And so, it has been. And so, too, it will remain. Through my life, unto death, and for the unfurling of eons beyond. Rainier, vast and massive observer of fidelity and betrayals; of sprigs and blooms; of the lives of things so small and ephemeral that you could argue their existence at all.
Rainier, bearing witness to the evolution of man and every element of the human condition. Diffident to joy. Indifferent to sadness. Stoic to what it has inspired in the hearts of anyone who from the fields of its foothills have gazed upon its vermiculate pattern of inscriptions, carved from the hands of God, Himself.
Remember me, Rainier, when I am gone.
Last week, while in San Francisco for a writers conference, I was walking with my young daughter on Geary Street near Mason, not far from Union Square, when I noticed him: a towering, disheveled member of the city’s vast legion of homeless people, keeping pace behind me.
I deliberately altered my pace—already considerably slower than the rest of the people who were streaming past since I was holding the hand of my toddler—to let him pass. But instead of disappearing into the upstream swim of pedestrians, he slowed, too.
Angling myself to keep him in my periphery, I took him in: 6’4, solidly built, and dressed in a green zippered hoodie with bulging front pockets. With eyes that darted around as if they were tracking an invisible swarm of bees in front of his face, he mimicked my movements. When I walked on, he followed. When I slowed down, he did too. I crossed the street and sure enough, he was right there behind me. It was only when I had stopped completely—pretending to point out something of interest in a store window to my daughter—that he finally seemed to have disappeared. Believing my new unwanted friend to have slipped back into the anonymous flow of pedestrians, I stopped briefly into a Starbucks to buy my daughter a promised hot chocolate before continuing on to Union Square.
Living in Seattle, there’s nothing like a warm, cloudless California day to flush the rainy Pacific Northwest gloom from the system. There was an art fair happening in Union Square, and my daughter and I decided to camp out on the steps in the plaza and soak it all in. But we’re only there a few minutes when I felt a presence behind me. I turned around to find our stalker hovering over us. I sprang to my feet, placing myself between him and my daughter and asked him what the fuck he wanted.
“What do YOU want?” he hissed. His posture changed, and he became aggressive, the ambiguity of his intentions dissolving before my eyes. He was no longer following invisible swarming bugs but was instead focused directly on me. At one point I kicked over my coffee and he laughed sinisterly. Then, looking at my daughter, he asked me if she belonged to me. He actually used the word belong. I looked over to where two women were sitting nearby.
“Excuse me,” I called out to them. “Can you take my daughter for me?” The women only made brief eye contact with me before quickly looking away. A man walking past pretended to be oblivious to what was happening. As a former cop, I’d been in enough fights with the mentally ill and drug-addled to know that I’m outmatched. When you’re psychotic or drugged out of your gourd, the pain is muted. Reason is fleeting. And to top things off, I’d been struggling with my self-confidence all morning ever since it had been pointed out to me that oily White House hopeful and Boston Strangler-lookalike Ted Cruz owned a red-checkered button-down shirt just like the one I was wearing at the moment.
By now, my aggressor was making quick, jerky, jumpy motions toward me like he was about to hit me. He was standing in an elevated position over me and the way I saw it, I could either keep standing there and wait for him to kick me in the head, or I could act now, drag his legs out from under him before he could react and start smashing his head into the concrete.
Just as a physical attack—one way or the other—seemed inevitable, the guy abruptly stood down. As I maneuvered myself up to where he was standing, he slinked away and ran off. Within moments a uniformed Union Square security officer appeared and asked if I was okay. I explained what happened—that the guy had been stalking my daughter and I for blocks—and he took off after him.
When it was all over, I glanced around at the people who were seated nearby when all of this was happening. Whether out of guilt or out of fear, not a single one will make eye contact with me. At some point, the women I had implored to safeguard my daughter have crept away from the scene altogether when I wasn’t looking.
In every plan I was making to do great bodily harm to my would-be attacker in defense of both my daughter and myself, I failed to take the good ol’ bystander effect into consideration. I should have known that rather than have someone do me a favor by safely removing my daughter from the danger at hand, we stood a better chance of having our beating deaths idly filmed by a couple dozen people with their cell phones.
