Alden’s Pocket Guide To Oxford

Stowed away my last year of high school in a boarding school, acting out every fantasy of being a… boarding school girl. Yes. All that. Whatever you’re thinking, you are correct.

Underage liquor purchases exceeding $400 in one visit, advertising the campus for sale, soft cases with perfect skin, hard cases down to snorting aspirin, suns splashing green as they sunk into the Pacific, leaving the seat of the Del Mar swingset at the top of the arc, progressive episcopalians surreptitiously inserting Jung’s Answer to Job in my corrected essays, closeted chemists jaw dropping to my idle recitation of sondheim lyrics, weekend ruts at socal boy’s schools, drinking the mice after they’ve been pureed, driving the mercedes on the sidewalk, multiple forms of identification with the yacht club one being most valuable, very very very lush lawns, very very very heavy fuschia, very very very uncomfortable saddle shoes.

Within 8 hours of arriving I checked into the local bookstore, because I was so god damn bored. It was, I think, the origin of Green Tiger Press, although I have no idea why I say that. New. Used. Remarkable woodwork, with branching, organic tendrils framing every doorway and penetrating every gate, which struck me then, as now, as the house of a very proper troll. Small incandescent lights and chairs in odd places. Perhaps a small theater that I cannot for the life of me remember sitting in. Bulletin board. Music, usually that bastard Teleman, or, the All Eine Kleine Nachtmusik Loop. Smelled like… books, but books plus. Books plus… Constant Comment Tea.

There.

So I coaxed some major purchases out of that place. I bought books in sets that made no sense from a content perspective, but the spines could be lined up sequentially to read some personally important thing. What do you call that? Some kind of Book Spine Feng Shui, no? Snagged the complete works of Shakespeare (annotated!), a compact OED which I sold in Aptos 7 years later for five bucks (sorry dad!), and a now unexplanable affection for caldecott illustration. Don’t ask.

One day.

I was sitting in back getting all the books down low out to read, and found Alden’s Pocket Guide to Oxford, published in, what, 1932. The matte stock, the black and white plates, the torqued spellings, the engaging invitation to inquire of the publisher anything that would make my visit to Oxford more rewarding. I closed my eyes and rolled the whole thing over in my mind: Oxford. Oxfuckingford. Clearly the best boarding school of them all. Kneeling there in the aisle, I began to pretend I was in another bookstore entirely, in fact, the one featured on page 16 of the Pocket Guide, and that at any moment, I would be discovered by a nattily dressed junior faculty member who, in that clipped dialect indicated by these torqued spellings, would scold me for being so…

so…

informal.

About to address the scolding (was there some irony in it? was I being provoked?), I heard feet turn the corner and scrape short of walking right through the huddle of me, the junior faculty member, and the Pocket Guide. I burned with embarassment and stared at page 22, the brickwork of Keble College. They cannot know what is going on in my mind, I reminded myself. The most anyone could walk away with is a casual observation that I seem interested in collegiate architecture.

Stepping around my fantasy, the woman said “Look, it’s the young Bob Dylan.” I looked up to see where she had found that. It was a matter of personal pride that I already knew the complete inventory of this bookstore and had not ever found a young Bob work. But the woman was, very briefly since I was now looking right at her, pointing at me. I reared back and returned to page 118, credits and acknowledgements. I heard the confirming laugh of the woman she was really meaning to speak to, one aisle over. I waited for them to leave, then combed the store for images of the young Bob Dylan.

Was it my hair? Was is my outsized overalls and billowing, blood-stained collar-less silk shirt disguising my gender? Was it, I really have hoped all along this was true, my Intensity? Or were these windandsea women hopelessly burnt from 20 years of the good stuff, my first encounter with someone permanently framecoded into the sixties? Could they have grokked my extensive Simon and Garfunkel collection just by looking? I’ve known them to do this and much much more on a mere 20 minute ride from Olema to Bolinas, even accurately sensing I had ditched the collection in 1985 in favor of the Authentic Sound of Now.

