Still Standing After The Great Shake

Hello Everybody,

Early last Monday morning, I awoke suddenly. There was only a hint of gray coming through my window blinds and Hollywood was still and silent. I’m awake, wide awake, hmm…I thought as I stared at the ceiling…something’s about to hap-

20140324_163254First came the loud BANG!, immediately followed by an escalating rumbling. The windows shook in their frames, a million things in the room rattled, and dust and tiny bits of plaster fell on me like snow. I heard things fall and break in the neighboring bungalow. Oh, this is an earthquake. Cool, an earthquake…oh…an EARTHQUAKE!!! The f$#king world is moving underneath me!!!

I felt utterly helpless and waited for the file cabinet next to which I slept to fall on me. But alas, as soon as it escalated, the shaking subsided. Then came a most eerie, sustained low vibration of the Earth, lasting about as many seconds as the earthquake itself. Just after the low jittery hum ceased, the light in the hallway came on. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and joined the Great Warrior, my roomate, there as we crept down the hallway to the kitchen. He turned on the light, took a look a look around, squinted at the clock on the microwave.

“Jesus,” the Great Warrior finally spoke. “The power didn’t go off.” He took a look around the kitchen again, settling on the pots hanging from the ceiling over the stove. “And nothing fell or broke. Damn…and that’s definitely the worst one I’ve felt since in the 15 years I’ve lived in this bungalow.”

“I think I woke up right before it happened.”

The Great Warrior looked at me. “Like you knew it was going to happen? That may be true…” He turned his gaze to a tiny jangly sound over by the door. “Wow…take a look at that.”

I went over by the door. The Great Warrior’s keys were hanging from the dead bolt lock – we don’t have a real doorknob, so we keep the keys in the bold shut or open the door – swinging ever so slightly, but constantly without slowing down – back and forth like a pendulum.

“It’s still happening,” said The Great Warrior.

“I swear I think I sensed it, like a dog or a cat or bird or antelope. You know like the way it is when you wake up seconds before the alarm clock?”

“I know.” The Great Warrior was still looking at the keys swinging. “I think I heard blasts before the shaking, like before it rippled over to us. Of course,” he turned to me, rolled his eyes, “it didn’t wake me up. I was still awake.”

20130815_192518-2It wasn’t odd that the Great Warrior had stayed awake through the night. He hadn’t been sleeping too well over the past several months anyway, but the last few weeks he’d almost had no lengthy sleep at all. Most nights, I could hear him creaking about the apartment well into the wee hours. Long unemployment, a break-up with his girlfriend and the recent death of his mother were components of a force that turned the Great Warrior’s focus to a very deep part of himself – like looking down some stone waterwell where you can see nothing but blackness save for the occasional sun beam finding the ripples of the water way down below. His 45 birthday was in two days, and the unwavering hand of time held him by the neck and forced him to keep looking down the well. And based on the silent pacing night after night, the sunrays on the rippling water were rare occurences.

The keys finally stopped jangling. Then the Great Warrior turned to me and did something extraordinary. He smiled. The Earth…shook. It…shook.

I walked back to my room. I still had an hour and a half before my alarm would go off, but I was wide awake. I stared at the brightening glare through my blinds for several moments, until – from the dead quiet beyond the blinds – every single bird in LA began to chirp. Then I folded up my sleeping bag, got dressed and began the day.

Lately, I’d had trouble sleeping, too. Each night, I’d lie awake…1, 2, 3…hours approaching and passing like slow cars. I’d stare though the hole in my bedroom door where a doorknob would normally be – not many doorknobs in this Hollywood bungalow – and through the yellow light of the hallway I’d see the passing silhouette of the Great Warrior. Creak, creak…creak. He’d stop every now and then, and the pounding silence of Hollywood would rattle my brain as if I were hiding inside of the den of some great and snoring creature – more than lion, more than bear, a mysterious predator with a higher rank on the food chain than Man.

