“The thing is,” he said, but then thought better about continuing his sentence, because he was about to lie, and it was an un-necessary lie – not one you might tell not to hurt someone’s feelings, but just telling a lie to tell a lie, to be dishonest just because it made him feel unclean, and he liked to feel that way, sordid and slimy, but he suddenly realized that he’d fallen into a dirty, bad habit – lying out of compulsion, not necessity, and he understood that he had to make a neat break from lying for the hell of it. She looked at him while he was sorting this all out, not talking, but trying to divine his thoughts. She knew him well, and, although she didn’t know precisely what he was thinking, she had a pretty good idea, as she was very aware of his habit and understood that eventually he’d have to come to grips with it.
The dream Ray had about the octopus stuck around him all day. It was a humid, hot afternoon, and Ray had forgotten all about calling her, preoccupied as he was about that damned octopus. He dreamed that the octopus had nine legs. Why, he wondered, was the number of legs so important that that was all he really remembered from the dream? And when he *did *finally call her, would he discuss the dream with her? When he hung up the phone, he didn’t remember if he talked about the dream or not, owing to his short-term memory problems. She was just like that nine-legged octopus, he thought, in that she was like a cat with nine lives. An octopus with nine lives, he thought, and he found his thought funny, much like he often found his memory problems funny. His friends found it odd that he found this funny, but his friends did a lot of things that he thought were odd but that they found funny. This struck Ray as some sort of cosmic balance. Every time he tried to explain this theory to her, her eyes’d glaze over and she’d change the subject. As Ray walked further, he saw a man across the street urinating into a pail. This made no sense to him. It just seemed so incongruous. Why was the man urinating in a pail, and not just peeing right on the sidewalk? Why wasn’t he using a bathroom? Wasn’t he afraid of being arrested? It seemed to Ray that this was something someone who was drunk might do. The humidity and heat of the afternoon nagged at Ray now, making him feel listless. As he walked down Tenth Avenue, he saw a door with a poster that read “Drink Beer and Fight.” What sort of damned person puts up a poster like this? he wondered. Duh. Somebody that likes to drink beer and get into fights. He only got into two fights in his life, and he lost both. In the last one, the guy hit him in the head, hard, and he then understood why guys in cartoons who get punched in the head see stars, or at least stars ae drawn swirling around their heads. Sometimes instead of stars they draw birds, and usually the birds are singing, whistling.
Jim is at it again, but what “it” is is uncertain to him, but there you have it: Jim IS at it again. Last week (or was it the week before?), I asked Jim why he’s always at it. Jim recounted this to me: “I was outside of Duluth on one of my cross-country trucking trips, carrying a load of bus parts from Seattle to Akron. My truck broke down just west of Duluth, and I spent a harrowing night at the Mesabi Motel. It was a stormy night. Cold rain pulverized the place. There was an all-night diner across from the motel, and I ambled in there, in search of black coffee and maybe some pie. Instead, I had an encounter with a hostle waitress, snarling and slamming down the coffee mug on the table. The manager came over and put three mugs in front of me and filled each with coffee. “Why are you offended by our waitress?,” the manager demanded of me. I was wholly perplexed. I’d done nothing wrong. I hadn’t offended her in the least! It was like a scene from some Kafka nightmare. ‘No one has ever said anything nasty about our coffee, sir,’ the manager said, and commenced to pour each mug on my head, scalding me. ‘You have caused us great pain,’ said the manager, ‘and now I am returning the favor!’ As I tried to rush out, the waitress put her foot against the door, refusing to let me leave. She then summoned the entire kitchen staff and they held me down as the waitress smeared the Boson cream pie all over my face and neck. ‘No one here understand me!’ I cried. For the next twenty-five minutes, the waitress proceeded to give me an impromptu lecture on the meaning and metaphysics of coffee and pie.” Jim glared at me after this tale with a look that said, “Do you now understand why I’m always at it?” I didn’t, but said I did. I’ve found in situations like this that it’s better to lie than tell the truth. Sometimes the truth will result in a broken face. Sometimes a lie will result in an honorarium. It’s a mixed-up world, a messy, untidy one which we inhabit, but hell, I didn’t invent the rules. We roam the earth in search for meaning, but all we get is three cups of cofee splatted on our skulls. I guess I’d be better off without friends like Jim. I guess I’d be better off without a lot of things. I guess the fact that I hold mirrors responsible for the way my face looks is a thing like this. But burdens like Jim’s friendship come with my territory, and the wider my territory is – the more spacious – the better. Yeah, I guess it’s bleak and desolate, but you hafta admit it’s awful roomy.
