The sky’s as blue-and-white as an ’87 GT Performer. But soon all escalating clouds get their adornments of pink-tinged ruffles as they decide to stick around, moseying, hydrangea-bunched, clipped you might say, or waddling off to more outrageous pastures. I think of glare and glint, specks of sun skipping from window glass, blinding me as I squint my gaze down to a manageable strip of sight. The raking cornice of an Italianate three-story home protrudes, stripped dentils all spiffy and slick as they toss shade on dour, doe-eyed bay windows. Life is reasonable at best. A mordant turn of thought. A gauge of the needless inventions being thrust upon the world: 99% complete garbage, to be forgotten except as brief footnotes in the information-overloaded barrage. Only a few will remain and endure for the long haul. I am here just to be here. There is no other way.
Tennessee Williams died at the age of 71 after he choked on an eye-drop bottle cap in his room at the Hotel Elysee in New York.
Caroline came along with a message. It’s in the mail now, but here it goes anyway: “On the ramp over the Broadway Tunnel on Hyde is a great place to watch the sunset from. Silhouettes of steeples, the sky changing its colors…somebody might call it gorgeous if they still could. But, hey! Let me tell you something, here. The least you could possibly do after having the time of your life with someone one night is to call that person back. I know. I still know how you’ll say, ‘She perished more than a few years ago now.’ Why do we use certain words at certain times and not at others? Remember when I said that I preferred European men, but for you I would make an exception? Oh. Well. It’s that time of day again, when, you know, the light gets funny. You know, when it’s all pinks and golds and reds on one side of the street, and on the other it’s fading into deep blue and vermilion. The sun going down for the count. Done smothering us. I don’t know. All the street lights are getting into the action, and the liquor stores and bars flick on their neon. It’s that time of day when you don’t really know what to do with yourself. You get soft and airy and start thinking strange thoughts about what it means to be alive, to be you, to be in the act of doing things. I don’t know. I guess I just like it. That’s all. But then, before you can even think too much about it, it’s all gone. Wham. Everything’s gone to trappings of night. Evening’s come home to roost. And all you can do is wait for another time when you won’t be too busy to notice how the day suddenly disrobes into darkness. As for me, well, it seems the deciduous leaves have all turned out, decked (maybe you’d say) in rugged amber and ocher. But you, you’re the loser in this love song I can’t stop humming. As you well know, well, my birth took a few sun-ups but I was raised quick as matches. A can of cheap beer and a shot of well whiskey — that’s how I grew up. And I haven’t quite finished growing up yet. So. Let’s see. There are flecks of stringy worm-like reds trapped in my eyes. I’ve trained myself to be ambivalent and hardy. You don’t know me much at all.”
Bertold Brecht said that when he died he wanted to be buried with a stiletto in his heart and in a steel coffin so the worms wouldn’t eat his corpse.
She chatted with animals and owned a terrorist-crow who stole gold and attacked yuppies. The things you’d do to get her to notice. And then you overhear that she’s kissing guys on the last car on the last train to Freemont again. Never too much to not go on and start in on worrying over, and soon she’s waving news of her engagement in your face, some tacky sparkling job with fake diamonds and a copper band. Nobody was breaking their arm paying that guy, let me tell you. That’s about when I stopped eating.
“Well, why don’t you go on and gloat about it?”
“I will if you won’t, Mrs. C’est La Vie.”
Preston Sturges died of a heart attack at the Algonquin Hotel while writing his autobiography titled “The Events Leading Up to My Death.”
She asked me what I was reading. I told her: Ingredient lists on processed foods, traffic signs, drug warning labels, sports scores, the weather report, boilerplate on electronics warranties, pulp magazines printed on groundwood paper, detailed information on shirt packaging, The Sears Roebuck Catalogue, Groucho Marx’s love letters, Lenny Bruce’s diary, Cary Grant’s instructional guide for beginning woodshop, movie listings, per-WWI ornithological digests, recipes for stew and egg salad and sometimes even hot spiked cider, doctor’s notes, Dostoyevsky’s grocery lists, Woody Allen’s joke books, Joyce’s unpublished theses on immolation techniques, The Declaration of Independence, luggage receipts, train-set instructions, dialogue from 80s sitcoms, stuff like that and etcetera…
Rainer Maria Rilke dreamt he was going to die from blood poisoning after getting pricked by the thorn of a rose.
In the oldest of weeks, way back when, before the encroachments of passing had expired, I answered questions that were never asked: “Me? I’m always about 6 yards away from where I really want to be. And yes, this personality’s only on loan from an artificial turf salesman. Where else would I have got it from? Hell, I’ve got to get it back by Tuesday. Sod’s never sold itself, you know. Oh, and, also, I say never all the time.”
Just before Stan Laurel died he told his nurse that he would not mind going skiing right at that very moment.
Her tamper-proof hair went from liquid Imodium to cherry Nyquil as the days got shorter and the nights were just a blur of restlessness and hard swallows. Waking up was the worst chore I had, and I kept getting worse at it with each passing autumn. Instead of telling the time, I’d tell folks, “Nothing always lasts, it’s just the something that never does.”
Nathanael West was killed in a car crash on his way to attend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s funeral.
Feisty and as incorrigible as ever, she tumbled — stubbed toe, tooth gaps, rubbed and runny mascara, and all — and then burrowed into the minefields of my ongoing war with piano spare parts and tessellated curtains. We bought breakfast for tired strangers biding their stingy American time in 24-hour diners during rainstorms. I called her Gwendolyn and The Frenchy and Sammy Davis Sr. and Miss Mercurial. I tried not to stare out of windows as the crawler cranes bobbed over tuffs of shale. Peace exited stage right while D-handle drills rattled and whirred all through the morning’s losses. Construction’s violent curse was all that was left. Promises of, “This will all be over soon, so very soon,” came and went and came and went. We were not without a seamy understanding of the way things were, or could’ve been.
