“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
― Leonardo da Vinci
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, Sunday, January 10, 1999:
On the road to Grandma’s house today, I suggested we go to the Dallas Museum of Art with the kids sometime. Candy replied, “Why not right now.”
We were approaching the crystal mountains of downtown and that was an excellent idea. We used the cell phone to tell the relatives we’d be a couple hours late and took the next freeway exit. I suffered a brain freeze and put a bunch of money in a meter (they are free on Sundays – and plainly marked) and we were there.
The kids liked the art. Lee, especially asked a bunch of questions. “How do they get pieces of paper that big?” “Most are painted on canvas.” “What’s that?” “A heavy cloth.” “But if they paint on cloth, why doesn’t it get all scrunched up and wrinkly?” “They make a frame and stretch the canvas across it, hold it tight with a bunch of little nails.” “What?”
Both kids predictably liked the older, realistic, landscape paintings. Lee wasn’t impressed with the post-1975 gallery. “Those look like a bunch of smooshes. I could do that. ‘cept I don’t have those bright colors.”
Nick liked the Egyptian stuff the best (though the Dallas museum doesn’t have the best collection). He was fascinated with the mummies.
They both enjoyed one modern video presentation. A dual screen suspended in the center of a huge dark room, roaring soundtrack. I liked it too.
Their favorite part, though, was the hours they spent in the Gateway Gallery doing the Drop-In Art. Big tables covered with piles of paper, clear plastic, glue, scissors, and markers. The children were supposed to produce a “winter scene.”
Most parents helped their kids and produced realistic looking scenes of ice skaters. We let Nick and Lee rock and roll on their own and they produced some bizarre looking polar landscapes. “I’ve never seen orange and purple polar bears,” said one of the instructors.
“Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolates.”
― Fernando Pessoa, The Collected Poems Of Alvaro De Campos: 1928 1935: V. 2
The ladies of the town were holding their cake walk. A rough circular path of squares and numbers had been put down onto the concrete in yellow masking tape. A motley group of old women and small children slowly walked this course while a record player pumped out a thin buzzing stream of polka music. After an appropriate delay a hand lifted the tone arm and the cake walkers settled onto their squares with an obvious air of excitement and anticipation.
After a short dramatic pause, Mrs. Slaughter, the oldest and biggest battle-ax in the women’s veteran auxiliary, reached into a metal can and drew out a slip of paper. There was a microphone hooked to the record player and after blowing on the microphone screen, causing the record player to pop and squeal, Mrs. Slaughter called out “Number Sixteen, the winner is number Sixteen.”
A huge gray-haired woman in a shapeless, colorless print dress shook with excitement and shouted, “I win! I win!” She was escorted by the other walkers over to a long table covered with various cakes of all shapes, colors, and sizes. Her eyes gleamed as she looked up and down, finally making her choice, and everyone clapped as she hoisted her choice high. The look on her face… this might well be the highlight of her life.
“All right everyone, get on your squares,” Mrs. Slaughter’s voice crawled from the speaker, “Get on your squares, find a good one, only a dollar.”
Sam palmed the single bill in his pocket. He had found a dollar forgotten in his sock drawer that morning. He was filled with a strange excitement and smiled as he dropped his money into the box and took his place in the masking-tape squares. The music started and Sam started to walk, following a scrawny little kid around and around. Sam looked around and grinned as he walked until, suddenly the music stopped. The kid in front of him halted on the seven square, which was Sam’s lucky number. Without really thinking about it he took an extra step and forced the kid to hop one more, ending up on Eight.
Everyone turned to watch Mrs. Slaughter pull out a slip of paper.
“Seven,” she said, “The winner is Seven.”
The kid glared at Sam and started to choke out, “But that was my….,” but it was too late, Sam was already starting over to the table to make his choice. Before he made two steps, his mother appeared from nowhere and put her hand on his shoulder.
“I can’t believe you actually won something,” his mother said. “Now, let’s make sure you pick a good cake.”
Sam shrugged until his mother’s hand fell away – and then they were at the table, surrounded by the other cake walkers, waiting for Sam to make his choice.
