Brighton Beach Vortex (aka Iron and Babushkas): a flash Photo Essay
I have owned three cats in my life and my favorite by far was Barnabus, and he was my best friend. He was big, furry, and black, with emerald-blue-green eyes, more like a small bear than a large cat. My spirit animal if I had ever had one. But a cat you could never say you owned.
I named him after a television rerun vampire, “Barnabus Collins,” from the original daytime soap opera, Dark Shadows. (I still can't understand why housewives of the time would watch the show, but I guess they did, as it was quite long-running at 1200 episodes and five years.) Or maybe I named him after the black-clad messenger character in Kafka's The Castle (?).
Anyway, Barnabus, known as “Barn” to our close circle of cat-loving college friends, was the kind of cat who would steal everyone's hearts at parties, not only because of his eyes, furriness, and proportions, but for his habit of walking around, looking up at everyone, rubbing legs til they sparked with static electricity, posturing and meowing for attention. More like a dog than a cat, he was a real ham. Even draping him around your neck like a faux mink stole or letting him perch atop your head like a Russian ushanaka seemed to give him great, languid pleasure, like he was feline royalty, and he basked in the attention. (I once knew a bulldog, a star of some commercial, who would make a grand kitchen entrance of his own volition at parties.)
Barnabus had a huge appetite for tuna, and the first spinning crack of a can of such would drop him from his perch and he'd be instantly there for the ensuing feeding frenzy, already wobbly on his feet drunk off the aroma as he dug in. He was a rare cat in that he could not only scale trees, but was unafraid to claw his way down (usually with a goose-bump raising and ear-piercing slide, yeowch!, but nonetheless, he did it on his own).
Yes he was a pet, but he was also an animal with a wild soul. Every year when winter melted into spring, he would try to sneak out and express his tomdom, or some might say, his tom-foolery. I'd catch him perched on the window sill, staring longingly at the wild and free world outside—birds, beasts, rodents, other cats, and the Nature his species had been domesticated from. Hoping by some miracle the window would open. Or he'd wait by the door for it to crack open and try to rush between your legs back to whence his species had come. At the time, the idea of keeping him in a cage when I wasn't home seemed cruel, and due to his expressed, free-ranging temperament, at least one eventual escape, always seemed inevitable. I still regret the day it finally happened.
I ran out after him and frantically searched the area, but he was nowhere to be found. I fell into a manic-depression for the next days, as I plastered my neighborhood with “lost cat” posters, prominently featuring his image, his name, and my phone number.
I though I had lost him forever to his nine lives, when the phone rang a few long weeks later and a gruff, wizened, voice spoke between what sounded like tokes off a joint. “You lost a cat? Big black one, green eyes?”
“I did in fact. Barnabus.”
“Forget it, where do you live? Coming right away.”
“Nicollet Island, the back half of the island. I've seen your cat coming in and out of the woods. I tried to fish him in with tuna, but nada—my name's Bruce. Bruce Lee.”
Hmm. Anyway, the back half of Nicollet Island then was hippie-punk bordering on anarchist, and was known to be infested not only with Deadheads, but with raccoons. Thank God I refused to have Barnabus declawed. I imagined—hope, prayed, cursed—he had been holding his own.
I jumped on my bike and road the few miles from my neighborhood across the river over a bridge and onto the wooded island. Barnabus had traveled far.
I reached the address, a dilapidated house overgrown with sunflowers and jimson weed, and immediately saw Bruce. His face bespectacled ala John Lennon and, like his house, overgrown with an unruly, matted beard. He was wearing overalls, a tie-dyed shirt, and had his hair in a ponytail any prancing show pony would be proud of. Blaring from a boombox on the uneven porch came “Terrapin Station.”
Bruce stood with his back to the woods and was waving his hands in the air, trying to lord over puffed-up, screeching Barnabus high, large, and intimidating enough so he would freeze long enough for us to corral and, hopefully, capture/rescue him. From the look of his eyes, he may have been on acid.
“He just come out of the woods! He's been scrapping with the raccoons. They got part of his tail!”
Fear, revulsion, sympathy, and terrible guilt.
“I got him thinkin' I'm a damn grizzly! Cujo! Hurry up!” Bruce said. “Take up his rear flank, then we can get him back for ya!”
