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Jan. 1st, 2007

mattmclain

not real sure what this is...

HI DPFS GANG! I got this new fancy computer and was going through all my old discs and found this. It's not finished and I have no idea why I wrote it, but I like it and thought it worth posting--that, and it's far past time I've posted. Enjoy~Matt.




Friday, December, Chicago Night.


I worked my way down Logan blvd. walking mostly sideways, yet somehow, stunningly straight at the same time. I thought about the physics and geometry of the forward/ sideways walk and decided it was astrologically possible with this certain combination—lack of any solid food for the day, and the beers I’d inhaled while reading to/feeding my daughter. Anyway--I caught the bus, and math and science were never two of my stronger subjects.
The southbound Milwaukee #22 was filled with older folks, immigrants, has been’s and never will be’s. I fit right in. People from a different time and place, going totally separate ways. I strolled right in smiling, heading for the empty seats in the back pondering the pasty folks whose past was as evident as the cut throat December wind. According to my quick calculations, there were three putzes, a giddy drunk Mexican, one scared looking rich lady (sitting behind, and looking over the shoulder of the driver), and a plain and wrinkled, proud looking poor black man—he was who I studied.
The man had a droopy face—like the monotone cartoon dog—his cheeks turned down at the corners of his mouth, his old coat looked warm but wasn’t, and he had three or four mismatched plastic bags of food. He smiled at me as he was looking around at the folks on the bus. I smiled back knowing he was as interested in me as I was in him. He had that look of wonder—he was examining me same as I was him…wondering, thinking, asking, making shit up. He was the coolest cat on the bus I decided. I wanted to share my pocket full of Rum with the poor old guy, but I didn’t want to assume. I gave him a heads up as I got off knowing that he was jealous and proud of the fun I was headed for on that crisp, Chicago Friday night. I looked good and confident and I know he was thinking I was gonna step head first into some of that prime pussy he could barely, yet so vividly remember. He was a cool cat.

I was looking for a place called the “Horse something or other”—or maybe it was “the something or other Horse,” who the fuck knew… I knew it was just south of North Avenue, on Milwaukee and I had clear memories of stumbling in to it a time or two, so I basically knew which direction to aim myself. The neighborhood was ass—filled with cell fucks and leather slicksters all looking for a place to spend money and tell impressive stories. I felt rather proud not to live in the area once considered rough, now considered prime for the next Donna Karen outlet, the hippest hood in Chi-town—Wicker Park. I clearly remember passing over the neighborhood in the 80’s riding the “L” thinking to my safe, suburban self, “don’t get caught there after dark.” Yet there I was…looking for the skankiest bar on the strip—and damn proud of it.
The street chatter was drool and predictable—two synthetic hotties wondering if Jane would show, some yutz wondering out loud why he couldn’t get cash, a couple of cliched pierced and tattooed bouncer types debating bands. The dirty coffee/ video shop was hoppin—lots of hotties and hipsters—a last bastion I surmised, which was not unlike myself. Looking down the barrel of thirty and still convinced that Artists were right, still crass and cynical, still wondering what it’s like to not not have money to spend, yet spending money to forget…same old story…a last bastion.

I walked into the Crazy Horse, through the empty, short order Mexican joint that fronted the club, and into the back where the stage, and more importantly, the bar were located. Unfortunately the first face I recognized was “Smiling Chet,” or Richie as I liked to call him. Richie walked up to me with his arms raised high like some felon from a hip hop video. He gave me a big hug that spilled a bit of the Rum in my pocket. He excelled at embarresing, over the top, dumb shit like that. He bought me a beer and introduced some Schlump from New York. They had a script about a murder and a party that they wanted me to think about. They had money to spend and dreams to fulfill and chicks to lay in ski resorts. It was all very Richie, very Chet... The pretender pretending, an empty page with a killer ending. Very Richie, indeed.

The next guy I saw was Vaughn. He was a skinny, sickly looking Scottsmen with huge ears, pale, vein-showing skin and glowing orange hair. He drank Whiskey and talked to Robin. She was Tom's girlfriend. Tom was the drummer from South Bend. His twin brother was Bryan the bass player. Robin had dated both twins and told me she has sex with each of them out of curiosity and to find out which one was better. Tom, the drummer and the bad boy of the two, was who she prefered.
I was pouring Vaughn Rum after Rum after Rum trying to convince him to change the name of his band "Detention," to "The Mormons." Detention wore English Prep school jackets and ties and played heavy punk rock led by Vaughn's Sid Vicious style lyrics and fast paced harmonica blues riffs. I thought the bands image would improve greatly if they were dressed as Morman Misionaries, complete with cheap blue suits and ties and backpacks and bike helmets and bibles. Being Brittish, Vaughn failed to grasp the genius of being a dirty, hard core punk-blues band named The Mormons. He thought it was a bit better than Detention, but not the genious he wanted. We sat and thought and drank Rum until Vaughn had to perform. Detention took the stage and I grabbed Robin and headed to the Mexican joint that fronted the club which was called the Crazy Horse.
Robin ordered tacos. I ate a casadilla. We ate and talked about the twins and watched the party people trump up and down Milwaulkee Blvd. We stepped out into the hazy yellow light of the street lamp to smoke. It seemed like it might be warm, but is was cold and bitter. Robin laughed when I told her the twins had an older brother, but he was gay. Sipping cold Rum we decided it would be quite the interesting conquest for her.

