Modern Gym Rat Par Excellence

cairns & people

I know it: I’m a skunk. When I see a lady in tights, down in the dumps, I move in. I take her out to tea. I take her out to a movie. I shaved down my skull to look ten years younger. I say ‘hello’ to everyone in town. I know my way around. They can’t believe I had late stage Lyme Disease. And I tell the lady I’m with, “Yeah, for a time, my confidence, it was really eroded.” I look down. But they don’t see half of what I know. How I got too close where I should have not. Got caught. The short of it was, my old job? Kaput. I wanna say I’m a victim of Orson Welles. That my little red sled, my Rosebud, got burned up, too, on that snowy, white hill. I want to overcome my original traumas, my mother, my father, my love affairs with blue raincoats and wearing all my life, on both sleeves, the songs of Leonard Cohen. That’s what I do. Can’t help it. I know it. I’m a creep. Posing as a one hundred percent beeswax candle burning like romance on your bedside table. Why, I’m never going to be famous. And I’m never going to be rich. Blah blah blah. It works. I’ll taking a spinning class at the Racquet Club and ride my wheels there. And before you know it, I’ll be checking out the tight ass of some other hot … Well, you know it. I’m just so lonely, and so incomplete. I believe in karma, for sure. Can’t help it. I’m a professional player. For sure. Don’t doubt it. Come on, date me. Go out to dinner. I’ll pay. Shop together at Whole Foods. You buy. Let me swap out the light summer screen with your heavy glass storm door. I’m strong. Even wash your car. Yeah, do it. And I know you’ll feel sorry for me—no kids no wife no family blah blah blah so fucking sad—and mix that all up with your own good kindness and true, honest compassion. After you, when you catch on and we’re done, I’ll move on. There’s always another hot dame around, all confused with how to use the scale at the Club. There she is. She’s hot, jabbing at the on/off button with her sneaker’s green and pink toe. A pro, I know exactly where to begin. I’ll move in. [Start at top line of this paragraph, again.] Starting up the pattern again. Another tale to tell, as the LCD screen lights up with the nimble prodding of my foot and my verbal aplomb, as I venture to recount, for the weeks that it takes, my ongoing saga of romantic woe. In the end, the numbers add up. Women are precisely and exactly and predictably the same: my saddened male lifetime, swapped for a feather down bed. The pattern? It’s clockwork. The women all know me. I say “I’m alone.” I reap what I’ve sown.

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‘Warning! Warning! Warning!’ To Will Robinson: Lost In Space


I wore my broken heart the way a dog wore its collar. I was owned but I had no master. I pumped iron every other day. It made me jacked and feel taller. Not the soft punk I had been from the wrong neighborhood where like me the houses on the street were decent but smaller. My SATs did not reflect how smart I was but I was trapped by mediocre scores. Had I been a giant with high verbals and high mathematics I could have gone to Harvard. Instead I’m bald and pushing 60 in yoga pants. But, you know, a broken heart is the way to get ‘em. Soft and gentle, yeah, that’s me: Billy. Been stepped on, stepped over, pissed on, and pissed over all my life. It’s been a dozen times. And women, the ones who got stepped on and pissed on, they’re the ones to fall for me like I’m Tom Cruise or some knock-out celebrity. They feel sorry for not who I am but for who I am not. Though I’m not too old to like Radiohead or PJ Harvey. As a CSW, I do good for people. In a coupla more years I’ll be retired. But I still don’t know who the fuck I am. I’m intelligent, sensitive, and kind—until I get pushed into a corner, until you make me feel my open broken heart has been taken advantage of. Then, I know, I become that little pit bull, you know, the neglected, overlooked, looked past one that was feeding on leftover rats on the wrong side of the track. So, sure, I’m sentimental and mixed up with some bitterish chocolate chips. Had I become William, or even Will, I might have had a kid or even a wife. I’m just afraid someone’s gonna clip me with a leash and take me for another walk.

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This Graceful Suspension Of The World

keys and lock

He had a secret wife once whose marriage to they nobody told. Even when her family all journeyed on a five-day ocean cruise together to celebrate her maternal grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, the husband in name, he stayed at home. That’s how secret she was. Once, another time, she had returned from taking exams upstate. And the exam she took was computerized (not on paper), and while she took it, it learned her learning rate. It gave her very quickly, she told him afterwards, more and more difficult problems to solve, and each ‘one more’ difficult problem submitted on the screen to her, she got right. The testing program recalculated itself, and, with the secret wife’s having rapidly solved correctly such difficult problems as which the program could ever propose, it released her from the testing grounds in twenty minutes with an “800”—a perfect score. Almost ninety minutes had been shaved off her testing time, her sitting time, her being there. That’s how time and testing and the algorithms had worked.