The cakes on the table had been baked and donated by all the better ladies of Putterburg. Baking was a prized skill and this was the opportunity to show off. The cakes were elaborate constructions of flour and sugar, colored, piped, and sculpted into scallops and swirls of Angel Food and German Chocolate. Sam’s mother licked her lips as the two of them scanned the rows and debated the beauty of this one or that.
Sam, however, found himself irresistibly drawn to one particular cake that had been shunted off to the far left-hand side. This one wasn’t fancy at all. It was a simple dark cylinder of chocolate icing, with no additions or decoration… not even a sprinkle. It wasn’t large and wasn’t even particularly even or symmetrical. It had a definite oblong lean to one side. The other cakes were on elaborate decorated slabs, color-coordinated with the icing. The chocolate one was on a simple piece of corrugated cardboard with a layer of aluminum foil.
Sam stared at the cake and imagined some poverty stricken woman, eking out a tough living in a rough shack on the bad side of town. Despite her perilous condition she had her pride and wanted to make a donation to the cause. All she had were basic tools, an old, unreliable oven, and the cheapest, basic ingredients. Sam could hear the clucks of the better ladies as this poor patriot brought her humble contribution, watched in his mind their disparaging sneers as the simple chocolate cake was slid to the side, forgotten, until Sam came along.
Sam had no way of knowing if his little cake fantasy was true, but once it lodged in his mind it stuck. Beside, he liked chocolate.
“I choose this one,” Sam said, pointing to the plain chocolate cake.
“Oh, no, Sam,” said his mother, “You don’t want that one. It’s… It’s probably a mix.” She said the word “mix” under her breath like it was the worst obscenity in the world. “Here,” she said and grabbed for an elaborate pink and blue design, let’s take this one.”
“No, I want the chocolate cake. I like chocolate. I like this one the best. I won and I get to chose.” Sam was stubborn and held onto the foil covered cardboard. His mother looked like she was going to die. Sam could hear the clucks from the ladies auxiliary as he set his jaw and walked away. He took his cake and went straight home. He walked the whole way, leaving his bicycle leaning against a tree.
At home Sam grabbed a plate, knife, and fork, then pulled a half-empty bottle of milk from the fridge and retreated to his room. His parents didn’t like it when he locked the door, but he did anyway. He sliced a generous hunk of chocolate cake and ate it in his bed, alternating bites with swigs from the milk bottle. He took joy in the dark crumbs that fell and disappeared into the bedspread and sheets.
The cake was good, but not as good as he had imagined when he first saw the stark cylinder of pure dark chocolate.
Sam pitched the empty milk bottle into his trash, arranged the cutlery around the cake, and slid the foil-covered cardboard under his bed. Sam heard the commotion when his parents and little brother came home, but simply turned on his bedside radio and cranked the dial to drown out the thumps, squeaks, and shouts of the three of them garumphing around. He was pretty sure nobody would bother him and nobody did.
In the morning Sam woke and heard his family clanking around the kitchen, getting their breakfast ready. He was hungry but didn’t feel ready to face all of them yet. He remembered the cake under his bed – there was still at least three-quarters left – and dropped down to pull it out. Overnight the cake had been discovered by ants and the tiny black red bodies swarmed and choked the cake, a line stretched across the floor, each soldier holding aloft a single black crumb.
“Not just beautiful, though–the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, Friday, October 4, 2002:
Dallas is an easy place to hate
Dallas is an easy place to hate. It’s ugly – there is no natural beauty here; the city was plopped down in an expanse of muddy mesquite-covered scrubland. No mountains, no forests, no crashing surf, no sparkling gurgling streams. A modern city, sprawled out, no history, no monuments – all brick veneer, concrete, tarmac, and reflective glass. The summers are almost unbearable – with the deadly sticky sweltering heat and burning broiling sun making life a dash from one antiseptic air-conditioned space to another.
It’s an easy place to hate.
And then you have an afternoon like today.
It would ordinarily be my flex day off – but there’s a huge project due in one month and I’ve resigned myself to lots of extra hours and decided to go in so I wouldn’t fall further behind. That’s fine, it was quiet in there and I was able to get a lot of papers and electrons properly shuffled.
