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Good night, LJ. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely delete you in the morning.
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The 10:20 Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt from Blagnac aeroport didn't take off this morning and it didn't connect to the 1:10 flight to Washington Dulles international airport. Consequently, I didn't take the green line economy parking bus to stop 19, get into my car parked in lot C, and drive east-northeast to my home in Baltimore.

559 miles from Toulouse to Frankfurt. 4065 miles from Frankfurt to the District of Columbia. 64 miles from the District to Baltimore. That means I'm 4688 miles from home. That's the farthest I've ever been from home without having a fixed idea of when I'd be able to return. I should consider myself lucky to be stuck here instead of the some of the other places I've been recently. At the end of March, I was in caught in rush hour Atlanta traffic. In early April, the early evening boredom of Huntsville. Had this happened last winter, I could be isolated in a cold hotel room in a Tokyo high rise.

There are worse places to be stranded than Toulouse.

If the airways are filled with sub-Stratospheric volcanic ash you'd never know it from my vantage point in a shaded bar on la Place du Capitole. The sky is a cool and serene Mediterranean blue unmarred by clouds or contrails from overcrowded passenger jets. Local Toulosains mill about the side streets surrounding Cirque du Wilson. Small children circle la manege, a young couple buys sausage from the charcuterie, and un petit chien shits without regret in the middle of brick-lined streets.

There's a unifying sense of panic that's seemed to grip the other travelers I meet. Yesterday, we drove to the Mediterranean beach town of Sète where we met an older English couple on Holiday. The lady was positively mortified, in her peculiarly British way, at the prospect of driving ten and a half hours to South London in her rented Volkswagen. With one of the major European train services on strike, the remaining routes have been overbooked for months. Couple that with the cancellation of all but 5,000 of the 28,000 flights this side of the Atlantic and there's a genuine transportation crisis unfolding here in Europe. A coworker of mine drove eleven hours from Toulouse to Amsterdam on the off chance that he could catch a flight back the States. Regrettably, he returned his rental car to Avis and now he can't replace it. Someone in Amsterdam waited for someone like my coworker to return a hired car, a sudden commodity, where I presume they headed south into Madrid or Milan. Until this morning, those were the only major European cities in road distance not affected by Icelandic ash from Eyjafjallajokull.

At least that's what the BBC tells me. United Airlines tells me another thing. The travel agent tells me something else altogether. It's impossible to know who to believe since they all lie in their own special way. I won't lose any more sleep obsessing about when or how or if I'll find my way back.

This morning in the hotel lobby, I dreamt of my fiance Elle B as my boss conducted a frenzied itinerary adjustment meeting with the rest of my team. I dreamt of our indefinitely postponed plans to defrost the porterhouse steaks in the downstairs freezer, pan sear them in olive oil and fresh rosemary, and then finish them on the grill in the back lot. While I was gone, she hung long curtain dressing above the tall ground floor windows that ruffled whimsically in a light breeze off the Chesapeake. Riley slept beside the kitchen island on his cedar-stuffed canvas bed as Thompson the cat paced lazy circles around him.

I blanched asparagus and moved it to the colander. After a few tosses above the sink, I upended the basket into a glass cooking dish. As I tossed the asparagus in olive oil and mer de sel and placed it in the broiler, my boss pushed her laptop through the open ground floor window. If we get in the car now, she said, there's a flight leaving from Madrid in the morning for Los Angeles...

Elle B moved the steaks from the cast iron skillet to a serving plate and followed me outside to the lot overlooking the alley. The old orange cat who lives behind my trash can bolted at the sound of the steaks sizzling on the hot metal grill. My boss slipped her laptop computer between the back gate and the privacy fence, When we get to Barcelona, we'll take the ferry to Tangier and then fly to Mexico City...

I uncorked the wine I bought in the market the morning of my return flight home and placed it on the table to breathe. Elle B brought stemless glassware from the cabinet and placed it front of three place settings. My boss sat at the head of the table and placed her computer on the linen place mat. Elle B closed the lid of my boss's laptop and placed a clean white plate on the lid. I move a sizzling steak from the serving tray to the plate and place a dollop of maison butter in the center and surround it with crispy asparagus shoots. In La Havre off the tip of Brittany we can book steerage accommodations on a freighter with a twelve to fifteen day sail to New York City...