H.H. Munro’s last words were, “Put that bloody cigarette out!” — followed by the sound of a rifle shot.
She was fond of shouting, “Line, please!” while we got swept up in crowded circles. And, with a rakish wink, she’d rail something like, “Never cuddle with me through the roughest parts. Coddling’s for softies who whimper for one and only, and who get their due all too easy. Cradle these things, Colonel. And cover me. I’m popping out to catch a harder drink.”
Eugene O’Neill was born in a hotel and died in a hotel.
We rode the subway lines all through the wee hours, not ending up anywhere, just riding back and forth and all over, as far or close as we could get to where our hearts could never just be content to just be. That special excruciating screech of metal on metal, the high whine of the rails, windstorms on the platforms, the way the doors opened and closed at different speeds, riders shuffling in and out, sweaters abandoned on seats, people shouting to themselves in the back row: the farthest reaches of oblivion’s dominion. We found ourselves wrapped in silence among all the commotion.
Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same day: April 23, 1616.
Now, well, I think of her as Meryl Evers: a desultory Coal Queen roaming The Rust Belt. Someone who’d leave even her Last Will & Testament up to chance.
Toes on the curb. Nails black with grime. Swooning to the sound that air ducts howl. She is layered in the grubby raiment of mechanics and burglars. Nobody’s stopping at the four-way as she balances herself lackadaisically on the curb’s ledge, arms out like some tatterdemalion scarecrow with an unlit cigarette mischievously angled and dangling from her pursed lips. She belts out in her lowest baritone, “That’s, no way, to say, goooooood bye eye eye eye eye,” nodding her head to the rhythm of imaginary strings and bows. Her pareidolia is set higher than ever, and she’s seeing faces in the puddles of rain beneath streetlights, in store signs, in the holes in the soles of her shoes, in reflections of headlights in car windows, in bricks and patterns of dead leaves in a treewell, in the gutter’s litter and stains, in other faces. She thinks it’s better than seeing seahorses in everything. All of her meanderings require a riveting exuberance that drains her energy stores, and so all she gets is these little fits and starts and sudden stops. A stuttering sort of radiance that pours bright moments from tiny spaces or saps her dry for what seem enormous seasons. It’s a real all-or-nothing sort of existence, but she doesn’t mind it. It suits her. Really. Leaves her time to ponder around a series of wandering daydreams in a bleary fugue-like state she describes as “pigment-wet catatonic” as The Lows weary her: mostly an achy enervation that runs along the backs of her legs, winding like rotting wisteria around her bones, leaving her languid and lumpy, sapped but garnished with a somehow malevolent malaise, thrashing around charged and marionette-legged in an almost hibernation of vicious torpor. Rejuvenation comes at a cost, but one she’d never regret paying. Branded with dollar signs and push-button reasoning, she takes the flashing “Don’t Walk” signal as just a suggestion, and she runs.
Mark Twain’s birth and death both coincided with the arrival of Hailey’s comet.
The campfire light ambushed us. “We’re getting onion-white,” she’d say, when the sky got that way: all ornery and pushed-apart and tousled and, well, ravishing, really. We’d got to talking, one of those last times you never know is going to be a last time. The stars disappeared a dozen at a time until shapes stopped making sense to our eyes.
“We’ve lost our second sleep. That’s the problem.”
“What did people do with those late night hours, that time between sleep?”
“Fucked. Robbed. Did chores. Meditated.”
“And then right back to hitting the hay. And this was normal. Everyone up and wandering around from like midnight until two in the morning.”
“Midnight. The middle of the night. A time to snack and reflect.”
“No need to keep track of time. Just rise and fall with the arc of the sun, with a short break while things are darkest.”
“Now there is no real night. Just calculations of digital numbers, things to count and abide by. We sleep when we are told it is time. We wake when an alarm blares.”
“Stand up. Sit down. Stand up. Sit down. Over and over, and all over again.”
“We are just light amplified at our own hallucinations of what it is to be alive on this planet. Just the dim junk that God’s forgot about.”
“Dollar-thin with worry, we go on and on, sober if and only when it pleases the senses.”
“The streets of this paper city are paved with cardboard, Sugar Hands. And I’m all out of hallelujahs.”
Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave.
It is smoky out, still, with a murderous chance of envelopment. No elopers on the horizon’s sharp tusks. Electronic dings and beeps as far as the ear can hear. The doves around here all have caught The Yips, in constant repair of repeating useless motions, unforgiving, nestled awkwardly in the crooks and bends of lob-high eucalyptus branches. Watching others gaff has become a full-time sport. She ended her last letter this way: “I want to die with perfect nails and a martini to match. Perhaps some makeup for support. My ankle’s being yanked by a sea-nymph again, you see. And there are no briars left to patch in this holdover heart’s want. Yammering again. Stammering again. Blitzed and bowled-over and hammered again. Don’t you want to remember what this is all like before you grow too old to care? Well. I’ve got a real bad case of the violins this coffee-less morning, and concentrating on the systematic flaws in my unnatural getup is well beyond any of my inclinations. Shit. Why don’t you stuff it all where the moon shines a little rowdier? Insert a laugh here, I guess. Tackle me ho-hum. Into and out of the hospital I go, and with this last inadvisable trip into all known unknowns I hereby give my consent to all forms of nostalgia upon my personhood. The worry always wins. Be well enough to be allowed to be unwell. Cough. Cough. Dash. Scratch. I miss you from all kinds of bottoms of my forever uncleared throat.”