Sunday, April 30, 2017

Vignette City 34.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

Each semester all the custodians have to go around at night to all of the classrooms and we have to look at all of the furniture. We see every chair, we see every table, every desk. We sit in each tablet armchair and we test the hinges. We make notes: hinge needs greased.

How many semesters has it been? Do you count the summers? Our work doesn’t get lighter in the summers, just easier to do. It gets lonelier though. I have always liked working here, all these semesters. I like the lives all around me, all the energy around me. Youth, I catch some of it by osmosis. I always feel better in the Fall when all the new ones show up, wet with optimism, nerves, and hope. My joints ease, my soul get greased and smooth.

I never got to go to college. But I feel it in me. I look at the chalkboards each night before I wipe them clean. Sometimes - when I have the time - I erase the chalk lines by running my flat finger along them. I’ve traced the letters NaCl, I have followed with my own fingertip the formulas for gravity, for the nature of spheres, I have unwritten the words, “Freedom of consciousness entails more dangers than authority and despotism” and in doing so absorbed bodily something of them. I can tell you that as buildings go, the library is no smarter than any other building, but perhaps it contains more knowledge. Maybe so do I.


Over the years I have named all the squirrels and I know where they live and I have seen generations of them come and go and sometimes when I see one of them, I can remember her great-great-grandmother and it reminds me of One Hundred Years of Solitude, that I read because one of the English professors assigns it every spring and so I read it once and it changed my life some small amount and so at night in his classroom, I would write a line from the book on his chalkboard and I never talked to him about it and he never asked me why every morning he found the words of Garcia Marquez there in his classroom, and maybe that was because he could see how it made the world just a tiny fraction better.

On the nights when we check the furniture, I use my notes to practice the precision of my language. This chair here for instance, I will describe as though I love it a little, but still can see it for what it is. I think I will write:

Some of the adjustments
a little, at first,
but function, eventually.

The cushion padding,
long compressed,
feels thin,
looks frayed.

A little gum stain, shaped
like a conch shell,
makes the seat seem dirty.
Just an old chair.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Vignette City 33.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

There are too many photos on my phone. My phone is all locked up now. I can’t do anything with it because I am out of storage. I know it is because of the photos because everything was fine this morning, but then I went out on a house-call and the lady said that the place was haunted, but they all say that.

I started burning my sage and I put the crystals out, but then I saw one of them. It looked like a little girl in a grimy white dress.

“Hey there,” I said very slowly as I very slowly pulled my phone out and thumbed open the camera, “How are you doing there sweetheart?”

And I snapped a whole blast of pictures of her, but she was gone in the blink of an eye.

“Did you say something?” The lady asked, coming back into the room.

“Nope,” I said, because the thing is that if her place really is haunted then it is way out of my league. So I did my thing and said my mantras and then after the lady paid me I said I was going to be out of town for awhile so if a follow-up was needed she’d have to call somebody else.

I was halfway home before I looked down at my photo on the passenger seat and I saw the little girl’s face pressed right up against the screen. I could see her blinking and watching me.

And that freaked the shit out of me.

I flipped the phone over until I found street parking outside my place. I cut the engine and I very delicately lifted up the phone, but she was gone. Just my regular lock screen. So real quick I unlocked it and went into my photos and there she was. There were about a dozen pictures of her there in the lady’s house, but she was moving in all of them, moving in unison in each of them; she was looking at me again.

I selected them all super fast with the tip of my finger, and then deleted them all.

Just for good measure I went into my deleted folder and deleted them all again.

But I was crawling into bed just now, I plugged my phone in and I switched off the lights and I was just drifting off when I noticed the grimy white rectangle of light flickering on my ceiling. Very slowly I picked up the phone and I very carefully tilted the screen toward me and there she was again, watching me from inside the screen.

“I deleted you!” I yelled at her.

But she didn’t say anything. She just watched me.

When she finally disappeared somewhere behind the time and date on the lock screen I went back in and double checked, but yeah, the photos were gone. But then I went and looked at the memory in my phone and the photo library is taking up almost all the room on my phone. I can’t even do anything with it. Nothing will open, nothing will run. It’s like the whole phone is dead now, with just that awful little ghost girl wandering around inside it now.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Vignette City 32.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

It’s all just a cost and benefit analysis with me. I’m not the kind of chump who wants to spend all of his free time trying to get rich quick day-trading on his phone on his smoke break. Sure you can swap penny stocks and maybe catch a winning hand every once in awhile, but is that any way to spend your life? After all, money is money, but you should enjoy your smoke break. That’s what it’s for. Everybody is so concerned about the benefits that they forget to figure in the cost of the costs. Just doesn’t make sense.