There are worse places to be stranded than Toulouse.

Current Location: Toulouse, France

stephenlank
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Tether a dog to lead long enough and it becomes territorial, fierce, protective. Aggressive. The same principle applies to fenced-in backyards. Pen an animal in a confined space long enough and you'll see teeth whenever a stranger walks past the house.

Technically, I don't own the place yet but I feel that way already.

I bought a house last week for my thirty-third birthday. There's no numerology involved nor is it a birthday present. It just happened that way; me in a rented tux at my friend's wedding taking the call from my agent, "She said yes," and feeling knotted up in my stomach afterward as if I just proposed. Get married or purchase the first home. It's the first truly grown up thing I've done... by my standards at least.

My right hand is cramped and I'm having trouble with this laptop. My fingers are stiff from not typing and that other thing so I have to stop every other sentence to clench and unclench my arthritic fist. My skin feels tight like the pulled too taut skin on a drum. Tympanic. If plucked, would it make a sound? Deep like a bass or quick and tight like a snare? Would I hear it through the gauze?

Eighteen Seventy-Five. That's when they built my South Baltimore rowhouse. One hundred and thirty-three years ago. It's ten decades more ancient than I am but I feel older than the porous rock crumbling in its gut or even the formstone facelift it received more than halfway into the twentieth century. Title transfer, home inspection, appraisal. The termite damage in the first floor joice. The rat shit beneath the extension bathroom built over the backyard lot and basement entrance.

This is some of what was on my mind last Monday as my dog Riley and I round the last lap of one of our final routine walks around what will soon be my "old" neighborhood. We go by autopilot, him and I, on these walks. Up the big hill, down the side streets, and then off the main looping road that circles us back to my brother's house. In my soon to be basement, the water line runs past the circuit breaker from the hot water heater to the kitchen. Non-code construction that could lead to fireworks if the pipes burst. It's one of the many side effect of who knows how many generations of owners before me. Power switches in odd places. Outlets set halfway beneath the hardwood floor.

Maybe this is what I think about as Riley slows his pace to cross to my right side. Maybe I remember bickering with the current owner over expected repairs as my hand reflexively wraps the leash around my wrist. Maybe Riley remembers the contract negotiation over the crumbling support wall masonry as the hair between Riley's shoulders stands on end and he pulls me off the sidewalk into the street. The house is west left of us, I think as I look up to see the run-down clone of my brother's house. The loose-shingle tract home with the steel-belted garden on the street we avoid. The house with the thick black and tan dogs that bristle and tear at short tethers whenever we approach. No dogs chained to the stoop then but instead a three year old girl. Daughter to the owner of the Rottweilers who dig long furrows into the grass straining to get unleashed as they bark their discontent at the dog free to walk the street with me.

The girl looks up at us and waves. I stop long enough to almost wave back as she opens the front screen door to let her father's dogs spill out into the street.

Hours later in the Emergency Room, I learn that the bacteria in dog saliva is anaerobic, that it doesn't like oxygen, that it thrives in tight dark places. The doc explains this after I scrub the puncture wounds on my right hand with an antibiotic sponge long enough to rub the lacerated skin around my knuckles red and raw like the too-soon skin under a blister. That's the reason they butterfly my wounds instead of stitching. It's also the reason I clean the hole in my hand until the clean white subs turn a dirty pink.

After the bandage and before the x-ray, he hands me the telephone and tells me that dog bites are like knife wounds are like gun shots. A voice, the dispatcher, on the other end, "In your own words tell me what happened."