I asked Mo, during a break in the festivities. Young Bob, eh, she said, obviously knowing more than me about what Young Bob looked like. Positively ridiculous, she announced, after a short period of consideration. I was crushed, but I had purchased the Pocket Guide, cherishing the original pencilled price (50p) next to the (50c) I paid for it. As instructed by the editors, I made my inquiry and received an updated version, which, the risk-taking correspondent reminded me, would normally cost me but was being provided as a complementary gift. Holding the letter, with its fraction-off odd size, and hearing the humor and admonishment in its perfectly typed paths, I realized that an important part of my fantasy was being actualized.

I wrote back, inventing just about everything about myself.

I received a reply, which I now know contained important clues about the culture of the correspondent which went completely over my head.

Within a few years I was standing around in Oxford, yanking all the black and white plates out and putting time space sensations in their place. I wandered the bookstores, waiting to be discovered. I discovered others, themselves waiting to be discovered, but not by me. I bought armloads, wrapping them up and sending them by Extra Super Slow and Cheap Post back to myself. For the price I imagined them inflating the books and allowing them to drift out of town and across the ocean to my house, where they would, if conditions were right, deflate and land in my front yard.

And I’ve seen Bob Dylan plenty of times, too many times, the last time he seemed to perform of all of his songs as spirited waltzes, or was I just plain Too High? Doesn’t matter, I don’t look like him, and that lady was committing such a crime of carelessness to suggest it. I’ve been carrying this wannabe around for nearly twenty years.

How could she have known?

It was just a bookstore.

I Will Not Die At Washington Street

There’s a billboard at the junction of 680 and 780 that sez Welcome to Benicia-a-a-ahhh!

They are dead wrong, unless you pronounce a-a-ahhh! like someone who just noticed her scarf had caught in the propeller.

Generally, the billboard is blocking your view of the source of the flame shooting into the sky. It becomes clearer as you advance, and you spend the time flipping flipping flipping the synapses like 3 by 5 cards saying this:

OK. Flame in sky. Excess of byproduct. System not meant to produce flame. If flame, excess. If excess, fine. If fine, superfund revenues. If revenues, high speed train. Train, yes, no car. Train yes, no flame. Unless flame is harmless. Parents said flame was harmless. Flame pretty. Flame in rear view mirror. OK.

That’s about the end of it. You could go on but you’ve mentioned your parents. You know where that leads: Greek Chorus. Greek Chorus leads to Alpha Waves. Alpha Waves lead to sleep. Sleep while driving. You try for a couple beats. Comfortable. Looking in the surrounding cars you smile quietly. I’m sleeping in my mother’s arms, say your smiling eyes. You can tell by my signal. It’s OK to drive the shoulder.

Underneath, the water is stained black. A train may cross below and to the left, not part of your structure. Further left, a creaking stand of horses with rheumy eyes and bad patches: liberty ships you can contrive to mount. I went out there with Slobodan, put on puffy orange vests and hard hats (mine cinched impossibly high on my head for a joke no one got), squished foam in our ears and road a completely safe cross between a bar of ivory soap and a frisbee out to the edge of the corral. We climbed the iron stair and received the instruction: Follow The Orange Arrows. For about an hour we followed them, subtle things, looking like the rust that was reclaiming them, and climbed over 20 liberty ships on our way to the last one, painted white and holding promise: The Golden Bear is The Artship now. In it’s cargo hold you can fall a hundred feet, or build a black box theater. You decide. On one side of the Artship is the tangle of its siblings, all fighting for the blanket that can’t possibly keep any of them warm. On the other side is a mustard sky and a grey water stretching to another shore. I think I see flames on it. Tell me. Is the shore on fire? More importantly, if we bring The Artship home and make our art on it, will it sink? My art is heavy. You can feel it in my chest.

