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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Big Shot

Hello, and thank you for all the kind responses I received from Stepping. This is another story from the collection entitled Streets, available for pre-order here.

Big Shot

A cold wind blows in off the Pacific and the sun hasn’t shined all day. I wake up itchy in the dunes not at all sure how I got here though I seem to remember riding in the back of a rusty van drinking cheap booze with the members of a hair band who are traveling north to do a gig. At least my ass doesn’t hurt so I'm pretty certain they weren’t queers.
I wonder what time it is, not that any of that matters. From the waning daylight I judge I must have slept the day away here. Maybe it's morning but no... the light is dying, a lot like me. I'm prone to binges these days so it's entirely possible I've been here for a night and a day or maybe even longer. Once I get started drinking I don’t like to stop.
My lips are dry and as coarse as sandpaper. When I moisten them with my tongue I taste the salt congealing upon them from the fine mist blowing over me. I shiver involuntarily as I stand up and the westerly wind hits me full force. Apparently I must have stumbled into a little grotto last night which protects me from the chilly sea breeze blowing incessantly. I notice all the trees are bent to the east from its force.
I try to remember what I'm doing here but between my head aching and my needing a drink it doesn’t seem worthwhile to worry about it too much. I'm here. I thought I'd be in Mexico though what I was doing there escapes me just now as well. I suppose I must have overstayed my welcome. That's become a routine of mine lately and one I'm not proud of but a habit I own nonetheless.
I have no jacket and my clothes are damp from the ocean fog. One doesn’t require accouterments as coats and such in the land of Mexico. In fact, not much is required of a man at all in that laid-back country though its citizens are working little mother fuckers to be sure. Me, I like work too but I'd rather watch it than to actually perform it.
The senoritas are fine and the tequila is cheap but the drug dealers are completely out of hand what with cutting off heads and blowing up tourists. Used to be Mexico was all about siestas and fiestas and having a fine time but these days us gringos are all too often seen as unnecessary evils in the land of the good... or is that the other way around? My mind doesn’t seem to model reality into a sensible equation as it once did. I tend to get things all turned around ass backwards and can never seem to set them right again.
Maybe that's my problem. Four wives—or has it been five now?—and eight or nine bambinos later, here I am all alone again wandering the wasteland like a wooly mammoth, a vagrant, like the kid I was forty years ago. It isn’t that I feel much different than I did back then. Of course the senoritas were easier to pick up and the jobs more plentiful and the liquor a lot quicker. All that's changed now... and then there's the goddamned mirror.
Mirrors don’t lie. Sometimes I wish they would... damn, even if they just sort of fudged the truth a little it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It's hell waking up to this grizzled old mug of mine day after day. In fact sometimes it's downright scary.
I see buildings not too distant from where I stand. It's probably a town, at least I hope so. These days there are clumps of houses sprouting up everywhere. The problem is that when a tramp like me shows up at their door, I'm likely as not told to hit the road and not to return lest they call the police. I suppose I am more than a little frightening. Towns are better. A bum like me can be more anonymous there.
My luck is good today. A sign on the outskirts proclaims I am about to enter Little River. I wonder what state I've landed in, or what country for that matter... it seems like there ought to be a law that signage should specify not only the name of the town but also the state and the country. I guess most folk take it for granted that everyone knows things like that, but I don't.
Walking past the single story brick post office in town I see another sign that tells me I am in the great state of California. Somehow I always thought California would be warmer. I've begun to shiver uncontrollably but I'm unsure if it's from the cold, from the alcohol withdrawal, or both. I decide both are the most likely answers. Luckily the streets are deserted. I wonder if some grand calamity has descended upon Little River leaving me the only swinging dick left alive but I'm certain my luck isn’t that good.
There's a neon red and blue Goodwill box sitting on the corner of the post office parking lot and since no one is around I dive inside through the trap door to find myself something warm to wear... a sweater, a couple more shirts... anything that might provide a bit of warmth. Here it is the middle of summer and you'd think I was in Gnome. But then again I could be wrong about the season. Time has a habit of moving past me way too quickly these days. It could well be winter for all I know. It would explain a lot.
I wish they had Goodwill boxes for unwanted liquor too. I need a drink worse than I care to admit. My hands are shaking and my eyes are starting to cross the way they do when the tremors start. There are no clothes my size... everything is too small. I feel like Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians as I finally discover an old blanket and hauling both it and myself out I wrap it around me like an old squaw woman might. The damned thing's probably tainted with smallpox or the plague but I figure I gotta die of something and it might as well be that as anything.
My stomach is hollering at me the way it does when I haven’t eaten for a week. Food always deadens my buzz so when I'm drinking I shy away from it. I'm certain if I had a little booze to swill I'd feel a lot better but I don’t and as far as I can tell I'm not going to acquire any in the near future. Food is easier. There's always something to eat in the garbage.
Stopping by the Dumpster out back of the SevenEleven next to the post office yields a cache of pizza bones, though I have to pry them away from the stray cats that got there first. Most of my molars are broken off but I can still gum them long enough to soften up the crust as so I can swallow it. A drink to wash them down would be in order but sadly my pockets are as empty as the promise of tomorrow,
A squad car rolls by, going slow and two sets of eyes looking my way. That's all I need... to be busted for stealing a moth-eaten blanket from a Goodwill box and scrounging pizza out of the garbage. The hills have eyes and some of them fuckers probably saw me climbing into that box or out of that Dumpster and called it in. Jesus Christ... you'd think people would have better things to do than watch out for hobos stealing blankets and pizza bones.
