“…For, let us join hands on this mountain as we may, the battle is elsewhere. It proceeds far from us in the heat and horror and pain of life itself where all men are betrayed by greed and guilt and blood-lust and where no one’s hands are clean…” — James Baldwin
I’ve got some things to decide, like how to tell this story. It is one of mischief and matter and more than you can imagine. Because imagination is scarce. When you are out on the town and you see the man, vomit spattered in his beard, asking for money and you make eye contact but feel no connection, only shame and guilt and the void. When you are walking by the needles in the cracks of the pavement littered with lust and lost hope and a sense of unease and contentment. How to tell the story but through the lens that I was given and the ones that I’ve acquired, synthesized, manufactured, and imagined. Empathy in its greatest form is that which chooses to walk in the shoes broken soles worn out from the lack of breath in a chest that has been too tight for too long. Weary is the soul trudging the sidewalks with a crooked step hand out asking for paper and metal to trade for god knows what. Food and drugs, drugs and food. What is the difference when it nourishes.
I swore I wouldn’t curse but, politics. A statement so prepared that we forget to thank the other for being. A statement we make whole-heartedly without heart or concern for the interplay between words. Glances dance across debates in the form of stabs literal and not literal, cheap metaphors that contrive and counterbalance that which a person of hope would want to achieve. What is that you ask? Well, a deep subject, but one worth digging into, because once we hit water, we can push it against gravity and bottle it in plastic and hand it to the vomit spattered beard man with no money and no love and no light in his eyes, so that he can drink and discard that which encapsulates life.
Losing my mental breadth from run-on sentences, poetically formed, but ill advised because form fit to be consumed by the masses is a form fit for mass distribution. The bottom line. The common denominator. That I am not.
One day I walked by that man again, the one with vomit in his beard. He chuckled and said, I am sick, will you help me? I replied I don’t have the means, or the wherewithal. How would I begin. There are parables about this. This paradox that you and I are stuck in. Is your vomit induced from over imbibing. I contrived a story fast that I was right in my first assumption. So should I not buy you your drink of choice, be it liquor, malt, or beer. Winos are scarce around here. In fact, a winos refined palate is what gives wealth to the experience of drinking fermented grapes. Squished and mashed and barreled in American Oak. American dreams drank from the watering hole of recycled glass, green, transparent, and brown, Skinned of its labels, corked to seal shut the effervescence of the moment that will be enjoyed. Metabolized before the narcotics and the pharmaceuticals that we are all prescribed with one name or the other. The genericness of it all is tedious.
I ask him, do you have family? I truly didn’t know because I see him day in and day out alone. I meant to ask him that, at least, but my words came out jumbled like aphasia. I was phased. I was bewildered. I said instead, leave me be, and walked on.
Do you have this in common with me? Suicidal thoughts encroach like roaches in a fictional New York apartment. One that has no air conditioning and with clothes lines draped between windows in alleys high above. Close pins. A relic. A time capsule pinched between the fingers of maid or a mom or a man who took the time to hang to dry the clothes of the worker and child and brother of the man with vomit in his beard. The one I walked by without a word. I didn’t even look him in the eye. His form was fuzzy like his mind maybe clearer than mine but without breaks. Stuttered and staccato I stumble through and past people walking with purpose. But what purpose do we have when we overlook the sickness that I saw. The one where I desired to vomit myself out of disgust and sorry and agony when witnessing the spectacle of the man walking over the cracks filled with orange needle caps that once covered the sharp prick that warms the coldness in life. Who am I to judge?
Another day I walked by a man who was a woman inside who was gaunt and tired of being seen as something she wasn’t. People videoed themselves justifying their hebrew logic laced with rules and laws and natural order. You get what you put in. Illegitimate children and aliens and intersex, the intersection of feeling and logic is where we should live, but in fact the two battle, red and blue, animals spitting nonsense at each other like we understand one another. But in reality we don’t. Excise these words we project. Weigh them, tax them, push them in the faces of those who need the feed like horses in a stable, wrap it around their faces. Don’t force them, but wait till they are hungry and let them eat.
“Get out of the way you swine!” She swerved her scooter that she rented with an app on her phone. Dodging the homeless, those without a home, she skirted the sidewalk, almost falling off the curb into oncoming traffic. The streets of Seattle are a mess. Gum paved black on grey slabs of cement. Leaves lay decaying mixed with trash and recycling in the gutters. Water wetting the streets causing traffic in a city who still doesn’t know how to drive in the rain. We wonder.
