28 February 2009

Love Wine Glass Stone

Love is…

Wine, heady and strong, to be drunk whenever possible. The aroma, filling your nostrils with perfume and your head with memories of pleasures known and pleasures to be had. The colors, whether red or white or somewhere in between, artfully nuanced by Love, filling your mouth, rushing over the tongue, to fill the belly with warmth and bliss.

It fills the brain with passion, lust and the occasional madness. Madness that perhaps is not completely undesirable. It is madness with a purpose, is it not?

Love is…

The crystal glass, elegant and fragile, into which we pour the wine of ourselves. We open the bottle, remove the cork and let the liquid flow into the smooth curves of the vessel which we hope beyond reason will receive us. Wine splashes into the glass in languid curls, folding over themselves to rejoin in slowly settling ripples of deep, gemlike radiance. The glass a vessel we trust to catch us before we fall and dissolve in a million drops.

The glass is strong in some directions, but not in others. Drop it or knock it over and see it shatter in a cloud of tiny daggers, each carrying the full memory of love and the threat of bloodletting. The wine of our love spreads in a stain.

The risk we take, with a vessel so alluring. Yet we willingly, eagerly take the glass by the stem to bring the precious liquid to our lips. We have no choice but to drink.

Love is…

Rock and stone. The bones of the earth become the foundation of the things that hold us up. We see it as the end all, be all. Permanent and unbending, the thing we believe we can count on to always be there no matter the circumstance. And with its smooth coolness, the sleek granite countertop upon which we rest our glass of wine takes on the solidity of faith: It simply is, and we don’t question it.

Until that day we go to set the glass down, and like a chair pulled away by a prankster, the countertop is gone out from under. We watch helplessly as the glass cartwheels to the floor, disintegrating on impact.

The hands flutter helplessly, clawing at air in a futile attempt to grab the glass in mid-flight. We know the ultimate result, but we swat and flail just the same. Occasionally we catch it.

Love is...

Sometimes a bottle of wine we did not know we had, a glass hidden in a cabinet, a countertop obscured by dust. We only have to look again to find them, brush them off.

The bottle is open. The glass awaits. The counter gleams. A toast, dear friends: here’s to love, deep, rich and delicious. The stuff of life!

27 February 2009

Winter, Over

Blue sky, clear cold air.
And the seeds in my heart are
beginning to sprout.

26 February 2009

Books, Unwritten

At the table, in the sunlight streaming through the window, I sit and daydream on a cold and windy winter day. The golden sun spills across the dark wood, illuminating the whorls and lines that remind me of the polished shell of a casket, as it is lowered slowly into the ground. I press my hands hard into the blood-warm surface, bracing myself as a wave of dizziness threatens to knock me out of the chair in which I sit. It passes, and my feet find purchase on the floor not unlike the ocean bottom. I breathe deep.

I could sleep
When I lived alone
Is there a ghost in my house?”

A quavery voice croons from the radio. I stifle a flash of irritation; how did he know I was thinking of ghosts? And I haven’t slept well in many moons.

I do dream of ghosts, often.

It is perhaps the best way I know to remember them, call them forth when I feel the need for an infusion of memories. I have no need of a medium or an Ouija board or human gateway to find these ghosts living in my heart. They are there, to be conjured up in a ray of sunlight, a gust of wind, the flight of birds. To step outside, listening and feeling is to welcome them into my consciousness, however tenuous that may be.

Before me are a computer, an old spiral bound notebook and a thick journal bound in a mottled black cover. A pen is clipped to the spine; it is half-full of sepia-toned ink. These are the tools I use to communicate and to capture. By capture I mean capture an instant, not a physical restraint of the quarry at hand. I would never think of them that way, and it would be disrespect in the highest degree to restrain their ghosts in such a manner.

I do not want stuffed animals on display. I want butterflies to perch on my fingers, occasionally.

The sun warms the backs of my hands, as I sleepily rub my eyes. The cursor on the screen blinks slowly. Sometimes it is hard to dispel the notion that the cursor is mocking me, the blinking a slow sticking out of an electronic tongue and a waggle of fingers in the ears. Absurd notion, to be sure, and it never fails to elicit a grin. I want to reach out and push that tongue back into its digital mouth. I can’t do that yet, though. My pen is hovering over the paper, but the words just won’t come, not yet.

The hesitation is caused in part by the pictures I can see on the wall, of the twins that were taken early on in the hospital. They have been there for a long time, resting on little wooden shelves affixed to the wall. They make me think of Old World homes with the memory walls bearing pictures of family, or a household shrine. Yes, a household shrine, with the photographs in their dark wood frames assuming the role of spirit-tablets. The faces of the departed forming pictograms in a language known only to four people in the world, of which I am one. I am anxious to know its grammar and syntax, its dialects, and record the knowledge before it fades from use.

The language exists, as all languages seem to, in written and spoken forms. I say spoken but it is less an aural construct and more of a physical one. The closest equivalent would be sign language. I never had the honor and the pleasure of exchanging sounds or words with my twins. I talked to them on their brief time on earth, hoping that perhaps they would at least know I was there, just so they could know the sound of my voice. They never had a chance to speak back to me, and that makes my heart sore.

No, our communications were primarily by touch. Changing a diaper was an intense conversation between us. My fingers gently holding the tiny legs, their fingertips delicate against my skin, pink skin like new born lambs. To place my hands on them even for a minute was an afternoon of dialogue. Was that really speech, or was that a song? If it was song, then it was a duet of epic proportions. Think of it as a silent love song, the notes exchanged through the blood-warm tympanum of skin to skin.

So how to record this new found language, make sense of these beautiful songs, when I am newly minted as a scribe and know little of music? Perhaps the written word is my only recourse. It is the only medium I dare claim proficiency in. Books were my savior once, but it never occurred to me then to write my own. Now I have no choice.

The notebook and the journal comfort me with their weight and presence. Physical, slightly giving, but tender upon the hands. Much like the ethereal weight of the twins I once had the honor of touching. Books in my hands. I have shelves full of books, on the three floors of the humble house I call my home. There is a large stack of books threatening to take over the corner of my bedroom between the nightstand and the dresser. And the nightstand itself is groaning under the weight of books to be read. It is an embarrassment of riches I willingly will take on. Books have been, since I first learned to read, both portal and shield for me. Books allowed me access to the world and protection from it at the same time.

Portals and shields: at first glance, two tiny infants would hardly seem capable of assuming such lofty roles. They were so vulnerable, so small, and when I first saw them that day in the NICU I had no idea of their hidden identities. I have meditated on them almost every day for the last near six years, and it was only recently that the idea came clear to me.

The babies were going to be my door into understanding the world, and my shield against the everyday insanities of reality. At that moment, I felt more strongly connected to the human race than maybe any other moment of my life. Being human was no longer an abstraction, it was a reality. I looked upon them and saw myself, blood, brains and heart. No longer could I act as a passive observer of life; I was in it. In the first days, I felt like now I would have a chance to really wrap my head around life, because I would have a safe place to go when it got to be too much. I saw myself putting my arms around them as an antidote to all the bad stuff swirling around out in the world.

Doorways to the world, protection from it. More beautiful manifestations I could not imagine.

They are gone, of course. Fragile souls laid to rest and signified with markers of stone and bronze. I stare at the screen in front of me, running my hands over the scratchy paper and brown ink on the pages in the notebook and the journal. The children have not disappeared. The empty pages have told me so. I pick up the pen, remove the cap. Ink flows and stains the pages.

My portal, my shield, laid down in the pages of books unwritten.

25 February 2009

It's like Leno Taking Over From Carson, Almost. And She's Carson.

Well, kids, today is a special treat. It has finally happened. I am guest posting for the first time EVAH! I would go “SQUUUEEEEE!!!” but then I would lose all credibility as a dude. Well, the tiny shred I had left, anyway.

The lovely and intrepid Kat at 3 Bedroom Bungalow to Let in Crazytown very kindly asked if I could lay upon her a post whilst she spends some quality time with family, visiting her in England. Being the gentleman that I am (or at least, aspire to be) I most certainly could not turn down such a gracious request. What do I get in return? you may ask.

Why, I get the satisfaction of having helped out a lady, of course. Please drop in on us over there.

And for your edification and delight, here are some pictures of some of my favorite things:



24 February 2009

Taken Down a Peg. Damnit!

I was not expecting to be gobsmacked while taking my Wee Lass to the library late last Saturday afternoon, but there it is. I was really just looking to read some books to her, pick some out for her to take home while The Spouse did some browsing of her own. Truly I did not need any books for myself, I have at least two or three months backlog of material on my nightstand and beside it. The books on the stand are threatening to take over, they are starting to block out the light from the bedside lamp! I need to get cracking; otherwise the books will probably bury me in a landslide soon.

Wee Lass and I journeyed down the ‘tunnel’ to the children’s area, a passageway that has a series of small tree trunks forming arches overhead from which hang banners in the shapes of leafy trees. They are festooned with little stuffed birds to enhance the forest effect. Wee Lass likes to follow the curvy line in the carpet, like she is swimming towards the open area with the books. We sit at a small table and read a delightfully illustrated ABC’s book, and then start in on one about a witch with some sort of self-esteem issues and an inferiority complex. I am a little disconcerted to note that the witch book was first published in the year of my birth. Ouch.

The Spouse finds us after she finishes browsing, and graciously relieves me of book recital duties, so that I can do a little investigation of my own. As I mentioned, I wasn’t looking to bring home any more books, so I thought I would wander up and down the aisles to skim some titles, maybe refresh my memory regarding what was up in the world of fiction and the like. This was my first trip to the library in years, a bit like a trip to the candy store.