As I took up a position at Barnabus' rear flank and mimicked Bruce, I took one look, and it was easy to see my beloved pet had gone feral, wildly feral in only a couple weeks, puffing his fur out so he looked twice his size (he was already big) and not so much meowing as growling at me and arching his back, his poor injured tail stabbing at the air and his fur moving around like there were snakes underneath it. Imagine Jack Nicholson's transformation in The Shining. No longer the cute and cuddly and charismatic beast I had once known. Warring against the Nicollet Island raccoons, something in him had changed. Why he went there, I'll never know.
I kept up my waving gesture grizzly on steroids act, lording over Barnabus, then lowered myself and dove forward to lasso my boy back into the fold of my arms, where he first spasmed out of paranoia and fear, maintaining his blood-curdling screech. Sad and awful to witness.
Like I said, something in him had changed.
Bruce let out a sigh. “Thank Jerry Garcia, we got 'im. Don't know how long he would have lasted out in the woods. You like the Dead?”
“Not particularly,” I said, stroking Barnabus all over while cooing at him to calm him, and me, down, until he became a baby bear again.
Soon his borderline-rabid growl (he didn't contract the disease, thankfully) eased back into a purr that vibrated not only my arms, but my being.
I held Barnabus across one of my arms as I pedaled home. Over the bridge and with each passing block, he seemed to relax and calm down, squinting his green eyes out of pleasure against the cool evening wind. When we got home, he fell immediately to sleep.
Whenever he crossed my path after his foray into the wild, I felt lucky to have him back. Nurturing him out of what seemed to be his nature. I felt equally guilty about imposing more restrictions on his household movements, and no more parties, but for the rest of his years, I never let Barnabus out of my sight again. He lived a long life, and I miss him.
Coil members, here he is:
Back before Y2K, I ran concert venues, mostly transacting in cash. We always had a “money room”—a room dedicated solely to the collecting, counting, and keeping of cold, down-and-dirty cash (!). We didn't accept credit cards back then so hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash exchanged hands. “Cryptocurrency” would have meant some money forgotten in, well, a crypt.
Walking into the money room was like walking into a fantasy world, a cave overgrown with money. The accountant, if you could call him that, despite his flickering eyes and fast hands and a machine, would take the entire day just counting and bundling the money from the night before, eyes always wide. The amount of cash reflected on my role, so after good nights, I would be lying to say my eyes didn't also grow wide at the morning-after pile, the price of thousands of music lovers' hangovers. The places two dishonest people could go . . . oh well.
It was definitely tense walking all that cash in a bag through downtown streets to the bank to make the deposit before noon. For some stupid reason, the “accountant” and I never really concealed the day's booty, and we carried no guns or other weaponry (besides maybe a metal-tipped uniball pen). We were running too tight a DIY-ship to hire an armed guard like sensible people would.
Having that cash around was—is, might soon never be again—fun. Who wouldn't want to literally be sitting atop a pile of cash, or sleeping on it like a mattress, or rolling around in it like a dog in grass, or flipping it all over themselves like a seal does with sand at the beach. Or take a wad in each hand and run grinning and whooping it up into the nearest sushi bar and buying it out for a few invited friends and anyone else who happened to be there? I certainly would.
Take a look at the following passage from one of my books. I loved writing it because it offered readers a glimpse into what a real, slow-to-cashless, draconian cash-obsessed economy looks like:
“In the streets of Ürümqi, as in wider China, cash was king. Everyone packed fistfuls of folded-over, baguette-thick rolls of Chinese currency. Yuan. RMB. Hell, I did too, ever since I had become a living, breathing extension of Rihangül’s purse—her designated cash mule—upon our last visit to the black money market thriving on the very steps of the downtown Ürümqi branch of the Bank of China. A fat, coal-soot-and-god-knows-what-else-covered worn wad of red yuan [I love this last passage] was stuffed in my jacket’s internal pocket at that very moment. It was reassuring, even thrilling, to have it there—as reassuring and thrilling as discovering you had a backup heart. Had someone seen me in my Manhattan neighborhood, pockets bulging with cash, I would have been mistaken for a baller!
