Their Prowess is Potent

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line,
Engines pumping and thumping in time.
The green light flashes, the flags go up.
Churning and burning, they yearn for the cup.
They deftly maneuver and muscle for rank,
Fuel burning fast on an empty tank.
Reckless and wild, they pour through the turns.
Their prowess is potent and secretly stern.
As they speed through the finish, the flags go down.
The fans get up and they get out of town.
The arena is empty except for one man,
Still driving and striving as fast as he can.
The sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
And long ago somebody left with the cup.
But he’s driving and striving and hugging the turns.
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns.
—-Cake, The Distance

Bicycle Drag Race, Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge (Large Marge), Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: It is quite possible (after all)

I was sitting at a bar, I had a few minutes to kill before my meeting, drinking a cup of coffee. This was in the cold, dark, heart of urban hipsterdom. There were two millennial women sitting near me, talking with the bartender/barista loud enough and close enough I could hear clearly.

They were discussing “old people.” I could have interrupted and said something, but I did not – they were enjoying themselves too much.

What I could have said was, “You know that old man you see every day shuffling down the sidewalk, using a cane to keep from falling into the street, head bowed, moving with incredible difficulty as if he was walking through a sea of invisible molasses. You see him and wonder where he is going, why he is using such energy for so little purpose; you wonder why he even bothers to get out of bed – that is if you think of him at all.

Now you see that sixteen year old boy shooting hoops, jumping high, not a care in the world.

Remember, they are the same people. Those are simply two points on one line. In his head, the old man is still the sixteen year old boy. It’s hard to understand, hard to believe, impossible for you to comprehend, but undoubtedly true.”

Cause he’s going the distance.
He’s going for speed.
She’s all alone
In her time of need.
—-Cake, The Distance

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twelve – Town of Cats

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twelve – Town of Cats, by Haruki Murakami

Read it online here:

Town of Cats

As I go through the stories this year I notice that almost all of them are by some of my favorite writers – people that I have read before. Today is no exception – I’ve been a fan of Haruki Murakami for years. Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with revisiting what I know is genius – and I have a few more – but I need to work harder to find some new stuff.

Murakami is known for his surreal style and very odd plots. This story is an exception – it’s a prosaic tale of a son visiting his elderly father in a care home. The surreal aspect is supplied by a story within a story – about a mysterious city occupied only by nocturnal cats.

This tale is interwoven into the story of the man and his son. Their relationship has been strained… well, forever. The son is on a quest to find a solution to the mystery of his past, what has happened to him, and where he is really from.

He finds less than he expected and more than he hoped.

Tengo folded his hands in his lap and looked straight into his father’s face. This man is no empty shell, he thought. He is a flesh-and-blood human being with a narrow, stubborn soul, surviving in fits and starts on this patch of land by the sea. He has no choice but to coexist with the vacuum that is slowly spreading inside him. Eventually, that vacuum will swallow up whatever memories are left. It is only a matter of time.

I Never Feared the Dew

“But I pushed and pulled in vain, the wheels would not turn. It was as though the brakes were jammed, and heaven knows they were not, for my bicycle had no brakes. And suddenly overcome by a great weariness, in spite of the dying day when I always felt most alive, I threw the bicycle back in the bush and lay down on the ground, on the grass, careless of the dew, I never feared the dew.”
― Samuel Beckett, Molloy

Frisco Heritage Village Frisco, Texas

Frisco Heritage Village
Frisco, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 6 – A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day Six – A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, by Ernest Hemingway.

Read it online here:

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Like yesterday, we have a story about the desperate perspective of age.

Unlike yesterday the point of view isn’t the person themselves, but a pair of waiters, one young and one old, one impatient and one unhurried, as they observe their last customer of the night, an elderly drunk stacking up saucers, one for each brandy.

I am so much in awe of Hemingway – for the pure efficiency of his prose. The story is very short, told almost entirely in tiny snippets of dialog – yet it is so full of complex subtlety and power. Where a lesser writer might describe in careful detail and attempted elegant metaphor the sound of metal on wood echoing across the darkness, Hemingway simply says, “They were putting up the shutters.”

He cuts out everything that isn’t absolutely necessary and in that gains an unparalleled dynamic efficacy.

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is a masterful collection of mostly unattributed dialog. So skillfully constructed with subtle inconsistencies that long-standing literary controversies have arisen over who actually said what.

A work of fiction should not spell everything out. The reader has to work for his entertainment, for his wisdom.

And then, like a clever piece of music, the text explodes into one final big paragraph which throws the lonely sad desperation of the older waiter onto the page with devastating effect. Finally, the reader understands what the waiter, and the author, and humanity itself shares with the poor old man that only wants to sit there and quietly drink his brandy in a clean, will-lighted place.

He only wants to put the darkness off for a few more minutes.

“Good night,” the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself, It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.

Faded Sign

I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.

Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign”:
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness.

—-from Gerontion, by T.S. Eliot

Design District, Dallas, Texas (click to enlarge)

Design District,
Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)

There was a sign here once, on this very wall. I’m sure I must have seen it long ago when I passed this way before, when it was here, when it was whole, when it was relevant… to something. But what was it? What did it mean? Why is it gone now?

What terrible disaster befell the owners of the sign? It might have been a sudden death, an unexpected and unprepared tragedy. Most likely though, it was a slow dissolution over time, a deliberate failing covering decades, sluggish yet inexorable. Like the frog in cool water I imagine the involved never really felt the change, the lazily rising boil, an unseen poach of doom. Or maybe they felt a shadow of cataclysm, a hidden fear, dismissed as paranoia or lack of confidence, or deliberately ignored out of a fearful inability to face the inevitable.

Was it a proud name? A bit of art? Bright colors? A splash of neon phosphorescence? Clever typography?

It doesn’t matter, really. What is gone is gone. Dust is dust.

What you see now is all there is: cracked plaster, empty mounting holes circled with spall, streaks of rust stain on dusty stucco. The cold wind howls by.

Some might look at the bright side – maybe the missing sign is simply an indication that success was so sudden and bountiful the denizens were able to depart for greener shores.

I doubt it, though. This looks like a place that you visit on the way down, not heavenward.

The remains hint at letters, but are indecipherable. The past does not fit well with literacy. Entropy is not lucid.

Then I am on my way again. Maybe some day another sign will grace the wall.

Or at least a fresh coat of paint.