Like it has in Seattle, the lax regulatory policies on homelessness in San Francisco have created a crisis for the city. In both cities, and others like them, the drug culture, mild climate, liberal approach to social services and high cost of housing has created a favorable atmosphere for the homeless. In Seattle; a 100-acre expanse of greenbelt beneath a section of the city’s I-5 freeway known as the “Jungle” has been turned into an encampment of homelessness and crime (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/02/05/3-boys-charged-with-jungle-murders-were-collecting-moms-drug-debt-cops-say/).
Since the incident, I’ve been reading up on aggressive panhandlers and learned that I may very well have been the target of a “soft mugging”; an extortion-like tactic where a panhandler will essentially stalk and follow a target menacingly until the target pays him to go away. In all my experiences with homeless people and/or panhandlers, this guy was undoubtedly the exception, for in all the number of times I’ve been hit up for cash on by panhandlers, I’ve never been straight up menaced.
I’m not going to pretend to be ignorant to the complexity of issues that ties into homelessness in America. Arguably, better access to mental health treatment and drug abuse intervention would be a great place to start, but I’ll leave the dissection of that social issue to the experts. For this is intended as a cautionary tale.
The radioactive decay of my Flint, Michigan upbringing had no sooner reached its half-life, you might say. I dress more conservatively these days. I’m not as grumpy as I used to be. And on a few occasions, I’ve even caught myself believing that most people are inherently good. But the incident in San Francisco has derailed me from my Doodles Weaver complacency. It’s a fact: we’re a hypocritical society; one that bemoans the changing mores of social decency while being gleeful consumers of its modality. While waiting for a New York City train in 2012, 58 year-old Ki Suk Han was pushed onto the tracks of the subway by a deranged homeless man named Naeem Davis. As the train was bearing down on him, Han’s last images weren’t of helpful bystanders scrambling in vain to pull him to safety, but rather the incessant flashing of a New York Post’s photographer’s camera capturing his final moments of life (http://nypost.com/2012/12/04/suspect-confesses-in-pushing-death-of-queens-dad-in-times-square-subway-station/).
So, you see, it’s important to keep in mind that even when surrounded by throngs of friendly bystanders, you shouldn’t rely on anyone to come to your aid when you’re being pummeled to death for the five bucks you have in your wallet.
You’d be better advised to just smile for the cameras.
It was 1993, and the name Lorena Bobbitt single-handedly drove the sales of flower bouquets through the roof. Sultry alligator wrestler-turned-attorney general Janet Reno ordered the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian Religious Sect in Waco, Texas. And the whirring, humming automated residential housing algorithms of Michigan State University matched me up with a snag-toothed, pumpkin-headed man-child from suburban Detroit named Mark (for legal, moral and humanitarian reasons, I won’t print his last name here but I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes quite symmetrically with oh, smell…).
When I wasn’t knocking over the soda bottles of chew juice he’d left strewn about our floor, or dry-heaving from the rancid, composting piles of soiled clothes he’d leave lying out on his squalid mattress, I was flushing the gurgling mallow he’d left in the toilet or splashing away the dried toothpaste spittle from the sink basin. One night, over a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit in the study room with some other guys from our floor, Mark excused himself. When he returned, he had with him an unassuming shoebox that he set out onto the table in front of everyone. Without uttering a word, he lifted the lid, revealing a Christmas-colored, loaf-sized mound of what looked like fermented moss.
“It’s my booger brick,” he said. Quickly shoving ourselves back from the table, we listened as Mark went on to explain with listless sentimentality that what had begun innocently enough as a few, leisurely booger-wipes against a square of spare cardboard at around age twelve became a lifelong craft he would dedicate himself to building upon, one glistening little mucus-y glob at a time. To the rest of us, he may as well have displayed a severed human head and it was at that moment that I decided Mark was just off enough that I could no longer tolerate living with him and would pay the extra cash for a single room for the remainder of the year. Even though Mark was an extreme case, I pretty much decided from that point on to paint all potential roommates—no, all people, in general—with the same germ-covered brush as gross and vile…and this isn’t even accounting for those who think grossness should have some sort of redemptive artistic value.
On November 10, city officials in Seattle steam-blasted the city’s Gum Wall; a 50-foot long corridor of brick in Post Alley near the city’s famed Pike Place Market. While standing impatiently in the long lines for a local improv theater to open back in 1993, tactless patrons began pressing their wads of chewed-up gum to the alley’s walls.
