Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Sleepless in Bali

Lying down to sleep has become for me like a nightly chapter in Dante's Inferno.

Tired you are
and rest you ought
but sleep is slain
by the sins you wrought ...

Or something like that.

I am tired indeed, exhausted, yet within ten minutes of lying down, every muscle in my body aches and wants to move. It's as if I'm trying to crawl out of my own skin. The minutes tick away and turn to hours, and still I'm lying there like hell's wakeful sentry.

"Halt! Who goes there?"

Ah, it's just me.

Even a prescription sleeping pill taken the other night had no effect. Aside from making me feel very sleepy while not sleeping.

Perhaps I should simply discard the tradition that sleep is something done at night, live the life of a vampire instead, wander the dim and destitute streets, moaning, "Coffeee, coffeee".

Through the watches of the night
and by the glaring day
rememberest thou
and penance pay ....

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The House that Moved

When I was a boy of some vague age a house was moved from one end of our street to the corner of the next. I say the house was moved, the house itself, not just the people in the house. Nor was this a small house. Rather, it was, to a boy of no particular age, a rather large house. No one had ever seen anything like this before, and for that reason, all the neighbors lined the parking strip one weekday morning to watch the house roll up the road to its new resting place.

How strange it seems, picturing the thing now, that I had essentially forgotten this uncommon event until this very moment, some five decades later. I suppose that a house lumbering up the street on wheels is a wonderful thing right up to the point when it  happens and is done with, and then becomes of no particular account, seeing that it can never be new again.

After the house was gone, a gaping hole was left, as if a molar had been removed from the dentition of the earth, and this became our playground for some weeks to come. It was no-mans land, a bombed out wasteland between the front lines, the stage on which invisible armies, plus boys, would clash through the hot summer days of July. It was a maze of caves, of hobbit hovels, of dragon lairs where brave swords sung. It was the dark and tossing hull of a galleon caught in the sea of impending doom, infected, moreover, with pirates who counted innocent life of no use compared to bars of gold and pieces of eight. It was both mountain and chasm, heaven and hell.

In fact, the half block had been sold to a firm that would construct an old folk’s home on the site. A convalescent home, my mother called it, but it seemed to us more a prison, an asylum, a morgue, where people went in the front door and you never saw them again and they never came out alive. I remember that once a woman escaped, and hobbled across the street to our front door, and told my mother that Nazi doctors had been holding her captive there.

But that was later, and a subject of other imaginations. For now, and throughout the early stages of construction, the pit and the trenches, the planks and the beams were anything we decided they should be. And never since, as it seems to me, have such simple elements as soil and stone, wood and steel managed to be so very ready, so wonderfully able as these in that cavity where the old house had been before it moved up the street.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Final Visit

The last time I went to the lake, the meadow was flooded from unseasonal summer rain and you could not walk down by the main trail without sinking knee deep in the water and soft earth. I walked instead to the higher ground and left the road there, picking my way through the thickets until I reached the pebbly point just beyond the meadow that had once been like home. On the point, I found bear scat, black and full of berries and leaves and swarming with flies. I paused to listen, feeling like an intruder. Not feeling at home at all. Or after all. An unseen woodpecker tapped on the bark of a hollow tree trunk. Thunk, thunk, thunk. There was no other sound. The lake itself was still and silent, flat as glass. Nothing moved except for the flies. There should have been voices, laughter, the crackling of a fire, sudden trout breaking the surface of the water, casting expanding rings in their wake, but there was nothing. I walked along the shore and found no frogs or salamanders. On the far side of the lake, I could see where the forest fire of two years ago had burned, straight down the slope from the point of the initial lightning strike and then roughly following the course of the trail which led to the south end of the lake and thence tumbled down through the old growth, descending six miles and more to the sands of the Reservation. It had left a scar, still bare, still raw, and it would persist, I thought, for many years to come. That part of things would never be the same again. Where the meadow met the lake, the ground was raised, ending in stone shelves that dipped to the water like smooth toenails. A gray tree trunk, long dead, eternal, rose from a cleft between the rocks and one cheek of its smooth grey face was pocked by an abandoned hornet hive. I sat on the stone, feet in the water, imagined a different world, another time. I had once thought that things would never change. Hanging on the side of the rock, clinging to a miniature forest of nearly microscopic, just barely green-grey lichen was the husk of a cricket, the shell of its former self. Though paper thin, fragile as parchment, the shell retained, in fine detail, the form of the original creature, which had climbed out through its own mouth and lived now, somewhere, anew. It had left this testimony, dryly whispered, the evidence of itself no more.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What Rules?

Deeply ingrained in man's unfortunate nature is the inclination to do whatever he can get away with, or gambles that he can, rather than what is right or lawful. Thus have I become, by and by, a member of the outlaw class of man otherwise known as the Indonesian motorist. Is that traffic light red? Yes, but so what? I would rather not wait for it to turn green again, and no one, not even the cop on the corner, will judge me badly for it. Am I on the wrong side of the street? Yes, but there's plenty of room for both wrong and right here. I do what comes naturally, as do they.


