This is a long piece lads. I’ve been out in the bush with time to sprawl.
Lawsy it’s hot, breezeless. I’m kinda looking for somebody shuffling by to bust up that old chiffarobe in the yard…couple of bucks. Sweltering lilacs hang heavy and the crows flap double time to get anywhere at all. Up there so high. There’s a big sweaty Tupperware jug full of lemonade. There’s a young crow up atop the hill sits in the highest frailest branches as they dip and sway under his weight and he makes the moves of flight and riding wind and hollers like a maniac for fun.
My dad always hated lilacs. I never saw finer lilacs than grow in his mother’s front yard, and, though the hotel Grandma ran is something else now, municipal offices down the two lane a bit, her lilacs are still the deepest violet in town. People haven’t improved on those, haven’t replaced them with modern artificial aluminum ones or cut them down. Evenings here, heavy aired, the mix of my friend Molly’s cheap Indian tobacco and lilac’d make you dizzy.
This morning I separated some old iris Dad planted, an unusual thing for him to do. They don’t bloom any more. They were impacted up against a poured concrete foundation down in the back yard at the top of the riverbank, under the pines. He kept tanks there full of minnows he trapped to sell to fishermen. You can still see where he took something sharp and carved my brother’s name and mine and the date in the drying concrete. I think they’re pale yellow slush ice iris. I dug them in here and there around the place. We’ll see. I remember he used to call out to the crows across a marsh where he had traps set and they’d cry back.
I got forms in the mail to fill in to get my Indian card today and I’m thinking about it. Used to be the only list you got on was the Indian list at the beverage parlour but now there’re benefits and a line-up for rights. Truth be told I never knew we had any Indian blood till I was eighteen because it wasn’t anything you were proud of or talked about. But now it’s all the rage. . Canada’s committee on… “Something, something and reconciliation” is having a little get together to settle up the Indian problem this week so its all over the news, well covered too for all the good it’ll do.
Grandma was an Indian who married an Irishman but Dad was a little more Indian than the rest of her kids and there’s plenty with less claim to status than yours truly with their Métis or native status cards but I hold back. Molly Bloom and her “Yes, yes, yes” always seemed a better read to me than Hiawatha or Grey Owl, or The Song My Paddle Sings. My brother says he’s gotta get his card ‘cause he can’t afford to keep white people in smokes otherwise… tobacco’s cheap on the reserves see.
Oh the Indian card…
On an angry level it all does come down to waiting around for somebody to give you an identity their forbears couldn’t quite destroy or absorb, the right, a little late in the day, to a piece of whatever they’re willing to allow you of what was taken away. A chubby white girl wanting you to take her shopping when your redskin tax exemption kicks in stands a good chance of a swat up the side of the head no matter how much she appreciates your dry native wit. The local accent’s Irish here more than anything and I can turn it off and on for drinking. It was always by a Catholic grave-site my aunt Mary would lean over to me and say that the dead was “Free of being…” with her red curls and freckles and beautiful Irish. We weren’t burning sweet-grass like my white friends do to “Clear the air of bad vibes” and we weren’t much for vision quests until marijuana hit the North certainly. Not that I know of.
I dunno, I’ve never been much of a joiner. Proust in winter, Colette in summer, I always say. Freud for the young, Jung for the old. Freud for mechanics and Jung for teaching me to approach my white, day to day life, every minute of it, dull waiting included, as the drama of a Castenada allegory. Seems a long way from the trap line nevertheless.
My leaning over a pool of minnows alone in the woods at five years of age and trusted not to be an idiot and drown while dad went deeper into the bush to check his traps seems a long way from the urban showrooms and hiding places that have taken up much of my life. Grandma made me deer skin moccasins when I was a baby and I keep them safe. There’s more of nature in a good translation of Proust or Collette than there is in a David Suzuki nature special or an Al Gore coffee-table book for me. I scoff at dream-catchers when I go to the rodeo. I reaped the benefits of passing for white all these years I’m not sure I feel I have a right to turn Indian just because suddenly it’s something it’s okay to admit to being.
But still, when any body asks my opinion on a pressing matter of art or politics at table, when I am full of judgmental passion and bored beyond mercy with the entrenched behaviour of the table, I notice lately I’m apt to change the subject back to idle gossip to everybody’s visible relief, to say “Fucking blathering white people…” and fill wineglasses just to set everybody at ease. So they know I’m a drunken Indian. Har. Do the accent. Gets a laugh.
Why go for the benefits now, what would I get, substandard isolated housing, rotten water, the opportunity to rain-dance for tourist dollars, bunch of unresolved land claims? Got that already thanks. Seems to be a lot of divine illumination going on courtesy of the great earth mother or sky father, I forget which is which gender, but as a children’s’ book makes good cottage reading. With a card I could likely get an Arts grants where they’d pay me to portray the plight of my red brethren and sisters or revive or make up a lost cosmology or faith. Thank God we have that long tradition of North American Indian acrylic painting or I’d really be shafted. I could take to the Rauchenberg collage technique as some do for that post modern native look… silkscreen yer photos of the oppressed, slap on the big expressive telling brush strokes, dab a few feathers into that and Geronimo’s your uncle. Bring on the guilty white bucks.
Like I need cheap cigarettes and the chance to live near a casino. The right to shoot a moose when I’m hungry? Been there. Thanks guys. Not once in the melting pot or the multicultural theme park to its north have I ever seen an election time report on how the natives are voting nor have I seen a politician go near a reserve with a camera crew in tow for a town hall meeting come the big vote. Too far from flush toilets maybe. Out of Blackberry range.
My niece and I giggle about how we’d like to drag a gutted moose up main street in peak tourist season, Saturday afternoon with the kids riding the travois, wave at the big fat white people at the Dairy Queen sucking back Blizzards… only time you ever see their cheekbones. Run that through your dream-catcher, rodeo girl.
My brother stopped to buy his wife new moccasins at the gas station up the top of the hill the other night on his way home to the city from the cottage and he locked his keys in the truck. During coat-hanger surgery the new guy that runs the place was quizzing Tim as to his local accent and his antecedents and the Indian thing came up.
