Doldrums

Hello Everybody,

I’m leaving LA soon, so on Wednesday I headed out to the beach at Santa Monica to jump in the ocean one more time. The beach wasn’t crowded. School had started and the vacation season was winding down. Only clusters of very pretty European women lay out on beach towels whilst solo men with thick accents pranced about in man-panties, too afraid to go all the way out to the breakers for the water was very cold. I lay down my towel next to some lovely French ladies and – fearless and American – ran at full speed into the water, dove under an oncoming wave, then swam out past the breakers.

Birdrain

Birdrain

It was a very hot day with no sea-breeze. The waves came in fat and slow. There was a strong riptide, too, so I’d get sucked out as the waves rose, then pushed back toward the shore as they crashed. For some time, I let the waves push and pull me wherever, floating on my back, barely stroking to stay above water.

A squadron of pelicans were out, flying close to the water. Some came within five feet of me. They glided so slow it appeared as if they’d simply drop into the surf if they flew any slower. They were huge, each one around the size of a year old pit bull. Their eyes twitched, feathers glistened as they patiently trucked across the sky. But after they’d pass me, they’d take a drastic upswing, twist in weightlessness, then dive bomb into the water. After they’d pop up above the surface, they’d float on their bellies with something flopping around in their gullet. It looked as if I’d floated into some feeding area of theirs. Pelicans began to splash into the water all around me, like birdrain.

I swam back to shore after my fingers turned blue. The temperatures of the air and water were so extreme. After a few minutes of shaking, panting, I lay down and instantly grew drowsy in the heat. I glanced across the beach to see visible heat waves dance, distorting the shapes of homeless people who call the beach home. I closed my eyes and listened to the French girls next to me say French things until I drifted off to sleep. The crashing waves stayed with me during my slumber – a soundtrack for little day dreams. But when a particularly large wave crashed onto shore I opened my eyes. The French girls were gone, as were many other beach goers. I was beginning to feel the sunburn, so I left, reluctantly.

I hopped on the bus back to Hollywood, but got off in Beverly Hills. I didn’t want to jerk about inside the bus as it wrestled with the rush-hour traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard. It was still very hot but my apartment was hotter, so I figured the long hot walk back to Hollywood would tire me out enough not to care about the heat, leading to a full night’s sleep, which had been rare over the last week. Six miles in flip-flops would do the trick, I was sure.

20130828_173351I waltzed through fancy Beverly Hills. Pretty people wore sunglasses as they enjoyed cocktails out on the sidewalks of cafes. But out in a park along Santa Monica Blvd were the homeless of Beverly Hills, scattered about the short green grass like casualties on a battlefield. The sun was behind the trees. Golden light lay over these wounded, clothed in many layers of dingy clothing. They’d noticed me walk to them, but all they could manage was the opening of one eye, and a turn onto their other side.

About an hour later I was smack dab in the middle of fabulous West Hollywood. It was passed the cocktail hour and the pretty happy people were now being served dinner at tables on the sidewalk. The waiters,dressed in white long-sleeve shirts and black pants, hustled tray after tray out to the tables. Their faces glistened with sweat as they explained the specials for the evening or listened to an order from a patron. They’d smile, say something like, “no problem, it’ll be right out,” but when they turned their faces dropped into exhausted frowns. In the kitchen, out the kitchen. Smile. Frown. Smile…

A few tweakers and drunks were out in West Hollywood but not until I got into Hollywood Proper did I see any serious winos and junkies. By then the sun had set, and I’d walked up  onto Sunset Boulevard. There, dark skeletal faces peeked out from door archways – not to plead, but more like to see if Earth was still out there. Satisfied they were still on terra firma, their hollow eyes would fade back into the darkness.

Hollywood

Hollywood

It grew darker and darker, two snakes of headlights hissed down Sunset. The tattooed and scabbed of Hollywood danced across intersections to music only they could hear. Outside the Palladium, a long line of sexy, short skirted, fish-netted, heavily eye-lined jail bait waited for a concert to start. Some smoked by the curb, jumping onto the street every now and then, oblivious to the speeding traffic or the Surgeon General’s warning. I weaved through them. I was almost to the bungalow. It’d been three hours since I got off the bus.

Tired as I was, I still couldn’t sleep that night. The bungalow was sweltering. I was also sleeping on the floor – Luis and Andre were almost completely moved out. So I lay on my back and tried not to sweat, in a state of semi-consciousness, where I wandered in and out of the visions of gloomy futures, deep into the quiet hours.