But I follow the markets and I read the news. I keep my ear to the ground and I like to think that I can break fast off the block when I see a good thing coming around the turn. Everybody was all about gold a few years ago. Gold, sure, it's pretty, I get that, but is that a good reason to build an economic system around it? If you’re one of those people who thinks that the whole world economic paradigm is going to come crashing down like the Leaning Tower of Pisa is going to any day now, well then what makes you think anybody is going to want a bunch of gold at that point when we are all living like Mad Max or whatever we end up doing? Do you know how much a bar of gold weighs? What are you going to do with that when you get to Thunder Dome? I mean, I guess you could use it to beat a guy to death, but still, it is an unwieldy weapon, and you can’t eat it or anything. That is a fact and you can take it to the bank; gold has almost no caloric value.

See, I am a long term thinker that way.

That’s why about two years ago I put all my money into jellyfish.

You didn’t see that coming, did you? That’s because I see the whole board.

Jellyfish sales are seasonal because of their breeding and migration patterns and certain times of the year you just can’t get certain kinds of jellyfish and it is all just supply and demand at that point, because your run-of-the-mill jellyfish seller - especially the online ones - only go on collection trips a couple of times a year. But then I come along and guess what? I have exactly the jellyfish you want, at exactly the time when no one else has it. Do you know how much a jellyfish goes for???

Well it turns out that it can vary a lot. I learned that the hard way. Going rate for a Moon jellyfish is only about 30 bucks, but that is when they are available. And I am the guy who has them when they are NOT available. I sold one the other day for $300! Just one. I double bagged it, dropped it in a cooler and handed it off to the good old USPS.

See, I play the big game.

Now I may have lost some capital early on when I was just a guy with a bunch of dead Moon jellyfish in his guest bathroom, but once I bought that old motel and had 34 bathrooms, well then things started to really get going. I figure that this year I may even make enough just off the jellyfish to cover the property tax on the motel.

Next year though, that is going to the big time for me. Next year I’m going to tell my boss where he can stick his day trading advice. Next year will be my cover spread on Medusozoa Magazine because right now in the motel pool I have two Portuguese man-of-war … men-of-war? Man-of-wars? I don’t know. But I know one of them is a girl man-of-war and one of them is a boy-man-of-war and once they start doing their thing - however it is they do that - then it will be big time.

Big time for me.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Vignette City 31.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

It only takes about 45 minutes for the Streetcar to complete a full loop. A little more during rush hour. I like in most in the off times though. I like it on a rainy Sunday afternoon, nearer to dusk so that most of the people have all retreated home, but not yet so dark that I can’t make out the faces of people we rumble past on the street. 

I like to right in one of the backward facing seats so that I can look people in the eye as the Streetcar rumbles away from them. This has gotten me in trouble a few times before because I’ll rumble by and look right at a person on the street, really look at them, right in the eye and very directly and very obviously, I’ll study them and make no secret about it, but people don’t like to be looked at this way, it violates something. There is a decorum I guess, against really looking at each other. 

People don’t like to be seen. 

But then - only once or twice - I will be doing this and then I will feel the Streetcar lurch and grind down to a stop as we slide up to a platform. Then that person who just a moment ago I had mastery over, they step right inside the Streetcar with me and now they are in control because whereas before I’d been judging them, now they get to judge me. They get to see me and how lonely I must be just spending my time riding a loop around a wet city all by myself. They have all the moral high ground now because I violated them by seeing them, but now they are seeing me and though not once has any one of them ever said anything to me, once there was a man, very fat and with a thin worm of a mustache perched on the edge of his lower lip, who walked all the way to the very back of the Streetcar and looked right at me, right into me, as we clanked along. He was short and ugly and something about living his whole life like that had pushed him past the place where he cared anymore, so he was a little bit haughty now and having this power over me now made him exuberant in his anger. He had crawled over whatever shame he’d felt walking down the street seeing me see him, and he had emerged with an advantage over me. To me credit, I think, I hadn’t looked away. I’d met his gaze head on. I was not intimidated, but I was apologetic. I’m sorry, I tried to say with the meek angle of my shoulders and the down-turned edges of my mouth. I’m sorry that I saw you for what you are; a sad, insecure person, but I know your shame, I am that way too.

However effectively I communicated all that, I’ll never know. He got off the Streetcar a few stops later. I completed the rest of the loop and got off outside of my apartment building. 

I still look at people, still look at them just as closely, but I’ve gotten more careful, which just means I’ve grown more cunning.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Just another terribly stressful day of grad school. Man, my life is hard. . #gradschoolproblems

It's fricken gorgeous right now. It was raining this morning. At one point around noon is was both sunny and raining. I do not understand the weather here.