I begged Rihangül to translate a system of credit into their brainstorm. She began to, but I couldn’t muzzle myself anymore, and I recklessly blurted out the idea in English, their certain lack of comprehension be damned. Rihangül waved her hands across my mouth trying to shut me up; I swatted her hands away in order to continue. We must have looked insane to them. I slipped a credit card out and placed it on the table in a dreary patch of light. Ahmat and Aziz fell silent. The some-thing-for-nothing card, a plastic miracle available in silver, gold, platinum, or any other color you so desired. I explained to these denizens of the ultimate cash economy how one thin plastic card, tattooed with numbers, could contain such streamlined power. It could almost bring you back from the dead. Who needed cash?”
The former me definitely would. The current and future me, not so sure.
A contrasting perspective on cash arrived the time my former-significant other and I saw thick dark smoke twisting into the sky over the buildings a few blocks away. She and I enjoyed spectacles so we went over to see what was going on. Guess what. It was my bank, going up in flames. My first thought (FDIC aside) was that all the bankees' money was going up in smoke along with the brick and mortar. An accidental money burning, Cash 451.
Not a pleasure to burn.
Thankfully or direly, hopefully or forebodingly, we are all sailing away into the sunset of a cash economy, and in many ways I have come to prefer cashless. But not always, and for what I deem good reasons.
Cashless depends on a whole set of circumstances to function. Namely, layers of technology, which, when compared to hand-to-hand hard cash, could be considered obstacles, at least up close in the near and present. Unlike cash, which is more direct, right there, fast and in-your-face and in your hands, as is the slightly slower plastic, material credit cards. But both are independently there, exist in the material present. For the active and present, there's a security and speed in that.
Case in point the time I attempted to travel experimentally overseas, sans cash or credit, and my smart phone, with all my wallets and info locked me out, leaving me not only cashless but valueless, feeling reduced to nothing. I suppose I could have hocked the phone, since it was a later model that was a rare and desirable commodity in the place I was. I managed to hack back into my phone and all my vital info, but since that time, since that scare, whenever I go somewhere else, I always take one of these with me, just in case:
(No, I am not writing from a brothel or trap house. Doesn't Franklin have a nice smile? Wow, finally some color on a US greenback!)
Still, cash, sexy as it might have once seemed to be around, is dirty—dirty and likely drug and disease ridden, which makes it strange during these Covid times, we don't find ourselves quarantining or social distancing from cash when it's around or available. Despite the seeming lightness and efficiency of just carrying a smart phone with digital wallet around, my trust only goes so far. Cash is bulky and dirty, but it is also still quite universal, with no particular anything, skills, apps, gadgets, required to use it. It is there and it is real. If someone offered you a $100 bill or $100 in XRP, which would you opt for? Think about it. For me, it would depend on other factors beyond just the form of the value.
Which is really more efficient or secure? More hopeful? Holds more potential? Cooler? Cash or cashless? Coil members, read on for more practical considerations in no particular order on this great self-debate going on inside my head and likely yours:
Real quick. Urgent and real quick.
I'm very encouraged there is far more media coverage about the Uyghur's plight not only in their homeland of Xinjiang, far Western China (a place I have visited thrice), but also more coverage about their plight abroad amid their diaspora. Beijing has a long reach with heavy hands (RIP Hong Kong as we knew it).
It's very likely by now that this girl whose photo I took in Kashgar around 2009 by now has suffered human rights violations such as forced migration, forced labor, extreme high-tech surveillance, racial profiling, torture, re-education, in-home police monitoring, even forced sterilization, and other human rights violations. I was charmed and riveted by the girl's curiosity with me and also about her chosen ensemble and the way she naturally positioned herself behind the heart-shaped lattice work of the loading ramp.
Once and for all.
It's a beautiful moderate and welcoming culture that deserves to make its own decisions about how, when, and the extent to which it wants to modernize, carry on its traditions (or not), or govern itself. For a taste of the culture and cuisine, I suggest Googling “Uyhgur restaurants” in your local area. They are out there for those who take the time, and you won't regret it.
