30 May 2009

Why I like Haiku

Frijoles Canyon, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico, 1967

Two boys, 10 and 8 years old, on the washed-out path
along the canyon bottom following the stream up toward its mountain source
though they will come nowhere near that place that day.
Each wears sneakers and jeans and each wears a t-shirt, one striped green and blue,
the other plain solid blue. They are just plain clothes.

It is summer and,
while the creek still has water,
the air is nonetheless dry
and a little dusty. The boys walk.
And to their left they see three mule deer,
an antlered buck and his first harem, two does.
The boys stand. The deer stand.

Unsure who moved first,
both boys and deer turn to run up the canyon’s sloping north face.
The deer wish to escape the boys and
the boys are desperate to spend just a few more moments in the deer’s’ presence.
The younger boy stretches out his arms toward them as he runs.

29 May 2009

The Oracle Rising From Porcelain

with sheets of water outlining the form that she has taken.

This, then, is what I circle
snuffling and snorting and breathing much too loudly,
and that circle returns upon itself
until I am able to hear the sounds she makes and then
the opening,
abrupt and pungent,
when this brain and that gesture collide.

Too often now, when I try to talk or write what’s happening,
there is a loss of language and
there is a fumbling for vocabulary and
it all falls to foam ungently as failure.

Again a circling, like a dog in mid-droze meanderings,
as I fight against consciousness and its tired messages.
A struggle down, a struggle toward
that hole of revelation where things are as the should be,
are as they are to be supposed.

A blind animal, unearthed,
and wishing for it to rain and then to not rain and then to rain again.

28 May 2009

Tied Up In Knots, I Am; She's Got Me Tied Up

I can see the runway from the balcony, I can watch the airplanes when they go up and down, and that’s pretty much all I do these days. I have declared an independent territory and it is inside my head where it belongs. People are allowed to fly in to visit me on the balcony; I will stand and greet them, will wave to them serenely. I often do.

And I think about the tangle of myself, the way my guts and organs and veins and nerves are all balled up and twisted upon themselves and each other. I read that if all the threads from which we are knit were unraveled and stretched out as one cord, that it would be really long. It certainly feels like that.

I don’t have to turn around to know that she is moving around inside the apartment. Her actions insinuate the air and I can hear the rustle of tendon and bone when she stoops or and when she stretches. The sensation of her is strange comfort.

At one point several years ago, I was moved to gift her with a bracelet, thin strands of gold looping around each other and around her wrist. It looks so good there; it reminds me of itself.

And driving with her is like dreaming, the ways she slides us through the lanes and the intersections and the other automobiles. I can recline in the passenger seat and feel the ebb and the flow as she accelerates, as she slows down, the gentle pressure in my abdomen when she glides us down the off-ramps and toward our home.

Smoke rises from our cigarettes, our fragile pipes, and shreds to nothing in the winds that blow around us. Smoke rises from our cigarettes, incense from a bowl of black sand, and twists into a uniform haze under the ceiling. Mist rises from the ground and is woven into foliage and into blossom by the early morning sun. Steam rolls from underneath the bathroom door and these showers are the longest showers and the hottest showers I have ever taken.

I imagine the kind of rope that could be braided from her hair and from which what would hang slowly turning in a breeze from the water, a breeze heavy with the odor of salt and iodine and barbed wire and the other islands in this archipelago. I imagine the kind of rope that could be braided from her hair and, coiled with potential and with desire, how it would hang from a hook inside my closet door. I wish I had one hundred feet of that kind of rope.

I remember the cat that twined within our legs tangled in the sheets and pressed itself against us and she, still warmed and liquid from sex and from having sex, could only arch her back in mimicry of its caress.

I watch the way the airliners seem to surge against the sun that is going down in the water and their windows are lit like a string of stones flung rising and higher into a sky not yet dark enough for stars.

27 May 2009

Catfish Apologies

I'm a guppy.
Scoop me up in your little nylon net.
See that red?
That red's for you,
my oxygen baby,
that pulse is yours.

I'm a dog.
Put some crunchies in my bowl
and I'll eat them, every bite.
See my tail wag?
That back and forth,
my Purina princess,
that motion is for you.

I'm a parakeet,
give me a mirror and a bell,
watch me amuse myself.
Hear me singing,
"Hello, Baby!"
That's your song.

I'm a catfish,
you can catch me.
I weigh 300 pounds.
Watch me swim?
I don't think so.
I'm on the bottom of a very deep, dark river.

