Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Pumps and the Silver Beech Tree

Christian Louboutin Marlenalta Platform PumpsThe release date for the Zombie slash Apocalypse party had been changed so many times there was reason to believe it might be a fake social event altogether.  For absolute certainty, she looked down at her own grubby sneakers, but imagined a pair of Christian Louboutin Marlenalta Platform Pumps for $1,045. She'd seen a pair in this fancy re-sale shop. Were they her size ?  Of course not !  Plus, who'd ever invite her to a fancy event, where pumps would be required ?

Her eyes tracked  the shadow's  2 dimensional impersonation of the tree's squat and twisted form. She relished looking at the beech's gnarled, silvery,  scarified trunk. The massive buttressed base seemed to be formed by oozing lava. Wondering - should a tree's perfect life be to grow in poetry with nature, never to be marked by the hand of a young adolescent experiencing teen angst, puppy love or infatuation or lust ?  No - wait - strike lust, that's too much work and the wrong context for lust. That's why they have bathroom stalls she thought. Ah-hhh...contextual perfection.

This silver beech was located at the wooded perimeter of school grounds.  Standing a majestic 40 feet tall and least 4 or 5 generations old she guessed.  It was quite accessible and located where young ne'er-do-wells would smoke cigarettes and weed. Unknown souls had carved, with the authentic intent of making a lasting declaration. For some, it was just idle moments,  incising or desecrating the trunk with names, initials and graduation dates; but not hate.  Save hate for those middle school walls. It was too much work to carve hate.  

She knew what she must do.  Like a mountain climber, she charted her route. Each handhold and foothold would take her to the very spot where she made her own declaration of love.  As she approached the tree she saw the aching sadness of hearts "X" out. Of initials that no longer added up to forever.  The lowest branches nearly touched ground, so simply stepping up into one of many crotches or "Y" formations of branch to trunk, propelled her skyward. The pumps would never had worked; but she was still thinking about them.  Up the tree she went, feeling the texture of the trunk with her hands as she climbed. Her hands were no longer soft, delicate or innocent. She liked the way her gold band harmonized against the silvery grey tree skin.  

Only this silver beech tree offered her the perfect qualifications. This tree and this love would prevail. Symbolically their love would rise above the lower echelons of love, adoration or infatuation.  She hated hearing couples describing each other as my soul mate,  She was too old and too jaded to think true love meant everlasting.  Love muffin made her chuckle inside.

 After a few minutes of climbing she looked down and thought, I'm pretty high up, one misstep or broken branch or the wrong move would result in catastrophic injury.  All of a sudden, she felt the tree move, leaves rustling; insisting it was a living thing too. Looking up to the leaf canopy, it was like a cathedral of green, silver and golden blue sky, breaking through the leaf mosaic. 

She was at the juncture where two moves would get her to where she wanted to be. The first move was the trickiest.  Standing with both feet on one branch, left hand reaching above for a stabilizing hold; then reaching around the trunk and grabbing a branch with her right hand and swinging herself over to the distant branch. It was dicey move, that would only work unless,  she totally committed. She tried to push thoughts of falling out of her head.  She swung hard to her right, catching her right foot on the new limb, then swinging her body across - she made it. Going down would be easier. Now,  she moved to the branch above,  straddling, then scissoring her legs - and - she was there.  

Nervously she surveyed the trunk for her own revelation. It had been 4 years. Two really good ones and 2 really bad ones.  She had picked this spot for its privacy; you had to be a bit of a dare devil to get up here.  The view was not great, but it was really the east facing alignment she desired.  As the sun was descending from the sky, she could feel the warmth on her back.  The knife she used to carve "l'armour fou" was in her back pocket.  Not really sure why it was there ?  Maybe she hoped for a reason to add some spontaneous new markings that would break the evil spell ?  As she straddled, the branch she looked straight ahead, where she had spent hours carving "crazy love" into the silvery beech. 

As she looked at what 4 years had done to her beautiful scribing, she ran her fingers over the dark bumps and nature's flagellation. Against the bright silvery grey bark black knotted sutures rose painfully above the beech's grained skin. Was this the way of nature or had incredibly hideous ravens peck and stitch the tree leather, closing this wound off from the world of the real ? 