The new guy at the Trading post told Tim there was a magical little cove on Baptiste Lake where my great grandfather, a chief of sorts, settled when he refused to be shipped off to a reserve. Near this special little cove there’s a kind of water lily growing you don’t see anywhere else because an Indian princess supposedly drowned there. Tim and I had a bit of a chuckle over that. Tim said she probably tipped her dainty little Birch-bark canoe flailing at black-flies and I muttered something about a bunch of made-up mythology for children’s books and the tourism and heritage minister.
“Fucking white people…”
Ah it’s just The kind of nasty thing I say, doing my redneck shtick, mixing the Indian and Irish on my tongue the way Nathan, the little white furniture designer from up north taught me to do late in life so we could scare the hippies when we went out drinking and so I’d know how to act when I got my Indian card.
You push your jaw out in a jut to the left and clench yer teeth and talk slow and beer sodden and give yer head, as it moves to the latest beat in that particular backwater, the circumscribed orbit of a wobble-head hound in the back window of a dusty, gas guzzling impala on a dirt road and you start every other sentence with “By the jaysus.” You order a Blue if they have it. Nothing with a lime anyway. Maybe a rye and coke it there’s a lady present. You act like yer on better drugs than these babies have ever dreamed of tampering with and yer probably right and when you see a nice piece of ass, no need to be gender specific, you nudge your partner but you keep your eyes on the bar and think about Martha Stewart or chiffarobes.
You show a little real passion in conversation on a fine point of honor a little later in the evening, though, and the long haired bouncer draws close and hangs there like a useless hank of hair, listening, not knowing whether to smile and get in on it or ask you to leave.
And you aren’t cool. You aren’t cool. You’re insensitive to the general vibe of enlightened open-mindedness to all persuasions and spiritualities on the left and the awful derivative music and the not very interpretive dancing and the poetry slamming upstairs shaking the canon, that beauty contest, to its foundations. Good way to kill a Friday night. Wear last year’s gap, sneak in past the gate and do a little heckling.
These people have been validating one another’s experience and tastes in the name of off campus boho artistic freedom so long they can’t make a value judgement without checking in at the bar, and art, as old Brookner says is after all “about aristocracy and subversion, a deeper subversion than this.”
It’s hot all day but cold here still at night, feels like fall. Tea towels cover new plantings against the chance of a late frost up and down the street. We’re all worried about the cost of fuel and lining up firewood in June, but there you go. Won’t be long till the first snow.
The first morning of winter is the morning on which one awakens to light altered by the first white cover on rooftops and the open fields and lawns. The crotches of trees articulated white, the gray tracks of dogs and paper boys, the crunch in the sound and the slow and careful, the quick and foolish traffic, these impressions set in as the day wears on but it is that first moist bleached quality of the light on ones pillow, on the windowsill to which one moves to pause meditatively and unusually, with a childish, ready, arch in one’s stance or a shoveler’s resentful dread. That light comes on the first morning of winter, the first snow cover on a dun dreariness of fallen things decayed, tided or no by rake or hope or duty.
On that morning, yearly, my spouse could hardly contain himself for glee.
It’s hard for me to talk about it. In the terrible quiet of the first snowy morning I still hear him padding about whatever kitchen I inhabit then or in memory. He makes a decent, strong cup of coffee and finds himself a clean ashtray. Through the window over the sink he eyes with rapture a hysterical neighbour lashing with a broom handle at an icicle that has formed on her porch’s eaves trough over night. “You could poke your eye out”. he’d cry softly in a retarded falsetto of alarm. “We’re all gonna die. We’re all gonna die.” He feels it is legitimate to make porridge, which he loves. It is certainly past the twenty-fourth of may. He cooks it up, swearing it will stave off cancer and heart disease, which killed him. He has his special box of spices, cloves and nutmeg beans.
He was a happier man than I was, I think, and I think he had been a happier child too. I wonder how in hell I’d ever take measurements for proof, but there you have it. His glee in the first snow for instance… mine is a mere ghost of it, and mine is half made of his. If I did a little dance, hopping from one foot to the other as I pulled on my funny long john underwear, and slapping my own naked ass as through the open flap of the trap door, it would be his dance. He might have learned that dance from some man in his childhood, but this is doubtful as he was a boy among women, none of the men were the dancing kind. I think that his dance was his own.
In company I adopt his happy moves sometimes. They charm as his unhappy ones did not, though both kinds are useful. When I am alone and there is occasion for joy, when the wind whips up whiteness, I remember, but it is in a trance of sorrow, of reclamation of memory, I hop from foot to foot, with my eyes closed in the kitchen, and fit my own long thinness into the memory of his sturdier flesh and the high reedyness of my singing voice into his scatting baritone. A man who sings to himself in the next room is a fine thing. Sometimes a person in the next room, listening to me sing will think I am happy.
With hardly a thought in my head, without the brains I was born with, I’m slumped listening, unflinching, to a discordant piece of new serious chamber music. I’m set up to work at the kitchen table, can see a warm lit blank of unprimed cotton canvas ready to be painted, to be filled under homely yellow light in the big old fashioned darkness. There is warm muzzy light on the poppy pattern tablecloth, on the vulgar candlesticks that’ll have to go because their pendants jingle with the rhythms of my pencils, on the brick-red bowl full of autumn pears, each bronze and ocher skinned in patches, like snakeskin to the fingers. Here and there is a fleck of spring green on these pears as outside a snow storm gathers. Just beyond the pears, off in the druggy distance, I spy a wooden pencil box, an elegant old thing about a foot by six inches, levered open on its hinges. It was my spouse’s. There’s a small beaker of ratty looking brushes, each with its own trick to play in the latest show, or private commission.
I’m listening without flinching to discords. To say that I listened meditatively, involved in the artsy tunelessness would be stretching truth. I’m in a bit of a slump. I suspect I am too vivid for most company, too yappy, but when I’m alone and unseen I happily slump like so. I don’t go inside deep. Mundane things skim on the surface. I’m thin as a ham glaze. I’m between entertainments taken. Perhaps more exactly, between entertainments self provided. The piece of discordant music blends into something more harmonious and cloying. I’m putting off work that I can only do myself, or not.
I’m to begin tonight a commission portrait of a man long dead. In his photograph, from which I’ll work, he’s standing in front of a kill of three hanging deer in about year nineteen forty-five. At maybe thirty he’s disdainfully staring into the camera up from the poppy patterned tablecloth. There’s a mashed tube each of white and black paint, brackish brown and a Prussian blue and ochre. The photograph, recently unframed, begins to curl, black and grey and white reflective gloss crazing and crackling.
