Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Anita/OJ

It was a dark and stormy night. Not your average night of darkness, and not an average storm. Inside the restaurant, an elderly man pecked at a few keys of a baby grand, his dry fingers finalizing each note with a faint scratching sound.

"I've," the man sang, hitting a key. Scratch.

"Got." Key. Scratch.

"You."

"Under my skin," Anita said under her breath. She took a sip of water.

"Under." Key. Scratch.

"My!" The old man hit a key with such intensity the scratch of his dry finger was obscured. His voice boomed over the thunder of the storm. The candles of the dark night warbled and waved. Each table in the restaurant appeared to list to the left a bit as the candles shifted the darkness, then stabilized again.

"Cole Porter as interpreted by John Cage," a patron next to Anita said, much to the forced delight of his companion--a garish woman with a glass laugh.  Anita took another sip of her water and stared deeply into the eyes of the person who was not sitting across from her. It had been two years since she had been compelled to sit across from a man--or several men--and to peer deeply into his eyes only to realize he wasn't actually present.

Her friend, a branding manager for a film studio, insisted on this blind date. "Anita. I know. I know. But he really just needs to get out a bit, you know? And you! You could use some excitement. Just meet him. He's a good guy. Going through a divorce or something. It'll be good for both of you."

So Anita sat. Alone at a table during a storm in a restaurant suddenly rendered powerless. "The gas is working," Anita had been told by her waiter. "We may not be able to see, but we can at least cook!" Anita sipped her water. Anita waited.

"Skin." Key. Scratch.

He's not coming, Anita thought to herself. Why would he? It's a terrible night. There is no electricity. Any minute she expected the waiter--a young man with more talent for Chekhov than for serving--to arrive with a phone and to hear, on the other line, a man apologize to her for not making it. "The storm," the man would say. "Some other time."

Then a bright smile sat down across from her, interrupting her idle gaze into the darkness. "Sorry I'm late," the smile said to her. "Not every day we get this sort of thing in L.A."

Anita considered her response. Decided to be polite. "It's okay. The piano player really makes one pass the time."

"I've." Key. Scratch.

"So you know Betsy."

"Betty."

"Betty. Yeah." The smile developed facial features that were still all smile. Candlelight filled in his face, melted the shadows, weaved in his structure. Anita squinted a bit to see more of him. "Betty and I go way back. She got me the Hertz commercials."

"Oh, those! Yes, I remember those."Anita smiled at the smile sitting across from her. "You really did convey how awful it is to run through an airport to get a shitty rental car."

"Got." Key. Scratch.

The smile faltered a bit, then returned. "True! True. So. How do you know Betsy?"

The waiter emerged from the darkness at that moment. "So, you should know," he said, raising his pen as if it were a conductor's baton, "the usual Wednesday specials are not tonight's specials. Honestly, the chef is having kittens right now because of the power outage."

"Perhaps you should give him more gas," Anita said.

The waiter stared at her for a moment. His eyes were steady and searching, leaning into her own eyes and flickering with the candle. She leaned her own eyes into his, she searched, she flickered back. Then the waiter rolled his eyes upward and said, "Oh, the gas is his to give to others."

The smile across from her chortled as if pretending to get a joke but unsure if one had been made. Self-defensive laughter.

Right on cue, the garish woman with the glass laugh snorted at a joke the John Cage aficionado had made, and "You." Key. Scratch.

"So to give you gas, guys, we have a nice ossobuco with broccolini and sauce--don't ask me the sauce--and we have bison burger seasoned with love and served with either fries or well intentions."

"I was given a menu at the door," the smile said. Anita noticed, indeed, that he was wielding a menu in one hand.

The waiter waved his pen baton again. "I'm afraid our hostess is much more enthusiastic on the limitations of the kitchen tonight than our chef is. You'll notice your lady did not" and the pen baton pointed at Anita "receive a menu."

Anita agreed. "I wasn't offered a menu. I was offered a seat at the table and a glass of water."

"And bread." The waiter leaned in with his eyes again. Anita gestured to the basket of untouched bread next to the candle.

"Bread. It's delicious. It's like manna with extra Na."

"You." Plink. Scratch.

"So I can't get anything off this menu?" The smile was no longer smiling.

"OJ." Anita reached across the table and put her hand on the menu, which was splayed across one side of the table like a law book. Anita chortled. "The waiter is trying to be diplomatic, now. Clearly they have two dishes going on back there. I am sure they're doing their best, but Betty picked a really bad night for us to try a blind date, and so here we are. Just... You look like a burger man. Let's get two burgers and a side of well-intentions."

