Thursday, October 1, 2009

Excerpts From "Fake Memoir", With Pictures

My new long project, which I'm surprisingly making some headway on will be a "fake memoir" about myself, but cast in the role of a wily folklorist who finds himself single in the big city and in need of a haircut and on the trail of a very secretive group of people who coordinate the Affairs of The Dueling Cities (Oakland and San Francisco) and who have access to the mysterious place called The Vague Room.

I'm looking for a seamless melding of noir, surreal, magical realism, erotic, comic, and satiric. Yeah, that's my plan at least.

I hope to exploit my meager amount of photographs (more to come) for illustrative/suggestive purposes. Here are some excerpts from a rough draft in progress with some rough photos (some maybe already seen).


The moonlight was all washed out with smoke as we stood in the center of the street, playing with each other’s fingers, bending them back until one of us shrieked or sucking on them until one of us got tired. People watched us with befuddled grins. It was at least four in the morning. When summoned at ridiculous hours to wait indefinitely, this is all we knew how to do, lament the fact we weren’t detained in a larval state. Lately, life had required lots of waiting, moments of detention when fear, instead of glee should have been the reigning sensation. We waited for the bathroom. For the kitchen. For the accident to be cleared from the sidewalk. For the cats to be rescued from the trees. But everyone was always smiling, as if people had finally gone mad all together. The night of the fire was no exception.

A child had pushed us awake. One of my housemate Zen’s cousins. Knuckles to my eye; hot, sweet breath. I rose and wrestled with the air, still in dream mode. He patted me gently, looking angelic in the dark. The kind of child that will be innocent far longer than he should.

“Fire, in he house,” he said. Monica and I had both fallen asleep in our clothes again. The child’s hand was cold and runny with some kind of sauce. I thought it was the beginning of another nightmare, the kind I had been having lately full of diseased transients and medical mishaps. Every time you see a transient, a teacher once told me, you see a symbol. I always remembered that dictum every time I dreamt about a homeless person or gave a legless man my three dollars in change. But I never cared for that dictum either.

Outside, in the crowded, noisy cul-de-sac, the night smelled of burnt bread. And mesquite. And revving engines. And below that, but swiftly taking the upper hand, a noxious odor that her and I knew only too well. Rotting meat. The ROTC guys in the unit below ours had some kind of black market butchering thing going. A good way to pay for school, one of them said. Whatever it was, I couldn’t imagine anything more invasive than that smell that had somehow found a way to permeate our bedroom every other night. We timed our love life accordingly. Sometimes we gave up though and just embraced it, as we did lots of things those days.

I had three of her fingers in my mouth, but I knew she would rather be talking than playing. Our life was growing unbearable. The same for many, we supposed, but it was up to us to find a way out. Why was it up to us? Because we had decided it was. All the people around us looked at us suspiciously. What were we doing in this part of the city? We didn’t have an excuse.

Surrounding us was everyone from our cul-de-sac, an impressive cross-section of the poorer, immigrant population. And the people not even from our cul-de-sac were there too, wrinkling their noses, laughing loudly and talking on walkie-talkie phones. They had swept in on motorbikes, almost out of some gangland musical.

Another three a.m. fire had broken out so it was cause for a gathering. I hadn’t been scared of such things for a long time and neither had Monica.

Since the fires had begun over a month ago, everyone in the city was better connected. It was part of the general program of over-crowding. There were probably at least a dozen other fires raging on other nearby blocks. Most of them were car arson. But some was caused by structural damage and electrical malfunction. Others just wild hearsay. No fires at all, just constant reports of fires. These false reports, in turn, seemed to spur on actual blazes. The buildings on our street were made entirely of kindling wood. The fires out there in the Excelsior were realer than most.

Time For A Haircut

“When was the last time you got your haircut?” she asked me, pitching her hoarse voice against a siren scream. By then we were sitting down and wondering what to do with ourselves. She had rolled a splif and was licking her lips hungrily. What really to do with ourselves, on a larger canvas that involved not only this night but hundreds of nights to come. Our house was overrun, doors slamming, windows open, salutations and commands richocheting everywhere amidst a confusion of fog and smoke. Our own friends were no longer around –they had long quit the city for smaller towns along the coast, or else had simply vanished like so many people had– and wouldn’t have ventured so far out to see us anyway.