Friday, December, Chicago Night.

Nov. 26th, 2006

kckuzma

A boy's dream under Christmas lights

The process of putting the tree up was too much for him. He lay there, face down on the couch, his chubby cheeks fluffed out fairy-like by the weight of his body against the cushions.

For most of the afternoon, he played in the empty box that housed the nine-foot mammoth that stands in our living room. When he shut his eyes, the sun still was hanging at dusk, causing the natural light of the room to mollify the tree's briliant glow, the way a night light that has lit a room in the early hours of the day appears in the first light of morning. When he woke up, the room was aflame with the soft white hues of 1,000 or more individual light bulbs. Some twinkle, giving the impression of a tree glistening with snow or even movement, a cutting winter wind that bend trees sharply in one direction, leaving dark shadows on heaping snow.

This tree dwarfs adults and certainly a little boy of little more than two years old. The lowest branches jut out into the room, creating a steep slant to the peak where there is just enough room for a star, an angel or a tree-topper of some kind to fit beneath the ceiling. On nearly every branch, there is a Christmas ball, a string of beads or some other ornament that are all together too much for the eyes of a child, but altogether beautiful.

And all the while the twinkle keeps going, a dance of miniature lights that reflect in the glass of the surrounding windows and fills up the whole corner of the house, which can be seen streetside. It's an amazing tree, our first amazing one in five years of marriage, more easily assembled than in years past while of greater size and stronger lighting. The tree fills the entire room with brilliance, yet brings an intimacy amd warmth to the room. Before this year, before there ever was a family, this is the room I dreamed of for Christmas.

This is the room where Chirstmas will arrive, where all of the presents will be unwrapped and the stories behind each gift will be told. In the space between the television and the couch, a whole world of new toys yet to be discovered will unfold for the children before any of the pieces are forever lost.

By this time next year, many of the toys will no longer be played with, pushed back into the farthest reaches of the toy cabinet, in the dusty corners of the carpet hidden by dust ruffles and the weight of mattresses and bedframes. On Christmas morning, everything is still new and a favorite thing upon which an entire year might revolve. Clothes will be tossed to the wayside as quickly as the thin tissue wrap has been parted and the shirts or pants are seen by the harsh, cynical eyes of children hoping to fulfill wants rather than needs.

Charlie, tired from the day and asleep on the couch in the same place where our lazy dogs stay the night might be dreaming of similar adventures as the puppies have. Like the thoughts that get their paws clawing the air in full, imagined stride, his dreams at the side of this fantastic tree are about finding in each box some plastic molded into shapes of trains, superheros, play food, baseball players, or whatever else his mind can conjure.

More than even dreams, the sudden arrival of a Christmas tree in the living is a sign that the day is coming soon, what is an unbearable wait for children closer to ending but still at the earliest stage of pronouncement. And when the day finally arrives, all of the children and Charlie again will meet with a similar fate, strung out on the excitement and anticipation of the biggest holiday of the year. On Christmas afternoon, they all can be found in their rooms, asleep, aglow and temporarily in hibernation until their imaginations are reborn by the soft electronic light of a make-believe tree.

Nov. 19th, 2006

kckuzma

Newsletter musings

About the time most families are dragging out boxes of tangled lights and fluffing up plastic evergreen limbs, I can be found in the deepest recesses of my home working on our holiday newsletter. I don't mean to make it sound as if I don't look forward to the merriness of the season or completing this project. I do. It just seems each year people's expectations and demands for the newsletter are elevated, so writing it has become somewhat of a pleasurable punishment. The feeling I'm left with is what a child might feel like while being chastised for not eating a whole candy bar just before supper.

To keep my feet to the fire so I can achieve the deadline as promised, I thought I'd work out a couple of the stories I plan to include here.

INTRO.

When the trees have been bared so that the Robin’s nests show and a breath of morning fog finds the corners of windows, it has become our season. A time for wide-eyed children with minds for department store toy aisles and fantastic colorful, flashing decorations. When the television plays back black-and-white Christmases from ages ago. The squares of small towns fill with the sounds of bell ringers, clamorous voices and the smells of coffee made black and pine boughs and missed leaves collected in doorways. This is where we find our fondest memories. Gone is the boy who saw himself forever in summer with shorts and fervent blonde hair. He has been replaced three times over and has taken a wife, who has instilled in him a fondness for Gingerbread men, for stringing up lights and sitting down to a table where the faces shine like packages wrapped with glittery bows. The present, for us, has become this holiday, arriving shrily in brittle northern winds, sweeping across a landscape of scraggly trees and gusting snow. Against the starry night, families huddle together inside warmly lit houses, our homes, like the Robin’s, displayed for everyone to see. In the dead of winter, our purpose is that much clearer, a beacon as markedly bright and visible as the Christmas star.