Four years later,  her incised proclamation in beautiful italics, now looked like waves or "rollers" is what her brother called them - big ocean waves that had dissipated as they came closer to shore. Sadly it penned their own romantic story.  So,  this was the truth, this was reality.  The ballots were cast and the votes were in. Nature never lied.  She straddled her branch for a long time before she started her descent.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The River of Pain

The River of Pain

photo credit Mohain

What appeared to be a gentle brushstroke on the landscape was a river that cut into earth, rock and life itself.  In this distant painting a mist of uncertainty hung over it.  From her vantage point she could see the switch back path into the valley below.  The girl thought she could see a tiny figure beside the green water, where the river doubled back on itself, making a line lost in a daydream.

She wondered if the people passing her on the path might mistakenly think she was a day traveller, given the fact she carried only one small cloth satchel. People called it a “furoshiki”, it was actually her only other item of clothing, a shirt someone had given her from a mountain village.  Inside the perfectly knotted soft cloth was everything she possessed.  A tiny wooden carving of a sea otter, a hairbrush, picture of a woman, who she was told was her mother and two persimmons.

As she descended the mountain, the sounds she heard sounded different.  In the higher elevations, the breezes and wind seemed to mix together the way a flute sounds – mixing musical notes, tones and air.  In the valley, it was quiet, only the sounds of the rushing waters.

She had followed the path the mountain had made and now she was guided by the squiggly line that became a river.  The meandering of the river made a beautiful gesture in the earth.  The girl could breathe in the smells that made things green and gave the wind something to rustle against.  As she approached what she imagined to be the tiniest splatter of paint, she clearly saw it was an old man, nearly bent over, holding firmly to a gnarly, twisted walking stick.

Silence was her usual manner; but she felt attached to the mystery of the old man, who intently watched the water flow by.  If the man looked over his right shoulder he could see the doubling back of the river.  They stood together on a finger of river grasses that pointed to where time had been.  People from the mountain called this an oxbow.  On his back, he could feel the coolness of the shadowed mountain, as he squinted into the smoldering light.  The sun was the greatest painter of all she thought, because the sun could make light shimmer and water sparkle.

She stood next to him and looked at his eyes to see what it was he was watching.  Leaves and branches drifted languidly in the currents as if they had no idea or concern what their fate might be when the river reached its final destination.

A rubber boot bobbed up and down and the old man’s eyes seemed to glisten. The last orange rays of the sun turned the water reddish making it seem alive with another life.  When a straw sheathed hat passed by a smile crept across his face.

Reaching into her furoshiki she extracted the persimmons and held one out to the man.  He nodded “thank you”, but did not reach for the orange fruit.  She asked the old man what he was waiting for? 
He said, “I am waiting for my son.” She wondered if he had a boat?  He said, “No, I am waiting for his pain.”

This made the air in the girl’s lungs turn to sand. She asked what did that mean?
The old man kept watching the water, breathing ever so slightly; as if he were afraid he might scare a fish away.

He turned away and looked at the darkening mountain.  “Families are a river of pain.
Everything flows downstream.”  He turned back, adjusted his walking stick and looked again into the deepening reddish waters.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A cloud called Harry

You would call him a scientist.

When you dedicate your life to search for something you may never find the answer to – that made my father a scientist. Apart from the lab, living a regimented life; a life of exactitude was the order of the day.  From this perspective my father was a moderate rebel - he loved baseball.
We went to a Detroit Tigers game when I was 10 years old. I had never seen a big league game and I had never seen so many people in one place before. I had never felt the hope and disappointment of so many people before. It was a doubleheader with the Yankees.  The Tigers got swept. My Dad never said anything, but I knew he was happy.
In the summer he wore permanent press short sleeve shirts. His 4 shirts were white, light blue, light green and yellow; then the rotation would replay itself.
I was always surprised he was such a big Yankees’ fan; especially growing up on the west coast. As a boy he put together a crystal radio set.  He listened to the Yankees' games on dreamy California summer nights.
Somehow, I found the timing odd when he died.  It was just before the All Star game; just when the pennant races started to heat up. The Yankees had won it all the year before.   I have a confession to make - I am relieved I wasn't there when he died. I confess, I would not have wanted to be there to see him struggle in the chaos of trying to extend his expiring life.  He was going to die that day.  Maybe this means I was not a very good son and maintained that legacy as a father.  Still I am thankful, I wasn't there.
After the funeral, we returned to my parent's home. I went from room to room, faster and faster. I went to every room in the house.  Then I did it again. I thought I could find him. I considered my father to be a fairly thoughtful man; who may have cut himself the deal of a lifetime.  He wasn't really dead.  We just couldn't find him. He kept moving his existence quickly to another new location. When I would finally catch up to him; he'd look up at me with a wry smile and say, "You found me."  When I would ask him why or how he would turn and quietly go back to watching the ballgame.
I never had a conversation with my Dad that lasted more than 5 minutes. Actually, we never spoke for more than 90 seconds. He just wasn't a talker. 
To make up for this brevity, everyday I look up into the sky and pick out a cloud thinking that cloud is him.  It's like I finally found him in that room he was hiding in.  On perfectly cloudless days, I figure he's having a blue skies kind of day.  Usually he's the tiniest, fluffiest, wispiest cloud not with a cluster of other clouds; but alone and happy in his singularity.  I might change my mind once or twice before I know, it's really him.  In keeping with the conciseness of our earthly conversations, I'll simply say, "Hi Dad.  I'm thinking about you today."