I keep my head down, drop the pizza, and start walking. I figure as long as it looks like I'm going somewhere and I don’t have any evidence on me maybe the bastards will leave me be. Of course I probably seem a tad out of place what with a pink blanket wrapped around me and looking a tad too much like old Charlie Manson. The squad matches my speed staying just behind me. Yeah... I'm in for it. I watch out of the corner of my eye as it pulls up next to me and the lights come on the same time the passenger window rolls down.
"Hey, fella... what'cha doing out here?"
I look up for the first time. The voice is female but she looks like a dude... close-cropped ginger hair, surly attitude, just a hint of a moustache... all the attributes of a true police officer protecting and serving the populous. I figure I ought to answer her though it takes me a few seconds to summon my voice. Apparently I haven’t spoken for some time as my throat is sore and dry and goddamn but I need a drink.
"Just passing through, officer... ain't causing any trouble."
It sounds suspiciously like a croak. Did I say passing or pissing? Can't be sure now. I clear my throat and think about trying again but then decide better of it. Enunciation has never been my strong suit and the more I drink the bigger my tongue seems to grow and the goddamned thing tends to get wrapped around what few teeth I have left leaving me to sound like a bumbling idiot. Did I mention it's hell growing old?
The car stops and the doors both open at once. That's never a good sign. Her partner is a big galoot and she looks more like a dude than he does. I think of Selma and Louise but I am confused as to which one is which. Maybe they take turns. They both are wearing black body armor, night sticks, and enormous guns on their hips. They look way too serious.
"Just hold up there a minute, partner... we need to ask you a few questions."
They saunter my way with that practiced swagger they must teach special at the academy. Or maybe it's a prerequisite for being a cop. Either way, it's the same old bullshit routine... do you have any identification? No? What's your name... where've you been... where are you going... do you live nearby? I answer the best I can hoping to placate the assholes all the while knowing they're going to run me in anyhow.
"We've had reports of someone matching your description ringing doorbells in the area."
"Huh?"
That’s a new one. I thought I'd heard it all but I guess not. Doorbells? Why the fuck would I be ringing doorbells? I want to ask the dyke that question but suddenly she turns to the squawking bird mounted on her shoulder and speaks to it. For some reason I'm thinking the goddamned thing is a parrot. But no... once my eyes come uncrossed I see it's most definitively a radio. I can't quite hear what she's saying to it but I imagine it has a lot to do with me.
"Do you have anything in your pockets you want to tell me about?"
The big fairy is speaking again. At first I think he's talking to his partner because he's looking her way but no... he's asking me the question. Makes sense in a weird sort of way.
"Ummm... some sand, maybe... that's about it. If you find any money I'll split it with you."
He's not laughing. That's a bad sign. Hell, he isn’t even grinning. There's nothing wrong with a little impromptu humor but apparently my luck is rapidly turning ill today. The dyke keeps talking to the bird on her shoulder while simultaneously watching me with a kind of wrinkled-nose disgust that I've grown used to seeing whenever anyone comes too close to me. Yeah... that's what happens when you don’t take a bath for a few months.
"So if I reach my hand inside your pocket I'm not going to get stuck with a needle?"
"God... I hope not, officer..."
"Please place your hands on the hood of the car and spread your legs, sir."
I'm really hoping he's talking to someone else but as near as I can see I'm the only sir around. At least he's polite. He pulls on blue rubber gloves that match his uniform before he pulls back my blanket, pats me down, turns my pockets out, and finds nothing. I feel like fucking Superman with his red cape furling in the wind.
"Where'd you get the blanket, sir?"
"Ummm... I found it?"
"You don't sound too sure of yourself."
"Ummm... I found it."
Yes... that's better. Funny how just a little slipup can change the whole course of a conversation. Just a little sunshine... some cheap whiskey... something to warm me... that's all I need... that and...
"Anything?"
He's looking at me. Interrupted in the middle of a thought I have no idea what he means by that until the dyke answers. Obviously I've mistaken the object of his words. The shakes have set in now in earnest. I'm hoping I don’t start drooling. That'll only encourage them... the rats that are climbing my legs. I feel their teeny tiny claws digging into my flesh as they make their way up my body. They're inside my pants, the bastards. Pretty soon they'll be after my sack and the screaming will start.
"No... as near as I can tell he's clean. No wants, no warrants... do you think we should run him in anyhow? Could be a false name he's given us."
The big fairy looks at me. I figure he must be some kind of Houdini... a mind reader... a soothsayer, doubtlessly a gypsy in a former life. I stand up as straight as I can manage and wrap the blanket a little closer around me hoping to hide the tremors. I stomp my feet ever so slightly to try and shake off the rats... gotta hold it together for just a few more seconds. These fuckers don’t want any more paperwork than necessary. Running my sorry smelly ass in will cause them more trouble than it's worth and this guy knows that I know it too.
"Nah... let's cut him loose. He's just another down and outer. Take my advice, buddy... move on down the coast. If we see you loitering around this area, next time you won't be so lucky."
"Yes sir, officer... that's just what I'll do. Thank you, sir."
I start to walk away when the dyke surprises me by reaching into a pocket hauling out a five dollar bill.
"Here... take this and buy yourself something to eat... if I see that you've spent it on booze I'll be disappointed."
She hands me the money, turns, and climbs into the cruiser. The big fairy is still standing there staring at me like I have something on my face. Or maybe he knows about the rats. It's a disconcerting thought... that they might actually be real.
"Nell's got a good heart. Don't let her down, buddy. I hope not to see you around again. Remember... you're getting a break."
"Yes sir... I'll remember, sir. Thank you again, sir."
I sound way too obsequious but apparently the big fairy is appeased with my response. He scowls, climbs behind the wheel, and a few seconds later I'm left alone again listening to the ocean beating itself to death against the shoreline and the whine of early streetlamps just waking up.
Since the SevenEleven doesn’t sell what I need I walk down to the nearest gas station and buy a half pint of rotgut whiskey. The girl behind the counter graciously puts it into a brown paper sack which I slip under the blanket so no one can see what I have when I walk out. There is three cents change left over. She is way too pretty to be doing this for long. Big tits, nice smile. Someone will come by and scoop her up, make a porn star out of her. It just won't be me is all.
"Keep the change."
Yeah... I'm a big shot.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Stepping