I'm still a catfish in a river and
I see the other pets.
I wish you'd drop your line into this deep, dark water
and let me eat it up.
I would crawl into your rotten rowboat.
We could get our picture taken together.

26 May 2009

A Long, Slow Ride Through Town on the Way to the River to Get Her Brains Blown Out

For a moment much longer than a mere instant, I was captured within eye contact with one of the convicted. She was young looking, certainly no older than mid-twenties, a dish-faced, moon-faced girl with unraveling pigtails and bad acne as a red mask across her brow and beneath her eyes.

The truck that carried the convicted had slowed to lurch through the deep potholes at the intersection. The placard around her neck announced her crimes: excessive fascination with foreign videos, prostitution. One had apparently led to the other, but I couldn't decipher which. Her dunce cap was somewhat tilted upon her head and the way her head limply bobbed with the movement of the truck made me wonder if it might not fall off altogether.

Our eyes clicked together, she with her wrists bound and riding in the back of the People's Liberation Army truck under machine-gun armed escort to her execution and I enjoying a lukewarm-warm Xian Beer with my 1/8 kilo bowl of dumplings at the roadside shack the foreigner's called Jiaozi Hut. She looked drugged or stupefied, seemed only vaguely holding herself erect, but I saw her still register some surprise when she saw me. It was if somewhere still inside her some part of herself was still able to exclaim, "Oh, look! A foreigner! A yanggweizi!"

I felt an urge to wave, to move my arm and my hand together in a synchronized and friendly gesture but, by then, the truck had waddled through the rough spots and was pretty much gone.

(Click on the cover or the title for more information about Artifical Rats & Electric Cats from Camber Press)

25 May 2009

Driving Miss Lazy

Six and a half hours as an assistant pimp

It's a gray area of the sex industry. Listed in the Yellow Pages under "Escort Service -- Personal" (as opposed to "Escort Service -- Protective: see 'Guard & Patrol Service''"), emphasizing discretion in billing, fantasy fulfillment, weekend and afternoon specials, businesses with names like ~~Live Playmates, College Girls, Action Escorts, Gentlemen's Delights, AAAAAAAAAH ~~Entertainment, and She-Male Escorts offer "personalized service," "cuddles," "private sessions" and "no more disappointments." Presented in those direct-to-video movies shown on late-night Cinemax as little more than workfare for the conically augmented, the escort business purports to provide the client with companionship suitable for all business and personal affairs. The theory is that, for a fee, a discriminating gentleman may enjoy the temporary cachet of the service's arm-candy, a trophy-wife-for-a-day.
The reality of the escort business is all over the map. While some agencies surely must provide just such a service for the unattached business traveler (every myth has its roots in fact), others certainly offer much more to the client willing to negotiate behind closed doors for more intimate attentions. And, no matter where an individual business may be poised in legality and/or morality, the simple fact is that a large number of owners and support staff make their living off the charms of young women for rent. There's a word for that. To understand this aspect of the escort business, I sought the lowest of the low, the absolute last man on the daisy chain, the open-mouthed recipient of the last drops of trickle-down cash flow. I spoke to myself about my recent experience working for an escort agency as a driver and bodyguard for women on out-call service.

Question: First, if you could, please explain how you came to take ~~this job. 

Answer: Call me Ishmael. Some years ago -- never mind how long ~~precisely -- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would ...take a job driving prostitutes to their "dates." BR>
I'm joking. That's the first two sentences of Moby Dick. And I shouldn't call those girls prostitutes. They were discreet escorts and models providing personal service to discriminating clientele. Whatever all that means, I don't know. But that's what they were. 

Really, I was working an office job, I can always use a little more money, and I thought this job sounded both easy and interesting. I answered an ad in the paper, went in for a brief interview, and was hired. 

Question: What was the job description? What was the pay? 

Answer: The job description was "driver." My duties were to convey the escort to the appointment, check out the premises, collect the up-front money due, wait outside for the escort to finish, keep an eye on the time, and watch out for trouble. I got paid a flat rate for expenses, $25 a night I think, and a percent of all fees and tips the girl collected and/or told me about.
I was given a company pager. I'll describe it to you like they described it to me -- by the numbers. When the pager flashed one, it meant the girl needed help. When two came up, it meant the girl was ready to leave. Three meant the call was canceled; four meant collect more money from the client. Five meant call into the office. Six meant the girl was with the police. Seven meant go in and check the client's room. There were a few guys in the abandoned storefront they were using as an office and waiting area. They had sort of scooped out an area in the general debris scattered around and put in a couple ~~of thrift store sofas and a television. That was where the girls, the other driver, and I hung out waiting for calls. My shift was from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. 

