Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Key to San Jose

My first roommate in college was a beauty queen. She was Pennsylvania's Jr. Miss in 1982 and she hailed from Allentown, PA. Someday I will tell the whole sordid story of our very long month in a small dormitory room together—her story of me is probably almost as horrible as my story of her, no two girls were more mismatched to share 45 square feet and a walk-in closet together. Her side of the room was covered with photographs, most notably a photo of her, in one of her myriad of duties as Pennsyvania's Jr. Miss, presenting the Key to Allentown to Billy Joel for his hit song which immortalized the coal mining town's economic woes, simply called "Allentown". I adored the song, until my shacking up with the beauty queen—to this day, if I hear a Billy Joel song, her crowned being haunts me. I don't know what twinkled and sparkled most in that photo, her crown or Joel's capped teeth.

But, I hold out the small hope that someday, I will be presented with the Key to San Jose. Preferably by a beauty queen. This would make my life somehow, complete. Really, it might be all I ask, at least, for now, my good readers of San Jose.


the bbc reported today
that the cossacks are emerging
as a strong political influence
in russia these days
they have reached numbers and strength
not seen since the time of the czars
and president putin welcomes
this growing trend

apparently, they have taken
their horses
their uniforms
their wonderful hats
and their humongous swords
out of storage
and they are proudly
marching and galloping
about the countryside
and in small russian cities

video footage
found the cossacks
participating in their
cavalry games
(terrorist training camps?)
horses heads low and reaching
as they pounded the dusty fields
swinging sabers
beheading unseen enemies
as round faced women in kerchiefs
cooked big pots of stew

seems to me
this could be the wave of the future,
like some weird version
of road warrior
mel gibson galloping into los angeles
on a little ragged horse.

what’s next?

Summer, 2003

Turkish Delight

The day before the war began
I found a beautiful green box
of Turkish Delight
The photo on the box
boasted a silver platter strewn
with pistachios and the delightful sweets
contained inside
I opened the box
and spread open the tissue paper
to find a generous pile of the pink
and sugared candies
The powdered sugar rose
in a little delicate cloud
that touched my lips and nose
Sweet like nothing sweet
I picked a candy
and felt its soft give to my fingers
I gladly inspected its sugared skin
and its glacene middle.
I ate the candy,
and realized that I had never
had a Turkish Delight.
I had no idea up until that little moment
what a Turkish Delight was.
It melted and broke in my mouth.
It made me want to lie down and
eat another.
Turkish Delight
Turkish Delight
I closed the box.
I decided to save the rest for later.

-- May, 2002

Paul Bowles says:

At first there would be memories—small, precise images complete with the sounds and odors of a certain incident in a certain summer. They had not meant anything to her at the time of experiencing them, but now she strove desperately to stay with them, to relive them and not let them fade into the enveloping darkness where a memory lost its contours and was replaced by something else. The formless entities which followed on the memories were menacing because indecipherable, and her heartbeat and breathing accelerated at this point. "As though I'd had coffee," she thought, although she never drank it. Whereas a few moments earlier she had been living in the past, she was now fully surrounded by the present instant, face to face with senseless fear. Her eyes would fly open, to fix on what was not there in the blackness.

From Paul Bowles' Too Far From Home (The Stories of Paul Bowles)

Monday, September 27, 2010

waiting for the click

that click in my head . . .

and trying to remember who said that
while waiting at the light
in front of the fire house
i look into the fireman's kitchen and its lit
and neat and the coffee maker seems to be
waiting like the two fireman
who are bent over a meal
at the window
their broad shoulders
and flat brows
similar, like brothers
they are always ready i suppose
waiting for the bell to go off
while i am waiting for that click
in my head

and on the road home
near the water treatment plant
i see fire
small and shouting orange
brilliant on this
our first gray fall evening
the flames undulate
in a hibachi
on a covered porch
the rain coming down in sheets
off the small tin roof
someone has just lit the coals
and they're back inside now
behind the screen door
there's a flash of tv blue
the arsonist is
watching the news
putting pepper on a cold raw steak
opening a beer
waiting for the click

and then i remember
when i'm just past
the krishna temple and over the highway
i look west
and the lanes below
are a world of water
and mist
and trucks from far off lands
and i remember—
it was Newman
in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
that's how it is Maggie
that's how it is . . .

The Spoils of Rain . . .

mud . . .

end of September

and we're approaching gold . . .

Sunday, September 26, 2010

10:41 pm Sunday

and the rain has finally gotten here . . . just when the dust in our throats had become almost too much to bear, the rain stepped off a distant train and unpacked her bag, she's dancing on my rooftop now and running down my window panes and driving dust to the next town.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

In which I find Hemingway's Lost Stories . . .

Hemingway & Hadley the Forgetful

a dream:

on the subject of Hemingway's lost stories, the ones Hadley left on the train in Switzerland . . . the dream began with my thinking someone should re-write the stories, as an exercise; attempt to write like Hemingway and recreate what those stories might have been (Dogfish! Get on that, okay? or Liotta, but he's AWOL these days) -- then the dream turned into a search for the stories and I was in a train station in Geneva. I spoke to a woman who told me to go see this old watchmaker who had been a train conductor . . . she gave me his name and address. She said he had the stories in a leather satchel. She said he might sell me the stories.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

her theme song . . .

from the beginning of time, before Beck even wrote it, he wrote it for her . . . long ago and far away, Wolfy got a letter from her friend A. in Sweden describing her fantastic night spent at a Peter Gabriel concert, A. said, "There I was, in a crowd of thousands, and Gabriel had no idea that I was there and that I am actually the One for him -- that I love him above anybody else." Loser! and so that is why she and I have been lifelong friends . . .

Mellow Gold "Loser" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lost & Found

When we bought our place in the woods ten and a half years ago there was a millstone laying on its side on the bank of the creek that runs along the front side of the property. This was no ordinary millstone, it was at least four feet in diameter and a good foot and half thick. It was unbudgeable and covered in a carpet of velvet moss -- and it appeared to have been in that spot for at least a century. Our road is named for the mill that once stood near the falls on the Eno River, about two miles from our driveway. The mill is long gone, but the falls remain. Its protected by a local environmental organization now and serves as a swimming hole and a fishing spot for local folks. Its a beautiful neighbor.

