Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Noir Effect Part 1

The last few days have been weird, in not exactly constructive ways.

Which falls way short of the urgency I want to express.

A word I loathe, because it lacks any sort of specificity and is aligned too maliciously with cliche: drama. Beyond drama, an encroaching wave of unreality that is dubiously indistinguishable from the weather.

And not just the weather we talk about because we're too tired to talk of anything else. The weather inside. The inner meteors. Clashing and fraying the nerves, exiting the skin in spoors of unease, not like breath but what we breathe when we're not breathing.

The gray-ribbed skies, the blustering wet winds have surrendered to general blandness, not even a condition but a general lack. And the psyche is rendered faceless, without affect or charge. I saw the hill-topped park, and the mutant-green bathroom light, a beacon for hybrid undoings, and wondered whether, despite the recent surge of cops in my neighborhood, I should walk that park in the circle it describes, every revolution of which I'd have come to a new half-hearted conclusion.

But no, such compulsion is an old urge.

Tonight, after closing down the shop, I walked the dark hills with the garret-crowned houses that are always yellow-bright and naked, towards a place where live jazz can be had for free, and you can eat a simple spinach salad digested with ginger beer. It's an old tired place I haven't been in for a while.

To hear it from the employees, you work 8 hours straight there without a break. Many a strong soul has been forced out to sling barbecue or pour coffee elsewhere. But they can't argue with the wine or the tinkling music or the occasionally-inspired soup or salad inspired by the bistro aesthetic.

A man I see always on the cafe circuit, because both of us like so many of us, are prone to linger in cafes where there's free music and decent coffee and not-bad edibles, was there, with his insightful bifocals, his non-descrepit black clothing, his usual glass of wine and bowl of soup and we nodded and talked briefly about cafes.

And then realizing we were talking about cafes, even comparing them in half-whining tones we kind of started, half-humorously to hate ourselves. To hate ourselves in front of each other. Surely, we said, laughing, we have nothing, nothing to complain about. And it was true.

A bowl of soup, a glass of wine, a dog-eared book of art history: this, I believe is his usual evening spread. Hearty, I think. Vivifying. The kind of triple-pairing that can bolster you for a long night of braving harsh lake-winds en route towards a distant outpost where questionable rewards are housed. In this I remember Oakland autumns, alone, with unsung songs inside of me when I thought the lake was a piece of rippling black silk.

Tonight was different. I hope it was because certain essential illusions have been pre-shattered. It's not a guarantee though.

The jazz was mild, and calming distraction as jazz, which has no acid inflections often is. The musicians took breaks to eat expensive sandwiches and talk about their varied cosmopolitan roots. One of them, red-faced and white-haired and charmingly gaunt, claimed both Scottish and Dutch ancestry, which meant he was prone to many excuses to travel to Europe and take the trains and boats there which take him to family and beyond.

The other, a Frenchman spoke of his alienation from his father. And then the American spoke, somewhat self-congratulatorily of being able to suffer any rodents for having lived in Thailand. Any conversation you happen to overhear, if you overhear it with your whole self, offers parts of the whole fiasco we are all implicated in. It's nice, in a way. Not distracting but focusing.

But I was busy writing a letter about my spiritual failings which, having said it here, sounds absurd. The man I wrote to is a Catholic. He knows I'm still a Catholic, if only in birthright. He is an old, old friend. He's worked the food circuit at the university, lost it all in Reno, hitch-hiked, begged, been betrayed and forlorn for longer than I have. Now I believe he is happy with a good woman, a good job, a good house. His faith is strong and buttressing. It's a live thing. The liveliest faith I've seen from a friend in a long time. I've seen his bedroom altar, I've heard his devotions on days of obligation.

And I wrote him four pages about the current weirdness, describing it not explicitly but in roundabout ways until I exhausted the letter with groundless aphorisms that point only to invisible places.

And I left him with a question, I left myself with it too: "If it's not the Invisible you're drawing from, then is it love?"

I don't know, however, what kind of question it is.


  1. "Any conversation you happen to overhear, if you overhear it with your whole self, offers parts of the whole fiasco we are all implicated in."

    A beautifully true insight my friend.

    Berger, I miss the hell out of you!

  2. I miss you too! I haven't had a moment to think these last couple weeks but once I do, let's catch up..