Proving that we live in a vast and diverse world that allows people to be idiots in entirely different ways, the trend caught on. Throngs of germy hippies from around the Pacific Northwest turned out in throngs to leave their own microbial contributions to the wall, leaving a germy, gummy glob of messages, mosaics and various slogans of the cause du jour that would ultimately stretch 50 feet long, 15 feet high, become several inches thick, and weigh a total of 2,350 lbs.
Feeling sick yet?
Considered among the five germiest tourist attractions of 2009 (second only to the Blarney Stone), according to TripAdvisor, it appeared as if the wall’s grody history would be effaced for good. But within hours of having been scrubbed clean, guerilla artists pressed a sugarless rendering of the Eiffel Tower into the wall in the wake of the Paris attacks.
In the popular imagination, art is one of those things that comes about as the product of a diverse range of human activities usually involving imaginative or technical skill. I guess in that sense, whether Seattle’s gum wall conveys some imaginative and workable canvass for artistic expression is still up for debate. Although, if you’re willing to buy that, then I’ve got some used toilet paper to sell you…just think of them as Rorschach imprints.
Last week, I turned 42. In a society as age-centric as our own, you’d think I’d be freaking out about it. After all, the half-century mark is creeping ever closer. The faint etchings of age around my eyes are slowly becoming fault lines. And the old knee injuries of youth have come back to haunt me. It ain’t all bad, though. I’m actually in better shape now than I was 20 years ago. My vision is still 20/15. And when I look at turning 42 as simply having seven 6th birthdays, I trick myself into thinking it’s not such a hard thing to deal with.
Inevitably, however, there comes a day when the lights will go out. When the flame will get snuffed. When—not withstanding a person’s personal religious beliefs—we’ll all be spending the eternity drifting and tumbling through a moist, black void of non-existence. It’s the worst blow of all to the human ego to think of our minds—our consciousness—as nothing more than the mesh of a functioning brain; our bodies simply a bag of tissue and enzymes.
No artist can ever truly explain the drive to create. It’s a maddening, arduous process to sit there before a blank page and try to give some tangible form to artistic expression. Aside from the hours of thinking and ruminating and spelunking deep into the oft-treacherous caverns of the mind comes plenty of self-doubt and second-guessing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve championed what I thought was the perfect set of paragraphs, only to glance at it the very next day and consider it all just complete garbage. A hobby like golf or stamp collecting would be much easier on the psyche, for sure. But that’s just it: a writer, and I mean one who writes with the desperation of someone trying to take air, doesn’t see writing as merely a hobby. It’s not something you do because you have an hour to spare. It becomes something you must do. A need to be fulfilled. We write to beat the Devil and that’s the point. Whether it’s painting a canvas or writing a song, sculpting a garden or writing a story. It may sound like a stretch but the basic goal of creativity is to compete with the inescapability of our mortality. We long to create something that’s bigger than us. Leave some part of us behind that will, at least in a pragmatic sense, remain timeless. Does that mean that all artists are narcissistic? Who exactly does longevity and timelessness matter most to anyway? The writer, or the reader? On any given day it can be either.
When you nail a sentence, it takes you to euphoric heights. Flub one, and it sends you plummeting to crushing depths. But that’s how it goes. You take the good with the bad. You follow your instincts while not always knowing what the instinct is saying. Because with every valley comes a peak. Ignore the value judgments of others and write only what is truthful. For when you create something you can be proud of, then you’ve already beaten death.