The spatial reasoning his brilliant secret wife could perform with ease at astronomical rates of speed is not the way, in general, anything else works in life. The massive hero Ajax, for instance, that great, lumbering Greek warrior, battles and battles everyday, fighting off the Trojans. And before he rejoins the battle, Achilles sulks in his tent for months, unable to convince Agamemnon to give him back Briseis, his war booty, in all that time. And who can really tell how long, how many decades and years of accident and misfortune, how much lasting grief it will take and all the many dead there will be when spacecraft really do fly and land to colonize the desiccated, lifeless planet Mars.

Today an argument could verily be made that the man who’d had that secret wife long ago, far away, is one day close to his death. His wits are down. His love forsakes him. His cat is gone. His cupboard in nearly bare. His pile of winter wood is wet. For him, all the world’s diseases and sicknesses and misfortunes have fled buzzing like flies into the air. The only saving grace the world has ever known, however, is not “hope”—that miscreant’s negative creed of dissatisfaction, of being against the way reality actually is—but “anticipation”—which, though syllabically awkward, is the better translation of the Greek word “elpis,” of what actually remained in Pandora’s opened picnic basket. It means to simply wait for, and to be able to wait for, the next thing to come. And that, the love-broken man knew, trembling in fear asleep and living in a perfect equation of anxiety awake, by the multitudes of stars which over the span of all eternity shall have opened their eyes at night and closed them during the day, was all there ever was.

Parenthetical Winter Folder Path

winter mountains path

(The truth was he loved everything in parentheses.) Different aspects of life (the multitudinous ways of being) and different walks of being were just the way he was, and the very way he liked to be. If there were manila folders and in each folder a little of something crumpled or crisp were tucked away inside it, and that folder were put together with others like or similar to it in one bin, and other folders and ones like it were put in another, and these bins were placed on a shelf, and on hundreds of half-remembered shelves there were different bins filled with different sets and different stacks of some folders whose edges were crisp and some whose edges were crumpled, well, that was just the way he was. He wasn’t like a banker living in Boston driven by goals and his beautiful wife to create a unified, whole, and wholly integrated on all levels sort of life, a life by which one could hold a mallet and whack a croquet ball down the green field of grass from one end of where the wickets were to another. It didn’t include a buffet tent, and an awning off the side of the house with a fold-up bar on wheels, and guests all of whom were both social and business contacts, and three (3) children to be spaced out eighteen months apiece for a total of his wife’s being pregnant over an entire birthing cycle of forty-five months by the time he reached thirty-eight years of age such that the actuarial of his death between his having reached seventy-five and seventy-eight years of age would arrive upon even the youngest of his progeny’s having become fully established and wholly and safely ensconced in life’s ineluctable reality. No, he liked to flirt with the caddy near the green, even though he didn’t play golf. He liked to schmooze with the big shots watching the Oscars on TV. He liked to have tea in San Francisco with his old roommate’s wife when the harbor seals were dancing somewhere in the waves. He liked to collect sunstones in the dirt of Oregon by himself. He liked to shave his head and shoot 22’s at the local NRA shooting range and smell the smell of gunpowder there stuck in the air. He liked to listen to Janet Baker singing Mahler alone with his grown daughter on his ancient, vacuum tube-amplified music system in a heartbroken shack along the coast of Maine. He liked to engineer a bear-proof, pulley-and-rope apparatus by which he hung his bird-feeder filled with sunflower seeds for the birds (and the few squirrels who had the desire and temerity to reach it) to feed. He liked to walk along the graveyard path with a bright young lady who was at home and listen to her speak of life. He liked to make and lose scads of money at race car events, betting with strangers in the bleachers, getting his teeth filled with brown dust and fuel fumes from the screaming cars going around the track. He liked to write poems that rhymed ABABCDCD…, and throw them into the lit fireplace. He liked to think about making flies for fly-fishing, and that’s all. Having what others would call a ‘big life’—a full, entirely visible life under the gaze of some all-perceiving, or all-perceived totality of completeness—well, that never held an iota of appeal or any desire to even the tiniest and very best parts of him. (He was, he had to admit to himself, sotto voce, filled with a deep, reverent loneliness, that even the distant ocean could hear.)