Hello, and thank you all for your continued support. Today I'd like to share a short story from the new collection I've been working. Without further adieu...

Stepping

It's something to do with the way I want you. There's got to be something wrong with that shit. I try to block you out. The thought. I swear I do. And alas, I always fucking fail. You're so deep inside of me. I can't get you out. There've been times when I start... digging.
Old bones I thought I buried... they have a habit of pushing up out of the ground right when I least expect it... where I never anticipate you. I thought you might save me. I really did. None of that matters any longer, or so I tell myself. Fuck it.
I remember a time among myriad others... I'm riding the #20 west to Pulaski. Madison bus. I got on at LaSalle and sat in the back. All I could think, as the bus continued past Ashland was, fuck. So many goddamned weirdoes. Look at these people. I mean, Jesus. What do they do all day? This crazy bitch, her hair - cranberry red - all tangled in that God awful weave of knots, dust, fuzz and crumbs - her fat ass micro-waving something awful in that deep, moist crack. She bent forward, chasing her bag of Cool Ranch Doritos on the muddled floor, and as she pinched it between two fat fingers painted pink at the end, a thin stretched-to-the-gills green thong bubbled up and got sucked back into the void after she sat back with a grunt.
I looked out the window at the gray dying world, and thought: who the fuck is eating that shit? Somebody. Somebody nasty. I mean - someone out there - they eat that ass. Fucking go down there and eat that shit, on purpose. I know that for a fact because she was talking to him on the phone. Yelling. She was pissed as fuck. He hadn't—done something.
How many time I gotta tell yo azz, nigga?
When I say...
What, you ask? Well, I don't know everything. If so, I wouldn't be riding the #20 west, hoping to buy smack from a bunch of uneducated street niggers, would I? Again I gaze through the glass, and past Western now, the city is starting to appear more desperate. More unreal, surreal. And then - that's when I started digging.
I keep one nail sharp. I file that fucker to a point. When I'm tweaking—when the creepers are out—I start to dig. When I'm nervous and think I might not be able to score, I start to dig. I looked at that fat black bitch—listened to her cunting voice grinding my nerves to shreds—and I started in on my wrist, just slightly, right at the spot before it meets the palm of my hand. I moved quick and firm, like I have some bitch in heat on the edge, some Arab virgin vegan whore who, deep down, fears that if she lets a Catholic prick like me get her off she'll be thrown deep into some dry sandy pit, stoned to severe injury before being set on fire in front of her grandparents and maybe that favorite uncle she blows on the side. So I fucking work it. I rip that goddamned hijab off her muzzled little raghead as I go in quick and firm. She looks at me and begs me to stop and I go faster. I hold her neck tight, squeeze, and as her muscles spasm and those dark eyes bulge—you Muslim slut—tell me you don't want this shit you fucking whore—she shakes her head like she's begging for mercy and I send her over the edge. I feel her warmth trickling down my finger and I look down to see the blood pouring from my wrist as somebody tugs the draw string and we pull over.
3400 west. Kimball stop.
I pull a glove out of my pocket to hold over my bleeding wrist and think: if we crashed into some unseen abyss, would anybody miss them? Miss me? All these people? Any of us? Hell. They're not so bad. They're probably pretty nice, most of them. I feel gentle now. Now that I've bled. Now that I bleed. I take a deep breath, let my arm hang down, and squeeze. I loosen the glove and feel that hot red shit running down sticky into the palm of my clenched fist and I smile.
Six more blocks. I pull the cord and thank the driver on my way out. He says nothing. Doesn’t even grimace. Looks dead west toward some unknown fucking destiny. Some fucking thought. Some lurid lucid dream. Some putrid addiction. Some lame fucking pussy at the end of a long day driving, perhaps. Or maybe some touchy family time. Perhaps not everyone is as deranged as I. I hope he's one who knows. Fuck what I hope, anyway.
I step off and the air is cold and sharp. Glittering. The corner of Madison and Pulaski is fucking crazy. You get off right at an empty lot cratered in filth and littered with thousands of artifacts of failure and a beat ass furniture store huffing fumes of diesel through a brown paper sack of a canopy. Everyone out here is on some fucking hustle, even the cops. Especially the fucking cops. I step off in the same suit I was wearing when I got on in the Loop. I fit in there. Now, everyone's looking at me. I'm getting eyed-up. They're ready to kill for me. To do anything I ask if I have the right stuff... that green shit. It won't take much. True entrepreneurs. The fresh client. All these niggers, trying to build some dynasty out here. You know what I'm here for, you fuckers. Who's got that name brand?