(Photo by Paul Assimacopoulos)
I've posted a lot about my experiences with the Uyghurs both here and in Western China, online and off. Here's one you may not have heard, a presentation, reading, and curated podcast-set with Arshia Haq of Radio Discostan (as Andrew Demetre, via the great Norient beta site):
*Trojan fortune cookie conceptualized and created by yours truly:
From my Psych thesis, written circa the end of the last century:
“In the age of artificiality, those who control the world of images, the world of media representation, the symbolic, are said to control and manipulate consciousness, which might be defined as a conception of reality or a symbolic framework by which we make sense out of our thoughts and actions, our world. Millions view images of violence, ceremony, and beauty from the comfort of their chairs and dinner tables and simply absorb information, many times without questioning its veracity.
The utterly grave and serious is inextricably bound up with the absurd and the comical, the two consummating their marriage in the minds of the comfortable viewer, who by nature is an observer. The question has become one of reliance, a very habitual and subtle reliance that is both addictive and seemingly therapeutic.
Our culture provides us with services to help us cope with difficulty and we bounce from service to service in search of an answer whose question we haven't even formulated yet. From where do the services come? They come from all around us in the form of images and reproductions all of which appeal to our collective desire for a good life, a life free of boredom, physical discomfort, and psychological distress.
They seem to show you something else, something better, something to believe in, and so you have your question and your answer, your purpose and your goal, but where did it start? Where did you find your question and how was it formulated?”
I’ve read all the books, studied the courses, listened to the pundits, and I am here to tell you we know nothing. Your genes can’t help, your experience can’t help. Not alone and mutually exclusive at least. If I was to enlist in only the nature side, I wouldn’t be sitting (standing) here to write this. If I was to enlist in only the nurture side, the same would hold true. All we know is nothing, and that’s okay. Fill the vacuum.
Whenever an authority—a pundit—coopts info or re-hashes something, you can be sure of one thing and one thing only: they want you to believe them, and they want you to believe them so bad, that they will do anything to get you to believe them. Why? They want to fill your void for you, and at your expense. Don't let them. Seek the source, look within. Love your void, love your vacuum. Love your nothing.
Listen to me at your peril with grains of Himalayan salt, but I’ve studied psych, spirituality, and statistics, and what I have discovered is this: we know very little about what makes human beings tic, especially beyond their—our—basic survival drives. That’s okay again. Nature abhors a vacuum. Take another look at great actions, great acts, hard won knowledge and experience, not great or clever rehashing of ancient ideas. Go to the source or look within. Become aware, take risks, break bubbles. To transcend anything, you have to be willing to face the nothing.
My friend made a mandala for me, and I wonder what it means—
Coil members can see it below:
If you ever meet Iggy Pop off-stage, the first things you will notice about him besides his extreme politeness is that he introduces himself as “Jim,” and that his handshake is very loose, not unlike a queen's or pope's or priest's, a child's, or a spirit's. Like you aren't shaking his hand, but his energy or aura. Like he's saving every ounce of physical exertion for his raucous appearance on stage as Iggy Pop. It's not an act, it's part of a transformation. (Other performers you might know with similarly limber handshakes I've met are Alanis Morissette, Saul Williams, Robert Plant, and HR. A lead singer thing?) Jim/Iggy also possesses a comforting grin, which, despite having once been an addict, features surprisingly white and perfect teeth.
I was lucky enough to meet Iggy Pop in this informal-formal way (during what in concert parlance is called the “load in”) after booking him and his band the Stooges—who at the time were comprised of original members Ron and Scott Asheton, plus Mike Watt, from the Minutemen, Firehose, and Black Gang Crew, et al., fame (another great, down to earth fellow)—for multiple sold out nights of their Avenue B tour at the Los Angeles venue I used to program, the El Rey Theatre.
By then, I had met and done business with thousands of musicians—famous, infamous, and just starting out—so , for me, getting starstruck was rare. I was more interested in the booking process, desperate to get the doors open, intent on putting on the perfect show, and diversely filling the calendar with great events instead of ingratiating myself to rock and the other stars who inevitably showed up. Iggy was a rare exception. Limber as it was, his handshake shook me. Not because I was “shaking” the hand of the phenom known as Iggy Pop, but because his utterance, “I'm Jim,” tossed me back in time to first love (and sex), and thoughts of serendipity, doppelgängers, and just plain weirdness.
