“I come to a red light, tempted to go through it, then stop once I see a billboard sign that I don’t remember seeing and I look up at it. All it says is ‘Disappear Here’ and even though it’s probably an ad for some resort, it still freaks me out a little and I step on the gas really hard and the car screeches as I leave the light.”
― Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, August 9, 1999:
Slip Slidin’ Away
Sometimes, when you least expect it, you discover a moment of… if not beauty or wonder, at least amusement.
Today I drove home fighting through the hot afternoon rush hour traffic. I stopped as a light snapped yellow then red. It was a new light, on a T-Shaped intersection right north of where the road arches up and over Interstate 30.
I bent forward and fooled with the radio buttons, settling on some Brahms, something relaxing to help me live through the drive. So I missed it. Some guy had come into the T at such a rate of speed, making his left turn, that he spun his car completely around, and was now sitting completely sideways across all three lanes of traffic.
He had a nondescript small black car, an amateur spraycan paint job, no gloss, small dents all along the fenders. Drunk dents we used to call these. His entire back seat was covered by a sheet of unfinished plywood pierced by giant speakers. I had a good look at him, his window was down, his A/C must have been busted. The guy looked to be in his late twenties, baseball cap on backwards, dirty unkempt long mullet hair, big cheap earring. His expression was somehow simultaneously sheepish, stupid, and cocky.
My light turned green but we had to wait while the idiot managed to maneuver his car back and forth until he was pointing in more or less the right direction.
The amusing part was that, in addition to nobody getting hurt, right when he had is straightened out, a cop shot around me on the shoulder, lights flashing, and nailed him. I grin a little thinking of the reckless driving citation Mr. Speed Racer now has to deal with.
(I had had to walk back to the car to get four quarters from the little holder thing that folds down between the front bucket seats as I only had a single dollar bill plus two tens – and I didn’t want to shove a ten in the machine – who knows what would happen then)
with my dollar bill and four quarters
trying to figure which buttons to push
and where the coins slot was
the train pulled up.
It was Sunday and who knows when the next train will come
So I boarded quickly, without my ticket
I’m a scofflaw
They warn you never to ride the trains without a ticket
one hundred fifty dollar fine.
I clutched my dollar and my four quarters in my hand
“If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.” ― Charles Dickens
I was starting off on my drive to work, having made one turn… my drive crossed the walking path that runs along the creek behind my house. This trail is crowded at dawn, mostly dog-walkers but quite a few exercisers, some wanderers, skateboards, unicycles, cyclists, and stray coyotes returning to their lairs. All are out trying to get in some perambulation in the relative cool of the morning before the killer Texas sun rises too high in the sky.
A little bit past the trail crossing I slowed to let a man cross in front of me. He had a leash in one hand and a plastic poop bag in the other – the bag swung to and fro, indicating its possession of a cargo of (presumably canine) shit.
But he had no dog. A leash and a bag of poop, but no pet. What the hell?
Maybe his long term pet had passed away and he still went out every morning for a walk, carrying a leash and a precious, saved crappy souvenir to remind him of his dear departed pooch. Maybe not.
“Things like that happen all the time in this great big world of ours. It’s like taking a boat out on a beautiful lake on a beautiful day and thinking both the sky and the lake are beautiful. So stop eating yourself up alive. Things will go where they’re supposed to go if you just let them take their natural course.”
― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, June 16, 2001 – 20 years ago to the day:
Breeze on the Water
I overslept something terrible today. Actually, I set my alarm for eight; late enough as it is, woke up and puttered around, but then fell back asleep.
I wanted to get some exercise and have been enjoying loading up my new pack and going for walks. By the time I was able to get my shit together it was three in the afternoon and brutal hot. Hiking on a hot summer day is good exercise anyway, so I decided to give it a go.
I drove over to White Rock Lake and since there is all new construction going in around the dam area, went farther north and entered at Emerald Isle, intending to hike down to the dam and back.
My pack was stuffed with as much weight as I could get in there, camera, books, and water bottles mostly. I had my sun hat and safety-glasses style sunglasses on, shorts and hiking boots – I looked plenty stupid and felt it.