The millstone was not only on the bank of the creek, but it was at the bottom of the steep hill that runs from the corner point of our land; thick with poplars and river birch. When we found the millstone, we immediately gave it a story. The stone was obviously unused, its grooves were deep and its center was perfectly honed -- this stone had never turned on a wheel, had never ground corn or grain of any kind. It was a virgin millstone and one that had been made with great care and by someone able to deal with a thing of great size and weight. Here’s what we figured happened:

The millstone was finally finished, late at night, perhaps in the early spring. The next morning man who made the stone hitched his two red mules to a strong cart and gathered a few neighbors to assist him in winching the new stone into the wagon. The neighbors were impressed with the quality of the millstone -- this might have been the finest stone he ever made. It was early morning when they began the short trek from his farm to the mill down on the Eno River. A fine cold rain began to fall, the sun didn’t seem to rise that day and instead of it getting warmer, the morning got colder and the rain turned to sleet. The red mules bent their muzzles to their chests, and laid their ears back against the elements. The men huddled in the wagon with their collars upturned and their hats pulled down over their brows. They were optimistic, it was only three or so miles to the mill, where they would unload the new stone, share some hot cider and head back home. But the fates were against them that morning. As they approached the curve on the old trading road, one of the mules, the one named John, took a misstep, and his sister Mary became very annoyed with him, she bumped him with her hip, and this cause John to slip further. The hill was upon them now and the descent became unwieldy and the sleet was deafening, like being at the bottom of a silo as the corn filtered through, and the men rocked too and fro in the wagon. The wheels of the wagon slipped, the mules strained in their traces, and the stone went into cahoots with gravity. All was lost -- the wagon teetered and then capitulated to the millstone and its cohort gravity -- the rear wheel of the wagon cut loose and the bed of the wagon kneeled down and the millstone met the earth and rolled like the Lord intended it to, much more so than craftsman ever wished, and down the hill the stone went, taking out a barbed wire fence and much to the surprise of some cows that lived on the facing hill, the stone came to a horrendous landing on the bank of the creek.

The craftsman, the man who made the great stone could only do one thing; jump from the faltering wagon and go to the head of his good mules and steady them as his neighbors went this way and that. It was tragedy enough that he had lost his millstone and the money he would be payed by the miller for it, but to lose his mules would be calamity. The sleet ignored the event and kept on falling and the men’s hat brim’s filled with the frozen stuff and one of them thought, “if only this were diamonds in my hat!” Two of the men bounded down the hillside and attended to the barbed wire fence -- no sense in letting a neighbor’s cow’s get loose because of their accident. The cows looked on as the men mended the fence and a March calf bucked and ran to the millstone that lay like a body, half in the creek and half on the bank. There it would stay for a century.

The previous owner of our property told us he considered having the stone moved up to the house, as a dramatic center piece to his vegetable garden. But he never found anyone who could figure out how to get the stone out of its resting place without tearing the hillside to pieces with a front end loader. So the stone remained in its sacred resting place. The moss that grew on the stone and the agave plants nearby gave the millstone a temple quality. It was spring when we purchased the property and there were trilliums and heartleaf growing in abundance near the stone. We considered it practically sacred.

Fall came, our first fall in our new home. The leaves set afire with color, the air became cool. We readied ourselves for our first winter on this hill with firewood. And something incredible happened. I took the dogs for a walk on a late September afternoon and as was our new custom, we went to the creek to play in the shallow water and make our offering to the mill stone. But it was gone! The stone was loosed from its mossy grave! There was a muddy hole on the bank where the stone once presided and there were four-wheeler tracks up the hill leading toward the road. Some saplings had been cut -- not broken, but CUT with handsaws. There was some rope left behind and a rusted chain. Thieves! The dogs and I ran home. I was breathless when I burst through the door to tell my husband the news. He ran to the creek to confirm my story and returned red-faced and angry and sad. We spent the evening in mourning for our mill stone. Who could have taken the stone? Where did it go? Did they trespass in broad daylight? Or had they come by the light of the moon? Our temple was disappeared - kidnapped!

I went to work the next day and bent quietly over mapping data and ecological points of interest in an ever growing database of southeastern natural areas and the task was beginning to wear me out. I told a coworker of my disappeared stone. He raised an eyebrow and asked me if I had called the sheriff? What could the sheriff do? Take tire tread marks? The sheriff and his deputies had other worries in my county; the case of a missing mill stone would not be a priority to them. I fought traffic all the way home. I played the Rolling Stones loudly and planned a walk with the dogs that would avoid the mill stone’s empty abode. And then I had an idea! It was completely insane, but those kinds of ideas are my specialty! To make myself and my husband feel better about the disappearance of our mill stone, I decided to place a Lost & Found ad. I rolled up the driveway and scuttled the dogs to the yard, opened a bottle of wine and called the local newspaper -- a tiny paper of only a few pages, read by farmers with columns like Mrs. Ray’s Ramblings in which she complements the weather of the past week (be it good or bad, she never distinguished) and then offers up a recipe for pie and announces which of her kinfolk will be visiting the area in the next week or so. The newspaper secretary answered the phone, "News of Orange!"

“Lost and Found please,” I demanded, very determined, and the secretary with a thrill in her voice said, “That would be me! I am the receptionist AND I am responsible for the Lost and Found column.”

“Terrific!” I said. “I want to place an ad.”

“Lost or Found?” she asked brightly.


“I’m sorry. Please go ahead.” I could tell that she always apologized to those who placed Lost ads. And to those who had found something, I believed that it was possible that she felt slightly congratulatory of them.

“Okay - Lost: One Mill Stone.”

“Excuse me? Could you repeat that?”

“Yes, Lost: One Mill Stone. Approximately four feet in diameter and weighing, hmmm, I dunno, weighing ALOT. Maybe four hundred pounds!” There was silence at the other end. Had she hung up on me? “M’am, are you there?”

“Oh, yes, I’m here. But I don’t understand. How could you lose a mill stone? Something so large?” She was perplexed, as she should have been.

“Well, it wasn’t exactly LOST. Someone removed it from my property.”

“Oh. So its STOLEN, not LOST. Maybe you should call the sheriff.” I wondered if she was miffed with me.

