Friday, October 30, 2009

A Red Sun Hiding

Have you ever been in an airborne car?

I suppose that’s a tender question to ask anyone, for what can be left of such an experience but an inordinate measure of having suffered, of having endured terror – of having being unwillingly married to a suffocating fear? Even if the particular individual was somehow fortunate enough to have avoided any serious bodily harm, their psyche can’t help but be scarred – most probably for a lifetime.

Unless, of course, their name happens to be Starsky, or Hutch, or Bo, or Luke – or perhaps Speed.

We’ve all encountered the flashing lights, seen the pieces of metal and plastic strewn across the pavement. We've witnessed the gawkers on the curb, bunched like cold pigeons, their imaginative little hearts racing, passing through the streets of a Technicolor city – white slashes on red.
     We might even have seen a crumpled body – a confusion of arms and legs, distracted from a lonely torso. 
     Perhaps even an invisible head.
     Sometimes, chances willing, the body is lucky, merely left hunched on the step of a paramedic van, sipping hot chocolate, a blanket over its shoulders, searching its cell phone for the number of its insurance agent, practicing contrite – fearing the devastating new premium.

The traffic accident you slowly, humbly, ever so respectfully roll by, is your mother yanking the band-aid from your eight year-old arm, that sharp reminder of an almost inevitable suffering awaiting all of us – by one means or the other – unless we are one of the fortunate who leave this mortal domain on the whisper of sleep’s design, fat and happy, a canary singing sweetly in a cage – someone beautiful sharing our pillow.
     The rest of us must live in eternal anticipation of the stomach dropping, as the horizon suddenly twists and turns, setting road signs and trees sideways, tipping the clouds from the blue, sending sparks along the unnoticed guardrail, throwing passenger into driver – the wheel now a lost child, spinning frantically in an indifferent crowd, searching for the comfort of home, the reaching hand of a parent.

There is a burst of glass.
You realize a roar in your ears as the outside world is sucked in, even as you begin to feel yourself heading out, the rough hem of your seatbelt digging hard at your neck.

But, really, who can remember such things?

Your face slams into the dashboard, your jaw splintering, four thousand dollars of dental work lost in a second, a streak of pain riding the space just behind your eyes. (We’ll presume this is a car built before 1993, bereft of airbag) You bounce free, your head traveling a sickening arc that leaves you thick within a spider’s web of safety glass, your cheeks peppered with tiny wedges of green-edged windshield, a cold sensation trickling down your spine.

And guess what?
     You’re one of the lucky ones.
     You survive.
     Your wife stays home to look after you.
     You get to eat dinner through a silly straw, the envy of your kids – and all their friends.
     And – perhaps best of all – you don’t have to endure Mr. Dithers, chasing you around your desk, threatening to murder you for dropping the ball on the Henderson account.

But – and here’s the rub Mr. Lottery Winner – your life is never the same.
     If the back brace wasn’t symbol enough of the day your tires escaped the road – your jigsaw smile more than suffices to render you a mute and inactive witness to society’s contented ramble into tomorrow.
     Nothing like testing the breadth of that company health coverage, is there?

And, yet, just think of it – you get to replay that strange afternoon – over and over again – reliving the numbness you felt in your fingertips, the day you shattered your jaw and broke your back out near Pacific Palisades, opening your eyes to a red sun hiding behind the embarrassing disclosure of a decapitated cedar tree – only a block from a house Bruce Willis used to live in – or so they say – never trust a USC student hawking star guides, especially if she’s dressed like an American Apparel model and tells you her name is Pretty.
     I mean, is “Pretty” even a name?

Oh, and I know, you have your prescriptions, your brightly-colored little friends – Val and Codi and Mary Jane – but even they can bare only so much – even they have to retreat and let you take the wheel one more time, your moist palms sliding helplessly over ribbed plastic, your chassis groaning as it climbs atop gravity, pushing limbs aside, the intoxicating scent of sap rushing in on cool air, the passenger window exploding before the sudden entreaty of the terra cotta hand, holding its fan of needles – perfuming your descent into hell.