Vignette City 30.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

To my credit, I think, I knew something new was up once that fact was made plain to me when the credit card company called and told me something might be up. They asked if I had gone SCUBA diving and I told them that I hadn’t been SCUBA diving in years. I felt that was the appropriate answer because they asked, “Have you been SCUBA diving?” and the only answer to that question is “Yes,” because I have been and I wasn’t going to lie about it. People had seen me.

But what they meant to ask was, “Have you been SCUBA diving recently?” to which I would have said, “No.”

They followed up. Asked for my information. I told them that I wanted their information because they called me. They told me it didn’t work like that. I told them I would call them back. They said fine. I hung up. I called them back. I waited on hold. On hold. Onhold. onholdonholdonholdonholdinahellisholdworldofholdingonhold. I regretted having hung up.

I didn’t always feel this way. Or think this way. Or feel this way at all. All staccato chittery like a Chinese-made robot devil squirrel. Not even jittery, but like some constant, resonant jitter. Some super string of eleventh dimensional jit stretching out from one end of the universe all the way back around it. I feel anxious, is what I’m saying. 

Finally someone picked up and I verified my information.

But that’s when things got complicated because after the hanging up happened, they had called my secondary phone number on file. “I don’t have a secondary phone number. This is my only phone number.” When they called my secondary phone number, I answered. “No I did not.” Secondary Me told them that not only had the credit card been stolen, but the primary phone as well. “Well none of that is true.” The Secondary Me had verified my information and a new card was being issued to Secondary Me at my new address. “I don’t have a new address!” And now Primary Me - that’s Me - had been reported to the authorities. “I am going to explain this using very small words,” I said, “I am me.” They told me to expect to get a call from said authorities and that this conversation is being recorded, but then right after telling me they were recording, they hung up. What was the point of telling me? And are they still recording? And if so, what are they getting out of that?




Friday, April 21, 2017

So I bet my day at work was weirder than your day at work ...

Vignette City 29.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

My birthday was last week I and received a copy of Italo Calvino’s novel If on a winter’s night a traveler which I had started reading the morning after my birthday because the birthday dinner had not gone late which had only served to remind me that all of my friends are not so young any more, and so maybe I am not either.

I did not however have the book with me on the Streetcar two days later when I got on the A Loop near the college, headed toward the old Chinatown, which is when I saw a strikingly pretty young woman with curly jet-black hair wearing a gray wool skirt standing at one end of the car holding a pole with one hand while holding a book in the other hand. She was reading the Italo Calvino novel If on a winter’s night a traveler.

My feeling of excitement was immediately replaced by a deeper feeling of sadness -- or perhaps of instantaneous loss – when I realized that here I had this connection to a charmingly pretty complete stranger, yet I could in no way substantiate it. I could not prove our connection or birth that connection into that rain heavy gray morning only a few days after I’d completed another circuit around the sun. We - she and I - became an incomplete circuit. What good ever is a potential connection to another human being? What is the difference between an incomplete circuit and one which never existed?

She - the reader - got off at Morrison and I never saw her again and likely never will, given the size of the world.

Italo Calvino’s novel If on a winter’s night a traveler is a mishmash book made of chapters of several different books, none of which are ever completed or realized. In this way, The Reader and I probably did live out our relationship as fully as we could have.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Vignette City 28.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

Brutalism was an architectural movement of the mid-20th Century. A fat, ugly, mean bastard child of Modernism. From the French beton brut meaning “raw concrete”. Massive, commanding, and forbidding, it was effective for government buildings and shopping mall exteriors. See: The University of East Anglia, Western City Gate Belgrade, Habitat 67, the AT&T Long Lines Building, the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, the back side of your local grocery store. Some say there is beauty in the rough hewed brick and mortar because, like a chrysalis, it protects that which is most warm and delicate about its vital innards. Might we all be Brutalists.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Amazon just recommended my own book to me. That is super cool for me ("I'm in the system!"), but kind of lame for them ("Why are you so bad at your job?").

Vignette City 27.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

I was out hiking with my friend Viv, who had been going through some stuff. I thought that maybe she could use a break and some clean air, so we went up the side of a mountain and we were quite a long time, just puffing and grunting on the way up. Then she started to tell me about a one-act play she wrote. It was about people who could only feel their feelings for ten seconds.

“They could still remember that they had felt them,” Viv said, “but they couldn’t really feel them anymore, you know?”

She started to tell me about it:

The FATHER comes home and he’s holding a dead cat and he says, Everyone I just ran over our cat and I feel terrible about it.

And the DAUGHTER says, Oh no my cat Schrodinger is dead and my father killed him! I hate my father! I hate him!

The FATHER says, I am so ashamed and I feel so guilty.