“We thought of that. But Sheriff Lindy has enough on his plate, don’t you think?”

“Oh yes. I don’t do the Crime Column, but I read it. Its very long. Very long indeed. And your mill stone . . . was it in your yard?”

“No M’am, it was in our woods.”

“Oh, well, then, maybe the people who took it didn’t know anyone cared.”

“Yes, I think that might be the case. But my husband I do care and we hope the ad will let them know that. But mainly we just want to place the ad to make ourselves feel better. To make ourselves feel as though we made some sort of effort to recover the stone. When someone steals something that belongs to you, its a terrible feeling, isn’t it?”

“Oh yes, its a terrible, helpless feeling. Okay then, go on, so far I have: Lost: Mill Stone. Approx. four feet in diameter and four hundred pounds . . . ”

And so we wrote a brief but compelling Lost ad, ending with a simple direction: If found, please call . . .

The ad appeared in the next edition of the paper. I bought the paper along with a basket of groceries for dinner one night after work. I read the carefully crafted ad while waiting in line. The ad made me smile. I had made an effort to find my wayward stone, I had no hope of ever seeing it again, but at least the community at large would know of our loss. They would understand the implications. A theft had been committed.

That evening the phone rang while we ate supper. We ignored it and let the answering machine pick it up. A somewhat shaky man’s voice came over the machine, “Hello? Hi? Um, I’m calling about your ad in the paper. The lost mill stone?”

I looked at my husband and he looked at me, “Pick it up!” Py said.

I practically flipped my chair over and dashed to the phone, “Yes? Hello? Hello?”

“Yes, M’am. Hey, I’m calling about your ad in the paper.”

“Yes, that’s our ad. About the lost mill stone. Do you know something?”

“Well, yes, yes I do. My name is Jerry. Jerry Garrett. I live across the road from you folks.”

“Oh! Jerry, so good to meet you. We haven’t been neighborly. We haven’t met any of the neighbors yet. I’m Shannon.”

“Well, hey Shannon. I’m afraid I haven’t been very neighborly myself.”

“Ah well, you know, people are busy. And we all live up here in the woods with the houses far apart. Its hard to be neighborly, really. So did you see something? Did you see the people who took the stone?”

“Not exactly.”


“I mean to say, well. . . my Aunt, she called me tonight and told me she seen the ad in the paper and she told me to call you right away.”

“She did? Why did she do that?”

“She’s a good Christian . . . that’s why, really. And I’m afraid I’m not such a good Christian and well, she’s always after me to improve myself.” I was beginning to think my neighbor was just nuts.

“Well, Aunts are like that, they want their nephews to improve, always improve.”

“Well, Shannon, the reason I haven’t been so neighborly isn’t because I haven’t come over to introduce myself.”

“Okay . . .”

“See, well . . . okay, here goes! I stole that mill stone of yours.”

“You did?!”

“ I --- yeah, I did. But I didn’t know it was yours. I thought that land down there was just some land that no one cared about. I didn’t know it belonged to anyone who lived nearby. And well, I spotted that stone while hunting a few years back, and I thought my wife would really like it in the garden. So, a few days I ago, I got some buddies together and we dragged it outta there with two four-wheelers and some chains. I surprised my wife with it in the driveway. She cried and told the whole family what I done and how happy she was. Well, she told my aunt and my aunt saw your ad today. And well, she called me and then the whole damn family and said, Jerry better return that stone!

“Oh, wow. Jerry!” I was speechless. Py stood there, he was dying to know what was being said. I put up my hand, shhhh, shhhhh, hold on, wait now, I motioned to him.

“So, well, we can get the stone back to you this weekend, but I don’t know about putting it back down there in the creek. Do you want it back in the creek?”

“Gosh, Jerry, I guess not. Although, it was beautiful there. I guess, you will need to bring it up here to the house. And we’ll put it next our garden . . . but now I feel bad for your wife.”

“Oh gosh no, she’s mad as hell at me now. She wants me to get that stone out of the driveway and back to its rightful owner as soon as possible.”

“Yes, I can understand.”

“Now, can I ask you somethin’?”

“Yes Jerrry?”

“Did y’all call the sheriff?”

“No, no we didn’t.”

“Well, now that you know who took the stone and trespassed on your land -- I mean we tore it up -- we can fix that, you know, clean up the tire marks. Well, are you going to call the sheriff now? Press charges?”

“Oh no, no Jerry. There’s no reason to involve the law. None at all. Just bring the stone back. Saturday morning.”

“Yes, Saturday morning. Thank you. Thank you for being understanding.”

“Hey, no. Thank you for calling. And thank your Aunt for reading the paper!”

The following Saturday the mill stone made yet another journey: up my driveway and by way of seven men and a winch, it was laid to rest below a fine grove of trees within view of my kitchen window.

FOUND: one mill stone.

Thank you Aunt Garrett.

I Asked For a Story . . .

So, last night, I put up a request on my FB page for a story, "just tell the story -- any story -- tell me a story about walking down the hall" and THIS is the story my longtime friend Bill sent me -- thank you Bill, you rose to the occasion!

And one of the neatest things about Bill's story is that I remember him packing up that VW Bug -- I vividly remember him leaving Greensboro. Py and I bought Bill's dark room equipment and his leather sofa. And just weeks before he left another friend of ours had attempted to move to SF and didn't make it. He made it half way across the country and then he came back. It wasn' t his destiny, but it was Bill's destiny for sure.

Here is Bill's story about walking down the hall:

Well Shannon, you might recall that 1989 was the year that I moved from North Carolina to California with my sights set on San Francisco.

It’s amazing that I even made it. Remember my old Beetle? It wouldn’t start and I was dumb enough, at... the time, to drive the damn thing across the USA without having it, first, repaired. This was OK when a hill was handy; I’d just let her coast to enough speed then kick it into gear. Worked like a charm in NC but became a much greater issue around the time I reached Kansas. I remember running alongside, car packed to the gills and getting JUST enough speed… if I timed it right, I could jump in and hit the clutch before it slowed down…

Anyway, I made it, arriving at the Berkeley Marina around 3 am one morning not really knowing where I was but aware that San Francisco was just across the Bay. Looking back, I must have been EXTREMELY naïve thinking that the $400.00 in my wallet would be enough to begin a new life.

