There’s a long yarn unspooling from his jaws, and there’s still a whole lot to untangle. A giant box of cds leaves him doing double duty as DJ, laser-spinning Marianne Faithful and the Cocteau Twins and a whole lot of troubled women that might find me fair company. This CD of Ms. Faithful was recorded when she entered her silver-haired years, and she sounds like a chain-smoking blue collar coaxed toward the microphone by her drunken karaoke counterparts. It’s not nearly as sad as younger Marianne trapped in a black and white time-machine, prisoner of evening variety shows and hair spray, posed for a portrait by stony hands. This isn’t loneliness; this is nostalgia. As her throat reports fire I’m thinking that there’s also something within me burning to the surface, a remake. Something that cannot be sorted clean. It’s then that I think he needs to play “Horses” in honor of Patti Smith’s prophecies, but that yarn has filled his cheeks and tied me and needs a pull to unwind.
Human contents of air-conditioned pod of refuge: man with a tribal wreath tattooed all around his leg, reaching up towards his knee. Despite sitting his bag remains draped over his shoulder, his eyes on his phone, his hands pulling at the pubic remains of a soul patch. “Nothingman” by Pearl Jam launches in the background, which inspires him to get up and take his shoulder bag and cell phone with him.
Six feet away, a man who has been stared down by grim shades: black hair, black shirt, grey pocket, grey pants, black shoes. He’s folded into a question mark to accommodate the chair and table, his shoulders sink low, and stickers cover his laptop and scream LA DISPUTE. I google it and discover a band from Michigan and suspect that we should hate each other and blame it on sports teams.
Three seniors crowd around the comfortable easy chairs, and when they ask to borrow the extra chair across from me I hope one of them uses it for feet, or as a makeshift card table. Instead the older man sits himself between the two women, as they remove lids and fuss with sugar packets and plastic cream cups and don’t say anything. A table opens up, and they take all their cups and containers and bagels and the chair that once held a ghost across from me with them.
Directly across from me: an older Asian women with threads of silver dancing down her scalp. The only skin I see is a patch escaping her sleeves, red roads traveling two inches down into elbow. There is book opened flat in front of her, and she tracks words with a highlighter between long looks out the window at the man with the leg tattoo and too many 90s adornments, avoiding Pearl Jam and pacing.
I like bars that look like hollowed-out bowling alleys, right down to the lingering smoke smell and people arguing over phantom scores. The booths all plastic and faded into beige, strange folds chased around metal until they anchor. The lights are overhead and on until someone who refuses to remove sunglasses complains, and with a flick of a switch the sad remains of a brown carpet better suited for a 70s-era airport, or a hotel room in Idaho, are suddenly disguised. Replacing the overheads is a slow moving globe of holiday colors, orbiting every face: the world is red, the world is green, the world is blue. These places don’t have jukeboxes, they have a DJ who hasn’t left the booth since 1986, a prisoner of records with Jehri curls on the cover and shoulder pads and shirts buttoned right up to the top and pencil mustaches. The Electric Slide is going to be played; it’s only a matter of time. The waitress has also never not been there, and she doesn’t come to take an order, she arrives with a great big bucket of ice, bottles of cheap beer jutting out from the frozen slab like they grew that way. Choose, and choose often. The chalkboard behind the bartender announces Tuesday as 10 cent wing night, and mozzarella sticks as a thing every day, all the time, along with a couple of things that come with a side of ranch dressing. There’s a bottle of Jack and another of Absolute and the Maker’s Mark occupies the high shelf, and the bartender is kind and twice the size of an average man, and the glasses he pours heavy into are dirty and no one is going to say shit. Then the DJ is moving his hands and talking fast to wild-drive us into George Clinton. Without a word every citizen of the middle-aged crowd herds onto the tiny dance floor for obligatory booty shaking. I am Pavlov’s Atomic Dog.
The world is red, the world is green, the world is blue.
My friendship with this tree is an old one. Our introduction was not a meeting so much as being summoned to a waiting cradle of branches. My wow has the force of a hundred surprised children without the tongues to speak; the tongues of a thousand agog aliens synthesizer- circling electronic eyes; the eyes, ocelli, of a million metamorphosed insects testing the beat of their wings, antennae tasting air of moss and mushroom, ocean and leaf. Octopus tree responded to this wow by warming me: Your light is so very blue. This is something you don’t forget. Now all of me autopilots down the trail, wondering if in the evening hours this Octopus dances to the edge of the cliff overlooking the Pacific and considers returning to watery home. Branch over root Octopus Tree would fall, until broken bark revealed the tentacle truth. When we are face to face this is something I show her, while she pulls at my nearest memory, crows on a wire, and pushes moss and mushroom into my skin. Octopus Tree and I tangle, light dancing around every limb, reading her, reading me. Colors swarm us, mold and mushroom, moss and sap, wildflowers yellow. All the while, blue ocean beckons from below: to me, to us, to me.
Here’s how to get from point A to point B: stick one ice pack under your hat, stick another icepack in the laptop compartment of your backpack. Shut all the windows of your house, because you don’t know what you’re doing anymore. Does this keep the cool air from the night before in, or just create an oven of stale air? Don’t bother with google; that will just make your computer hot. Congratulate the cat for peeing on the only fan. Grumble to self that fans don’t do anything anyway, except blow down the aforementioned stale hot air. Put the pee-fan outside, to aggravate the neighbor’s cat, aka your cat’s arch nemesis. Remember to not get mad at any of the cats, because mostly you’re worried about whether they’re drinking enough, and you really wish they would cooperate like other cats that accept icepacks. This is a good reminder: check the cat water. Overdo it. Feel bad about the neighbor’s cat who is outside, and leave a bowl of water out there, too.
Now, sunscreen: how do you feel about it? One website will say that you will absolutely die if you don’t slather yourself in a tennis ball sized goo cannon twice a day, even indoors, even if there are no windows and no doors and it’s raining and winter. Another website will swear that sunscreen doesn’t actually work anyway, and that scalding beet-red burn you’re experiencing is actually the conspiracy, rubbing your nose in your own titanium dioxide. Now comes the means of answering this question: what would Australians do? You slather on mineral sunscreen (aka Zinc) and adjust your complaint filter so that the long stream of whining remains an internal lubricant, and not a strategy for getting out of a meeting sooner.
Clothing. This is not about fashion, or function, but what the skin is willing to tolerate. Shoes are the only essential article of clothing for admittance into most convenience stores, as well as something to cover the genital region enough to avoid arrest. Of note: a bikini is a totally acceptable outfit, especially if you intend to ride a bike. This wisdom applies to all genders. You settle on something that straddles the line of conventional decency, and is least likely to inspire heat rash. Science.
Putting things in a bag: this is hard. It’s important to give the icepack premium placement over your kidneys.
Time to go. One step outside, and you’re overwhelmed by the strength of your own genius. Icepack under the hat? There should be an award for that. At the ceremony you would thank your cats, your Polish genes that leave you armored against cold and defenseless against heat, your partner who somehow left the house in Carhartt’s that day, and the heat stroke you didn’t have. Icepack in the laptop compartment? You need to secure a patent for that one. With every step, you consider yourself more of a fashion pioneer. Everyone looks miserable, and you gobble it up like the vampire you are, swallowing their salty sweat and turning it into personal glee. No one knows of the genius happening all over your body. This is amazing. You are a terrible person, and an excellent imp.
You will hide in an air conditioned hovel as long as imps are permitted. Then you will enter the oven all over again, the fist of the drought more brutal when it delivers its second blow.
The challenge: one observation for every day of July. 31 days, 31 observations. Day 1 took me to Cape Meares and the Three Capes Scenic Route along the Oregon Coast. It’s one of my favorite spots in Oregon, thanks in no small part to the Octopus Tree and Big Spruce. Observation after the photo!
Cape Meares boasts woods that whisper, and the only path in has found our feet. A fallen Sitka spruce leaves a dry canyon to our right, its spider roots reaching skyward. Life is already hatching from its corpse; moss and ferns find the vein. It’s less a walk than a stop and whoa, as we move around marvels that have crafted themselves into scare-trees to banish some and call others in. News of our arrival is traded from branch to leaf, through circle roots and stacked limbs. The tallest spruce in Oregon winks through the cover of neighboring trees, offering a peak at dinosaur skin. She knows we’re coming. One final turn and there: what 800 years of living can do. Reverence. I wonder if I should have brought such an elder a gift. Her knuckled base moans: bring only yourself, and leave with exactly this. She is thunder dug deep, and with a touch to root she relieves me.
I fold myself into invisible spaces. Like a cat, my tail forgotten.
The man next to me is foam packed, bloated with winter. A crooked old man hand escapes his sleeve and pulls me from my hiding space. He points: “I want to murder those birds.”
Other men who are never not drunk barely hold themselves erect and have lived in these seats forever. Each wears flannel shirt and wool knit cap and missing teeth from intentions and accidents. Each has never been young, ghost locked at forty and remembering.
The bus stops and the smell of whisky and crackers staggers upright to challenge his prison. He yells at the door, neglecting to note the gesture required to opensaysme. Resting his forehead against the glass he yells DRIVER again and again until one man holds his jacket to keep the marionette from earning his mouth more empty spaces, while another holds open the door. He doesn’t recognize this crack team responsible for another day without a head injury. Waiting for him is a woman bright orange and shit talking and far away from her own AA coin, waving a giant pillowtop mattress sign, half turned to her drive-by audience.
I can’t picture this man drinking from a straw, or wrapping a present, or repotting a plant. I can’t imagine him looking at the lines in my hand and comparing them to his own, wondering if they overlap and if they do will they click to key so we can both remap. I can’t imagine him having questions for the pharmacist, asking for more foam on his latte, coloring as a way to relax.
He probably can’t imagine me at all.
Teenagers travel in packs, wearing insides out, congested with canned laughter. Heart shapes drawn on cheeks and decorating tights and desperation, while others announcing the discomforts of business casual balance tupperware containers emptied of sugary treats a little too close to my head.
Valentine’s Day helps women hate each other. Velour balloons announce confections and give my face another something to dodge. Fat wads of fast dying flowers peek out of backpacks and wink at the downcast face of the sour-anointed someone who might just fatten her social network with ruminations on being alone. She adjusts hairclips cast as flowers that resemble stars. If such devices were used to puncture, she’d be left with wind spun hair.
Evidence that meth remains a problem despite the state-wide ban on effective allergy medication locks us all in place. It reeks of impatience and is sponsored by Apple. Some fucking fuck filled rant about whether or not a transfer is still valid, yells to move back move back, the snap of a plastic container being pried apart for a taste of cake and a guilty grin. Unwashed hair in front of me. Bleached hair beside me. All of us are itchy.
We pass strippers arranging themselves outside of clubs to smile at those looking for love. The unmarked graves of Chinese men and women who built this city in secret. Two elderly women with careful grey curls, holding a soup bowl between them. A pack of people dressed as sharks with paper hearts glued all over their bodies, twirling red gift bags and giggling. A sign that reads: “The really dangerous power lines don’t spark or slither. They just lay there.”
Arms arranged in triangles clutch poles and trap sounds. A single seat remains unclaimed, no matter the claustrophobia of passengers. Wrist tattoos drawn with hands sloppy or steady snake away from skin. Me, hoping to claim them. Me, slapped alive by earphones gone wild, the mortified wielder of the whip apologizing more and more. A pant leg hides something yellow. A sneak at something pink. Four rolling can of ceremony.
My stomach is in my hands.