The DAUGHTER takes the body of the cat and starts to cry on the floor.

Then the MOTHER comes in and she says, What is going on in here?! Why is my daughter sobbing on the floor with her cat, which is dead?

But the FATHER, his ten seconds are up and he doesn’t feel bad anymore.

The FATHER says, I ran over the cat with my car just now.

The MOTHER is angry and pounds on his chest: Why? Why? did you run over that cat? You know it is the only thing she loves!

But now the DAUGHTER’s ten seconds are up. The DAUGHTER says: I did love my cat but he is dead now and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. I will go back to watching TV.

Then the SON comes downstairs: Why is everyone being so loud down here? Can’t a teenage boy quietly masturbate in his room in peace?

The MOTHER screams: Your father killed the cat!

FATHER: That is a true statement; I did.

The SON is upset now: But I loved that cat! Why are you trying to hurt me?!

The MOTHER, her ten seconds are up now: Do not yell at your father. It was clearly an accident.

FATHER: Yes, you are not allowed to yell at me and must be punished. Go get a switch from the willow tree.

SON: I hate you!

The FATHER and MOTHER and DAUGHTER all sit on the couch watching TV and with the dead cat still on the floor.

The SON returns with a switch but his ten seconds are up now too: Here father, I have brought a switch so that you can punish me appropriately.

The SON pulls his pants down and bends down to stick his ass in the air and the FATHER begins to beat him with it.

The FATHER actually hates doing this and starts to cry and so does the SON because his ass is flaming red now.

Then the doorbell rings and the MAIL MAN is standing there: I brought your mail because that is my job.

The MOTHER rushes to the door, she is blushing and it is obvious that she has been having an affair with the MAIL MAN. The MOTHER is overwhelmed with lust and kisses the MAIL MAN and he starts groping her in the doorway.

By now the SON has stopped crying and pulled his pants up.

The FATHER drops the switch and rushes to the doorway: Hold on there now, that is my wife and you can’t touch her like that!

MAIL MAN: Yes but I love her and I hate you!

The MOTHER: It is true, we are in love with each other and you never understood me!

The HUSBAND is so angry that he punches the MAIL MAN in the face, but the MAIL MAN’s ten seconds are up and so he just cups his bleeding nose.

The MAIL MAN says: You had every right to do that and I apologize for being inappropriate. Here, please take your mail. There are some bills in there.

The MOTHER’s time is up too and she buttons her blouse and says: Yes, I was wrong to fall in love with him.

The FATHER is still fuming and says: I hate that in a few seconds I won’t be angry anymore!

Then the FATHER’s ten seconds are up and he glances down at the mail and says: The electric bill has come.

“And that’s when the lights fade to black.”

Viv and I just kept on hiking up. We had almost reached the summit.

After a while until she said, “I guess it’s all in the delivery.”

We reached the top and turned to look out across everything we had risen out of. It was a wide and stunning blue and gray view out over the civilized world, where all her problems were.

She said, “I think that it is supposed to be about how the stuff that makes life unbearable might actually be the stuff that makes it worth living. I don’t know.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just said, “I would go to see that play.”


Saturday, April 15, 2017

I have ANOTHER new favorite bar in Portland! It is small, it is dark, and it is underground!

Vignette City 26.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

The replacement Chinese squirrels - ours had all disappeared - were more springs and servos than they were squirrels.

But they had tufts of fur hot glued to their fragile plastic exoskeletons and little soft rubber face molds with motion-sensing diode red eyes that were as soulless as the actual squirrels’ eyes had been. 

These little faces were what the Chinese factory workers must have thought our squirrels looked like. They weren’t too wrong, but not too right, really.

Do they have squirrels in China? I literally have no idea.

I watch the little robot squirrels try to climb trees in the park and I wonder, did they lose their squirrels too? Because these are poor replacements. They look about right though.

No one ever asks where the Chinese manufacturers find so much fur. No one wants to know.




Friday, April 14, 2017

Vignette City 25.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

I do not understand it. No one in town wants to produce my screenplay about a hot teenage female protagonist who lives in a future utopian society that’s all about push-up bras and where she experiences no hardships, wants for nothing, is both happy and mindful, does great yoga, and enters into a completely functional polyamorous relationship with the strikingly dissimilar but still very washboard abs attractive men she loves most of the time.




Thursday, April 13, 2017

Vignette City 24.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

Off the bedroom of your small carpeted apartment
there is a tiny patio with a cinderblock wall and
beyond the wall there is a busy alleyway
which serves at night as a kind of freeway for the wet
burn-outs of your neighborhood (whose numbers are mighty)
and often you sleep with the sliding glass door open,
serenaded by the cacophonous alcohol hoots
breaking glass catcalls of the alley. Often you sleep this way,
with only the screen door closed against the night,
but always you make sure that the screen door is locked.
Quite a lot of stock you place in the power of that
little lock latch you flip each night before bed.
Why do you do that?
Is it a recklessness that makes your heart thrump?
Or an invitation to the casual wickness
of a world that, while vile, is at least more alive
than you?
Is it because you have never re-learned to sleep alone?