I walked out of work to catch my shuttle to the train and realized that some sort of cool front (maybe pulled around on the back side of the hurricane, Lili, now moving north from Louisiana?) had moved silently through while I sat in my cubicle.
The sun was still perched in a cornflower sky but the air was cool. It was wonderful. Weather like that is so rare – it makes my skin feel like it is jumping out – off the bone.
Wonder of wonders… there is no soccer practice tonight, no children to tote, so I was in no hurry to get home (I called Nick and asked if he wanted me home soon, he said he didn’t care – Candy and Lee were out, he’s getting his hair tinted) and decided to take the train down to Mockingbird station. I’d rent some movies at Premiere video, get some coffee at Starbucks, sit outside, and write for awhile – watch the sun set on the beautiful people before catching the blue line train out east to the redneck suburbs.
The selection at Premier Video is so astounding I have to carry a list in my Ipaq PDA to help me chose what I want to watch. This time, I chose a documentary, Salesman – one of the Maysles’ early works. I’m interested in their stuff again after seeing LaLee’s Kin earlier this week. I also picked up a DVD of an Almodóvar film, Live Flesh, for some light entertainment.
I loaded the videos into my backpack and crossed Mockingbird to grab a coffee at the Starbucks in the base of the lofts. If I wasn’t a redneck-suburb soccer dad (and wasn’t poor as dirt) this is where I would live. The condos are perched over the train platforms, where the tracks fall down into the tunnel for their run downtown. With a DART pass you can reach any part of the city, from the zoo to downtown, north to Plano or east to white rock in a flash with a roar of steel wheels and a whiff of ozone. At ground level the place is lousy with tony stores and trendy restaurants. The Angelika Theater anchors one end of the complex and across Mockingbird is another clot of useful and overpriced stores. All the men there are fashionable and all the women walking around have long legs.
“The ambiguous role of the car crash needs no elaboration—apart from our own deaths, the car crash is probably the most dramatic event in our lives, and in many cases the two will coincide. Aside from the fact that we generally own or are at the controls of the crashing vehicle, the car crash differs from other disasters in that it involves the most powerfully advertised commercial product of this century, an iconic entity that combines the elements of speed, power, dream and freedom within a highly stylized format that defuses any fears we may have of the inherent dangers of these violent and unstable machines.” ― J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition
Blonde in a Black Corvette
The traffic was the worst Earl had ever seen… and he had seen a lot of really bad traffic. He made the decision to bail off the freeway but he was sleepy and distracted by a stalled bus, made a mistake and found himself forced back on; merging back into the wide endless molasses-slow river of brakelights.
He spent a long, long time behind a blonde driving a black Corvette convertible. Her hair was long and she brushed it for what seemed like twenty minutes. She took some phone calls and worked on her makeup – it looked like she put new blush on and redid her mascara. Her car had giant rectangular exhausts – dual. They belched blue exhaust smoke. The license plates were temporary – dealer’s plates. It was cold and drizzly outside – her fabric top was up. Finally, Earl reached the next exit down and was able to bail. She pulled out before him, turned right and sped away. Earl drove a lot slower than she did, especially in the morning – going to work.
In less than a minute she was gone, moving past a curve through a fog of exhaust smoke.
“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.”
― Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, September 5, 2002:
I was walking along Mockingbird back to the train, dodging the heavy rush-hour traffic when I noticed a chunk of gravel arcing overhead and bouncing down into the street. As I watched, a couple others followed it, one hitting asphalt, but the other pinging off of an expensive SUV. I looked closer and saw a homeless man in the center of a clump of bushes. There was a big transformer in there (probably related to the electric train) and the guy had a bed made up next to it. He was really pissed off at a crow sitting on the wires overhead, and was cursing, screaming, and throwing gravel at it. Of course, the gravel was missing the bird and landing out in the traffic.
I tried to think of what to do – but luckily, the bird flew away and the man immediately stretched out and went back to sleep.
All I could do was shake my head and go back and catch my train.
“Aimless extension of knowledge, however, which is what I think you really mean by the term curiosity, is merely inefficiency. I am designed to avoid inefficiency.”
― Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, February 15, 1999:
Shit, what a long, tiring day. Oh, look at the top of the page, it’s a Monday. No wonder.
I sat the morning through a two hour Lotus Notes class, a professional trainer, twenty years younger than me explained in excruciating detail everything I already knew and displayed his ability to scrunch up his nose when I asked a question.
Meanwhile, the hourly folks in the class had a lot of trouble. I really felt sorry for them, the instructor would rattle off, “click here, go back, minimize.” He would always say click when he should have said double click. Not that the poor hourly guys can double click anyway. They are used to terminal emulators with tacked up dog-eared Xerox copies of lists of odd key combinations. They’ll be alright, they’ll get gooey eventually. Those tough callused hands trying to push a mouse around, that look of confusion; it’s a difficult world.
I spent most of the class leaning slightly forward with my eyes closed rubbing the corners of my lids.
The rest of the workday was meetings. More lid-rubbing.
I didn’t really do anything, did I? I sure was exhausted when I came home. My head was splitting, my right ear isn’t working again, I should have gone to a cycling class, but I booted. I should have played with the kids, worked on the garage, written some stuff, read some chapters, but I didn’t.
All I managed to do was flounder around horizontally, watching some sports on TV.
And rubbing the corners of my eyelids ’til the headache finally went away.
“Each year, we rent a house at the edge of the sea and drive there in the first of the summer—with the dog and cat, the children, and the cook—arriving at a strange place a little before dark. The journey to the sea has its ceremonious excitements, it has gone on for so many years now, and there is the sense that we are, as in our dreams we have always known ourselves to be, migrants and wanderers—travelers, at least, with a traveler’s acuteness of feeling.” –from ““The Seaside Houses”
― John Cheever, The Stories of John Cheever
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, January 1, 2003:
The weather for New Year’s Day at Crystal Beach was absolutely perfect. The sun came out warm and the wind dropped down to a dead calm. The low tide fell even lower and uncovered a long stretch of Bolivar Peninsula sand near our beach house that was scattered with interesting, unbroken seashells. As we picked them up, we discovered that many contained hermit crabs. Nicholas has been bugging us to buy him a hermit crab for a pet and I told Lee (Nick was still inside reading – he was on the home stretch of Return of the King and wanted to finish) that we’d pick out six crabs and take them back with us.
After a bit, Nicholas rode up on his bicycle (with the cry of, “I have news from Gondor!” – he’s terribly obsessed) and was tickled pink with the crabs. He’s found a plastic container and built a little habitat for them. I don’t know anything about these things – I hope they survive for a while. When we get back to Dallas I’ll do a web search and find out how to care for them.
Later, I went for a long walk, to the north this time, passing miles and miles of huge, beautiful beach houses. It was dark when I made it back to our humble rental unit and Lee was concerned that I had been gone so long. “I was getting worried, Dad.” “What, Lee, did you think I’d get lost?” “I don’t know… I was just worried.”
Lee has been collecting driftwood sticks this whole trip and had accumulated a little stack of them. He explained that he only wanted to keep three of them (his walking stick, one he pretends is a sword, and one he has whittled into an arrow of sorts) but wanted to start a fire on the beach with the rest of them. Every night somebody has a fire going out on the beach, usually a too-big one, but Lee wanted to give it a try.
The problem is, we didn’t have any matches or a lighter. I lit a leftover fireworks punk on the stove and took that out on the beach where we had prepared a campfire with the sticks and some crumpled newspaper. I couldn’t get a flame, though, only smoldering paper.
I thought for a bit, then dug out Candy’s citronella candle she bought to discourage bugs. I lit a strip of newspaper on the range top (after removing the battery from the smoke detector) and used that to light the candle. Then, using my jacket as a windscreen, I carefully walked backwards out the door, down the stairs, and out onto the beach without letting the candle go out. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get the thing lit.
It was a nice little campfire on the beach. The wind whipped the fire and the driftwood sticks gave a good flame with strong, hot coals. Nick (he finished The Return of the King this afternoon and is very proud), Lee, and I sat around the fire for a bit, enjoying the stars, the cool sand, and the sound of the nighttime surf.
When it was time to go in Lee and I spread out the coals and buried them with damp sand. It was a really nice last evening on the beach. Tomorrow, we pack up and head back to the city.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Sam I Am
It was only this morning when I first saw her. It seems like a hundred years ago. The worst thing is that I don’t even know her name. I haven’t forgotten, she never told me what it was – never mentioned it.
Everything started when I came out of Todd’s Comic Book Store walking with a spring in my step. I had just bought a new Jedi Bounty Hunter action figure, on the day it was released. It cost a good hunk of my paycheck, but I had been drooling over the advance ads for this excellent hunk of plastic for months.
“Hey, Sam!” she shouted. She was gorgeous, drop dead perfect, a God’s Vision chiseled in female flesh. I couldn’t stop staring at her and it took me a long minute to realize she was talking to me. Of course my name is Andrew, not Sam, but I was not going to disagree with someone that good looking. So Sam I am.
“Hey you!” was all I could muster. Who was this woman? I’m not the best with faces and names but I would remember her. If she thinks she knows me, even if she has my name wrong, maybe I’ll play along until I can figure out what’s up. “It’s been… a bit of water under the bridge, hasn’t it?” That was the most noncommittal thing I could come up with.
The woman looked a little confused but still, she replied, “Yup… I suppose it has.”
She saw the bag in my hand with its logo – Todd’s Comics. “What do you have there?”
“Oh, that’s the new Jedi Bounty Hunter action figure. It was released today.”
She looked at me as if I was a toad, a smashed flat one at that. “Why do you have that? Are you into…?”
“Oh no,” I lied, thinking fast. “This is a present for… my nephew. Yeah my nephew Brad. He’s really into this stuff and when I saw this was a new release I knew I had to get it for him. Cost… ridiculous, but I’ll do anything for my favorite nephew.” I hoped my tone of voice wouldn’t convey that my favorite nephew Brad did not exist.
Suddenly I thought of an opening. “How’s the family?”
Her eyes flared. “Jesus! I can’t believe you brought that up. When you made that pass at my sister… She was so drunk… I’m not sure if I will ever forgive you for that.”
I glanced around. There was a bar right there, The Anchor. “Well, I’m sorry, you know that. Why don’t we go into The Anchor and I’ll buy you a drink. We can talk about it… maybe I’ll be able to make it up to you.”
“Sam, dammit! You know I can’t drink.”
“Well, I hear The Anchor has the best Diet Coke in town. Let’s go for that.”
And now, here I am, walking around her thirtieth story apartment stark naked at four in the morning trying to be quiet. It’s a really nice, expensive place. I’m looking for something, anything, that will tell me who she is and what she is up to. The only clues so far is a satchel stuffed with about sixty thousand in hundred dollar bills stashed behind her couch and a pair of loaded handguns in her top dresser drawer. What I really need to know is who am I – or who does she think I am – and what does she want from me…. I probably should get dressed and sneak home. Pretty soon she’s going to wake up and figure out I’m not Sam… I can’t believe she hasn’t already. And… well, she’s going to be super pissed off.
I need to find my clothes and get the hell out of Dodge but I can’t. First, she is so goddamn beautiful. Plus, I can’t find my clothes. I had them on when I came here. But where are they now? I was sleeping pretty hard, maybe she woke up and folded them somewhere. But where?
Now I know this is not going to end well, not for me, probably not for anybody.
“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, July 2, 2002:
The other day I finished up at work late and realized that I didn’t have time to go home, but had some extra minutes to kill before I had to go get Nick and some teammates after soccer practice. Everybody else in my small cube-farm had left and I had a novel in my briefcase, so I put my feet up and read a little. Unfortunately, I was way too tired and promptly fell asleep. To save energy, our office lights are on a timer and while I snoozed the office was plunged into darkness. It was dumb luck that I woke up slumped over my dark desk, head in a pool of drool, with barely enough time to jet around the highway (luckily, that late the traffic dies down considerably) and get Nick and the other kids in our carpool.