Didn’t eat, because it brings sleep. Neither heat, nor sound. Just the road sections singing their parts sequentially. Sleep is coming. Sleep is coming anyway. Sleep will come and it will be all over. Everyone left to their own devices about what that big sleep meant, coming when it did. Being asleep, there is little that can be done to correct them. It is time to sing. The song goes like this:

Can’t die at the Washington Street exit even though it is the sight of a consuming yawn, a big giant cakehole yawn that precedes a coma. If I did everyone would think it was symbolic, and it clearly isn’t. The fact of the matter is that I have no affinity for this exit or its name, no association to soothe their confusion. I have a lot of explaining to do so I’m going to wake up and find a better spot to die.

Not a good idea to die at the 24 West-680 South split even though the design of it is conspiring to that end. If I did there would be no argument about the likelihood of that sort of thing happening to someone somewhere along the way, but there would be a few questions about why I, in particular, was not in concert with the physical space. That’s the only rule of driving, no? Two things may not occupy the same space at the same time. Forced to find me careless, all my loved ones, compelled to admit it. How galling, considering the source. This is not the place to die. Let them gloat like that, like they have it over me depth perception-wise? I don’t think so.

I may die at Fish Ranch Road, having quickly dismissed Moraga, and the nearly unmarked exit to the exclusive retirement community that Larkin lived in, yo-yo’d back to his mother’s well after a shunt had been installed and de-installed near her cerebral cortex to manage a complex process of aging. What the hell happened to them? Larkin? Kirby? Willis? His unlikely sisters? Their lovers? Children? Property? Sportscars? The coffee bar on Telegraph? Can you believe I knew them? Can you believe how I )don’t( know them now? How can you ever come to not know someone who taught you how to lawn bowl and likened you to the young Katherine Hepburn? God I’m Dumb. There will be no dying there, but in the time it has taken me to realize what I’ve lost, even though some of it I lost gladly, I’ve arrived at Fish Ranch Road.

A fairly good place to die, but completely without opportunity. Quite possibly the safest fucking exit so far. Blink. Gone. And the Caldecott tunnel in front, with its morbid incinerating histories. A newspaper printed a comment by a tunnel operator (like, what’s to operate?) saying the tunnel was a catacomb, a hive, a skein of passages. They’d never find you, continued the quote. Do you know the writer now? I think you do. The writer is spooked and wants to sleep in your bed so he fought to have that quote left in, just in case one of us would take him in and blow the dream of the bad tunnel operator away. No one can get you. You’re safe now. Speed up to only about 60 to be out of control in the tunnel. Do it with one hand so you can keep one curled around the writer until he’s completely, and soundly asleep. His respirations entrain with yours.

There’s a big inky galaxy on the other side. Gravity will guide you through it.

OK.

OK OK OK.

OK.

Phase Change

I’m helping a writer with his residency applications. Looking at 40 he acknowledges he’s never been published and his adjunct position at the university will not assist him in this. He wants time. He wants the cottage on the cape, and I keep looking at him, giving him the benefit of my positive visualization and superimposing his head on Lillian Hellman’s shoulders as she throws the typewriter out the window into the dunes. Simmer down, Lil, it’s really competitive out there.

Are you OK? he says all of a sudden.

Probably not.

I give in to sleep, which smacks of torture. The next 45 minutes run for a few days as I wake up from a dream to find myself in a dream which I wake up from to find myself in a dream which I hurriedly wake up from to find myself in another dream. I’m beginning to detect reality by its smell. My dreams, thank our lucky stars, do not smell. My reality does, in fact, has a tang I can’t scrub off. I hesitate to talk about it because I’m afraid my dreams are listening and will set about manufacturing the smell thing. They get everything almost right, or rather, perfectly wrong: a door handle to a bathroom that looks like a doorhandle, but feels like a finger when you grasp it. That’s bad. Leave that dream.

Wake up in the next one.