Happy Trails Donor

sandwich food on plate

I’d given the usual pint of blood every fifty-six days for the usual half-known reasons. It was something I’d done since high school and had forged my father’s signature over for parental permission to do so. And so long as I was nearby a local Red Cross and wasn’t sick or going to be stacking wood later in the day or conducting a symphony in the evening, I’d go. I think what I like about it was the unknown effect of doing something that’s good to do. That’s all. Once I was sent a post card that named the hospital about forty-five miles away from my house where a patient had been helped out by my unit donated, and that made me feel uneasy and squeamish. I’d rather not know if my blood saved the life of a criminal drunk behind a wheel smashed into a tree, or a little baby with a congenital heart defect under surgery. And afterwards, there were the usual snacks and donor chatter at the snack-and-chatter table where people snacked and chatted about cholesterol and their weight and about the new owners of the local meat market in town we all knew. And I didn’t say a word myself to be clever or prescient or knowing much about anything at all. I didn’t even remember to say how I’d been walking down the mountain just two days before and had crossed the path of another hiker going up who’d warned me about a rattlesnake along the trail she’d seen. And in our chatting about what to do and what not to do when faced with natural dangers or dangers in nature, she said, as for mosquitoes, “Big deal. What’s it to me to give a mosquito a drop of my blood? A little itch.” And I’d said back to her, “When that happens, I’m flying!” She laughed, and wandered on. “Happy descent!” she hollered over her shoulder. “Happy ascent!” I hollered back.

Zen Camino Road


The Master sat, having tucked his robes beneath his knees, and folded them, such that any space that had offered any opening to where his genitals lay, was covered by cloth. He then, having assumed his lotus posture, asked each apprentice the same question, “What is the Way?” And each, coming up before him, sitting now slightly below the Master’s line of vision, offered a glimpse of this. Carefully, the Master brushed away these understandings with care and aplomb. There were concerns with the deception of perhaps feeling something over actually knowing it. There were problems with being able to unfurl many fine words of the Tradition which did not necessarily betray their life as practice. There those that even questioned the Master himself, that he was too much himself a man of intellect and not of the heart. And to each apprentice, I observed how like the moment when I myself have walked alone and felt a falling acorn has hit the back of my hand, the Master was both personal and direct every time, an oak of wisdom. I also, as I sat, remembered reading long ago, sprayed upon a wall in blue paint: “Soy la palabra, soy el camino, soy la verdad.” I am the word, I am the road, I am the truth, when I was walking to my Spanish lesson to learn Spanish in Bogotá. This was back in 1990 when the way was dangerous and I went quite carefully there and back alone. This was when a garbage dump manager almost became elected President of Colombia because most of the other presidential candidates had been assassinated, and it narrowed the field down. He came close enough to the tune of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, whose baleful ominous choirsome music from hell and heaven oppressed and elevated us all. I had wanted, had I gone up to speak to the Master himself, to tell him not all of this, but some of it. I know, had I gone there, I would have faced him, my eyes slightly just below his, and said to him in Spanish, the words of the graffito that I had read and absorbed so long ago on my daily Spanish lesson, and nothing more. I chose to fidget a little since my nose was a bit runny due to the change of weather, from the host of warm summer days that were almost balmy, to the suddenly cool ones of Fall that took that warmth out of my bones.

Leaves, Games & Other Treasure

fall leaves

As a kid, she had played a board game called Careers. It was a fun game to play. Arrows were spun, dice were tossed, paths were taken. Players became things. They became lawyers, or doctors, or engineers. They became businessmen. It was an old-fashioned game. And it was great fun to go down the different colored pathways and to turn up cards or hit spaces on the board that set you back. The whole thing was meaningless, and even the name of the game itself had no meaning at all. She grew up with a sense none of the things she had played when she was little had ever mattered at all. It was just fun. That’s all.

When she was older and leaving college all the kids leaving school were shouting at each other as they were leaving the bright grassy green campus for good, “Get a job!” That was funny. For who’d want to learn for four years and then just forget all that and go to get a job? She had heard her classmates joking that way and it was pretty funny for sure. Even the President of the United States of America, he said that people believed around the country today that if you worked hard you should get ahead. And he believed that this was a common creed across the land. What Alice had by this time discovered is that her particular world was ever slow and ever slowing. In this way when a leaf fell, she saw it. In this way when a bus pulled out, she had smelled the diesel fumes. In this way, when the equinox came in September, she felt the chilling cool inside her body’s bones. In this way, when she opened her mind she could hear own thinking. And this had happened more and more in life since her joyful days when she had had fun playing games on the floor that didn’t matter.