There's too many cops around. I hate cops. I start twitching. Involuntarily. Like that fucking dog... Pavlov, that perverted pussy-hating mother fucker. I start stepping. I meet eyes with a black face playing the low keys in some cut about a block farther west. The sidewalk is crumbled, the buildings lining the street vacant and defeated, windows broken like old women's teeth, doors agape. I walk slowly, and a little way down, I stop.
You five-O?"
I shake no. Imperceptibly. Little more than a jerk.
"You some snitch, nigga?"
I repeat the shake. I'm twitching again.
"Just a client. Maybe."
I say it low. No more than a whisper. A whimper, yeah, that's what it is. My throat is closing up. I feel like I've been stung by a billion bees and that venom is working its shit on me. I shift back and forth on my feet to keep the Jones at bay. But he knows.
He looks me over. He's hard. Stone fucking hard. Forty, maybe younger. They age fast out here. Standing out here he's seen some shit. More than I can dream. A human lie detector. A pusher. A killer, maybe. No one to fuck with. He has his way with women. Those who give themselves to him—they're his property. It's just the way it is.
He looks in my eyes and knows I don't give a fuck. Not about anything.
"Okay, word."
He tilts his head, wipes his nose with his sleeve, and:
"You don't wanna fuck wit dem niggas back there. They on tha' fluff. Tha' Nixon shi'. Mos' ma'fuckin' sleepwalkers come through here ain' even know differen'. Fuck wit 'em and you finna get a bad bundle. I got tha' ma'fuckin' tecata, nigga. The beast. Hit me here, and then walk behind the building. It'll be under a red brick by the fence. By the address. I'm out here, nigga. Come see me. 4157 all day. So whachu wan'?"
You know what I fucking want? I want to kill you, to be honest. I want to murder your fucking black ass. Slow and gentle. Not because it's racial or anything. It's just because I need you. That and you're just too fucking loud. Your volume. Your style. Everything. But I respect that. You don't give a fuck, either.
I slide him a bill and walk off without speaking. Worst comes to worst, it won't be there. But I know it will be. It might be short, but it'll be there. He's smart. They all are. Repeat business, that's the goal for all of us. I walk around the back in my fucking suit, and nobody fucks with me. I pick up the brick, take my shit, and place the bag in my black leather glove. That plastic burns where I fingernailed the gash. I walk east to Pulaski, cut north, and wait for the bus. The whole world knows I'm carrying. And what does it matter? Nothing. Not a fucking thing.
I get in the back of the bus and ride back to the Loop, feeling so released after dipping my finger in the bag and taking just a baby bump. An old lady sitting by me in the back, she saw me do it. She gives me that look, my mother's look. I turn my head, shamefully. But fuck, I feel good.
Twenty some minutes and I'm back to the hustle and bustle, back in the flow. Back to the game. I walk into my building. Bopping now. How's the market doing, someone asks me. Fuck the market, bitch.
"Those bulls are running loose today, baby!"
I yell, like I give a fuck. He gets all excited, pisses himself, a grown ass man, like it means anything. Your death certificate is already written, son. That money. That feeling. That power. It's all fake. I look at these little pencil-neck dweebs running around, chasing dreams over phone calls and emails. Funny how it's the same bullshit with different players. All the costumes. All the jargon. So meaningless.
I think of those boot lip mother fuckers back in the hood, the hustle, the death crowding in all around their black fucking faces and eyes of knowing, and damned if I don't feel alive. I dive into cesspools and come out clean. I'm the man they all hate yet they don't dare fuck with me. I just don’t give a fuck and they know that shit.
I walk into my private bathroom with my silver spoon and needle. I lock the door. I scoop a little mound and light my Montecristo Signature Series Lighter. A friend gave it to me, back in college. It's an epic, superb, a-quality lighter, made for one job. As the white magically melts into an impeccable, clear liquid of impossible purity and strength, I reflect on old times. Life is slipping away for me, I think. I smile as those way past reflections with old friends hold that timeless, photographic quality in one's head, and I'm glad we didn't all have smart phones back in the day to actually capture so much of what was. There is elegance in mystery.
I accrue all that remains in my silver spoon into my 24 karat, gold plated syringe, drop my pants and send that hot shot into my body in a quivering blue vein, right where the inside of my leg meets my torso. I fall back, aghast and awed. I walk out of my office, and tell my secretary to hold all calls. I'm going to busy, working on things, per se, for the next several hours. I feel it.
"In fact, Kate, why don't you go home early today? Your work has been exceptional lately."
"Really?"
"Yes."
"Well, you're the boss!"
Indeed.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed Stepping please watch for the release of my book, Streets, due out shortly. You may pre-order it here.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Competing