Back in the bar, I mark up his bio which exceeds the allotted length by 2900 words. It is a righteous read. I discover eveything about him and am shocked to see the thing I knew previously is simply not mentioned. After two pints and five passes I have reduced the text by one word, and fielded three inquiries from young men, who construe the shock on my face as mystery, apparently. This is a powerful bio. It attracts young men. He must know what he’s talking about, man-wise. And while I’m at it, I doubt I’ll come to this bar again, which used to be, not so very long ago, god dammit, a dyke bar you could sit in all night without having one pleasant exchange with a young man.

In the margins I write:

I am trying to put my finger on a certain dismissiveness around every historic circumstance of your artistic development: from kismet to cecil rhodes, everyone has believed in your talent and you mock them. They were helpless to deny you your due, and you accuse them of posturing. It was almost like this:
So then I didn’t publish, but I got the Congressional Medal of Honor from those maroons. After that, I still couldn’t publish but I went ahead and healed the sick and fed the hungry, whatever that means. Subsequently, I never published.

And:

This is not the place to admit you read Kerouac *after* undergraduate study. You should lie and say you read it as a small child every morning at breakfast because it was the book you could reach from the highchair. Trust me.

And at the end:

The language is clever throughout.

Perhaps a little…

He must be hiding something.

No he isn’t hiding anything.

But he’s self-mortifying.

But in a grand way.

Fuck!

It was a perfect bio, no doubt about it. Didn’t want him to go through with it, all the same. Gone begging for subsidies, he is, convinced 97 is his year for the big money, the bookjacket, the tour, the option. If everything goes well I won’t recognize him in 98.

This is true for me: I cannot tell where the art is. Is it in breathing or is it in suffocation? Do I say nothing of it (like north american indian cultures) or say nothing but it (like european cultures). Is there any explanation for why I see the way I do? Is an explanation necessary if there is momentum? Will being responsible for my art imprison me in social norms? Am I better undetected? Is this the source of loneliness?

So long, sport. Thanks for stopping by. Happy to be of assistance. Best of luck to you. Thanks for the plums.

Don’t forget to write.

What Day Was That Exactly?

Not around, not for years. Left in a hurry, shaved his eyebrows right before. Had a car, one of hundreds, abandoned it. Lived by his tools, left them at his sisters. Sheriffs interested. Sheriffs not interested. According to a 3am conversation after a ska show after seeing angels in america (don’t do this!), come to find out jake’s friend’s father was either in cahoots with him, or was the subject of an escape that he was assisting in. This is as close as I’ve ever come. I let the subject drop.

Made her cry in a parking lot when she spoke her fear about him being dead, and his body abandoned. But he aint worth killin. That was glib. I learned I had a heart of stone. She broke down.

Mentioned north, mentioned south. Mentioned east, but not very. Never mentioned west, because we are west. If you go wester you drown.

During phantom pain, I chased him on I-80, late model ram truck to mid-70s beetle. Not good. Could not catch him. Convinced myself I was hallucinating to avoid the fact I had failed to bring her the only thing she really wanted.

Count them one two three four five six. After seven, if someone has the time and wants something of yours, they can have you declared dead. According to the agenda, it is my responsibility to perform the research on this and report back. Facts, please. Timelines. Probabilities. Budget.

I feel he’s dead, but I don’t know how all you feel. To the right: I think he’s dead, but I don’t think about it much at all, we can’t know so why worry. To the left: He might be dead, but we can have him declared dead if enough time has elapsed. Thank you. We’ve determined that, what’s your goddamn hurry already. To the end: I think there’s no evidence he’s alive or dead, so I prefer to think he’s alive, and fallen through the cracks. Call me sentimental. Maybe I just want revenge.

I size up every criminal mesomorph to determine if it’s him. I beat him in my dreams, my fists like cotton. That’s for her. That’s for him. That’s for the drumset you sold without my permission. That’s for her again, and so is this.

During the day she would get the calls. Caller says nothing. She says Hello? Hello? then her friends told her to keep talking, so she talked. About what, I wonder. What kinda friends are those? Where is everyone’s common sense? The disbelief is making my ass quiver in alarm. I listen to the rest and think ohhhh, so it is possible to shit yourself when under extreme stress, like here, at the kitchen table in broad daylight.