Where, oh where, does Jim begin? Sometimes, he feels just like Dorothy in Muchkinland, just after her house landed on the witch. Where to go, Dorothy? Where to go, Jim? *His* yellow brick road is a lonely street, chocked with potholes, detours a-poppin’, speed bumps galore, speed traps, checkpoints, toll booths, traffic jams, truck stops, all-night diners, billboards, farm reports on his radio, railroad cossings, traffic lights, yield signs, stopped school buses, ambulances, broken-down cars, stop lights, burning tires, barricades, outlaw hitchikers, engine trouble, highwaymen, and grifters. Always grifters in Jim’s world. Short-con artists, mostly – shortchangers, three-card mountebanks, shell game shills, Brooklyn Bridge brokers, bottom-of-the-deck dealers, wallet stealers, chew-and-screw dealers, and the like. Where are the snows of yesteryear, Mike, when he was just markin’ time back in Kansas, sittin’ on the fencepost, listenin’ to them big trucks on the interstate? He’d like to go back there, but he cannot. Restraining order. Jim thinks of the Langston Hughes poem *As I Grew Older* : “It was a long time ago.I have almost forgotten my dream. But it was there then, in front of me, bright like the sun, my dream. And then the wall rose, rose slowly, between me and the dream. Rose until it touched the sky….the wall….shadow. I am black. I lie down in the shadow. No longer the light of my dream before me, above me. Only the thick wall. Only the shadow. My hands! My dark hands! Break through the wall! Find my dream! Help me shatter this darkness, to smash this night, to break this shadow into a thousandlights of sun, into a thousand whirling dreams of sun!” He’s not sure why he thinks of this poem. He’s not sure if he really cares why. He’s not even sure *what *he thinks of it! All he’s sure of is that he’s in outside of Detroit, at the Red Wing Motel, where it’s a king-hell storm outside, wind scudding plastic garbage barrels across the parking lot, the rain almost horizontal now, and Jim, in town for still another reading of his new novel, *Prism Island*, at the Big Wheel Bookstore. Detroit was not his favorite city. In his twenties, he’d passed through after he was discharged from the Merchant Marines in San Diego. What occurred next he’d rather not recount, so he won’t.
———- Forwarded message ———- From: Jon Sarkin <email@example.com> Date: Sat, May 31, 2014 at 12:10 AM Subject: To: michael digregorio <firstname.lastname@example.org> Dear Mike, It all started out, as petty bickerings frequently do, with something insignificant and then it steamrolled, snowballed, into a cascading vendetta of wildly hurled epithets involving general psychic defects. This seemed an ongoing situation with Jim and whomever he was tangling. This time it was a tangle about whether milk expired precisely on the date printed on the carton, or if it was OK to drink it a day after the expiration date. This picayune disagreement quickly accelerated – degenerated – into knocked and dragged ugliness regarding personality issues and gross characterizations. At time such as these, Jim sensed the anvil-feel of his head in a vice, that cloggish sensation of some mental head cold in which his sinuses ached with brain pain, his perception hurting like the siege of Leningrad. Then, in the morning, it would be over. He’d arise, go to the office, small-talk his colleagues, eat lunch, spreadsheet his computer, subway home, watch TV, TV dinner, paper-read, and sleep. Sleep. Sleep! Was it a solace or a curse? I guess, thought Jim, it depends on one’s dreams. Good dreams are a blessing. They show you the way to solution, the rainbow over the hill, that hapilly-ever-after sensation that only unwaking thoughts can deliver. He craved those kinds of dreams the way a school-kid longs for summers at the beach, those endless humid afternoons of sea-green waves and boardwalk games. An escape from reality. Maybe Thoreau had it right, he thought. If I advance confidently in the direction of my dreams, and endeavor to live the life which I’ve imagined, I’ll meet with a success unexpected in common hours. Hugo — Jon Sarkin jonsarkin.com