The Author Reading Aloud



In my misguided youth I took a step outside my front door, and then I took another step. The road opened itself before my eyes like a flower unfurling itself to the morning sun. Marveling at the mystery and with each new sight competing for my favor I wandered ever on.
Many years later having no other direction I found myself traveling west; I came to the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in the Badlands of South Dakota. The road was dusty; I was dirty, my hair long and unkempt. I saw a dirt road leading into the desert; I pondered on following it but being thirsty I instead made my way to a neon-lighted tavern that squatted in the dust. I’d never seen so many Indians! They were lined up three-deep at the bar. All the tables and chairs were taken so I took my drink to stand in a quiet corner where I would not have to compete for space.
The floor was dirt; it was sprinkled with sawdust; every once in a while one of the Indians would look at me and spit derisively onto the ground. I thought how much they must hate me; not just me but the sight of any white man. If I had been older and wiser I would have perhaps been filled with fear but being young and stupid I feasted on the competition.
As the night wore on the liquor took effect; I grew bolder. I bought drinks for complete strangers not out of a sense of camaraderie but rather to insinuate myself into their good graces. Soon I found myself sitting at a table full of alien-sounding people to whom I must have seemed equally odd.
I met a girl who sat there; she was very quiet but when I asked her she said her name was Angie. She wasn’t particularly striking but she had a pull that attracted me; I must have had the same affect on her. We drank and we talked and we stroked each other with our eyes; standing close while dancing each dance we inhaled one another’s breath. We reveled in our meeting one another. Our lips brushed. Later that night when a group of big Indians began making remarks about smelling a honky in the bar she said I should come with her.
So I did.
She took me on a journey way out into the desert to her home where she lived with her father and with her two sisters. I recognized the dirt road as the one I had been tempted to take before entering the tavern. I wondered how I knew. She told me how her father was the nominal chief of their tribe, the Hunkpapa Lakota. Their house was very poor, the furniture sparse and the cupboards empty.
In time I fell in love with Angie and she fell in love with me. I supported her as she supported me. We spent our days entwined together in each other; we spent our nights drinking. Since she gave me her heart I had no need to compete for it. When I gave her my heart I lost it without competition.
She told me how if anyone in the tribe in their poverty needed anything they came to her father. Since he was the chief it fell to him to provide for them. She said he sometimes gave away the very clothes hanging on the line outside to dry and how she took to hiding them by tying a clothesline out behind the storage sheds and the junk yard in back of the house.
The people loved their chief; they supported him as he supported them. He instructed many ceremonies each according to the seasons. Serving with humility he guided his people, knowing if he was to lead that he must follow. Ruling by following meant that the people didn’t feel oppressed. When he stood before the people he would not be harmed.
His name was King of a Hundred Streams. He was like the sea. He knew many of the old songs; each morning before the dawn I would hear him outdoors chanting to the sky and to the wind and to the water that ran brown and rank in a creek behind the house. Though I listened intently I couldn’t make out the words.
When I asked him what he sang about he told me the music and the ceremonies surrounding it were essentially the same. The styles of the musical pieces were different but he told me how they promoted the same feelings of love. Some songs he sang at pow wows, others at the changing of the days, still others in the different seasons. Though the occasions and forms of the songs and ceremonies differed he said how they expressed the same feeling of respect.
Since he knew the essential nature of the music and the ceremonies he continued them as he found them; in turn he said how he would pass them on intact. In the visible world there were ceremonies and music; in the invisible world were the spirits that guided them. I noticed how he often left small sacrifices for them, a bit of food or a scrap of clothing. If I was eating an apple he would always nod his chin towards the sacrifice bowl intending me to place the core there when I finished.
King of a Hundred Streams talked sadly about how no one really knew the music any longer. The young people compete in songs like monkeys, he said, with boys and girls mixed together, and no distinction between father and son, mother and daughter. Such music could never be talked about, he explained, as it was not the music handed down by the ancestors. What they like is the sound, he told me, but music and sound should never be taken as akin to each other.
Music springs from the mind while ceremonies appear in outer movements. So it is a rule to make ceremonies as brief and few as possible while giving music its full development. This rule for ceremonies leads to the forward exhibition of them where their beauty resides. This rule for music leads to the inner consideration of it where its beauty resides. If ceremonies demanding this condensation were not performed with this forward exhibition they would disappear. If music demanding this full development were not accompanied by introspection it would lead to a dissipation of the mind.
So it is that each ceremony has its proper response; for music there is introspection. Ceremonies bring pleasure while music brings about a sense of repose. The responses to ceremonies and the introspection of music spring from one and the same idea and have one and the same object.
Music arises from the modulations of sound; its embodiments are in movements of the body. These modulations and movements are the changes required by nature. They are found complete in music. King of a Hundred Streams lamented that even though people today like the sounds they produce and it brings them pleasure if the embodiments are not suitably conducted disorder arises.
In the time I spent there with Angie and the chief I learned many things. If I had stayed I might have learned of the mystery without searching so long and hard. But my wandering ways pulled me to the road early one winter. I would never see them again.
Since I do not compete I have no competition.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Description

Video of the Author Reading Aloud



When I was a child cigarettes cost just thirty five cents a pack. I remember my uncle the priest standing in the church parking lot smoking one after another while saying goodbye to his parishioners on Sunday mornings. When he came to visit our home my mother didn’t like him smoking in the house so she refused to provide him with an ashtray. Rather than going out of doors to smoke he flicked his ashes into the palm of his hand and rubbed them into his pants.
Before he left our house my uncle would always reach a coarse hand into a deep pocket to pull out some change. Sorting through the coins he would hand me a quarter and dime holding it out to me in his ashy palm. As he did so he would wink while cautioning me not to take the money and buy cigarettes with it. I always felt like winking back at him as I promised not to; when I retrieved the coins they felt dusty and smelled faintly of tobacco.
Reaching into that leathery wrinkled palm always reminded me of the moveable feast called Ash Wednesday when my uncle would make a cross on everyone’s forehead out of the ashes of last year’s Palm Sunday leaves while admonishing them to turn away from sin. I thought how he might well have used cigarette ashes instead of burning the old palm leaves and how no one would know the difference.
When I grew older I wondered why my uncle was tempting me. If his goal was to keep me from buying cigarettes it seemed odd he would always give me the exact amount required to purchase them. I wondered if his intention wasn’t to provide me with a little spending money so much as it was a test of my resolve. Perhaps he thought temptation must be present before a person knew if they were strong enough to resist it. A description of temptation might not have been enough; he sought to make it real.
Other people have goals in their lives. They have purpose. They know where their life is heading. The experience of their lives is real and concrete. They hold an image of the perfect world in their hearts as they spend their days striving towards it. To these people the description of the world is of paramount importance. Nothing else matters. By ignoring the mystery they keep to the description; by succumbing to temptation their lives are filled with desire.
The strong attack the weak. Great countries look to conquer small countries to prove their greatness. They muster armies along with myriad weapons of destruction; when the small countries have been laid to waste the learned of the great countries write down the history of these exploits. As they grow up the students revel in their learning. Thus war is repeated generation after generation.
While he lived my uncle always seemed disappointed both in me and in my actions. He expected me to live a life without sin and yet I was a sinner. In his descriptions of heaven there was no room for a person of my caliber. He made a point of informing me how much I would have to change in order to become a man of god. I wanted to tell my uncle how I had no expectations of heaven or of god but I knew I would only disappoint him all the more.
I suspect my quiet cemented his suspicions.
Having no expectations I find I am never disappointed. By following the source I forego the description of experience; by stilling desire I leave temptation behind; by acting in the moment I let go of the promise of tomorrow and the sadness of yesterday’s regrets.
By keeping to the mystery I am without substance. People enjoy pleasant music and good food and fine paintings. They smoke their cigarettes and drink too much while telling others not to follow their example. They describe the way of the world; they caution me to be aware of sin; they do not walk the way of the mystery. These are all descriptions of experience. But the mystery is without flavor; it cannot be heard; looked for, it cannot be seen. Use it and it cannot be exhausted.
So I cultivate peace and happiness; I allow the mystery to rest in my heart.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Without