At some point, I found myself on the sidewalk with a glass of vodka, not able to remember whether I had intentionally left the bar with the glass in hand, or whether I had not noticed that it was in my hand.

But oh well, there it was, so I went ahead and took a drInk. It was mine, all right. Vodka and Seven. There was still ice clinking in the glass, but that was not an indication of anything in particular, since it was cold outside and there was a thin, drifting fog, rather like the vapor you see when you open a freezer door, so the ice could have been there three minutes or three hours.

It was not quite clear whether I had intended to walk to my car or walk to another bar, so I merely walked, thinking, 'Whatever comes first.' There was something wrong, but I couldn't think what, so I walked, and eventually came upon another bar, which, as I realized upon entering, was the same bar I had left some indistinct amount of time earlier.

I put the glass on the bar, began to sit down in a chair that turned out to be nonexistent, and the bartender said "No."

I was just returning the glass, of course, and maybe ordering another, but the bartender said, "You're done, Sir."

"Oh, I'm not drunk," I said. "Maybe just tired."

"Would you like a glass of water?" he said.

"Well, no. Why would I come to a bar for a glass of water?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Good night, then."

That seemed to be it, according to him, anyway; but I suddenly felt really not done at all. In fact, I had hardly begun.

Back on the walkway, beneath the dripping lamp posts, I wished I had brought my glass with me again. Perhaps this was why I had brought it with me in the first place. Who could say? And now I felt cold. Without the glass, I felt cold.

I shoved my hands in my pockets, turned up my coat collar, and walked. A police car passed slowly, red tail lights bleary on the pavement in the rain. And I realized it was raining and thought about my car. Where was it? Where was I?

I passed a man standing under the awning over a doorway, all dark inside. There was no reason to be there. He asked for a cigarette. We lit up together, two dots glowing for a moment in the night.

"What have you lost?" he said.


I looked at the man. He nodded. He looked at me, no expression on his face. We looked at one another. It was almost too dark to see.

"I don't know," I said. "I haven't found it yet."

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Man Who Wasn't There

One day, a certain man, we shall call him A, had the distinct impression that he was being watched. It seemed not a light matter, not a passing conceit, but a sure conviction attended by feelings of awareness so insistent that they seemed nothing less than evidentiary. The hairs on his neck bristled, shadows dodged conspiratorially at the periphery of his vision. Footsteps not his own fell in cadence, starting and stopping in perfect sympathy, such that it became clear to A that he was not only being watched, but closely followed, as faithfully as by his own shadow.

Always behind him was this ghost, this entity. If A turned to look, no matter how swiftly, the companion turned as well, remaining always behind, directly behind. He could feel the breath of the thing on his neck, he could feel the whisper of the breeze from its movement. If he ran, the thing ran, never tiring at all, or at least before A himself tired. If he stopped, the thing stopped, and drew so close that it might almost have been his own shirt collar. A felt himself haunted, if not possessed, and decided at last to see a doctor.

Showing up in the office on the appointed day, A sat nervously in the waiting room, his feet drawn beneath him, his elbows tucked in at his sides.

When the receptionist called his name, A rose and walked toward the door to the examination rooms.

"Excuse me," the receptionist interrupted, "we can allow only one patient at a time."

A stopped. "Me?" he said.

"Are you Mr. A?"


"Go ahead, then; but your friend will need to stay in the waiting room unless the doctor recommends a dual visit."

Dread rushed through A like a sudden fever, an electric sort of panic. Not knowing what else to do, he fled the waiting room, and entered the restroom at the end of the hall, as if to hide himself. He was shaking, sweating. He hurried to the sink, splashed water on his face, then gripped the edges of the porcelain basin, as if it were some kind of steering wheel, steadied himself, and raised his chin to face the mirror. He gazed intently upon the glass, turning his head first this way, then that.

No one was there. No one other than he himself, that is. A was there. He was alone in the restroom. Only he wasn't. He could see, in other words, that he was, but he knew at the same time that he wasn't.

A determined at that moment to seek the help of a psychiatrist. He went directly to a phone booth, paged through the book for a promising ad, and secured an appointment for two.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Question

Most people have no problem with saying that they believe in love - that love is both a thing that exists and a good thing.  Most agree that goodness is good, as is kindness, forgiveness, healing, compassion, purity, sacrifice in the interest of those in need. And yet many have a hard time believing in Christ.

Who is Christ?

Christ is the fullness of God in the flesh, the person of God operating in the world.

What is God like?

The disciples posed the same question to Jesus.

He answered, if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.

What is seen in Jesus?

Love, goodness, kindness, forgiveness, healing, compassion, purity, sacrifice in the interest of those in need.

Believe in me, He said. In what? In the goodness they witnessed. 'Believe', in the fulness of its original meaning, carried the force of both idea and action - Believe / Do - two sides of one coin.

What fault is it that people find in this? What is it in these things that has inspired such anger and rejection?