Tonight John and I sat in the back of a pub on Telegraph Avenue and listened to strangers laugh and scream about terrible things that couldn’t possible matter to anyone anywhere. I said to John, leaning over the wooden table: “They may as well be slamming stones down on coconuts while the rest of the apes watch on with vacant grins.” John nodded but his eyes were all bad. He’d been out of it all night.
“Maybe that was a mean thing to say,” I went on, not sure if he was paying attention, “but let’s not pretend it isn’t true.”
I stood up and walked over to the door. Outside it was raining like a real bastard. I was glad we had driven our old Fremont police car to get there. The “DOOMSMOBILE,” as we called it, was parked on a nearby curb and I wanted to walk out of the bar and sit inside the damn thing while the rain came down on the windshield.
John said he was going to use the bathroom and I went to the bar to pay my tab. When I got back to the table he was gone. I found him leaning against the windows out front. His hood was up and he looked shredded. We walked down the sidewalk together, not saying anything, and I got in on the driver’s side and unlocked the doors. The two of us sat down and put on some good music.
In the rearview mirror I saw the only sign of aging I had experienced in ten years, the spiderweb crack of flesh beneath my eyes . . . little trails going nowhere. John lit a cigarette and I thought that maybe I needed to either get laid or jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.
We drove west in the rain. On Peralta Street I let John out and he put our rent checks in our landlord’s mailbox. I watched half a month’s salary disappear and the rain came down harder.
John got back in the car and slammed the door behind him. He leaned his head against the glass and closed his eyes.
I stomped on the accelerator, letting those cop tires squeal against the asphalt, and aimed the DOOMSMOBILE toward downtown Oakland hoping maybe we’d see a body or at least a few sparks.
Above my desk is a tarot card I mysteriously found in my kitchen a few months ago. It was from an incomplete deck, which I have been told is bad luck. I took the card anyway because I liked the look of it, which is just as good a reason as any other.
On it, an enormous blond-haired angel blows a horn while pale, naked humans rise from their coffins to greet the sound with outstretched arms. They’re so excited, I imagine, because wherever they’re going is probably a whole heck of a lot better than being stuffed inside a god damn coffin.
I look at this card at least once a day and say aloud to absolutely no one at all (no friends): “Hurry the hell up already.”
When is judgement day? I wonder. Is it today?
So I sit here at my desk and wait. I have no wooden box to spring from, not yet, but I will meet the wail of the trumpet just the same. I do not know anything of the process after that, but I will say to the creature in charge of my fate, if it will hear me, “Do what you will, but know this, sir: mostly it was bad, but I really did try my best.”
Struck a trough in the sine wave these past few days. It’d ring my bells clean and major to think it’s all up from here, but we who ride the tides know better than to assume karmic blowback. It’s all fuzz and crosswinds I swear the swirling chemical stew behind the eyes has its own whims and destinations.
So I took the coffee out to the lake and stared straight ahead the sun at an angle on my face watching the way the water shifted from left to right imagining the water stationary and the city people sidewalks shifting right to left relativity is alive and well and all perspectives suffer for it. Eloquent and untrustworthy may as well saddle up kiss the turf with solid boots, perpendicular six feet above sea level.
And now the stoicism is no longer theatrical it is your face, wear it like the British army wore red uniforms never let them see you bleed that’s why I’m nurse shy. Some day soon I’ll set out to tell the story of the sausage stand man and the music shop but for now I’ll leave it on the tip of my tongue, is it laziness or the fear that I won’t do it justice. All these unread books on the shelves growing old I will grow old one day maybe if I am lucky or unlucky depending on the vantage point and how will I feel from up there or down there depending on the same.