I tell her about the little girl. How she opened the front door to let her dogs play. How her father yelled for her to stop as his dogs sprinted the ten yards from stoop to street. How the Rottweilers flanked Riley. How the one on the left sank it's teeth into the back of his neck.
How the dog on the left, a heartbeat behind his sibling, attached itself to Riley's ear and tore at the soft skin and cartilage. Shaking its head viciously left to right as its jaws inch toward the soft spot where the ear and head connect. I tell the dispatcher how the dog with Riley's ear in his mouth bit me when I grabbed his snout and how the owner pulled the other dog off him by lifting the thick squat dog from behind like a wrestler setting up the pin.

I omitted certain details. How I couldn't release the leash. How the lead pulled tight around my wrist and cinched. How I couldn't think to do anything but punch the dog tearing at Riley's ear over and over until he turned to bite me. How I held onto his jaw long enough to kick it square in the ribcage. How Riley howled as they bit into him. The high-pitched squeal I still hear in my mind when my hand accidentally brushes the stainless steel staples in the folds at the back of his skull.

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Current Location: Avon, N. Cackalacka
Current Earworm: Rainer Maria - Catastrophe

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Usually, I gage a show on general intoxication and how many of my favorite songs the band felt like playing. Tonight's show is different. Since, I only had a few beers and the band played all my favorite songs, I'll only post what was said instead of what was heard:

* * *
So what do these guys sound like?
I don't know... an upbeat Joy Division?
Major key mope.
Are you getting a Han Solo vibe from the lead guitarist.
White henley. Black vest. I wonder if he shot first.
Maybe, but the lead singer looks like all the guys from Depressed Mood.
I'm thinking Dave Gahan or Martin Gore or that dude from That 70's Show.
I was gonna say either Reed Richards or Stretch Armstrong judging from the way he keeps hugging himself.
Seriously. That guy wraps his arms around himself more than Special Olympics.
Do you hear that?
Hear what?
The lead singer's guitar?
You mean he's not strumming for effect?
Could be. I can't hear shit.
Do you see that chick over there? She's just close enough to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to be hot.
Buy her a drink and you're in. Her liver was probably shot from day one.
Know what I realized tonight?
What?
The reason hipsters are so skinny.
Why's that?
None of these bands sell t-shirts larger than medium.
What? You want a 2x? Come back when you've got a disorder.
I just want a t-shirt. Maybe someday I'll be gangly... someday.

* * *

Conversation aside, it was one of the best live shows I've seen. Definitely a better live than studio band. I always thought the singer sounded a bit wooden on the studio tracks as if he was afraid to really open up and sing. He sounded good but his recorded voice bordered on sounding monotone since his vocal cadence was a bit stiff. Maybe he drank a few beers before the show because his fucking heart out.

Current Location: 930 Club. Washington, DC
Current Earworm: The Editors

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Eventually, I'll get to the story about the time I cockblocked my friend Hack with a head of cauliflower but you'll have to suffer through Sunday before I start into that.

It's Saturday night and I'm in Virginia because Hack's girlfriend said yes to the diamond ring and promise of pregnancy and it feels like I haven't seen him or Don since Don got married some five years ago. We're in a strip mall dive bar where the air is hot, thick, and stagnant; smokier than I remember those places being since Maryland prohibited tobacco everywhere people tend to gather. Bars, restaurants, sports arenas. Any place anybody might be remotely inconvenienced by someone else's exhalations.

"I found your web thing," Don tells me over beers poured into tall thick glasses longer and wider than my forearm and, at first, I'm not certain whether to panic or care less. The room is hot and I'm flushed since I feel the heat in my cheeks and forehead from either booze or embarrassment. Don found it, someone found it, it was inevitable. I tell this to myself until the room cools, the blood just beneath the surface of my skin boils a little less and I choose to not to not give a fuck since I never wrote a bad word about my friends and I'm done with panic after Jeremy drunkenly admitted that Don's sister found my posts through his MySpace page.

Nothing is ever private on the internet.

"I like the thing you wrote about Burlington," Don drawls a bit now. The side effect of living further south of the Mason Dixon Line than I'm comfortable visiting. "You should write more about that kind of stuff. Y'know... the things we've done."

