you have to do is say the word. But somehow you never do. And on and on you walk, wondering where the elevator went, how do you get back to it, will this city display ever end? Where the hell is the elevator? On you walk, on you go, now noticing that you're on an inclined plane, and your headed down, still down and down further, in the perfectly pleasant city on a beautiful day, birds cheerily chirping in the trees.
You try to put two and two together when you’re a kid. You’re sixteen or seventeen, and you have these long talks with close friends about life and death and what it means to be here. You do it by instinct, I guess. We had a lot of influences from people who took life pretty seriously. There were heavy doses of humanism from our older sisters and brothers, and there was also that anti-establishment buzz that zinged through the world, and that was still zinging and vibrating, resonating everywhere, and that was always just perceptible under the surface, in the background of everything. It was as though a gigantic bell had been struck sometime around 1965, when we were just leaving fifth grade and it was ringing still, and we said, did you hear that? It was like the giant bells at Buddhist temples with big logs swinging from ropes for ringers, and it reverberated over the hills and dales of the whole world for years, ringing, resonating and singing to our untrained ears in every back woods hill and dale, giving us subliminal instructions.
It really seems looking back on it as if the whole world were under some sort of spell, but as teenagers it was impossible to get any perspective, impossible to tell the difference between the spell the world was under and the hormone spell we were under anyway, being teenagers. I’m still not sure which it was, just hormones, giant bell reverberations, or some of both. We heard the sound, although apparently lots of people couldn’t, but we could not interpret it. The Pepsi Generation. Summer of Love. the Tet Offensive. This strange mix. The weird way that events shape you; more than just family, local events, or peer pressure, there really seems to be a vibration, a tribal sense, a primal call that everyone responds to whether or not they're aware, and no one is. This baby boom vibe was so strong, so overwhelming. But in our little world the effects were strange, unexpected.
My best friend Roger and me got moral. When the going gets tough, the tough get moral. I don't know how to explain it, we were grooving on the Band, the Beatles, seemingly buying into the culture, but at the same time we were of the old world, more conservative and moralistic than our parents, staunch, grimly righteous, prim, almost. We took our other friend Rick back home from our aborted camping trip to upstate New York in this fog of self-congratulatory martyrdom. But to salvage the trip, we decided that the three of us left after Rick jumped ship, Roger, Gary and me, would go down to southern Ohio and camp for a few days. So we dropped Rick off at home and drove down to the hills, the beautiful southern Ohio hills and camped at Old Man's cave near Athens. We set up camp, and settled in for a good time. Maybe we'd try smoking cigars or something. Roger smoked cigarettes anyway. The Athens county fair was on; we decided to check it out.
Back home, and I've brought the clouds with me, I guess. The cool breezes slid into the area from the north a few hours after I arrived, cooling off the heat wave that had been parching Seattle since I left last Wednesday. Maki was happy to see me. She ran around nervously at the vet’s, panting and wagging her tail, greeting another dog who came in. She sat panting and staring at me all the way home in the passenger seat of the car. She’s really glad to be home.
I worked yesterday morning in San Jose with Sharon and Lucy, helping to sort through the remains of twenty-five years in the garage. Lots of the stuff had sat untouched for all twenty-five years since Tad and Lucy arrived from Quincy, back home in San Jose. Lucy gave us the lacquer boxes that she said were from her family. We dusted off the dust of 25 years from the cardboard box they were in. Should I bring them carry on back to Seattle? Yes. Sharon removed them from the cardboard box, which revealed the pine box inside that. The Pine box had Japanese on it I peeked inside that to see the black lacquer, and the deep red. Sharon tied the pine box with white cotton cord, made a carrying handle with it at the top.
Meanwhile, I went through Tad's tools in the garage. He had four pairs of tin snips, brand new. They were from the hardware store where he had worked. He had pliers and wire cutters, a big vise, and a large C-clamp. He had lots of fishing gear, too. There was a device used to pick up golf balls and deposit them in a bag. Lots of stuff. I don't know what to do with it, you take a look at it, Lucy said.
The night before (last night) Lucy came out after Sharon had gone to bed. She had a manila envelope, said she wanted to show it to me, that maybe it would make sense to me since I work in a Law library, or some such comment. She handed it to me, said it was about her place in the crypt in Honolulu next to Tad. Auntie Flo had arranged it for her. She said she had paid Auntie Flo. It also had the information about the charges for the inscription on the stone for Tad. And a letter from the engraver apologizing to Auntie Flo for a mistake they had made with the engraving. Apparently they had originally put the wrong name, Ogata instead of Kita. We had visited the Japanese cemetery where Tad's Mom had bought two prime sites sixty years before. Good planning. Cousin Gail told me the two sites were just a muddy field in the 1930s when they had been purchased. Gail with her lilting Hawaiian Japanese
I had a job teaching English conversation out at Ichinomiya, near Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture, Japan every Wednesday night and Saturdays until about two or three in the afternoon. I did that for a solid year every week. I took the Meitetsu line forty five minutes out of Nagoya to Ichinomiya. I used to ride it and stare out the window at the blue ceramic tile roofs and the factories and the billboards in Japanese characters. I was in this whole melancholy soup, like I was floating in a big bowl of ramen. It was warm and comfortable at times, but also very disorienting and confusing. I’d think about home, but home was so damned abstract, and I couldn’t get a handle on home any more than I could the weird culture I found myself in. The things that life tossed my way were so damned confusing, but I just went on because I couldn’t think of anything else to do, just like now when I just kept staring out the window of the Meitetsu train, with its futuristic glass curving around you in the lead car where I usually sat. Up in the front of the lead car, they had a speedometer readout in kilometers per hour for passengers to look at. I remember Oba-san at the shamisen lessons would refer to Ichinomiya as "Ichimiya," for short, dropping the "no" in the middle, and I thought that was interesting.
Mr. Shibata ran the Elite English School...Erito Eigo Gakko, and he was a real entrepreneur. He'd been slinging English lessons like hash in a diner since the occupation, it seemed, and his English was salted with GI expressions. He was a kind of huckster, an entrepreneur, and he was interested in me just for the way I looked, and the fact that I was a white American. That was all very clear, and comforting in a way. For him, I wasn’t defined by my youth, my scraggily long hair or my scruffy untrimmed beard, but instead by being a white American male. That’s what I was to him, or as he would put it, a native English speaker, a gaijin sensei…a foreign teacher.
Ichinomiya was near the Nagoya International Airport, known as Komaki, which had been a US military base during the Occupation. I was succeeding this other American guy as Shibata’s foreigner. You had to have at least one foreigner to be taken seriously as an English conversation school in Japan. It was part of the deal. I was the new foreigner. The old foreigner looked like a marine, I thought, when he met me at the Ichinomiya station. His name was Jim somethingorother. He met me at the station the first time to show me the way to Shibata's. The guy had this burr haircut, and looked like he pumped iron or something. He found me easily, of course (we gaijin all stood out), introduced himself, and said he was going to take me over to the school. I fell in with him as he lead the way through the station and out onto the street, and then into a kind of mall with a steel archway entrance with pink and green plastic decorations hanging from it. There were all kinds of shops in the open mall: shoe stores, pharmacies, ramen stands, watch shops, bedding stores, you name it. It was crowded this time of the day. Jim walked fast. I could barely keep up.
Finally we came out of the mall and into a residential neighborhood, with twisty streets and lots of the houses with dark blue ceramic tile roofs like the ones I had seen from the train. After what seemed like a long while, we reached Mr. Shibata’s house, the headquarters of the Elite English School. I met Mr. Shibata, and he showed me the little classroom in a sort of porch attached to the side of his house. Then he showed me a larger more traditional looking classroom next to a kind of carport outside his house. That was where the cram-school English was taught to junior high school kids trying to pass entrance exams that would get them into a higher status high school. Shibata introduced me to the cram school teacher, a Mr. Nishino, who could barely speak English at all. Mr. Nishino was a small mousy man in a white shirt and conservative tie. He wore the kind of horn rim glasses that seemed to be standard issue in Japan, especially for middle aged men. They had thick dark brown or black plastic along the top of the lenses, and silver metal below the lens. They looked sort of institutional, an effect that was heightened by the fact that so many men wore them. Though Mr. Nishino couldn’t speak much English I knew that he would be an expert in the intricacies of English grammar, at least so far as it pertained to the questions that always appeared on the high school entrance exam.
I would be making a few guest shots in Mr. Nishino’s class of thirteen-year olds. Students who paid a bit extra got to spend an hour in a smaller class of ten or twelve with me, the foreigner. My class would be held in small porch-like area attached to the side of Mr. Shibata’s house, a few steps away from the larger classroom where Nishino taught, which was in a kind of converted car port next to the house. After a few words of introduction to Mr. Nishino, Mr. Shibata funneled me into the little converted porch where my classes would be taught. He ran through what would be expected of me on the job. I accepted it, and showed up the next Wednesday to begin.
Mainly, what Shibata wanted was for me to make regular appearances, and to keep the kids entertained. It was mostly just so they could see, and (if they were lucky) even talk to, a real foreigner. I found out later that I would be a major drawing card in attracting the citizens of Ichinomiya to the Elite English School. Glossy color photographs would be taken of me. There were portraits and action shots of me leading the class. Some of these shots wound up on posters plastered all over Ichinomiya, advertising the class. There was even an annual event planned at the local auditorium where students of Mr. Shibata’s school would give a kind of recital of their English skills. It was clear that I would be a major draw to this event as well. When the time came (as it turned out) I brought my guitar and regaled the masses with a folk song. We also did a skit (devised by Mr. Shibata), in which I pretended to be shocked at the students pronunciation of the word rice. According to the script, I assumed (because of the students pronunciation) that they were saying lice, not rice. A poster with rice on one side, and a creepy lice on the other emphasized the point. It was sort of a step-n-fetchit routing with the gaijin doing broad takes and reactions to the dopey idea that someone was asking him to eat some lice. It went over very well.
The class taught in the little porch attached to the side of Mr. Shibata's house was labeled conversation. That's where I was supposed to spend an hour with them trying to get them to actually say some stuff in English, and to listen to me talk. There were five fifty minute long classes in a row on Wednesday nights. Some where with the teenagers, others with adults.