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Look at the cool stuff I get to see at work today!

Vignette City 23.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

In the newspaper this morning there was an article about how a half dozen white Buddhist-convert monks from the homeless collective under the freeway overpass on Grand Ave showed up at the City Council meeting advocating that the city should allow property taxes to be paid in “good will” and “yaks”.

One of the city councilors asked exactly how many yaks the Buddhist Collective had down there at the camp under the freeway and the monk replied, “Seven or eight, perhaps more” and then the City Council meeting apparently digressed into a byzantine discussion about whether or not yaks were allowed within city limits and it ultimately turned out that they are, because of a 1968 city charter amendment pertaining to the rights of citizens to keep and care for “beasts of burden” within “reasonable tolerances”.

When asked whether or not any members of the the homeless white Buddhist-convert Collective paid property taxes in the first place, the same monk replied, “Not under current regulations, as such.”

There was very little additional discussion of extending the payment remediation types to “good will” or “generally pleasant vibes”, as was also briefly proposed.




Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Vignette City 22.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

I’ve been reading this book about Soviet bus stops. It’s called Soviet Bus Stops. In the foreword the guys writes, “If we are to judge by the architectural archaeology of its final years, the very name Soviet Union seems to have been more an expression of hope than a reflection of actuality.”

I picked the book up at the library because it was one of the “recommended books” on that shelf over by the case with the pygmy heads in it, and I always look at that self because sometimes Lorraine has recomendations up there and this was one of hers, so I snatched it and checked it out real quick because she was not working the desk just then because I had seen her heel disappear around a corner on the third floor just a few minutes ago. It was easy to notice because she has that humming bird tattoo on the inside of her left ankle and so that is what I saw; that little green and gold birds and its flesh horizon disappear into the stacks with the speed of her step.

The foreword guy also writes, “Rigid aesthetic control is supposed to be totalitarian staple, a condition of tyrannies. It is notable by its absence. If it was exercised then, it was with marked laxity.”

The bus stop book is mostly photos. And I get what the guy means about ‘laxity’. These bus stops were crazy. In Gudauta there’s a crazy bus stop shaped like a giant tiled half-open clamshell. People don’t even like to stand in it because it looks like it’s about to snap closed.

In Aralsk, Kazakhstan there’s a bus stop that looks like a tiny mosque, with a minaret and everything. It is all by itself on a flat brown desert plane and it reminded me of all those pictures of the Aral Sea, drained and with old fishing boats just sitting dry in the desert. I saw a photo one time of a camel killing time relaxing in the shadow of a tilting freighter in a desert that used to be an ocean.

Lorraine only has her daughter on the weekends and I heard her saying earlier that she took Sasha down to the riverfront park last weekend, because the weather was so nice, but then there was a dragon alert and so they had to rush to one of the shelters and so they ended up having their little picnic sixty feet below the street, but Sash had liked it just the same.

And I wonder if Lorraine is one of those girls who got a dragon tattoo back when that was the things for girls to do. Maybe on her back, with its wings unfurling up toward her shoulders.

The guy who went around taking all the pictures of the bus stops wrote a little explanation and in it he said, “What made it truly exciting was the fact that I never had a clue what I would find or what would happen next.”

Lorraine is the kind of girl who I would be very happy to know now, but who had a prime and her prime was probably ten years ago when she was tight and tone and bright with that youth that emo girls always hate when they have it. They burn through it so fast because they fuck bad guys and love awful people and it really takes a toll on them and it make me so sad because I know how many of them - I count count them, but I already know the number is four, I have wasted some much time and kindness on - that I have loved. Loved so much, I have so much love and I am probably just too honest with it. I’m not too afraid to say, “I love you Jocelyn” or “I love you Deidre” or “I love you Clarissa” or “I love you Bianca”, but none of them were in the right place then to understand how much love I had for them.

But Lorraine might be. She is older now, has grown out of that rebellious phase now. She has a kid now and probably has had the stunning realization that the good guys like me are the kind of guys who will be good for her.

The guy who took all the bus stop pictures wrote, “Most taxi drivers were confused as to why I would be interested in the old bus stops and would speed past them as if they were invisible.”