See, the “Godfather of Punk”, rock's own sinewy Bruce Lee, was born James Newell “Jim” Osterberg Jr., which happens to be the same name, sans “Newell,” of the wiry, grungy, much older neighborhood kid who was the conduit to and competitor for our mutual neighborhood crush and my first love, Doreen, who is the person responsible for introducing me to the music and persona of Iggy Pop.
Jim Osterberg and I used to marvel at our feisty, tomboyish, raven-haired, heartland inamorata as she skateboarded rampantly all over the curbs of our blocks after school in her untied Vans—which to the me of then were still a type of vehicle—snapping her gum and skinning her knees, paying us no mind, accompanied by the hard rock cacophany blaring from her boom box and boggling our minds.
Doreens's wild energy and supreme taste in music both smote and smittened me, and I truly wanted to be, and later became, her dog:
Jim Osterberg bore an uncanny resemblance to Jim Osterberg—wiry, gaunt, and sinewy, with a jackrabbit energy, ice blue eyes, leathery skin, a wry smile, plus that sloppily cut bang flopping across the eyes and the tendency to walk around shirtless. If that Jim of adolescence turned out to be the more current Jim whose hand I shook and was soon to transform into Iggy Pop in the venue I was operating, this would make for a far better story. But no, to my disappointment, this was not the young Iggy Pop I had beat out for Doreen, it was just plain old hindsight weird they had the same name.
(image by rrrabbit/felix lombardo, see his work)
Doreen was a huge Iggy fan, an “earlier adopter” than me, so Iggy and his Stooges soon insinuated themselves into the more animalistic underbelly of our puppy love. When Jim led to Doreen led to Jim, we couldn't keep ourselves off each other. She completely transformed me.
Whether sneaking around our parents' guard to be together at her place or mine, or discovering how to get it on in with a few beers and other substances and paraphernalia (believe it or not, we usually practiced safe sex, primarily to avoid pregnancy, since we were both virgins), or skateboarding around together kicktail-in-kicktail with a boombox in tow, our continual bounce, youthful ecstasy, bodily curiosity, smittenness, and angst-fuled lust were set to The Stooges, then Funhouse, then Raw Power, and eventually, The Idiot and Lust For Life (the reader can probably tell the arc of our relationship by this discography alone— New Values came next). The darker aspects of our romantic cycle were all set to Stooges music.
(I felt bad for Jim Osterberg, because after Doreen and I got together, he was basically relegated to moping under the shade of his bang shirtless on his stoop,smoking a cigarette and forced to watch me and Doreen's gallavantings, gropings, skiddings, and general goings on as we writhed in seminal-proto-punk bliss. I didn't care about chivalry at all back then, it was all so much Iggy Pop to me. Down on the Street. Search and Destroy. Until that late LA afternoon I shook the other Jim's hand before his gig eighteen years later, I had forgotten poor old Jim Osterberg the Other altogether.)
Even weirder about all this Osterberg business is that Doreen and I used to visit her relatives in Muskegon, Michigan, a rust belt town built on the fur and lumber trade that now makes for a calm vacation spot on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. Muskegon is known, despite the namesake toxic lake it surrounds, as “The Riviera of the Midwest, and happens to be James Newell “Jim/Iggy” Osterberg Jr.'s hometown. Coincidence? You tell me.
Doreen and I broke up long ago, but the Osterberg riddle lives on every time I peruse my proud collection of Iggy/Jim and the Stooges classic and current recordings. Life is good. My lust for it remains. Currently on rotation are Après, Iggy's “French” recording of cover tunes; and The Weirdness, the first studio album of new material released by The Stooges since Raw Power and the final album with guitarist Ron Asheton.
Whatever Jim Osterberg or Doreen are up to these days (married with kids? To each other? Wouldn't surprise me), such happenstance, fate, synchronicity, critical moments, circles, cycles, serendipities, coincidence, randomness, destiny—whatever you want to call it, this plain old weirdness of life always inspires me and often makes us what we are. Futures transpire from these, and so do inspirations and influences. I don't consider myself an idolater, but what having an idol, accidental or not, can do for you is give you permission, permission to act out and express yourself the way you really want to. One can embrace both their informal, polite looseness, their inner “Jim”; and their explosive and rabble-rousing outer “Iggy.” Or vice versa. That's what Doreen did, and Iggy Pop does, for me.