Mr. Shibata also had a string of classrooms all around Ichinomiya, located in rooms above little restaurants or other businesses in commercial buildings. In these classrooms, little kids (second or third grade to sixth grade or so) would meet for English lessons from young college or junior college graduate women teachers who were living at home waiting to get married. On Saturdays, the gaijin sensei (foreign teacher) was expected to take a cab (using vouchers that Mr. Shibata provided) to make the rounds of these five or six classrooms and to make appearances. It was really like doing guest shots at comedy clubs (although they didn’t have those then). I'd appear, pick up some pictures of animals that were provided there, and the teacher would have the students repeat after me as I said, "zebra, cat, snake, elephant." The kids would look earnestly up at me and repeat "zeh-boo-rah, kah-toe, e-re-foo-an-toe"
"Very good!" I’d say. "Good afternoon, kids!"
Then, in unison, they’d say "Gu-doe ah-foo-toe-noon, mee-soo-toe boo-ree-toe!".
One of the classes was taught at a Buddhist temple. They had classrooms there, and they were made available for the English lessons. It was usually kind of cold there in the winter, sitting on the tatami floor. I remember the kids thought my name was a riot. They called me "Mee-stah Boo-Ree-Toe," and it was funny because "Boo" in Japanese is onamatapoeia for "fart." So I was Mr. Fart to them. "O-nara, bu." They’d say over and over, giggling and, laughing. "Farting Britt." Ha, ha, ha, hee hee hee. I also had a beard, which was a novelty, too, and the fact that I was balding too just added to my charm as a strange strange gaijin. But that wasn’t really a bad thing. After all, what good is a gaijin if he isn’t strange?
And then it was back to the cab, and on to the next school. I would do this every Wednesday evening from about six in the evening to nine-thirty or ten, and then again every Saturday afternoon from one to six or so. At the end of the day on Wednesday, Mr. Shibata would always order out a nice meal, complete with miso soup and rice. Sometimes he'd order sushi. I’d sit by myself in the little make-shift classroom (really a kind of screened in porch attached to Mr. Shibata’s house). Come to think of it, I never did go inside Mr. Shibata’s house in the year I was teaching there.
After I finished eating, I would walk back through the deserted shopping area in the gloom of the late evening and catch one of the last Meitetsu trains back to Nagoya. Once a month, Mr. Shibata would hand me an envelope full of ten thousand yen notes along with my meal. The envelope was about half an inch thick. This was the equivalent of about one month's pay at my regular job. I used to take this money and leave it in the closet at home. Whenever I needed some, I would reach into the envelope and pull out a couple of crisp ten thousand yen notes. Ten thousand yen was worth about fifty dollars at the time. The Meitetsu train would be nearly empty except for a few drunks heading back home. The flashy red train cars would slide up to the platform in the station. I’d get on and take a seat. It would be just me and a drunk or two sharing the fluorescent bright institutional tunnel of space inside the car. My reflection flashed on and off in the window as I stared out at the lights of Ichinomiya while the train went up to speed, the sound of its sad rising whine over the clickety clack of the steel wheels on the rails lulling me as I sat and stared, thinking about home or would-be lovers or English pronunciation.
Wasted my writing time on income taxes. Going to get a refund this year. whoopee. I watch myself get a charge out of seeing our life in numbers in income tax forms, in organization, efficiency, imagined order. That's fine, I think, ain’t that cute, what's the harm. So now I try to get back to writing, to see what will happen if I just start to write about what it's like to walk down Lake City streets, wander down the street today with nothing on my mind, take the dog along. Maki on the leash living, enjoying every step. She would really love it if I took off work today and we went for a walk even though it's windy and rainy and dank and damp and cold. Maki wouldn't care, she'd get into our normal routine, our walk up 39th, maybe go down the steps toward the Lake, stop at the place where the giant weeds grow on along the steps down from 130th to the fancy houses down near Lake Washington. We always pause at the concrete landing in the steps about half-way down. In the summer these giant noxious weeds grow, they're called devils claw foot, I think, big as trees, trunks thicker than my arm covered with prickly fuzz, extending high above my head, wide claw shaped leaves fanning out, shading the path, obstructing the view of the north end of Lake Washington.
On a clear day you can see the white frozen cone of Mt. Baker, up north three counties away, in Whatcom county near Bellingham. You can see it clear as a bell; it looks like a bell someone left out in the snow. The lake seems calm. Then you hear a buzz, and your eyes are drawn to a speck on the lake's surface that you soon realize is a float plane from Kenmore Air Harbor, one of those Dehaviland Beavers or Otters heading straight for me on these steps with a view. Maki's ready to go. She pulls the leash, seems to say come on, come on, let's get with it, is this a walk or not? We go on down the steps, I tell her to wait, and she does, sitting primly, brown deep-well eyes glancing up for assurance, giving a slight grin of pride. We continue down the steps. Maki is me. Observing Maki, I see my own impatient tug, my own frustration at the rules, at the restraints I put on myself, at the guidelines we live by, at the lack of spontaneity.
Fred and Alice walked hand in hand down the deserted street in the dawn's early glow, and Fred could not think of anything to say. It didn’t matter anyway. It was like Alice was deaf, and she could speak sign language, but the trouble was, Fred couldn't. It was time for more subtle means of communication, but Fred felt at a loss, and opted for the refuge of lull and the rhythm of the stroll which they had fallen into almost immediately when they started up the street thirty-six minutes before.
Fred thought about breakfast, and making coffee that morning before Alice got up. As usual, he had pulled the bag of coffee beans out of the freezer, and counted six scoopfuls of the dark oily French roasted beans into the grinder. He placed the plastic lid on the grinder and pressed the button, hearing the loud whir and crunch as the beans broke down into dust of a calculated size, releasing pungent coffee fumes that floated indiscreetly up both his right and left nostrils, triggering untold millions of olfactory sensors to crackle happily and speed tidings of impending pleasure along telegraphic neural lines to pleasure cues located somewhere in Fred's higher centers. Bandits and Injuns hid in the hills along the lonely stretches and crenellations, waiting for lapses in the cyber sheriff's watchful defense of the vulnerable synaptic telegraphic infrastructure, so vital to Fred's well-being. Meanwhile Fred continued to make coffee, dumping the pungent grind into the golden mesh basket, filling the machine with just the right amount of water, making sure the carafe was in place, flipping the switch, watching and listening as the machine began to wheeze and sputter, black brown liquid begin to dribble erratically into the shining carafe which mirrored the bright kitchen light above and Fred's left eye, that he could see blinking behind his glasses.
Fred and Alice kept up their steady pace down the gravely residential street (not an artery) as Fred continued his reverie, re-living the morning's caffinetic ritual. Where will this lead? He said out loud. Alice stared straight ahead in her silent cove, walking step by step. A squirrel in a nearby bush twisted toward them and froze, staring intently at Fred and Alice as they approached and passed. His nose twitched, drawing atoms of olfactory stimulation up his/her left and right nostrils, sending echoes of Fred's, then Alice's olfactorial signatures over his or her neural telegraph lines through the dusty plains of his/her higher sensors and on into the instinctive centers where they were analyzed, categorized, and filed. Freeze, said the command center, do not move, be watchful but keep your place. Simply observe the approach of these bipeds and be prepared to flee if necessary.
For some reason, he was remembering Warren Brewster, who was the guy who could do anything, and that included fixing his Dad’s TV when he was a kid. Fred pictured the time his Dad and him pulled into Warren’s driveway, and Dad pulled the TV out of the trunk. It was actually just the chassis of the TV, with its huge, and glassy mental patient eye staring straight out as he lugged it out of the trunk. Fred’s Dad wobbled a bit under the TV’s awkward weight as he slid and lifted its bulk off the lip of the car trunk, and held it in his big hairy arms against his chest, picture tube pointed out. It looked as though a huge eyeball had suddenly sprouted on his chest, like some strange glossy goiter. The eyeball stared straight out with its blank creamy gray-green gaze that sucked in every sight in its path like a whale seines seawater for plankton. But it was just Fred’s Dad, and he told Fred to open the door, so he did.
Then Fred blinked and found himself considering the infinite Universe, where they say your personality and your individuality is a myth and an illusion. He thought: It seems like you have more freedom and more space than in the finite West of the Judeo-Christian/Muslim world that old Joseph Campbell talked about, with its closed little umbrella canopy of stars and our puny 4000 year old universe, with a definite beginning and end to everything, except persons, personalities, individuals, which are supposed to go on forever and ever; those steamy little selves that stamp their feet and demand attention. "If that’s not Hell, what is?" Fred thought, "what difference would that make? What if you just have to give up the long suffering self? " Fred started to consider the Self as a big lie; a huge bamboozle. MYSELF, YOUSELF, HIMSELF, HERSELF. What a load of crap, he thought. The BIG SELL: SELF.
Fred felt floaty just thinking about no-self, but oddly he weighed a thousand pounds when he thought about our flat little old world, where each individual matters to Father God and therefore must in some way be controlled by dear old Dad, whether by religious micro-control or the control of the State (in totalitarian societies) or the control of marketers in the market economy. What’s the difference, really? The individual is all, the individual is nothing. It's a matter of emphasis, he said with sigh and a slight smile, just a twist of the dial, a flick of the wrist. It wouldn’t make sense to anybody else, he knew, but somehow he got that old feeling that came once in a rare while, and he found himself saying out loud, "It’s like that set shot you used to shoot." Alice had stopped walking about then, and she was staring at something, standing stock still a few paces back. It might have been a bird in the big Western Red Cedar tree that grew in one of their neighbor’s yards. She was always stopping to look at stuff that Fred, with his head stuck firmly in a thick puffy cloud, had missed. Anyway, Alice was intently observing something up in that big old tree a few paces back. Of course she hadn’t noticed Fred’s lips moving. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Some day I will begin to walk, one step at a time. Some day I will go out the front door, close it carefully, walk down the steps, one by one, follow the sidewalk to the edge of the driveway, walk down the driveway to the street, turn right, and begin to walk down the street. Some day I will walk, a step at a time down the street past our neighbor's house with the barking dog and the tall pine trees, past the house with the new garage, down the street past the house built by a man single handedly over the past two or three years and then rented to college students with many cars.
I will just keep on walking at a steady pace, and continue up the street, occasionally glancing down at my black shoes' rhythmic motion as they go left, then right up our street, past the Taj Mahal, past the house with the cute little Scottie dog no one pays any attention to, past the former elementary school that is now an artist colony, and where kids are allowed to spray paint the walls with layer after layer of new designs. And I will keep going until I reach the edge of my familiar walking route, keep going beyond that, into the area where I rarely walk, but sometimes drive, keep on walking and walking throughout the day, past Lake Washington, past Kenmore, and yes, even past Bothell, on and on without stopping. And I won't ask myself how far will you go, I won't ask myself where will you go, I won't consider the blisters on my feet, and I won't even think about the soreness building in my calves and knees and thighs, spreading up through my torso, and consuming me with fatigue.