I think about that some as I flip through the book. I look at the bus stop in Balykchy, Kyrgyzstan that looks like Genghis Khan’s hat and I know that’s because of the history of the place and about hordes and warlords and about bad stuff that has happened, but now everything is okay, so they can just make a bus stop out of it. Like everybody has gotten past all that, so it’s not a big deal anymore. I even close my eyes and I think about waiting there for a bus with Lorraine and Sasha, and they’re both wearing billowy dresses and I’m wearing a wool three-piece suit like men always used to wear in all the old pictures I have ever seen and we have a couple of suitcases with us and I even think about it in black and white because that’s what the photo would have looked like back then. We are waiting there and maybe I am standing and looking out for the bus and my arm is stretched behind me because Lorraine and I are holding hands, even though we are already so close and we are about to set off on a whole new life together, we are still holdings hands just because we love each other that much.




Monday, April 10, 2017

Played a quick game of "Where's the Cat" this morning while getting ready for work.

Vignette City 21.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

The thing you have to understand about an elevator is that it’s a box that goes up and down.

That sounds simple, I know.

But did you know that the first elevator shaft is 4 years older than the first elevator?

You didn’t?

Yeah, nobody does.

The whole history of elevators is like that.

When Peter Cooper designed Cooper Union in 1853, he included elevator shafts in the design because he thought, “How hard can it be? It’s just a box that goes up and down.”

But it took another four years before anyone figured out how to make a working elevator.

Not so simple after all, is it?

Have you ever been in an elevator that is even a little bit off?

Have you ever been standing there waiting for one and the doors open and it shows up and it is a half an inch lower than it is supposed to be? You would look at it and you would think to yourself, “Well that is just not right. Obviously something is wrong with this elevator.”

Would you get on it? Say you’re on the seventeenth floor, are you going to get on an elevator that is even a little bit off? Let me just tell you: you aren’t. Because you’d have to be some kind of lunatic to do that. Because all of the sudden the reality of the whole situation would come crashing down on you and you would think to yourself, “What am I doing? I am hovering two hundred feet in the air inside a steel skeleton wrapped in glass and I’m about to step into a death box dangling from a cable? What terrible decisions have I made in my life to bring me to this moment?”

Not so simple after all, is it?

See, that is what I try to explain to people.

Elevators and hamburgers, these are things that we simply require the best out of. We want clean warm water in the mornings and television shows that are always there when we want them. I am not simply somebody who inspects and maintains elevators. I am somebody who helps to propagate the myth that the world we have made for ourselves is one that just works. Who do you think picks up your recycling and makes sure that your old Apple laptops get recycled in a responsible manner? Elves? Do you think the Tooth Fairy handles these things?

Well if you think that you would be wrong.

Also, where would you even get that idea? Why would you think that the Tooth Fairy is even qualified to inspect elevators? See, this is what I am talking about.

Do you know how all those office people look at me when I show up in my gray overalls? When I say, “I need the keys to such-and-such place.” They look at me like a trash person. They look at me like I was sluiced out of my own mother’s body wearing a grease stained gray jumpsuit. Like I am not a person with a mechanical engineering degree and a really nice body under my zipper. I mean, not the most toned perhaps, but still good. A fit body. One that they might even find attractive if they saw me swimming laps or at my yoga class. Yes, yoga. Because yoga does not belong to the executive vice presidents and their secretaries. I have dirty hands after a long day, but I can wash that off and put on my makeup and nice dress with big shoulders and I can go out and sit at the end of a bar and look just as charming and coquettish as anybody else.

I can swizzle my straw around in my drink while you hit on me and giggle and dangle my stiletto off my toes with the best of them. But then when I agree to go up to your hotel room with you because you’re in town for a convention and we’re both pretending not to notice that you have a wedding band tan line from that Oklahoma sun or wherever you’re from, the elevator doors open and the car is a half inch too high and seeing it spooks you back to sobriety and your senses and you remember your kids and how you are so much older and closer to death now than you ever thought you would be and so you apologize and wander off and all because this box is not quite perfect and it scared you.

See, that is what I am saying.

I do this work because I know how important it is. I know that it is essential that people like me make sure that people like you never have to be reminded that we live of the edge of collapse and oblivion every single moment of our days.

That is why I save all the money I can. Why I haven’t bought a new dress or new heels in two years. I plan to retire as early as I can, as early as the union will let me. I’m going to get a little piece of land out in Wyoming or maybe northern Arizona, we’ll see what the market is like in a few years. I’m going to live out there someplace where I don’t have to pretend at all. I’ll plant my own crops. I will kill the occasional big game and I will skin it. I’m someone who you see in your office a couple times a year and you don’t even know that some nights I watch videos online about how to skin animals, but I do. Because I am someone who has the ability, the strength to want to actually look at the world, the real world.