I didn’t know anyone but had a phone number; a friend of a friend. She was very sweet and kind to me and allowed me to crash at her flat for a month while I got my act together. Something that she said that I will always remember… “You can always find a way to live in San Francisco as long as you love it and want to be here.”

I really did want to be in San Francisco, REALLY REALLY REALLY badly. I was in love with the city before I ever saw it and being there that first year felt like being at the center of the universe.

So I made it work. I actually was hired at my first job on the telephone, just two days after my arrival. It was a restaurant (of course) and it’s still there today. I knew that I wanted to live in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood (lovingly known simply as “The Haight), and moved into an old Victorian right on the panhandle of Golden Gate Park, just a few short blocks from the corner of Haight and Ashbury.

It was a bit whacky during this time. Well, honestly, more than just a little.

I ended up sharing this wonderful place that was built in 1876, I think… it was. is, CLASSIC SF. The whacky part was that I shared this flat with a somewhat notorious California Punk Band known as RKL ( It was all great fun in a weird sort of way and I really loved them but they were a bit over the top. I’m lucky that I got out of there alive (seriously, most of these guys are long dead now from drug or other horrendous abuse.

I, myself was never inclined to be so completely disrespectful of my body as they were, but being the pot-head that I was at the time I have to admit that I stayed pretty stoned off of the green stuff of about 8 or 9 months. There was a guy who drove down from Humbolt Co for his weekly pilgrimage to sell the product of his labor on the strip. As a friendly gesture for allowing him to take breaks during the day at our flat, he would dump a grocery bag full of Humbolts finest on our coffee table and this would last almost until the following weekend.

So far, I’m into my second month on the west coast. I was 29 and by 30th was a few short weeks away. I guess that I should pause and make a disclaimer: That was 21 years ago.

For my 30th birthday, in October, my housemates threw a party for me. One of my housemates was Stephanie, here BF was Chris, RKL’s guitarist. Anyway, she was (and still is I think) pretty well connected with the Haight St crowd. Come to think of it, most of the people that I met during this time were well connected and were friends with several people who are now fairly famous (or fairly dead). We were sort of pals, in a platonic way and she made a point to introduce me to a variety of people and none of these fit any stereotype.

So for my birthday, she buys me this HUGE glass bong. It was the sort of bong that would impress any well-respected pot head and was the perfect centerpiece to accompany the trimmings on the coffee table.

One morning, a week or so later, Stephanie decides that she wants to show me some of the cool hidden spots in the area (well, honestly, they aren’t that hidden, but I didn’t know that). The rest of the household is in Santa Barbara and I don’t remember why other than that’s where most of them came from.

So, it’s October. We started our day with the usual morning ritual around the coffee table doing the wake and bake with my nice shiny new bong. The plan is to first roll a fatty and drive up to Twin Peaks for a bit of celebration before heading off into the mysterious territories of hidden San Francisco in my still crippled VW; much easier to locate a hill though ; )

(I suppose I should add this disclaimer: morning ritual AT THE TIME, which was looong ago and almost forgotten by me until you asked me for a story).

So FINALLY we are leaving. I remember walking down the hall and Stephanie was first out the door, myself following; she was rather bossy and always the first one out the door. Just as I am crossing the threshold, I pause…

“Wait,” I said.

“What?” She said.

“I’ve gotta do something.”

This was a much bigger deal than it sounds, Shannon, because Stephanie was impatient at times and I could tell that she wanted to leave that very moment. I was too stoned to really care and was more concerned with the issue at hand.

“I think we’re going to have an earthquake today. No, seriously, for all I know we are going to have an earthquake today and my bong is going to shatter to pieces”

So I go back into the living room and grab my bong which is still on the coffee table. Gently I pick it up, take it to my bedroom look for a safe place to stash it.

I ended up placing it inside of my dad’s army duffle and hung it on a hook ...just inside my closet. I could tell Stephanie was getting a bit irritated but this is something that I was convinced was necessary or I would not enjoy the day.

OK, so we left, pushed my Bug to a start and headed in a roundabout way towards Twin Peaks. I remember having a laugh at the tourists up there. It was foggy that day (or that hour of that day at that particular location… SF microclimates) and several people wearing Bermuda shorts were gathered around the guy selling sweat shitrs. We hung out for a while and got even more stoned. I looked out towards the Ocean and Golden Gate Park. It was really a typical San Francisco sort of day in many ways but it also felt a bit surreal (or maybe that was just the altered state of illusion distilled from the Humbolt County KGB).

Next we drove all around the Park and stopped to watch the Bison range, which I thought was unusual but everything was unusual to me that day. There are two windmills just where the park turns into Ocean Beach. We roamed around there for a short while before figuring out that neither of us had eaten that day. It seemed to be early in the day but I found out later that it was closer to dinner time. After taking a hard look at the waves from the Pacific, we decided to grab a bite at the Cliff House, just north towards lands end. This is an are that was once Majestic but presently mostly ruins of the old Sutro Bath House and Original Cliff House.

What they call Ciff House today is really just a tourist trap in a simple building with a restaurant. So, anyway, you have to imagine driving along the coast there. The drive begins flat, by the beach and rises as the straightness of the road begins to give way to curves as elevation rises.

We were just dead middle of the first curve when a really strange sensation was felt by both of us. It’s hard to describe because I was completely stoned off of the green stuff.
What I felt though, as I was veering left into the curve, was that I was actually moving towards the right. Then, I felt as though I was driving on Jello. It was one of the strangest sensations that I have ever felt and I do not honestly know how to describe it better; I guess you had to be there.

So I’m in this scratch my head feeling of confusion and stopped my car completely thinking that something might be seriously wrong with the old bug. I remember trying to calculate the odds of having 4 tires go flat simultaneously as that was the only logic that I could muster. I got out and walked all around, under, over the car to try to figure it out.

(Weeks later I had a memory of several other people doing the same thing with their own cars).

Well, I just came to the conclusion that I was not only stoned but in San Francisco and that strange things just seem to happen in this city. It got much stranger for me as the day progressed. I couldn’t help but notice that it appeared a bit chaotic outside of the Cliff House, but by then I was beginning to accept the unexpected.