"I want the buco." OJ slid the menu from beneath Anita's hand and snapped it shut. He presented it to the waiter, who took it from him with all the solemn dignity required of a folded menu.

"One oss... ah... buco and one bison burger."

The waiter disappeared into the darkness again.

The smile returned. The candlelight painting his teeth yellow, even though the teeth were clearly as white as Dixie. In fact the whites of his eyes looked jaundiced from the candlelight. "So. Anita."

"Yes. Sorry. I'm not used to these sorts of things. I thought getting the order out of the way would free us up to get acquainted." Anita lifted her water glass. "To new friends."

OJ did not have a water glass. Instead, he lifted a loose fist, miming a toast. "To new friends."

"To new somethings," Anita replied. She extended her glass across the table, and the glass caught the light of the candle. Things got brighter for a moment.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Peanut

Gloria had a morning schedule, and she stuck to it as if her life depended on it. Without an alarm to waken her, she managed to get out of bed at exactly 6:45. She slid into her slippers, shuffled into the kitchen, and made coffee. At 6:50, she sat down at her kitchen table, sipped from a chipped but favorite cup, and stared down the world, which stared back at her, through her grimy third floor window.

At 7AM, it was time to walk the dog.

Attire varied. Sometimes she wore her slippers, sometimes she wore sneakers. Depended on what kind of world stared back at her.

Today, she chose sneakers. There was a grey tinge to the sky just above the buildings, and the grime of the window seemed particularly foul. There was chill in the air, and the coffee in her cup seemed to her dense and bitter. Sneaker weather.

"Pea!" she called. "Peanut, c'mon." Peanut, as always, was a reluctant companion. Gloria knew he was burying himself beneath the piles of blankets on her recently vacated bed, burrowing and flopped, perhaps his tongue lolling as limply as his tail. Only two years had passed since Gord had been sensible enough to say, "Gloria, jesus, let the damn dog sleep."

Gord was moldering in the urn in the pantry now. The mass of him, spread beneath the covers and curling into the shape of Peanut, was now a disassembled mess shaping into a ceramic vase next to Ramen packets and Nutella jars. Now, if Gloria wanted Peanut to get up and participate in her morning schedule, there was no Gord to complain.

"Peanut!" Gloria was dropping the last of the coffee into the kitchen sink. Her sneakers were sealed onto her feet, and she was wearing a track suit days from a good washing. Pea's leash was in one hand, and she rattled it, making sure the metal tags rang out like a bell.

+++

Peanut was old. Not ancient, not as old as Mr. Kurtez's animal around the block, but the brown fur was tinged now by a grey wisp.  Gord lived long enough to tell Gloria, "He can't do these damn walks like he used to."

"If I'm able to do them," Gloria said, "then he can."

"I cant do the damn walks anymore," Gord replied. Then he died. Just like that. Strangers flocked like pigeons, and Gloria stood there as the ambulance arrived, clutching the leash as Peanut sniffed Gord's body.

"No, I'm..." she told everyone.

"He's.... There is nothing we can...." she heard.

Peanut barked. Moved to protect Gloria. Peanut was always Gord's dog, so it moved Gloria to see Peanut think he was defending her from the well-meaning pigeons. Humans.

+++

"Peanut!"

Gloria rattled the leash, the tags, once more. And Peanut came. His heft--light, solid--smacked onto the floor of the bedroom then clipped across the floor to the kitchen. He stood with one front paw turned out, waiting to be clipped by the hook of the leash.

Gloria giggled--always--at the front paw. "Grace Kelly," she said to Peanut.

To Gloria, the out-turned paw was a regal, vulnerable stance as if Peanut was in 'Rear Window', swirling in a dress and delivering food to Gord. An artifice and a vision.

"Wanna go out?" Gloria asked, bending at the knees. "Lessgo out!"

Peanut fell onto his side and exposed his belly. Gloria reached out a hand to scratch the exposure. Peanut's tail thumped against the kitchen floor like a metronome. Gord, a pianist in his spare time, would've appreciated it.

+++

"Hey, Glor!" a woman said, greeting Peanut and Gloria as they passed.

"Hi! How are you?" Gloria paused for a moment. Her sneakers squeaked on the wet sidewalk and Peanut squeaked from the sudden stop.

"Good. Good." The woman reached out for a quick touch, as if to reassure herself that Gloria was tangible. Gloria felt the woman's fingers brush across her shoulder. "It's not a bad day."