Question: So, a call came into the office and.... 

Answer: Right. OK. So a call comes into the office and a guy working the phones would answer. What was interesting about this was that there were about 25 lines coming into the office, each one for a different agency that was advertising in the Yellow Pages or the newspaper. So, really, even though there were all these different companies and agencies being advertised -- College Girls, Hot Bodies, Xtasy, Ashley 2nite, crap like that -- all the calls were being taken by the same guy for the same three girls.
Anyway, a call comes in and almost always it's a hang-up. If the client was talking at all, he was usually pretty shocked about the rates and hung up. A half hour with a girl cost $150 and an hour was $250. If they got someone to actually make an appointment, they got the address, phone number and method of payment. They'd call back to make sure it was a real phone number or that the client was really registered at that hotel or motel and in the room he said he was in. 

I really don't know why they asked about method of payment. Cash is always cash and they didn't have any way to take a credit card over the phone. That was part of my job. They showed me how to fill out a credit card slip and copy the card number by rubbing the carbon paper with a disposable lighter. They said they were waiting for delivery of a machine, but they were also waiting for delivery of a bathroom door.
Anyway, after everything got confirmed, I was supposed to wake up the girl. She'd be snoozing in front of the TV. She'd go get dressed and put her make-up on and off we'd go ~~into the night to spread joy. 

Question: Tell us about the girls. 

Answer: Well, it's not too complicated. They were young. I mean pretty damn young. The girls I worked with were 17 or 18. None of them had finished school, I mean high school. They were good looking girls but, you know, there was something...OK, well, like one of the girls, she had pretty bad acne. She just smeared on a bunch of foundation and she was ready to roll. Another girl, I don't know, she was just sort of...I don't know, sort of lost. It was like she didn't know where she was, didn't know how she got there, and didn't know how to leave. She'd stare at the TV, she'd get dressed, she'd sit in the car, and that was about it. I don't know how she acted with the client, but she wasn't doing much around the office or in the car. Maybe she was using drugs or something; maybe she was just ~~gritting her teeth to get through the night. 

They weren't ugly but they ~~weren't drop-dead gorgeous. They weren't stupid, they didn't seem stupid, but they didn't have any education and didn't seem to be in a rush to get some. It was kind of weird; for girls so young, they acted a lot older. I mean, they acted tired-and-sad older. I started talking to the girl with the acne when we were out driving. I asked her why she wasn't doing something else, something less intimate. I mean there are other jobs, even in the sex business, which would seem to be less stressful, less invasive, less emotional. She just got kind of vague on me, started talking about how easy this job was, how fucked ~~up her boyfriends were, how much money she could make doing this. I didn't quiz ~~her or anything, but she sure wasn't talking about future plans or doing anything else; she wasn't saying anything like, "Once I get enough money for junior college..." or "When I save enough for a ticket to Hollywood..." or even "Of course, I'm not doing this forever." It was all just in the moment for her. 

I asked her if she'd ever danced, you know, in a club, topless, or anything. I mean a good dancer could make just about the same money, maybe more, than she was making doing out-calls. She just sort of rambled about how she could if she wanted, how fucked-up her boyfriends were, how easy this job was. The same shit she'd said before. 

But, you know, she seemed different from the girls I've known who've been dancers. Strippers seem more, I don't know, focused than this girl. I mean they have to keep in really good shape just to dance. The dancing itself is a serious workout; it's hours of aerobic exercise. And the dancers I've known have always had some kind of goal. They may not achieve it, they may get lost in drugs or drinking or just being in "the life," but they all had some kind of goal. They were going to school, they were saving to start a business of their own, they were looking out and forward and beyond the clubs. This girl was just, I don't know, flat or something. Just stuck. Or too tired or too lazy or too paralyzed to do anything else. 

It didn't make too much sense to me; the things she said didn't seem to connect up too well, but...I mean, I was just her driver. But all three girls seemed to be nice girls. Seriously. They weren't mean or anything; they weren't bitches. They ~~were just sharp, you know, like looking for an edge. Like it was nothing personal, but they'd cheat you if they could. Even that girl who was sort of zoned out. She wasn't interacting much, wasn't talking or anything, but she wasn't mean about it. If I said something to her, she'd answer. But even she was always paying attention on the call. I mean, she didn't act like she was having fun, but she was keeping her eyes wide open all the time. 