We never did notice a host or hostess to seat us, so we just seated ourselves. Having a fairly long history in the restaurant industry (even then), I did begin to feel a bit bothered that no one seemed to notice, or even care, that we were waiting for someone to take our order. Just about the time I was ready to hunt someone down for service, both myself and Stephanie began to become aware of what might have happened. Honestly, we were both a bit slow and in a daze but in our own silence we simply began to overhear the conversations going on around us.

I guess probably figured out, Shannon, that we were in an earthquake. I felt a bit stupid, I admit, and even laughed at my own stupidity for not realizing what had happened. I laughed a bit more at Stephanie though because she grew up in SF and “should have known.”

On the drive back to the flat, it became apparent that this was not your average earthquake. There were sirens blaring all around us and bricks and other housing material scattered about; more so as we got closer to the Haight, even though this area was somewhat protected by bedrock.

I’ll never forget walking up the front steps. There was this small cloud of what dust leaching out under the cracks in the door. I found out later that this was from the original 1876 plaster that covered the walls. All of the plaster inside vaporized and it was several hours before anyone could enter.

You can imagine the mess inside Shannon. It looked like the entire house was in shambles, and it was but not nearly as much as many others. It was still a bit cloudy inside when I finally was able to enter. Everything was overturned and covered with white. It looked like it survived a direct hit from a drone bomber. After glancing around in amazement, I went into my bedroom and opened my closet door. Inside was a continuation of the same insane mess that was everywhere else but the army duffle remained fixed on the hook, exactly where I left it. Inside was my birthday present, as nice and shiny as ever.

I broke it 2 days later, while washing it in the kitchen sink and decided to go camping for a few days.

PS: I guess I should add that this is just the beginning of this story. ; )

Well, it's now after 3 am. Please forgive the typos (here = her, etc.) I suppose that I should have, at least, hit the "check spelling" button on my 'puter, but this... is the only story I could think of about walking down the hallway and I wanted to share it while it was on my mind. Warm Wishes, Shannon! Please wish Pyro a Happy Birthday for me!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Oranges

It wasn’t that she didn’t want the oranges. It was their timing. The UPS man drove up the driveway just when she was getting out of the shower. She heard the dogs bark and she knew someone was coming. She bundled up in her terry robe, the one that she stole from that hotel . . . the hotel in Dominica, where she met the Russian who invited her to go fishing with him . . . and she went to the door and it was beginning to snow.

The sky was low, touching the tops of the bare poplars, and she stood there in her bare feet and waited, while the dogs barked behind her. The UPS man came bounding from the truck and she watched him, in his brown pants and his brown down jacket and his brown watch cap with the yellow letters -- U P S and she felt sorry for him, because he drives around with no door. Couldn’t he fall out of the truck? Isn’t it cold? But here he came, and the dogs, all of her dogs, pushed at the back of her knees and she put her hands down and felt their cold noses on her fingers, and snow flakes fell on her nose and the UPS man came with this crate that was filled with oranges. He put the crate at her feet and asked her to sign -- she took the thing that looked like a pen and scrawled her name on the little screen that always reminded her of an etch-a-sketch and her signature came out looking something like what she imagined it would look like when she was very old and in a nursing home, signing a piece of paper that approved the authorities to put her in a room with seven other elderly women who would scream in their sleep.

But, she was only signing for a crate of oranges, sent to her from Sunny Florida. “They’re saying we could get 13 or 14 inches,” said the UPS man and she handed him the pen and looked out across her yard . . . the big brown truck was fading away with the shower of snow and its exhaust billowed and made her think she would like to be standing in it, asphyxiating herself. Her feet were cold and her hair was wet. She wondered if the UPS man wondered why she was just out of the bath at 1 in the afternoon. She’d been up since six a.m., but he didn’t know that, did he?

“14 inches . . . that would stop the world.” She said and her dogs went quiet. They always went quiet the moment she spoke to strangers on the doorstep.

The UPS man turned and he was gone into his brown truck and she watched him speed down the driveway. The truck left tracks in the driveway, yes, it was snowing alright.

She looked down at the crate. An audacious card with buxom girls embracing a palm tree was affixed to the top of the crate, she swept the snow away and read the message:

To: Tina

From: Harry & Frank

Hey! We’re in Florida and wish you were here! Girl . . . oooo . . . oooo

She thought, “They don’t wish I was there . . . ” and then she bent down and picked up the crate. It was heavy. Real heavy. “Thanks guys, send me oranges for the snow storm, thanks.”

The dogs crowded her as she carried the crate in the kitchen. She put it on the floor and kneeled down, the dogs put their noses to the crate, “NO, those are not tennis balls. Those are oranges!”

She looked out the kitchen window. It was snowing harder now. She was relieved she had plenty of firewood. She held her oldest dog’s face, she leaned into him, and cried, “Power’s going to go out, you know it is, always does. But Harry and Frank sent oranges. Thank God for Harry and Frank.”

Faux Haiku for Caitlyn . . .


somewhere below Tribeca
a girl named Rebecca
is texting on the subway

i'm on my way
she says
and hits send

Rebecca's boyfriend Frank
is too busy
to read the message

Frank is in the library
reading a first edition
of The Subterraneans

Some of the pages
have come loose
Frank rearranges them

He likes the book
in the new order
he has given it

Rebecca texts him again
are you there?
Frank where are you?

Rebecca is somewhere
under Little Italy now
the train goes dark

Sunday, September 19, 2010

wow . . .

do you

have one hour, eleven minutes and fifty-eight seconds to spare?


then you watch this because its so important and beautiful.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Jesus Lizard, Part Thirteen - The Dark

There was a tarantula in my shower -- I found him when I was unpacking my toiletries. He was sitting by the drain, waiting to pounce. I made haste to the front desk, "Can someone please remove the tarantula from my shower?" The small Mayan woman in the turquoise embroidered tunic smiled broadly, rose from her seat, disappeared into the kitchen, returned with a broom, and walked silently with me to my room.