And it wasn't. From the apartment window, the day had seemed too grey, too purple and dark. Now that she and Peanut had gone out into it, the day was warm and golden and fine. "I wore shoes for nothing," Gloria said to the woman. "Poor Peanut doesn't need the sweater."

"No, he doesn't need it. I hope you enjoy the day." The woman smiled. "Peanut is...?"

Peanut, leashed and sweatered, growled. Gloria and the woman locked eyes. "I am so sorry." Gloria made a face indicating pain. But she wasn't pained.

"Why?" the woman asked

"Pea never does that. Growls. It's not--"

"He's a dog. Don't worry about it Gloria." The woman bent down and brushed her hand across Pea's head. Peanut wagged his tail, took his Grace Kelly stance. "Peanut is just helping you."

"Still. He shouldn't growl."

"True."

+++

Pea, in his morning ritual, nudged and tugged Gloria along his preferred route until they both came to a cove. Geese, ducks, joggers, rocks, and water sipping at the land, taking a small piece of it away with each wave.

Gloria didn't often speak to Pea on these walks, but today she did. "It's a thing," she said to Peanut as they stood watching the water bounce into the earth and rebound. "Just a continuous thing."

Pea huffed, sat down. Stared at the geese as if they were his mobile feast.

Gloria dropped the leash after a long time of considering her options. Some years later, as she slipped away and human pigeons flocked to her body, Gord said, "At least the damn dog got you to exercise."

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Libraries and Funerals

The literal Reagan "Look at All the Fucks I Give" blanket
"Every time a person dies, it's like a library burning down."

That's an observation made by a human being. It's a pretty old observation--I don't know who originally said it, but I first came across it when I was reading Randy Shilt's book ...And the Band Played On, where a distraught human being--one of many distraught human beings in that book--says it.

Every time a person dies, it is like a library burning down. Not an exact quote; it's been years since I read the book. But the sense of the quote remains with me.

We're nearly 30 years out from the year President Reagan finally acknowledged AIDS. Many libraries had burned and many libraries were still burning when Reagan at long last admitted AIDS existed. He stood in the ruins of Alexandria and said, simply, "I want to talk tonight about the disease that has brought us all together."

He also said, "Those of us in government can educate our citizens about the dangers. We can encourage safe behavior. We can test to determine how widespread the virus is. We can do any number of things."

If he'd said these things, of course, in the immediate and obvious beginning, perhaps libraries would have been saved. Human beings. Reagan, like many elderly human beings, quite possibly thought of funerals as a rare chance for social interaction and so encouraged as many funerals as he could.

Nancy Reagan did her part to help social interaction by denying family friend Rock Hudson access to experimental (was there any other kind then?) treatment to prolong his life. Dying of AIDS and finding no help in the US, Hudson had gone to Paris, a transfer between stacks, to seek treatment. Paris refused the transfer, Hudson's publicist wrote a desperate plea to Nancy urging her to encourage the transfer, and... nothing. Nancy Reagan refused to intervene. She was a terrible librarian. Some weeks later, the transfer was returned, unread, to the burning library of the US.

Rock Hudson did force the Reagans to see AIDS for what it was, true. When Hudson died, most of the United States realized AIDS wasn't simply a gay plague, but an actual reality. Also, the US came to the shocking--shocking!--realization that 'gay' was an actual reality. Like AIDS, it could strike anyone at any time.

Libraries are like human beings. All are byzantine, dense, full of references, and full of delights and dreads.

I do not know why Hillary Clinton praised the Reagans for encouraging a national discussion on AIDS, unless she meant that the Reagans forced a nation to face reality by being utterly silent, like a parent waiting for a child's confession. But I do know that when I see a library on fire, my first instinct is not to praise the fire, but to try to grab as many volumes as I can. To put those volumes aside and wait for a new library to be built.

Here's what gets me about Clinton's words: they were bad words. She apologized for what she said, true, by insisting she meant stem-cell research. Her original statement, on the day of Nancy's library being buried, was: "It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about H.I.V./AIDS back in the 1980s."

True.

Two things: how does one substitute HIV/AIDS with stem-cell in that sentence? "It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about stem-cell research back in the 1980s."

And:

Even if one is to take Clinton's sentence at face value, "It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about H.I.V./AIDS back in the 1980s," one must wonder why it was so difficult for people to discuss. Perhaps if the leader of the free world, the former actor and actress, the USSR-destroying President and his blood-dressed wife had said something in 1981 rather than 1987, libraries would've... whatever.

Instead, we got the AIDS quilt on the National Mall. Because once the libraries are gone, all you're left with is a history stitched together.

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