Question: Tell us about going out. 

Answer: Yeah, OK. I guess I got the full range of calls. We got a prank call. Someone from a hotel called in for a girl and we go there. It's late, like 1 a.m. and we come walking in a side entrance to the ~~hotel and I'm definitely not dressed for success that night, kind of scruffy, you know? And this girl dressed like...well, she's dressed like a hooker. Vinyl thigh boots, sort of cheap, mismatched clothes but tight and gaudy-sexy. We walk past the desk and the clerk, a young guy, sort of gives us the eye, you know, but I'm thinking of course he's going to give us the eye. I mean, here's some ratty looking old fart with a teenaged girl dressed up like Irme La Duce walking through their hotel lobby at one o'clock in the morning. If I was working the graveyard desk shift, I'd have looked at us kind of funny, too. 

Anyway, the call was for a suite on a restricted floor and, of course, we couldn't go up without a room key. So, we call the room from her cell phone and there's no answer. I'm starting to understand a little better. We go back downstairs and ask the desk to call up. Big surprise. Nobody's in that room and he won't tell us if anyone is really registered there. 

Question: So, what happened? 

Answer: What do you mean what happened? We leave. We can't say anything to the shit ball at the desk, even though it was probably him who called in because, remember, the office always calls back to confirm. We can't flip him off or call his boss or anything because we'll probably be coming back there someday for a real call. It was just, like, "oh, well" and back to the office. He was just a sadistic, bored jerk. 

The next call was at another hotel. Everything was set up nicely and we got there and I knocked on the door. The guy opens up and he's talking on a cell phone and we go in. He gets off the phone and says, "Sorry. Something has come up but here's a 20 for your time and trouble." I don't really know what to say; I don't know if it's even true. Maybe he just didn't like the way the girl looked or whatever. The girl snatches the bill and it disappears forever. She didn't tell the office she got it and she sure didn't give me my 10 percent, ~~but I wasn't going to bust her for $2. I just let it slide. 

Question: So you're not making any money. 

Answer: I am not making any money. We finally get a call and it is way out there, I mean it's about a 15-mile drive for a one-hour call. The girl gets ready, I get ready, and we go. It's a house in a nice, middle-class neighborhood; new houses, you know? All the trees are little. Go up, ring the bell, and this kid answers. Kid. I don't know. He looked about 25 years old. Not bad looking, but drunk off his ass. The girl's eyes light up, you know, like ka-ching! I cruise around the house checking to make sure nobody's hiding in the bathroom or something and run the guy's credit card ~~on his coffee table with my lighter. He's got ESPN on some big screen TV with the sound turned down. He's all bleary eyed and embarrassed and quiet, just sort of nodding when I explain the rules and get him to sign the contract. No touching the girl, no intimate contact, no lewd or sexual behavior. It's all bullshit, really, something for the cops. The girl is practically shoving me out the door. 

I go back out to the car and settle in. It's warm so I leave the window open, listening, you know, for what? I don't know; screaming, breaking glass, sirens...

I get everything arranged real nice: the pager and my smokes on the dashboard, a cup of coffee from my thermos, and I'm reading a book with one of those battery-powered lights. And, bam, in like 20 minutes ~~the girl is back. The guy paid $250 on his credit card for an hour and she's out the door in 18.25 minutes. I asked her, "Is everything OK?" She says, "Everything is very OK" and we drive back to the office. I'm wondering if she maybe took some tips to, you know, go off the contract. I'm wondering if this drunk kid gave her some cash to...um...augment the agreement. I sort of try to ask her what happened but she doesn't really seem to be in a mood for sharing right then. If she got cash, if she got extra, the only way I'm going to find out is to pull over and strip-search her. And, you know, I just don't feel like doing that. I mean, I may be acting like a pimp, driving her around to have sex with some guy, but I don't have to, you know, act like a pimp. I can't visualize slapping her around, working on her with a coat hanger or something, saying things like "Where's my money?" My money. It's not my money. I suddenly discovered my heart just wasn't in it. 

Question: So, you're going to get $25 from the call; 10 percent of $250 is $25. 

