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…

“Checkma-”

“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.”

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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…