Coil members, read on—
“Will the wind ever remember the names it has blown in the past?“—Jimi Hendrix
There is a flicker of dark, then of light, then of dark and light again, and there she is in all her crinite glory, chewing gum and slipping hairs a strand at a time out of a brush, a nonchalant pheme conspiring to take a final torture to her obelisk of hair.
In another life, her hair might have been a peacock god— Malik Tous (Peacock Angel), a central figure of the Yazidi religion. Irresistible in its religious pilings, dazzlingly polychrome in each tendril's play with light, somehow indicating the end of the world in its vertigo-inducing brocades of gold-green indigo, silver-gray, and purple brown. Her hair bows to no one.
Still troubled, fidgeting , and furiously brushing her incomparable hair, she beckons like some broken, ulotrichous siren. Not mere woman, an aleph. That alephic power, many contend, resides in the hair she obsessively cultivates, colors, cares for, covets, and hasn't cut since childhood.
Her hair is untouchable.
“A curious, unstoppable flocculence, a stupendous, eye-catching crinosity, stared at by every passerby, and occasionally causing cars to crash!” a barker might have called. “Where is this hair's owner?” the dog catcher might have queried.
How she washes her hair, no one knows, but she keeps it clean across mysterious hours spent in the shower or in a tub near the mirror on the closet door. It's not a wig, tiara. diadem, a hairstyle from Vogue, it's a cloud of frozen, colored smoke, a vortex of a dream.
Then there is her hairbrush. Silver-handled, boar-bristled with extra, boggling features whose lights and functions appear as wondrous and infinitely useful as those of a Japanese washlet (toilet). Her flocculent mane's treasured implement is the sole appendage she allows to stroke or tear at her coiffe. (In life, she collects, buys and sells antique hairbrushes, never attesting to the fact whether she uses them herself first.)
She doesn't own a blowdryer, and only uses natural substances—oils or muds or waxes or resins—to achieve her “look,” which is more like a sculpture than a stock hairdo one might receive at, say, Vidal Sassoon. I'll take that one, Konrad.
No, not at all.
Mutely translucent, dark-rimmed, mottled-cyan eyes rolling, her simper twists saccharine and lopsided; her lip-gloss shimmers across her mouth, and she squats befuddled as an eidolon discovering their reflection for the first time. Brushing her hair and chewing her gum before the mirror, glaring out from the corners of her eyes.
Relentlessly mute, motioning reminiscent of scenes from Hôtel électrique (The Electric Hotel, or in Spanish, El hotel eléctrico), the groundbreaking 1908 silent French comedy-fantasy film directed by Spanish film pioneer Segundo de Chomón, a film thought to be lost, but later recovered and restored (sort of like her). In the film, invisible forces pull and coif at the lush dark hair of new hotel guest Julienne Mathieu, whose visage remains stolid but radiant.
The film comes to mind because she and Mathieu resemble each other in their allure, violent motions, and eternal pixelation. Beauties best described as “fuming,” vaporous beauty that makes your gaze feel unworthy.
Coil Members, enjoy, El hotel eléctrico :
One of the things that has helped ease my from-the-womb-and-into-the-world hyperactivity has been writing. This makes perfect sense because I've always been an avid reader, which was my former way of easing my hyperactivity. Reading and writing are not only fundamental, to a writer they can be both synergistic and antagonistic. I have good days and bad days managing the above due to my inborne hyperactivity. A good day for me looks something like this:
I wake up from a dream based on the novel I am working on. The dream makes my job easier, like some of the novel has written itself. Since I'm still groggy my body doesn't fight the sedentary writing senses that require me to sit down to do it. Then I make a pot of, a moka, of stovetop espresso, the sound and fury of which sends me straight to the desk to the PC to get some work done. As a warmup, I might read the day's headlines from CNN, the Covid News Network, or check on how my XRP shares are doing (what if all of language was composed of acronyms?). Then I get to the sublime task of writing (usually, also editing).
I'll start with one of the books I've been hired to develop or write. I don't resent writing for others, because I admire the others I work for. I am lucky to have writing clients who are themselves very inspired/inspirational, hardworking people, including a Coil member or two. If I don't put in this morning writing time against my body's true desire, the twinge of guilt I receive leaves me irritated for days. Not on a good day.
