Saturday, December 29, 2012

color to the world

color to the world A walk to work. Ten degree weather. Cold to the bone. Dark houses. Too many of them—and more than last year—without Christmas lights. I pass them. Think of what goes on inside. Politics. Religion. Television. Likely nothing beyond the every day black-and-white at all. And I wonder…what’s so hard about stringing some lights? Slap a wreath on the door. Tie a bow to the mailbox. Help put some color into this world. I pass the doctor’s house. Wreath. Bow. Tree in the window. A few strands of lights. And it makes me happy. I pause. Turn and look down Hitchcock Street—like I do every morning—the straight-shot view to the big lake. And I take a slow, deep breath to recharge. Rethink. Regain that perspective that the water, the trees, this town can give a man when he is able to peel away the layers of apathy and ignorance. Tune into the subtle mystique and let himself be drawn in. A bug to the light. Metal to a magnet. Husband to his wife. And just as I’m starting to feel it—that welcoming, electric-like buzz of hope that this place has always held beneath its surface—a red van growls by. And instantly, I think of the two women at my door. A few days ago. Meek as hell. Pleasant and kind. Getting out of their red van and walking to my door. I heard them before I saw them—the van exhaust a dead giveaway—so I was at the door and ready before they knocked or rang the bell. ** “Hi!” I said, as I opened the door and the wind nearly took it off its hinges. “Hi,” the tall twiggy one asked. “What’s your name?” “K.J.,” I said, as I held the door open against swirling gusts that sent snow up all around us like we were figurines in a snow globe. “K.J., it’s nice to meet you. I’m Sara and this is Mary.” Sara. Late 30s. Tall. Plain. Straight sandy-blonde hair. Gold, wire-rimmed round glasses. And when she turned sideways to introduce her cohort, I could see Sara was paper thin. So much so, that with the way the gusts were coming, I was worried she might be swept away. She held the porch railing with one hand. Bible with the other. But the wind. The cold. The fact that I was standing there with a martini in my hand at two o’clock in the afternoon, didn’t seem to phase her. “Hi, Sara. Hi, Mary.” I sipped my drink. Mary was short. Stout. Late 50s. She had a sweet face. Pretty eyes. And immediately, she made me miss my Grandma. Had I been into my third martini instead of my second, I would have invited her in. Given her the reigns to the fridge, the cupboards, the pots and pans, and let her dazzle me with old-school, culinary genius. Bet you make some mean meatballs! That’s what I wanted to say. But my wife. Marriage. Kids. All of these things have tempered me. And so, I said nothing. When two women come to your door on a blustery Saturday afternoon holding bibles and looking sweetly serious it’s clear they have something to say. “Do you ever wonder how the world will end?” Sara asked. “Holy moly,” I said. “That’s getting right to the point.” Sara smiled. Mary looked over her shoulder at the neighbor’s trash can that was rolling away. Sara tried it again. “K.J., don’t you ever wonder what it will be like at the end?” I sipped my martini. Watched that trash can roll and roll until it came to rest on the other side of the street against the curb. Mary was back with us now. She had opened her bible and was watching me. “Of course I wonder about the end,” I said. “Nearly every day. In fact, I have this story rolling around in my head right now that I’ve been trying to get down on paper for weeks.” “You’re a writer?” Mary asked. By her tone, her interest, I could tell that Mary was a writer too. Or at the very least, she read enough and thought enough about what she was reading to know that writing—stringing words together to make light—is a hard thing to do. “Yep,” I said, and raised my martini to the wind as if itself was proof enough that indeed I was a man of words. Sara looked at Mary with sweet disgust. We were getting off track. They’d come here with a job to do. They were cold. Getting blown around. Covered with snow. They needed to get in. Lay the foundation. Then get out. “What’s the story?” Mary asked. Sara looked at me. Forced a smile. “Yes, what is the story?” Sara asked. I drained my glass. Kept hold of that door so it wouldn’t whack them off the porch. “My wife. My kids. We’re all together. On the beach. My wife and I—we can tell something’s coming—but we don’t know what. We are drinking wine. The kids are playing in the sand. The sky is going crazy. Changing colors. Going bright. Going dark. There are birds in swarms. Feathers falling. Fish are belly-up in the water. Some of them flopping around on the shore. But all of us are calm and happy and warm.” Mary smiled. Sara’s face relaxed. For a moment, I believed she was listening. “And there is this rumbling,” I said. “It’s in the distance. I can hear it. My wife can too. But the kids cannot. We gather together and just sit there. Waiting for the unknown. As the rumbling grows louder—again it’s something only my wife and I can hear—we huddle together. Hug and kiss. And when we look out over the lake we can see it—an enormous wave—rolling in.” A Fed Ex truck roared past. The trash can was freed from the curb. It rolled back across the street. To the neighbor’s yard. And I thought of trash cans all over town whirling around. Their owners never knowing the travels they make on blustery days. “What happens then?” Sara asked. I looked to Mary. She was still smiling. And I wanted more than ever to bring her in. Keep her. Have my Grandma again. Good food. An old friend. And that’s when I knew that the martini was doing its job. My mind was shaking loose the everyday bullshit and my heart was rising up. And little by little the world was making sense. And I knew I needed to go. To get downstairs. To the big old desk. Another martini. The keys. And I needed to write that story about the end of the world. “That’s where we come in,” Mary said and she flipped from the page she’d been holding to another place in the bible. “Mary…” Sara started, but it was too late and Mary began to read. “I have seen the occupation that God has given to the sons of mankind in which to be occupied. Everything he has made pretty in its time. Even time indefinite he has put in their heart, that mankind may never find out the work that the true God has made from the start to the finish. I have come to know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good during one’s life; and also that every man should eat and indeed drink and see good for all his hard work. It is the gift of God.” Mary closed her bible. “Well thanks, Mary. And amen!” Sara handed me a pamphlet, WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW THE TRUTH? “Thank you, K.J.,” she said. Mary waved. I waved back. And they headed down the steps to their van. They got in. Started it. And as it growled and roared its way down Second Avenue I thought it was probably pretty hard doing what they had to do. Believing so much. Trying to change a world that did not want to be changed. And that a noisy van likely made it worse, eliminating the chances of a sneak attack. ** I passed Hitchcock Street. Continued my walk. Listened as the van vibrated its way through the quiet morning and headed out of town. Wondered if it was Sara and Mary giving it another shot. Converting the world. Changing my neighborhood from lights and decorations to plain old dark. And I thought then that maybe I should not go to work. That I should stay out. In ten degree weather. One foot in front of the other. Cold to the bone. And make my rounds. To each and every house. With martinis and bows and strings of words. To hang like lights. So they would shine. Brighter than politics. Truer than religion. And that somehow. Together. We would bring color to this world. ~ K.J.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