They are working on the old road on the entire southeast sector of the lake, building a new, wide asphalt bike and jogging trail. For now, though, it is all torn up. The afternoon was killer hot and the sun scorching. There were very few people out, two women hiking with hydration packs and a scattering of sweating bicyclists, mostly guys, mostly shirtless.
I walked down to the area close to the dam, then walked out on to one of the old wooden piers to sit and rest for a bit. I’m terribly out of shape and the easy walk wasn’t so easy for me. I hesitated for a minute, the jutting, T-shaped dock doesn’t afford any shade and I wondered if I would be better off finding a tree. The green water looked inviting though, and I decided to sit on the end hanging my legs over. The pier is old – the wood gray and weathered, broad, brown nail-heads stick up on little pimples of wood, the area around worn away by sun and water.
It was dead calm but comfortable out there so I sat and read for a while. A fish roiled the surface, going after a bug or something, showing a flash of tan fin and a splash. A duck paraded back and forth. Two soft-shell turtles splashed off their nearby log and floated around, their dark necks and thin heads sticking out of the water, wondering when I would leave so they could get back to their basking spot.
I sat looking lakeward with the sounds of the traffic on Garland road behind me. The roar of rubber on tarmac, the occasional horn, thumping of untuned engines, and the treble chatter of car radios out of open windows. When the traffic let up I could hear the roar of water going over the spillway to my left. The waterfall gave the odd illusion, sitting on the dock above it, that the lake existed as a shelf above the ground; I was looking into the tops of trees and buildings sticking up above the water. In the distance were the geometric towers of downtown.
The water around me was calm, flat, green, and smooth, but looking toward the dam I could see patch of wavelets, glittering, jewel-like. As I watched the patch began to grow and move toward me. Soon, little ripples passed by where I was sitting and then a gust of cooling breeze. The water was then covered with little silver-blue waves, the sun glinting in thousands of fast moving stars off the sides of the water.
The burst of breeze moved on, the water calmed, but for a moment, it was beautiful.
Saw it written and I saw it say Pink moon is on its way And none of you stand so tall Pink moon gonna get ye all
—-Nick Drake Pink Moon
I was driving in to work, the morning sun still a burning ball stuck to the horizon, listening to the local eclectic FM radio station. I wasn’t paying much attention until a song I don’t think I had heard before came on – the speakers let loose with some amazing excellent guitar finger picking. For a second, I though maybe Trace Bundy or Nils Lofgren… but then the singing started. The voice was delicate and unique – the lyrics mysterious and elegiac. The arrangement was simple – guitar, bass, congas. Perfect. An amazing song.
That’s why I listed to that station in the car (or Radio Paradise at home) – to discover something that I had missed before… a new rabbit hole to fall down. At the next red light I grabbed my phone and checked the station’s playlist. It was a song called Three Hours, by Nick Drake.
That evening I sat down and listened to all of Nick Drake’s discography (only three albums). I read all I could find about his heartbreaking story – he struggled with depression and died at 26 of an overdose of anti-depressants (maybe suicide, maybe not).
As his depression worsened he moved back in with his parents. He could not perform live (he was always shy and remote on stage – even at his best). There are no films or live recordings, no nothing other than the three strange and wonderful albums he cranked out – plus a few outtakes and oddities.
His last album, Pink Moon, spoke to me particularly. He was the only performer on the album, singing and playing acoustic guitar with a single piano overdub on the title track.
Nick Drake was almost completely unknown during his life. His music was liked by those in the know but it didn’t fit any category (too jazzy for folk, too folky for jazz, too unique for anything else). But after his death, his popularity began to slowly grow. He gained a bit of posthumous fame when Volkswagen used Pink Moon in one of their commercials for the Cabriolet. Sales in the U.S. of the album grew from a measly 6,000 copies, to 74,000 copies in 2000. As of 2004 it had sold 329,000 copies in the United States.
The music sounds familiar to me, though I don’t remember the commercial:
“Sharks have everything a scientist dreams of. They’re beautiful―God, how beautiful they are! They’re like an impossibly perfect piece of machinery. They’re as graceful as any bird. They’re as mysterious as any animal on earth. No one knows for sure how long they live or what impulses―except for hunger―they respond to. There are more than two hundred and fifty species of shark, and everyone is different from every other one.”