Then one time, a call came about ten oclock at night and she couldn’t understand what was being said. It was all garbled. She couldn’t understand the caller. It was very frustrating. Surprisingly, the phone was snatched away from the caller and a voice asked for her by name. Her name. Clear as a bell. When she answered, the conversation was disconnected.

Since then, no calls. She thinks he double-crossed someone. She thinks he was being held against his will. She thinks he was being abused. She thinks he died slow and his corpse was defiled.

March 27, 1995

No entry in my calendar.

Scarlet Fever

Oh my God! Check this out:

I’m driving Ma’s car while she’s in it. We’re rolling back from Mike’s IGA and she’s telling me, all of a sudden like, but in no particular hurry about it, about how she talked with her brother recently about getting a hearing aid. Apparently he lost his hearing in his left ear when he was a child and only as an adult got a transmitter for it, plus a hearing aid for his other ear, which had aged like ears are wont to do. He often takes the transmitter out, especially at parties, complaining it makes him hear too much. Things he knows he isn’t supposed to hear.

Oh yeah? Like what? I’m totally excited when someone knows their limits like this. What does he think he isn’t supposed to hear?

Someone eating a triscuit, she said.

I’m nodding, That’s bad. I’d do what he does.

Then she says:
Well he lost his hearing when he was a child. My poor mom, all alone in that apartment with a sick boy. I had gone to nursing school and she was by herself and they wouldn’t let me see them. He had scarlet fever and was bleeding from his left ear. I couldn’t go, well I could go, but we had this arrangement where I would go to the back door and they would talk to me through the glass.

Oh! I’m thinking. A quarantine thing. She’s in nursing school. No good bringing back scarlet fever cooties. I wait for her to add more, but she just sits quietly addressing some middle distance: center dark, periphery clear.

Then a little nagging image: My own ma talking to her ma through the glass. I miss my turn and circle back to it. Ma doesn’t mind because car rides are infrequent enough that a delay is welcome, and she’s very polite about our incompetencies. Always has been.

Then the image again. My uncle pressed against the glass. His good ear pressed against the glass. What were they saying? What did they talk about? Hi. How are you. You look much better. The door glass is especially clear today.

Then the image once more: sinister. My uncle smiling at the door, blood coming out his ear. My grandma holding his shoulders, a mild smile of shored-up fatigue, casting out onto the back stoop where my ma stands: Helpless. Remote. There.

Everyone is waving that accelerated wave you see in home movies, mouthing the words I Love You Bye Bye I Love You Bye Bye I. The herky jerkiness of everyone walking the home movie walk.

What did Ma think about on her (train)(bus)(cab) rides to and from the home with the woman all alone and the sick boy?

Was it a long ride?

Was it as long as this ride I’m taking now?

Did she think what I’m thinking?

Did everything turn out OK?

Is everything going to be OK?

I’m going about 85. I miss my exit not even close. When I circle back to it on a cloverleaf, my forehead touches the glass and feels cool. I keep my hand on it the rest of the way home: that’s what glass feels like.

I Got It I Got It I Got It

The sun is quite left of downtown now, and I don’t exactly mind its sinking into landscape, as opposed to the transamerica building, as much as I mind knowing no one I know is there to catch it.

I had no idea I was operating under the assumption Train was sitting in a lounge chair with a catcher’s mitt everyday at PST+3, looking up and fielding the heavy swoop of my day after it cleared my bat. There: my best go of it, my hardest swing, all I could muster, the day’s take, as good as it gets, no more, no less: my sun. Now his. I was counting on Train to spin that sun however he wished, go to second, lob it to the adoring fans, or bobble and err, so that when it lands in a nisei broker’s mitt in a few hours, there would be nothing left but his glowing stat in the sky. Right next to mine.

And when he was on that tour of duty, I would stare at the sky and feel it’s enormity in one way: it was the same sky. Only one goddamn sky for all of us, no matter who we were, or how disparate our circumstances. This was not an annoying new age tautology, this was a concrete perception of a deep pile carpet. How can it be? I’d ask for the hundredth time. His sky and mine?, focusing on my shoes for bearings.