Time should tick loudly. I should feel keenly urgent, that I haven’t much time and have much to do. Much to-do. I’m of a certain age. I sense uncertainty, eye future frailty I battle with lotions and patience and exercises. And with enough vice to render these great three ineffective, exhaustive wastes of time. I’m not so widowed with grief I don’t see the prospect of having a little fun.I seek it now, simple joy in human company. It is a marvel.
So long as there’s laughter there’s hope, perhaps. I laughed often and hard every day for over twenty years and I never thought for a while there near the end, and long after, that I’d laugh again, but I do. Love was certainly not concerned with the laughter ending, though it always knew it would, abstracted an end. No reason not to indulge.
Friends my own age battle various infirmities and traps and whip themselves at their various tasks, passions, and commitments. Their passions have, I sometimes think I see, become duties for the most part. They talk of cleaning up their acts while tasting my cigar. They have a little brown rice with lemon water or they have venison with a whiskey sour. I get a little claustrophobic sometimes with the shrilling and nitpicking, but they’re not a bad tribe, my friends. They are brave in their forward gazes. At least in company. This gets dreary, so it’s important for an old bachelor like myself to have one young friend, or more.
There’s a cafe I miss in the city some evenings where the Manitoba maple leaves hang low over the tables but here there isn’t a place that isn’t a chain gang open in the evenings, that isn’t a Dixie lee or a Tim Horton’s or Macdonald’s or resolutely a sports bar. Used to be a Chinese restaurant here with little jukeboxes in the booths but it’s a second hand store now. That would do.
It isn’t often you get a good belly laugh so I pay attention when I do. You see the other’s eyes full of tears at the salt absurdity of the subject matter and the two of you seem to be the only ones. You’re in paroxysms; you’re keening, looking one another in the eyes. With all that entails.
I have a young friend exactly half my age. Likely the best drawing hand I’ve ever seen. I used to take a student occasionally, would be recommended one by an art teacher in a regular school who took a shine to me. This woman sent me talented students who did not fit in to school. Hewas one of those. He became, as I tell him often, the source of all my earthly troubles and was a great relief for me at the time.
I talk across the table into his invariably sleepy, dissolute face, and marvel at his continuing, if occasionally fleshly presence in my rather peripatetic life. I bang my head on the table in mock frustration at his unreliability, his intentional, unschooled ignorance. I shed mock tears. One is always playing an invisible violin as the other speaks his woe. Yet we continue, as we did from the start, when I saw him as a prospective student, and god knows how he saw me. A sad example, a fate to be avoided, an object lesson in how not to live the artistic life.
He came slowly into the years, see, or I would have briefly admired him and sedately have walked or sent him away. He was sixteen and I was pushing forty the first day we met and I was impatient with him already, his having missed two previous introductory appointments over the course of an entire year. He sat politely to tea. He brought a photo essay of pictures taken of a young man over the course of a lifetime by an older man. A die was cast.
I bemoan his callow affections with a rueful grin for the cat, think about him and desire his company when I’ve been alone too long, or have been convivial in vivid convivialities I find false or trivial, for too long. Today.
I put it to certain students that the emotions were just a part of a palette and should be studied and used as such, controlled, The process of fitting feeling into work as only an element encouraged a detachment of sorts. But I could teach him nothing. We had to just start in as equals right from the start. A certain chaste intimacy was pursued. There were no lessons. I had a friend persisting, to my gratification and surprise, for I was often harsh. I was no encouragement for expressionism, for emotional flailing in expensive paint.
In bereavement he comforted me, and found comfort in me despite the absence of the whistling in the next room, the apologetic and amused man interrupting our lofty discourse with a question about what I’d done with the scoop for the kitty litter, or getting loaded and tearing a strip off anyone within ten feet just for the sheer pleasure of shock and awe.
This kid first knew me as a creature solitary in a studio, pouring tea and flipping through his sketches, which he presented confidently. I knew nerve was more important than false modesty, in what lay ahead for him, that there wasn’t time, while the work was in front of us for bashfulness or for kind untruths.
I always feel a surprise at his continued presence across the table from me in the cafe for many reasons. I weep false tears for his continued unreliability. Only the once I wept real ones over him, over a sketch on his wall. I thought it indicated the kind of work he would be doing when I was gone, in his prime. Caught me on a bad day.
My partner always said to take off one item before you go out the door. On social occasions he said this, when one was liable to overdress and not for winter days when you freeze your balls off stepping out the door. I wear mostly black, in layers which I peel off for comfortable sleep. Black isn’t as fashionable as it was, but everything matches and I’m still a widow. I inherited a box of jewellery, but I don’t wear it out. I take it off before I go out the door. I have a travel bag always ready, full of town clothes.
The day I’m remembering I had lad to myself I looked out the window at the light slanted at sunset on the coppery brick shop fronts. The little bar across the street where we worked, where once, late and hung-over for a shift, I’d taught him to shave with straight razor. I could feel light through the window on my face. I eyed the glaring roof-lines, pictured them in paint, I thought of other cities at that hour, pictured the pink maw of the sky over the Golden Gate Bridge that hour and said “It isn’t enough. Life is short. Don’t waste a moment. Go to Europe now while you have the money and don’t come back. Marry an Italian villa, move into a niche, Lord knows you belong in one, go. Like does anybody ever leave these few downtown streets?
“I know” he says
He tells me I’m in good shape, that I have a few good years left and we laugh. Says I’ve had a damned good run of it. We laugh shyly together often for all our sparring.
He’s rumpled; sleep lingers over him. Some gallery has owner told him his work was too sleepy. He has a small white down feather clinging to his sweater. I find this restful. The bar is quiet, the manager is watering his windowsill plants and we tease him for his soft side, his green thumb.
The grill is being leisurely cleaned. The setting sun is on our faces by the window to the leafless trees. It makes me sleepy. The young lad looks like a puppy with one ear turned inside out. And in the hoary morning of my own bathroom mirror what tired mangy hound?
I wonder if his flight is booked.