I think maybe, just maybe, Aaron Spelling was holding back on you a little bit during those ninety-three episodes – don’t you?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When God Saw His Own Color

God, his nose as pink and deranged as Andy Capp’s, his eyes wearing Dick Tracy’s perpetual squint, was never quite sure what to make of the paintings of men like Roy Lichtenstein – though relatable their conceptual passion might have been.

Born without the patience to paint in full dimension, or the inclination to dwell much further than the primary static charm of flat invention, God nevertheless found himself in a strange kind of love with artists who preferred to live without the deadening contour of the coming congregation, but who still carried the casual devotion to intimacy that so defined the pulp service – painters and illustrators both – those who seemed to manage this trick of the eye with an almost unholy fervor – all the while toeing the line of tradition.
     These included men like John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell, artists who paraded the character of the cartoon – the calligraphic bounce of limb and spine, the supportive mood of tone – but who looked through the line, ignoring it altogether, seeing it as an indicator of form, rather than as form itself.

God had to ask himself to contemplate the origins of the cartoon image, but not as the customary and prosaic example of cave marking and totemic glyph housing ancestral zygote, rather he would seek to ponder the printing floor, the ink-splattered boots of the union men spitting between humming machines – the sheaths of newsprint racing like time, stretched from drum to drum, the morning’s dawning instant but a blur of stark announcements – Blondie’s bosom begging release of her buttons, Ferd’nand stalking a turkey in the snow, Beetle Bailey with a tin plate to his knees – The Phantom furrowing his brow.

From his fleecy, smoke-stained corner of the bar, God would imagine the process of the maturing graphic, the constant need for refinement of line, as the press runs increased with human population – the speed of the ink leaving the plate, impregnating the pulp, increasing too, in order to meet the ever-growing demand of a populace learning to read of themselves in unison, thus setting the tar that sealed the roof of civilization.

All of this, of course – all this church of the pen scratch, this reverence to the wispy slip of the brush, this cross-bearing hatch – it all came before God discovered color.

Picture God, finding his color in the dingy helix of an old man’s tavern, his eyes blood red, his veins lavender and blue – his translucent skin like wax paper, digesting the light pricking the moth-worn curtain over his drooping head.

Is it not the eye at war with itself, he asked, is it not a complex blossom of filters transfiguring the fury of the heavens, offering retinal options, fooling one into complimentary faith, making one believe that colors actually exist?
     For isn’t everything really just a monochromatic tableau of form and shadow, he reasoned, the spectrum of luck’s rainbow be damned?
     Aren’t we the clever ones with the hungry paint-box eyes, he said to the dust swirling in the vortex of light before his weary orbs.
     Aren’t we the mortal artisans giving away our thoughtless talents – each time we retract our lids – opening the door to visionary hallucination?
     And this recognition of primary and secondary and tertiary hue, he drunkenly laughed, is it not as equally self-aggrandizing as the notion of a God who made himself in his own image?

It was this pious bow to the red of Mickey Mouse’s lederhosen, to the blue of Steve Canyon’s eyes – the yellow of Outcault’s Kid, the green of Albert Alligator, the orange of The Great Pumpkin, the brown of Mark Trail’s boots, the purple of the Wizard of Id – that made God draw the heretofore illusory line, the mark of entrapment – that gave advent to the secular colorist, the professional signifier of man’s optical sense of division, his need for visual segregation, the approach by which he gives name to things like gold, and orange, and lavender, and rose – to emotional states like blue, and green, and black – all the while ignoring his creator’s sluggish command, the words coming in a bubbly rush, God debating himself through countless listless afternoons, drowning in his own company, his children off playing – plundering the gaiety from a graying world.
Is it the color that flattens the line, God asked the dour-faced barman, stumbling towards the door, or is it the line that flattens the color? Are the windows of worship the provenance of an illusion and a lie, or are they a necessary truth, he questioned, taking a push to the street.