My Dad's name was Harry.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Game Changer

From their seats they had a pretty good view of just about everything. This night there was particular majesty about the disturbing blue sky and clouds that looked like tidal fluctuations.  The sky seemed to move in and out,  like high and low tides, forming little  pools of ocean. People often tried to put names on the shapes of those clouds, but they were simply tiny suspended liquid droplets.

For the most part, the two men sat silently watching the baseball game. In between innings, the first man asked, "What happened to you ?  It was like you disappeared ?" The second man traced the graininess of his seat with his fingertip;
and  said, he didn't know.  He just thought it didn't matter to anyone.

The first man said it did matter.  He said, "I was your friend then, I am your friend now and I will always be your friend." Those 17 words changed the second man's life forever.

You'll never see friendship, if you stop looking.

to my friend, Brad Baker

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Butterfly Man

When the sky could get no bluer, the delicate butterfly wings sliced into the air like a scalpel attempting to remove a deadly lesion.
He was a father; but he didn’t always think of himself as father first. His thoughts were about daisy chains of impossibilities. He could see his personal history the way you might replay the horror of a slow motion car crash. It wasn’t that his children hated him; but he often felt the sting of their disdain.

Maybe there were times he should have counseled, but he became silent. When he looked at his own parents he could see how their pain became his flaws and now  his imperfections became his children’s inevitability.

Divorces were the corpses of the many mistakes he made with his life. Only when it was too late, did it become clear to him why he had been so wrong, so many times before.

The butterfly paused to tiptoe across the crusty sienna nose of the echinacea. It would be like that all summer and every summer after that.  A butterfly’s seeming allegiance to beauty was so wrongly attributed. Butterflies could fly forever on the wings of sorrow.

The fluttering legacy of damage. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


In the early 1970's, America was in turmoil.  The Viet Nam war was still raging on. His college deferment had expired and he'd already passed his physical. He applied for and was granted a Conscientious Objector status. He received the CO,  because his high school buddy,  recently returned from his tour of duty; spoke as his witness.  Under the Michigan summer sun, they spoke to each other, the way friends talk when they say goodbye.  He was to shipping out the next day. Standing in driveway, he asked him to come back alive.

His friend was terribly wounded  in a deadly ambush with the Viet Cong. His statement was simple and direct, he said, "don't get this guy killed...." That's all it took, the draft board was unanimous in its decision.

A week later he was a new orderly at an inner city hospital.  Dee-troit was still reeling from the 1967 riots. He was assigned afternoons,  the 3 - 11pm shift. Harper Hospital was the site of the nation's first open heart surgery. The  morgue was located in the original 1863 structure, far below grade, embraced by thick red stone walls; keeping it  a constant 40 degrees. As a surgical orderly, you wheeled patients up to the 9th floor for surgery and back down to the recovery room. If things didn't go so well,  you took the long ride to morgue in the basement.

The orderlies' locker room was on the 8th floor. It smelled like french fries and cologne.  They changed into crisp green scrubs and criss-crossed surgical caps, to create a "turban" look. Personal accessories included gold plated snake bracelets, heavy fake gold neck chains, hi black socks - so sheer you see your leg and white patent leather slip-ons. On his shift, the orderlies included Otha, Andre, Raj, Des, Rod and Dee. He shared a locker with Durrell -  sullen,  light skinned, sleepy eyes, processed hair, probably in his late 20's. Durrell asked where he was from ? Not listening for an answer he said, "Only white people and you live there ?" The orderly struggled to answer.  The best he could do was ask Durrell where he stayed ?  Durrell looked at everyone else but the new orderly and said, "I'm from Jacktown, boy." The other orderlies laughed and  repeated "Durrell from Jacktown, man !"