It is not so.
I am misunderstanding.

And the sky would appear again the next night. Dang! A smell that always made me hungy, no matter how recently I had eaten.

If the sky had summer in it, or halloween, or star jasmine, or 4th grade, or 10th, or a thesis completed, or an air so provocative I had to be rude to others in it so I could feel it for what it was, then I wished the sky on, scraping it forward into the night of the next person, anyone, anyone at all. Take it.

When Train stopped being west of me I went sad. Now it was true he was getting more done by 9am than I would accomplish all day. And it was only possible by cheating, greenwich-wise. I didn’t need his industry. My day was his discard. And I could never remember to drop what I was doing at PST-3, get into an open space, pound my glove, squint at the heavens and catch his texas leaguer.

Why? I was too busy catching up to the east, absorbed in my infinitely divisable distance between my ability and my desire.

Catch!

Some days the whole place looks new, only because I remember the time I passed through here without knowing where I was. Streets travelled in ignorance are now my cow trails. I know all the fjords, the hours, the dogs, the dwellers, the hidden life, my suburbia cloaked in roll-ups, storefronts, hazmat, container trucks pulsing their compressors just to keep their insides from rotting. Walk here and you have a crack at wisdom, but I always fall short and end in arrogance: I know this place and all of you are driving by convinced it does not exist. Not a dumb thing, but neither smart. It is Here, you see. Feel free to accelerate but know you are accelerating away from Here. Hey. Come back. I have a secret.

The sun isn’t setting, we’re toppling backward. Every day, god hang on, there we go again, and no seatbelts.

A crack and you realize you’ve been dreaming. Here comes that day and you’re sleeping in left center.

Hang on, oh, man-

Heads up!

By My Mark I Signify

I’m overflowing with new, and no time to seek it out and shape it. It’s disturbing to know that all this is going on inside me and I’m, like, driving to the store. But we’ve covered this ground before, I know, I know. I open up the notebook, if I’ve had the presence of mind to pack it, and make the same mark I always make to start the ink flowing in the pen. That cypher unlocks the page and it transforms it into a space. Someone clears his throat. I turn to look who it is.

And I’m gone.

I was helping my Ma sign her name in the area provided, using a couple of homemade templates that masked the documents and guided the pen. Since the last time we practiced, her signature had shrunk to half its original size. Are you worried about running out of room now, I asked. She just murmured. At the hospital, during the antibiotic treatment, the staff stopped asking her to sign after they realized she couldn’t see her own signature or control its progress across the page. They just took care of it, my Ma said, they’re really caring that way.

This may be a girl thing but I remember writing my name hundreds of times until I discovered a signature I could be proud of, and I asked my Ma if she had done so as well. We were forced to practice penmanship, she reminded me, as if to distinguish it from the egomania of a 13 year old girl. I wasn’t 13 the last time I went through this, I offered, I was about 23 and I adopted the handwriting of Mark Worthington. If he knew, which he could easily find out if he ever saw anything I now write, he might be uncomfortable about it, but I never meant it that way. No soul-stealing, really, just letterforms, some of the coolest I ever seen. What’s your point, Ma inquired.

Maybe you should write your name a hundred times. Don’t even look at the paper. Close your eyes completely. None of this bump and run center dimmed and peripheral clear business of macular degeneration. Start writing, and visualize the writing in your mind. Get on the page in your mind. Write straight and clear in your mind, and then slam it on the paper. Write it big, write it small, print, use your full name, use your nickname, write, write, write, page after page until your muscles memorize how it goes. I may have done this myself, from the first unearthly scribbles from a fugue state (in this dream I am sitting on a toilet combing my long straight blond hair while men pace nervously waiting to use the bowl!) to the entire script of a love affair during two sets by pharaoh sanders (the second set was so much better!) in a really really dim club, candlelight obscured by beer bottle, to the chalk tags in blacked out spaces, upside down and reached over, where no one but a construction worker would look during demolition. Ma. I know how to write my name.