For so many others it had appeared to her, too, that from top to bottom, what she was experiencing as her own life might not be exactly happening to them. Instead, it was as if everything in their lives had been already mapped out, as if they had been appearing as performers in a theatrical performance of a scene of themselves. It was a game that everybody knew. A game where the dice were loaded. The war was over. The good guys lost. And that wasn’t a very fun game for anybody to play. Even for the rich winners it wasn’t very fun. That was no more fun than reaching blindly into a treasure chest and every time you put in your hand you pulled out pearls and gold. No, she knew that the whole point of a real treasure chest is that you don’t pull out pearls and gold every time you reach in your hand. That’s just the same thing every time. A known certainty that after a while isn’t very fun to do anymore. No, it was the doubt, and uncertainty, and the misgivings, too, which of course had to come along with uncomfortable doubt and uncertainty from time to time, that had made her life so far very fun and very playful.

Backyard Gardening At Home

weathered barn

Even the blackened green leaves were picked. I had left them crumpled on their stalks last week, dismayed. Again, half the basil I had left to wither. That was years since I’d made such a lapse. But many plants in a brighter, sunnier patch were fine and rich and quickly plucked. These leaves filled my large yellow glass bowls, and I tipped them into my kitchen sink. Last evening I had returned since I heard the night would be even colder. A small stack of some wood I had left unchopped for a friend to practice on I’d promised to save it for to split last year still stands a year later. And soon I’ll be splitting another cord myself. In pesto, there really is no great difference between the batches I’ve found in taste, unless the one that’s made from autumn’s leaves is a bit more grassy and slightly bitter. Aside from cobwebs growing on the plants, it really would be rather wasteful not to use them all. And, besides, I am the only one looking on the basil growing now. With olive oil and garlic and sea salt and finely chopped hot cayenne peppers grown from my garden, too, plus pine nuts and a touch of parsley, it’s very, very tasty. And how sweet the smell when all the garden plucking is on my fingertips. Still, when I make it all, I’ll separate the neglected leaves from the fresher ones, and be myself comparing the two, eating from carefully enough labeled containers marked with scribbled-upon masking tape taped to the lids, when I thaw the many portions I will have again from the freezer for meals and company when I have some all winter long until next summer comes.

Broken Snow Tree

fallen yellow leaves

The jar of walnuts was almost empty. And the cords of wood, they were stacked. Stovepipe clean. Winter was a-coming. The coffee beans, they were still ground each morning, an hour before the sunlight curled around the mountaintop, by hand. It would be wise to crawl beneath the house and wrap the wool again, or build a solid box, around the water heater tucked below the floorboards. It was going to be cold. Thank the dog of Egypt, there were a good half dozen blankets to keep a body warm. Thank the rows of cans stored in the cupboard. Thank the garden crop of summer, and fall, and all the good things of the earth grown for eating that will be stored. All it takes is the planet’s reaching a tilt of twenty-three degrees away from the Sun, life’s fiery provider, to pull a sweater over in the chill of evening or the early blackened morning. It takes nobody to realize these things, a steadfast cycle so easily missed in the great bustle of the world’s seething metropolises or the company of others.

Morning Waves Swell Again

morning waves swell

It had been a danger to look at, and read, the words of a lost love so early in the morning. After all, they usually began—mornings—still black so early. Then, at that time, before time even felt counted, the window was as black as night, and even the fog could not be seen, which was often the first thing visible. Ideas and feelings all loose and unformed and inchoate stirred from his bedside, and really only the whisk of his beloved cat’s tail passing his foot was a little reminder of being quite alive. He’d begin there. To hear the yearning and longing and sorrow and even the gratitude of another decent human being, like seeing a bright, starry pinprick in a lightless universe before the universe itself had become awake, before the heavens were stretched open before the coming brightening day, the sudden human influence upon another human being cannot be underrated. It made him miss things he did not want to any longer miss any longer, love what he could not bear himself anymore to love anymore, and to tend to another he had wished in his darkened little world to be loath to tend to again, as he once did love and tend to her before.