The next day, I helped my friend, Danny, fix up an apartment that he managed – new tenants were moving in. Danny was performing the role of The Porter in Independent Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth, this summer in Griffith Park. I met Danny while I was building the set for the production. Danny’s a great fellow and a hell of an actor. The Porter is a small role but one that requires a the balancing of comedy with foreboding, for the play only gets darker and bloody after The Porter exits. Danny definitely delivers. He begins the role passed out drunk in the audience, finally coming out of his stupor to answer a knock on the doors of Macbeth’s castle. As he makes his way to the doors, he improvises, plays with the audience – to hearty applause and cheers – then delivers this monologue:

Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were 
porter of Hell Gate, he should have old turning the 
key. Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, 
i’ the name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer, that hang’d 
himself on th’ expectation of plenty. Come in time! 
Have napkins enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t. 
Knock, knock! Who’s there, in the other 
devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could 
swear in both the scales against either scale, who com- 
mitted treason enough for God’s sake, yet could 
not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator. 
Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there? Faith, 
here’s an English tailor come hither, for stealing 
out of a French hose: come in, tailor; here you may 
roast your goose. Knock, knock! Never 
at quiet! What are you? But this place is too 
cold for hell. I’ll devil-porter it no further: I had 
thought to have let in some of all professions that go 
the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.
Anon, anon! I pray you, remember 
the porter.

Danny and his son after the closing performance of MacBeth.

Danny and his son, Malcolm, after the closing performance of MacBeth.

Danny improvises a bit more after the monologue, asking random audience members what they do for a living, always insinuating to that hell is an option for all of us, because equivocating is so easy to do for us humans. And no one is immune to resorting to equivocation. Really. Think about it. And, if you’re not sure what equivocation means, look it up here, like I did, then think about it.

“What are you gonna do, Todd?” Danny asked me as we worked in the hot afternoon. “What’s your plan after LA?”

I equivocated, of course, mumbling something about Texas but also about staying in LA. Danny processed my response, his equivocation radar – along with his bullshit detector – easily picking up on my uncertainty. He squinted his eyes as he peered close to the window trim he was painting with a very little brush as he told me, “You can go somewhere and work for a coupla’ years – Alaska or on ships – then come back, buy ya a motorcycle and just ride around. If nothing happens by the time the money runs out, worst case scenario is your right back to where you are now, right? You got nothing to lose. Me, I gotta wife and kids, I can’t do nothin’ like that.”

On Friday morning at 9am it was already 90˚. Luis, myself, The Great Warrior and our friend, Kelly, hung out in the driveway outside the bungalows.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” said The Great Warrior. “My computer told me it was supposed to cool off today.”

The Gloom...

The Gloom…

Later on I sat dumbly by the window, though no breeze came through at all. I had things to do but couldn’t wrest the willpower from my laziness to do anything. So I sat there, unsure of absolutely everything. Those gloomy visions came rushing in again.

Jason, the tenant in the neighboring bungalow was working on his motorcycle, just outside my window. He’d been working on the bike all summer – taking it apart completely, putting it back together, tuning the engine all day, then taking it apart piece by piece again. Sometimes I think Jason will never ride the motorcycle, that his work on the bike is the sole purpose of his having a bike. He was meant only to put that bike together, take it apart, I thought, a steady practice on his off days to bring together his physical being with his spiritual. Like Gandhi and his spinning wheel, or something like that.

“How’s the bike, Jason?” said John, another tenant in the compound of bungalows. John was from Georgia, and spoke in a high-pitched, slow, hung over and stoned southern accent.

“I’s good, man,” answered Jason – from Alabama – equally as slow.

“Gettin’ her runnin’?”

“Prolly pretty soon.”

“Man, it’s hot, ain’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“I gotta work in this shit.”

“Yeah,” said Jason, laying on his back, turning a bold with a wrench, “me too.”

“Hey, man,” continued John, “I checked out this video the other night. It was a bunch a videos all put together. Global warming and shit and floodin’ and stuff we all know’s happenin’ but when it’s all right there in front a ya it’s like ‘oh, shit, man’…you know?”

“Sure.”

“I mean the temperature’s risin’ all over the place with pollution and all, overpopulation and no more food left. And there’s no bees and entire flocks of birds are fallin’ out of the sky, man.”

“Uh, huh.”

“Well, were livin’ in some f#$ked up times, I tell ya.”

The stage is clear for another Run...

The stage is clear for another Run…

John wandered back into his bungalow. Jason continued working on the motorcycle. I got a text from my mother, letting me know my sister just had a baby girl. They named her Arabella Rose Cirio, after her great-grandmother who came here all the way from Italy in the old-timey days. It was exciting news. Another baby, another run at Humanity, another chance of another one of us to live a life beyond the scope of her imagination, as long as she keeps cool in the heat.

Jason was still working on his bike at 1:54pm, when the wind picked up and cooled things down a little.

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.

“No.”

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

“No.”

“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.

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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!”

“Hey there!” replied the nobleman.

“PT passed away, man. Tuesday.”

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

“Yeah…”

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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…