Why all this when the rain stops. The earth is hungry for another drenching. Why all the phone calls from the bench do I feel better now I don’t know but footsteps on the concrete were guided for once and it wasn’t unappealing to be in the sun again just a little disharmonious I won’t deny my romanticism walking alone in the rain has its place in cultural mythos who am I to misrepresent that time tested caricature. The trough too has its place it is revisitation of the ground where the roots sank in, wandering through the empty museum here is where it all began the bricks you stand on the people who bled to make them fit together and in this sepia photograph your grandfather and his sturdy pitchfork your grandmother and her knowing smile the hinterlands beyond them rising the sweat that trickled down their foreheads the wine that soothed their veins the weight they felt passed on.
Daddy took the truck this morning
And with it my bag of 3D Doritos®
Which I had purchased
From some shit-ass dump-hole gas station
I fuckin’ loved that truck
With the broken taillight
And the twisted frame
From all those wild fuckin’ nights
When we’d take it to the river
Ridin’ over rusted oil drums
And big-ass stupid rocks.
Regina and I had fucked
Right there in the bed of that
God damn stupid machine—
Me telling her,
“Babe I think I fuckin’ love you”
And her throwing up
A loaded baked potato
All over my favorite
Some nights I would ride it wild
Playin’ that music real loud
Through the cornfields
And down windy-ass roads
Talkin’ shit on my CB radio
Fartin’ into the seats
Never thinkin’ ’bout no “where” or “why”—
But the truck is gone now,
Daddy drove that bitch away
All four wheels
And the seats and windows too
And with it my bag of 3D Doritos®
Which were so crunchy
And so full of life.
None of us are going to heaven. They’re going to hose off whatever’s left and it’s down the drain we go—to that starless place where no moonlight glows.
A derelict spaceship left drifting, rustless in the void after three thousand years, incredible the preservation of space debris. The cockpit remains pressurized, the only light from distant stars, for now yet in the shadow of the dead, dry mother planet, life-dry for so long, was this the last craft of refugees or some final scouting mission from the surface to chart the catastrophic weather patterns, the last spasms of rebellion, a dog shaking clean its fleas, a weary giant shrugging off a sickly flock of buzzards.
Now she drifts. No skeleton crew. You brush the dust from the keys, archaic runes on spring-loaded plastic, satisfying clack as you test the action, still yielding, firm. You have studied the language for years, you know its verbs and nouns, you know especially its single letter anachronistic computational commands. A few clacks and she hums to life, noisy these old beasts inefficient but effective. A few more and some hulk of an engine roars, alive and kicking like a war horse what a show, these heathens still running their boats on uranium 235 crude but functional notwithstanding the clouds of irradiated waste ejected as exhaust forming strange patterns the way only radioactive vapor in a vacuum can, beautiful and nearly crystalline.
Clackity clack and the screen flips on, flashes a greeting in that familiar dead language in neon candy green on fuzzy black. No time for aesthetic broodings this is archeology dammit not a science but gotta run it like one, what happened to the crew you wonder clack tap clack it seems they went insane and lacked the rationality to cannibalize the stupidest thus fueling themselves toward the invention of a less specialized engine. Instead they threw themselves out the airlock all together four in all it seems and floated away, removing their helmets perhaps after a prayer oh yes they were a superstitious people, or did they drift on, orbit the doomed planet for a while before suicide or did they calculate the exact force necessary to plummet deep enough into the gravity well to break atmo and burn to smoke to lift the spiritual burden of killing themselves directly and perhaps some misstep bad geometry sent one or all skipping off the atmosphere and back out into the dark then some hopeless dialog over radio yes they still used radio no knowledge of the mind’s potential poor bastards, and forced by fate to break their helmet seals and die that way.
Will she still run clackity chap crack boom she rumbles thrusters flare once twice then off battling inertia for a split second a child on ice skates coasting gently not enough to break orbit the fractals of the cloud congeal and disperse shifting characters one ancient language you cannot read perhaps illegible. The thrusters die and she orbits on with now a slight torque only the starboard engine fired what a wreck what a deathtrap what a find for the scholars of human history.