Maybe it wouldn't hurt to make a stop at that espresso stand out in Woodinville for a quick pick me up, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to duck into that little tavern for to knock off a few stiff ones, maybe that would hit the spot, maybe that's what would put me right over the top. Hard to say, hard to say. So I'll just keep walking, walking down the street, in the berm, along the side of the highway where the weeds grow amongst the gravel and the paper cups with the colorful labels and the flashy logos selling hamburgers, coffee, and milk shakes. I'll just keep on walking along the road that goes out towards the mountains, out towards Monroe, and through Monroe on quiet streets with pretty old houses, little flower beds dormant, and mossy quagmires after the long fall rains. Maybe I'll just keep walking past the hardware store, and notice the prison on the hill, thinking about the incarcerated masses with time on their hands sitting on bare mattresses, staring at walls of concrete blocks and bars, freshly painted next to stainless steel toilets with no dangerous removable seats, no suicide aids allowed.
And maybe I'll just keep walking right out of Monroe and onto Highway 2 that goes over Stevens Pass, and heads east into the desert. U.S. highway 2 that winds up in Duluth, Minnesota, and all the while remembering the time me and Sharon drove all the way on Highway 2 from Duluth, Minnesota on the shore of Lake Superior through the lakes of Minnesota, through the barren flats of North Dakota, across the long long plains of eastern Montana, over the pass at Glacier, the Going to the Sun Road, and then cutting down next to Flathead Lake, and over through the panhandle of Idaho to Spokane, and continuing all the way across eastern Washington, across the Cascades, home.
I'll just keep walking in the opposite direction this time, this time walking, not driving, just keep walking by the side of the road with the cars, and vans, motorcycles, and semi trucks, and pickup trucks going past me in both directions, cutting through the air, and leaving giant holes in their wakes, me blown and buffeted by the splashing air, hands in my pockets, eyes squinting, step by step by step making progress, walking on ahead slowly gaining elevation, heading for the pass, heading first for Sultan, then Goldbar, and after that the road rises steadily, and you can see Wallace Falls off to the left, up the valley amongst the green second growth of fir, and on and on you just keep going, keep stepping, every car passing a sutra that rolls on behind it across the waves of air, as visible as the briny waves would be at sea, air fresh and salt tinged as if I were a sailing ship plowing through salty cold water on a crisp fall day, each truck blowing the clothes on my body, pressing my clothes against me, making me lean into the force of the blast for balance, buffeting me as I step ahead one step at a time along highway 2 just outside of Monroe, heading for the Pass.
One of the trucks might stop, air brakes expelling gas, spray from the damp road flying out to the side, wheels crunching the gravel along the side of the road. The drivers door would open, I’d hear a sharp whistle, "Hey buddy, need a lift?" the voice comes from the man standing on the ladder on the side of the massive cab, "you need a ride?" No, I'll say, more to myself than anything, I don't need a ride, no more rides for me, not now, I'm walking, step by step along the road. But he probably cannot hear me, since I am speaking in my normal voice, and the cars and trucks keep passing, and the wind keeps blowing and it is very hard to compete with that for sound.
So I just keep walking until I approach the back of the stopped truck and walk off to the side of it in the steep ditch with the wet grass, and keep walking on past the truck and its good Samaritan who stares and squints, and then shouts, "suit yourself." as his door slams, and his diesel roars while brakes squeal and squeak as he gets started again up the road towards the pass, near the sign that says the pass is open today, but there’s snow, freezing rain, and avalanche danger ahead. I'll just keep walking, step by step along the ragged asphalt edge, where it turns to gravel, and then to weeds and grass by the side Highway 2, the road that goes all the way to Duluth, Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior.
Grandpa called it a hoo-rah. So did Dad. He got it from Grandpa. I gathered that a hoorah was where you do something hard in hurry. At the last minute you finish up some big project, just under the wire, just before some deadline or other. I hated hoorahs, but Dad talked about them like they made whatever you were doing more important, like doing it under the gun made it a lot more valuable, somehow. It didn’t figure to me.
Everybody called Grandpa "R" because his name was Robert R. Britt, like me. Nobody ever called me "R" though. Anyway, he died before I was born, so I was named in honor. Here’s how the hoorah story goes:
Their job was simple enough. They had to get this big old steam shovel from the top of a steep hill down to the bottom of the steep hill. It was a steel gray Pennsylvania early morning in mid-October, and it was drizzling. Tree stumps poked up on the steep hills like goosebumps. R was leading a crew of men. That morning when the crew got to the site, they were bitching and moaning about working in that kind of weather. It was a bleak, colorless, cold, hard scene. But there you were, and it wouldn’t go away just by wishing it would, that was for sure. So R told the boys that if they could get that big old steam shovel down to the bottom of the hill, that would be a good day’s work.
"Hell, R we’ll be lucky to get that thing down there with this winch. In one piece anyway." said Dick Tincher, a tall skinny man with a wispy beard. He said it in a kind of slow carping wail, pointing to the rusty piece of steel equipment with the frayed cable coming out of it that was already hooked to the steam shovel poised at the top of the steep slope.
"Well one thing’s for sure," said R. "It’ll never get down there if we stand around here flapping our gums. Let’s start if we’re gonna start!"
There were three crew members besides R: Dick Tincher, a short fat bald man with a greasy gray beard that everybody called Skinny, and a kid no older than eighteen who wore thin coveralls and didn’t have a coat or a hat who never said a word. R had been calling him Rebel, for some reason. At R’s command, they took their positions. Rebel was to keep a watch and yell if anything went wrong, in addition to running for a tool if anybody needed one. Skinny was to ride in the cab of the steam shovel, and Dick Tincher was R’s second in command. He was posted at the winch controls. "Let her go," said R, and the Dick Tincher pulled the big steel lever that engaged the winch.. The cable started to pay out slowly, inch by inch, and the steam shovel that was attached to it began to creak and groan as its track started to turn and it started down the steep slope, with the fat man riding in the cab behind the glass, nervously handling the controls. The steam shovel had tracks instead of wheels, like an army tank. The crew watched as it inched down the muddy slope, the big treads moving around the wheels inside them and crunching brush and small trees as it went.
Suddenly the cable snapped; it broke cleanly in two, and a crack louder than a gunshot snapped off the nearby hills and echoed back. The big old lumbery steam shovel went careening down to the bottom of the hill, clattering on its steel tracks as it went, making a kind of grumbling roar as it slow motioned over stubs and brush in its way. Skinny could be seen franticly pulling levers inside the cab as it went down the hill in a kind of manic crawl.
It looked like it would upset for sure, but it didn’t, it just clattered all the way to the bottom of the hill. There it sat, still upright, suddenly motionless, a huge cloud of dust hanging over it and over the hill it had just descended, the racket still echoing in the hills and hollows, and the three men standing there on the ridge staring with their mouths hanging open, scratching themselves and then spitting streams of black tobacco juice. Then Skinny emerged slowly from the cab, stretching and shaking his head while standing on one of the big steel treads.
It took all of two minutes from top to bottom, and old R says with a shake of his head and boom in his voice it echoed off the hills too, "Good job boys! Let's go home!" That's the story. Old R says let’s go home, and then he grins and looks at all of them and says, "I told you we’d quit when we got her down there, didn’t I?"
"Good ol’ R," says the boys. "He’s quite a feller!"
Then there was the frog story. Old R was staying in a hotel up in Quebec, and he was trying to get some sleep, see? He was on the road all the time, you know, selling and servicing steam shovels. Well these French speaking Canadians were all partying in the lobby of the hotel. Old R’s room was three floors up, and the door to the room opened onto a hallway that opened on one side to this atrium overlooking the lobby. Old R was pretty annoyed at these noisy drunk French speakers, because, like I said, he was trying to get some sleep. You know how annoying it is to hear people jabbering in some foreign language, especially when you’re sleepy. Besides, R had to get up early for important business the next day. So he gets a balloon and he fills it with water, and he goes out to the railing overlooking the lobby, and he drops it right on some of them who were standing around drinking wine and jabbering away in French. And he says real loud, "Now maybe you Frogs will Shut Up," he says. And of course they did, and he went back to bed. That was the story. Good old R.
He had a heart attack only a year or two before he died, and they put him in the ambulance and he insisted that the run the siren. He wouldn’t have it any other way. Fire up that goddamn siren, says R. If I’m going, I’m going in style. Good ol' R, what a character.
We visited his grave in West Alec, PA, and I stared for a while at the mossy stone: Robert R. Britt. 18??-1952. The R stood for Ralston, his Mom’s maiden name. His Dad was a Presbyterian minister. The headstones poked up all around me and on down the hill like goosebumps. Good ol’ R. He was quite a feller.
Lewiston, Idaho. You drive in on a summer day from the high desert plateau. It's so hot you see the wavy lines steaming up from the highway. The road begins to snake down, switchbacking down a cliff overlooking the Snake River, with Lewiston hugging its banks. A huge factory takes up half the town, with giant slab-like rectangular buildings, a huge smokestack that's spewing white billowing smoke. You have to use a lower gear to ease down the long steep sloping switchbacks. It's so steep they've put in escape routes for trucks in case they burn up their brakes. These escape routes are steep upward slopes of deep gravel off on the shoulder where a truck can go if it's loosing control. Lewiston looks brown, shimmering brown in the hazy heat, the river also looks brown, and you can see ocean going ships docked, ready to pick up lumber to haul to Asia. Finally we reach the bottom of the canyon. We're hot. It's been a long day. We have a reservation in Lewiston for the night. Sure enough, we cross the river into town, and find our way to the hotel we picked from the AAA book because they took dogs. It's along the main drag in Lewiston. A two story box with a drive through canopy behind. Just next to the railroad tracks, and on the other side of that is the road that skirts the levy. Then there's the levy, and then the river. Parked outside of the hotel are several trailers for hauling rafts for running the river, which apparently is one of the main tourist gigs here…
Sharon had to go to her basketry workshop over in Bellevue, and I waited till the last minute to decide whether or not I would take her, or just stay at home without a car.; I finally decided to take her, and we drove over there around the north end of Lake Washington, through Kenmore and Bothell, and onto I-405, following the directions provided by the workshop organizers. The workshop was on making baskets with antlers.