“You don’t have to,” said Marci, with an affect that made it impossible for Davis to know whether it was being uttered out of sincerity, or more as a disclamation to have to reciprocate such favors some day in the future. Either way, it mattered not. It was a small price to pay to shake off any stodgy reservations that his newly appointed division support assistant might have had regarding her assignment to the company’s Topeka branch. Over lunch (she had had the chicken dumpling soup and a salad; he, a chicken cordon bleu sandwich, fries and Sierra Mist), Davis had detailed for her his own odyssey from mailroom clerk in the company’s Boston flagship office, to Administrative Assistant in Danbury, to Administrative Assistant Coordinator and later Client Relations Specialist in Charlotte, to Facility Manager and Administrative Assistant Manager at the Minneapolis branch, before finally landing the Division Supervisor gig in Topeka. (more…)
“Snuffleupagus always kinda freaked me out,” Atkins said, looking out the restaurant window to the street where a cop had just pulled over a guy in a gray Nissan. “Not him, per se. I think it was his entrance music. That sort of dragging, swaying, shambling music that seemed to strike-up out of nowhere. Think about how unsettling it’d be to think that some shaggy, over-medicated, mastodon-ish creature could just appear out of nowhere and address you with this apparent, soul-tingling kind of disinterest. If you watch closely, you can almost guarantee that the other characters had the same oh shit kind of feeling about Snuffleupagus, too. They all kind of stand there for a second with these blank expressions and for just a moment, it’s like they feel some sort of mortal dread to see him standing there. Good old Gordon always had a way of seguing any awkward situation into something that seemed somehow relevant and all-inclusive. It seemed like he could defuse any situation.”
“Man, it was Tiny Tim, for me. Jesus, man. I mean, what the fuck…? That buzzing mosquito falsetto voice. Long, stringy sea-hag hair. There was just something about him that made me feel like I had been, I don’t know, victimized by him in some past life. Like I somehow knew what it felt like to have his hot, rancid breath panting on the back of my neck. Christ.”
“Tiptoe through the Tulips.”
“Nevermind Tiptoe through the Tulips. Ever hear his cover of The Doors’ People are Strange? Or that one song, “Little Girl”? Where he wants to know where some little girl is sleeping and then asks her if it’s in some trees or some shit?”
Each turned to watch the cop as he was walking back to his patrol car with the motorist’s license and vehicle paperwork in hand.
“That guy looks pissed,” Atkins remarked.
“No, the driver.”
“I don’t know…Tiny Tim, man. And that Dating Game killer guy looked just like him. Some freaky dudes in this world, man.”
“Here’s one for ya: Edward Muscare. Ever heard of him?”
Roberts shook his head.
“Edward Muscare…Oh, Pretty Woman. Google it, you’ll see.”
When the cop returned to the Nissan, each tried to determine if the driver, based on his facial expression, was getting a ticket, but the cop was blocking their view of him.
Yet another one of those things they’d never know the answer to.
Being relatively new to the whole blogging thing, I’m still trying to navigate my way around the WordPress landscape. Despite the patient helpfulness of my friend and fellow Redwoods colleague, Laura Wilkinson Hedgecock, I still can’t figure out the difference between an “SSO” and an “SEO”. To me, “Users Ultra” sounds like a brand of condoms, and a “Plugin” sounds like something you’d order from an Adam & Eve catalog.
One thing I’ve figured out: you receive upwards of a billion spam messages a day in your spam filter. Some of them are pretty lame, like the tenacious pitches on how to make $1700 a day from home, or how I can buy a new pair of Air Jordans for $75 (written in mostly indecipherable English). Others, however, appear quite complementary. Even if they’re not specific to me, they still warm my cold, December heart.
Nevertheless, I have to remind myself that each of these messages were originally banged out on a keyboard by a pair of tender, caring human hands. With this mind, I’ve agreed to respond to some of them.
onlinecigarettestoreus wants to know:
“Great looking website. Assume you did a bunch of ace discount cigarettes your own html coding.”
–Yeah, I considered that; just didn’t seem like the right time.
Here’s one from scsuhuskies:
“saffiano leather for sale”
–You better not be joking…
Gay porn writes:
gay email@example.com 18.104.22.168
“Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed! Very helpful info particularly the closing phase I deal with such info much. I was seeking this certain information for a very lengthy time. Thank you and best of luck.”
–I’m glad you enjoyed the post, gay. I’ve actually had quite a few people remark on the closing phase section as well. I’m just sorry that it took so much time for you to find it. Check back next week when I’ll be providing some helpful tips on farcy garages and kedge tarhood.
And then there’s this writer’s two-cents:
“Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles?
I mean, what you say is fundamental and all. You could give yourself redirection.
However just imagine if you added some great photos or video clips to give your posts more,
“pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and videos, this website could definitely be one of the best in its field.
-Solid advice, coming from a guy who can’t even spell ‘red erection’ correctly.