Hack nods agreement and I know where they want this conversation to go. The book idea, excuse me, The Book Idea that Don and Hack ambushed with me a year ago about journalizing our coast to coast adventures in the run down cars we drove into the ground and, later, the rental cars we prematurely aged at weekly rates. The kind of book that only sells if the protagonists are glamorous or depraved or lie to paint themselves as glamorous or depraved. The kind of book that might get me on Oprah's show once, then twice, and then nothing ever again.

"I don't think I want to do that," I tell them as I watch a girl at the table next to ours rub a cold pint glass over the stiff right nipple poking through her tank top. "I don't like writing stuff about people I know because you never know if they'll read it."

"But you write about us all the time," Hack watches me watch the girls host an abbreviated wet t-shirt contest for a group of attentive dudes that look glossy and two dimensional like the clean cut boy-men from American Eagle Outfitter's magazine ads. They jostle for position -arms over elbows over arms- around the small table as one girl pours foam from her tallboy across the front of her sheer camisole top. "You did write that thing about Kiera."

"That was a mistake." I watch one of the Abercrombie tank top girls drape herself across one of the American Eagle guys. Why doesn't that happen to me? Why don't random bar skanks put on public displays of lesbian affection for my benefit? Do I not look Gap enough?

"It didn't bother her." Don talks to me but watches Radhames Liz stare down a batter on the big screen television. "You wrote something about something she told you in confidence but she never told me it bothered her."

"Yeah it did." Hack says it like he doesn't want to be heard even though I know he does. The girls at the table next to ours know we're watching them but that doesn't stop them from sloshing beer all over their tits. The blond one on the far edge of the table makes eye contact with me as she extends her empty glass towards one of the admirers. Beer doesn't buy itself.

"Whatever, Hack, it's a start." The Orioles broadcast switches to a commercial break and Don turns to us. "What are you guys watching?"

"Nothing." We say in unison.

I'm not so secretly ecstatic that Hack is finally getting hitched since it means my chance of bagging chicks in his presence will increase exponentially. Some time ago, it was unofficially understood that, given a room with one hundred single women, Hack and I invariably found the same one attractive. It didn't matter if she had an identical twin with an identical personality and identical mannerisms because we both went after the same one. To this day I'm not sure if this was unintentional or planned, if we chose the same girl because we share identical tastes, or if it was done with malicious intent but I do know one thing: One way or another, Hack always took her home.

A few years back, Don, Hack, and John (not pictured in this installment) invited me to a party in the private room of a Capital Hill dive bar called Politiki's. I'm not sure if that place is around or if the untapped market demand for Polynesian-themed taprooms blocks away from the Legislative Branch ever came to full fruition but I went there that night with my best friends to bid goodbye to a girl who never liked me. Her name was Lydia or Linda or Leslie -something la-sounding- and it was her next to final night in the District. She, like all the girls we knew back then, served on the Hill as a staffer to some congressman or women in some limited and temporal capacity. They worked until their representative lost an election and sometimes sooner than that. Maybe she decided to leave on an odd-numbered year or maybe it was her year to leave. I don't remember anymore...

I do remember meeting Lydia/Linda/Leslie's friend Mary; a coworker she reluctantly introduced to Hack and me. She had a familiar look to her -a look I like- with her dark hair and dark eyes, thin limbs, athletic frame. She looked like a girl who got up early on Sundays to swim or ride her bike around empty District side streets despite the number of beers she drank the night before. She looked like my type.

And Hack's type too considering the way we both watched her look back and smile as she turned to wade into the crowd gathered around the bar. I like her, I confided to Hack as I watched her walk away from us, I'm going to go talk to her some more. "You can't," He said as he handed me his empty pint. "It's your turn to buy the round."

He was right.It was my turn to buy so I retreated to the back bar and the bartender we already overtipped once that evening where, despite my best effort to defeat myself, I somehow wound up standing next to Mary and I stood there leaning with my back against the mahogany counter, elbows propped on the bar top, as I talked to her over my right shoulder. My good side. The profile I can use to smile so my grin looks a little less crooked.