the little part of me that breaks

Cannot imagine. What it would be like. Right now. Not hearing Oogie. Me—finally, downstairs at the writing desk. While she’s in her room. Just a three-year-old. In her big safe world. Scooby Doo. Pink walls. Stuffed animals. Books and dolls. Bouncing around on her bed just before she goes to that place where she says she meets talking ladybugs. Lions that love her. And her brother. And the two of them rule dream world—just as they do in this old house in this old neighborhood—running, hugging, laughing. Chasing bubbles. Building forts. Throwing snowballs in each other’s face just to show the depth of their unbreakable bond. Their BFF-to-the-end affection. And I think of my boy—Little Man—tonight on the couch looking like all the wind had gone out of him. “Rough day at school, hey?” He put his head on my shoulder. And we just sat there. Watching Home Alone. Waiting for fish sticks and tater tots to brown in the oven. And I kept thinking that it was only a few hours ago that I saw him run up onto the stage with a half dozen other kids for their first grade Christmas play. He was smiling and proud, waving at me. Excited. And then, some other kid—probably just as proud and excited—yelled at him, “NO! Get out of here! You’re not part of this!” My boy. Standing there. Just as confused as I was because I saw his name on the program as being part of this part that the kid said he was not part of. And then, he walked away. Embarrassed. Sad. And there it was. Here it is. That little part of me. That breaks. Because no matter what I do to guide and teach. No matter how much I love him. There is nothing I can do to protect him. Save him. Stop whatever it is that waits for him. His sister. All those other little kids that were just there to sing. Wear Santa hats. Penguin costumes. And bring a little joy to our world. But this is the thing you cannot show while sitting among fifty other parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. It is not the thing you can show to your wife at your side. Your daughter on your lap. Or your boy. As he waits. Awkwardly. Ten feet from the stage. For his chance to get back up there and show us what it is he’s been practicing for every day the past two weeks. A lifetime in kid-dom. No. I cannot imagine what it would be like. And I hope this is the closest I will ever get. To not hearing Oogie. Me—at my writing desk. While the kids are upstairs. Heads to pillows. Bodies cozy in big blankets. Getting ready to run and laugh and hug. With ladybugs. Lions that love them. And the two of them can rule this world. With an unbreakable bond. Filled with BFF-to-the-end affection. Bless you little kids in Newport. And bless you too, kids all over the world. ~ K.J.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