God saw all of this in Lichtenstein, in his embrace of those flat fields of color – the icon used as narrative device, the insertion of text as breath’s lexicon, the vapor ports tethered to open mouths with spermatic tails – and he refused to believe it. Instead he fell to his knees, vomiting before an angry sun, freeing form from its natural context, revealing its frozen speed, the necessary emboldening of line to signify the movements of the colorist’s day, those final long moments of the afternoon when the ache behind the eyes put blur to the boundaries of intent, when even the mighty pressing machine himself lost sight of his objective, registering confusion between the borders he was well presumed to have defined.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On Mattress, Bed, Sand and Field

She smelled of ketchup.
     Heinz Ketchup.
     Not Hunt’s. You knew enough to stay away from girls who smell like Hunt’s.
     I mean, Catsup? What’s with “Catsup” anyway?
     Heinz, on the other hand, Heinz wasn’t an entirely bad smell – just not quite what you’d expect from such a slight and pale girl like Gail Freeway.

Freeway? Yeah, she hated that joke – the other one too.
     Gail was a collector of pre-1970 picture books, the daughter of two real estate agents – a graying Ken and Barbie with electric teeth and matching white poodles.
     Her privileged, oak-lined upbringing was worn uncomfortably in your fashionably squalid neighborhood, leaving her playing the role of someone dangerous – or at least “potentially” dangerous – a tiny blonde with a dog toy voice, too easy with her calico-handled switchblade – a present from a fifty-something “gentleman” who let her borrow his car when he was out of town – an arrangement that bothered all of her friends, but was strictly off limits for conversation.

Gail was reliably unfaithful to everyone she professed an undying affection for.

You gave her a Boss Hog action figure the day before her twentieth birthday, thinking to get there first, only to encounter it the next afternoon, whittled down to a white ginseng root wearing a hat, hanging from the pimpled neck of a guy you didn’t know – a jerk threading his eager fingers through the back of Gail’s belt.

Gail Freeway.

She should have smelled like the gift-wrapping department in Macy’s – lying there on that cigarette-scarred couch, her thighs the color of parchment – rolling that Cliff Huxtable sweater up over her little girl bra.

Of course, it didn’t stop with Gail. 
     There was Sonya Drummond too.
     Now there was the sort of girl you’d expect to be scented like a marigold – or a baby – the girl in the gang who faints at the sight of her own blood – all soft curls and Bubblelicious cheeks.
     But Sonya Drummond smelled like the air in a doctor’s office – medicinal, almost stale – the cotton pulled from a bottle of aspirin.

And then there was Emma Green.
     Emma, Emma Green – her warm skin, the slow motion way she undressed – falling onto you like her empty clothes. She smelled like a forest – some high, dry stand lining the northern California coast – the tannin berries of the weathered Madrones mingling with the salty red sand lining the sagebrush hills.

And Bobbie Fletcher.
     Her creams and her drapery, her daughter living in Idaho, her electric anger, her story about her father helping to remove Evel Knievel’s helmet after that big crash at Caesar’s Palace.
     Bobbie was scented like the soap she bathed in – honey and tea.
     What she really smelled of you never lingered long enough to learn.

And Tina, whose second name disappeared shortly after Ronald Reagan took office.
     Tina was a dark horse on a white hillside, thighs of iron, a body that devoured the cock – a soul unimpeachable, gone with the wind.
     Tina smelled of you – whoever you were.

It is moments such as these that line your memory, wallpapering it with the smells of the people you have curled beside – on mattress, bed, sand and field – the strong, the pungent, the light, the fruited – the scentless – the profane – Jackie and her Marlboro breath, Susan her fingers chestnut stained. In tiny bottles are they kept, these perfumed phantoms, reminders of journeys undertaken, of pathways best avoided. They sit on stone shelves, bright lights burning within glass, scents coded by swirls of color – some hot pink and chemical blue, some forest green and daisy yellow – others all dark chocolate black and Baltic grey.

     So slow to start, so fast to finish – pulling her hair from your mouth.
     Like butter burning in a pan.

     A field of freckles, the fashionable belly – the eager bottom – made to shine in the deathly-white luster of the winter moon.
     Like apples going soft in the grass.

     Too ripe for the long run, too heavy on the branch, a liquid moment undone, driven to ecstasy by her own pleasure – oblivious to your own.
     Like a parking garage in the rain.