For me, walking into a library with no specific titles in mind is akin to doing the same thing in a music store: I immediately cannot recall all the artists or works I want to get. I know I have a working list, I keep adding to it in my head, and I always tell myself “Don’t forget these next time!” I am rarely if ever successful. This time was no different. What occurs is that I start walking slowly up and down the aisles, quickly scanning the spines for catchy titles or familiar names. I started alphabetically in the A’s, drifting up and down, stopping occasionally to check out a cover blurb or read a paragraph or two. It was an amusing enough way to pass the time, and I was reasonably certain by the time I made it into the M through P sections that I would definitely not be taking anything home. There was a lot of cool stuff but nothing that really reached out and grabbed me enough to make it a ‘must read’, in light of the books I had at home. It was about that time I had the beginnings of an idea in the back of my head. Sort of like a “mind itch” tickling my brain. There was a faint memory of someone whose work I really admire, and I knew it was close by, but I was having trouble remembering his last name. Why I don’t know, because his novels and stories I used to avidly devour. As a tangent to that, I was of a mind to amuse myself by looking for authors having the same last name as me. So I ambled over to the S shelves and began to browse. Instead of looking up to where my name would have been I looked down, and that’s when the memory clicked back into focus as I spotted the book. It was The Best of Lucius Shepard, released in 2008 by Subterranean Press. Somehow I missed it last year.

Lucius Shepard. Oh, man. I read a lot of his work in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and quite frankly I found him to be one of the best writers I ever had the pleasure to encounter. His work is hard to describe: magical realism, sci-fi, speculative fiction, horror and even political works fall into his purview. The first story of his that grabbed me by the brain and wouldn’t let go is called “R & R”. It was first published in 1986. It is a near future story about a soldier with a peculiar ability, set in Central America. I found it to be powerful on so many levels: great sci-fi, a tinge of the fantastic, political commentary and some gritty detailed writing. I read it multiple times, and then found he had expanded it into a full length novel called Life During Wartime. One of the best books I have ever read by far. Think Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Robert Heinlein, with a dash of P.J. O’Rourke.

“R & R” was included in the Best Of, along with another great story* called “Salvador”. But the one that caused me to take a deep breath in surprise, really grabbed my attention, is a fantastic and powerful short story called “The Jaguar Hunter.” I nearly dropped the book in surprise, and I am sure my jaw sagged. I may have even grunted out loud; the lady a few feet down the aisle certainly gave me a funny look.

The Jaguar Hunter. I had read that some years ago, and found it quite good then, but for some reason it slipped out of my consciousness later in the 90’s. I truly hadn’t thought about it in longer than I could remember. The title alone was enough to give me a jolt, and I read half the story standing right there in the stacks. I finished it later that evening, after we all returned home. It was even better than I thought so long ago.

I have written a lot recently about jaguars and Jaguar Man. The subject is something that will not seem to leave my imagination. I think I know why, in part, the jaguar has stuck in my subconscious, has become totemic for me. All that power, grace and mystery wrapped up in such a breathtaking package, and “The Jaguar Hunter” quite simply sums up how such a creature affects me, even if I cannot adequately explain. Actually, Lucius Shepard has done it for me. I’ll quote a short passage from the story, where the protagonist Esteban (the jaguar hunter) has realized something terrifying and beautiful about a Truth:

“…It was everywhere, and he had always known it: if you deny mystery – even in the guise of death – then you deny life and you will walk like a ghost through your days, never knowing the secrets of the extremes. The deep sorrows, the absolute joys.”

Oh, sweet baby Jay-zus, that nearly caused me to faint. I literally had to close my eyes for a few seconds and I pinched the bridge of my nose while massaging my temples. I read the paragraph leading up to that phrase four more times before finishing the story. The ending shortly thereafter was even more powerful, I think, at this time than it had been so many years ago. I nearly wept when I was done, for two reasons; the first was that it was so beautiful and powerful. It captured so much I what has been swirling around in my head and placed it right there for me to savor.

The second reason: I realized without a doubt that, as a writer, I have a very long way to go. There will always be someone who is better, brighter and smarter than I am. Lucius Shepard just gave me a master class in the art. The story is everything I have been trying to achieve, have been striving for, and it made me want to just back away from the keyboard and find something else to do with my time and energy.

“The Jaguar Hunter” is a story I wish I had written, and hopefully someday I will have one of my own to compare, but it’s a long way to the top. This is what it must feel like to launch into a pole vault, only to see the bar raised higher as you are hurtling through the air.

*Although they are all great stories, hence the ‘Best Of’ moniker.

23 February 2009

Roll Me Over In The Clover

The yard was just that: a yard. The plot of green space that surrounded the modest house, and it would never be confused with a “lawn”. It was never called a lawn, it was always called a yard, with subdivisions into front yard and back yard. The line of demarcation between front and back was a wire fence of rectangular mesh stapled to hefty wooden posts, like the typical treated 4 x 4’s to be found at virtually any home center in the United States. Flowers and a pair of bushes grew along the fence in a bed born of circumstance and erratic intention. Long ago, the bushes were small, barely reaching the top of the fence. Robins and sparrows made their homes in the bushes.

The house itself occupied most of the plot in the front yard, with narrow strips of grass on two sides, street and slightly wider side yard on the others. There was a gravel driveway that took up more of the front yard. There was not much in the way of play space or sitting space in the front. It was the back yard where one could really stretch out, play Frisbee, run amok or best of all, lay in the grass and run hands through the green carpet.

To say grass is a slight misnomer. It gives the impression that there was a homogenous swath of plant matter, each blade almost identical to its neighbors, differing only slightly in length and angle of repose in the sunlight. The reality was different: two or three different types of grass plus a mottling of clover threading its way through the yard in patches. The clover, frosted with little white-green pom-pom flowers, was more attractive than the grass. A candy store for the bees that flitted lazily amongst the leaves.

The boy liked to lie on his back on the clover, in the shade of the tall trees at the edge of the yard, and watch for planes in the sky. It was best on spring afternoons when it was crisply comfortable and the sky was a luminous sheet of azure. The trails of jets formed a delicate tracery above. Especially delicious was the drone of low-flying propeller planes, the low hum forming the perfect white noise sending the boy off into a peaceful daze to daydream under the benign gaze of the sun.

To amuse himself when not lolling on his back chasing airplanes and daydreams, the boy would often embark on a hunt for four-leaf clovers. Truly a pastime for the young and impressionable. After all, who would turn down the opportunity to garner “good luck” in such a relatively easy manner? The boy was certain he would find one now and again. Free charms to them with the eagle eyes! Many an afternoon was spent on his belly lying in the grass with nose inches from the ground, combing eagerly and intently through the soft leaves and enjoying their dainty caresses of cool greenness.

Finding the four-leafer was always a mini-celebration. The swift intake of breath, the “aha!” moment when it resolved itself from a sea of shamrocks. The boy’s mind reeled in the delight of possibilities; what mysterious luck would this one bring? Perhaps money found in the street, or a new bike or a sudden road trip. All of these things and more would stretch out in front of his mind’s eye. The day would acquire a certain glow with the clover placed carefully between trembling fingers and held up to the sun.

One thing that never occurred to the boy was to hope for good luck in love. Years later, the man that grew from the boy marveled at that oversight.

These afternoon interludes tapered off as the boy grew older, growing more infrequent until sometime in junior high school they stopped altogether. Another boyhood pastime falling victim to the charms of a bigger circle of friends and the sometimes questionable activities associated with belonging to such a tribe. The boy maybe thought he no longer needed luck in the form of small leafy totems. In no guise would he compromise the fragile shreds of coolness he desperately wrapped around himself. High school nearly swallowing him whole, the boy grew up and headed off to college, leaving many friends and family behind. As he morphed from boy to young man to young adult, the clover was slowly forgotten.

The man felt he had no more need of luck that could not be explained.

Career and responsibility fell upon the man, and the only real luck he came to believe in was that which could be created, not found. Found luck was a phantom, a vapor dream that only the gullible and desperate would believe in. The man thought of himself as neither. He laughed at the notion; he knew he was not gullible, and desperation was an alien language.

Until now, when he found himself staring out of the smoked-glass windows on the 43rd floor of the near-empty skyscraper that had become his life. Looking out over the city below, flat roofs obliterating the green yard of his youth. The clover replaced by a constantly shifting swarm of electronics: cell phone, iPod, laptop, workstation, satellite radio and TV, land line, earbuds, headphones, desktop speakers, wireless mouse, fiber optic connections, remote locking keys, wireless transmitter for the stereo…almost every activity “connected” somehow.

And the question echoing in his head “Why then do I feel so disconnected, from most everything that matters?” knowing full well that it was an exaggeration. But the grain of truth was large enough to feel, like the pea under the mattress of the princess. The man realized the double-edged nature of the tools in his hands. That which had tilled the clover under could perhaps rejuvenate the yard. The search began, painstaking and tentative, as hands that once gently combed apart the clover began to comb an electronic yard to be accessed through devices acting as portals. The environment was different, this was no breezy backyard in the shade of trees. But the task was similar. So began a slow, patient search through myriad packets of information often differing only in minute particulars. The task would take time, no doubt.

The man grinned, old habits returning, happy to know to be absorbed in the now of the task. Sorting through the infinite fields and wrapped up in the hunt, he felt himself beginning to relax. This was something he could do. He resolved to keep looking, he would find his new four-leaf clover. Not only that, he sensed one was near, a faint but growing presence edging into his consciousness. This time, the four-leaf clover was also trying to find him. He could feel it in the marrow of his bones, and he smiled.