abrupt endings

abrupt endings (part of the new novel) She had the book with her. Little, multi-colored tabs exploding from the pages. And the cover and binding were so beat to hell that it made it hard to believe she’d only had the book for a month. “Cutting Teeth,” she said and tapped the cover of the book. “The sentences are so short and the endings so abrupt,” she said. I took a big drink of scotch. Rolled it round with my tongue. Looked forward to the slow, easy heat. Watched this girl—Emily—go from thumbing like crazy through a copy of my book to writing frantically in a leather bound journal as she talked to me. She was pretty. Dark curls. Icy blue eyes. Young. Looking her best, I suppose. But I didn’t want company, didn’t want to talk about the book, and didn’t want to talk about writing. Especially to some graduate student doing a paper on minimalism while she was home for the holidays. “Do you want a drink,” I asked. The scotch raced down my throat. Warmed the hollow place. And started its mellow release. Through bloodstream. Muscle. Tissue. Bone. To the place that’s always needed it. And I thought of all the times it’s been like this. Me. Bellied up to the bar. Enjoying the dim light. Wanting nothing but quiet. To be left alone. Have a few drinks. To slow my mind and be able to think on the littlest things. And I could see her—Emily—in the mirror behind the bar, looking at me. “Two more,” I said to Mike, the bartender. “You got it, Hoss.” “Why does he call you Hoss?” she asked. Mike smiled. Poured two glasses of scotch. “Fan of Ponderosa, I guess.” She scribbled in her journal. “Ponderosa?” she said. “The steakhouse?” Mike chuckled. Set the liquid joy in front of us. “Jesus,” I said. “You’re so fucking young.” “My Dad used to take us there on Sundays,” she said. “I loved their mashed potatoes.” “Holy shit,” I said, and finished the rest of the first scotch. She fanned through the book. “You talk like you write,” she said. “Lots of profanity.” “Listen, Emily,” I said, “It is a little after noon on a Saturday. It’s cold outside. Snow is building up over the lake. I like it here. I’m in my element. Mike takes care of me. I take care of him. In about an hour, a couple of my friends will be here and they do not give a shit that I write books. They don’t care about words. Fuck, I don’t even think they read. And you know what? That’s what I’m looking forward to. So, if it’s all the same to you, I would like to just get this over with, so that maybe we can have a few drinks and talk like normal people for a while.” She sat there a moment. Back straight. Glancing at the door. I thought for sure I had done it. That she would excuse herself. Put on her coat. Take the raggedy book and pretentious journal and leave. Instead, she picked up the scotch. Drank it in three gulps without batting an eyelid and turned to me. “I can see why you’re wife left you,” she said and smiled. “My charm’s an acquired taste.” “Mike, another please.” And she fanned through those pages and scribbled in her journal and I knew I was in for a long day. And maybe a long night. And that now, anything could happen and probably would because we were drinking scotch on a Saturday afternoon in Alpena, Michigan. The place it all came together. The place it all fell apart. And I was old and she was young and we cared about nothing but the book and everything I had built into those short sentences. Abrupt endings. And small words. ~ K.J.