I can do it with my eyes closed.

I think I prefer to do it with my eyes closed.

She looked at me, then looked at the paper, saying:
I’m going to the bank Tuesday. I’ll get a signature card for you for this account.

After a beat, in which my heart falls completely away in two discreet pieces, I say:
That’s a good idea.

No Matter Try Again Fail Again Fail Better

There is a soundtrack to Derek Jarmen’s Blue (I know, sick, but useful). One cut is his even reading of the side effects and contraindications of an experimental treatment for AIDS. He reads, for 10, 12 minutes, you think, but it seems an hour, a litany of bad mojo as a result of eating the pill, then the reading of the hold harmless statement goes on, 3, 4, 5, minutes, but it seems an hour, then he commences, without hesitation, to talk about signing the release of liability and eating the pill. Eat it. What else but eating?

A whole day of eating!

And Fred said:
Oh you wouldn’t believe it if you saw it. They are fine upstanding citizens.
Do they act up? I ask.
They do, he said, almost spitting. Then they gain weight for October in Bangkok.
What the hell? I say, buggin quite bad.
They do, he said, looking off to the middle ground.
You mean they go back? I say, incredulous and then in the last aspirations of the word realize well…

Why not? What else?

And women, he says. Men and women, not just men.

Why not, I say, what else?

And in Fred’s silence I hear this:

That’s all you need to know.

There is no else.

Tow Me To Rave Camp

Take a deep breath and do this double-dutch:

Michael brought a junker he had decorated with colored electrician’s tape and refurbished to full functionality except for installing the chain. I brought the coaster brake bike I had scored the same day I ditched that mercedes at the dismantler’s, perfectly, get this: with the same notes the dismantler gave me:

Girl gives Dismantler Bad Car.

Dismantler gives Girl Two Bills.

Girl gives Two Bills to Bike Guy.

Girl rides home with No Hands.

So we put the bikes in the truck with the palm fronds, the pa system, the pvc pipe and the barbecue, and book. On the playa, Michael figures out immediately that his chain is the wrong size and his junker is now spelled with a capital Useless. It would be a good bike on one side of a hill, but since we’re in a 400 square mile flat area, there is no goodness available for the bike. It is a bad bike. It is banished, casting no shadow no matter where we store it. It stands in shame.

The coaster brake bike, the anti-mercedes, is shared, even though Michael is apprehensive about riding the saddle while I pump us along. There’s something psychological going on there, I shout over my shoulder, how about a few cleansing breaths? He holds my hips not lightly and not clingy either, so I find myself trying to intensify his grasp with close shaves of all varieties.

On the last Friday of the month, we espy our brothers and sisters climbing on their bikes and rounding up in center camp for the critical mass ride. Using these dog leashes, I explain, Professor to Mary Anne, I can tow you and your bike to the critical mass ride. And we were off, after some quick rehearsals on towing a person on their bike using these dog leashes.

At center camp, everyone was circling the espresso machine, grinning and kicking up a cloud. We came without costume: no nakedness, no props, no noisemakers, except for the floating eyeball bell and our running argument about who was responsible for occassional lurches in our tow arrangement. Wait. Does my Kmart housecoat count? Likely. What a good idea *that* turned out to be! And, truthfully, Michael looked kinda mysterious in that desert nomad thing he was wearing, I believe the coutour word for it is: Deeply Wrapped.

OK, so at a magic moment, I have to assume it was at the moment of critical mass, about 200 bicyclists tore out the east gate directly to the Man. Much yodeling here, and I happily broke vessels in my head keeping up with the gang. Do you blame me? The sun was shining. The air was hot. And the whole place was filled up with the whirr of derailleurs, that hummingbird vibration of a bike on a smooth surface, topped off with a light crunch of alkali crust giving way.