So the lemon light has swung around to set. I can see a smut of sleep in the corner of his eye. He reaches toward me and plucks a long stray hair out of my beard, and looking startled into my eyes, embarrassed he seems, explains I thought it was growing there, that I’d missed it shaving
“No,” I say, but I get these long hairs growing out of my ears that I miss sometimes. Sometimes I notice them and I look just like a dragonfly.” Mild companionable laughter. It gratifies this old widower. We’ll leave the bar before dark, go separate ways in the small city streets. I’ll seek a working solitude, but pause in it\now and marvel at my own pleasure. We’re monkeys. After all. Grooming and chortling. We could do worse.
Always take one thing off before you go out my spouse used to say. I have my own sweet dead, like sentimentally important pieces of jewelry. Time should tick loudly. You should be able to hear your heart.
I need to slow down and listen, try to settle down to paint. Christ, forty percent of the people in the world don’t have a pot to piss in. My ennui is criminal. One hundred and fifty dollars will give a blind man sight. That’s quicker than Jesus. Nobody will ever eat those pears. I heard some white people talking about it on the radio.
I said to the lad two years ago discovering myself desiring him, I said “I’m too old for this. I have no business even having a cup of coffee with you. I’m old enough to be your father for Christ’s sake. Ashes haven’t cooled. I’ve been lucky. I don’t want to turn to you with my habitual desire, sense of entitlement. You don’t know how I’ve been indulged, almost monstrously in my marriage, whatever it was.
Jesus. Fall. You caught me. Love. I’m glad I can feel it and it is better than I expected to feel again, god knows but its the stuff of bedroom farce, comedic. It’s a trashy story about kindness, yours in this case. I appreciate it. In this case at least loving the living is not much unlike loving the dead. To think I might seek at some deeply shocked level, bereaved, the familiar so much. It’s enough to make me sit up straight.”
At this he looked me level in they eyes and smiled, indulgently, eyelashes in evidence, and he said “No problem, really.” Unwilling to say more or less, he twisted himself sideways at the table, to face for a moment the wall, not the other few people in the cafe. I changed the subject, enquired about a water main broken in his studio, drew his face back, his eyes to mine. He arched his back, cursed through a stifled yawn, rolled his head and drummed his fingers on the table and then on his belly. This little performance completed he laughed as his eyes met mine and leaned in close to describe a handyman’s gross stupidity.
Time passed. A few years. He’s getting his masters in Berlin next. Got an email from him tonight. I’d sent him a picture of my avatar having tea on a boardwalk in second life and we laughed about the teeny tiny weeny tiny little shows we were having and fucking lazy ass fag gallery owners who don’t know enough to say hello when a possible client walks in the door. Too cool. I go back to that cafe we liked but it’s lost its attraction. I got a new highwayman comes riding, riding, not as often as he should mind but I like being alone.
I had friends dare to be indulgent, patient with me concerning my long afternoons with him in the cafe, with his charming girlfriend or alone, watching him sketch as others breathed, laughing together, bitching, passing a cigarette back and forth, fighting, splitting a sandwich, or a bit of a pill, for we were poor. I had friends who did not realize the chaste nature of our public touches, our meeting and parting embraces, our hands as we talked across those yellow tables. I had friends I no longer see, who were mere overseers of a community solidarity I did not desire or feel, who desired my compliance.
He lives in Montreal. We see foreigners, affect other ways.
My Indian Great grandfather was called Chief Jean Baptiste, perhaps derisively, as I’ve been called chief myself upon occasion. Baptiste after the lake where he stayed. Today our Prime minister apologizes formally to the Indians for wrongs done in the past, to Indian children taken from their parents and moved to residential schools, to have the Indian taken out of them. Old blue eyes we call him. There aren’t many left to accept his apologies. He’s not settling any land claims right away to celebrate but it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it. All about healing and forgiveness and closure. The bedtime news is awash with tears and reconciliation. The peace pipes are smoking. Hope they choke. Big feathered headdresses in parliament house.
I walked the dog downtown with an old friend from teenage years tonight. He has eight kids. Hard little grey blonde skinhead wouldn’t look so much like Popeye if he’d wear his teeth but they feel like Mason jar lids. A body work man. Pugilistic, did some time for it. Handsome. He quit drinking years ago and that ended the fighting. Full of good gossip. We compared grey hairs and bald spots and favorite lines from “The Family Guy.” We walked up and down the main drag like thirty odd years ago, went to see where they bulldozed the last of the old style buildings down today, figured they’d put up a strip mall. All the old shards of hundred year old wainscoting was piled on old beds and carpet and curtains as the town made its final gesture toward its own modernity. Old Mrs. Maxwell would have been just sick, the guts of her house open in shards to common view. She used to sweep the sidewalk every morning, knew enough to say hello. A kind woman.
The sense of successful town planning here seems picked up on holidays in American beach towns and during time spent working away in auto plants. I don’t mind. I like the pragmatic aluminum clad, baldheaded, ugly hope for commerce. I enjoy the absence of tacked on prefab ginger bread that would have gussied up the severe and somehow western building fronts had the yuppies and draft dodgers moved into town, rather than into the hills around. Half the towns in Ontario look like sets for the Gilmour girls or Anne of green Gables.
Still I’m getting my camera down to the old hillbilly garage toot sweet I’m telling you sir, and I’m going inside to take pictures. Before Speedy Muffler Queen bulldozes it all and tiles it over like a Decorating channel faggot’s bathroom.
The world is such I’m glad the people I loved most, who knew it before George Bush Junior, are dead and gone. I’m tough and corrupt enough to get on okay in it with nobody to much share outrage over coffee as the little self important hydro man on his roaring four by four who sits in his hardhat and vest, throbbing, as his backup alarm pulses through the dawn that lights his clipboard. Gas burning. Muffin top above his designer jeans. Hydro men used to have fine legs from climbing. Not this fat bastard. I’d hate to listen to Grandma rhyme on about him.
He drives like a mars probe down into the rutted spring ditches to shunt his play toy against each telephone pole. Something sensitive in his bumper gives him a computer reading. So my uncle says, who used to be a climbing lineman for the county. My little technical minder here cautions me to avoid gender specific words… praise the Lord I’ve got that to keep me in line while hydro costs skyrocket.
