Bereft of his writing employment, working as a community college custodian, Lark tries to get back in the groove of writing at the library. But as usual, people are jerks.
It sounded kind of annoying. Like a breathing noise in your ear, loud as a yell. The music was too late. Music should play the background in places like this, but it was foregrounding everything.
I covered my ears a moment, but knew I wouldn’t be able to focus that way. So unable to stand it, I stood.
The girl had pink hair. She looked kind of calm, although wide-eyed and straight-back attentive, perhaps eccentric but kind in the bright-toothed smile, maybe even understanding and considerate.
“Excuse me. Hi there.”
“Hi. Can I help you.”
“Yeah, I’m trying to write over here, but the noise level is just too much. I can’t focus.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry about that.” Her smile faded to furrowed eyebrows, a pleading look of concern. “I’ll fix that right away.”
“Not a problem.”
I turned for just a moment. I remembered I needed to check out some books, turned back and said, “One more th--”
I saw it. Just for a moment, her face turned to another employee, her eyes wider, her lips drawn up baring her teeth, her face forming a look of apparent contempt for me and my inquiries.
She recovered fast enough. “Sorry? Something else?”
“Ah -- never mind?”
“Ok. Be sure to let me know if there’s anything else I can help with.”
Books on books. Paper on paper. There be gods of trees, dryads, spirits of nature locked up in the binding, dead as the bark and skin that holds them. I’d be there with them if my flesh was profitable, a commodity, but it’s not. Though not all flesh is unprofitable. That’s where the blessing comes in, not thought of as something for sale -- chicken, prostitutes, politicians and pulled pork.
It was one of those great undead. She, the woman at the cashier, a stare that seemed alive but rotted on the inside. Not sure why she had to be spiteful. But that’s just the nature of people, isn’t it?
Coronary graze, out from a corner gaze, like death’s rays, the ultimate death ray, zapping me of strength, that she, a stranger, could disdain -- nay, dishonor me so.
The whole thing’s ridiculous.
Fire shouldn’t burn without the heat of flames. But here I am, steaming, embittered, thinking about it too much.
Nestor remembers. As do I. And battles can’t be forgotten, much less those that torture you like wars fought over love, jealousy, spite.
How’d I get on that?
Anyways, Kierkegaard has nothing to say today anyway, so I’ll leave his Either/Or for now. Maybe rest my brain for once.
I take to the door, leaving book oceans, coral hair, the roaring waves of a library’s silence.
Cascading out, falling, not sure where I go from here. THe streets are loud, louder, the din and rave too much. College students run about, all laughing -- no one can be serious anymore. Except for me. And I look miserable, unsmiling, wanting them to be silent. Like a librarian taking to the world to quiet them all, to make the world my library. A regime of silence.
Mutes. They’re the people that should dominate the world. That’d make us all more reticent. I’d feign an unspeaking tongue, blend right in with them -- if only for silence.
I know why some cultures, some tribes, some religions even, cut out the tongues of offenders and enemies.
Maybe I’ll just go home.
Take a nap.
Ron gets sick of the philosophy behind his writing career with B&M Publishers. So he rages to Robert, his editor, publisher and friend (whom he affectionately refers to as Herr Schleimer).
“You ought to have more self respect. You’re a poet, dammit.”
“Hah! A ‘poet’? Nothing as high sounding as that. I’m a mercenary, a lingual slave, a court jester.”
“Come now. Don’t you see it’s not like that? Besides, a court jester only plays for kings."
“And I, Herr Schleimer? Who do I play to please? Who is it that I must always aim to impress with language and poetic gymnastics? Not one man on one throne, but a whole host -- thousands! All seated on the white thrones established for my judgment. Whether to a man or to the masses, it’s true, I’m a court jester, a slave to pleasing others with a word for pay, for my very livelihood.”
“Listen to you, you’re even waxing eloquent in your complaint. Come on, be honest. You know joy in sharing words. You find excitement, a beating of the heart. And even though it brings pleasure to others -- even if for pay -- well even so, doesn’t it at least bring pleasure to yourself?”
“Pleasure for me? Bah! That’s laughable. Joy for me? As if hiring out my love as a whore would give me pleasure. As if prostituting my lover to the whims of others thinking themselves better, fancying themselves the regal crown prince -- as if I could delight myself in such an unmaking of me.”