A slightly misaligned elevator car doesn’t frighten me, because I know it is just a box that goes up and down. You think it is something else. You think it is something magic that is not dangerous at all. Because you live in some weird life where nothing should ever be dangerous, because you don’t like that. It does not make you happy.

Let me tell you though, when you’re in Wyoming, or maybe northern Arizona, and you’re staring through a scoped rifle at an elk charging you down, you won’t have time to complain about what makes you happy, because all you have time for is to live. All you’ll have time to do is not think, to trust your own existence, and to know that every second of your life has led to that one and that is when you don’t think, you act, and then you wait to see if you were right.




Sunday, April 9, 2017

Vignette City 20.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

They’re shutting down the ice factory. Everybody makes their own ice now, the Boss said. They got fancy ice cube trays now, Boss said. Made out of rubber so that the water freezes into shaped like stars or penises, he said. Little ice penises in their ice buckets on their bar carts, just slowly melting and dripping down to nothing or filling up their gin and tonic or whatever it is that people drink up there on those patios in those new buildings they’ve been building downtown that look like robots hiding out like buildings just waiting for their chance to change back into robots, the Boss said over the factory intercom the day he got the news and after probably he had been drinking a little gin and tonic his own self that day. Just that morning he had been saying that he’d just seen one of them movies about transforming robots. Can’t ever be sure what is or isn’t a robot, don’t that give you pause? He asked me that morning and I didn’t then know what to say, because I’d never thought about it and so I said, I’ve never really thought about that Boss.

There’s no time now to occupy my mind with such thoughts. I already miss the days when I had the time to, even though the factory has not yt been quite shut down yet and so now is still a day when I got a job and a few moments to think about such things, but I don’t want to be occupied with the frivolous, because I have to start looking for work and this was the last ice factory on this side of the river and what is a guy to do when he’s my age and has hooks for hands? Not as though there is much work for me in offices. In and out of ice factories all up and down the river all my life since the war. It is all I know, if I’m being honest. This works suits me, always has. And I’m equipt. In and out of freezers on boats up and down the river, lots of years on. Sweating in the cold. It is the only life I have had stateside, since the bad times. My belly sure has swelled this last decade or so and on the occasion when I catch sight of the bathroom mirror out of the corner of my eye, I am often surprised to see my Old Man there looking at me, only it ain’t him, it’s me. And it makes me look at me and think about him and think maybe he was not quite as bad I man as I always made out. In my memory of him, he is younger than I am now. If I crossed his path on the street I’d say, Kid get your chin up. Or something like that. Such a down man he was.

Kid, I’d say to him, don’t let the world hurt you so much. Just love that little boy you got. Love him good, because the world out there is a cold place for a man, especially one who can’t even hug his old man on account of his arms being like that.

Nobody ever said that to my old man though. Or if somebody did it weren’t never apparent in the way he behaved.

A cold world out there, I wish somebody had said to him, because it would have helped him and maybe helped me too. Who knows?




Friday, April 7, 2017

Have I mentioned that Portland in the spring is kind of fricken gorgeous?!

Bullet Points.

Below is a poem by the marvelous Whiting Prize-winning Jericho Brown. It passed across my radar screen recently and I was really wowed by it. I have seen it with the title “Bullets” and also with the title “Bullet Points”, either way, it is apparently in his collection The New Testament.

I will not shoot myself
In the head, and I will not shoot myself
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do
I promise you, I will not do it
In a police car while handcuffed
Or in the jail cell of a town
I only know the name of
Because I have to drive through it
To get home. Yes, I may be at risk,
But I promise you, I trust the maggots
And the ants and the roaches
Who live beneath the floorboards
Of my house to do what they must
To any carcass more than I trust
An officer of the law of the land
To shut my eyes like a man
Of God might, or to cover me with a sheet
So clean my mother could have used it
To tuck me in. When I kill me, I will kill me
The same way most Americans do,
I promise you: cigarette smoke
Or a piece of meat on which I choke
Or so broke I freeze
In one of these winters we keep
Calling worst. I promise that if you hear
Of me dead anywhere near
A cop, then that cop killed me. He took
Me from us and left my body, which is,
No matter what we’ve been taught,
Greater than the settlement a city can
pay to a mother to stop crying, and more
Beautiful than the brand new shiny bullet
Fished from the folds of my brain  


Vignette City 19.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

I must have made a wrong turn somewhere in the central library. Normally I make a right at the display case with the diorama of the old downtown in the 1800s - before the fire, but after the flood - and then a left at the display of pygmy skulls and children’s teeth, but I think I got lost somewhere near the tank with all the hermit crabs because whne I came back to awareness of my surroundings - I’m been trying to remember when the last time was that I saw a bee and that must have gotten me distracted - I found myself in a long room with lower ceilings than I was really comfortable with. I scanned the shelves to see if any of the books would give me a sense of where I was; of what corridor of understanding I’d wandered into.