That's the part I always fluster. The approach, the icebreaker, the opening line in conversation that doesn't come off rehearsed or refurbished like I practiced stealing it from someone else. That's the part of the pick up I fumble as my tongue runs circles around sentences my brain can't quite decipher and I somehow forget the anatomy of the joke and the way the punchline comes after the setup. But not this time. She laughed when I laughed and smiled when I smiled and listened to the roundabout way I tell a story and looked me in the eye until I wanted to turn away but didn't. Everything seemed scripted; ad libbed but rehearsed.

It was going great until Hack punched me in the crotch.

I don't know how he did it, how he stole through the crowd unnoticed and walked near enough to us to stay anonymous but drew close enough to backhand me below the belt. I call it a punch but it wasn't quite that. More like a determined slap. A smack with enough force and pressure to ascend my testicles into my pelvic cavity and, in two seconds, revert me fifteen years into puberty. I doubled over in pain and nausea and barely made it the fifteen feet to the bathroom before puking in a floor-length urinal.

I rinsed my mouth in the sink before going back to the party. Hack was already in my spot, chatting up Mary, reclining against the bar in the same back against the railing elbows on the counter lean I was using moments before he doubled me over with a clandestine shot to the nuts. I walked to the other side of the bar, ordered a shot of something strong and medicinal, something to wash the taste of bile out of my mouth, and watched Hack entertain Mary. I watched them laugh, watched her smile at the same jokes, the same conversation I watched him have with dozens of other girls I've liked at other bars we've frequented. I tossed the shot back. It tasted like licorice or oak barrels. Cinnamon or burning. It sat in my empty stomach and churned. Gravel in my gullet. Acid in my belly. I paced between the back bar and the buffet watching Hack put his right arm behind Mary's back. I moved left to right, between the bartender and the vegetable platter, ordering whiskey, throwing back shots, watching Hack whisper lines, stories, fables in Mary's ear, I like to run the trails at Rock Creek Park, when I know he only runs when chased. I ordered another drink. "What do you want?" Anything. Anything you pour, bartender, I'll drink. Anything to work the nerve to take back my chance, my moment, my opportunity. I stood next to the finger food. The vegetable platter. The plastic tray of carrots and broccoli and cherry tomatoes. Ranch dressing. Celery.

Cauliflower. I picked the first piece I saw. A white clump two thirds the size of my fist. I felt the weight. Solid. Half a pound? Unlikely. One half the weight of a baseball. Something else I wasn't good at. Baseball. Talking to women in bars and baseball. I thought of the little league teams where I rode the bench. Called in to hit but never field. I thought of four years of high school tryouts. Four years passed over for the class before me. The stalk felt right in my hand. More than any baseball. Molded. I tossed it up and caught it. Tossed it up and caught it again. I watched Hack lean into Mary, nuzzle against her neck, whisper something that made her laugh. I tossed the head one more time, caught it overhanded, and flung it, sidearm, across the room. It sailed across the room -seconds that passed like hours- spinning clockwise towards me. Stalk over head, stalk over head, spinning right round in a slight straight arc before striking Hack in that perfect spot directly between his cheek bone and his nose.

I've never made the cutoff throw to home plate. I've never fielded a ball to make the quick cut to first base. I've never made the arm to glove connection in any baseball variant from little league to high school to intramural softball but I made that shot. That one perfect shot from fifty paces that earned me an ass-whopping hours later. The perfect shot with perfect impact as cauliflower exploded against Hack's face and showered Mary in little bits of white curd that stuck to her hair, face, and neck. She didn't speak to either of us again that evening.

"Shit," Don puts his empty mug bottom end up on the table. "I forgot all about that."

"That's because it's ancient fucking history," Hack slumps back in his chair like a kid sinking into his father's chair. "Why you wanna bring that up?"

I want to say it's because it's one of the few times I got one over on him but instead I tell him it's one of my favorite stories. It's true either way.

"That's what it's like, Bro." Don says as he flags the waitress to bring another round of beers and shots. "We might not get together for months but it always feels like last week when we do."