“Just think for a moment. It’s not all that bad. You’ve got it all -- a place to live, a cabin nonetheless, good friends, a paying job --”
“Another reason, really? As if the luxuries afforded me, as if the society made it worth it, as if, in exchange for these common commodities, it was worth trading my soul for. Really? You would put such a low market value on my soul? And what am I? An ox, trudging the muck of countryside swamps, whipped drivings and cravings of a mad farmer hankering for crops to fatten his family on -- no, not merely sustaining them on. In that case, I could handle my own detriment. That in of itself is a common and decent aspiration. But theirs is merely to fatten them up.”
“Now really, I think you may be overvaluing your role here, maybe taking your contributions to the wellbeing of society a little too far. I doubt language -- or at least writing, even if beautiful -- is the making, let alone the sustenance, of any one individual.”
“Ah, and there it is! There’s the attitude that I appease with each syllable and refrain. Oh Herr Schleimer, but it is. It’s the one commodity in this era that we must fight for. Food is abundant, and more importantly, ours. Why else do you think we burn it and make gas out of it? Transportation is abundant. We buy more cars than we need. Variegated experiences are overabundant. We’re drowned by all of the opportunities for sensual -- that is, sense-oriented -- gratification. But beautiful language? Wonderful writing? Prose that impassions, that draws out that sweet taste of nostalgia, that makes us love again, that makes us dance with its rhythm, that shows us a truth or meaning about the world, that makes us laugh to tears, that makes us cry to laugh -- Herr Schleimer! That is the stuff of gold. The oil that we drill for furiously. And if we can’t bathe or drown in the excess of it like the rest of our worldly common commodities -- well, we demand it until we get it.”
“I already know what you’re thinking, Schleimer. Why me? Why do I think myself important, enough to win and deserve and refuse the people that shower garlands of linguistic praise on me -- the Olympian victor -- and I, all the while, filled with nothing but animosity. Aye, I’ll admit it, I am. And I don’t even blame them for what they’re doing. Writers nowadays suck. They suck real bad, Schleimer. They don’t know how to get a sentence out on paper, let alone a book, let alone make the sentence sing and soar like a winging angel -- that’d never happen with the postmodernists. And you know what, Schleimer? I hate it.”
“Well. I didn’t realize you felt that way.”
“Well I do.”
“No. You misunderstand me. What I didn’t realize is that you held such pompous disdain for your work and all that you’ve been so greatly privileged with. It’s really quite shocking. And I think both you and I had better think about what you just said -- long and hard. Because everything changes now.”
With that, Schleimer stood up. The door slammed upon his exit.
In their quest to find Margaret, Lark and his son (Leander) arrive in New York City. Leander has never been to a city, so that's interesting.
“Dad, who’s that?”
“How should I know? I’ve never seen him before.”
“No, but why’s he sitting there on the road with that other man.”
“Ah, I forget. You’re not used to city life. We call them the homeless.”
“They don’t have homes?”
“No, son. He’s a vagabond taken to the street. But they’re all individuals. Just look at them. Hmmm, especially the one sitting. What a story he’d tell. He’s ragged old, like bitter winter dressed as a beggar. Alms go without price, some alms without poor, and no truer for him, sitting, wild-eyed like a lunatic, gray hair caught by the torrent taking the air. But he has a sinister regality to him. He’s unholy. A madman king, the pavement his throne, cardboard his scepter, heaven his madness, his only recourse to throw up his hands and beg the world for pennies, beg the gods for mercy.”
“The gods? What do you mean?”
“Us. Them,” I said pointing around. “The carefree drivers of the street. They drive on, down the streets of Bank and Muenster, all the way from Little Tokyo to New Amsterdam, and carry on like waves on waves of unhuman men, women too, with faces of stone, without a wave without a gesture, looking straight on, toward the goal, the upward call of skyscrapers and ladders, beckoning them, onward forever.”
“But why is no one helping them?”
“That’s not what’s happening. Plenty of people are ‘helping’ them. Dropping quarters, dollars, twenties and fifties. That’s their help. Compassion is cheap in a society built on the concrete hard and stone cold foundation of cash. Both the loiterers and busybodies, both cheapskates and entrepreneurs, brigands and cops, executives and laborers, all alike down to the last one, regardless of gender, each and every one can spare a dollar - or even ten - for the madman that dies in his unfolding.”
As they got closer, they heard him.
“Do you hear him? The red moustache coming down over his cracked lips muffles his words, like a bad microphone with a dull broadcast, sound waves drowned in the throng. And look, his brother-in-adversity - bare-faced, smooth-skinned, acne-covered - darts his eyes around at it all, bewildered.”
“Can we help them?”