And I was initially very confused.

There were books about pulley systems and bridges, but also an area dedicated to trilobites. There was a section about cable-stayed bridges, next to a dozen books about viaducts.

I tilted my head at one book that seemed to pop out. It looked like all the others, but the title evocatively proclaimed, Intelligent Skin. I pulled it from the shell and flipped through its pages. It seemed to be an engineering book about eco-friendly architecture. I did not understand much of what I saw there. I replaced it carefully on the shell and then began to look for other similar pearls, other books for the specialized and the serious person which could also be titles of poetry collections. I found many:

Alien Ocean, about microorganisms.

Light on the Land, about railway design.

Flow Life in the Atmosphere, about the biology of the upper sky.

Orphan Road, about calm decay of forgotten highways.

Adventure Underground, about the boring of infrastructural transit tunnels.

Railroads of Tasmania, about railroads in Tasmania.

Gardens in the Sky, about rooftop green spaces.

Demon in the Drop, about acid rain.

How to Live on Paper, about …

But then the lights went out.

I have still not found my way back to the hermit crabs, the pygmy skulls. I have not yet found my way back to anyplace that I know.




Thursday, April 6, 2017

I am taking the train right now! I'm not entirely sure where to ...

Vignette City 18.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

The screams had stopped , which seemed initially a good thing. 

She looked up into the vent.

The screams had stopped after the gunshot, which also had also come from the other side of the vent.

The screams had stopped. Before the stopping though was the gunshot and before the gunshot, that’s when the screams had been happening. Mostly it had been Marcella screaming, but it had also sounded as though she’d attacked their Captor, and while he had not screamed, there had been a few “ooffs” and “hutttss” as she got a few good kicks in.

She had never actually seen Marcella, but they’d talked at night through the vent in the dirt and stone wall between their little cells. Marcella had admitted, “I don’t even care anymore, I’m going to fight. I don’t care what he does to me.”

She had been there only a few weeks, but Marcella had been there longer. Much longer.

“Just don’t do anything terrible,” she had whispered to Marcella through the vent the night before.

“It’s not my terrible things we need to worry about, Dearie.” Marcella had replied.

But now all of the sounds had stopped. No noise passed through the vent.

She stood up on her little cot and placed her face close to the grate of the vent even though she knew nothing could be seen through the vent.

“Marcella?” She whispered.


After all the sounds of the ruckus and the screaming and then the gunshot, the quivering silence was awful.

“Marcella . . . ?”

“Okay Dearie,” her voice floated back through the vent, “it’s okay now.”




Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Leaving work and I'm pretty sure I found the Batmobile!

Vignette City 17.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

The Mayor went to visit a new community pool. There would be no press conference, just pool photos, but some of us went anyway, because why wouldn’t we?

It was a nice public pool right there in the middle of a nice new public park that used to be a landfill where the local mob dumped its bodies and where once there had lived a regionally famous opossum that looked like Abraham Lincoln.

At first The Mayor seemed confused, standing at the edge of the pool looking down at all of the little children - some of them tan, but most of them darker - splashing or floating there at his feet. He started to shout something at apparently no one, and waving his arms.

He was yelling, “What are these … all these kids doing in here? In the new pool?”

The sound of our photographers’ cameras clicking and whirring was suddenly like an industrial machine. Like a loom or a shuttlecock.

The Mayor fanned his arms in big circles, trying to drive the children to the end of the pool. “Are you peeing?” He shouted at a little black girl who was not peeing.

“See folks,” The Mayor said, turning toward us, “this is what I have been saying. These … kids. They just. Everybody knows that kids pee in the pool. This is not a shower!” He shouted at the little girl in her pink floaty tube.

Then, as parents and onlookers hauled the last of the terrified children out of the shallow end of the pool, The Mayor unzipped the fly of his striped blue suit and reached inside of his pants where he proceeded to fish around like an angler until he withdrew the tip of - apparently - his penis, pale and hairless like a the head of a baby mouse, and began to release an unsteady tinkle of dark yellow urine into the clear, sun-warmed water.

No one said anything at all, but some of the children at the far edge of the pool, trapped by the low concrete wall surrounding the pool, began to cry.

“See folks? See what I am saying to you about this?” The Mayor said to us after zipping up his pants. “This is a big deal. Some one of them has peed in this big beautiful pool that be built. It’s a shame, really just a shame.” Then The Mayor shook his head and stumbled back out to his waiting motorcade.

The little girl in the pink tube, too little to understand, stepped back toward the pool ready to leap, but she was stopped by the steady hand of a woman nearby. The woman said nothing.