The cost of a barrel of crude settles sweet and high for the weekend, I watch and partake in this absurd technical savvy on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in Buttfaq Ontario. Grateful for his igenuity I’m Running the imac on which I hold forth like Grandam but with my new haircut and jeans just like that cool dude’s in the Mac commercials, here under the many lone pines. Nowadays a man can’t deal with a leaf in his drive without revving up a machine and punching the sky for owning it. The crack-heads feel cool and tough cause they can play music on a machine. All the people on the street are too old to complain now so its up to me to point out that the whole neighborhood doesn’t have to live at the level of a moron just cause a few of them moved in recently. There’s a difference between democracy and sinking to the lowest common denominator, like dudes. Silver threads among the gold or not you gotta fight the idiots. You’ve lived here all your life and you’re gonna take this crap now?
I haven’t moved far, just across the boundaries of a gardening zone, and into the broadcasting zone of another pop radio station’s advertisers mandate. Music blares the same top forty here as there Mick Jagger, again, again, so dissatisfied, just so, on the local playlist for about nine o’clock each morning this spring, Local radio comes from sixty miles away. Named after an endangered species that station, as many are. The moose, the bear, the wolf. The cracked up little weasel.
You gotta take a cab a mile out of town to catch a bus if you want out of here and they cut that back to three days a week five years ago. In case you don’t drive.
You radio for a cop sixty miles away and if there’s a car in the district they’ll be here in an hour. Its all been centralized, rationalized, Last night two young cops looked frightened when they came pick up a dog I found, like they’d never seen a man with a couple piercings and a bandanna sitting at an iMac. One kept a hand hovering for the gun when I opened the garage door on the dangerous golden retriever, brains and function bred out of it for Yuppie safety and bell telephone commercial family photo values, wriggling, pissing itself in joy for people kisses.
That symbol of middle class bliss, that doe eyed stupidity was the only thing that lowered the testosterone and blood pressure enough either one of the Kevlar lads could crack a civil smile and stop thinking they’d stumbled on to a biker hideout like on Quebec TV. We all got down for a cuddle.
They didn’t either one of them live here. They just come in to keep the peace. As Canadians do. Could be why the South Africans looked to us when they were setting up apartheid. We had a good track record.
Reminds me. I was just talking on the phone to a friend who was saying Obama had won the democratic nomination. She said it just went to show that Americans would rather have a black man than a white woman in charge, it was misogyny triumphant. I told her I’d like to hear Condoleeza hold forth on the subject and got off the phone.
Anyway. What do I know? Crow watching’s about all I’m good for. Last night I trod on a peacock’s tail on the lonely, empty city streets of second life.
I remember Bert, the dead man blogging, read in the paper one morning, aloud to me, about some last old member of some French line of nobility whose profile he’d admired in Match magazine years before, how the handsome man and his lovely old wife had found out he was ill and had driven down a quiet country lane in their Mercedes and blown their brains out. That story hung in the air over coffee and in the smoke of cigarettes like the idea that we should likely do the same, did bad news come.
Some mornings now it hangs in the air now, not so often, but when I crave wise talk, when I would like to see someone enchanted with say, the hummingbird, say the jacks in the pulpit, illegally moved and multiplying, say with the light on the country crockery that languishes in boxes now, for the book rather than the to do list for success in the end of days. For me.
He’d have liked Rome, the HBO Television series. I was ready to hate it but I got sucked right in, Anthony met Cleopatra for the first time last night and now the shit really hits the fan. The old wife back in Rome biting into a stuffed songbird. Something for the cat to watch.
I hauled out his “Decline and Fall” and his Tacitus and his lives of the Caesars and now I can read them in Technicolor. Bert left me a with his own comforts, which I dare say last longer and run deeper than those left my desperate divorcee friend who got what her mantras ordered and lives with that sad “Half of everything, half of everything.” Nice not to have to listen to that.
Oh our slaves in ourselves and our back yards and overseas, our personal vendettas, our rights, our ambition, confined to the office or the hiding place or the display room, Rome’s vulgar town crier on CNN with a nightly situation room spot balancing some other cretin’s point of view as part of the best and most balanced news team in the known universe. Even if you went through a wormhole like the andromeda strain you’d never find a better news team.
Afterward you can watch celebrities kowtow for the shallow questions Larry King’s team imagines we would ask if we could just draw close.
You can watch, later, beauties betray one another, cut and slash for cash, compete at meaningless contrived tasks unrelated to hunting and gathering, survivor take all rather than kill the the contrivers, rethink the island. Hey, you sign up, you know the drill. Makes all the difference.
Reality indeed. The shock and awe and successful surge, daily in the cradle of civilization to keep terror at bay and oil cheap. Yeah right. Seems to be working out all right. Anderson Cooper, Katrina-forged, keeping them all honest bless his heart. It’s a damned good thing he’s prematurely gray and comfy with it or he’d have died of Grecian formula poisoning working that job description. Wish he wouldn’t hold that little level stare of incipient profundity while he waits for the commercials to boot up. Obama loping gracefully to the podium, doing up the right button.
Sometimes I fear mightily Obama’s loping gracefully into the same old American cross-hairs, the great American archetype. Seems like the King and Kennedy assassinations are getting the memory lane treatment a little lavishly. Sometimes I think that rather than convincing us of the cost effectiveness of torture, 24 got us used to the idea of a good black president.
Those background preachers obama distances himself from rightly are a deft touch, saying every un-American thing many us have been thinking all along anyway. We’ve been listening to preachers in the background of the presidents for a long time now, like to deliver us to hell for our private predilections and our lack of right wing values. Real women and Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggert and that other fat fuck.
Sure none of the presidents they favoured really wanted faggots burnt or all the fires of the final tribulation to fall down on the commies, but there was always that hysterical background chorus ranting old time religion, howling like a crack-whore’s hound. Keeps you alert. Mebbe just because we had two bushes didn’t mean it’d take two Clintons to make a right.
Personally I liked old Clinton the male until he chose to deny the fact a little blow job was sex rather than tell his interrogators to mind their goddam businesses. I could stand by a man who got an occasional extra-medial blow-job, but I’d walk if he said it wasn’t sex. Saying it doesn’t matter is one thing, saying it isn’t sex is about the same as saying gay sex isn’t really sex, that some women are real and others are unreal. Enough.