You can still smell them all, musty with the sweat of the night – cursing your name.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Gun Made of Smoke

     There’s something I’d love to have cleared up before I exit this human story, something I’d like to have removed from the general concern, from the shared consciousness of man – that mushy grey ball we pass around the grown-up playground – mollified by its indifference, comforted by its inscrutability.

It’s this God character.
     I think his last name might be Damn.
     Or maybe Dammit!

You know who I mean – old crusty whitebeard – the King of Morality, Kurt Warner’s number one fan, straddling his cumulus pony, eating his orange stars and yellow moons – the invisible lover whispering sweet nothings to George Walker Bush – all the while dragging the stringy entrails of self-worship, self-love and self-abuse – about the face of a planet that really just wants to go fishing on a Sunday morning.

God almighty!
     God, the drunken master – Geppetto by way of Unibomber – a fashion nightmare, even more unkempt, more hirsute than his shaggy son – toiling with the cross that bears no marionette – the wooden child having been banished to walk the Earth – to parade mortal with the sheep, the crow, the louse – Jim Carrey eating the placenta of George Burns.

Of course, we all know God is story, mere mythical bunk – and that’s what concerns me here – the power of this dominant fable – and how it has permeated more than just our culture – how it has transformed, transfigured our very cerebral organ, that grey matter composed to offer faith but demand reason – forever sweetening the poison with sugar – giving us a Death wearing Grace Kelly’s face.

The faith-based concept of a living God – the creator – a colossal Visine-washed eye looking down on the Green Giant’s fertile valley – has transformed our very psyche. It’s a pitiful case of the worm turning on the robin – Pinocchio besting the whale – the human mind lost in masturbation, transfixed with its own reflection – belief believing in belief – and the provenance of tiny blue faeries.

The notion of belief, of faith, is entirely irrational, and yet it has served the great majority of mankind – ever since we first bumped our heads on the cave ceiling, replacing common sense with her fiendish brother of progress, common reason – both constantly demanding our hand learn a new dance – from the preachy pitch of Hamburger Helper to the erudite skulk of Thing – the gothic American family fed on the blood of the lamb.

We utilize faith to counter other harsh realities, most of these involving instances where random fate is overwhelmingly indifferent, where belief is all one has to draw upon – John Wayne’s face imploring the camera – the teal-eyed thicket through which we weave the concepts of god and love.
     Here, faith is often a powerful force, an emotional impetus that can better the lot of many, but, it is still, nonetheless, an act of insanity – a willful leap off the edge of a tall building – one that, in the end, is no less mad than any other jump of logic – any Superman to suicide leap.

One might as well put all their capacity for belief in the legend of the Tooth Fairy – it would amount to the same thing – a fable of supernatural design, formulated to teach a moral code, usurped by all, contested by none – even the non-believer, trapped behind the mirror – peeling away the black paper to find his own Cheshire grin.
     It would be a fable both moderated, and modulated, by the generations – traveling through time as it travels across the land – spreading the continents like a viral flood, greedy arms reaching out, fanning the flames of rapture.
     Ultimately, by this fashion, the story supersedes the reality, life itself being redefined as something existing only in its service to the fable – you and I becoming a part of that tale – rather than the other way around – the indecisive camel having become the pushmi-pullyu, our senses but a blur in the light of God and his mercy.

In a classic demonstration of reality-based counter-demagoguery, the believer rebuffs the demand of fact by demanding an absolute, working upon the assumption that existence predates proof – and the leprechaun is not to be judged.

It quickly becomes a crime scene where the lack of evidence is the greatest tool in the detective’s armory – a murder story where everyone did it – where the final act features only a gun made of smoke – and a “Howdy, Pilgrim!”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Like, Time Pottery

What they call body mutilation – the tribal modification of the flesh – of neck, and skin, and nose, and ear, and lip – traditional practices all, common across the globe – is really more like time pottery.

Can you dig that?

Time Pottery.

It is through the molding hands of the wheel-bound clay that these procedures of elongation, perforation and scarification are so performed – the flesh being the wet clay – the coils of constriction the hands, coaxing form as the days are forced into retreat – Bruce Banner cursing his limbs through the gamma ray corridor – the Hulk perpetually forced back into Banner’s limited frame.