Notwithstanding the potential of turning this into one massive passion-fueled, rolling tumbleweed of theological debate and discussion, I think the question is fair and quite simple: When you die and (assuming) you go to heaven, what will you look like?
I’m not much for writing about what happens after death; only the slow, steady, agonizing, degenerative, angst-filled crawl toward its destination. But as a writer, there occasionally comes a time when I might feel a pang of interest in dipping my toe into a storyline about a character or two whose story continues even after that heavy dark curtain has been dropped.
Case Study #1:
“Steve”; a 28 year-old slightly overweight white male of average height.
Steve owns a 2005 Yamaha YZF-R1 “crotch rocket” that he likes to take for rides along the planes and twists of Old Beatty Ford Road in North Carolina. One late afternoon in May, while crossing into the intersection of Phaniel Church Road, Steve encounters a UPS truck. Its driver, being temporarily blinded by the bright and low-hanging sun, pulls into Steve’s path of travel, causing Steve to slam into the side of the truck.
A local media team descends upon the crash site. The community rallies around Steve’s family to express their love and support. Despite the doctors’ wonder and amazement at Steve’s strength and endurance for having initially survived the crash in the first place, they try rationalizing for his family that due to his extensive injuries and his no-hope-for-recovery comatose state, consideration should be given for disconnecting him from the ventilator. Steve’s brother and sister agree to it. Steve’s mother on the other hand – a devoutly pious evangelical woman – curses the doctor for even suggesting it. Hence comes a contentious, 15-year odyssey in Steve’s life where the matter of his life and death inches its way along into the upper echelons of the judicial system. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court rules in favor of Steve’s siblings and the ventilator is disconnected soon thereafter.
In his life, Steve’s withered, vestigial and severely atrophied body “lived” to the age of 43.
When Steve arrives in heaven, is he 28, or 43?
Hell’s waiting room, or your typical line at the DMV?
Case Study #2:
“Emily”; a 56 year-old black female and retired teacher.
Children can be cruel, as evidenced by the sometimes vicious and demeaning verbal abuse they can slosh at those with even the slightest of imperfections. A pair of pesky keloids on her left earlobe has destined Emily to such an existence. But despite this, she flourished in her role as a teacher at Shreveport Central High School where she taught tenth grade English and Math. She had married her high school sweetheart, “Daniel”, fresh out of college and together they had a boy they had named after Daniel’s father, Eric.
Despite her husband’s constant reassurances, Emily’s keloids had remained a constant source of embarrassment and frustration for her. Doctors had given her a statistically high probability that surgical intervention would only exacerbate her condition and expand the keloid growth. As a result, Emily had no choice but to resign herself to absorbing the occasional taunts of “cocoa puff”, and “Goober earring”.
One day, after having just started a load of laundry, Emily was climbing the basement stairs when she dropped dead of a heart attack.
When she was shown to her celestial cottage on the sparkling Eustelean Glens overlooking the mystical, mermaid-swelled waters of Lake Absentia, she couldn’t help but be curious about something.
Slowly, Emily eased herself in front of the mirror…
Keloid, or no keloid?
Quick Case Study #3:
Husband dies at 47. Wife goes on to live until the age of 92. Do either get to choose the age in which to spend their eternity? Taking it further, let’s say the guy liked himself best at 24; chiseled body, six-pack abs. Full head of hair. The woman, meanwhile, had come to appreciate the glow and wisdom of her 60’s. Will their age gap cause a paparazzi-sized sensation? Divorce…is it even an option?
Look, it’s not that I expect everyone to be walking around heaven looking like porn stars. But if the motivation for wanting to vanquish our imperfections and become our most “perfect” self in our earthly form is simply to increase our odds of getting laid, who’s to say that a part of that doesn’t carry over into our “heavenly state”? The second circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno just so happens to center around “carnal malefactors”, after all.
All I’m saying is that it would help me greatly as a writer to be able to wrap my head around this minor issue of physical appearance as it relates to the afterlife.
Such considerations seem moot in a place like hell, where we’re all just a pile of screaming, burning feces shat from the foul, hemorrhoidal ass of Satan, himself.
A logician tasked with conducting an analysis of this issue might very well conclude that heaven is comprised of differences; of choices. Using this logic, would it be safe to say that hell means being the same as everyone else?
It would be for me.