A friend upon occasion presumes in me a knowledge of tree spirits, coyote ways, that inspires some private hilarity, I certainly do not presume in her, because of her pale skin a knowledge of her own cultural heritage. Tree spirits indeed… the same kind of thinking that supposes that just because I have a few close male friends I want to decorate her house and do her manly chores too, fix her sump pump while girlishly sympathizing with her issues.
She is a fairly well off woman, conservative with leftist public opinions. She once said to me, managing to be both insulting and uninformed in wistfulness at my simple meal…you’re so good at making do. She aspires to paganism and represents to me, though I keep it to myself, a Roman time of which I read, when it seems all religions were equally valid and shoppable, sustainable, workable, except for Christianity, which was blamed for all evils, for everything from simple blow job guilt to Guantanamo bay, to global fry-up.
When used as to guise a wolf a a lamb Christianity is perhaps the most dangerous of all human inventions, and my native annoyance is perhaps petty when this friend misses a biblical reference in a poem or a painting. Let alone a pagan one for that matter for she is almost as ill informed of the religions she cherry picks as she is of the ones she spurns. Not much use for Jehovah witnesses either. Loves all Jews. Anything involving nicknacks except Catholicism seems to pass her intellectual scrutiny. Muslim prayer rugs are fine. Stitch two of them together for a pillow. Thinks the burka might be good for the beach… I dunno. She makes it up as she goes along.
I was raised in religious matters (though not very successfully) to be a good old time religion Baptist. I’m grateful for the Carter family and the singing Rambo family and I’m grateful for the notion of a personal relationship, priest-less, one to one with God, for that metaphor for self actualization that was bred into me. I was scarcely raised an Indian. I would be hard pressed to discover what natives hereabouts believed before the bible. When my dad died and the Baptist relatives were torturing themselves over whether he’d been saved and gone to heaven (they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in their grief weighing the departed soul in the balance) my eloquent aunt Mary said “You don’t spend as much time in the bush as your dad did and not know about God, for Chrissake”
One winter morning just before last Christmas this friend receive news of a long time friend’s death by cancer in the early morning of a wild snowstorm. I watched her take in the news, this friend who makes up superstitions as she moves along with, if not with the seriousness of the Oracle at Delphi, then with a will to power and dramatic effect often noted and amusedly tolerated in her own small social circle…She startled me by keening almost gleefully about how her friend, dying, had just ridden out on a pressure system, caught the tail wind out, like the poor woman had gone windsurfing for the first time. Go girl.
Ever touchy, especially on the subject of early morning snow storm departures from this veil of tears, and touchy on the subject of her snow, which I was often shovelling, I found in her response a triviality, a lack of delicacy I perhaps had no right to expect.
I recognized her as a comfortable trust account sort of hippy, startled by mortality’s lack of regard for designated happy hours and her own generation. I knew she spoke from a shell shock so profound it must disguise death as a new age theme park ride and reach a little early for the first wine glass of the day. As uttered the dying Julian…”I have learned from philosophy how much the soul is more excellent than the body; and that separation of the nobler substance should be the subject of joy, rather than of affliction” However, I lacked charity that Christmas, demanded a more sombre observance and have never regained good feeling for her.
More than snow had piled up. She lost two friends to the toboggan ride snows of that morning.
Ah grief. If you’re lucky it turns to truly happy memory and a sort of daily counsel about what’s important. Ah summer. That kid down the road who wears the long black trench-coat out of a high-school massacre is going to swelter and shed that very well cut garment, flex that slender grace on a beach self-consciously, fall in love with another lad and move out of here. I pull on a pair of Bert’s old jeans one morning so I can just feel the cut of his jib and I step out and take up my spade for a day’s gardening under his eye for detail. And Grandma. I think I never really saw either of them take up a shovel’
You’re not supposed to do that kind of thing, put on the jeans of the dead. It’s symptomatic of a lack of closure, or lack at least of clean laundry suitable to back roads. After five years you’re supposed to have let go and welcomed the universe unfolding as it should. You are supposed to have gone through the twelve or however many steps of grieving, like love was an addiction and not the breath of life itself. Fuck em.
I remember Karen at the Metis center, she runs the healthy babies program in a town without a doctor. After that terrible night up north of heavy snow and ice and doctors unable to get through, four people in that little town of three hundred souls had been taken, of their terminal illnesses and the wild howling of that night. She lost her mother. I lost Bert. There weren’t a lot of jokes over the cracker-barrel in the general store that morning, “They say I’m supposed to let go but I’m not going to. I can’t bake bread and let go. Fuck em” she said “She was my mother.”
Blogging amounts to a sort of second life. None of the people I see day to day read anything I write. They’re not curious. Some of them don’t have hydro let alone machines. They don’t have the technical skill to access a web page or they prefer a less interactive medium, where they don’t have to keep one hand free for mousing. They don’t read, they’re busy. Doesn’t make any money it’s a waste of time and sometimes you’d think it was their time the looks I get.
That lack of curiosity is a comfort, an insulation, there’s safety, and wisdom likely, in their ignorance … If I’m being the painter in public and somebody’s curious about me, asking personal questions about painting, where it comes from I can hand them an url and I don’t have to stand gussied up for sale answering personal questions from a stranger in public.
I don’t make message heavy paintings, about the only statement I make is in the fact I persist whether it pays or not so mebbe I just back up the images with the weight of blather here. I paint for pleasure, mine
If I’m writing to anyone it’s somebody riding east through Quebec with a picture of my ass popping up on his cell phone to keep things light under the loneliness of the moon we keep in common across snack brackets and oddly reconcilable differences, while a singer drives west the same highway with her guitar in the back-seat and an aching back, the same strip of highway, the same fierce strengths of character passing safely, head on, unawares. Some guy with tattoos up all night playing guitar down a dirt road south of here with a satellite, a handsome sailor five hundred miles away getting to bed early so he can get up and sing in an Anglican Church, who tells me to paint for the glory of God fuck the galleries, somebody flipping burgers in a ferry boat off the coast of B,C, and coming home to a little house full of my paintings, somebody sitting with her long lost son noticing how his hands flick in the same way her own do through a seed catalogue, somebody calling everybody in Berlin a cunt just for the joy of it,
The Jungian and the dialogue between the internal parts. Bill going into the studio to paint a portrait from a photograph so someone’s mother has a picture of her son that isn’t a mug shot. There’re only a few friendships in real time where the things I say here are said with a human voice, where it sounds from the meat.