The tarantula was gone -- the woman shrugged her shoulders and began to leave. I said, "No, please wait! He must be here somewhere." I began searching for the tarantula. I peered behind the toilet and under the sink. I scanned the walls of the bathroom. My Mayan stood in the doorway and her smile remained quietly on her countenance, but I could tell she wanted to leave. "Please, let's check the room too. Just a minute more. He can't have gone far, I mean, he's a tarantula, how fast are they? Are they fast? Oh wait, they can jump, they jump don't they?" I rattled on and my Mayan just nodded her head, she had no idea what I was saying. She smoothed her tunic along her round hips and shifted the broom from one hand to another, this was her polite and sweet way of telling me that she was bored with this Great Tarantula Hunt. She did lift the corner of the bedspread, gingerly and at a distance with her broom, so that I could look under the bed. I reached for my flashlight, but I was beginning to feel foolish. She wasn't worried about the tarantula, so then why should I?

I shrugged my shoulders, "Okay, well, so sorry to trouble you, thank you, gracias, gracias." And she was gone. I heard her leather sandals padding down the open air breezeway back to her station. Night was falling. It was time to dress for dinner.

We all gathered in the main hall. There were two tourist groups staying at the Tikal Inn for Thanksgiving, and so we were mingled with people from another important international ecological society and of course, I ended up cornered by the young girl leading them, younger than me, an ecologist of large opinion of herself. She had led her troupe quite expertly through the jungle, so expertly, that her in-country guide was able to take leave of them for the Thanksgiving holiday - he flew out by way of Flores that morning to visit his family back in the States. She was left alone with her bus driver and no first aid kit as far as I could tell. I mused to myself, if Nigel were to leave me with this band of sharp-fanged old people, they would sacrifice me to the Howler monkeys at sunrise and take off with London to some place that wasn't even on the itinerary -- they would be arrested by Federales and I would receive a post-mortem reprimand.

The cerveza was cold and plentiful and this was a blessing, because my companion droned on and on regarding her ecological work in the wilds of Oregon -- I held my own, somewhat, explaining that when I returned to the States I would be finishing up my Black River project. I had spent the past seven months mapping the entire river and all the tracts of land that we expected to protect along the river, an ancient black water river in the southeastern sector of North Carolina. Yes, spent my days and some nights bent, as if in prayer, over a digitizing tablet, entering each geographical coordinate as deftly as a Chinese calligrapher . . . beep, beep, beep, and occasionally I would look up at my monitor to see the river taking shape, becoming more and more river like, before my very tired eyes. Snap out of Bartelby!

There was some friendly competition between the pretty young ecologist and I -- we were loyal to our international ecological societies and we did our best to wrestle slightly and with the best of non-profit decorum to prove that our respective organizations were possibly the best to ever walk the earth, and to save the earth for that matter.

But bedtime was nearing, and more importantly, 10 p.m. was approaching and this my friends was when the generator that kept the Tikal Inn aglow would be turned off for the night. We were to be safely scuttled into our rooms when complete and total darkness fell like the trap door of a booby trap. There was no time for idle chatting with Nigel over the activities of the next day, no time to play a game or two of backgammon with London.

I closed the door to my room and I heard the last of the guests voices echo and sift away to be replaced by the chorus of tree frogs. The generator clicked and ran down, and I was gripped by a darkness I had never felt before. Ever. I lit my candle lantern and the light it struggled to give off was useless against this professional dark. This was ancient darkness, darkness that made the Mayan Indians sleep and dream of serpent goddesses. I took off my dress and put on my t-shirt and pajama pants -- and then I remembered the tarantula . . . I decided to close the bathroom door and skip my nightly ablutions, they could wait til morning. I slipped into the arms of my mosquito netting and fell into an uneasy slumber. Tomorrow there would be temples to climb.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Jesus Lizard, Part Twelve

The Tikal Inn had blue floors and it rambled and its stucco walls echoed and the place was not of the modern world at all -- it seemed to have been eaten by the rain forest and I wondered if we would disappear while we slept.

There was a pool that nobody swam in. It was enormous and inhabited by anole lizards and it gave the impression that monkeys drank from it at night under the moon.

But I swam in it. I had to. I needed to dive into its green waters and wash the dust and the fear of the Western Highway from my brow -- I felt like Esther Williams in a B-movie, the one in which Esther is kidnapped by Tyrone Power and taken by jeep into the jungle. She demands to swim. Tyrone won’t untie her. Esther screams -- she can see the jungle pool filled with lotus flowers, she simply must swim. Tyrone says he can’t trust her, he is certain she will escape, or worse, she will be devoured by the great river anaconda. Esther reasons with him, “And where exactly will I escape to? The border must be a thousand miles from here! You cad! Let me swim!” Power releases Esther and she makes a magnificent dive into the tannin waters. Suddenly Bob Hope appears! I told you it was a B movie.

As I swam, I watched Rockbottom stroll through the court yard. She paused, put her meaty hands on her hips and called to me, “Wolfy! Miss Wolfy!”

I continued my wobbly breaststroke and ignored her, “Miss Wolfy! I wouldn’t swim in that pool. Its filthy.” I dove down, and kicked and kicked, I touched the bottom and wished I could stay there for tea with Esther.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Death of a Hound

Cap had been trying to get home for three days. Cap’s man had taken him out rabbit hunting just after dawn on the first day. The hound rode in the front of the man’s old pickup, with the torn leather seats and the faint smell of tobacco coming up from the floor boards, like he had every day for three years. Cap rode with his head out the window, taking in the almost cool morning air - it was the dead of summer.

Cap and the man went to new ground but their routine was the same. The man cast Cap out for rabbit and the man patiently waited for the black and tan hound to do his job. But this morning the hound passed the briars that smelled sweet of rabbit and he headed fast and strong on to a smell that he had never tasted before. It took Cap across a field of soybeans and into a rough clay ditch that seemed to run on for miles. Cap barely heard the man whistle for him, he barely heard the man call him back - he was intoxicated by this new smell and he had to follow it to its end.

The ditch gave way to another field, this one fallow with rag weed and small thorny locust trees. The midday sun began to beat down on Cap’s long dark back but he didn’t rest, the smell was carrying him farther than he had ever gone before.

