Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dallas to Nashville 12/12/11

When departing Dallas, you should plan a route that clears the Dallas-Fort-Worth-Metropolitan Axis as rapidly as possible, like escaping the gravity well of a dying star or the blast radius of a dirty bomb. Then begin travelling in the direction of your destination.

From the interstate, 90% of America is effectively the same hedgerow, interspersed with the same strip mall. I suspect strip mall architecture, like the 747 and the BSD kernel, is one of those mid-twentieth century engineering stop-gap measures that has seamlessly slid from temporary stand-in to workhorse to cultural motif.

The highway interchange connecting Houston to Texarkana smells like cabbage and natural gas. Surely no one is surprised by this.

Arkansas is bigger than you expect it to be. It might be a tardis.

The nickname of Arkansas is "the Natural State." In the sort of ironic move one expects of the United States, it has devoted its southern half almost entirely to poorly regulated heavy industry.

There is a young man in Little Rock driving a Honda Prelude that must be a full decade older than himself. At the remarkable, seemingly impossible, speed of ninety-five miles an hour, its heavily modified and egregiously abused exhaust system emits a brutal, death metal vocal solo sound like a buzzsaw being mounted by an amorous yak.

Walt Whitman and I love this young man quite tenderly, and we admire his courage, even if it is born of ignorance.

Somewhere in the Arkansas alluvial plain, there is a place where massive aerials and giant steel signs bearing the ancient brand XXX sprout. They bloom in the same shade of red. There may have been some cross pollination. Please don't touch your dials.

Tennessee smells of paraffin.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

In which I pretend to be Carver 2

"Anyway," she says, "I should go. Work tomorrow"

"So what," I say, "it's seven."

"Seven there," she says, "ten here, and Dan just got the baby to sleep and he hardly ever sleeps."

The baby.

"Get some rest, be well." I say. She hangs up.

I open another beer and stare out into the rain. The drops hit the wet concrete of the alley behind my place and flash like sparks in the streetlight. Like static on the untuned screen of reality.

I think about the path of each drop falling to the pavement. Once, I heard on public television that things only happen the way they do because we see them the way they are. That somehow everything that could happen has, that there are other universes where the static pattern of rain drops I'm looking at is different, because the drops all fell a different way. Public television said that all those other universes are only a tiny distance away from us, but the direction to them is one we can't ever see. It's hidden down deep in the world, smaller than we can know.

There are other versions of me, I think, looking at other patterns of rain. Near to me as my own blood.

I wonder if I stare at the rain long enough, the pattern might shift without me knowing it, might switch over to some other scrambled channel.

I stare for a long while.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why I cringe when someone says "Human Nature"

It's not because such a thing couldn't exist, it almost certainly does. There is nothing magic about our species, after all, we are just a strange electric topology that dreams. No, I cringe at the phrase because it's forever bandied about as if "human nature" could be contained in a slogan, an axiom, maybe a philosophy. This is absurd. Human nature is the novel of novels, the story of billions of people over the course of thousands of years. It is the phase space of every story ever written.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Seattle 2011 Part 2

Seattle is like Ithaca New York with an industrial base, ten times the population, and access to a major body of salt water and a mountain range.

I spent all afternoon walking along the waterfront. At one point, this pair of tall young women were walking along the same route I was. We were both stopping to look at the sound, or down at the sea stars in the surf, and so we'd overtake each other from time to time. At one point, as they overtook me, I heard the blond one say to her brunette friend, "I mean, I like cheese, but I don't understand why *you* like cheese."

I almost said something at that point, but I'm pretty sure they'd noticed me, and it seemed weird.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Seattle 2011

So, I'm drinking beer in the Holiday Inn hotel bar in Seattle. Don't ask me how I always end up in these places, I once spent 72 hours in Copenhagen and ate half my meals at the shawarma stand in the train station. What can I say, sandwiches were cheap, left me more money for Tuborg.

Anyway, I'm in this Holiday Inn bar. Food is awful. Beer is good, some sort of local pale ale. This bottle blond waitress in a navy blue work shirt is putting up fake cobwebs and orange Christmas lights for Halloween. That sort of place. I'm watching the National League Playoffs on one of the flatscreens. I only watch baseball in the post season because it lets me play politics by proxy via sport. I cheer for leftist cities over conservative cities, free states over right to work states, and teams without unholy amounts of money over the Yankees.