Dwayne never imagined how difficult it would be to get to Boca Diablo and see the butterflies again. After all these years the orange swarm he had seen as a child had grown in his mind. Now, after Flynn had brought him information, probably only a myth, that indicated that the insects were used by the ancient indigenous royalty for supernatural powers, the idea of the butterflies had grown in his mind until they had pushed out almost everything else. With Flynn’s support, he assumed that gaining approval from the university would be a cakewalk, and funding would surely follow.
But there was violent political unrest in the Boca Diablo area and the State Department was restricting travel. A shadowy figure, El Tiburón had raised a ragtag peasant army which, somehow, had driven the government forces out of the area. The central command didn’t seem too keen on spilling the necessary blood on getting it back.
“It has always been a backwater,” the embassy official had told him, “It will always be a backwater – bloody and dangerous. And useless. I recommend you abandon concern for that godforsaken place. Forget about it completely. I know I have. At least until you came in and started bothering me about it.”
One night, he received a phone call from someone asking to meet him down at his university office. The person on the other end refused to give his name, but said, “You need to meet me there, you won’t regret it.”
“Are you sure I won’t?” he asked.
“Well, I am absolutely sure you’ll regret not showing up,” was the answer. And it sounded convincing.
After carding into the dark research building and walking down the eerie empty echoing hallways Dwayne was startled to see his office door open, and the lights on. When he entered he saw a tall man wearing an expensive suit, smoking a cigar, sitting at his own desk.
“Have a seat,” the man said in a slight accent. He gestured at a chair in front of the desk.
“Ummm,” Dwayne stammered, “That’s my desk, and my chair, and there is no smoking allowed in the building.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, so true,” the man said in a calm voice. But he made no attempt to move or to extinguish his cigar. He simply made a generous puff and repeated his hand gesture toward the chair. Dwayne sat down.
“How did you get in here?” Dwayne said.
“I’m Mr. Albert, I work for the CIA,” was the answer. Dwayne supposed that answered his question, even if indirectly.
“Why are you here, what does anything have to do with me?” Dwayne said.
“Anything of what?”
“That’s what I need to know.”
“Well, Dwayne, can I call you Dwayne? Here’s the thing. We understand you have been trying to get permission and funding to reach Boca Negro. Is that true?”
“Of course, I want… I need to get back and study a sighting of rare… of unique butterflies I saw when I was there as a….”
Albert interrupted him. “Now Dwayne, we have no interest in the reason you want to reach Boca Diablo. Why is not important to us. What we want to know is if you are able to help us.”
“But how can I help you, I can’t even get there.”
“Those are difficulties that we can make go away… like that,” and Arnold made a simple wave through the air.
Dwayne’s eyes grew large. He hoped that Arnold wouldn’t sense his eagerness, though he was pretty sure that was not possible. As cool as possible he replied, “I suppose with help with a visa and research funding I could make a trip. But what is it that you need… what could I possibly help you with?”
Albert sat silent, staring at Dwayne as if he were sizing up an opponent – or a lion staring at a limping deer.
“You know the area has been overrun by forces of a man that calls himself El Tiburón – that means The Shark, you know.”
“If you get into the area, you will certainly be brought before El Tiburón and we need information about him. You would be expected to get this information and return it to us, either by returning alive, or other means.”
Dwayne didn’t like the term, “by other means,” but he had been so obsessed with getting back to the butterflies, he was willing to march through hell on the way, which wasn’t far off from what he was being presented.
“How do you know he will want to see me?”
“Oh he will. We guarantee that, at least.”
Albert paused again. Then he opened a folder that had been sitting in front of him and extracted an eight by ten glossy photo.
“We have managed, at great cost, to obtain a photograph of El Tiburón.”
He turned it toward Dwayne. “I think you might know this man.”
Dwayne gasped. The man was older, streaks of grey ran through the thick hair that poked out from beneath the military cap he wore, and the face was furrowed by years of tough living… but there was no doubt about who the man was.
“Chaix,” Dwayne mumbled.
“Yes! Chaix!” Albert replied, with too much enthusiasm… bordering on glee.