Durrell reached up to the shelf inside the locker and pulled down a small brown paper bag. He took out a chromed, pearl handled Berreta .25 caliber hand gun. With one arm Durrell cradled the new orderly's neck, with the other he dug the gun in just below his ear and pushed upward to punctuate each word.  "If anyone wants to know, this is your gun, understand ?" The orderly nodded ever so slightly.  After that, the orderly always changed in the bathroom. Durrell was a former resident of the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility, in Jackson, Michigan. He did some time for armed robbery. 

Miss Violet was the elevator operator. She must have been in her late 70's, wore nurse's whites, a little pastel sweater, white opaques and white shoes with thick foam soles.  Her voice was raspy from the Parliament cigarettes she liked to smoke. One thing Miss Violet always had with her, was a shopping bag containing her  knitting. The inexpensive bundles of sky blue yarn always seemed to be cascading out of her bag.  She must have been a very slow knitter because those bundles of Woolworth's yarn and the big knitting needles never seemed to get together.

On the first floor, Rod, Des, Raj and the new orderly  tumbled onto Miss Violet's elevator. Everyone greeted Miss Violet reverently and she said "Hey baby, it's tea time. We go up to four." This brought out some boyish giggles and slappin' of  some skin. The new orderly was mystified as the elevator bypassed  floors 2 and 3. Miss V said, "Lemme go cut it off". She  switched the "On" key to "Off". The elevator hung suspended between floors, like a  submarine; trying to avoid detection. She picked up her knitting bag and pulled out a bottle and a stack of tiny Dixie cups. The glass bottle had a pebbly texture with a clear liquid, tinted of grey and green. It was a pint of Seagram's gin. Miss V passed out the cups and cracked open the new bottle. She gave  everyone a pour and said, "To your health boys !" The new orderly never drank gin and it felt like he'd swallowed herbal lava. She quickly put the bottle and knitting away. She gave her boys a stick of Juicyfruit gum and let  everyone off on 5 - the psych floor. As the elevator doors closed Miss Violet said, "Be good boys !" 

The submarine  descended into silence.

Friday, March 9, 2012

St. Louis Heights

The smell was tropical. Not like sun tan lotion or mango or papaya smoothies, but decomposition. The feeling was like taphonomy - from the  Greek  taphos, meaning tomb.  It was like breathing inside the tomb of humidity. He was 4 years old, so he could not imagine something smelling like life and death simultaneously.

The house was located in the St. Louis Heights section of Honolulu - 96822.  This was before ZIP codes existed and stamps cost 3 cents. Architecturally, it was a bungalow, porch in front, over a one car garage,  on the left - a 38 degree stairway, with one turn, no backyard and a very narrow side yard. Located on extremely steep, hillside terrain; a car had actually run off  the twisty road above  and crashed into their house.  A real estate agent might point out the ocean views and beautiful sunsets.

The side yard was about 5 feet wide x  40 feet deep, with koa, hilo and rice grasses; punctuated with the abstracted lines of staghorn ferns. The earth was  dark reddish brown, a silty clay content, very granular and  hard packed. He felt the cool, damp moisture that seeped up from the ground, that made dark spots on his jeans and T-shirt.

There were no dump trucks, action figures or even plastic shovels, to create pretend battle scenarios. He lay on his stomach surveying this fecund red  planet. From this position, it was like taking a cinematographic low angle shot, he slowly panned his location. Exactly on cue, stage right and advancing crazily with a tipsy spidery gait was  Scorpionida...an arachnid with a long  reddish body with pincers in front and a thin segmented upturned tail tipped with a venomous stinger. Not realizing the consequences of his actions, he reached out with his right hand to corral the scorpion.
Scorpions have three sets of eyes and as the boy reached out, it seemed to do a reverse flip, landing the stinger on the back of his dark skinned hand.

The boy shrieked in surprise and pain. He tried to raise himself off the cold hard dirt, but tumbled crazily into a small tangled pile. He looked up at the blue sky and smelled the reddish clay soil.