Answer: Oh, yeah, that. I'll get $25 if the credit card clears and when the transfer from Visa or Mastercard or whatever comes in to the company account and whenever they decide to cut a check for me. That's like at least two months down the road. You have to keep your own records and, you know, trust the company. I just have to think, well, maybe that money's gone, too. 

Anyway, we sit around the office watching Nick at Nite. The girls conk out pretty much right away and the other driver wants to chat. It's about 2:30 in the morning and I just want to stare off into space for a while and this guy is wanting to talk about the job. I'm like, "Shut up." Luckily, another call comes in pretty soon and I grab it. 

It's another motel and we get there pretty quick. We find the room and knock on the door. The door sort of slams open, if you can do that...can you do that? Can a door slam open? Anyway, there's this little guy, about 5-foot-5 maybe, all buffed up like he works out, and we're inside. He's got his cash all ready and fanned out and he wants to get to it. I give him the contract, you know, no touching, no sex, no lewdness, and he sort of flips out. I mean, he's going, "What is this? What is this? What is this?" and I'm going "It's a standard business contract, sir." He's asking, "Well, just what do I get for my $150 and what if I want some more?" and then it sort of hits me. I catch a quick look around the room and the closet alcove is empty, the bag rack is empty. I look at the girl and we both know. [long pause] 

Question: What? 

Answer: C'mon. Little short guy, lots of muscles, no luggage, cash out in the open, wants sex? 

Question: Enlighten us. 

Answer: He's a cop. So, we're both like, "Sorry, sir. Good evening, sir. Complain to management, sir. You're on your own, sir." This transaction is terminated with extreme prejudice and, even if this guy isn't a cop, he's a weird little fucker and way too aggressive. We leave and go back to the office. I wait around until about 3:30 and the dispatcher says "go home" and I do and that's it. I don't go back. They called me up the next night wanting to know when I was coming in and I said, "I don't think so." I spent six and a half hours earning $25 base and maybe, in a couple of months, another $25 if I feel like even calling them back and I got ripped off by a teenager for $2. I figure that's enough. 

Question: That's it? 

Answer: Oh, yeah. That's it. Pretty glamorous, huh? Huggy Bear, Jr. That's me. And I drive a beat-up old Volvo, too.

Westchester County Weekly Copyright ©1999 New Mass. Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

24 May 2009

Our Barbies, Ourselves

We were sitting on the porch, Stephanie and I, drinking glasses of ice-cold water and eating saltine crackers. They both hit our spots. Crickets were chirping in the gloaming nightfall and we could hear the kids, one block over, trying desperately to milk one last inning of softball from the gathering darkness.

"I can see," yelled Cinnamon. "I can still see perfectly. Just pitch the motherfucking ball, alright?"

"Such a mouth," giggled Stephanie.

I took a long drink and put another cracker in my mouth. Across the street, the Anderson's living room window changed from blue to grey to blue again as they switched channels from Entertainment Tonight all the way over to A Current Affair. Those Anderson. I could set my watch by them and their ever so regular viewing habits. And I did. Eight-oh-three.

"You're out!" shrieked Jasmine in the middle of the play. "Stop running, you running cunt! I tagged you three fucking years ago. You're out!"

"Fuck you!" came Lilac's retort.

Can that Lilac retort? I think so, and Stephanie does, too.

"If I'm still moving, you're still losing. Tag this, you stupid little whore!"

Stephanie and I both smiled, separately though simultaneously, to imagine little Lilac's gesture. There, in the kind of darkness that encloses us when that kind of darkness falls, we could see the dim forms of catfish on the lawn. They walked, in the kind of way they walk when they walk across our lawn, slowly and without rhythm. Like catfish.

Lilac's voice rose an octave. The fish paused then redoubled their motile thrashings. Stephanie and I both smiled, separately though simultaneously, to imagine little Lilac's distress. We could hear the dull sound wood makes, Louisville Slugger wood specifically, when it hits girl flesh. I put a saltine cracker on my tongue and closed my mouth. It, the cracker, began to dissolve.

"More ice cold water?" Stephanie asked.

"Mmm-mmm," I answered around the cracker. She filled my glass until the water bulged, trembling, against the rim of the glass. We could hear the shrieks of the girls floating toward us and the gentle shiver of breaking glass.

In that moment, hung against the twilit paint of another evening's end, the girls came pounding across the Mitchell lawn with sports equipment akimbo.

"You girls," Stephanie smiled at them.

"How was the game? You girls?" I asked them all through the paste in my mouth, the remains of my saltine cracker.