20140322_160348On one of those nights, the Great Warrior and I played a game of chess. We hadn’t played a game in some time, but we picked up right where we left off, which was with the Great Warrior leading me about 41 games to 3. Those three victories came on mistakes on he’d made, not due to any great means of strategy on my part. The key for me was to castle immediately, and set up a wall of protection around my king, and wait it out until he made the rare and coveted mistake. At times, I’d been able to be a little more cavalier, and knock out his queen in a trap of some kind, which gave me more confidence and allowed me to set up more offensive strategies, but that came only after I castling…

…but it’d been so long since we played. The Great Warrior had won the coin flip, moved a pawn out quickly, and by reflex I, just as quickly, moved a pawn. The moment I let my hand off the pawn I realized I should have moved a knight out front to clear a path between my king and rook so that I may castle as quickly as possible. The Great Warrior had begun his strategy – whatever it was – but now I was scrambling to begin mine, slipping exponentially into deeper peril with each move. I finally castled, but by then he had control of the board. There were two holes in the defenses around my king that kept me from using one of my bishops. Now I was making moves just to shut off all lanes to my king. My queen was useless. The Great Warrior had moved his queen out front and set her on the prowl, forcing me to hop my knights out of her way as his bishops waited to pounce my king. I had to use the two pawns around my king as…well…pawns – sacrifices to buy time. His queen took one of my knights, she crept closer, closer, then bam…


“I know!”

Then next night I came home and found the Great Warrior had already begun his nightly pacing. When he passed through the kitchen, I asked him, “How’s it going?”

“It’s going…OK,” He replied. I got something from the fridge, then sat down to eat. He walked back into the hallway and a few moments later he came back in the kitchen and began making grilled-cheese sandwiches. He was sliding the sandwiches across the skillet with a spatula when he said, “Actually, there have been some new developments in my life. I’m…well, I’m moving.”

“Yeah? Where?”

“Back home to Lafayette at the end of April. I’m gonna go back and get my master’s in Library Sciences. I’m gonna be a librarian.”


After he spoke, he moved about lighter, like cotton drapes in a soft breeze. He was smiling that same uncertain smile he’d had after the earthquake. The light bounced off the yellow-green walls to frame a whimsical aura around him that also shone throughout the cluttered kitchen, down the hall, off its dented and patched-up walls, reflecting against the file cabinets housing yellowed files from a decade ago, illuminating the uninished paintings in the living room and gleaming off the bindings of books books books all over the place about painting about film about politics about god –  and the soiled carpet over the broken sagging floors and the holes in the doors and cracks in the walls and the bottles of cleaning products bought in bulk at Cosco still in their wrappers and broken or missing doorknobs all made sense. 15 years. Someone once 30 years old was now 45. Time. Time. I didn’t know the Great Warrior back when he was 30, but I’m sure he came here with things he swore he was gonna do but-

“Not really,” said the Great Warrior. “I thought I was a filmaker back then, but I was just running when I came out here. Then I thought I was a painter for a while, but I haven’t finished a painting in five years.” He flipped the grilled cheese sandwiches, looked after them like children in a playground. “I hate jobs. I hate lying to bosses to make them think I’m dedicated. I just can’t bring myself to go get a job, out there, anymore. The only job I barely came close to liking was when I was a librarian’s assistant in college. So…”

“I think its great, buddy,” I said.

“You’re not upset about having to find a new place?”

“I’ll be fine.”

He paced aound a bit, glancing at different things all over the kitchen, down the hall. Then he laughed. “I gotta month to figure out what to do with all this stuff. Jesus…” One at a time, he scooped up the grilled-cheeses with the spatula and slid them onto a plate. He sat down and took a bite. “It just…” he said, his mouth full…”didn’t pan out they way I thought it would, Todd.”

“It could be panning out better than you planned,” I said, relishing my wisdom, eager to dispel more, “and who knows, you may come thundering back to LA.”

20140324_175624He shrugged his shoulders, took another bite. We finished eating in silence. After he was done, he put his plate in the sink and went over to get the dirty skillet from the stove. Before he took it to the sink, he stared up at the other pots and skillets as if they were sacred icons representing his history – proof that the last 15 years really happened, that he really was in LAv – so Holy that without them the last fifteen years didn’t exist…that without them nothing before: college, childhood, Lafayette Indiana, birth, nothing at all, existed. Then without ceremony he grabbed the dirty skillet, washed it, put on a towel to dry and resumed pacing.