Maki and I went to the park after we dropped Sharon off. It was that Idlewild Park, down by Lake Sammamish, and we wondered around down there for a while. It was pretty cold and windy, and it looked like it might rain any minute. We saw this guy with a dog on a very long leash, and I was going to walk the other way, but Maki wanted to see the other dog, so she went over towards it and I followed her over there. The guy says in a too loud voice, sort of abruptly, "What's your dog's name?" And I said "Maki" and he's looking at his dog, and says something about, "...seems friendly" and it was hard to tell if he was talking to himself, his dog, or me. But he seemed kind of like it might have been a comment about me or Maki, and which was it, I thought, but to myself I'm thinking, "What a jerk, leave me alone", and we walk off,. and I'm thinking well see, Rob, you're not very friendly to people, and I think, well yeah but I'm just cautious there's a lot of jerks out there, and then I think yeah, but that's what isolates you all the time, isn't it, and I think, well maybe, but I never can tell when to be standoffish, and when... to draw the line, it's either completely friendly or completely removed with me, one or the other. That ain't good, is it? I thought. Aw hell, who knows.
So Maki and I just walked on down by the lake, and took a look at a guy water-skiing in a wet suit, riding some kind of ski with a seat on it, and bouncing up and down. It looked like he had a pogo stick seat or something. Maki, meanwhile, wanted to go for a swim, but I didn't want to let her get completely wet this time. I was thinking about what to do with this day where I found myself (once again) alone with my dog, but this time out and about, what should I do where should I go, and I thought about driving up to Mt. Vernon to see Chic, and I thought about just taking a drive, and I thought about lots of things.
So Maki and I wandered around some more, and we saw some people on the dock who had apparently just finished water-skiing. There where three of them getting out of a boat, and a fourth guy in the boat was going to take off, it seemed, and leave them there on the dock. On the dock, there was this great big guy, and this little woman, seemed to be Asian, and this other guy who seemed about average size. They all had wet suits (or maybe they were dry suits) on. I watched them out of the corner of my eye while Maki explored the sandy beach.
I walked past the dock, and on along the curved beach and up around a few trees on the beach to a little ten foot wide clearing of some more beach right at the edge of the park. We stood there for a few minutes, and Maki wanted to go into the water again, so I let her go out a little farther this time. She look so silly out there, and I appreciated her silliness, and that made me think of Sharon, and the way she taught me by example to appreciate little dogsters' silliness, and how she taught me how to talk to dogs, and all that. I finally called her, and we walked up the path up the hill.
There was a King County Park ranger in a white pickup truck with the King county logo on the door coming slowly up the hill, and I reined Maki in to get out of the way, and glanced at the driver, a woman park ranger, who smiled at me and nodded as she drove by. We walked on up the hill, and then wandered off the road into a grove of big trees, some nice Douglas firs and other evergreens. They formed a pleasant grove. Apparently some landowner had died and decided to give this little strip of beachfront property to the county. There was a little tiny brick building nearby that looked like it might have been one of the outbuildings to some old farm house, maybe a pump house years ago. Who used to live here? What kind of old house used to be here? We walked through the grove to the edge of the little creak that knifes through the middle of the park, cutting down into the topsoil about ten feet, making a mini canyon, with fast growing, water loving trees growing sideways out of the muddy sides of the canyon. Maybe they are cottonwoods or willows. Maki likes to stand at the edge of the canyon and look down, and I noticed how she approached carefully, slight crouching down as she came close to the precipice, and how you really don't have to worry about her falling off, although it's a natural reaction to want to pull her back.
We continued to walk down the side off the mini-canyon, and as we got back down closer to the lake, it got shallower, and there were a few places where Maki could easily climb down, which she soon did. She tramped up and down in the water of the shallow stream, looking silly and absorbed and self-confident, and as though she wouldn't rather be anyplace else. I saw a couple with a cute little mutt dog. The woman had pretty long blond hair, and seemed very sweet and gentle. I didn't pay much attention to the guy. She was looking at Maki, and I shyly looked back out of the corner of my eye at her. A called Maki, and we went on down the side of the creek, and back to the shore of the lake. Down near the shore, the creek emerged from the canyon and meandered for a few feet, splitting into two streams and running into the lake. You could imagine it being a mighty river running into the ocean. Maki began to tramp in the shallow water going upstream. As we walked back upstream, I noticed a minnow in the water below scramble away as Maki splashed. Maki's leash is on a reel, and it spooled out more and more as the canyon got deeper, Maki splashing along the whole time. At one point there was a small tree in the way along the path, and I had to lean against it and pass the reel from one hand to the other so that I could follow Maki on up the creek. Finally we were getting to the deeper part where she wouldn't be able to climb the side of the canyon, so I said "OK, Mak," and she obligingly scampered up the almost vertical side and looked up at me briefly, proud of herself.
I wanted to go back down towards the lake again, and cross the little bridge across the creek down towards the lake, so we went down that way, and as we did I noticed another strolling couple, this one seemed to be an Indian couple, with the lady wearing a sari that covered her head and draped down over her shoulders and down her back. They passed over the bridge and walked on down by the restrooms. Maki and I crossed the bridge, which it seems used to be for cars, but they had narrowed the passageway on top by installing narrow railings only wide enough for foot traffic. We walked on across the bridge and up the pathway. On this side of the creek there was a wide expanse of grass with only a single old apple tree to break the gentle slope up the hill that leads back to the parking lot. A guy came down the path by himself, no dog. Most of the people I had seen so far had dogs, except for the Indian couple. I looked him in the eye as he passed and said "Hi," he responded in kind. He looked like a thirty-ish guy, just your average guy. I force myself to be friendly sometimes, and reflexively act cool at other times. What a weirdo.
We walked on up the path to the car, as I considered my options for the rest of the day. It was only about nine thirty, and Sharon didn’t need to be picked up until seven p.m. We got back to the car, and I opened the hatch in back, and told Maki to get in. I took one of the "doggy towels" we have there for the purpose, and began to methodically rub her down, her feet, her belly, her chest. Her long hair was wet and had lots of sand. As usual, it dried off pretty well, and lots of the sand came off with the rub down. I said "get in" and she hopped over the back of the back seat and into the main part of the car. I closed the hatch, and left my key out to open the drivers' side door. I opened it and got in. Maki sat in the passenger side, and I grabbed the Washington state atlas from its place in the little holder that Sharon found that hangs on the back of the passenger seat with Maki's water, plastic bags for picking up poop, and other conveniences. I decided to drive out east into the country, by Carnation and Duvall.
When I went back to Ohio last year, I drove past Eckles Lake, which was a big pond that was operated like a swimming pool. It had a raft in the middle that you could climb on, a rope swing that you dropped from right into the water, little boats that you paddled around, and lots of other fun stuff. It took me back to the time in the dim dim past when I was one of the kids being loaded in the car with the Crawfords to go to Eckles Lake, where we could swim and jump from a rope swing into the brown lake water. The memory is very dim, but I was small and quiet and shy, and did not stand out and kept to myself as far as I remember, with all those little Crawford kids and all their Christian hoo hah. I remember talking to Libby, who was my age about kissing, and she was of the opinion that when people kissed in the movies, they did not really kiss, they only pretended to kiss, and I said really? She seemed to be quite sure about it.
Thinking of that made me think of the other girls who were my friends as I grew up. There was Karen down in Worthington. Karen Kratch We used to play all the time. I remember hanging out at her house. I have this really idyllic memory of it all, with the neat concrete sidewalks along the clean black asphalt street, all edged with perfect curbs and a grass strip between the curb and the sidewalk, and little patches of grass with young trees growing in front yards in front of nice little white houses with yellow trim and fake shutters and brown composition roofs. I find the orderliness of it all to be idyllic. That’s why I said that. There’s a certain calm about the memory that I crave even now. Little worlds with no surprises, where things are in control. I could walk down about three houses to Karen’s house. She had an older sister who played with us, too. I don’t remember her name.
I think it was Karen’s older sister who had the idea of putting on a shadow play. We put up a sheet, and did a shadow operation using a spring loaded toy knife whose blade would retract into the handle as you cut with it so that it looked like you were making a deep deep cut, and we cut open the patient in the shadow theater, and pulled all kinds of funny stuff from her stomach, like a fish, and a toy pistol and whatever other funny junk we could find. We used to have a lot of fun, I think, but it's all very fuzzy and unclear.
I remember feeling very good about the neat sidewalks and the nice lawns and the smell of the air in the fall. And it's about this time they took a black and white Kodak Brownie camera picture (one of those tiny snapshots they had in the fifties with the wide white border and the small exposure within the border). The snapshot was of me on the up-side-down wheel barrow, sitting astride it facing the large rubber wheel. I do remember sitting there and spinning the wheel, and watching it go round and round, with the grooves in the rubber appearing to wobble slightly side to side as the tire would spin, and putting my hand on the wheel to stop it, and feeling the rubber of the spinning wheel rubbing against the palm of my hand.
And then there was the time I was sitting on the beach with my striped red and white swimming trunks, and I'm about five. It’s the Atlantic Ocean. I'm skinny, I look kind of frail staring out at the flat Atlantic as the waves lap my thighs. Becky sits beside me, a self-confident self-assured fifteen, she explains that tides, Robbie are caused by the moon. Did you know that? The moon pulls the water out, and then it lets it flow back, and it goes in and out like that twice a day, and sometimes the water gets really low and you can walk all the way out to that old piling out there. Did you know that? No, Becky, I didn't know. I can barely remember how I used to feel when Becky talked to me, how it used to feel to be five, with a sister of 15, another of 14, and a brother of 9 or 10. I think it was a combination of awe, dependence, and mixed in was this other feeling, a kind of stubbornness, a resistance, a feeling that yeah, you may be bigger than me, you may know more than I do, you may have more experience that me, but you aren't me, you'll never really understand what it is to be me, nobody will be me. Part of the me was me and Mom, and our very special closeness, or Mom's rubbing my legs when they ached, My understanding of Mom. I think I felt what mom felt, and it wasn't always pleasant. I didn't understand it, but if my felt a little edgy, a little sad, a little mad, frustrated, powerless.
I'd take it all in, and think about it, and finally ask "So when will the water come up? Is it coming up now?" and she'd tell me how it was still coming up, and if we kept watching we'd see it. And we sat and sat and sat, and sure enough the gentle warm summer waves would begin to touch my toes as Becky and I sat watching the surf come in, warm in the August sunshine, soft wind in our faces, eyes directed to the endless sea, and the heartbreaking horizon that rimmed the depths. I remember what it was like to have sand on my wet feet, and to be a skinny kid, standing dripping in my wet red and white striped swimming trunks, shivering, goose bumps peppering my stark white skin.