“These fucking morons.” She said to herself as she walked by a person in a conversation with themselves. She had hopped off the scooter after almost dying, and paid the price with a swipe of her thumb. “When are they going to fix this shit?” she wondered. It was about time, she thought.
If she had it her way, she wouldn’t be so angry. She would help those in need, and that would be the need she was fulfilling. Instead, she is a wage laborer, dependent on the slow trickle of funds that quickly leave her literal and proverbial pocket to fill the buckets of food and slop and insurance that keeps her going.
Animals. We hear them whine and whimper but we know not the details but can still empathize and work to bring them life and happiness. The wicked whip innocence, and the just fire back with time and sweat and prayers. Let these words lash at the supremacy and inadequacy in the subhuman impartialness to hate. Let these sentences wrap around the minds and throats of evil and choke it until it understands the perverse that they so despise.
Parts of pieces of a puzzle woven into a quilt that covers the man with memory loss. Play! Please keep playing because the second you stop is the second you start becoming a statue of a people of a symbol for a group to remember the days when those akin to them slaughtered the weakness that plagues them now. Despise the indifference. Despise the inaddiquicies of a mind decided. Despise stone carved commemorating a man that lived an idea of supremacy. Manifest the destiny of hope and haplessness and heroism. When all is said and done, we will need not heroes but lovers lacing time and space linked together to hug the hate out of the sick minded fools that read this and think or feel that they are the ones it is aimed at. If that is you, question what is inside the blackness. Sit on the edge like Otis and watch. We are all one interconnected thing separate and a part of a bigger picture. If you lose the edge, well then fight to replace it.
“I’m so tired.” She thought. Punctuation penciled into her schedule in the form of feeling drained from the day. “I think I’ll take a nap.” Maybe she will dream up a solution to my conundrum. A concoction that I can consume that will unite the remaining pieces.
“Dad wouldn’t have felt this way. He never got tired. He always worked hard. He never complained.” She toiled through the weariness covering her body and fought it. “I’ll just stay up, because if I fall asleep now, I will wake up in the middle of the night again anxious that I cannot sleep and worried about work coming up and I’ll measure the hours until I will have to be there, add and subtract to see if I can get to eight, and realize that fuck it, I wont get eight so might as well make breakfast at three in the morning and wait it out until I have to drag my tired ass to make some money.” She put in quotations, make some money.
It wasn’t money that she made, it was coffee. She is a barista. A clairvoyant to the subtleties of a soft addiction and the inner workings of a mind meant for more but constrained by a nine to five. She was a breath of fresh air, a deep inhalation, a mortar sent over the wall aimed at the management manipulating the numbers to show that, you, aren’t working hard enough. Perhaps the latte, sixteen ounce, that she makes you will act as fuel for your purpose and get you through the rigamarole of the day so you can get home, do laundry, do dishes, pay bills, binge watch, and walk by the man with the vomit in his beard. You will feel sorry for him. You will do nothing more.
“Do you have a dollar?” he asked. She did, but she earned them, they were her tips from her regulars that enjoyed her company, and tolerated her burnt milk.
“No.” She brushed by sideways because he was blocking the street. This wasn’t that man, the one with food in his beard from throwing up someone’s leftovers discarded in the city waste bin that he fished out amidst bags of dog shit and broken glass. This was a man crazed and angry.
“Fuck you bitch, you are lying!” He spat this verbal venom and started walking behind her.
“Fuck off!” she turned just her head and projected the strength she was willing to exert if the man advanced any further. He took the communication and mumbled mean obscenities as he turned around looking for the next person to ask for money from. The cycle went on.
If we follow that man for a moment more, for the moment when someone did give him a dollar, he then asked if they had another. They said no, and he spat his word vomit all over them.
She was blocks away now, and late for work. She was going to get fired.
They always want more and want to give more, and want nothing in return but the distribution of what they earned that was taken from them in a way that makes sense for the greater good.
“Hey, you!” It was a boy the age of maybe ten. “Can you help me?” She wanted to ignore him but she thought he might need actual help. She lost her job the other month and had been unable to find work, so she was relying on government assistance, because she didn’t have any family or friends willing to support her financially, and if they were able, she wasn’t about to ask. She was understanding of the need for help. So she stopped.