After a few thousand words of editing or ghostwriting for others, I get up to stretch or do a few pull-ups and then sit back down to work on one of the short stories or novels of my own. But not before taking time to slam another coffee and have breakfast, usually bananas or blueberries with granola and yogurt, or a sunny-side up egg or the currently in culinary vogue, avocado toast. Some days I eat nothing. Occasional fasting is healthy.
Somewhere between the writing, coffee drinking, and eating or not eating, arrives the pacing behind my work chair. I am an avid pacer, now and before. I'll pace then write, then pace and write some more. Pacing helps me think, maybe because I was a hyperactive child.
Speaking of which:
I love the Dead Kennedys. Energy, mood, rebellion, coupled with musicianship like few others. Way back when I owned a pet bird (I would never do it now, shame on the me of then), I named it Jello. I still remember the day when Jello flitted over to the window, took one look at me, then at the clear sky, and flew away. Could I blame him? Hardly. Anyway, the lyrics for this tune, “Hyperactive Child,” basically express the feelings of most of my school years.
When I wasn't acting hyper, I was reading books, one of the only activities that calmed me down. I would do anything to sneak out of my desk, escape the structure of the lessons, to read. I would go so far as to fake illness so I could spend more time in the boys' bathroom alone with my books. My teachers loved me for it. What the hell is he doing in there?
The only thing that has really changed in me in these regards are that my hyperactivity has become more focused and sophisticated, and nefarious, in adult life. And not only do I read books now, I also write them. These activities are related, but in terms of how they are affected by my hyperactivity, or vice versa, they are very distant.
My being prefers to either stand up highly active or lie down and go to sleep (anything to stay in the motions of a dream). I've never been comfortable in the middle. My middle is being forced to sit down. My body hates it, but my profession and passion demand it. There are worse middles to be in. It's like Henry Miller's writing memoir, Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, which to me captures the act of writing perfectly, especially when I'm working on “new stuff,” which demands a sort of hyperactivity in place, like that Millerian hummingbird.
To keep hovering, I'll glance out the window to check on the weather, then turn back to the desk to pound out more words. Again and again, until I'm spent. Why? Working on original material, first drafts especially, also triggers my body, also stirs me up for what comes next, the reward for what my body really wants to be doing, the antidote I discovered around age 24 for my hyperactivity:
Exactly. And yes, another Murakami reference. You might think he is, but Mr. Murakami is actually not my favorite author (close), but it's been that kind of month, a Murakami-esque month. See my “Counting Sheep” essay for more insomniacal Murakami nuggets of wisdom:
Running offers the PC a break from my pounding on it all morning. We should always consider our shiny objects. They are becoming more sentient by the day. How rejected do you feel when they let us down or die? I feel very rejected, heartbroken even. But it's a one way street, when tech fails us, and the love we feel will always go unrequited.
But my body loves me for it. Almost on its own, it'll race away from the desk, multitask its way across the studio into the bedroom to multitask into its running clothes, then multitask back out to the studio to stretch out on the floor or stretch more yogic style standing up—Low Lunge, Downward Dog, Sun Salute, Lord of the Dance (Michael Flatley, eww).
Then it's out the door to race down five flights to hit the begummed pavements of locust-lined 106th Street, which runs through an area known as the Manhattan Valley (betcha didn't know that), my New York City neighborhood, and ends at the edge of Central Park at an ascension callled Strangers Gate, which is the Central Park plaza and staircase I named my book company after . . .
Strangers Gate is where I begin my run of a Central Park loop of about 4.5 miles, usually following the bridle path, where, sadly, people still saddle their butts up on horses who would rather be running wild hoofing up a maelstrom of dust or peacefully grazing somewhere flapping their gums over blades of grass with that rubbery hollow sound almost like a plunger, as they occasionally rear their grand and narrow heads to stare and read our minds. Beautiful, if strange, creatures. Let's get off their backs, deal?
A perfect day for running can be rain or shine, famine, flood, or pandemic, even a hurricane—any day, and I'm not lying when I say I have run among falling branches and fallen tree trunks.
Yes, I ran during Hurricane Sandy. I didn't happen to read the weather report that day. Oops. Blame my writing and my hyperactivity, the best and worst marriage.