A little later on up in Delaware County, I made friends with Donna Percy, and we constructed a little world under a big leafy bush in her front yard.
But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before. --Huck Finn
"Did you remember your dream last night, Colo?"
"No." He said. He told Uncle Bill and Aunt Sharese about writing, and they looked sort of puzzled, in their stiff sort of way. "Do you ever write about characters, do you ever make up any characters?"
"Sometimes," Colo said.
"So you just write whatever comes to mind, is that right?" Said Aunt Sharese, her eyes fidgeting like two-year-olds as she stared at Colo through the bars.
"Yes, it's so," said Colo.
"And what does that mean? " she asked, looking at Colo as if he were a strange piece of fruit of a type with which she was not familiar.
"I don't know, so I'm just sitting here trusting to the muddy flow," Colo replied looking down and away as he said it, while the whirling slow advance of the Olentangy streamed its liquid way through the muddy banks of his brain.
"That's all you can do in the end," said Squeaky, springing to Colo's defense, and staring haughtily at Aunt Sharese.
Grinding down the malicious pathway, flying the fortunate flag of frank. Seeing the beautiful sun squat naked on the distant peak, we plugged a dunny nickel and flanked our steaks, right out there in broad daylight. "Scream!" said Squeaky, twirling her banana in a most lewd fashion. "Scream, or I'll shoot." Everyone looked up quizzically as Squeaky put on her bifocals and adjusted the volume. Don't tell me what to do, she muttered sarcastically, trying to decide if that was correct, or if she should have muttered sadistically. But she didn't know how to mutter sadistically, so she had to settle for sarcastically. This is the worst bind I've ever been in, she said, and the most unpleasant. Let's just hope Senator Philby will help us out. There lay the tale.
"God knows we need help," she said out loud to herself later as she stepped on it and motored up Powell hill, careening towards the Zoo. She, after all, had a plan. She was going to release Colo, the first gorilla born in captivity, and lead him to freedom, in Canada. She had friends in Canada, and there Colo, the first gorilla born in captivity, would be free to express himself and overcome years of cruel confinement in the Columbus Zoo, right across the street from the Zoo Park, formerly known as Gooding amusement park, on the shores of the great O'Shaughnessy Reservoir.
"I live in the zoo," Colo had said when Squeaky had left him last, "and that's all I know." "Oh, but you'll be so much happier in Canada, where gorillas run free," Squeaky had told him. Colo looked at Squeaky a bit quizzically, and absently pulled another peel off of his banana. "Don't fret," said Squeaky. "This will all be over before you know it." Squeaky lived on Home Road, near its intersection with Liberty. Liberty and Home, the center of the center of the good old U. S. of A. And all so close to the sad captivity of Colo, who in Squeaky's eyes had lived in oppression for his entire life, ever since his his star crossed birth in 1959. Squeaky had not thought about one other thing since 1962, when Miss Optomer had told the class about the birth just three years before of the first gorilla in captivity, right here in our area, only a couple of miles from the corner of Liberty and Home.
And what about her plan to kidnap Colo? Will there be time for that? Tune in tomorrow, same time same place for the conclusion of Native Populations, or Colo Visits Olentangy Caverns or The Blind Fish and Squeaky's last Stand, or Squeaky Frees Colo. Colo Flees to Canada. Colo the Conscientious Gorilla Objector, Colo Climbs the tree of life; Colo Visits Robbie at the Hospital. Colo, Flippo, and Me. Flippo and Colo take Columbus by Storm The Colo Connection, Casper the Colo, Flippo frolics with Colo, the Wonder Gorilla Colo the Gorilla born in Captivity, and his Claims to fame Colo Eats Flippo. Colo Sells Casper the Camel to Flippo for Bananas, while Lambchop interprets the scene to little Robbie, languishing in the hospital bed with Mononucleosis and a Concussion. Colo and Little Robbie, Masked Marauders, fight Zorro for a piece of the action. Colo, Casper the Camel, Flippo the Clown, Sherrie Lewis, Lambchop, Mr. Greenjeans and Robbie Occupy the Blind Fish Room at Olentangy Caverns.
"If your id got carded, they'd ask for its I.D.," said Colo, smirking.
"That's not even funny," said Squeaky. The channel 10 news crack reporter Frank Frond had said, "Hey Squeaky, where's Colo now? Was it worth it, springing Colo? Now that he's a famous Canadian TV personality who has forgotten all about the infamous incident that set him free, what do you have to say. Doesn't it bother you?" (klieg lights, a brace of microphones labeled CNN, NBC, CBS, micro-cassette recorders.)
Squeaky pushes her way past, gets into the waiting black non-descript rental car without a word, speeds off. The next day's headlines on CNN Headline News:
Squeaky Mum as Colo Heads Canadian Government Investigative CommitteeThis is really crazy, I thought, but I'm just skating across this empty plain, I'm walking, but it feels like skating, gliding, skittering like a water bug on surface tension, and all I see is dust and scrub brush and a few hills off in the distance. Columbus has sure changed, hasn't it, I murmur.
say the Chamber of Commerce representatives, in Greek chorus unison.
We are quite proud that Columbus has now annexed half of the state. We are planning to annex the rest next week, and we have our eyes on southern Michigan, Northern Kentucky, Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Indiana, and the panhandle of West Virginia. Columbus may not have many people, but we will be the largest city in the world. Just you wait and see.
Yes, I can see that you're proud. I am too. After all, when I was a kid, I was one of your biggest supporters, being from nearby Delaware County, and all. But where are all the people. This looks more like the Mojave Desert than central Ohio. What gives?
Well, we had some problems, but we like to think of them as challenges. We are confident that we have the capability and the wherewithal to meet any challenge in this great city of ours. Remember, profit is not a dirty word in Ohio. In spades and doubled for Columbus. Same thing, after all, isn't it?
I guess so, I say, as we continue to skate across the arid plain, not a soul in sight. There are some gophers, but they look more like penny arcade gophers that you can hit with a mallet while another over there springs up. When you do that, the one that springs up taunts you in computerized random insults that cut right to the quick.
Oh yes, that's our Gopher Challenge game, says the Chamber of Commerce, once again in unison. It's very hi tech, and designed specially for us, and to our specifications. The gophers hone in on the weak points of players, and taunt them specifically on those points. They are quite adept actually. They never fail to humiliate even the strongest personalities.
Oh, says I. I don't think I want to play.
Oh you have to play, say the Chamber of Commerce. Everybody has to play. Go ahead. You'll like it.
Well, if I must.
You definitely must.
So I grab the mallet, which is a lot heavier than it looks. It's so heavy that I have a time rearing back with it and bringing it down on what I think will be one of the gopher's heads. Just as I do, it pops down in its hole just in time to avoid the mallet's heavy blow. Off to the right, a high squeaky laugh pierces my heavy concentration on the percussion and the physical exertion of swinging the mallet. The laugh persisttently cuts through my momentary intensity, makes me look up. "Stingy, stingy, stingy," it says in a sing-song tenor. Then the laugh again.
"Son of a bitch," I say. It immediately gets to me to hear that voice, which of course is the voice of Gary Alban in the fifth grade, "Stingy, stingy, stingy," he goes on and laughs some more. Then I hear another laugh, the unison laugh of the Chamber of Commerce,
Hah hah hah, he he he,
They say. I am the walrus, I say, I am the walrus.
You are indeed,
say the Chamber.
And don't you forget it! We told you it could get to you. It was easy with you. You're an easy mark, you know that?
"Let's get out of here," I say, "I don't like this." What should I do? Where is Squeaky when I need her. Ah, there she is! Skating away across the plain. And you said you'd never see her again. See, you don't have to be so pessimistic all the time.
"What's the matter with you anyway? Why are you so reflexively down on everything? Why do you continually discount everything I say?" she said. That's right discount. Discount. Loss leaders! A bargain at half the price. What did you say? I said that's what you need to concentrate on from now on. You need to be more up, more go to, more right on , more hard charging. That's what we need, that can-do hard charging attitude. Don't you see? You're just a toady for the state.
And what of Squeaky, who, when last spotted was holing up in Olentangy Caverns, cautioning everyone not to stick their hands in the pool of the blind fish, rumored to be piranha-like, examining arrowheads left years before by the Delaware and the Wyandot? Or the inscription etched by Swamp hole Johnny, holed up literally with loot from his Delaware County crime spree.
Here on the banks of the Olentangy, limestone caverns spread underground the like lattice work inside chicken bones. Rigid cells of irregular shape musty and mud encrusted form chambers below the ground that are a constant temperature and humidity. A culture grew up here of cave dwellers from ancient times. They spent their entire lives in this controlled environment, flaking arrowheads, stone hatchets, scrapers, and other implements out of flint to be used by the tribes above, trading these products of the most modern technologies of the times with the tribes above for skins to wear, meat, onions, vegetables, and crunchy grains. Traces were left, and accommodations remained, of which Squeaky and Colo took advantage. They were able to live on blind fish and the water in the underground rivers and pools. They were able to survive after Squeaky rescued Colo from the Columbus Zoo. Colo's transition began there, as he survived on fish which squeaky learned how to grill on little fires built with wood gathered in midnight forays into the tree lines along the fences of property borders just above entrances which they had discovered. There was one secret entrance near the river which Squeaky used often. Undetected by the surface people, she would exit the labyrinth along the shore of the Olentangy, and go straight for her favorite tree, an ancient sycamore with smooth peeling white bark that exposed the silky and skin-like layer beneath.
She would sit on an exposed root that looked like the sycamore's foot pushed casually out, as the ancient tree stood in conversation with its friends. Squeaky would sit on the root with her back against the smooth bark in the midnight moonlight, gazing sleepily at the shallow Olentangy trickling along to the south over rocks and fallen branches, pebbles embedded in grainy mud. Colo was afraid to come out even at night, and Squeaky was thankful for the excuse of gathering firewood so that she could come out occasionally and watch the river of a summer night. The Presbyterian church rose behind her high up on the bank and across the River Road, its classic steeple slashing the night with its sharp white blade until the night bled moonlight that oozed down the bank towards where Squeaky reclined with sleepy eyes.
She dreamed about escaping with Colo, about taking him across the border, off to the north, into the woods off in the muskeg and corduroy roads. "Away away, sway away me bucko," she thought. Balderdash hash and crash and bash. This is the cranking sound of my heart turning over and over under my rib cage until it feels like a fetus' jackbooted kicking to emerge to bull through with brute force, pushing its way out of my body, breaking the bars of its boney rib cage cell.
"And how would this play in Peoria, dear? People don't want to read this stuff, not unless its happening to a famous star who lives a secret life of depravity."