When night began to fall, Cap reached the end of the smell. It collided with a cold running creek and fell away as suddenly as it had appeared that morning. Cap was glad to stand in the water and drink, then he layed down in the shallow water and wondered when the man would come and put him in the truck to go home. Cap rose out of the creek, exhausted and set himself down on a sandy bank as the cicadas started their evening concert. A thrush announced the rising moon. Cap was hungry and decided to wait there for the man. He fell asleep on the bank and slept harder than he had ever slept.

Early the next morning the grumbling in Cap’s stomach woke him up. He was surprised not to be on his old rug on the man’s back porch, but instead he was curled up under honeysuckle near the creek that he had found the previous night. Cap stood up and stretched out his front legs and then had a good shake. He trotted up a small deer trail and stood for a moment. He listened for the man to call him, instead he heard an oven bird and group of crows off in the distance. He sat and he decided to wait there for a while, certain that the man would come.

But the man never came and now Cap was working to find a familiar smell to lead him back home. He looked for the cow field and the old lady’s garden filled with green tomatoes, but nothing of his usual world was nearby. Cap had been lost before, but he always got home to the man.

On the afternoon of the second day, he crossed a paved road and entered the rows of a tobacco field. He heard men working on the other end of the field and turned down another deer trail into the woods. A mole jumped out in front of him and Cap was on him in a moment. The hound ate the mole and lay down again to rest. He stayed in those woods most of the day out of the heat and out of sight.

Now it was the third day, the afternoon sun was burning down onto the hard dusty gravel road that Cap was traveling down. Cap’s blaze orange collar felt prickly in the heat and his tags made a lonely ring as he swung along. He turned on to a tree lined sandy road - he smelled water nearby and he slowed his walk to enjoy this chapel of shade. The road opened up to a large field with three old barns standing in the sun. Cap smelled rabbit and ground hog - but he knew to stay off the ground hog, the man beat him something awful for cornering a ground hog once. And he never ate rabbit.

The sandy road curved among the barns and then rolled down a hill to a pond. The pond was large and sparkling. Beyond it was grape vineyard - neat as a pin with its rows and rows of vines and thick with a summer’s growth of grapes and flowers. The grass around the vineyard and the pond was mowed and soft. The sky was brilliant summer blue with not a cloud floating overhead. Cap was drawn to the lively smell of the pond - he had not seen water since he left the creek, except for some muddy puddles on the road. Cap crossed the grass toward the pond and stopped for a moment. He thought he heard the man call his name, but he didn’t hear it again, so he went to the water’s edge. Cap liked the feel of the marshy clay as he walked into the pond. It was soft and so cool. He drank the water for a long time and then he continued into the pond and began to swim. His whole body was suddenly cool and bouyant. He felt revived and now even hungrier than he was before.

As he swam, two Canada geese came into his sight across the pond. They were swimming slowly near the reeds and they were unaware of Cap. Cap began to swim toward them. He could smell them in the water. He had chased geese before and damn near caught one last spring. The hound’s memory of almost catching that goose on a spring morning urged him to swim faster toward the pair.

Now the geese saw Cap swimming like an otter toward them. They began to paddle away from the reeds and toward the vineyard. Cap was within 30 yards of them now but they began to paddle harder. One of the geese called out. And the other goose began to flap her wings she lifted only slightly out of the water as though she were kicking into another gear, not to fly away. Cap continued to follow the birds.

The geese now turned and crossed the pond back toward the old barns and Cap followed suit. As they reached the reeds on that side, the geese once again turned and paddled back toward the place Cap had first seen them. Cap legs were working hard to bring him closer to the geese and just when he began to gain on them, it seemed, they would kick just a bit harder. They let out an occasional call and maybe flapped their wings, but they never took off in flight, they never got out on to the land to waddle around where Cap might have a better chance of seizing on, instead they just continued their laps, as though they were playing a game with Cap.

Now Cap was swimming harder than he had ever swum before. His long beautiful black tail was his rudder as he lapped the pond for the 6th time after the geese. Cap had swallowed a lot of water and it was starting to bother his ears. He had always been a good swimmer, but he had never swum this far or this long and certainly not on an empty stomach.

The geese didn’t seem to tire of their game with Cap. Perhaps they had a nest nearby. Cap let out a series of small yelps, just like the ones he would let out when he found rabbit for the man. He was tired and hungry, but he was excited by the chase that he had instigated. The sun on the water was bouncing everywhere, Cap was beginning to lose sight of the geese. Suddenly he ran nose first into a large floating stick - something like the sticks the man used to throw for him. He stopped and grabbed hold of the stick and spun around to see if the man was at the water’s edge. But he wasn’t. Now Cap had the heavy stick firmly in his jaws, and the geese were still paddling away. Cap tried to begin his chase again, but the stick was heavy and he tried to spit it out, but it was not use. Cap’s hind end and tail sank below the surface of the water, Cap desperately tried to right himself, but the more he tried, the more he seemed to sink.

Cap finally gave in to the dark water. He fell into a dream among the cool springs below the surface of the pond. And by now the geese had reached the shore where they had first entered the water for this chase. They rose up on to the land, waddled past the screen of tall reeds and settled themselves down where they were no longer pursued by the hound.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Jesus Lizard -- Part Eleven

We had lunch in the shade of an open air cantina near Flores . . . there was a man playing a rousing solo mariachi concert for us and the couple from Pennsylvania, the best birders in our crew danced -- they were avid cloggers, and they performed this jumpy self-conscious, but at the same time abandoned jig for us with Lake Peten stretching in the distance like the azure wing of a parrot and this was temporary relief from what was behind us, the thing that I couldn't get out of my mind.

Only an hour before, we had been sitting on the side of the Western Highway, some five or 10 miles past the rebel camp and some more miles before Flores. The bus came to a squealing halt -- the fan belt made an audible screech, something akin to a cat with its tail caught underfoot. The dust settled all around us and there was a collective resignation to the foibles of our camel.

Nigel hoisted himself from his seat and followed London down the steps and out the door of the bus. The yellow hood came up and I saw a puff of smoke -- it disappeared like a bird who was startled at the opening of the barn door. The murmuring began, everyone started standing up and groaning and stretching and I reminded myself that it was going to be a long night after this drive . . . there would be many requests for hemorrhoid remedy, there was no doubt about that, and i just hoped there would be enough to keep them all happy.