The boy said, “My phone is dead, can I use yours to call my mom? She was supposed to be here a half hour ago. I don’t know what to do.” Panic was written all over his face. Her limited minutes would have to be sacrificed and offered to the boy.
“Sure buddy, what’s your Mom’s number?” He gave it to her and she dialed. No one picked up and it was one of those faceless nameless answering machines.
“Do you have anyone else that can get you?” She asked.
“No.” He was close to crying.
“How far away do you live?” she was hoping it wasn’t too far because she had to be somewhere soon, and didn’t want to be late. He didn’t answer because he was second guessing his decision to ask help of a strange person. She had an idea, and texted the number explaining the situation at hand. People sometimes don’t pick up numbers they don’t know. But Mom did call the unknown number after receiving the message. She was so sorry and thanked Maria for waiting with her son while she waited behind cars behind stop lights over and over until she made it to them. Maria wasn’t late for her appointment.
Life is a choice. You have the right to do what you want with life. Controversial as it is, no one can loom power over you enough to convince me otherwise. Laws will be made to the contrary. Literary cannons will fire at you reading scripture and morals binding you to behave in a way in line with the dogma. But you are free. You can murder and mame and build up those beaten down. You can hide your true self and fake identities, stealing earnest and genuine moments from yourself until you die. You can align yourself with falsehood and ideas that drown the goodness in you and everything around you until you paint a picture in your mind of a reality only seen by you and those stuck in that collective psychosis. Because life is beautiful, because we can choose, bob and weave, stitch together, suture, and create. We can create hate and hope and fear for all those children who worship elders, especially the influential types.
How do we do it? Credence to those who do not. Believe that they exist. Outside of the briars of a mind entrenched in itself in a skull vibrating patterns of falsehood. How do we do it? Those thoughts that reverberate around leaving resonance and residue and remanence of what stickiness they are and could be. How. I don’t know, but if we keep going we will find out. I had this idea, or better, understanding, of how forever-learning works. The more we learn, the more we can build. Build and build and build and teardown in tears until we wash away all remains of the rumble into the ocean to never be found by man. Eliminating and eviscerating from what is known as known existence.
In line at Disney world, the boy, eleven now, waited to experience the ride. A long line wrapped around the metal poles underneath the awnings and into the well designed rooms for fun and memories. Angles and lighting and colors, all a forethought to bring intrigue to the kid. Hopefully money was an afterthought, because you can’t take it with you.
“Mom, I have to go to the bathroom.” Said Thomas.
“Really? Right now? We are almost at the front of the line!” She was clearly perturbed.
He was true, and yes, they had to exit the line.
Peeing next to a grown man, the boy tried not to look. But he did.
“I’m sorry Mom.” He was ashamed.
“You should not drink so much cola when you know we are going to go on a ride.”
His memory intertwined the bathroom scene and the line and his mom until he was older and the shame overcame him.
He was older now and he started to drink a while ago. Early this evening he began to drink, and a while ago he made a daily habit of drinking. He was a drunk. He was drunk now, again, and could not win. Vomit in his beard, he remembered when it was too much cola that he drank, and the memory of the man pissing next to him reminded him of his urine soaked pants already filthy from wearing without a wash in over five months. He remembered these things but not really because he was drowning in his own body, thoughts and all soaked in booze, until he had to sober up and face what he saw in himself after the drinking. It wasn’t good, and that is why he drank. His mind’s eye glossed over as he searched through the trash, poking himself with a needle discarded without proper sharps disposal protocol. His injection site swelled and grew and no mind it, he died. He died on the street with alcohol in his system and a memory of his mom saying not to drink too much as he sauntered off up to heaven.
I know, what story did we just encounter? Was it another sad story, was it an extended idiom for something esoteric, was it minced up meaning for someone, drunk, wanting a taco, to eat without thinking about the consequences. If it were a song, it would be arrhythmic. If it were a painting, it would be asymmetrical. If it were made to exploit, it would attract a certain air. But it’s not those stories. It is one of its own, and we know it. We know what it means, and it means a thought to listen to that has been quiet in the mind for some time. It means a whisper of a hope for a lacking of a lie that we tell ourselves that we didn’t have to right the book to read it. The book is what we live, and writing it is what we are. How. When we discover this, that we already won, there is no turning back. You can’t take it with you.