22 February 2009

How To Tell If Someone Is A Good Buddy

I’VE BEEN WAFFLEFIED! Or is that WAFFLY-FIED! Hmmm. I am not quite sure. I do know that the amazing Rebekah at Waffles Waffles All Day Long has kindly bestowed upon me an award! She has been kind and helpful to me, and I am happy to receive it. Please do me a favor, and drop by the Wafflehaus, drop some love on the Chief Waffler and kith and kin.

I’m not usually very good with rules, but Rebekah laid them out so well (she’s got the mad tech writing skillz) even a knucklehead like myself could easily stick with them. So in the spirit of things, here they be:

The Rules:

1) Put the logo on your blog.
2) Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3) Award some other blogs.
4) Add links to those blogs on yours.
5) Let the other bloggers know they received your award.

I didn’t have to think too long about who my compadres might be in such an endeavor as that implied in the logo. Not that we would really do such a thing. Just sayin’. Yes, this is a list that pretty much wrote itself:

Captain Dumbass at Us and Them: Having a rank always adds authority. And he commands stormtroopers.
Idiot Boy at Idiot’s Stew: He’s gone all ninja. Ninjas have certain useful skills. Need I say more?
Mama Dawg at Two Dogs Running: Someone has to give this operation some class. That and a lovely, lovely accent.
ChurchPunkMom at Embellished Truth and Polite Fiction: Someone also has to keep us in line. She has 5 kids. No sweat.
cIII at The Goat and Tater: When the documents require alteration, call the professional.

There you have it, folks. An All-Star lineup, five fine folks with the credentials of Winston Wolf, from Pulp Fiction: “I solve problems!”


I have created a problem for myself. In my Part Deux interview post, I implied that the 14th person to comment would be the lucky soul to receive questions from me, provided that the same person also had NOT commented in the 13th and 15th places. This did not work out exactly as I had intended. Captain Dumbass, in his own inimitable style, managed to flout the rules AND make his own loophole. In my fatigue and confusion, I did not say how I would handle the selection if the same person DID comment in all those places. I didn’t leave myself an out.

I have been out-loopholed. Damnit. So the lucky victim of my painstakingly researched questions is…Captain Dumbass.

I’ll get you. And your little dog Toto, too…

21 February 2009

I'll Stop The World And Melt. Not With You, Just Melt. All By My Lonesome.

Can I just stop for a moment? Or a long series of moments? I need to, in a bad way. Dislocated is no way to wear one’s head. I don’t like living life that way. The way things are going I’m feeling like maybe, just maybe the Universe could use a few moments of stillness. If not the Universe, then the Planet Earth. And if not Earth, then at least my head.

My poor, aching headbone.

Layoffs. Wars. Economic meltdown. Recession. Personal crises and generalized anxieties and change. Not knowing my ass from a hole in the ground some days. It all seems too much, sweeping the legs out from underneath me. Sticking my head into the torrent of information flowing around me is akin to drinking from a firehose, or walking through a high-speed wind tunnel. I cannot drink that fast, or walk effectively into a hurricane. It’s exhausting and too much is missed.

I am tired of missing things. Picture sitting in a boat, on a broad and swift river. The wind is blowing hard, chop is on the water. And try as you might to stop it, cargo continues to fall overboard, and you watch helplessly as it falls to sternward and forever out of reach. There is no turning back. It wouldn’t matter anyway if you could turn around; the current is too swift and turbulent. You’d never catch up to the stuff you lost while trying to comprehend the new stuff coming at you.

I find myself weary of even trying anymore, to understand the vast cloud of sensory impressions swathing me in overload. Pecked to death by lunatic chickens. Trapped in a tent with hyperactive angry bees. The mere act of filtering such quantities becomes a tremendous task unto itself. The sheer time and energy involved easily robs me of the ability to comprehend that which I have filtered.

You know those movies or videos where one person is on screen, moving real slow while people and cars zoom by at manic speed? That is me. Feels like that all the time. I’m trying to catch up, or at least comprehend the people and events zipping by. It makes me feel…lost. Sort of “in” the world but not really “of” the world. Does that make sense?

Perhaps I am looking at this from the wrong direction. I keep looking out but really I should be looking in. The dislocation I feel could be coming from having gone down the rabbit hole in the center of my head. Sort of like turning a sock inside out, or maybe a Möbius strip in the guise of a human body. If I drew a line down the middle of myself, would I return to my starting point having traversed all sides without crossing an edge? Ow. Ow. Ow. Mistake. That just made my head hurt even more.

All this data, coming at me at light speed. Why did I ever believe that I wanted to know everything there was to be known in the Universe? When did my head become such a strange attractor for information? Somewhere along the line my brain collapsed in on itself, incurring an accelerated process of densification, the grey matter congealing into a black hole with an event horizon defined by my skull. Data goes in, but where does it come out? Some days it feels as if nothing leaves only to increase the pressure threatening to blow the top of my head off. Wouldn’t that be spectacular! An exploding black hole! One can only imagine what that would look like. Maybe it would create a white hole, discharging the accumulated contents of my overheated brain into another universe, or into a different place somewhere else in this one.

If only I could stop time. No, stop motion (but isn’t that in some ways the same thing?) on a molecular level. Climb inside my own skull and scoop up the quantum goo and pack it into some kind of snowball. A grey matter snowball squeezed between my palms in a desperate effort to quell the vibrations, bring time and space together in a hot-cold singularity. Freeze it at the level where even the atoms slow down, doing a languid Brownian dance of slower and slower rotations while time ceases to pass.

I know the Universe does not revolve around me, I don’t expect it to. But just once, even if only for a few ticks of the atomic clock that keeps Standard Time, I would like everything to just stand still so I can cool off.

I need that. And a beer. A beer would be nice, too.

20 February 2009

A Friendly Interrogation, cIII Style - Part Deux

So as I was saying yesterday, I got a wild hare up my posterior and deliberately won the opportunity to be “questioned” by cIII over at The Goat and Tater. So despite my best efforts at escape and evasion, Goat and Tater Man caught up to me. Ambushed me on my own turf, can you believe it? Shit. Well, the questions were good, so it’s cool. This is Part Deux of that epic interview:

RFI #003. Every child has that Moment of terror that brands our brain forever and ever. Care to share yours with the Group? If not, I can dig it. Pennywise the Clown freaked me out as well.

I get it. HehHeh, yeah, I see what you’re trying to do. You a sly one, you is. Under the guise of Deep Analysis to “give insight” into my Character (or lack thereof), what is actually going on here is a method to expose my weaknesses.

Ha. Try harder.

But in the interests of full disclosure, I did some navel-gazing, a little Self-Reflection into the murky past that is my childhood. The net result was that I did, indeed, stumble upon something dark and dangerous swimming around in that swamp. A bone-chilling, butt-puckering ice-cold glass of unsweetened Terror that I, still to this very day, have trouble swallowing in one gulp.

It has to do with not breathing. As in, feeling like my lungs were not going to work.

I was about 6 or 7 I think. I was sick. Sick with a capital ‘effin S. Fever like I had swallowed a goddamn blast furnace. Sweats, chills, shaking as the leaves on the big poplar tree in old Mrs. Calhoun’s yard next door. It was very early in the morning, probably 1 or 2 o’clock. I am sitting in a chair in the living room coughing and trying not to cough because it hurt so fucking much. The pain was making me wheeze so hard I felt like I couldn’t get enough oxygen.

When you are a little kid, that sick, in the dark, and you feel like you can’t breathe, the Fear settles in hard. It coils itself around you like the fat loops of a python, blood warm and greeny-black. My friend, at that point I was the unlucky peccary that slipped and fell to the jungle floor to be snapped up by that evil python. He encased me in a steel spring wrapped in leather, and squeezed. I was suffering a full blown case of the Yammering Fantods, because I thought I might not live. It was one of the worst nights of my young life.

There is an angel in this cloud of Fear. Someone who rummaged around in the Weeds engulfing me and pulled me up on my feet. That angel would be my Moms. She sat in that chair with me for hours, hugged me while I coughed and cried and gasped. She had a deft hand with the washcloth to keep me cool. Somewhere in that swamp of anxiety she convinced me I was going to be okay and managed to get me back to sleep. Mom: Antidote To Fear, Cosmic Weedkiller. I love my Moms.

RFI #004. Anchovies on that Pizza?

Well, shit. A food question. About one of the most reviled Pizza Toppings in the History of the Known Universe. Smelly, salty fish. Who the fuck wants to eat smelly, salty fish? When I was a Gumbo lad, I was possessed of a certain unsophistication in matters culinary. Pepperoni was the topping supremo, and even adding green peppers to a pizza was to announce an Intention to dance on the edge of the cliff. Anchovies, then, were akin to marching into Torquemada’s office and loudly declaring that the Earth revolved around the Sun: evocative of a strongly held conviction, but guaranteed to get one into Deep Trouble.
Anchovies were the province of weirdos and heretics and were not something I felt I had the wherewithal to defend. It wasn’t until years later that the pagans began whispering in my ears of the seductions I was missing, the opportunities lost to expand my mind and enlighten my palate. The nymphs spoke softly to me, leading me to small tomes of condensed Knowledge regarding dark secrets. Knowledge of the very underpinnings of human Ingenuity meeting Desire meeting Resources. I learned of the Ancients and their salted barrels of fish consumed by the hundredweight in the mouths of sailors, centurions, and peasants. I was initiated into the mysteries of garum colatura and nuoc mam: pungent liquids created by cultures separated by different languages and thousands of miles, creating useful sustenance from that which Grosses You Out. I even read of customs in some countries to grill anchovies and eat them like one would eat corn on the cob. Pick them up and gnaw your way across the fish. Encouraged by my researches, and emboldened by a dosage or two of Barley pop, I finally sampled anchovies on my pizza. The results, I am happy to say, were Enlightening. I found myself in the company of that Spanish fisherman, that Roman peasant, that Vietnamese cook creating a mouthful of goodness: pungent, salty, powerful and oh so satisfying. Just like life itself.
Anchovies on my pizza? Hells to the yeah. I like the company they keep.