I watched the skillet dry for a moment, then turned my gaze upward to the pots and skillets above the stove. The hook from which one of the pots hung had loosened a bit as a result from the quake. But Earth wasn’t quaking that evening, it was just spinning around as normal. And the pots and pans hung still, like bells that had just finished sounding some message across The Land for all of us to hear, ringing through us all and taking a piece of each of us and resonating all those pieces of us further into space all the way to our Beginning and our End and even further…

Be well…

Real Waves

Hello Everybody,

The Great Warrior slid his bishop all the way across the checkered board to take my queen. I didn’t see it coming. In fact, I thought I’d set a trap that would ultimately force The Great Warrior to give up either a rook or a knight, on the next move. I leaned back from the kitchen table, looked away as to hide my grin. But I turned back toward the board to see it all happen in slow motion. Then he disposed of my matriarch, laid her to rest with his collection of other dead pieces from kingdom. A few moves later, I knocked my king down in disgusted resignation – banged the table, cursed.

Plotting his assault on my kingdom.

Plotting his destruction of my kingdom.

“Maybe we should play a game where we explain to each other our reasons behind each move,” said The Great Warrior.


“It’s a way of learning, becoming better.”


“Well, then why’d you make such a blunder as that?”

“Too many things were happening out there,” I answered, pointing to the board as if it were Waterloo. “One or two moves ahead, I can think that far. But after that, there’s too many factors. I can’t spread my brain out that far!” Bang, curse.

My exclamation came clearly from frustration and self-pity – The Great Warrior had beaten me several times this week – but there was truth to my statement. I’d had trouble concentrating all week. Morning, noon and night – day after day – was one giant mess of speedy thought. Pictures and sounds rushed in and out of my brain like ocean waves. I was aboard a helpless ship on those waters. Writing, reading, sitting through a movie were diffucult tasks. And my guitar playing was much like the chess – starting out concise and with purpose only to dissolve into manic disarray. Thought pummeled me from every direction as the minutes of each day raced by. I could only stand there at the ship’s helm – watching the wheel spin – in a state of nervios anxiety. Finally, I cut down the sails and let my mind go wherever the thoughtstorm took it. I did only what I had to do – eat, bathe, brush my teeth, fish for jobs in the internet sea.

But frustration kept mounting as the week progressed. I got desperate, I meditated – sat every morning with my legs crossed, breathed in and out, one hand in the palm of the other, stared at the wall. The morning air coming into the bungalow was cool, livened my skin. Breathe in, breathe out. I focused on the ambient sounds East Hollywood offered – a leaf blower, the glass collector, a siren, a Harley Davidson, a gate sliding open, a domestic fight somewhere down the street. The sounds faded into one dull hum growing quieter and quieter. I felt the tension ease out of my body, joints relaxed and stomach muscles settled. Breath in, breathedamn! Every morning, as soon as I entered that formless place where meditation takes me, I’d get blindsided by frothy thoughtwaves so powerful I’d physically jerk back into this world of the labeled and named.


Full moon fever.

“I’ve been having a hard time, too,” said Luis. “There was a full moon on Monday night, that’s when it got me. But Mars isn’t in retrograde or anything like that, my girlfriend read up on it.”

The Great Warrior told me he’d been having trouble sleeping, and also had this creepy feeling that “time was running out.” I began to wonder if maybe some kind of non-astrological event was going down that made humanity drift a bit closer to the edge – perhaps a collective anxiety throughout LA. But in the many walks I took I didn’t notice anything beyond the standard edge-of-the-continent babbling madness. Besides, my fits of thought turned me inward – dunked me beneath the surface of the present where I struggled to keep my breath as the past and future circled me like sharks with dead black eyes and blood-stained fangs. I was ready to betray anyone and deny any belief for the next breath of peaceful, safe air. The thoughts would pull up to the surface just as the sharks opened there jaws wide. I thanked the thoguhts, vocally, for doing so. I dare say I may have been the crazy babbler on Sunset Blvd this week. It seems anyone can be, if they hang out on it long enough.

On Thursday, I headed to the beach at Santa Monica, with dim hope that it would slow my brain down. It was a hot day, the city was blurred by heat waves as I walked to the bus stop at Santa Monica and Western Blvds. The odor from all the grime on the sidewalk wafted upward, into the nostrils. The bus was 45 minutes late – everyone who waited for it seemed to be frowning, confusedly, and trying not to breathe to deep. People would look at each other, then look down, pressed against each other in the scarce shade – compressed isolation.