It’s not too hard to understand why we cannot help but treat our very selves – the shells within which we slither through this life – as windows for dressing – each one of us having become the clothing industry’s blood and bone mannequin, caught in the ego-born headlights of fashion monsters as deceptively diverse as Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain – shedding our adopted skins as they shed theirs.

We are wired for this acute self-awareness, this cultural hypersensitivity.

Whether telegraphed or not, it is what determines how we see the world, and how it, conversely, sees us – a state of being we will spend our lives trying to pin down, never coming any closer than the day we first realized we had its companionship, the moment we slid from the womb – bloody-faced child actors all, reaching for Kubrick’s primal bone, feeling the extent of our own.

It is this confining sense of self that perpetuates the clamor for change, the seasons helping us along, style reaping style, Pierre Cardin wielding a paper scythe.

But the dress of man is only a formal exercise, an excuse from our natural state.
     It is the body that inhabits the monkey suit that put wind to the ragged sails of Darwin’s Beagle, spilling the ink across Charlie Brown’s haphazard face – our wounded psyches giving shape to our creations.

I yam what I yam, once said a one-eyed sailor, but even he morphed his forearms into tattooed balloons.

What better way to truly lose your self, to really change with the leaves, to offer a cutting-edge revision of yourself – a self so battered with shame and hate – than to sculpt a new reflection?

Imagine never having to see you again – imagine new eyes, new lips, new cheeks, a new chin – imagine the perfect nose, enviable ears, transparent eyelids, two-inch fangs, an embossed forehead, colored gums, retinal pinwheels, acoustically-modified ears – a head of cuticles, curling to the ceiling like ancient seaweed in a fathomless storm.

Imagine changing even your race – at least in its superficial variances – a mad professor’s vanity filled with dyes and needles and knives – the pigment surgeon, the identity coach – white boys rapping their knuckles on a Tupac’s hearse, oblivious to his ashes riding the wind – Al Jolson performing for the President of the United States.

The desire for this procedure would surely foster those willing to perform the necessary surgeries – no matter how morally repulsive they might seem at the present time.
     In a world where generations of white men once enslaved black and brown men, where brown men have enslaved black, where a woman’s breast is subject to size qualification – now routinely carved and augmented with the same clear plastic protecting the face of your cellular phone – where men born short on shaft buy millions of useless pills to feel better, battering their extended hearts with psychoactive alkaloids – where phrenology and human sacrifice once stood civilization’s test – can we truly believe that morality itself isn’t subject to the whims of change?

We are, after all, not so firm in our convictions, as we are adaptable – and willing.

In a world that readily condones mental modification – the educational and social purging of the nodes of individuality – Mary Poppins dispensing sugar cubes to vinegary mouths – can we fairly call into question those who wish a new surface, when we all willingly spend so much time dwelling there, painting ourselves into the corner of a department store, transfixed by the mirror’s eye, surveillance cameras recording our every move?

With each new generation, with each expansion of ourselves almighty, are we not creating a whole new wing of the body-remodeling industry, putting our offspring genes into action, building a reflective, if not progressive, newer self?
     Isn’t it obvious that the all-consuming marketplace that swells within the caged breast of civilization will take this beyond anything we can currently perceive?

Race, gender, size – they will all be included in the brochure, all artificial exteriors for sale, each blurring the foundry of hereditary fire in which our particular characteristics are formed, the mixing of what we are, of what we have dubbed society – that which pretends to separate Jekyll from Hyde – the great mass established one mad couple at a time.

This medical assignment of such bred traits – at any phase of one’s temporal endurance – will shatter the matrix of evolutionary texture, will turn upon the collective psyche, further damaging our brothers and sisters, ultimately crushing what we dub the human spirit, that for which progress is more bludgeon than measuring stick.

I therefore cannot help but sadly empathize with the fear of those who find abominable the “time pottery” – who flinch at the anchor-stenciled seaman pumping iron, the divas born John, the rubber girl leaving herself on the aluminum pole, the fading boy from Gary bleaching his skin – for they are the dying patricians of a sun-blemished age, turning their wrinkled faces from the folds of that which is new, so limited their capacity for love.