Ah but what about Colo? He's a famous gorilla, a local celebrity, and indeed internationally famous for being the first born in captivity. Such a claim to fame. Colo sat leaning against the stone flaking table, munching on White Castles, one at at time, savoring the holey onion draped burger morsels, licking his lips and grabbing another out of the bag, and then another. Ten cents a piece, you'll want a whole bagful. Yes, I want two, said Colo, licking his lips and dripping saliva on his dark hairy chest.
Now of course the tables were turned. Colo strolled upright and with confidence, the attaché case hanging from his right hand, swinging to fro with each step like Tarzan through the trees, so much a part of him, like an appendage, just as much as his wing tip shoes and Italian suit. Now he skates across the arid plain and Squeaky can only sit back and watch, thinking of how he used to be, cowering alone amidst the ancient flaked tools beside the underground river. Such a change in such a short time, and Squeaky was proud and sad at the same time.
"So bolt cutters are my only alternative," said Gorny. "We'll have to use bolt cutters to get them out of there."
"What are you talking about? That's crazy," said Ward. "We'll have to fight them off with fly swatters if we do that. This is the kind of thing I was telling you about. With them two down there holed up in the Cavern, anything could happen. They were trying to blackmail the school district. That's the difficult part. That's the hard part."
This is really scintillating, don't you think? So Squeaky and Colo made their break. They ran. They bolted, and they wound up in Kelowna, British Columbia. They did? Yes, they did. Gorny and Ward were left unawares as Squeaky and Colo hopped a Canadian Railways freight in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and rode the rails across the plains, and didn't get off until they hit Kelowna. Wow. What a story. A wild woman and her gorilla, a gorilla in the process of metamorphosing into a slick Wall Street gorilla riding the rails across the Canadian hinterland, heading for a new life in Western Canada. The stuff of legend. Yeah.
It can't be helped, said Squeaky, hopping off the freight at Kelowna, it can't be helped. The hell it can't, Colo said. By this time Colo had sprouted a brief case, and was walking as upright as you or me.
So you're here all alone, sitting by the phone, wondering if the zone will call. The zone, you know. The zone. The connected zone. In the zone, they know all about Squeaky and Colo. They have the complete scoop on Colo's transformation. They also know the natural history of Olentangy Caverns, and the way it was used for generation after generation of anti-Indians. anti-native Americans, living below the surface, inhabiting the bony honeycomb catacombs near the banks of the Olentangy. Using Sycamore root hairs for their secrete elixirs, feasting on blind fish, creating laws to preserve the blind fish resource for future generations of Catacombers. How did Squeaky know about this?
She was friends with Johnny Acosta in high school, the one kid with almond eyes and tawny skin. Everybody hated Johnny Acosta, don't you remember? He smelled bad, and looked funny. He was dirty, they said, he smelled funny, they said. We saw him in the back of the bus. He was back there and very quiet every day when Manny Gartlow got on. Manny Gartlow with the smooth smooth head, and tufts of downy fluffy feather-like hair, here and there sprouting out of his smooth eggshell head like new growth after super, like the smooth cool black rock after hot lava flows.
Where does all that lead, my friend? So Johnny Acosta had been telling Squeaky about the Indian Catacombs for years, and they even went to visit Olentangy Caverns on a class trip, but of course Johnny wasn't along for that. We also went to see Flippo, but John wasn't along, because, well I guess he didn't have the lunch money, and didn't want to be embarrassed. Nobody knew why. Johnny never joined in. Nobody knew why. Mrs. Grubel didn't say.
On a hot day the descent to the catacombs is a miracle. The heat and humidity peels off your body as you walk down the stairs cut into limestone, and feel the coolness of the steel rail attached next the stairs, like slowly being immersed in cool cool water, first your feet, then your ankles, then your calves, then your kneecaps; slowly the water rises and you are simultaneously peeling away the heat and sweat and humidity like a snake's skin, leaving it on the surface under the hot sun for the bees and flies and stray dogs to lap up. The catacombs are cool and constantly maintain a steady temperature, and low humidity. The barometric pressure there seems low, too, and you instantly have the feeling of release of calm, you can feel your oily skin begin to dry out immediately, you can feel your head clear, and thoughts seem to shine with a brightly, glowing with significance, like rotating beacons flashing white, red, white, red, over a dark and cool plain, shining forever and ever with nothing in the way, no impediments to limit the distance of the shine so that the beam's flash can be seen forever and ever like starlight never stopping infinitely. Flashing white red white red in some code that can't be broken, a message to eternity, flashing on and on and on, the same thing over and over and over. anguish, the path, anguish, the path, anguish, the path, anguish, the path, anguish, the path. over and out. Roger that. Radio interference, static, loosing contact. over and out over and out.
Hiding from me, under mists and crenellations, foggy roads of consciousness, cool brooks trickling under thick growths of green leafy weeds, cool and damp places where meaty slugs trudge leaving shiny oil slick tracks. The tiny pink blossom weeds flourish here, branching back and forth in grassy tangles, allowing the prickly blackberries to get a start, here in the cool dark recess, the forgotten nook, the hidden cranny, in the damp shady crack, the cool crevice. No one ever looks. Dreams hide here, she said. She told me they lie on their backs propped against stones, smoking pipes held at jaunty angles, clenched between their teeth. She told me they laugh and speculate among themselves about how clueless I am, how I never know them, how they come and go at night, and I never know they were there, and then they go to hide by day amongst the slugs and centipedes in the dark and shady recesses of my back yard. That's what she said, anyway. That's what she told everyone. You're a lot like Squeaky, you know that? I said, trying to look her in the eye, to feel her perfect gaze across my vacant face.
My face is grown in weeds, untrammeled by women's' gazes, grown high in weeds with neglect, never feeling the vibration of the mower, or the laser gaze of beautiful women, opening like the wide striped petunias that wait day after day for the infrared scan of the bumble bees multi-faceted eyeball, waiting while the slugs chew at my stalk, decapitating one in twenty, leaving blossoms upside down on the splintery deck. But it doesn't matter anyway, I tell her.
Nothing matters. We walk along the hot melted tar road, our tennis shoes sticking with every step, sweat streaming down our faces under the heavy sun, the dull hazy clearness of the sky, the occasional random buzz of the wild bumble bee bumping against our shoulders and stumbling away, drunk in the thick atmosphere. We talk about the future and the cool damp possibilities of life far away along the northwest coast, a life that seems impossible, one that could be, or may never be, but she knows it well, and knows every other possibility, too, and although she doesn't tell me in so many words, she hints, and I am helpless, and can only listen, soaking up every word like hot steamy cream that my skin absorbs and that disappears and mixes with the slimy sweat.
We continue to walk, and I want to have her concreteness, but she slips away and I am left a boy of twelve walking down a bright hazy summer road somewhere near Alum Creek, along the fencerows, next to the fields of tall alfalfa here and soy beans there, the occasional field of wheat that is turning a golden brown, waving in tired breezes in the humid haze.
I do not feel anything. I know that my friends will not live long, somehow. I have visited them, made friends, talked to them, shared our innocent boyhood that had no field to let it grow, like the tiny pink blossom weed that grows on tangles of spiky weeds and grass in damp shady spaces years later near Puget Sound. How will I reconcile these feelings? What will happen to Danny Flipplet, Barry Talban, Gravey Pincher. Why did they die? What kind of morbid crap is this?, he says.
Shut up. Go away.
But why do you bother? I don't care about anything anymore. I hate everything, she said, and that felt so true, rang that bell, spoke to me, and still does. Where are we going, daddy? I don't know, I don't know. We'll just keep walking and see what happens. But don't we need a map? Don't we need to know where we are right now? Oh yes, you go find out, will you? That would be helpful. Coffee. cool. tanks that roll into remote villages in Kosovo. scattered visions in the fever of colds. "Where is this?" she says, "what is this?". "Where is Colo?" She was waking up from a dream that scared her a bit. "Where is this?" She mumbled again as she took in the dawn along the damp bank of the Olentangy.
She had fallen asleep against the smooth sycamore trunk, and woke now to see mist hanging six inches above the brown stream, and a robin poking along the bank, cocking its head, listening for worms. Oh yes, she thought, I must have fallen asleep. Where's Colo? Oh yes, it's light, I have to go back under, I have to get out of here before they see me, before someone sees me stumbling along the bank like a deer.
Squeaky got up and shook of the sleep like a thick wool blanket that made her sweaty and groggy. She located the entrance, and got down on her hands and knees, then on her belly, she crawled and wriggled through the weedy gate to the honeycomb catacomb, the cool underground spot where she and Colo lived. Ah it's cool she thought as she wriggled under the weedy tangle, into the dark recesses, under the loamy banks of the Olentangy. Here she was back home. Here she felt safe for a while anyway. She could get up on her hands and knees, then after a while she could get on her feet in a crouch, then finally she could stand straight up as she entered the main chambers and connected tunnels and followed the familiar path marked by the orange nylon rope that she had strung behind her, the rope she stole from Woolco one night before they found this cool and…
Maybe it won't matter. Maybe nothing matters. He doesn't care he doesn't care, he doesn't care, that's all that came to Squeaky's mind as she made her way in the dank passageways, back to where she left Colo in the middle of the night. He fell asleep staring at the inside of his brief case, looking at the empty cavity, the accordion file space, the velvet. He loved his briefcase because Squeaky gave it to him. It was all she had to give, and she felt she had to give him something after springing him from the Columbus Zoo. They named him after the town. Colo, the first and only gorilla born in captivity. Colo, born in 1957 at the Columbus zoo. Colo put Columbus on the map, she said. Did you know that the Columbus Zoo is not in Columbus, he said? It doesn't matter, it's the spirit of the thing. Mr. Feldman was his keeper. Mr. Feldman wasn't all bad, Colo said. He was your master, your keeper, your oppressor, Squeaky told him, but he wasn't so sure. Still, he loved Squeaky because she took care of him, and he loved his briefcase, because it was the best present anyone had ever given him. Now they were on the lamb. Now they were hiding out in the catacombs by the Olentangy River, somewhere beneath the loamy bottom land, in the honeycomb of caves, like living inside a bone. No one cares about you, or about what you may write. She was trying to help, but she is not invested in you. You are weak. You do not have what it takes. You do not have that killer instinct, he said to himself. That's your problem. These other guys, well they do, they're constantly plotting, constantly figuring out ways to put themselves center stage. Truth be told, you don't want center stage; you don't want stage right, you don't want stage left. You just want to be in the crowd scene. No responsibility. Even though you sometimes fantasize about being the hero, you don't want the aggravation, the responsibility, the necessity to talk to those that bore you. This is the crux of the matter. The crucifixion of Squeaky, she thought, seeing the hill and the trio strung up.