Except one man who stood straight and tall in a very nice, houndstooth suit and straw hat, wearing dark sunglasses, looking like a jazz player who’d long since come off the hard drugs and now played lucid and fearlessly, but played it slow even if he was playing fast. He was a nobleman in the sun as we pawns cringed in the shadows. He was sweating, but he was fine with it – nothing his handkerchief couldn’t handle. A few minutes later, a car stopped at the red light. The driver rolled down his window and shouted.


“Hey there!” replied the nobleman.

“PT passed away, man. Tuesday.”

“Yeah,” replied the nobleman, “I know. Bakersfield?”


The nobleman mimicked shooting a pistol, then held up his hands, questioningly. The man in the car shook his head, affirming. The nobleman shook his head, looked down Santa Monica Blvd, then turned back to the man in the car.

“Well, alright, then. I’ll see you at the funeral.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” replied the driver. Then the light turned green and he drove off.

Howling mad streets.

Howling mad streets.

As we were boarding the bus, a lady and a man – carrying duffle bags – approached the bus stop. They appeared to be arguing. Suddenly, the lady threw her bag in the street. Then she ran out in the middle of the street and – like a matador – waited for an oncoming pick-up truck. The driver swerved to miss her, but the lady ran to the truck and punched its mirror – breaking it -as the truck passed her. “F#$k you!” she shouted, then grabbed the duffle and jumped on the bus. The man boarded the bus, too.

“I tell you,” she shouted to everybody aboard – the man eyed her from the other end of the bus, “I ain’t mad at myself, well I’m always mad at myself but he don’t need to know that! I’m tired of him! Shit…he ain’t gonna know I’m gone ’til I am.”

The man came toward her. “I’m right here, you didn’t get rid’a me.”

The lady stood, pushed through the crowded bus, toward him. “Ah, yeah, then…well we gettin’ off now and it’s goin’ down!”

“You makin’ a damn fool of yourself,” said the man.

“I don’t give a f#$k!” The bus stopped at Vine St. “We gets off right here! Come on…it’s about to blow, right now.”

“Alright then.”

As soon as they got off the bus the woman threw down the suitcase and started wailing on the man, who tried to act cool at first, then started giving a little back. Several men in the bus looked out the window, egging the couple on, careening their necks to get a last look as the bus pulled away. By the next stop it was as if the couple never existed – erased off the record. The rest of us settled in for the 90 minute ride to the end of the country. Hollywood, then West Hollywood, then Beverly Hills, then…

“Listen,” a man said into his phone, as we passed through Century City, “I don’t wanna be with someone who doesn’t wanna be with me, you know. Yeah? Well here’s the irony, I thought I things were getting better…yeah, well I tried but you know that trying is what lead to my silence…whoah, whoah, whoah…let’s not confuse the two issues, here…she can be thankful, it’s money, afterall, you know…(long pause)…ok, well me too…as long as we can both be thankful for our gestures. Yeah…well…tell her money leaves a bad taste in my mouth, too.”


Time killin’…

I made it to the beach late – after four o’clock – so it wasn’t crowded. Bums lay, sprinkled about the sand, sleeping or staring into the seventh or eighth dimension – far away from the crowds on the shoreline, where people nuzzled together in the cooling early evening, read books, or wandered in ankle deep water – smiling, laughing. I set my towel and bag down on the sand ran into the water

Clouds had begun to roll in, dropping the tempurature on the beach by at least 10°. The air brought on chills, so I wandered out to shoulder deep water to shield myself from the wind. There, I lifted my feet and let myself rise and fall with the swells. Some pelicans convened on a cluster of rocks, several yards out. Wing to wing, they managed to stay on the rock. Every now and then – as if on shifts – one pelican would fly off and another would land in its place. The pelicans would fly straight up, stall in mid-air, then open their wings wide and dive straight down and stab at the water for food with such fearless and natural precision.


Where the real frontier begins…

The swells grew higher as the evening progressed. I paddled lazily to keep my head above water – all the while, facing the ocean, letting my fast thoughts go and go and go. When I turned around and faced the beach, I was surprised to find that I’d drifted quite some distance form the shore. My towel was only a little blue dot on the beach. Human beings were tiny figures in the sand. I could make out arm and leg movements, but no facial expressions. I couldn’t hear anything coming back from the shore, either. The beach – and LA, America, Western Civilization – shrunk smaller and smaller with each rising swell. It felt as if I could keep on floating as long as I wanted. More so, it felt like floating was the right idea – the natural state. And I wasn’t floating away from anything. No, I was floating to something, the big thing, with fearless precision….like the pelicans.