RFI #005...and E. Best Childhood present ever. Mine? A black and Canary yellow Huffy Pro Thunder. It had these Bad ass yellow Mag Wheels that were cast with molten Lead I believe. No shit. The thing weighed like 60 pounds. *sigh*

A Red Ryder carbine-action air rifle.

No, I’m kidding, I never got one of those. They kept telling me I’d shoot my eye out. Come to think of it, I did nearly get my eye shot out. But that’s a story for another time.

This was a bit of a stumper. As much as I dredged the silt at the bottom of my Memory Harbor, I just could not recall many of the presents of my childhood, which made me maudlin, and a tad weepy. But then a snippet of Song, fleeting on the ear, brought me back in a rush to my bedroom, and me on the floor in my roughly ten-year old awkwardness. It was a Record Player, small, cheap and mine.

I say record player, because it played honest-to-god 45’s and 33-1/3’s (yes, kids, actual vinyl) and it was NOT a stereo. Or “Hi-Fi” as the unhip (read: parents) might have called it then. It had a hinged top with a latch, but was not the infamous “Close-N-Play” that all the ‘cool’ kiddies had. It was simply a rotating platform with the needle mounted on the swing arm, and the thin metal pylon in the center. It was awesome.

It was awesome because we, my Big Bro and I, didn’t use it to play records so much as abuse them. Because, really, you give two boys a machine that makes noises they can manipulate, and you can bet manipulation is exactly is what will happen. You know, playing 45’s at 33-1/3, or vice versa. Putting the record on and manually spinning the disk really fast. Or backwards. Think of us as the white boy, sorta-redneck Jam-Master Jay or the Bomb Squad of Simonsdale. Heh.

We had a bizarre collection of singles to mangle, which included such gems as “Chinese Twist” by The Popcorns (hey, remember them?), two different versions of the theme from the old “Batman” show on TV, and “Chicken Crazy” by Joe Tex. Testimony, out there, brothers and sisters! On a slow Saturday afternoon, there is nothing more hilarious than listening to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” at 3 times the speed at which it was meant to be played.

“Aural assaults aside, Gumbo, but what really makes this so great?” sez Goat and Tater Man.

I daresay that record player was the main seed for my Love o’ the Tunes to this very day. Togetherness, man. Creation. Funny shit that me and my Big Bro could laugh at for hours. And all I have to do is look at my brother and say something like “Chicken wings, chicken necks, chicken thighs….They gone chicken crazy!” and both of us lose our shit in a fit of laughter. No replacement for something like that, no way. That’s why that record player was so awesome.

Herewith concludes the interrogation, er, interview. cIII chuckles and comes around to unlock the cuff from the chair. I resist the urge to take a swing at him. After all, someone’s gotta pay for the whiskey, and I reckon the first round is on him. Heh. No one chains me up without at least buying me a drink.

Okay, everybody, stand up and stretch! HOOO-AAHH! I apologize for the two-parter format. It was brought on by a fit of laziness combined with wordiness, running headlong into the goat rodeo of getting my Wee Lass bathed and prepped for bed. In accordance with the spirit of the thing, the honor of the interview also carries with it a certain responsibility, a Passing Of The Torch as it were. Who’s next?
If for some reason, someone would like to be interviewed by me, The Big Giant Head, I will gladly lay some 5 questions on the 14th non-consecutively posted commenter on this, the second part of my interview. Heehee, All that means is that you can post as many as you like, but comments before and after the 14th slot cannot be by the same person. In the event that happens, you will be disqualified and subjected to the scorn and laughter of your blogmates. Or maybe not. The rules are flexible. Loopholes, man, it’s all about the loopholes.

19 February 2009

A Friendly Interrogation, cIII Style - Part One

Dear Friends, Gumbo has gone and done it. He has shaken his fist at the wrong Entities, and called down the Thunder upon himself. For some inexplicable reason, he expended extraordinary effort to “win” an interview from Puppetmaster cIII of The Goat and Tater, by rapid fire entry of 16 consecutive comments on this post. That’s right: 16 comments. In a row. All for the chance to be asked some questions.

Well, you yell loud enough, Zeus will hear you. Gumbo caught the Thunder, cIII Style

Picture you this: I am in my office, newly moved in and diggin’ the Digs, you dig? New desk, a bookcase behind me groaning under the weight of Important Tomes, one of those slightly bizarre Artemide task lamps on the desk. The lamp that all of us hipster wanna-be architecture students coveted back in college, but rarely had enough Dead Presidents on hand to actually buy. Which I would have had, the money that is, if I hadn’t been carefully conserving my bills to donate to the all important beer fund.

So anyway, this cool black lamp is on my desk right next to the hip looking phone, along with a scattering of writing utensils (I favor liquid ink Razorpoints, extra fine) and a pad of nice, toothy sketch paper. The kind that makes little skritchy noises when you write on it.

On one wall is a set of windows, the old style double-hungs in heavy wood frames with plate glass. It’s a rehab building, “adaptive reuse” in the patois of the Architects. The window overlooks the street below, and it has a snazzy stone sill. Upon that sill, rest my feet, clad in new shoes recently purchased with the proceeds of a winning lottery ticket. I am napping in the chair, with a gray felt Stetson on my face.

Big mistake.

I hear a small creak, footsteps over the wood strip floor as someone pads into my office. There is a thud and a metallic snick as a handcuff slips over my left wrist and the chair arm. “Huh, whuzzat?” I say reaching for the hat. But someone beat me to it. The hat is slowly lifted from my face and I blink like a mole in the light. The hand attaches to an arm attached to the Gentleman easing himself into the chair on the other side of my desk. He chuckles softly as he drops the Stetson to the desk. He is wearing sunglasses and has the look of a Colonel one might see on the side of a bourbon bottle. On the desk, there lie two sheets of paper stapled together and ringed with faint coffee stains. Across the top in big bold letters, I see the word “REQUESTS FOR INFORMATION #001, 002, 003, 004, and 005.”

I gape at the cuffs. He grins and says, “You forgot about this, didn’t you?”

“cIII, Mr. Goat and Tater man, how good to see you” says I, “Maybe I did forget. I reckon you dropped by to remind me.”
“That I did, Brother.” He takes a pack of smokes from his pocket. I notice he’s wearing one of those shirts like mechanics wear, with the nametag over one pocket, written in cursive. For some inexplicable reason, the tag says “Dallas”. He pulls a cigarette out, taps it on the desk.

“You mind?” cocking an eyebrow.
“No, knock yourself out. But do me a favor, open that window a bit. No offense, but smoke does not play nice with my guts.”
“Sure, no problem.”

He stands and opens the window, letting in a swirl of cool air and traffic noise. Zippo clinks open, pale yellow flame igniting the cigarette between his fingers. He runs the back of his hand across his forehead, blowing a blue-grey plume out the window. He turns back to face me.

“Shall we get started?” he says with that enigmatic smile. I look at the cuffs again. “Do I have a choice?” I say. He throws back his head and laughs and says to me “Don’t worry; they’ll come off soon enough. Ain’t no one taken your picture yet, my friend, so I need you to sit still.” He picks up the papers from the desk. “Shall we?”

I sigh. Someone out on the street is calling out, yelling ‘get the fuck away from my car, pinhead!’

Rubbing my eyes with my free hand I say “Fire away, friend.”

RFI #001. You invent, patent, and manufacture the World's first Time Machine. You decide that such a thing is an Abomination and must be destroyed. In the darkest part of the night, you soak the entire lab in Gasoline and have a smoke. So that no one can gain Information through You directly, you decide to take a One Way trip. Back in time, as the Song goes. Where to, Cowboy? (Sort of a Mary Shelly meets Huey Louis and the News):

Okay, now this one really threw me. “Backheeled me” to sling some futebol lingo. Had some serious chewing to do, because the possibilities are endless. Endless. The typical scenarios cropped up, usually dealing with being in the right place at the right time to make a fortune off of future knowledge. Sort of a retroactive “insider trading” setup. Yeah, man, make mo’ money.

At which point, I sickened myself and started all over. I faced up to the Quandary of wanting to actually go two places, but not sure if the technology would allow. Scenario Une: I travel back to the point at which the Future Me was about to walk out the door with Time Machine Plan in hand, then cold-cock the stupid SOB at the door, steal the plan, and bolt for parts unknown. What the hell was I thinking, inventing a machine like that? Sheesh. While I liked the idea of ambushing myself, I felt that it wasn’t conclusive enough. Besides, the Future Me already knew of the plan to ambush myself, so it’s entirely probable I would avoid myself because I already know that I know. I think.

Scenario Deux: I torch the lab just the same, hop into my machine, and go to…where? With infinite possibilities comes infinite time to consider them. I could have just sat at the controls forever, slingshotting through time, never really stopping, just on a perpetual cosmic road trip. “See the Universe”, yeah?