What about this story about Squeaky and the primate, Colo, and their adventures in the catacombs honeycombing the depths below southern Delaware County, in the fertile ground between the Olentangy and the Scioto? What kind of magic land was that, mystical, touched. So loaded down, freighted, soaking, dripping, sweating, bleeding significance. The land oozes hieroglyphic enigmatic excrement, I notice it, but cannot explain it, cannot talk about it, except with others who notice it too, and then you can't mention it directly, this feeling that the very ground under our feet is somehow full of the potential of deep meaning that is somehow locked away, the secret of everything that is as close as the gravel on the berm where we walk together toward the country store on a July day, hearing the loud grasshopper buzzes as they careen in the height grass of the deep ditch, bouncing off our legs occasionally, excusing themselves and bouncing off again at random like jiminy cricket electrons crazed in the dull world of Inevitable Fred, who stands rock hard and immutable staring with a hint of a smile at the corner of its mechanical lips, dressed in military fatigues, not even having to shake its head no, the no being always implicit, no, no, no, it's in his steely gray ice eyes, no no he says to me and to roger, and we try to ignore his cool hard presence, going about our business, like light sticks in a sweeping torrent powerless to resist his overriding no in the face of our lightweight feather dreams and wishes otherwise.
She didn't flinch, looked straight back. She held his gaze and let it stand there. She patted his gaze on the back and said it's ok, just stand there, and for that he felt relief and gratitude. That's the one thing he held on to. Squeaky knew all this, and she didn't reveal what she felt about it. She just kept doing the same thing: hanging out in the climate controlled cave by day, sleeping under the sycamore by the olentangy by night, only coming back inside when the sun started to break up darkness' monopoly, as it did every morning along the muddy riverbank. Don't let it fool you. This weather will not last, she said to herself, but she wasn't sure why that came to mind just then. She was determined to make it to Canada soon with Colo, but she didn't know how she was going to pull it off. So I ramble, and scramble my thoughts into this kind of thing, and it never sounds like much. There do seem to be a couple of characters, but there fuzzy and hazy, and don't have much to say, and have no story to tell, apparently.
This technology is something else, you know that? said Colo, scratching his chest and yawning. What do you mean? Squeaky said, looking at him quizzically. What is this crap. I don't know. I hate characters. What did you do yesterday, when the weather was nice? I went outside. We bought sandwiches at the little shop near Northwest Outdoor Center on Lake Union, and then took them to Magnusson Park and ate them sitting at a picnic table near Lake Washington while listening to the Spanish speakers chatting, and watching their little boy swim in the wading pool, and seeing the line of Canadian Geese swim across the area within the floats designated for swimmers. We took a walk, and I contemplated my situation while watching Flora and fido walk into and out of my life like tractors pulling plows turning over the dark loam as they pass in, pass out, in and out, fidong tracks as they go. And what is the meaning of Flora, who is getting so very slow, so very very very slow, and the feeling I get considering my insistent persistent needs clogging down always, and then the great sadness that overtakes me realizing the futility of ever satisfying those needs, and the only compensation is none at all for it looks as though grim fate smirks behind every dark tangle of blackberry thorn brandishing entanglements. What is the soft underbelly of this situation, or is there one. Who can say. I cannot understand my own inclinations, let alone hers. And never mind trying to empathize. It is impossible, he said, sitting with his feet propped and puffing on the big black stogie. Why don't you just forget about it? You're trying to do the impossible, he said. You should have got off that bus years ago. You're not a sap, she said, don't listen to him. You're a powerful man, no sap included. The sap is running in the veins of the maple tree. Do apple trees have sap, too, he wanted to know. Finally summer has settled on Seattle like a mother bird's feathery weight on nearly frigid eggs. Finally the warmth of her feathery body sucks the cold out of our houses like a Freon pump so fast you can see the thermometer dip blip by cozy blip. Why don't you just take it easy, she said. Just lie back and let me take care of you, she said. She was so beautiful, and had that all calming gaze and those warm eyes and those soft delicate hands with the long fingers and the almost fragile wrists. Just lie back, she said. Let me take care of you, she said. OK, said I. OK. And that's all there is to it. Nothing more. After all, what do we have here, he said, his brain clinging and clanging, cash register bells and gears whirring and jangling, he toted up all the plusses and minuses he calculated all the variables, the line of sight, the angle of attack, the standard deviation.
Isn't it fun. Disconnected, but all so irreverent. Don't you think so, Corky? Oh yes, I couldn't agree more. Or maybe I could. I could try, any way. One can always at least try to agree more. One could put ones heart to the grindstone. Ohhh that might hurt. The gritty grindstone polishing the pulsing muscle. That indeed would hurt, don't you think so, Squeaky? Granules of fine grit, in double O, Triple Z, and quadruple X. That's what you've got to watch out for, Ace. Don't overstep yourself. Stay within your self. Stare in from right field, and keep your mind in the game. You may only get one ball every game, once in seven innings of Pony league regulation. That's all. One ball, your big chance to snag the popup, and chunk it toward the infield. One chance not to fuck up. Pressure's on, Ace
Don't be full, don't be empty, don't be sinking, don't be floating, don't be feeling, don't be numb, don't be this don't be that, Don't peel don't remain clothed, he said as the northern front sank heavily in its fat high pressure on our lovely Pacific NW. Don't even try to explain, said Squeaky to Colo who sat on the front porch along with his counterpart, chin on hands and playacting depressed. She was born in nine months and ten minutes said the dirty olds leeringly to the young innocents who they mercilessly. Don't even think about it.
Did you remember your dream last night, Squeaky? No. I told Sam and Mary about writing and they looked sort of puzzled, said Colo. Do you ever write about characters, do you ever make up any characters? Sometimes, I said. So you just write whatever chaotically comes to mind, is that right? Said Mary. Yes, it's so, said Colo. And what does that mean, I don't know. So I'm just sitting here trusting to the muddy flow. That's all you can do in the end, said Squeaky. So how about that? You learned the meaning of Topsy. It came from a minstrel show: The black picaninny named Topsy comes out with corn rows, and they ask it where it came from, and it says it wasn't born as far as it knows, and they say, yeah, see it grew like Topsy.
What about Colo and Squeaky? They've been pretty quite ever since Colo took off hitchhiking for Western Canada, Squeaky in hot pursuit. The LA chase. Don't you ever look at me like that again, she said. It just infuriates me. OK OK. Shut up. Don't you even want to fly the right flag, to sail the right sea, to jump the right freighter? Oh my oh my. I'm so tired and so scattered, he said. So fly. Fly? Is that black lingo? You know, I believe you're right. But I haven't got a clue what it means. Not an inkling, even.
Squeaky was only trying to help, but Colo didn't see it that way. He had mixed feelings about the whole thing, if you want to know. He thought sometimes she was trying to manipulate him, and that she acted as though all she cared about was his welfare, but he knew deep down she got her kicks helping out the poor misunderstood primate. Why else would she spend so much time on such a hopeless cause? But now here they were in Kelowna, British Columbia. He'd never even heard of it. It was February, and it seemed like it did nothing but sprinkle. Day in, day out the sky was a thick puffy gray, and it leaked sprinkles, as though it had been given a thorough work over with a meat tenderizer. The sky was flat, spread out, puffily dark gray, perforated, and dripping misty moisture so that when Colo looked up at the street light in the pre-dawn gloom he saw an extremely fine aspiration of water shimmering water droplets that did not seem to be falling. It was just the composition of the air. It sort of reminded him of the hills of Africa. He'd never been there, of course, but Momma had talked of it fondly when he was boy. The cool mists of the equatorial highlands. Here it was clamier than he had imagined, though. It was even bone chilling. But he had to wait for the bus. Colo had a job, and he commuted from their apartment in Suburban Kelowna to the strip mall where he strolled every day carrying a sandwich board that advertised the mall's pet food store, Petables. He was a tax paying Canadian, a member of the workforce, a full time employee of the budding retail powerhouse, Petables Pet Foods, Inc., and proud of it. He was a big draw. The crowds came in just to see him, Colo, the talking gorilla. They thought he was a man in a gorilla suit, and the kids were constatnly pulling his fur to check.
Squeaky found a river where she could hang out and plan the next move.
What happened to Colo, living in Kelowna, BC? It's like Billings, Montana. Colo goes to work at he airport, stuffing silverware in plastic bags for airline meals. That's an exciting job. Did that for months. And so forth. Writing the story of Rob and Roger visiting Mick and Patti and Meg. We drove out there to Billings and went with them to Red Lodge. Maybe it's Rob and Colo and Mik and Patti and Meg. Colo had an eye for Meg. And we drove up to a mountain resort on the mountain loop highway. How did? Id on't know. Maybe it's Banf. So we drove up to a cabin in banf, and we stayed there for a couple of nights, and the girls for some reason went to bed early, and we boys were up whoopin' it up, and Colo got so excited with the whoopin it up that he banged the floor with his booted foot, and made a loud noise, and the girls got pissed and at one point Patti comes in in her jamies and motions to Mik and she whispers heatedly at him for five minutes, while colo and rog smirk on the sidelines, and Mik comes back and says their pissed and they want us to cool it and roger and Colo smirk some more and we take it from there. The place was so beautiful, like a giant golf course with perfect green and little patches of white glacier that looked just like sand traps. The air up there was so thin, you felt light headed. and so forth.
Colo and Squeaky on the lam. Running from crime. 98% of chimpanzee genes the same as homo sapiens, and what's the percentage for gorillas like colo. Must be 95 or 96, don't you suppose? They were in the car with a case of coke in the cooler on the floor in the back seat. They were in a 1973 Ford Torino, bombing across North Dakota, Colo and Squeaky. Drinking coke to stay awake. Coca Cola keeping them up, Coca Cola keeping them going. Squeaky said, lets see if we can go one hundred miles an hour for one hundred miles," "Cool," said Colo. Have another Cola? "don't mind if I do," said Squeaky. Colo reached over the back seat, twisting around and opening the cooler. his hand felt the cool of the bag of ice that they' just replenished at the last stop as he grabbed one of the red and white cans, and then got another for himself. he put them on the back seat while he put the lid back on the Styrofoam cooler. Then he picked up both cans and turned back around to face the front. The plains were still slipping by like movie backdrop. He imagined they were actually sitting still, and that the plains were just a projected image on a big curved screen surrounding the car like in the movies and that it would be ok for squeaky to just take her hands off the wheel, but he knew she couldn't in reality that if she did it would be the death of them, that they would sail off the road and bounce wildly over the knobby soil amongst the giant sunflowers that lined the road and the car would roll over and over in the wild sunflowers, and that they would lie bleeding on the black earth with sunflower faces looking down on them with their vacant stares. So he carefully handed Squeaky the icy coke after placing his between his legs and pulling the tab on hers and hearing the pop and hiss as the carbonated elixir bubbled within its thin aluminum skin which glistened with sweat. Just then they heard the call of a red winged blackbird over the rush of one hundred mile an hour air around the Torino with its windows down. He passed the opened can to Squeaky. She held it with her right hand while hanging her left over the top of the steering wheel. She took a long quaff, lowered the can, and sighed contentedly as the bubbly concoction tingled down her throat and fizzed away into her esophagus and stomach. Man that's good, she said. "Hmm," said colo as he oil-canned his Coke and raised its cold sweated surface to his cheek to cool himself in the steaming heat box surrounded by rushing air. "Nothing like it," he said agreeably, staring off at the blank horizon to the West.
Squeaky and Colo play eighteen holes. Squeaky and Colo hit balls. Squeaky and Colo do a hole in one. And so forth. What does all this mean? Not likely very much, me hearty. And so forth.
The ape and the woman. Squeaky and Colo. What about that? I just don't know. There once was a gorilla named Colo, and he had a girlfriend who was a human being named Squeaky. Well you see they ranted and raved all across the country, escaping for a while to Canada, where they stole a car and bombed across Manitoba and Alberta, finally winding up in that town up north of Okanogan, and then deciding to dip back down into the states. It's so dark outside, with the rain coming down. distractions traction contraction childbirth. I've got you there, I know it. Everything has gone smooth for you, hasn't it. A life devoid of tragedy, you're a nerd. a psycho-nerd. I've got you pegged, he said, his eyes flitting nervously from hers to the arm of the chair, to her clothes, her big shoes, her frosted hair. Is that what it is, is it frosted? I don't know. What do I know about such things? I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies. And anyway. Lost ball in the weeds, he said. what do you think of that? The 3-D-ification of you know who. 3-D-ification. I like it. And so when are the meetings scheduled? Oh what meetings? I'm getting sick and tired of all this bureaucratic work, said Colo distractedly as he scanned his Palm Pilot. It played a little tune, old lang syne, it was, and I noticed him turning his head to one side as he fingered the tiny screen. His silver har bristling in the wind, here on top of a ridge in the cascade crest trail high above banf as off in the distance a grizzly reared, sniffing the air. What the hell? its olfactory center said as scents jammed the synapses, clogging the lines. this is strange, I've never seen anything like it, said the professor in the nerve center, surrounded by banks of monitors, flashing oscilloscopes, and glowing light emitting diodes of green, red and yellow. What do you make of it, Kelso? He said in his German brogue. My god, man, can't you see? Said Billington, tugging nervously on his handlebar moustache. See vat? I am sick and tired off this crap. Explain to me how a gorilla could wind up on a ridge in the Canadian Cascades on a fine bright morning in 19 hundred and 99? Explain to me that, and I'll give you my Noble prize. But they were stumped, and as a result, the grizzly un-reared, turned and headed the other direction, deciding not to charge murderously after all. No surprises, it muttered to himself. It ain't worth it. And besides, that salmon stream is running pretty good these days. Meanwhile, Colo, unaware of the low drama being played out in the depths of a nearby grizzly (he didn't even know what a grizzly was), shambled on, breathing the brisk summer alpine air and re-playing his options, one two three.
SENATOR PHILBY HELPS OUTThe scene is the offices of the honorable Senator Philby, coughing and snorting, scratching and sniffing staring out of his tangled nest, here in the top of a baobab tree.
He didn't know what to say. Senator Philby stared at his office. His office now seemed to be alive, he knew that for sure. He hated it. He loved it. He couldn't decide. There always telling me what to do! He said aloud, to no-one in particular. Who is this ape man, anyway? Dotty was telling him that he muttered, but he wouldn't have any of. I won't have any of that! he said I'm not a mutterer! Say what you have to say and let the chips fall where they may, that's what Phineas told me. That's the way it's done. I don't have any doubt about that at all. I'm comfortable in my convictions. My convictions are like giant Lazy-boys that swivel, recline, and contain coolers for ice-cold Bud. Don't you know that? Convictions cannot be negotiated. Convictions are what we need to rely on in these troubled times. Senator Philby cleared his throat, pushed off the desk, and rose with a grunt. My glasses. Where are my glasses? he bellowed, and Dotty Dillinger, hearing him clear on the other side of the thick oak paneled doors, came a-running. Senator, here they are! Said Dotty, holding them out to Senator Philby while simultaneously rearing back and looking away, as though Senator Philby were dangerously contagious. He snatched the glasses out of Dotty's outstretched hand and in one movement had them on his face. Ahem, he said. As I was saying, he said. THE GORILLA IS IN MY STATE. THE GORILLA HAS ENTERED MY TERRITORY. THIS SQUEAKY PERSON AND THIS... THIS... PRIMATE WILL HAVE TO ANSWER TO ME. AHEM. Senator Philby's office began once again to talk to him annoyingly. He tried to ignore it but when he did that the office slapped him up-side the head and said You'd better listen you old fart oh you'll wish you had. The office could be very forceful. Senator Philby heard it buzz most of the time, and when he tried to leave, he heard it buzz louder, and if he talked back or got up out of his chair, the office really got nasty. He was afraid of it, and he didn't know how he had got into such straights in the first place. When he had come to Washington the office seemed just a room, just a place just a fancy location, a forum for his senator Philby show, and not a living breathing entity that he had to be afraid of. My god, how did this happen? Things change so slowly you can't imagine. The essential character of a thing as mundane as your office can change in very important improbable ways, and the first thing you know you're crazy as a pet coon, taking orders from an office in the Senate office building in this god forsaken Eastern location. How did that happen? Where the hell am I? Senator Philby? Senator Philby? From his train of thought he could see Dotty out the dusty window, the train bell clanging and the clickety clack of the rails forming the aural backdrop of his realization that Dotty Dillinger was trying to raise him on the confounded intercom. Senator Philby? He gathered himself and reached out to push the button as the train kept rumbling through what used to be his office. Tickets! Tickets! A conductor was coming through. Tickets? I didn't even know I was on a train until just now... Train? Senator Philby? What do you mean train? I think you're muttering. I AM NOT MUTTERING! I AM NOT A MUTTERER! No, no. I didn't mean that... I meant... Oh Senator Philby I just meant to tell you t hat you have a visitor. A caller. Someone's calling on you. Can you see her? SEE WHO? SPEAK UP WOMAN, I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THIS CONFOUNDED TRAIN!
Having said that, you must understand that I always bullshit, so that anything I might have said will not stand up in a court of law. So, Mr. Deerfield, what kind of bullwhip do you normally use to quell revolts? Oh hell this is so hard, painful, cold, trashy, slobbery, unwillingly done, and so full of retribution. Aren't we going to see the real you, Mr. Bloomfield? Will you deprive us of a good view in this operating theater, this namby park? What is it, am I losing it, am I going off my rocker, down the tubes, around the bend, and over the hill? Out to lunch, over the cuckoos nest, out of my mind? And sometimes it just hurts too much to write about.
Will I go down, down to the bottomless blue? Blue Hole--the lake they never found the bottom of. Blue Hole, and Olentangy Caverns, with the blind fish. Fragmentary farm. Plowing fragmentary thoughts, jagged, sharp, broken glass thoughts, brittle crusty thoughts like old snow after cold nights brown and crusty layer on top that cracks when you step on it. It looks like ice floes, crusty dry white and brown ice floes. Dirty snow. Snow with grass sticking through, snow with cinders and dirt by the side of the road. Snow full of brown dirt from the hole dug in an emergency by the back hoe in our back yard when the septic tank clogged up. The strange fragmentary static that bleeds from my brain like a broken transistor radio that will not turn off, no matter how hard you smash it. Plastic broken, circuit board exposed, tiny speaker ripped, but still on, still receiving the broadcast, that golden oldie still blares in a scratchy rasp from the fractured speaker, and won't quit, won't die, just keeps squawking away, a funny little dog wanders by and stares at it quizzically. His ears are up; his head twists back and forth.
I do not know the meaning of this; cannot guess the significance; I've got no reference point, no referent, this symbol points only to emptiness, is merely a wild goose to chase down, and find nothing. The echoing corridor to nothing, where I stare down the long tube of memory to find the lonely thought, the immature realization, the small boy with a little bone to gnaw. I remember the feel of the bone, its odor, its implication. I do not remember what it meant, or that it did not mean much at all. Like the flimsy scene that floats black and white, color quavering, boys playing in brown leaves, parents hovering in some background kitchen, speaking in serious tones about unknown fears, laughing with both confidence and doubt in their eyes. The old maple tree now with bare branches overhangs the little boys’ play like a frozen princess with graceful spare arms spread out wide. She has stared out of her wooden enchantment since the mystery time before the flood, down on the farm, over hill over dale, and down the dusty trail. I'm a broken broadcast, wandering all over the band. Snatches of information are scrambled; the cut up method with sound and thoughts and inspiration all mixing, dynamic drool, just spilling, dripping at intervals from the idiot's mouth.
I remember the time me and Roger and Rick put on a dance at the high school. That was probably the first time the three of us got together. I think we were sophomores, so I guess it was 1968. Roger turned us on to Sergeant Peppers, and we were convinced it was the best album ever. We thought why not put on a dance with this wonderful stereo gear we had from Jimmy Rea Electronics. We could put on a dance with the greatest music, the Beatles, the Who, it would be much better than anything any of these garage bands could do. We would put on a dance, yeah. And Dad got into the act. How about that, Dad got into the act. We wanted some atmosphere, so I told him man it would be great if we could use the strobe light from your Dynamic Balancing Machine for effect at our dance, and he agreed, and brought his equipment to the dance and set it up on the stage at Olentangy High School for the dance. Yeah. Sergeant Peppers on hi-fi stereo from Jimmy Rea Electronics, and Dad's strobe light. What could be better? But our audience was very underwhelmed. No one danced, not many came. Another slow night at Olentangy High School. Roger and Rick and I were disappointed. Oh well, no one understands true art, we thought , no one understands the sublime aspects of the Beatles that had us totally in enthralled. No one got it but us.