The first wave broke and rolled me over several times. I reached out – frantically – for the surface or the ocean floor. I finally found the surface and took a breath just before another wave pummeled me, extending my legs over my back. All my air went out and I sucked in saltwater, sand. I regained my ground, shook my head, opened my eyes just in time to see another wave breaking over me. I ended up on my knees, gagging, thirty feet closer to the shore. I looked at the people on the beach – saw their faces. Some noticed me, but most didn’t. But all carried on with what they were doing.


Real waves.

All sound came back – the human chatter, the pelican squawks, and the evening waves roared as they broke and dissolved into brutal frothy energy. I went back out again and again. For well over an hour I let the big waves knock me around. By the end, my eyes were burning, my throat was sore from salt, my legs and arms were jello. It was exhausting, taking on the relentless force of nature. But it felt good to be pummeled by something real.

Be well…

Yes, This World

Hello Everyone,

This is a good visual of a Murakami book...and of Friday.

Portrait of the inside of Murakami’s brain…and of Friday.                            

Friday morning, I awoke to heavy rain drops. The morning light couldn’t seem to find its way into my room, therefore I couldn’t seem to find my way out of bed. But I was finally able to carpe the diem and arise, because I knew I couldn’t hide forever. The rain continued and the gray glow out the window accompanied me through the morning as I began work on a music project I’m involved in – after coffee, of course, and only a minimal amount of procrastination. So, I put on my headphones, recorded, cut, re-recorded, listened, recorded, re-recorded, cut, coffee, erased, gave-up, gave it another try, recorded, cut, re-recorded, etc.

I finished around lunch time. The rain had stopped. The day felt quiet after the rain, and the silence seemed to filter the life-force of the day as it traveled into my room – only a gray light came in, only the residue of real light. I felt isolated – in a warm and fluid womb in which I swayed rythmically, attached to the world only by an umbilical cord with a slight obstruction somewhere in it.

After finishing up the project, I had nothing to do until the evening. I ate, figured that was a good idea. After eating, I was still a bit creatively wired, but the rain came again and I could feel the cold air come into the room – going for a walk was not a good idea. So I sat down and opened up Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 – a gorilla of a novel about parallel worlds. I liked the book – so far, I was only 700 pages in – but I couldn’t concetrate. The radiator kicked on. Hearing the radiator knocking in April is a bit of a drag, like seeing the box of Christmas decorations in the attic in June. Knock, pop, knock, knock. I stared just over the top of the book. Knock, pop, knock. Then the refrigerator joined in. Click, click, click, click. By then I was holding the book in a reading position simply for posterity. Finally, the sink – drip, drip, drip – a metronome keeping time in this womb, with no crescendo, no birth. Drip, drip, drip. Underneath it all was the constant ringing in my ears due to the tinnitus that I’ve had all my life – so loud and palpable, millions of tiny screams poured into the ears. I looked out the window. So gray. Soundless. Nothing come through. A fish in a fishbowl.

The upstairs neighbors came home. Their heavy footsteps burrowed down, through the ceiling, to me. I could hear the wooden studs of the ceiling creek. I could hear voices, but no words. At 4pm, my neighbor, James, came home and started yelling. He was probably a few drinks into his loud and rageful descent into his alcohol weekend. I could hear him clearly. “Alright! Whoo! Yeah!” He doesn’t say much more than that on late Friday afternoons. He saves the speeches for the darker hours – when he desperately tries to convince himself about something of ultimate importance, but slurs too badly to understand what he’s telling himself.

See the other world?

See the other world?

1Q84 centers around two star-crossed lovers who are trying to find their way to each other but are in parallel worlds, so to speak. They’re so close, at times – they can hear each other, sometimes even see each other – both just on either side of the barrier that seperates them. The search becomes more about finding and understanding oneself, and, that only in finding oneself can one find their compliment. It’s a very good book, but reading about parallel universes and dreamscapes in the middle of a cloudy day made me feel more isolated. That gray light out the window. It didn’t feel like it came from a world I inhabited. There was the slightest membrane, seperating me from everything else – plyable, like elastic, but utterly impenetrable. I put the book away.