The Author Reading Aloud

After my young wife died during childbirth I was left without direction or purpose. We had been a family. We were building a home together, a life. Though her parents disapproved my wife had seen something in me no one else ever noticed before.
I’d been working at a job site some thousand miles away. Though I worried about her she allayed my concerns by assuring me it would be months before she gave birth. Since we needed the money I left her there in the care of her family.
When they told me what had happened I was consumed with guilt. At their funeral I was sure everyone was looking at me knowing it was my fault my wife and my son lay dead. In every spoken word I heard her name. In every waking moment I longed for the peace sleep would bring. In every dream I saw her. She was standing in a doorway waving goodbye. When I called out she turned away as she closed the door softly.
I drank to find solace in forgetfulness. For a time I did. But I would always sober up and the memories would come rushing back. So I drank more. Though I knew she would never approve I also knew she was gone. So I drank.
I found myself lost in a strange city on a chilly autumn night. A store window showed me my reflection. I looked disheveled, hungry, and alone. A black cat sitting on an orange pumpkin grinned at me. There were dusty bottles in the store window too with dirt and junk piled in the corners as if someone was going to fix it up but then grew tired and stopped.
Standing there staring at myself I smelled something bad; it was me. I hadn’t bathed in weeks. I felt ashamed of how I had deteriorated. Looking about me the street was empty. It pleased me to be alone in such misery.
I walked on. I came to an old church with a rusty padlock on the door. A hand-written sign taped to the door said closed. It must have been closed a long time; the sign looked faded and weather-beaten. I recalled my uncle’s church as being bigger but I was young then and the whole world seemed bigger.
I walked around back to the alleyway to test the back door. It too was padlocked but a window up high was broken out. By turning a rusty metal garbage can upside down I was able to stand on it and gain entry.
The old church was darkened; a nearby streetlamp threw enough light in the window that as my eyes adjusted I could make out overturned and broken pews with trash—empty wine bottles, discarded food containers, old clothing—covering the floor. I kicked aside the garbage to turn an unbroken pew right side up as I lay out my bedroll on it. I fell into a troubled sleep.
I dreamed it was springtime and I was a boy again suffering under one of my uncle’s rages. As the crack of his words dissipated he looked at me a long time, a sad kind of look; as if he knew whatever he said would be lost upon me, as if he were gauging whether or not to waste any more of his energy. And then he thundered that I would go to hell for my sins.
Waking I could still hear his words echoing through the abandoned church where I found myself. I wondered if hell was where I was. Listening to the rats scurrying under the pew where I lay it seemed as if it might be. I remembered how I wanted to tell my uncle that once I got to hell my sins would no longer matter. It dawned on me that if I was in hell then all my sins had been absolved.
The guilt I had carried with me for so long began to evaporate as I realized the world does not reside outside of me. The world is me. Looking up through the gaping fissures in the roof of that old church at the autumn stars wheeling through the heavens I realized they did not exist on their own apart from me. Though that night of my grieving seemed never-ending I realized when the dark is long it is because I make it so.
When those who are loved pass away they are bitterly lamented. Mourning taken to its absolute depths should stop there, however. The living glory in life, not in death; the virtuous take their mourning to the extreme and then let it go in order to go on living.
The good, the clean, and the careful people of the world are thieves of virtue. Having never suffered great loss they have yet to achieve their desires so they are full of anxiety. Once their desires are achieved they are full of anxiety that they should lose them. When they are anxious they will lose the things of their desires there is little they will not do.
I left my wandering and my drunken ways. I cleaned myself up. I took a new wife and found a job someone of my nature could perform well. Together we grew a new family of laughing babies and happy times. I never forgot but I ceased to wallow in my memories; instead I learned to revel in the moment.
Now I am an old man; once again I find myself alone in the world, without family, with no purpose, and without any clear direction. Since I have the mystery to comfort me, however, I know my non-purpose and non-direction as signs of it and not of my misery.
Without leaving my mat I know the whole world. Without gazing at the sky I see the ways of heaven. The farther I travel the less I know. From a distance I appear stern. When approached I am mild-mannered. When listened to my words are firm and decided.
I see without looking. I listen without hearing. I know without learning. I work without doing.
This is the way of the mystery.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Interfering

The Author Reading Chapter 48 - Interfering



I always thought there must be a mystery in the world about which no one would tell me. The mystery wasn’t to be found in any book; I had read them all. The mystery wasn’t to be found in the universities; I had attended all the classes. The mystery wasn’t to be found on mountain tops; I had climbed them all.
I always thought people were interfering with me so that I would stop seeking for the mystery of the world that no one wanted me to know about. I imagined them outside in the dark hiding in weeds watching me through lighted windows ready to pounce upon me should I come too close to my goals. Though I pulled down the shades and stayed up all night lest they break into my abode during my sleep to steal my dreams I never saw anyone at all.
After a while I began wondering if I was wrong about the mystery in the world. I reasoned that if such a mystery existed everyone would know of it. Libraries would be filled with the knowledge. The mystery’s splendor would be written across the mountains and reflected by every ocean. Every scholar would be aware of it and teach it willingly.
I took a family and a job. In time life interfered until I forgot about any lingering trace of the mystery. Once in a great while I might hear a snatch of song that reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on; once in a blue moon I might catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a fleeting image that seemed both foreign and familiar at the same time; when I looked it was gone.
I immersed myself in the world of desire; I no longer had any time to dream of the mystery. I told myself I had imagined it all. I scolded myself for letting my sense of the mystery interfere with my life for as long as it did. I knew there was no one waiting outside my windows watching me; I knew there never was anything in the world like the mystery I had chased after so intensely that I exhausted myself. What a fool I had been.
Sometimes it seems as if I’ve done it all. I no longer have the strength of my youth. Everyone wanted to make me into what they thought I should be, not what I wanted to be. When I wouldn’t be what they desired they turned on me. They always had to have more. I gave them everything asking nothing in return; that is what I got.
Sometimes I wonder what it was I wanted. It must have been something.
In the days before I knew of the mystery I went to school eager to learn all I could from the great masters. In the pursuit of learning about the world, each day I obtained new knowledge and precious ideas.
When I heard of the mystery I quit school and scorned the masters. In the pursuit of the mystery, every day I dropped a little part of my knowledge and let go of each one of my precious ideas like dropping pearls one by one in the dust.
Though I know I will never attain great virtue, by gathering up a store of small virtues I may gradually pass and repass the boundary. Still, these branches of learning that are picked up in answering and replying, in advancing and receding, leave me lacking in essential wisdom. Even in mediocre work and study there is something worthwhile; but if I stay with these pursuits for too long a time there is a danger of them proving inapplicable. Therefore I do not practice this mode of behavior.
There are those who say not to associate with people who cannot be a blessing to me. I have heard it said these people will interfere with the path I walk, leading me down dark corridors. This is different from what I have learned. I honor the talented and the virtuous yet I bear with everyone. I praise the good and pity the incompetent. Since I have no great talents or virtues are there those who refuse to associate with me? What right do I have to pick and choose who is right and who is wrong?
For one word people are often taken for being wise; for one word people are often deemed to be foolish. Therefore I take much care in what I say. Without knowing the force of words it is impossible to know people.
Pursuing the mystery means less and less is said and done until non-action blossoms into being. When nothing is said and done, nothing is left unsaid and undone.
The world is ruled by allowing things to be as they are. The world isn’t what we think it is or proclaim it to be. It cannot be ruled by interfering.
That is the way of the mystery.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Wholeness