I wake up early on Sunday feeling dried out and dessicated like a plush toy left in the sun too long and let myself out while everyone else slept. The early morning traffic past the Mixing Bowl from Virginia to Maryland flows uncharacteristically light and before I realize it I've turned on the automotive autopilot of long familiar roads. The soft plink of rain on metal. The soft hum of tires slowly unraveling over asphalt. The prismatic glitter of headlights in the mist kicked up by cars that pass me in the fast lane. What should take ninety minutes passed in what seemed like nine when I turned the world off thirty miles south of the District and woke up fifteen short of Charm City.

My brother's home, sprawled out on the couch in fatigues at his usual spot on the chaise lounge in the living room, and I'm more than a little annoyed since the weekends he spends at the unit are the weekends I use to catch up on the big screen television I bought but never watch. What the hell are you doing here? Don't you have reserve drill this weekend?

"Staff Sargent sent us home early." He talks to the television. "We're supposed to get affairs in order."

For those of you still in the dark, this is how good weekends go bad. A rainy Sunday morning. A single sentence in a dimly lit room. They're sending me back to the desert in November. The random chatter of early cable programming. We won't talk about this again until he's gone.

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Current Earworm: Death in Vegas / Rocco (Sing for a Drink Mix)

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uberdionysus reminded me that I haven't seen Degas in a long time. For that matter, I haven't seen anything in a long time. It's been too long.

I used to go to the Hirshhorn at the Smithsonian to see the same piece. It's a room -30x30- that's roped off to visitors. Inside, the floor is littered with clean white slips of standard sized paper. Overhead, in the recessed ceiling, evenly spaced machines drop single slips of the crisp white paper from various positions around the room. The paper seems to hang forever as it floats haphazardly to the floor. It's a timed sequence -back left corner, right front corner, middle, back right, middle right- that loops endlessly as a voice whispers something that sounds like English but isn't just low enough to not be heard over the general murmur of passing foot traffic. It's probably the most beautiful thing I've ever seen and I really hope it's still there.

I'm leaving work soon.



EDIT: The piece I described was part of Ann Hamilton's Corpus. It wasn't showing at the Smithsonian. Thanks to Troy and Trixie for putting that together for me.
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In the Tradition of 55birds, I Present the Fifty-Five Words of My Afternoon



"Let your brother install it," His pop chided him over the telephone. "You can't even fix a lawnmower."

Four hours later, he gloated over the old radiator laying on the driveway like the football trophy he never won. When the engine started, transmission fluid poured onto the asphalt like a pitcher of cherry Kool-Aid.



* * *





pugofwar and tubesoxrock (and now bantling) have heeded the call. 55 WORDS CONTEST!

Entries due by midnight on July 3rd. Give it a try. It's fun.
John Doe or Everyman?
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Things They've Told Me
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"Did you ever want to set someone's head on fire, just to see what it looked like? Did you ever stand in the street and think to yourself, I could make that nun go blind just by giving her a kiss? Did you ever lay out plans for stitching babies and stray cats into a Perfect New Human? Did you ever stand naked around people who want your gleaming sperm, squirting frankincense, soma and testosterone from every pore? If so, then you're the bastard who stole my drugs Friday night. And I'll find you. Oh. Yes."

::Warren Ellis

"CLOV: Do you believe in the life to come?
HAMM: Mine was always that."

::Samuel Beckett

"Beauty can be as isolating as genius, or deformity. I have always been aware of a relationship between madness and beauty."

::Richard Avedon

"Intelligence is characterized by a natural incomprehension of life."

::Henri-Louis Bergson

"It has taken me all my life to learn what not to play."

::Dizzy Gillespie

"Life, we learn too late, is in the living, in the tissue of every day and hour."

::Stephen Leacock

" My life consists in my being content to accept many things. "
::Ludwig Wittgenstein

"I have learned to have very modest goals for society and myself, things like clean air, green grass, children with bright eyes, not being pushed around, work that suits one's abilities, plain tasty food, and occasional satisfying nookie."

::Paul Goodman

“You lose it if you talk about it.”

::Ernest Hemingway

"I hate quotations.
Tell me what you know."

::Ralph Waldo Emerson
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