Simple lack of curiosity’s one thing, I don’t mind it a bit but when a note of vociferous giggling disdain creeps in to a person’s voice for something she or he’s never explored, temptation creeps into my heart and I feel a little disdain myself. Specially when it’s my own voice. When I hear somebody mocking the simulated reality of Second life and the people who use it as losers I sign right up, I dive right in.
I was out in the woods, watching the green darken from the acid greens of spring a little. Moving from the lemon to the cadmium yellow and swatting flies. I Took a play day and explored. On satellite, without running water.
You arrive naked and androgynous but then you build yourself a body, an avatar, design yourself some clothes. The beach sand is white, digital powder, untracked, at the entry port for beginners. It’s like a Fellini beach but also reminiscent of Burning Man, cluttered, though space seems vast, with car hulls, billboards, a large bonfire eternally consuming the same technological detritus though the flame is convincing, The sky is a bland azure, deepens at the horizon to the look of artificial turquoise.
You can go on island time but if you like you can change the time of day. There’s amber sunset, there’s charcoal night. There is a kiosk for tourisms’ predictable quandaries, directions, maps to continents suiting one’s predilections. I like best a harbour where strange solitary figures sit by barrel fires watching the ocean, gulls, ships, bits of technology littering the beach. The solitariness surprised me. I’d expected a hubbub of the frenetically disenchanted, but no. Here and there a figure glided or stood frozen, or learned to walk using a keyboard, new, like myself, to it all. Newbies wandering, staggered really about, like drunks or handicapped people, clumsy in their newly fashioned selves and outfits. A woman in a bridal dress circled by a turkey who I often see fanning his tail there. A skeleton in a fedora sitting alone on a bench outside an abandoned railroad station.
There are strange cavernous Gothic buildings and hyper modern ones too, soaring structures with their sides open to view like bombed houses. There are endless shops, clerkless, strip-malls I doubted a utopia would allow. One buys with a mouse-click, boots, hair, shoes, land, anything. In sugar-gleaming three dimensional space, trees wave in the sea breeze. Some of them are quite well done.
I made a body somewhat like my own, and a face. I caricatured myself, right down to Wardrobe, but later found some freebie jeans and a vest just outside a gay bar on a distant island. I visited a virtual slum, a paradisiacal island all marble and art, but I like best the newbie beach where people wander about in perfect flesh mostly. (no one old certainly, and my character the ugliest skinniest bastard on the beach, just like me.)The newbies are oddly touching, getting their legs. They walk into walls while figuring how to use the Navigation keys, fly through walls, hang in bonfires fires, get stuck in corners like punished children, and since flying is possible, they take off and crash rather like a barrage of paper airplanes.
One totally hairless nude Barbie doll type hung suspended upright like a Magritte figure in mid air for a day, perhaps having coffee in real time. If you see a bench you like you click on it and your avatar will take a seat. You can observe from your own eyes, the passing pageant or view yourself from about ten feet away. When you fly, there is a speed dependent rush of wind and you recognize the sound and the moves from earlier dream of flight. There’s that genius in it.
The gay bar was silly, too much like earthly for me. I went into a huge maze of manly warehouses full of old cars, the walls hung with male erotica I remember from San Francisco in the seventies. I liked a junkie hotel with filthy rooms and skittering robot-like rats. You could donate a dollar to pay the exterminator though the rooms were free. There’s a generosity of imagination here lacking in my hometown certainly.
I honed my navigational skills on hilariously difficult stairwells, much like I did in my boozy youth… Except when I staggered in a wide keening arc on a landing I kept going right through the walls and I’d get a glimpse of vast green vistas and oceans before I was pulled back inside by sideways gravity. Flying indoors is iffy but fun.
I perched bat-like up in a corner of a cavernous garage and watched the stereotypical gay types wander about in the warehouse far below. I was amazed at how much it felt like a real gay bar for me in that way. I didn’t see any dancing and didn’t miss it at all. There were cots on top of old truck beds and such, with tiny globes of light you could tap that would render your avatar submissive or dominant in sex play. You could pose invitingly, The creatures had cartoony sex uninflected by human quirkiness or clumsiness. I had the decency to go into a ratty when I got to the junkie hotel room and shut the door behind me to try those little lights out. Had a shower and left.
I only met one humorous person, the rest were bound by pretty much the same daily dull normal set of social behaviours as in real life. This funny guy kept running up to me in various serious places and urgently inquiring if I had any idea where the bathrooms were at all.
I bought a burning car and teleported it to my personal file to decorate my living room later in case I got an apartment,
I acquired myself a penis, to attach to my body. Rather outsize, but it was pushbutton, and cheap, and hardened dramatically, came like a donkey. Problem is I attached it incorrectly and it hung outside my jeans. I couldn’t hide it, This rather limited me from going anywhere but gay island, where as I said, sex is mechanical and imitative of movies and the men are all in outfits from leather shops and resist satire, vehemently.. when they talk, they make typing motions on nonexistent keyboards and their words appear above their heads in little speech balloons you can read from a distance. So you can’t not listen.
I returned to second life about five times. When I would resolve myself back on orientation island, after my body rezzed and then my denims, while I watched myself from behind, somebody would scurry officiously up to me and hiss that this was a family values area. My donkey dick would neither tuck in or disengage. I tried everything. I’d have to take to the air real fast, soon as my dick rezzed and try to get it tucked inside my jeans at icy altitudes.
I’d like to go back to that beach someday but appearing thus appearing badly is, I think, not done there either, so there ends my second life. Much like my first. But bigger.
Better to sleep and dream. I have had occasionally, since my spouse died, dreams in which he has run off, in which I suspect him of having an affair. I wake up hurt and resentful, angry, slowly to realize, just about dawn that he is gone finally. I sense something instructive in these dreams… their recurring nature of course indicates a lesson I haven’t grasped.
I ruminate over my early quiet coffee, sit at the edge of the garden, in the grey light as I did today and watch the increasing sun burn off the mists and lighten the distant trees. I see them as brighter, yellow patches through the hooker’s green branches of the near ones. Today there was a humming bird in the iris. There was a large svelte gopher creeping along the unfinished foundation a California woman built and abandoned in the empty lot next door, She ran out of dream home money or the winter astounded her and sent her packing. Me in my scarlet towelling robe hunched on the edge of my grandmother’s garden alone, watching the town wake. Ruminating quietly before the day’s concerns, money grubbing, supposedly pragmatic, rise like the sun itself, that god, but like an anti sun, like shadows. Leaching the very light I savor with my coffee.