The problem with road trips is that eventually I want to be home, when I want to be there. Can’t stay out there forever. Plus, the back seat gets filled up with fast food wrappers, torn bits of road maps, crushed cans. All that detritus tends to create a Funk, you know what I mean? I do not want to be on a road trip of infinite Funkiness. After some consideration, though, it hit me. I knew where I’d be going. Yeah, this was it.

I would take myself to Ireland, circa 800 A.D. to a place called Kells in County Meath. I’d set myself down in the nearest woods to the Abbey of Kells, and I’d request the hospitality of the Abbot whilst I explain to him I have skills as a drawer of pictures, which I want to offer up for work on a little project by name of “Book Of Kells”. It’s a beautifully illustrated manuscript, a national treasure of Ireland, it contains the Four Gospels, and oh, is it lovely.

The Abbot, of course, will narrow his eyes at me in suspicion. “Stranger, what is this book of which you speak? I have not heard of this!”
I smile, gazing into his cold grey eyes.
“Not yet, Father Abbot, sir, but you will. You will.”

RFI #002. Favorite Muppet. And why (I dig Pepe the King Prawn):

Sometimes, when you are running full tilt into the 6-yard box, hand in the air when you realize the marking fullback has lost his composure and has left you all alone, the balón de fútbol sails out of midfield to land right on your instep and thence into the back of the ol’ onion bag.

This was one of those times. My favorite Muppet? ANIMAL, of course! As to why, well the reasons are manifold:

1) He’s a drummer who once broke a drum over the head of jazz great Buddy Rich. Nothing against Buddy Rich, but that was funny as hell!
2) He’s the subject of one of my favorite Muppets lines – “Hey, calm down Animal, have another seat cushion!”
3) He chases women AND cars.
4) He has some appreciation for fine art. In The Great Muppet Caper, he was upset to have missed a Renoir exhibit. See, animals like impressionists, too.
5) He was one of the Muppets featured on commemorative stamps issued by the US Postal Service.
6) And in a breathtaking bit of coincidence and serendipity and just flat-out over-the-top coolness, Animal was in a car commercial with one of the absolute bestest strikers in the Beautiful Game, and one of my favorite footballers ever: Thierry Henry. Dig it, man. In my Universe, you can’t get much cooler than that. GGOOOOOALLLL-AAAA!

So I think I’ll calm down now, and have another seat cushion. And by ‘seat cushion’, I mean a wee dram of Scotland’s finest.

At this point, we stopped and ordered in some sandwiches from the barbecue joint downstairs. The burnt ends wash down well with some Maker’s Mark, for sure.

Part Deux follows tomorrow. (burp)

18 February 2009

Not Square, Not Round, Just Us

Out on the edge of all we know there is a place I used to go
Any time I didn't feel that I belonged in what was real
And I would see you there arriving on a desperate prayer
We'd sit and talk, we'd laugh and cry about the meaning of it all

Those days are still clear in my mind, with only a little fuzz around the edges. The sands of time wear things down no matter how I try to resist, and that’s alright. It has taken away some of the edges. My memories are no longer Beaujolais, they are Burgundy. I sometimes wish I had that sharp intensity of youth again, riding the bleeding edge of that wave composed of energy, hormones and stunning naivete.

I sometimes wish I had you again.

Wait, I am misleading myself. I don’t know that I ever had you. We never said we were good friends, so it was never realized aloud. But perhaps that is the beauty of it all. We never had to say, it just was. That friendship was like art or obscenity or beauty: no one could really define it when asked, but we knew it when we saw it.

All around we'd hear the sound of what the world was saying
But something in us can't subscribe to games they say to play
Yeah I don't believe
That we ever fit in anyway
We never fit in anywhere
Only here, and we know here is not perceived reality…

I don't care cause I know here is where I always want to be

So what happened? How did it get away from us? I know the obvious answers: time and distance growing ever greater. Like watching two satellites looping into orbits farther and farther away from one another, until eventually they have no gravitational pull on each other. At least, none so great as to be measurable. This is too bad, really, I never knew how much I enjoyed the effects of your moon on my tides until you were gone, out of sight. The process was slow, gradual and working on a scale of years. I know that now. It reminds me for some macabre reason of that supposed experiment with the frog in a beaker of water, heated so slowly to boiling that the frog never realizes he is dying until he is cooked. Gross, I know, but my mind works that way sometimes. And I am feeling like the frog.

… in the rain where we would share the loss and gain
Of everyday we had to be the things we knew we couldn't be
And we would laugh until we choked
Everything became a joke
The only way we could survive so we could live another day

It seemed like that some days, just you and me against the world. Typical adolescent overwrought world view, we were happy in our hyperventilation. We were our mutual shield and support together in a crazy feedback loop of dependency. A dependency we probably would have denied if questioned about it directly. None of us in our right minds then would have admitted to such a perceived weakness, not to our parents, not to our teachers and in no way to our friends, no sir. “To know a thing is to know the manner in which it can be destroyed” and we were having enough trouble staying alive in the shark tank of our peer group as it was. You and I knew it, and that is why it was never said aloud. Our little secret, and it stayed that way.

I light a candle in my mind
Just to see that bright face shine
Hear your voice so full of dreams
I seem to know what they all mean
And you have always been a friend
By every means to every end
And that to me, that loyalty is worth believing in

Do you light a candle for me in your mind, sometimes? I wish I knew. Maybe. I did for you, the frequency slowly declining as the years went by and I grew older farther away from home, from the place I used to be. It never went out, not completely. Ha. The geek in me thinks of it more as the difference in the glow of the sun: what I used to see from Earth I now see from the rings of Saturn. Gone from strong and bright, to weak and cool.

It’s still there, though, a flickering testament to a friendship long faded.

I wonder now and then what it would be like to launch myself back to Earth and regain an orbit closer to the Sun. Would you still be there after so many years, maintaining the circuit? The journey back would be a long, arduous trek with uncertain outcome. I don’t know that I have the energy. I am still marveling that I managed to make it where I did, to be so far from home and a life I used to have. A life that I forgot I still needed on some level.

It is cold and dark out here. The mystery that brought me to this frozen deep space landscape no longer holds the promise it once did. Familiarity has not bred contempt so much as fatigue. The stress cracks are deep upon the metal of my soul, a surface pocked and stained from the years of exposure. I do not regret the scars. They each have a history, a layer added to the pearl accreting around the grain of sand that I started out as. I cannot, will not give them back. I can’t. The layers are thin, perhaps, but cling tenaciously to one another. So tightly that to attempt to remove one layer would surely destroy the layers adjacent to it.

This I will not do, removing layers. I cannot be so selective as to deny the risk of removing you.

From my station among the rings, I keep watch on the Sun. I’ll keep my oldest channels open, listening to the background hiss of the Universe, waiting for that day when I might perhaps hear something new. There is a telescope, antique and worn, but knowing my hands like a twin from the womb. Through it I scan the skies I once knew, looking for the other half of the double planet I used to be.

I don’t know if I will ever return to the inner system, but I keep alive the hope that it is possible. And if I do, it would be no small comfort to find you there.

…We never fit in anywhere
I don't care cause I know here is where you've always been with me

(Italicized lyrics from “Never Fit”, by Gandalf Murphy & The Slambovian Circus of Dreams on the album A Good Thief Tips His Hat)

17 February 2009

An Intriguing Morning, Plus A Nod to the Captain

As Mondays go, yesterday was an interesting one. Allow me to illuminate:

The Self-made Tool prepares for questioning

And here is something that may or may not have gone through my mind:

(I’m kidding. It actually went very well.)

AND, in a nod to Captain Dumbass, this one is for you, my friend:

Me: “Bongo, smell the foot! SMELL IT!”
Bongo: “Die, imperialist dog! Never! Wait, if I do, will you give me some bacon?”
Me: “…Perhaps. But not the good stuff, you’ve been insubordinate!”

Happy Weird Tuesday, everybody!

16 February 2009

Masques, Personae, Prisons

In the basement, there on the wall, is a mask colored in green and gold. It is of a cat’s face, filigreed and beaded. There are satin ribbons in the same shades as the cheeks. It is flanked by two dark green metal candle holders which support thick, squat pillars of wax so green as to be almost black. The mask was purchased in New Orleans, from a small shop specializing in all things Mardi Gras. The mask cost about $90, which sounds like a lot for such an object until it is realized the wall of masks around it contains bigger, flashier masks costing easily twice as much and more. Money was not particularly scarce, but it was New Orleans after all; there was a whole universe of food and drink to be pursued as well. The price of the mask satisfied any concerns about quality against affordability, and was deemed very attractive.

The mask stares out from the wall, shadows cast by the light from above. It gives the impression of secrets kept, lovers entertained, revelry enjoyed. There is a slight hint of debauchery about its green-gold countenance. If it had a mouth it would be smiling like the Mona Lisa.

The truth is the mask has never been worn for any real purpose. The longest time it spent covering a human face was for approximately two minutes in a fit of silliness, while awaiting the tack driven into to the wall, upon which it now hangs. This perhaps speaks of pathos. A mask created to obscure the identity of someone who wishes to retain some anonymity while engaging in risqué behavior on a street heavy with the perfume of hurricanes, and sadly saw no action.

The mask hangs there, metallic and silently mocking. Sarcastic chuckling faint in the cool air.