The fire had been faked, but nobody was going back inside. Nobody was sleeping. Dawn wasn’t far off, another grizzly-grey dawn, a hollow light seen burning through a curtain of fog.

I was taken aback by her question and instinctively ran my hand through my bushy hair as I’ve done since I was two. It’s my way of combing not my hair but my thoughts, which are forever tangled, in need of ordering. I don’t think it has ever worked and if it did work I wouldn’t be the same person. I might be a happier person but not the person I want to be.

Her implication was true though, I hadn’t got my hair snipped in a while, mostly because Hank’s whereabouts were still unknown even by his fellow hairstylists. And the police were as taxed in the vanishing department as the firefighters were in arson. Monica didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation but this had more to do with the fact I hadn’t talked that much about myself yet. I never understood, either, the full extent of her photography assignments, her modeling stints, or her films. What I knew about her was that she was brutally honest but that, like me, we both savored a necessary modicum of mystery, or else life would go static and flat. And love would too.

I hadn’t really explained Hank’s significance to her. So much of my past I was waiting for the appropriate circumstances to unleash upon her. And she was enough of a marvel for me to forget about myself altogether. Her past looked, on paper at least, more like history than mine; there were more tangibly formative events and calamities and of course, a significant origin myth at the heart of it that bound us eternally like sinful siblings.

My own life has revolved around minor events and major obsessions. For me, I tried to explain to her, I couldn’t fathom not going to Hank, not dishing out the forty bucks for a perfect haircut and even more perfect conversation. Bottomless conversation which managed to drudge up all the tiny miracles and hysterical mishaps of my life. Words shared with a man that gave flesh to my own life, gave it a narrative that would sustain me. And when I left him after each session I looked more like the story I wanted to tell about myself. People noticed too.

The thought of him, like most everyone else I loved, having vanished was only further proof that my world was disintegrating, along with my mind, my organs and all my pleasures. There was always the question that sometimes she insinuated: were they really vanishing or was it mostly my imagination? Were they instead, moving on to bigger and better things, as they say? Abandoning a city that was on the verge of collapse? It didn’t matter. What mattered was an unlikely amount of absences. In the absence of loved ones and easy comforts, life would take on an unbearably sharp resolution. It would be a field of rocks without anything soft to sit on.

I still had her though.

I had Monica and she had me. Which is really all I ever wanted. She, the first person I remember fixating on in the crowd and wondering about in my beloved city. And loving her more than made up for the vanishing of the others. Except maybe for Hank. Except maybe not at all.

It wasn’t the first question I figured she would ask. I thought, instead, she would ask, “Where to now? Where can we go now?”

In the muddled light, she looked nude and chiseled, like a tree made of ice. But she wasn’t completely naked. There were stripes to her. She had on her token torn fishnets, damp with mist. She was wearing a black felt hat that she picked off the head of a biker the summer before. A shirt that doubled as a scarf. A pair of old black leather boots she had found in the free bin outside the Church. She had stopped wearing her veil, but sometimes broke it out for nostalgia’s sake. That shade of cobalt blue had been mined from peacock feathers it was so gorgeous.

In the mist, she stood and strutted like a sailor boy working the docks. Her face, caught in the crosshairs of moon and emergency lights, was serious as death. A tension had set her jaw, the same fixity when she developed photos or made stuffed mushrooms or fucked me. Her seriousness was something I hadn’t ever encountered before. It drew her body into a weapon-like posture. Her flesh drawn taut, locked and loaded. I was afraid to say anything. I would sound stupid and weak no matter what.

We knew so little about each other. And it was nearing a year of being together. Or at least I had told her so little.

I wanted to lay her on the warm asphalt with the blurry night fuming around us. I would have condensed into aphorisms my own history and leaked them into her ears. I knew if I had brought that up, she might have agreed but by then we were surrounded by old people in robes and young people on motorcycles. The old people smoked while the young mostly sucked on fruit ices.

Where they got them from at that emergency-fraught hour I’ll never know

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