Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tomorrow or not somewhere

I was at a wedding reception when the revolution began.

I'd never been to the city before and was grateful for the excuse, and we were all taking shelter from a sudden storm that came up in the church just a few blocks from City Hall that had been converted to a barn. It was sudden to me, anyway, it doesn't rain much where I'm from. The church where the wedding was one of those steeple-peaked, turn-of-the-century looking models but had closed down years ago. Now they rent the place out for weddings , which I'd imagine doesn't entirely impress the deacons or fathers or whatever they were who worked out of there. Or maybe it does.

I remember the light coming through the stained glass lining the ceiling was beautiful. The sun looked to be setting someplace only a few blocks away when this humpbacked cloud eased halfway over the roof, spitting lightning bolts across the sky with deep pockets full of thunderclaps as the sun feebly poked down on the tree-lined streets in the distance. The ceremony over, the newlyweds were in good spirits, and a good chunk of the crowd even raised glasses yelled with every rafter-rattling rumble.  A few stragglers tap-danced their way inside for cover, leaving behind formations of folding chairs clustered around nothing in the wet grass.

The first armored personnel carrier speeding by the ex-church's big bay window barely registered, the second only slightly moreso as Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" bounced and rumbled along, right on schedule. I watched a cluster of tanks rumble crazily across the park, but they took awhile to register, their expressionless cyclops eyes lolling in front of them in a way that seemed strangely harmless, like my brain just absorbed the scene and replied, "Oh, I'd rather not," and reassigned them as some kind of wild animal, or a bunch of rogue appliances, as if a couple of lampposts had come to life and decided to relocate.

I turned away from the nonsensical scene and saw the DJ was watching me, his hands fiddling absently to start Madonna's "Holiday," which didn't make sense until i saw two men in head-to-toe camouflage come in from outside and unhurriedly position themselves on either side of the window. Their elbows rose and the glass iwas gone. Another thunderclap carved through the room and all the noises in the room reached to follow, the soldiers' rifles pumping toward scene across the street, the scattering of screams and the DJ leaving his post and heading into the rain, his white dinner jacket flailing wildly behind him before he flew into one of the clusters of chairs, tumbling over them with what seemed to be no sound at all.

The tanks were closer now, I couldn't hear much at that point but I heard them, a metronomic tick-tick-tick that nodded over some horribly insistent mechanized grind that reminded me of the Sugardale plant back home. The soldier next to me palmed a cherry red bicycle helmet to his chest as he fiddled with something in his bag, finally giving up and smacking his partner on the shoulder. The second soldier looked up from his rifle and the smoking, steadily advancing tanks, the closest of which had seemed so interested in turning its big, expressionless eye toward our former church it barely regarded the midsized elm in its path, folding it under its tread with little notice as a third armored transport lumbered down our street.

I heard a voice, some megaphone-enhanced barking coming from somewhere but I was on my back now, covered in shrimp, peanut sauce and little figs wrapped in ham that had fallen in various forms of disrepair across my chest. Tumbling, clumsy legs and guests crossed in front of me as I watched one soldier hand the other what looked like a small rocket, a strangely toy-like thing  hardly bigger than his hand. He curled the bike helmet under his armpit, holding the little rocket gently by its neck and pointing it out the window like some kind of trainer waving a sock under a dog's nose before sending it on its way.

I rolled onto my side to stand and watched as it cut a crooked, manic path through the window with an evil hiss, slamming into the first tank with a flash that made my face feel flushed. Cake and frosting smeared across my cheek and into my hair and I was alone except the soldiers who screamed something into my face. I have no idea what. Another thunderclap rumbled underneath me and I realized there wasn't any rain, not anymore, and maybe there never was. The clouds had never parted and this church could never close and the music  played on and on.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

merge ahead

"You don't even know what I used to be like," he snorted, reshuffling himself into the passenger seat and burying his elbow deeper into that seam between where car door ends and the window begins. He got like this sometimes, feeling down like just about everyone can from time to time, but then refracting those feelings into a general loathing for himself and pretty much every decision in his life. She understood this, but tapping on the nubby little grip on the underside of the steering wheel wasn't helping. Hell of a way to spend a Saturday.

The turn signal blandly metronomed to itself against his continued fidgets against his trousers and the Escalade's leather -- were they leather? Did they book that option -- seats as the car idled quietly under the light. She wished she could turn on the radio, or maybe one of the two TVs queued up along the upper spine of the cabin, anything to cover up the silence she was offering him in return. But what else could she do, really?

Was, in fact, the car worth this? The house in the foothills, the one that she had seen on "Extra" even before they met, was that enough to balance another conversation like this out? Maybe it was part of growing older, this need to reevaluate, to reconsider your every move in life just as you're close to its end. Is that the same motivation that drives people who stayed in the movie theater to read all the credits, so enthralled with the experience of the movie that even just by sitting in the dryly unyielding theater seat for just another five minutes will somehow keep the magic onscreen from dying down quite yet (even though the houselights were already up). She never was that kind of person, even when she couldn't afford seeing movies on her own.