I dreamed last night he and I met in public, in a cafe in Paris and he said he would not be coming home with me tonight. I asked him if he were having an affair and he considered, sadly, and answered neither yes or no. There were people about. A tall dry American of the type who translates Proust without ever having seen a flowering tree, and a young dark hunched third generation hippy sort who saw art as a political activity. I was scolding them, realizing they were privy to a private letter I’d written whose contents they mocked. I said ” IF you two weren’t sitting arguing like schoolgirls each with a finger between your legs…” and looked up to see Bert looking a little sadly shocked my crudity. A look I’ve seen before.
He took me along with him. We were to attend a play after dinner. We were accompanying his friends, the playwright and his wife. She fed me piece by bit, tastes from her fork, of a perfect stew she’d cooked, small potatoes in juice, they had the texture of water chestnuts. Their children were with us, the youngest a happy teasing boy who seemed to know my jealousy, my dark thoughts, and tried to tease me from under their spell. I remember thinking that this was Bert’s lover, and realizing the boy was too young, that it was the boy’s pleasure in life, his family’s sensuality, joie de vivre, elan, that was the, after all, chaste attraction. The pleasure in life, in what we tend to set apart as “the arts and culture” like a specialty channel on television, but art requires a deeper commitment, is a deeper subversion than the occasional attendance of a gallery or a jazz festival in a park, demands a deeper commitment than is mentioned in brochures from the touristry board.
Paris was her old self. We rode in an open carriage through gaslit streets, down narrow streets, the building fronts close, the dusk purpling, jolting on lost cobblestones, the black horses vital, tossing their manes.
I sat beside the play-write, watching the performance. He handed me a small paper cup and I could see, before the lights went down, in the cup’s bottom a small folded square of paper I thought was likely very good LSD, which I realized with a pang I did not want to swallow (if I had to experience, endure its benefits, for they would become perils in my small room alone at home, later.)
In the bar afterward there were other men, other possible culprits, but always the jovial child mocking me lightly, mocking my jealousy, my drab solitude, but never asking me to come along. That would be something I would have to do from my own volition.
I awoke, angry, stung by the insult of my own exclusion. I fed the cat and patted her refinement, her natural and simple appetite. I made my coffee and stepped out into the dawn, past my computer in the small sun-room. The wild roses behind the screen. The birdsong. I sat dismissing the ugly little petty battles I would have today with people I despise over supposedly practical matters. Who see my activities as useless, as lacking a basic pragmatism which the world of rising oil prices and social awareness requires, never thinking that what they see as pragmatism is looked at in some fool lights as mere profiteering, which put us in the polluted place we inhabit. This first life.
The ground hog crept along. The hummingbird looked for nectar in the vivid yellow handle of a garden trowel. The sun crept up on us all. Over the falling empire. Above a little rise of the grass, which I mowed yesterday, though an open patch between trees I can see to the dirt road that passes the house. Up it came walking a man I’d not seen before. I expect it was the old gentleman who lives on down the way in the little old red house with the small orchard beside it, fenced, in which two small, happily pampered pups tumble at play. Sometimes they get loose and visit here, racing under the pines, happy, alert, teasing. Some evenings I walk by his house with my own dog, who must investigate the fence-line, read and leave news. The man’s kitchen window is close to and open to the road. One sees a happy clutter inside in gentle lamplight, a clutter that here in the light of the home decorating channel, might be seen as signs of senile or at least moral decay, The lamplight is too gentle to be quite modern. You couldn’t see intothe corners to vacuum. Too dim a light for sharing with the cameras of reality TV. A table used for purposes of self amusement, involving paper, glues, books, reference materials, a jumble of things whose proper place is not the kitchen table. Not such an effacement.
He couldn’t help but see me in my awful vivid robe this morning. He wore a gray cardigan, which I admired at a distance. He looked about seventy, sturdy. He seemed to admire the morning, and even at a distance I saw in a brief alteration in his shoulders, in his attention upon noticing me, that he approved my quiet enjoyment of the early hour. He cocked his beret as he strode past. Then a few scalding tears came to my eyes, quickly dabbed away. I remembered early years in cabarets long gone. I go pretty red in the sun but when I was a pup my winter pallor stood me well in paleface bars.
I clearly recalled my friend Mary and I slipping in late on Pears Avenue to see a woman sing Piaf. We wore black before everyone else did, we were exceedingly thin before they had a word for it, anorexic, and we wore a little kohl on our eyelids. I realized that painting was the only thing that tied me to beauty. Though it has become over the years, around me, a guerilla tactic for the left, or an elitist amusement for yuppies, a tourist industry in a dying industrial economy, a dead end career managed by visual illiterates who take a one hundred percent markup and can’t even get the date right on an invitation, a decorative accent in some faggot’s home redo on reality TV, something to be explained in hushed tones belying the shallow nature of discourse on Public television. Or to be explained on travel shows by coarse australian teenagers in hiking boots wearing hats in church, as was the Sistine ceiling last night on the Discovery channel.
From the Second Life manual
Points to consider re SL use…
• Requires rather high end graphics capability. See http://secondlife.com/ for hardware requirements.
• Requires software client (downloaded) and high speed Internet connection.
• Frequent software upgrades must be downloaded in order to utilize SL.
• There is a steep learning curve regarding manipulating your avatar, moving around on a site in SL, and
moving from site to site within SL.
• There are sleazy places and violent places within SL. For the most part you can avoid them, but some
people may be offended or unhappy if confronted with either or both.
• The primary means of communication in SL are chat and IM, though audio has been used at some
• All SL usage is tracked by Linden Labs and site owners may also track usage. This could be a privacy
• Residents who create objects within SL own those objects and may sell, transfer or copy them within
SL, but cannot take those objects out of SL.
Brief SL Glossary
newbie or noob = person new to SL
tp = teleport (transport to an SL site rez = resolve [images]
lm = landmark lag = time it takes to resolve
$L = Linden dollar griefer = person who attempts to do damage or grief
IM = Instant Message sim = simulation
Date Friday May 30 2008
Subject Blog entry