Later, I hopped over the threshold to my apartment door like Neil Armstrong, into the hallway, relieved to know I was – indeed – on Planet Earth. I locked the door and headed out into the dreary evening.

I hopped the D-train. The D-train is always cold. It has metal walls, instead of insulated plastic walls like the other trains. Yet, I didn’t really feel the cold – more like I was simply aware of the cold. I sat amongst a large Mexican family, laughing and joking in Spanish. But they sounded so far away. Correction, I felt far away – like a peripheral character in a novel, who I can’t get interested in, and can’t figure out why he’s even in the book. As we crossed the bridge into Manhattan, I thought about all the tourist-y things I said I would do, here, in my last week in New York. I didn’t do any of them. Just like the last time I left New York. And the time before that.


Stagnant light.

I got off at the West 4th Street stop, then meandered about in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. The sky still offered light, but the streetlights were already on. They shined in the wet gray air, along with the traffic lights and headlights. But all electric light seemed to die just beyond its source, creating only isolated pockets of unatural color, as if the ingredients of the moment had failed to mix.

Steam rose throught the grates in the sidewalk, eagerly filling in the spaces between each light. People passed across my view of the world, in and out of the steam, from every direction, but I still felt seperate from everyone. The isolation had a rather narcotic effect. I floated through the steam, the park and people, possibly toward oblivion, when a rough looking fellow with a scowl reserved for mugshots called to me and demanded I play chess with him. He sat – shivering in his dirty clothes – at the outdoor chess table.

“Hey! Wanna play chess?” said the man. “I know you do.”

The peices were already set, he was ready to battle. He just needed another human to play. I was too cold.

“No thanks.”

He gazed at me as I walked away – baffled – like he was holding up a sign that said Free Gold. Further down from him another man whistled at me and asked if I wanted to buy some pot.

“No thanks.”

He shook his head, forgiving me as if I knew not what I did. I was grateful to him, however – and to the lonely chess player – their attention tethered me to the planet, satisfied my hunch that I was not yet a ghost.

Right there, but far away.

Right there, but far away.

The night that ached to be was finally born. Around 8pm, I met up with my old friend, Ben, and we went to see the movie Evil Dead. The movie was awesome, everything I like in a horror movie – build up, copious moments of dreadful shock, and release laced with laughter. But what made it an experience – something more than just a movie – was seeing it in a crowded theatre. Normally, I hate noisy crowds, but with a horror movie, part of the fun is jumping at scary scenes in unison, then laughing together over the fact that you just got sissy-fied. Everybody was in it together, united for an hour and a half. I was watching the credits roll when I realized my ears weren’t ringing anymore.

Ben and I have been watching horror movies together for about 15 years – since we were college students in Texas – and it never gets old. After the movie, we went to a coffee shop to have one more cup of joe together, before I left town. Ben told me about a tenant that was found dead in an apartment on the floor of his building.

“She’d been dead for nearly three months. They found her in the doorway. I thought it was just a really bad garbage smell,” Ben said. “But nope, it was human. It’s sad, but it’s not even news in New York. So many people die alone in such a crowded place.”

That was as much of the past as Ben and I discussed. Instead, we talked about ideas that we’d like to create on stage or make into films – projects we wanted to do together. We didn’t need to talk about the past. Simply being with each other confirmed all that had happened in regards to our friendship was real. The past bolstered the moment we were in – and in that moment, we confirmed our existence.

It happened at the top of the steps.

It happened at the top of the steps.

It was well after midnight when I took the slow train back to Bay Ridge. The train rocked back and forth and time sloshed about like water in a bucket. The subway car was filled with the aroma of whiskey breath, marijuana and farts. Most passengers were laundry bags, bouncing at the mercy of the moving train, exuding a goofy, drowsy smile. But for a few others, the novelty of their drunk had worn off, and to take its place was the old familiar anger, contempt and longing over something so wonderful, so beautiful, that seemed just beyond reach only a few short hours earlier, but at the end of the night, was nowhere to be found.

Sometime after 1am, I was certain I belonged in this world. Then I went to bed.

Be well…