She was diagnosed in the spring of her fortieth year. Though she had been troubled with pain for years the doctors all pooh-pashed it, gave her some pills, and sent her on her way. When the spasms of hurt became too much for her to bear she collapsed at work.
The hospital called me on a Tuesday afternoon so I left my job to rush right over. By the time I arrived the emergency room physician had done some scans. The doctor discovered a mass in my wife’s pelvis. The physician referred us to an ontology specialist who said a biopsy was in order. Two days later the cancer was confirmed. It had metastasized by the time they caught it though. They advised us that her chances for survival were nil.
She insisted on aggressive therapy. I felt it was my wife’s call to make. The children were only in their early teens. She wanted to be there for them; she desired for our family to remain whole. I guess she hadn’t reckoned on the side effects of the treatment being worse than the disease. When she died six weeks later on a cold September night I had learned hard lessons about how to insert catheters and intravenous needles and other niceties that go hand in hand with late-stage cancer. As she withered away the children watched in helpless horror by her bedside.
Sometimes even now I awaken wondering why her part of the bed is empty. Is she fixing breakfast? As I come more fully awake of course I remember. I wonder if I should have advised her not to have the radiation and the chemotherapy that so sapped her strength turning her into a living skeleton. I know she would have died either way but she went through so much suffering for nothing.
We take what authority figures like doctors and nurses say as gospel. But they aren’t the ones who will suffer when the treatment ends up killing the patient more quickly than the disease it is meant to alleviate.
When I follow the dictates of society I am ensnared by it. I am constrained in my choices. The moral choices that I make are identical to the values of society. Everything in life is an ethical activity. When I do this instead of that I do so because it is better.
The children are grown now and on their own. My wife has been in her grave for many years. These days I often travel deep into the mountains far from society; I am free to follow the mystery. When I am all alone from my vantage point I see there is more than one moral structure called society; there are many.
All these moral structures are little empires onto themselves. Each of these moral codes is fighting one another for supremacy. They are not simply conflicting rules; there is a deep underlying clash between the old and the new, the good and the evil, the haves and the have-nots.
By following these moral codes people are forced to pick and choose which ones are of value. They choose the one and neglect the rest. Their lives are never complete; they are full of desire forever grasping for that which they do not possess. Rotten wood cannot be carved; a tower of dirt will not stand. While others may rival their wisdom no one can match their stupidity.
When I follow the mystery there is fullness. Though I have nothing I am complete and whole. Since I have no desire I practice non-action. I let go of that and do not choose this. I keep these four characteristics in mind: I am humble in my conduct; I am respectful in serving others; I am kind in dealing with people; I am just in leading others.
When I rise from sleep and stumble onto the dusty mountain path I see no east and west in the sky; it is whole and clear. When I climb high on a ridge and look down upon the world below I see no north and south; the earth is whole and firm. When I see my reflection in a clear mountain lake I see no separate body and soul; I am whole and strong.
Naming these things I see no up and down in the valley of experience; it is whole and full. The clarity of the morning sky allows me to see. The firmness of the humble earth allows me to walk. The strength of my spirit prevents it from being used up. The fullness of the valley of experience prevents it from being exhausted.
Learning virtue without proper cultivation, not thoroughly discussing that which was learned, not moving towards a righteousness that I have discovered, being unable to change that which is not good, these are things which occasion me concern.
So I see that being humble like the earth is the core of nobility. I see that the low valley is the foundation of all high knowledge. I see that too much success is never an advantage. I do not draw attention to myself by showing off my wealth and chattering of my hubris.
I consider myself worthless, orphaned, and widowed, and I am free and whole.