For me, running in Central Park (or anywhere) is like sightseeing. Seeing the constantly changing environment of flora, fauna, animal, vegetable, or sights of the human variety—these days, some masked, some not. In unmasked times, sometimes I'd spot a celebrity—I have seen Scarlett Johansson, Elliot Spitzer, Matt Dillon, one or two of the women from Sex and The City, though I missed Bono's bike crash (darn)— or that neighbor you never speak to, or that craggy regular from your local bar you've just seen in the light of day and wished you hadn't. I run Central Park year round in every mental state; I never get bored and it always lifts me up. Changing routes every day accentuates the uplift.
Running both cleanses and focuses me, like a defragging of the soul and a sauna in motion. Flushing new blood through the brain, generating those same theta waves that occur during REM sleep. Many times, while running, I'll solve, literally, novel problems I couldn't solve at the desk. Like dreaming, running makes my job easier. I rarely feel better in life than after a good writing session and a good run. I feel fully integrated with my activity, hyper as it may sometimes be, fully integrated with my Self.
Contrary to my desire to keep things new while running, I always end up at the place I started, Strangers Gate, having descended the same set of stairs I ascended at the start. I might have crazy-legged it almost anywhere in the park, but completing this circle is good. Completion is healthy.
After descending back to 106th Street earth, I run back up the street then trudge up the five flights of stairs to my apartment, and immediately take a post-run siesta on the cool floor to sweat the run out. Dreams may come again, and as soon as I wake up, I head right back over to the desk to work on my story or novel half in the siesta dream state. I resist myself less this way.
At some point, my brain gives out. And that's okay.
By the time I jump into the shower, I am left very hopeful, like I have engaged in most everything I always wanted to in life.
The day will get even better if the closest person I have to a soul mate decides to visit. My soul mate, you can call her V., which happens to be the title of one of my favorite books, V. by Thomas Pynchon:
(I have only completed half this book because some cruel practical joker literally ripped the other half off while I was in the restroom of a cafe. Good one, asshole.)
Coil Members can read more about V., etc., below . . . .
“Every love story is a ghost story.” —David Foster Wallace
(est. reading time, 91.8 seconds.)
*Since that day, his birthday, Phaelix' visions* of Eva never returned. If they ever did, he would again escape into another century's worth of Grecian coinage. Today's selections? Archaic period, uninscribed electrum coins from 6th Century Lydia—lions' heads and sunbursts stamped upon plain square, or standardized weight staters of Aegina silver, 550-530 BC. On their backs? Sea turtles with large, raised pellets down the centers of their shells, reverse, incuse squares, octisected into equal sections. (After the end of the Peloponnesian War, circa 404 BC, the sea turtles were replaced by land tortoises, fascinating stuff to the numismatic Phaelix once once, but none of it really mattered anymore.)
Phaelix depressed deep into his chair and rubbed his eyes moist. That morning's endodontic therapy, a “root canal” to most, though brutal, seemed to be paying off. The pain had subsided, but he felt no pleasure, just some neutralizing hoary feeling of finally living pain free. His eyes hovered to the Chinese-built, AA-driven 99-cent store bought clock he had hung on a nail at a sharp angle above his desk (just so he could enjoy the slow drama of the eventual inaccuracy as the batteries wore out). The clock was like the face of an insect, second hand twitching like an antenna, minute hand lifting and falling like one of six otherwise invisible legs, the hour hand offering no opinion on how long the day, maybe like the thorax of an insect (?). Metaphors aside, the time fixed on the face of the clock was, gasp, 9:18.
Phaelix never failed to turn into a weirdo when coincidence struck. The number of the hour and the minute—9, 18, two multiples of 3, 3 and 6—depicted by the dying clock's hands, from Phaelix' already weirded-out perspective as indicated by the number of the last page he had noted (Pg. 918) in his numismatics book, which he also noted was the exact time Eva's email l was sent, which was also the same number of days her email took to reach him, which was also the precise time Eva died, though in the evening. Today, Phaelix declared, would become 918 Day, in Eva's honor.
In that moment of stagnant time, a thousand things on his mind pushed away any thoughts of that now departed human being—his last vision of her too significant to become simply a memory, but not significant enough to become a ghost, still unsure if it was love at all, or just the result of that morning's pain.
Coil members, the denouement: