Eye Problem at Powell’s

There’s too many people trapped in this box together and I’ve got blood all over my keyboard. The outcome of an accident involving my pinkie, a screen, a window slam, and me feeling absolutely nothing. It was only after several seconds of typing that I found the red splotches peculiar. Never being one for cleaning when it counts the blood got forgotten and so did the cut, and now my finger is mangled and my keyboard is ugly and there are still too many bodies in this box.

The kid across from me has a face that’s never been broken into pieces, and he’s earnestly filling out job applications and formulating wholesome ideas about changing the world. I know this because he tells me. For a second I thought he was flirting, but I don’t attract such doe-eyed creatures. People gunning for me respond to my online presence with emails asking if they can describe in detail the many ways one might perform cunilingus. I respond that I am open to receiving such messages if it’s acceptable to retort with a finger-wagging dissection of prison rape. He hasn’t written back.

Anyway, the earnest butter-faced boy tells me about jobs he kinda might want to have and how he’d like to make some money over the summer, you know. I say I might know someone, but the person I mention has arms like fire-forged hammers and three missing teeth, and the interaction could end like a fight between a whiffle ball bat and a battle axe, so I nix it before numbers can be exchanged. Besides, this guy has other possibilities, and he tells me about friends he has who are setting up a school in a Latin American country, though he doesn’t mention why they might need a school or what qualifies his friends to set one up. Still: he’s so damn honest I can’t activate my mean, and I can’t picture him naked unless the scene involves me giving him a bath while he cries.

Now I’m distracted. There’s too many bodies in this box. One man is wearing a t-shirt that says “fuck the system” and based on logo production alone it’s pretty safe to say the system made the t-shirt. In other words, his t-shirt takes the long road to “fuck yourself” and I’m exhausted.

There’s a lot of people working here, and they mean business. This is not a dungeon for the unprepared. Asking the wrong person to borrow a pencil could mean a lot of moaning and groaning and maybe a loud sigh and some muttered statement about how if you’re gonna hang in the Powell’s cafe on a Monday, you’d better bring your own goddamn pencil. The man in the corner is all black turtleneck fierce and wire-rimmed glasses and he brought his macbook and a soul patch from 1993, and three times his snakey eyes have snapped sharp to the right in pursuit of whoever is snorting and swallowing phlegm over and over and over again. This isn’t enough to send him racing for the exit, but it has informed three audible sighs, two eyerolls, and a single disgusted dish clang.

Now it’s really on. A turquoise mohawk is yelling into her cell phone: “Look, I just had a shitty day and I thought you might want to hang out, but whenever you’re with them you don’t want to hang out, and it just seems a little weird that you always want to hang out, except for when you’re with them. I mean, what the fuck?”

I agree. Definitely warrants suspicion.

“Fine, I was having a bad day and I thought I might feel better hanging out with you, but I get it, you want to hang out with your friends, so go ahead and be a dick and hang out with your friends.”

ESP message to Mr. Anonymous: you do not want to hang out with your friends. Think about it man. THINK.

“Okay then, fine, fuck you, fuck yourself, fuck your friends. Seriously: FUCK. YOU. FOREVER.”

I never thought to add forever to fuck you.

She throws her cell phone against the table and it bounces into my lap in a perfect execution of awesome. “Sorry,” she mumbles. I hand it back with the guilty smile of someone who doesn’t have a very good cell phone plan. She notices the older woman to her right and adds an additional sorry, but the woman doesn’t look up, stays focused on her novel and I affix her with my fuck you glare for not bothering to acknowledge that our sister with a mohawk is melting down.

Meanwhile I’m mining through every trite piece of advice I’ve ever dispensed to uninterested parties, searching for a new morsel to present uninvited to this stranger. I’ve got nothing. There’s nothing in my experience that offers a silver lining to her cloud, if it even constitutes a cloud, there’s nothing that offers a something to hold out for or hold on to. It’s not that I don’t believe in puppies or unicorns or gold. I definitely believe in unicorns.

In the time it’s taken me to try and come up with something worth saying she’s gone and another someone has sat down and he’s wearing a bright green and black checkered shirt that’s just begging for coffee stains, and he’s smoothing his thinning hair over his bald spot and he’s tucking his pen into his pocket and he’s loosening his belt and hoping I don’t notice (sorry), and he’s scratching his nose and he’s tapping the table and he’s not yelling at anyone.

Only one person in this box is on to me, and he’s across the way with a hood over his head looking creepy and dark and in hate with every warm and cold body in the room. He spots my stare and stares back, and I try to out-stare him and he gets all David Blaine-eyes, so fearing for the safety of others I look away. He keeps looking for a full second, almost enough to push me into uncomfortable or at least demand a dozen roses and then he glares at someone else at least as deserving.

Read. I’m here to read. The magical return cart heavy with abandoned literature has given me little, just a rambling book by an author everyone keeps ordering me to like and I keep resisting, and the promise that beekeeping is the next chicken coop in Portland even if no one has figured out what that horrible disease means, so it’s just more yuppie white people floundering around in the dark. Then I wonder what it would be like to have a matching dish set from Ikea that enabled me to host winning dinner parties to a gaggle of friends boasting soul patches from 1993, and really thrilling statements to make about finishing salts and imported chocolate. Would I also have candles from Ikea, arranged in tiny glass containers that might float in bath water, but still look awful nice on the table? Would I have a seasonal table cloth like my mother used to, one with apples dancing across it in the fall and strawberries in the summer and snowflakes in the winter, even if no one sitting at the table ever bothers to go outside? I wonder what it would be like to never hold hands or other parts under the table and give all the wrong appendages a squeeze. I wonder what it would be like to be at that table and never look across at the loving couple and wonder what it would be like to destroy them, to pull the prettier party away for an unexpected tryst just so that for once it wasn’t so easy for them. Then an older couple sits down and looks beautiful and in love and I hate myself for always unearthing my own soul patch of bitter, and I wonder why I’m lying and stoking something that isn’t really there. I wonder if I wouldn’t long for any of it.

There are too many people in this little box, and none of them escapes me.

the burning return of adolescence

pretty much describes world now

Thinking about the train again

All along the railway webs of wire cover cliffs and hold back boulders. We pass through Hood River with all its windsurfers and kiteboarders and white people, and in the observation car everyone sits in plastic chairs and takes turns hating the people on cell phones: “Can you hear me? Now? Can you hear me? Hello?”

The train stops in White Salmon, where no one ever gets on except children boarding without their parents. Smokers abandon their seats for the ten minute break. I join them for air and a better look at the wire net. I’m staring and counting the octagons trapping the mountain when I strike up a conversation with an elderly man who looks like an emaciated Santa Claus, all beard and holly-jolly and knee-slaps. He’s talking about how Oregon used to be, in some lost long ago where people were few and far between and every backyard was an apple orchard and every street was a baseball field and no one ever overdosed on Valium. It sounds like Big Rock Candy Mountain and I don’t believe a word. He says “It’s nice to see you off the train,” and I wonder if he means standing but instead I tell him I’ll be on his porch next Friday, just so he doesn’t miss me. Laugh. Knee slap. Then he spots my tattoo and asks if I’m one of those 2012 weirdos, always fretting about the end of the world. I tell him the world has already ended, and it was all his fault. He laughs again but this one is different (no knee slap) and he looks around and he says excuse me and bums a cigarette from someone else and launches into a conversation about how Oregon used to be, sometime long ago, before conversations of 2012 and the end of the world, and things that are all his fault.

Recalling Summer, 2009

Amish kids are eating sandwiches that taste better than mine, wrapped in wax paper and pulled from metal lunch pails they carried on to the Amtrak. They don’t have luggage, just the sandwiches on thick slices of bread, adorned with slabs of meat and cheese that smell curiously clean. They’re in the lounge car, waiting for daylight to fade along with the rest of us, anticipating the night time insanity of passed bottles of booze they won’t drink from and long-winded stories about the death of an innocence most of us never had. Four of them are packed into a single table, just barely men, wearing suspenders and collared shirts and sensible-looking shoes with bowl hair and bangs cut clean across. They have really earnest conversations with people of the same sex and women over 50. Their beards are like what I’ve seen on hipsters at recent music festivals, and the one with reddish brown hair catches me staring. I wonder if I brushed my cheek against his if it would feel less polluted than Portland beards, all gravel filled and pubic rough from too much bad attention. If I brushed my cheek against his would I pull back and know that his eyes weren’t blue but were piercing anyway, that his smile was endless and drawn from some serene place, that his hands and body were shaped by work and not sitting and thinking and wondering. And would he know in a single glorious second that all the thoughts he’d carefully masked and thought were his alone to die with were poised to unravel in the company of greedy me? No: I’m vulgar. He knows it. There’s nothing to explain.

The plot thickens when one of them produces a deck of cards, and an older woman with bright smile, age-faded eyes, and silver-rimmed glasses asks to get in on a game of Hearts. They nod and answer her politely and make eye contact and she’s in. Damn. As they laugh and listen the woman asks some of the questions I’ve written down in my head, but none of the good ones. If I only got one question I couldn’t resist: How do you react to someone saying “I love you,” having never seen it on television? Then before I can wonder and wander any deeper someone taps my shoulder with a whiskey bottle and I smile and refuse because I don’t drink anything brown, but still I retreat to the familiar temple of loud laughter and tales of travels unfinished, partners met, and how life is just long enough to assure us in an instant that our hearts will never stop breaking.

Humans as spiders

There’s a man reading Blood Meridian while knitting a consistent pearl stitch that would have my grandmother’s envy. He’s got hypnotic fingers, crazy magician’s hands with long digits and a broad palm. Air hands in palmistry. The man works either oblivious to my attention or uninterested in it, and I don’t care so long as he doesn’t pause his looping green weaving. In a second the trance of watching his hands takes me back to my last encounter with a raccoon. She stood on her haunches with her paws in the air, her inflated biped self blocking me from harming her brood of two slow-moving kits waddling their way across the street behind her. I turned my bicycle away from her and took the long way home out of respect for mothers everywhere, and resolved to remember how she lowered her paws when I surrendered without a fight, and how it felt like thanks. As I pedaled away I thought her children would struggle enough, between cars and sealed garbage cans and dogs and traps set in gardens with peanut butter tricks, and men coming in work boots to take their caged bodies some place unfamiliar and lonely. No: they didn’t need to worry about me. Back in the present the man’s progressing scarf or hat or something else drowns me deeper into my own head as I recall a time when my eyes were ringed red. I was finishing my master’s thesis, and I don’t remember eating at all as I rearranged words in sleepy sentences and adjusted margins and running headers and footers and purchased 20 pound paper with a watermark. I wore out my printer, all the while wearing my sleep deprivation mask that mirrored the raccoon’s face, that called her essence into my body. Everything I wrote then was waking dream to make up for what night didn’t have; it was sitting prisoner in a chair made of seven-fingered hands that activated when my eyes got heavy; it was spying trolls crouched in corners with hammers for hands, waiting for the right moment to swallow my cats. Now: I shake my head awake and swallow a mouthful of cold coffee polluted by stray grounds, and the magician-man turns a page and unwinds another ring from the rapidly fading ball of green. Today, this weaver unravels me in an instant.

Finishing The Falls Apart

Sending chapter after chapter to my younger sibling, who has an evil advice giving style that essential amounts to either, “send me another chapter” or “I’m bored.” Since neither is complimentary and one is fist-slam bad, I’m left perpetually chasing the damn dangling carrot. Good call, Rachael. In another month I’ll either be basking in book-done glow or throwing my orange painted body against an empty canvas hoping to map a new career.



Should my mind leak through the computer screen in a poisonous fog, please walk briskly to the nearest eye-rinse station for proper cleansing. If the eye-rinse station proves ineffective, you’re not doing it right. Should the fog appear outdoors, proceed to your nearest window for countless hours of uncomfortable staring. Do not consult your local news station, as you and I both know they have no idea what’s happening. It’s best to consume an MSG-contaminated snack product and continue reading my webpage.