Slight shame rises to the cheeks in consideration of the failure to actually use the mask. A belated realization that perhaps a certain amount of fearlessness is required to don such a creation. Why is that, the mind wonders. Ah, of course. By donning such a mask, the wearer is in some measure advertising the fact that something is wished to remain hidden. The mind considers the apparent paradox: if one dons a mask to hide something, why make it known that something is hidden? Is it not the purpose of hiding to avoid scrutiny or detection?

Wait, no, that is only part of the story. This mask was meant to be worn in the company of other like-minded individuals. It signals admittance to a community, a group of “partners-in-crime” who are willing to let another in on the joke. “Welcome, brother!” they exclaim, all bright beads and shimmering feathers, “Join us in our escape! Sin with us!” Such gaiety extended with a wink and a nod as much as to say it is understood that all humans have certain desires and the same yearning to unleash, at least for a short while, things normally held tightly close.

Bemusement. Regret. The knowledge that for some, freedom of that sort has always been contemplated from behind a wall of glass, rippled and thick. It is enough to make one sigh heavily and wonder why it is so difficult to let go of oneself long enough to actually enjoy life in a way that so many others do. It isn’t as if getting drunk and dancing around a streetlight once in a lifetime is going to translate into perpetual debauchery. In a crowd of people all wearing masks of many colors and shapes, one more worn quietly will surely not stand out. If anything, the lack of a mask would be a surefire attention getter.

Still, the thought of wearing such a creation engenders intense feelings of discomfort. Donning a mask would draw attention, no matter what. Attention, while craved, has not been pursued. Attracting attention has always meant demands upon the self. There will always be the pressure to live up to the attention, give as much if not more in return. This is anathema to a persona not comfortable with presenting itself to scrutiny by the outside world.

An exquisite joke, is it not? The mind that feels it necessary to shield itself from the eyes of others is nervous and fearful of wearing something created for the purpose of hiding something from others. Yes, of course, this makes perfect sense, as rueful laughter bubbles up. “I feel uncomfortable displaying myself to the world; therefore, I shall not wear masks!” The faint metallic scent of irony pervades the room.

Wait, perhaps this does make sense. The mind is sly like a fox, you see. The mind feels it needs to hide its true self in order to meet the world. By donning an actual mask, it would advertise something is hidden. This would attract attention. In order to avoid scrutiny, to deflect attention, it would be better to not wear a mask. It is easier, in some ways, to just wear one’s given face, plain and simple. It is less noticeable, if one cares to make the effort. Thus, the face acts as a mask, it just doesn’t appear as one.

Aha. A light goes off in the mind. Now the source of the growing discomfort has been identified. The mask glitters, watching and inscrutable. A gnawing sensation suffered for years reveals itself in a flash of insight like the slow cracking of a bird’s egg under pressure from a beak.

The face has become the mask.

A hot flush to the neck, up into cheeks that feel like melting stone. The shield has been maintained for so many years, the act perpetuated, that the face no longer remembers how to reflect the interior life it covers. The core human being has become trapped behind the very thing that sought to protect it. This core, this life cannot get out. It cannot reveal itself except through occasional glimpses in the eyes and verbal outbursts of shaking intensity that leave the owner drained and ashamed. The face became a mask became a prison.

This is why the mask on the wall reaches out and caresses the heart with cool fingers, laughing softly into the ear all the while. The mask knows its purpose, knows that all people have things they feel scared to reveal, even if those things are a true self, worthy of sharing the light of humanity. The mask itself is not scared of its true nature.

Alone in the cool dimness of the basement, the face cracks and dissolves in a flood of salt water, mystified and relieved to know that it no longer has to be afraid of itself, even after all these years. The hands reach up and gently pull the sodden shards away, fluttering to the floor like wet leaves.

The mask and the face gaze upon one another, and smile.

15 February 2009

Nice Guy Facing The Truth

Heart stood at the edge of the dock, bent over at the waist with elbows resting on the railing. He was massaging his temples while staring into the murky jade-colored water lapping the bulkhead at his feet. The surface rippled and bulged slightly, green metal sheet flecked with leaves and drifting puffs of goose down. His face bellied and warped as looking into a funhouse mirror. Every so often, his face would assume the proportion and outline like one in that painting by Edvard Munch. What was it, he strained to recall. Oh, The Scream. Heart smiled to think of the title. A scream, indeed, borne of the overload of thoughts in his head. He looked up and across the lake. On the far bank, amidst the low brush, Brother Heron appeared, head tilted down in an attitude of concentration as he searched for fish. Heart raised a hand in greeting. Heron didn’t move, and Heart wasn’t sure the bird had seen him. Heart put his head down.

A few breaths later, there was a swiisssh, and a splash over by the rock jetty just across from where Heart stood at the dock. He had one guess as to whom it was, and sure enough, Brother Heron stood there, wings folding up as one bright eye peered out from under the slight crest of feathers on his head. The wily bird took a moment to adjust a feather before speaking.

“Heart, nice day, yeah?”
Heart stood silent, blinking slowly at the bird. Heron spoke again.
“Uh, oh, looks like someone has a case of the Mondays!” and then he croaked the equivalent of a smart aleck laugh, rusty hinges on a gate.

Heart stared at the bird for the space of five heartbeats, and then slowly raised his right hand out in front of himself, middle finger upraised. The heron croaked again, and Heart broke into a helpless grin, laughing quietly. “Sorry, Brother, I’m a bit tired.”

“You getting enough sleep?” Heron asked.
“If you count thrashing around as sleep, yes. Otherwise, no, I’m exhausted.”
Heart laughed weakly, sweeping his hands down his sides in a “ta-da” gesture. “Does this sack of potatoes look buff to you?”

Brother Heron cocked his head from side to side for a moment, and then allowed as sacks of potatoes went, no, this one did not look buff. He gave the avian equivalent of a sigh.

“Well, it is nice day, even for a mope like you”, said Heron.
“Yeah, it is, even with that cool breeze. I am so fed up with winter, this seemed like an early opportunity to escape the cabin. Feeling wrung out.”
“I understand, bro. Gets that way out here sometimes, especially when there’s ice. Makes it hard to get the fish, you know? Plus, that icy water makes for chilly feet. Speaking of fish…”

Heron tilted his head and slowly lowered it to the water. Heart could see the faint outline of something just below the surface. Heron lanced forward like a swift-thrown spear and came up with a small fish in his beak. He quickly swallowed it and turned back to Heart.

“Nice catch!” said Heart.
“Thanks. So, what’s on your mind, O Eeyore?”
“Valentine’s Day was yesterday. And it always makes me wonder.”
“Love. Romance. Old girlfriends or lack thereof. And if being a nice guy really pays off.”

Heron considered this for a moment. “I don’t know if I can help you with that.”
Heart asked “Why’s that? You aren’t a nice guy?”
The bird clacked his beak. “Let’s just say my notions of romance are a little different. Being a bird, well, being romantic and nice and stuff don’t usually enter into it.”

Heart chewed on a thumbnail for a bit, and then said “Yeah, I get it. What I don’t get is how some people can put up with being treated like a second-class citizen by a partner, and not seem to realize who really respects them and, well, loves them.”

“I sense a raw nerve, am I right?” said Brother Heron.
Heart smiled. “Yeah, you could say that. For some reason I got to thinking about someone I used to know, someone I fell in love with a long time ago…” his voice trailed off as he stared blankly at the lake. Heron made a gesture in front of his beak, rubbing the tips of his wings together, and croaking his laugh.

Heart shook his head, asked “What was that for, Brother H?”
“World’s smallest violin, playin’ just for you…” he answered.
“Very funny, you schmuck. Now cut that out. I’m seriously ruminatin’ here.”
“Sorry, do carry on.” Heart swore he could see a grin on the bird’s face.

Out on the lake there was a sudden flurry of activity among the geese. There was some sort of fracas going on, involving three geese attempting to beat the stuffing out of each other. Water was spraying everywhere as the geese furiously chased one another in circles, their raspy honking sounding like bagpipes locked in a musical death match. Eventually, one of the geese, being the apparent loser, flapped away trying to look dignified. Its tormentors remained behind, honking angrily.

“What was that all about?” Heart asked Heron, looking bemused.
“Ah, those knuckleheads have been doing that all morning.”
“What were they saying? Any idea?”
“No” Heron replied, “I don’t know the Canadian dialect, beyond ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘please come back later’ and ‘fuck off!’”

Heart laughed out loud. “Good to know, I suppose.”
Heron grew serious again. “So about this someone…?”

Heart rubbed his temples again, squinting against the breeze. “We were really good friends, spent a lot of time together. Sometimes on the weekends we were together more than she was with her boyfriend. We could talk about anything, we made each other laugh, and more than once I was the go-to shoulder when her boyfriend treated her like crap or ignored her. Which was often enough to be disturbing. And I fell in love with her.” Heart fell silent. “I never understood why she kept with him, kept going back to him even after horrible fights.”

“Did you say anything to her about that?” asked Heron. Heart considered this a moment.
“I did, on numerous occasions. And she kept telling me she loved him. The damndest thing, and I still don’t get it.”

“And when I told her I thought it was unfair, and I didn’t understand it, I couldn’t stop myself. I told her that I was in love with her. At which point she told me that she really liked me but she only thought of me as a friend.” Heart sighed heavily. Heron stood silent for a moment.

“Heart, why didn’t you just start acting like a dick?” the blue-green bird asked.
“I don’t know. I guess I just couldn’t. I mean, I tried it later, but…”
“But what?”
“Well, I ended up being a dick and I was alone. It never seemed right, and I always felt like a fraud. To really make it work, you have to not be aware of your…dickness…I guess. Most of the guys I saw acting that way always seemed to have girlfriends but they never seemed to acknowledge they were being assholes. Weird, and unsettling, to believe the only way I was going to get kissed, much less get laid, was to be an asshole.”

“I always had the feeling I was betraying myself when I acted that way.”

Heron asked, “So do you still want to be an asshole, now, just to get the women? Probably not, I’m thinking. Why would you want to be with someone who wanted to be with an asshole?”

Heart laughed. “No, and I don’t. For a bird, you are pretty wise, sometimes.”
Heron fluffed his wings in anticipation of takeoff. “Yeah, that’s what all the lady birds say.” He winked, sort of. He paused, crouching. “And you, my friend, can say that you stayed true. That’s worth something, whether you believe it or not,” he said and took off. Heart watched the bird grow small with distance. Truth, he muttered, truth is worth something.

It’s gotta be, said the man to the boy.

14 February 2009

Led Zeppelintine's Day

If the sun refused to shine,
I would still be loving you.
If the mountains should crumble to the sea,
there would still be you and me.

Kind woman, I give you my all,
Kind woman, nothing more.

Little drops of rain whisper of the pain,
tears of loves lost in the days gone by.

But my love is strong, with you there is no wrong,
together we shall go until we die. My, my, my.
Inspiration's what you are to me,
inspiration, look... see.

And so today, my world it smiles,
your hand in mine, we walk the miles,
Thanks to you it will be done, for you to me are the only one.
Happiness, no more be sad, happiness....I'm glad.

If the sun refused to shine,
I would still be loving you.
If the mountains should crumble to the sea,
there would still be you and me.

I racked my brains for something special to say, and found that I had been beaten to the punch.

Sometimes, delicacy comes from the unlikeliest sources, and your heart is not where you thought it was, nor expected it to be, but is there just the same. What a wonderful thing it is to find one’s heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Beautiful lyrics courtesy of Led Zeppelin. Rock on, Cupid.

13 February 2009

Desert Storm

24 November 2003

Haiku #28:
Dry hiss, sand on stone,
Covering all signs of life
Where rain had fallen

I sit and listen, in my mind, to the faint whisper of dry wind blowing across my soul. It is the sound of sand scraping across rocks, or the rattling of dried stalks of beach grass. This arid scratching is a beautiful sound, a natural sound. The product of a complex interaction of wind and earth. The sound calms, centers me in the absence of traffic or people noise. It takes the place of human speech, which is when I like it most. The faint raspiness can be quite desolate. It whispers to me of the irresistible march of time, and of a past long forgotten. The small tickticktick of sand hitting dry, brown grass sometimes reminds me of the living things now dead, or perhaps sleeping. The hollow stalks a bittersweet reminder of the cycle of life and death.

The stalks once green and juicy, the cells full of sap and water. The wind through them at that moment of vibrant life is a happy, comforting sound. In dryness, the sound of bones rattling in a box. These sounds remind me to be patient; through the passage of time, the seasons round upon themselves. What once was withered and shrunken in winter grows green and full in the spring. Not for all things, perhaps, but enough to eagerly await the changes, as I sit here and gaze out the window.

Sometimes the noise grows deeper, surrounding the mind and allowing no escape. It insinuates itself into every fold of consciousness to create a filter of sand and static. When this happens Spring feels very far away, a ship out on the horizon, tiny and gray. The filter renders it difficult to believe that anything was once green and alive and that it will be again.

Life then becomes a waiting game. How long can it be tolerated, the constant wind, the low murmur and moan, the mental fatigue from parsing so much intellectual grit? This is unknown to me. What is known to me is that the parched canyon of my soul once carried life, green and vibrant. Flowers once furred the ground along the banks at the bottom. The wait: sky watching and anxious for the next life-giving storm.

A storm is in some measure what the twins meant to me. These children were the furious “50-year storm” appearing suddenly in my desert. They drenched everything with the water of life, stirring many slumbering things from their rest beneath the red-brown sand. It is like a desert where the insects and the flowers encase their larvae and seeds in near impenetrable shells, to lie in stasis while awaiting that storm of a lifetime. The clouds gather, and then burst in a torrent over soil baked for years. As if by magic, the ground is covered with flowers. The air is thick with insects swarming out of hibernation, their brief frenzied lives making the most of this transient opportunity.

Life before the twins was much like that. They soaked my soul with a downpour of love. Something began moving inside, shaking off the burden of a long sleep to stretch upward to the life-giving rain.

Deserts have a unique, majestic beauty if one cares to look for it. Canyons and mesas show this to be true. But I have come to know my soul wants to be green and growing. The twins showed me that I cannot live in “splendid isolation”, contemplating a wide-open desert under a blinding bright sky. In my life, I had forgotten that I enjoy rain now and again, all the more so when the rain carries with it the power of unconditional love.

This is the realization that my soul had grown arid over the years in a process so gradual that I never saw the changes taking place. I slowly grew used to it, unthinking, unknowing: a slow drip such that I thought it was normal now and had always been. I grew very fond of the desert. It never rained, and there were few others to disturb my grand solitude. Not much seemed to change and I was accustomed to that state of affairs.

Stasis was acceptable for the sake of not having to change. This is a wonderful state of affairs if it is possible to delude oneself into thinking that one is truly an island. I became brittle and petrified. I was a master in convincing myself that I had no need to change. After all, I told myself, stability on my own terms is what I craved. Stability is what I got, at the cost of losing considerable humanity within.

This cloudburst in the shape of my children brought me back to life. I was awestruck and grateful beyond the capacity to express it. The twins made me realize that I am capable of love in all its dimensions, and that I truly am a human being. The desert in me disappeared under a carpet of new life, green and vibrant. It is cruel beyond imagination that they are gone, and I have felt my soul start to crack and shrink again. I am praying for another storm.


February 12th, 2009
Deep down, I am grateful that I never forgot that life was possible. I have my Wee Lass now. And there are other, different storms out there, on the way. I turn my face to the rain.

12 February 2009

You Are Free To Eat

From the “Biting The Hand” Files:

Am I? Am I really free to eat?

I used to think so. Nowadays, I am not so sure. What does it mean to be free to eat? Rather, what do I have to DO to be free to eat? Be someone else’s tool, I suppose.

In the corporate culture, to be free to eat means to be not free to do something else. It means doing what you are told, when you are told to do it, by whomever is in charge of telling you what to do. They can get away with this through the exercise of fear.

Fear that you will not have a job.
Fear that you will not have insurance.
Fear that you will not have a retirement plan.
Fear that you will not move up in life.
Fear that you will not have a “career”.

These are wonderful things, but no one like the implicit threat of the leash.

Fear that if you do not keep your mouth shut and behave you will become a corporate leper. You will not be able to find, or keep, that “position” in the “ladder” or “organization” in which if you work hard enough, long enough, you too will be “vested” and get to tell other people what to do.

Just keep chasing after that next “goal”*. The goal is there, they tell you, it’s just up ahead, just around the bend, just around the next corner. So you do keep chasing it, because after all, achieving the goals is what gets you “security”. Isn’t security the most important thing?

You will have “security”, they say. Security being a relative term, that everyone thinks they know the definition of but is really solely defined by the inscrutable whims of someone else in “authority”. If by security, “stability” is meant, that is true in a limited sense. You get somewhere to go everyday at the same time, whiling away your hours. Security, however, is a myth. A myth wielded as a tool to keep the parts of the machine in line. ‘Replaceability’ is implicit in being a machine part. Machine parts are not really meant to be individuals. You are useful in so much as you are replaceable.

The threat of replacement breeds fear. Fear becomes a tool to control the other tools.

If I am going to be a tool, I prefer to be a tool on my own terms. If I am going to work myself to the point of exhaustion, I prefer it to be at my discretion, for my own goals.

I once told myself that “we are all exploited” and I suspect that really is true. It is up to us to set the terms of that exploitation. Does this guarantee security? Of course not. But to survive, no, to thrive it becomes a matter of imperative. Being free to eat does not mean always having the ability to put food in your mouth; it also means the freedom to say “I’m not hungry”.

If we don’t set the terms of our exploitation, we will never be free to eat.

*Digression: If you transpose the ‘o’ and ‘a’ in goal, it becomes “gaol”, an archaic term for jail. How about that.
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11 February 2009

Snapshot Risk

Well I’ve always been faithful
to my dog and my wife
and I’ve always tried
to lead a responsible kind of life……
but yesterday I stole a car, took it for a drive
I didn’t take it very far
just around the block
all right, a couple of times

How many pictures do you have to take of a person before you know them?

Let me rephrase that question. How many pictures do you have to take of a person before you THINK you know them? 1? 100? 1 million?

In all fairness, the definition of “picture” should be expanded to include all manner of electronic communications, not just images. I include e-mails, social networking site pages, blogs, Twitters, Instant Messaging, phone calls, file attachments, chats, and all the other electronic chaff generated by any human being with some form of electronic network access. Global confetti swirling around in the jet streams of the Internet and telecommunications networks.

And every single flake carrying the imprint of you, partial and incomplete.

It makes me feel disembodied. I feel no sense of real control over who and what I am. There is that old anecdote about primitive cultures believing that having one’s picture taken was tantamount to having your soul stolen. “Ha, ha,” we modern folks laugh, “How silly”, secure in the knowledge that a camera couldn’t possibly steal a soul. Well, secure when we even bother to acknowledge that a soul might exist. I cannot prove or disprove that the soul exists, but I am not prepared to disown the idea. I think there is…something…there. Otherwise, I cannot begin to explain why I sometimes feel that perhaps it has been stolen.