These are the amplifications of the present necessary to tow another person on their bike through the critical mass ride. If you thought about what you were doing, you would simply get off the bike and walk away. Which is exactly what I did after the masses veered northeast and made their humcrunch sound directly to rave camp, 2 and a half miles away. But it took me a mile or so to get to this point, after exchanging too many greetings with the nimble single riders zipping back and forth, and after comprehending that that wind was currently at my back and would be in my face on the way home, and having a little bit of playa anxiety as the pictorial representation of center camp completely disappeared from view. Michael offered assistance first by consistently underestimating the distance remaining, then by arranging to tow me the rest of the way and back, then by promising not to leave me as I trudged little tiny steps against a flattening wind in the opposite direction of rave camp: home, james.

Under what conditions would I tow Michael to rave camp? Under what conditions would I tow him *anywhere*? One condition: he would be experiencing uncontrolled bleeding. The little nips of the shin brought on by walking too close to the angry teeth of bike pedals didn’t count. Leaks brought on by punches in the nose did not count. Simply wanting to be in rave camp did not count, I reiterated, taking a mouthful of whipped alkali brought about by the critical masses returning from rave camp under their own outrageous power. We stopped to watch them disappear in the west, with it’s lengthening shadows. It was at this moment I realized we were resembling four out of five scenes from the movie Ishtar, and my heart sank.

An hour later we parked the bikes back in our camp, careful to leave them in a cranky pile of spokes to show how pointless they had been for us. Resting on hams and sucking a cold beer in a silence that soon took on the tone of forgiveness, our friends, who had every reason never to show up, showed up with big smiles. The first thing I did was offer them a bike so they could take a tour of the place. They doubled-up on the anti-mercedes and glided away.

Just like that.

This Song Has No Title Just Words And A Tune

We’re all carrying around an unused arsenal of wim wender angel credit. None of this ammo fits my piece, see, and then somebody comes around with just the right tool for the job and we all start firing. Alone. Together. Up. Down. Something. Nothing. There. Not There. Different from Before, then slowly Resuming Before, almost before we Know It.

In this way life is sad to me.

We went out to the Black Rock Desert to build the Giant W from It’s a Mad(4) World, introduce hundreds of twenty somethings to the genius of Stanley Kramer by playing a cinemascope wackyfest on a 13″ b&w monitor (looking swellegant on its pedestal in the middle of the desert) and blaring the audio track off the pa. We discovered we were in the middle of a theme area called Irrational Geographic, and we were the good neighbors of the folks who built a real-life version of Bianca’s Smut Shack. 50 yards to the North, a man in a perfectly restored unimog patroling the searing playa in camo, long sleeve button down oxfords with the top button undone to reveal his brilliant white tshirt. He drank Coors and had many many firearms, which he discreetly polished in their unassembled state.

It wasn’t until everyone left that we started playing our instruments, pulling weights onto them and taping keys down and setting loops so that we could turn it up as loud as it could go, hop on a bike and ride away to see how far our howl would go into the big null maw of the desert:

Not very far at all. Very disappointing, projection-wise. We were blips on the landscape. Little creatures. Unnoticeable.

So I dropped down to the ground, accepting my diminished relevance. Was I tripping? Is this a goddamn tripping story? No, G! And it wasn’t, like, nature and its splendors. Neither was it spirit jolt god head stuff. But there was a fair amount of boundary blur, like the kind I associate with a darkened room, face forward, proscenium arch.

Tragically, there was no dark room, my face was not forward, there was no arch of any sort. Just flat. Flat. Big long ever Flat. Forever.

Within 10 minutes I was quite out of my mind.

Back at the truck, I reclined on the loading ramp and listened to Z eke out the Eno Mystery Chord while the coleman stove roared our pasta water to life. One more nissan pathfinder left center camp to race the sinking sun back to the road, 15 miles away. Seeing the approaching dust plume, Z picked up the megaphone and groaned at them to please drive slowly. They didn’t hear. After a few empty seconds, their roil arrived and passed over us with a sizzle.