Nigel stepped back into the bus, "Hello everybody, good good, you're all up! Get your binoculars out, let's go for a stroll while London fixes the engine. Won't be a moment, no time at'all, but might as well walk about, stretch your legs, find some birds." I screwed up my face at Nigel -- walk about? Here? Was that a good idea? So close to the rebel camp? Nigel gave me a wink and I followed him outside, and he leaned into me and with an intimacy that I had earned for some reason he said, "So then, just walk up the road a bit, not too far. You take them, London might need my help."

"Me? But I don't know how to identify all those Honey Creepers."

"Oh, you underestimate your skills. Just keep everyone together, don't leave the road."


"What is it Wolfy"

"That belt, that's the last one we've got isn't it?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so."

"So what's London going to do, tie a knot in it?"

"No need for that -- the belt's intact."

"Oh, oh good." and then London came around the corner with the belt in his hand. It seemed to be shredded -- he asked me if I had my pocket knife, I did and handed it to London. "Nigel?"

"Don't worry Wolfy, London's got it under control."
"What's he doing?"

"Well, he's trimming, that's all he's trimming the shreds off the belt so it runs smoothly."

"So . . ."

"So, honestly, we'll be running on a belt that is half the width we need, but it'll hold."

"Can we get another belt in Flores?"

"Nope, no time to go to Flores, its out of our way. The belt will get us to Tikal and back. Say a little prayer, Wolfy."

"Nigel - I don't pray."

"Never too late to start!"

They all fluttered out the door. Their faces were red, they were tired. Lunch was going to be delayed and if there was one thing I had learned about these folks, it was that their stomachs were on time clocks much like that of horses or babies, restlessness would be followed by colicky behavior. But they wandered behind the bus, binoculars firmly pressed to their faces, "Oh look! A Slaty-tailed Trogan!" The birds would take their minds off their stomachs. The birds made me forget the fan belt for just a second, but I saw London discard the shredded bits of the belt into the jungle -- it hung in the air like a snake, and then it was gone. I began to pray.

The long dead Mayans must be really annoyed with what's become of their holy city Tikal. I mean they must be fairly ticked off -- the Spanish come in, terrify them with horses, kill them with muskets and cannons and virulent viruses, and then? A few centuries later they put an airstrip, a hotel, and a parking lot for tour buses at the base of their holiest collection of temples. And they employ the Mayans to maintain the hotel and a permanent tent city selling handwoven bracelets and belts, embroidered tunics, temple replicas that fit in the palm of pudgy tourists hands, and wall hangings depicting serpent goddesses and Bird of Paradise. The Mayan children accost the buses and they grab for your wrists and try to lead you into the tents. If you won't buy their stuff, won't you just give them some change? They like American dollars please. And you look into their beautiful faces, and the ghosts of shamen appear.

It was the day before Thanksgiving and the half-way point of our trip. I regretted not bringing a turkey made of tissue paper and cardboard cornucopias overflowing with maize and tobacco and walnuts. We were really far from home, really far, and it just caught me off guard that I would crave some reminder of the holiday that isn't so much about being Thankful, but more so about bellying up to a table with the ones you love.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


* passed a Hari Krishna taking his garbage can out to the end of the temple driveway this morning . . . his robes were creamy saffron and his sandals were autumn brown . . . i wondered what kind of garbage the Hari Krishnas make, i thought they were spiritually incapable of making garbage.

* sometime last week, in the afternoon, the air was as still as a praying mantis

* as i was driving home yesterday, i saw a piece a paper blow across Ben Johnson Road -- it was the first sign of winter, isn't that strange?

* my dog Pansy has been sitting for long periods under the big poplar in the backyard ever since she found a baby squirrel in the yard last weekend. She looks up into the tree tops, she’s waiting for another baby squirrel to fall.

* there are no walnuts this year, not a one . . . this is my tenth autumn in this house, on this hill, and my walnut trees have never been barren . . . how warm will winter be? i wonder

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It All Began With Intuition (A Facebook Poem . . . with thanks to my friends J. & A.)

J: INTUITION! Yes, I am talking to you, stranger. Look, I will gladly accept the occasional error, but this ignoring me entirely business has got to stop! I'm a woman, for God's sake; you are supposed to be mine! Don't make me give you up for tea leaves, because I will, if you don't start putting out real soon. I mean it.

Some Guy: I'm really pretty sure you are talking to someone else.

J: That was addressed to my M.I.A. intuition, Joel. Lately, it's been like I've lost my sense of smell or something.

S: A woman's intuition occasionally goes on holiday -- because, you see, its a woman too, it needs to lie on the beach and sip something cold preferably with a colorful paper umbrella in it . . . she'll be back, and better than ever!

J: What? This is an outrage! She's drinking cocktails on the beach, and didn't take me with her? I may have to get my hands on a magic eight ball in the meantime, then. Maybe this is an opportunity to diversify my portfolio of bad advice givers.

S: oh dear . . . its worse than i thought . . .

J: A friend declared it Epiphany Day... a good forecast, I'd say! Much more festive than Labor Day is to the somewhat glum underemployed.

S: I just saw Epiphany on the beach with Intuition -- they are drunk and seem to have lost their tops!

A: perhaps S, you may have a hunch where Articulation and Something Interesting to Say went off to as well?

S: Those two? They go on way too many holidays as far as I'm concerned. I think they're in a truck stop in Indiana conversing with some old Navajo woman right now, damn those two, and just when I need them most!

A: so they've been escaping you too? I feel like such a dumbass most the time these days. Silence is a better friend to me. More loyal.

S: Silence is a homebody.

J: Sometimes it is best just to listen. Think of it as a research phase.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

i need a hurricane

i need a hurricane
to forget you
to blow down my limbs
to carry off my leaves
to rattle my roof
to crack my chimney
i need a hurricane
to out my power
put out my lights
to cause a curfew
and sell out my batteries
make me cook
with an old camp stove
and defrost my freezer
i need a hurricane
to make my neighborhood obsolete
to ruin the pavement
put me in line
for water
and beg for candles
i need a hurricane
to keep me up all night
and make the dog howl
bring the mosquitoes
full of fever
from Dominica
then maybe
i’ll forget
what i
about you . . .