I don’t think I know me
as well as I thought I did
I don’t think I know me
like I thought I did

A camera by itself may not be able to steal a soul, but perhaps the sum total of electronica that we deal with on a daily basis might. It occurs to me, though, that perhaps it isn’t a question of having it stolen, so much as it is we give it away. Freely, willingly, and without much thought. That little anxiety slips under my skin like a needle, every time I hit “send”. I cannot avoid it, unless I am willing to avoid communications almost all together. This is not possible or practical. I have too much invested in it, too many things I want to see and hear.

It bothers me that we act like cameras, every day, but what is the alternative? Filtering information from the immense streams of data we process minute by minute, hour by hour, is like trying to sip water from a fire hose. To deal with the stream, in an attempt to make sense of this flood, we slice it. We freeze it. We cherry pick a singular moment, a wafer thin slice of infinity and pretend that we have all we need to know about anyone.

…if I say all my prayers
I’ll go to heaven
at least I pray that I will
but yesterday in my neighbor’s yard
I stole my neighbor’s bike
I don't intend to give that Harley back
it occurs to me
that ain’t very Christian like

As long as we confine our conclusions to the particular slice of information we have at that particular time this approach may work. It is so limiting, though, because of the narrowness of the focus. Dipping our hands in a river to study the palmful of water does not truly qualify us to speak of the river as a whole.

I wonder what river I am sometimes, when the Outside samples me at random and without my knowledge. Who is dipping their hands in the river, and when? What water are they seeing, smelling, tasting? The Nile is a very different entity from the dry season to the floods. If someone samples when running clear they will think very differently than someone who samples a mouthful of silty water. They may not want to come back. Conclusions will be drawn, some unfavorable, some not. But the information used to generate those conclusions is all me.

…and my family takes picnics
to the park on warm weather holidays
and we ask all our neighbors
and they invite all their friends in kind
and they all bring side dishes
and we form one big holiday buffet line…

Electronic media may be a wonderful facilitator, but it is also a powerful distorter. We tend to forget that what we see or read at any given moment is not the whole story of the person or thing represented. Life as reality TV: be careful what you say or do, because you don’t get to be the editor of it all, unless you control the media itself. Controlling all media is impossible.

So who do I live my life for? Is it for myself, or the invisible universe? I want to live it for myself, whatever that takes. Ultimately, I cannot control what the world will think of me, no matter what I say and do. That includes good and bad, polite and rude, courageous or cowardly. And I know I cannot be all good all the time, just as I would never be bad all the time. But I do realize I that I will never be able to dictate what people see at any given moment, because I do not control their time and how they choose to spend it. I am also painfully self-conscious much of the time. So you can see this creates a powerful dilemma for me. How do I live a fully engaged life as me without drowning in a sea of anxiety created by the uncontrollable snap judgments of others?

…but yesterday, Independence Day
at eighty-five miles an hour
I plowed that Harley through the buffet line
it occurs to me…

The solution I believe to be simple like making steamed rice or making bread. Don’t laugh, it’s true. I don’t mean instant rice or prepackaged bread dough. I mean plain rice out of bag, no treatments. I mean flour, salt, yeast and water. Do you remember the first time you tried to make rice, or a loaf of bread? I do. It was…edible, sort of. But the end result defied the expectations engendered by the seeming simplicity of it all. How could something so simple be so hard to do?

It takes patience, care and attention to detail. With so few ingredients, they have to be good quality and you have to treat them right. So I reckoned that for my life I would stick to good ingredients, not too many and take good care of them. I finally realized that I can say and write and post what I want. To remove the worry, all that is required is honesty, sincerity and not saying things that I could possibly regret later, or that I would want to take back. Don’t commit it to speech or paper or image unless you really mean it, no matter what. Be true.

I don’t think I know me
as well as I thought I did
I don’t think I know me
like I thought I did

We all take snapshots. But snapshots only offer information about a particular set of circumstances, a singular look at someone that doesn’t offer enough data about the whole. In my case, I am striving to put up snapshots that really are me. A tall order when “I’m a million different people from one day to the next” as Verve says. But I can’t worry about that anymore. Try and take a lot of snapshots. After all, a single tile does not a mosaic make.

I am a mosaic. Make a picture out of me.

(Italicized paragraphs are lyrics from the song “I Don’t Think I Know Me” by Eddie From Ohio, on the album Big Noise)
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10 February 2009

Run Through By Eyes of Blue

Under a February sky of Carolina blue, I felt my heart stop and I nearly tripped and fell down the ramp in front of me. The sun was playing tag with clouds like meringue, and it felt so good. My surprise was complete, total, and irrevocable.

I’m sorry, Mr. Eliot, April may have been the cruelest month for you, but around here February is the sadist. The blood is running sluggish and feels tired. The cold and damp has been hanging around for too long. Every day feels like waking up from a restless nap, dizzy and sick feeling, with a head full of molasses.

Even the sky gets in on the act. It hangs. It lowers. It’s a swollen belly the color of a dirty nickel. Or maybe a bucket of fetid dishwater. The grayness rubs off on me turning my skin into a peculiar shade of nothing. The skin itself is usually dry and scratchy; sometimes I feel like I’m molting. Crabby enough to be an angry crustacean.

It’s a little strange because I am not a “sun” person. I like beaches and being outdoors but it has never been a priority to get a tan. My honeymoon was in the Bahamas, an entire week, and I found that by the end of the seven days of paradise, I felt like I had been poleaxed from the heat and the light and not being in the shade enough. Copious amounts of ‘Bahama Mamas’ probably didn’t help either. Sitting in a lounge chair watching people jet-skiing through Nassau Harbor or swimming up to the bar in the pool, bodies a-glisten with tanning lotion, that was exhausting for me in the full bore glare of the sun.

Summer days around here swiftly devolve into hazy buckets of thick, smoggy air, the humidity fit to turn any article of clothing into a damp sponge. The car is always hot, the air is always hot and fifteen minutes of trying to get anything done outdoors just makes you want to sit down under a tree with a cold beer in hand. Still, I never feel like I want to crawl into a hole and sleep for months.

Spring, fall and early winter are my favorite times of year. I like cloudy days when the clouds are rolling, scudding along under pressure of wind. I am comforted by a cool taste in the air like the possibility of rain. Rain itself I don’t mind in small amounts. A cool spring rain or that supercharged smell of fat drops in a summer thunderstorm are among my favorite seasonal experiences. That sort of thing lifts me up, makes me feel the possibilities of life running through my veins.

Fall days with a slight nip and mottled sunlight: I wish I could bottle them, paint them, write a good song about them. They make me feel alive and invigorated. Watching geese migrate or picking apples with the smell of frost in my nostrils, and I am blessed. As a testament to my dorkiness as a boy, I liked in some small measure that school had started by the fall. Perhaps it was the ritual of it, the seasonal marker. There was a newfound vigor in the body that came from cooler temperatures and shaking off the stifling effects of sweltering weeks. Not for nothing are they called “dog days”. Dog tired and panting from the heat.

I have also done some of my best work in early winter. The reasons are still a mystery to me. Shorter days and colder temperatures seem counter intuitive to higher productivity. Maybe it is the momentum picked up from the invigoration of fall, senses sharpened and on a roll. Being forced back inside I am sure has an influence; it is difficult to goof off outside playing Frisbee when the sun has gone down by dinnertime. Yeah, I know, they make glow-in-the-dark Frisbees, but the first time you do a faceplant after tripping over a hose, you get a big disincentive to risk life and limb running around in the backyard.

Wintertime at college was when I always racked up my highest GPA’s, too. Of course, I was up in the mountains of Virginia, and it was cold as the proverbial welldigger’s butthole most of the time. Except for sledding down hills on lunch trays stolen from the cafeterias, and weekend football, not a whole lot of reason for me to be outside. Maybe the weather promoted more of a “monastery” approach to life. Another advantage to winter in the mountains was the greater cold. That meant snow was more likely, not so much sleet or rain. Snow is a lot more fun than the gray funk I see a lot around here in February.

Gray funk. The best description I can think of for a February in Baltimore. Not cold enough for a lot of snow, not warm enough to really spend a lot of time outdoors. Especially here near the water, where it can get really damp. The sort of damp that seeps through the clothes and settles in the bones, sapping the energy and draining the spirit. Even like now, when we haven’t had that much snow and ice all winter, it’s still grey. Like a room full of nothing.

Except for today. Today it was warming up like you could smell Spring sitting on the back of the stove, simmering flowers. The soil was waking up and I had a nose full of minerals and a head full of breezes. My girl and I and the wife could not resist the call of the satyrs this un-winter day. Too much time in the house, too much gray painting the walls and the inside of our eyelids, so we piled into the car in search of rejuvenation. Soon, we were at the big playground where she went for “field trips”. Oh, what a lovely day! The scent in the air, the sound of kids playing happily on the slides and monkey bars, a nice breeze tickling my ears and neck. First time in weeks I felt some serious life in the limbs.

I stepped out of the car, helped Wee Lass out of her seat. She was real excited about playtime and being out of the house. We skipped a little going down the ramp, and she giggled to make me turn to mush. Her hair was in a ponytail, streaming in the wind, that honey-gold banner of the Princess trailing out behind.

At the bottom of the ramp, she stopped and turned and looked at me with those eyes the color of heaven. I, the Captain of Her Highness’ Guards, clutched my chest and swore that while I drew breath, she would never come to harm. The Princess smiled sweetly, knowing full well the glory of her position.
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