But really, I'm not watching baseball. I mean, I'm looking at the TV but I'm paying attention to two or three conversations going on in the bar. An older woman in a red sweatshirt is kind of sort of flirting with this guy sitting next to her, while her husband looks on. It's nothing really, just the way married people sometimes get sometimes when they want someone new to talk to. She puts her hand on his elbow when she gets up to go to the bathroom. At least, I think she does. I'm trying not to look, and frankly, my peripheral vision is shit in these glasses.

And this kid in the table in the back corner is just killing. He's got friends, and family too I guess, just packed in back there and he's got them all around his little finger. He launches in to some story about how he got cut off from ordering drinks on the flight out here. "I step out of the bathroom," he says, "and the stewardess is waiting for me, and she tells me, 'I can't serve you anymore, we've had complaints'" and then he waits, just this perfect beat before he goes on, "and I'm like, 'FROM THE WHOLE PLANE?'" His voice cracks at the end. The whole booth howls with laughter. I've had nights like his. I know he'll be trying to get that beat just right the next 4 times he tells that story, and it will never be right, he'll try like mad to get it back and it will never quite be right. Sorry kid, guess that's why we aren't professionals.

Monday, October 10, 2011

In which I pretend to be Carver

Sometimes, I still call her up.

When she picks up, I say "I feel like we're all living too much in our heads now, too much in our screens. I'd be happier if I could get in touch with the real world again. Maybe work with my hands. Maybe cook."

"You were never any good with your hands," she says.

"That's cold," I say.

"I didn't mean it like that," she says, and I can hear her smile a little and that makes me feel good, but then she goes on, "I mean you could never cook. Not seriously. Remember that time you stuck yourself with a knife? You're too blunt, all thumbs."

I think about it for a minute, then I say, "it's not me that's blunt, its the world."

"Yeah," she says, "I guess that's about right."

The line is very quiet. You can't hear a dead telephone anymore. I'm not sure I can really remember when you could. How can you tell if a thing like that exists at all, if you can't even hear it hiss?

"You still there?" I ask.

"I guess," she says.

When Rain

I will remember the sky here.
When rain finally comes,
the air itself glows
like some cliche about a pregnant mother.
During the day,
the glow was storm light
but now, Dallas night light
paints sprinting low clouds yellow
orange, and, in one spot over an Addison restaurant
purple, like the ground effect on a low rider.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Family Tradition (fragment)

We are a people;
who stare out into middle distance.

My father would stand in the kitchen of my grandfather's apartment
smoking under the humming exhaust fan
staring into some undiscovered country
in the cabinet where the old man kept his cheerios.

As for me, I remember places I have lived
by the things I stared out at during long sleepless nights.

In Ohio, it was a tiny shoddy house,
a sort of standalone tenement apartment,
placed inexplicably in the parking lot of the cement factory
opposite me. The lights there came on at ten,
burned all night, an old Chrysler was parked outside.

In Atlanta, it was the rain,
and the monster subtropical trees the rain summoned up from the earth.
I would sip beer under the yellow security light of the apartment complex;
watch the orb spider string anchor lines across the branches
listen to the freight trains coast by in the dark
engines off, wheels screeching and links chiming.

Here in Dallas, it is the clear Texas sky, the purple and red of the vast sunset.
Sitting in the dark, the constant air traffic into DFW reminds me,
of our opulent oil driven moment, the continuing clatter of global capitalism,
just as buzzing prop planes lining up for approach
at the little private field two miles north, remind me of its romance.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Morning, Texas 09.22.2011

I am driving to work
the highway is North Texas concrete, dull and yellow
I am drinking bad coffee I brewed from good beans
a flash of movement makes me check the mirror
a boy and a girl are dashing past behind me
making the best of a break in the traffic
I want to tell you something about their hair, their clothes
so we can both remember this moment
but I've forgotten all of that
all I remember is the dark slashes of their bodies
crane-like lines against the sullen morning sky,
the precious, slender bridge of their linked hands
and their laughing smiles as they bound the last steps to the curb
they have survived their morning crossing
they are alive