Dear Mike, Alone at last! No more tyrrany of humans! Any suffering I do now is at my own hands. My day: While waiting for the bus, Greg Cefalo picked me up. Discussed you. Took me to my storage unit. Met Ken Riaf there. Storage unit very musty, and, after he took me to my studio, went to caffe where I sneezed profusely because of forementioned must, alarming the barista and creating havoc by my cacophonous sneezing. Did I really create havoc, or was it just a paranoid delusion? I am used to my paranoid delusions, Mike, my incandescent madness, burning inchoately like an apartment fire, sparking to the heavens, seeking god knows what, cinders heltering-skeltering across the indigo dusk, firetrucks looking like Aboriginal turntables, dancing like devishes in this vacuum of tears, this European chorus of inane conversation and, when it’s all done, when the exception are accepted and the punch-list uncovered, discovered like Achilles and Duke Ellington, like Charlie Chan and Tom Waits, well, Mike, that’s the time I’ll go to the airport and get me on a jet to Cairo, where I hear there’s a restaurant that serves *great *Mongolian barbecue. Jim
Jim sat at the picnic table underneath the plastic tarp as the rain pelted the tarp with a grating sound that made him heel he was inside a plastic bucket swishing gravel. It was really coming down now. The wind forced it into near-horizontal sheets, and Jim wondered what the hell he was doing here. Hdn’t he been through enough? His emotional basement had led to a sub-basement, and he knew – he had an inexorable sinking uncertainty – that this sub-basement’d lead to another one which would find still another sub-basement, *ad infinitum*, and the cloying reality of this realization made him ooze with heaviness, the leaden-ness that comes with the territory, and with it escape, paradoxically – release from this mortal cycle of crazy suffering. He found his predicament funny somehow, like black gallows humor make you laugh. Not that it’s funny, no, not really when you get right down to it, but it’s amusing in an existential way, just like we find say *Metamorphosis *amusing. At least Jim does, and why he mines such bleakness for humor is anybody’s conjecture. But back to the rain. Jim sat there, miserable, chuckling silently at his utter abjectness, knowing that, once home, he’d mine this bad experience and mold it into something else, something un-named and holy and ungraspable, something he had no idea about, no, none whatsoever. He didn’t try to understand his depravity, he just rode the snake of atavistic experience like surfers hang on to the big, big waves, knowing that to fall off would mean death, so they cling to life, making that imperative choice.
https://twitter.com/jonsarkin — Jon Sarkin jonsarkin.com
Jim raised his glass and then, reconsidering, put it down without drinking. To get here I’ve traveled some hard miles, he thought, the road was gravel and rubbled with rocks. This is not a metaphor. I mean he DID really walk miles to get here, and the road he walked WAS gravel, but at the same time, it IS metaphor in that his journey WAS challenging. But metaphor and literality – non-metaphor – are not mutually exclusive. But back to Jim. He was sitting at a table, an old oak table, that had seen better days, but so had Jim, and after all, haven’t we all? I don’t want to get all maudlin and hang-doggy. I really don’t. And neither did Jim. Yes, he WAS in a foul mood, but this was par for the course. Even birdie, whatever that means. Myself, I’m not much of a golfer. But that’s another story, and boy, what a story it is! And to say I’m not much of a golfer is an understatement of understatements, a sort of anti-hyperbole that bends back on itself like spacetime does in the presence of a black hole. I’ve no idea what I’m talking about of course, but talking about things I’ve no idea about is, I hate to admit, a compulsion of mine, like going on and on about phonies, when I myself am like the biggest phony you’re ever going to meet. Admittedly, this is a poor example, but citing poor examples is my stock in trade. It’s my trade in stock, too. Again, I have no idea what I mean. In that way, I’m a lot like Jim, aimlessly and randomly caroming about this life like a drunk playing pinball.
Among other things, Jim found that he was the first person who was ever nauseated and petrified and confused and frightened and even critically illed by behavior exhibited by humans. He by was alone on this score and anxious and excited and stimulated to know that he had discovered this grey underbelly of our species. Man had been, until then, wholly ignorant of his troubled, decayed morality and spirituality. Happily, Jim kept detailed, impeccable records of his troubles. You can learn from them if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you.