We slowed the pace.
“Help them? Hmmm, if only it were that simple - to ‘help them.’ Imagine if you could! Give a man a hundred dollars, and suddenly he has a chance! Then hope maybe someday he’ll be fixed of his core problems. But I don’t think it’s that simple. See, these men are fixed, but not like machinery after its bad - no, more like a dog made nutless.”
“It’s true! What is there to say, most are hooked on angel dust or special K. You don’t know these men. Now, let’s turn and keep keep pace with the throng.”
But he didn’t.
“Or you don’t.”
“Maybe you don’t know them. Maybe you’re wrong, and you could actually be the one person to make a difference in their lives. But you’re too blind to see it because you’re so worried what they’ll do with whatever you give them. Dad, you told me it doesn’t matter what other people do, it only matters what I do. So why does it matter if they go abuse drugs? Aren’t we supposed to do the right thing anyway?”
“Well, I think that’s out of context.”
“No it’s not, and you know it.”
“If we’re going to help them, this isn’t the way to do it. This isn’t sustainable. It’s just going to keep them on the streets, begging, on drugs.”
“Then what are you going to do about it? Do something about it!”
I looked at the men, sitting and standing, blank stares as they on-looked, our struggle visible to them and everyone else on the street, including a particular man of scrawny disposition, embroidered with tattoos of webbing and skulls.
“Oh, and now look. Like most people who see something interesting going on, this hipster’s pulling out his iPhone to start recording our conversation. As if that’s the meaning of everything - only to be recorded by a $500 phone and posted on YouTube for every person to speak their thoughts on it, to share with their friends to hear what they think about it, as if this one conversation with my son and every other event that ever took place were a cumulative discussion to be had by the world. Take a hint and turn the phone off, blight!”
“I don’t think you can legally tell me to stop recording. This is public property. I'm just recording life on the street here.”
“I’m tempted to say, ‘Thanks, shit face,’ but I’m trying to not curse in front of my son.”
“So instead I’ll roll my eyes at you. Hope that gives you the message. Alright fine, son, here's a fifty, let them split it.”
He took the bill.
“Look at him smiling, walking over. Well, I needn’t tell you, keeping your camera on him. But don’t miss out on the real focal point -- the ragged king, meditating on his asphalt throne foregrounding the brick wall, the other youth keeping court with a sterilized look on his face.”
Walking up to the two, he smiled and offered the fifty. The mad one slowly looked up, then smiled.
“Aye, you're a kind one, eh? A little elven boy bearing gifts, like an angel on the streets. From whence you come? And be ye sent by God, or gods?”
“My mom always told me ‘angel’ meant messenger. And she did say I was a messenger of God.”
“Really? Quite a coincidence, wouldn't you say? You really are then. And your mother’s a prophetess. So, God sent me this fifty, huh?”
“I guess so.”
“That's a bit strange. You'd think God would've sent me a denomination I could've split with my compatriot.”
He looked at the pubescent hobo beside him.
“Oh, uh, I guess you’re right. Hey dad! Do you have another fifty?”
“You must be joking.”
The camera turned to me to capture my reaction, but I pretended not to notice.
“I've only got a twenty. Hey camera boy, you got any money?”
“‘Course you don’t.”
The homeless man responded this time, “That's alright, we don't need another fifty. It'd be nice to have equal bills, but -- as I’m sure you know little angle -- sometimes God doesn't give you what's convenient. He gives you what you're supposed to work with. Here you go, Tim, you need it more than I do.”
The young man put it in his coat pocket, remained silent as the stone upon which he walked.
“You know, boy, your father's not all wrong about us. Some of us just sit on street corners and rake in a couple hundred bucks in a few hours, then spend it on drugs, booze or women -- I won't lie to you.”
“Do you do that?”
“I said ‘some of us.’ No, not me or Tim here. Though he has tripped up time to time, right Timmy? But listen, kid, you'd do well to listen to your father. Just because you gave us a fifty doesn't mean Tim’s life is changed. I mean what's he going to do with his money? I know it's going to help him pay for another month of rent, but what about the next month? And the one after that? He needs something that'll help him his whole life.”
I walked over. “Thanks for saying that.”
“And you. Listen to what your son’s saying.”
“He may be an idealist, but it's better than being a sour crout. Combine your old guy wisdom with his young ideals and build something nice together.”
“Old guy wisdom? That’s kind of funny coming from an old guy.”
“Well, one old guy to another - you’ve got the know how, but you won’t do anything worth getting done, not until you start thinking like a child again.”