The Escalade lumbered quietly through the intersection smoothly as a refrigerator coated in oil and she realized he was talking again, something about his time onset with Gary Fisher, or maybe it was Gary Cooper. Someone more important than who he sees now, which was basically just her. First thing in the morning she would wake up before him, pad into the kitchen, turn on the TV and the coffeepot and decide when waking him would be worth it, when she should end her own little scene of quiet morning solitude and step into the real world, their real world. One that was very comfortable, of course, with sixteen bedrooms, three pools and a jacuzzi that came on if you clapped your hands just so, but still, she was tired. She woke up tired.

Eventually she'd wake him up, he'd creak his way into the bathrobe crumpled on the nightstand, stumble for his slippers and kiss the top of her head. Some days she'd tilt her head toward him, like there was some greater intimacy in the left third of her scalp over the center, but he seemed to like it. Coffee would be consumed and he'd flick on the big screen, which was usually turned to that classic movie channel, that one always playing something starring someone dead. She'd hear his voice rise and fall like a gravel-spiked slide whistle in some kind of appreciation and that was her cue to start her day for real, to step into the bath and commence with putting up her hair, putting on her face and beginning the Appearances. This was daily.

Today's appearances were fine. Lunch at the Pompano. A brisk walk through that outdoor mall across town where she'd pick out something nice and he'd pretend not to want to buy it and she'd pretend to be grateful. Now here, back in traffic heading to the golf course to meet Saul, who always seemed to wear that gold chain with the nugget pendant no matter what time of day. Then dinner someplace nice, then back to the big screen and it started over again. This, as her mother in Bakersfield told it, was the life.

"Aren't you going to say something? Argue with me, say, 'You're just being silly Walter,' or 'Let's not fight on a Saturday, Walter,' isn't that what you always do?" This was not getting any easier.

The ninth hole at Cloverdale is a par three, a consideration made both for its short approach and its proximity to the side of the Boulevard, a necessary geographic quirk that always seemed to get in people's heads and make them push the ball exactly where they're not supposed to. Every week, it seemed like, a shot went bad and sailed over the fence like a moonshot, arcing deliriously toward parked cars and oncoming traffic like it was born to do nothing else. The man in the khaki shorts wasn't thinking about that, or at least he thought he wasn't thinking about it. He thought he had his nine iron but, by some quirk of a really bad misadventure on the pin-side green on the eighth, he actually had his six. The man in the khaki shorts was a good golfer, but not a great one. Mishits and mulligans, they're part of the game.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

here be monsters

Thomas looked down into the well, deep down, feeling his eyes stretch like a couple of threadbare rubberbands behind his glasses as he did. Nothing, just a few tufts of lost grass growing more and more sparse as they mistakenly pushed out between the tired old bricks, a blistered tree root elbowing into the shaft and back again, then darkness, deep, hungry, endless. It couldn't be that much, he thought, he was fifteen for god's sake, who believed in bottomless pit stories? Babies, that's who. Still, down there was a football, two frisbees, Eddie Falcon's Plasticman and who knew how many tennis ballls, lost and swallowed by something deep and unmanageable, too inconvenient for anyone from the neighborhood to pursue.

 "Do it," Mark said, trying to sound casual. He'd been in a wheelchair since that ice storm in February, so obviously he wasn't a candidate, but there were only so many more summer days left at this point. How many more times could they go to the drugstore for a new ball, and with three days left until allowance day? Besides, even if they were lazy and took the bus it would still be an hour there-and-back, and it was already three. "It can't be down there that far," he added hopefully.

"You do it," Thomas shot back with a little laugh, trying to mask the fear. "You wouldn't go down there anyway, who knows how far it is? Let's just head back inside, or maybe hit up the arcade. That Hill's around the corner has a sit-down machine, we can use those." His eyes stayed on the bottom of the well. There wasn't anything down there, he thought, he was just being silly. Maybe a snake or something, but who wants to deal with that? It's just a stupid baseball.

But still, a thought kept gnawing at him. How much stuff must be down there? How many baseballs? He was going to be driving next year, he was too old to be afraid of the dark, wasn't he? He could get a flashlight and be down there in minutes, the way those bricks stuck out. Or maybe they could just lower a ladder down to the bottom, that really big one his dad kept hanging on the wall that telescoped to the roof that one summer they reshingled the roof. That sucked, but the ladder was easy.

"Gimme your pen," Thomas said. Mark always had a pen in his pocket, usually one of those cheapo bic jobbies or one of those cummerbund-clad government pens his stepdad seemed to get by the pound from his job in the city.

Mark made a face. "I don't have one," he said, digging in his pocket and feeling the four-color click pen in his pocket, each of the inviting little levers at the top sliding agreeably halfway down their little slots. This wasn't some pen that needed to get sacrificed to this stupid well. Red, black, blue, even green, this pen had it all, and deserved better.

Thomas shot him a look and dug into his pocket, finding just lint and his keys, neither of which were going to work. He crouched down and picked at the lip of the well until he could loosen the dirt, standing and stomping his heel into the edge until a few clumps of Michigan clay tumbled down the well's side. This idea had come up a bunch of times before, but each time the boys lost track of the debris' path, only hearing it skitter of the edge of the bricks and no doubt to some soft-landing at the bottom. Of course there was a bottom.

"I'll be right back," Thomas said.