“You say ‘again’ like I used to.”
“You did used to, I’m sure of it.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes I do. I can see it in the softness of your eyes. And you’d be as mad as me to deny it.”
“You don’t seem all that mad.”
“Well, I pooped my pants this morning. Does that count?”
“Well there you have it! Do you want to be like a pants-pooping lunatic or do you want to make a difference?”
“I think we’ll just leave.”
“Alright, leave. But don’t forget, you’ve a decision to make. Make a difference, or poop your pants the rest of your life.”
“Thanks for that. We’ll be going now.”
The two walk out of earshot.
“Your next lesson in Homeless People 101: Besides being stereotypically drug addicts, homeless people are also stereotypically crazy.”
“Dad, that man needed help just as much as anybody.”
“You’re not wrong.”
“I’m not just ‘not wrong,’ I’m right.”
“It’s always right or wrong with the youth.”
“I’m either right or I’m wrong.”
“Kierkegaard would take difference to that statement. And Derrida would take differance to that! Ha-ha! Well, I definitely make myself laugh.”
“What are you even talking about?”
“Nevermind that, you’re right. But what’s the best way to help them? That’s what you have to figure out. And, I’m too busy to think about that right now, so let’s just desensitize our minds by walking in this numbing cold for a while. Join the throng, huh?”
Having left B&M Publishers, he finds himself with a publishing house that he actually hates -- Collins Publishing Inc. But his boss, Abe (whom Lark affectionately refers to as "Captain") also hates him. Let's see what happens!
Looking down the rubber-tiled corridor, I saw his stern face, his jaunting way, making headway like a raging comet ripping through the atmosphere, desperate to lambast the world.
“You’re fired. And no I’m not joking.”
And then, not skipping a beat, in his lumbering giant’s way, he kept tearing away, onwards forever down the rubber-skinned hall.
I stood there a moment, but I figured I’d best start moving my stuff. Took to my desk, found a cardboard box by the door someone had likely intended to throw away, then started loading my books, unlaboring my shelves of their word hoard. But after packing Herodotus and Kierkegaard, I hesitated, and looked at that great couplet of shelves.
This was my hall of heroes, my faming line, the legends in my fantasies, and they’d decorated my walls for -- how long? Only now to come down in smoking heaps of aged dust.
But now, one by one, these gods all fall down, down into the abyss of my forgotten cardboard box.
“Hey, Aaron. What’re you doing?”
“Hmmm? Oh, well, what do you mean?”
“With that box?”
“Oh, I was just using it to collect my books. You know these books pick up so much aged dust sitting here on these shelves, like forgotten idols I imagine.”
“Right. Well, I don’t want to interrupt your war on dust, but I was actually going to use that box.”
“Oh, really? I just found it by the door, no one had anything in it.”
“Right, yeah, I totally meant to nab that yesterday. Me and Chelsea are actually moving to a new apartment. So it’d be nice to have it. I’d let you use it when we’re done with it if you’d like?”
“Oh, I see. That’s fine, you go ahead and take it. I’ll find another box.”
“Are you sure? Didn’t mean to steal it like that.”
“No, you go ahead, you and Chelsea need it more than I do.”
“Thanks Aaron. Sorry about that.”
Bereft of my box, I simply piled the books and carried them to my car, armload by armload. Household gods deserve a better vesselage. But you do the best with what you’re given.
After being fired from his job, Ron Lark gets a job at a local public school as a custodian. He muses on what he sees.
Paint-dripped tiles, white blotches on square textiles, arranged by fours, in groups of grays and lime greens. That’s the floor. Staring at it, I hope for it to change before me, to open like a door to Tartarus. Not that it opens to Hell and demonic fiends. Just that it opens to something. Something different than the world of my habitation.
The bugs seem to enjoy the ground. Their appendages clasp tight, even the dead ones, husks of small lives that died walking to who knows where. Do they even know?
Public follicles litter the tiles. Like bits of grass scattered on the floor. And it almost seems as if these strands of mather -- once living and attached to genitalia and other fertile sections, as though seed sewn amongst the paint-dripped tile -- have taken root in the grime and built deep into the tiles to form a small garden of filth. A shadow ode to the possibilities of fertility. A symbol of the potential for fertility -- taken, squabbled and used for self pleasure.
The grime on the toilet seat -- more than dribbles of urine, more than splattered defecations -- was thicker than grease.
And I took up the brush.
And I took up the cleaner.
And I fought the grime.
Separate names with a comma.