Story #1

"Downtown," is how the townsfolk of Gardner, Kansas, still refer to a stretch of mostly abandoned brick shops and back alleyways along main steet. Where the headlights of farm trucks once pierced the earliest dark mornings to find breakfast, cattle feed and implements, sit the shells of the same silent passings a thousand small American towns have felt.

Under the drabness of November sky, there is a new hope for the old-timers who still remember the hustle and bustle at the town's center. In fact, the new business development that the city council is hedging all its bets on would be the brigtest light on this lazy afternoon were it not for a little girl in a denim jacket lined with pink fur.

The two of us hold hands as she pulls me across the yellow-lined parking spaces, outstepping me five-to-one but still not getting much farther ahead. The temperatures have fallen to the point where our breaths can be seen in foggy smoke signals and people hurry about clasping their long-sleeved arms because it feels too early for them to dig out coats from the closet.

"AAH. It's cold! It's cold!" I say. "Hurry up, let's get in the store where it's nice and warm." Or words to that effect. The kind of embarassing, fun words only a child can appreciate and that draw ire looks from adults loading flimsy shopping bags into car trunks. I suppose they consider this a show because no parent is really this way with a child.

Annie, who just turned four, has an energy that just lets her shine like a Christmas ball hung from a branch strung with lights. She has on a knitted stocking cap with colors of a reverse rainbow, primarily pink and lime green and baby-blanket blue. Across her back is a patch sewn into her jacket -- three Disney princesses standing like pretty maids all in a row.

We are the farthest thing from royalty, crossing the parking lot in Gardner, on a Wednesday afternoon after school, jogging toward this store that is the talk of the town. "A real place to shop," I've heard people say. Already, it's one of the children's favorites.

With animated, mechanical toys that shift and bend and tell Christmas stories, both bibical and traditional, how could it not be? But the agreement that we came to on the way here was that the purpose of this trip was to buy medince for her mother and just to look at the toys, not to take anything home -- just to LOOK. Her father's heart is the size of George Bailey's who has the misfortune of a Bob Cratchit budget.

Annie runs in the sliding doors, me following, and stops at the opening display. Santa sits on folded legs and reads the sleepy words of The Night Before Christmas I remember from the pages of a Golden Book. A giant inflatable snow globe blows flakes of white in a swirl of winter-time color and fanfare. And even though she doesn't need it, I think about surprising her with it out on the lawn on Christmas morning. But I remember that we came for a specific item, and at barely four years old, she is gracious enough to leave the display behind and to traipse back to the pharmacy to find the appropriate box of antacid tablets. On the way, she spies and aisle of vitamins and casually suggests we should buy a bottle so her mommy doesn't get sick again.

I, on the other hand, am preoccupied with time in the way I remember grown ups could be. The day is old. At 3:30, the sun will be down soon and she, like the Christmas story, will be asleep for a short nap before dinner. After an extended search, I find the right section and talk Annie out of buying the box with cherries on it because it contains chewable tablets, not caplets.

Then, as promised, she leads me to the department she wants to visit. Where most children might first demand to be taken to see the toys, the Christmas aisle and its call of tree decorations, candy and music boxes she finds more alluring. Outside, above us, the sky is ripped and torn with charcoal clouds, so many that it appears to be one mammoth blanket of gray, but inside it's bright with the artificial lights of trees, lawn decorations, and her. This little, pink girl who knows she's not taking home a single thing, though we both know she really wants to.

She talks in a soft voice and shows me everything, in part out of politeness, but mostly at the chance there is a special treat in it for her. If she knew how long the wait will be -- more than a month by the most aggressive of estimates -- the sheer disappointment might be enough to overwhelm her excitement. No little girl's Christmas can come as quickly as they would like it to or be as big they would prefer it to be. So, we look, eyeball things, pick them up and turn them around, listen to the nativity story told to us by a plastic scene with a soft bulb anchored in the manger's roof, illuminating baby Jesus.

Not more than a few months ago, it seems, she wasn't even born and I could feel her fleshy kicks and uppercuts muted by the space of her mother's womb. And now here she is, not only full of personality and spunk, but offering her own thoughts and deeds of tenderness. Those moments of sincerety are effortless for her, a gift most children have that many adults must attempt consciously, usually for some sort of gain or reward.

We left the store that day the same way as we came in, holding hands and racing, having kept our promise not to buy anything but what we came for. And she doesn't complain in the parking lot or on the short drive home. I can see her in the rearview mirror, gazing out on the railroad tracks and the tall, metallic telephone poles that swoop on for miles and miles. I know, through the wisdom that adults are sometimes be good for, that the value of our shopping trip has value for me, too, and goes beyond a lesson in patience for a child at Christmas time.

What matters most is what men -- and women for that matter -- want for their families in their heart of hearts, not so much what we can actually deliver, for no one -- no matter what color they are wearing or how pure of character -- can change the barometer or brush away the severity of the November winds on the low-lying plains of Kansas.

Nov. 18th, 2006

kckuzma

A flower patch by the cemetery

One of the most difficult matters of being a family man is finding 10-minute windows of peace to tap your creative side. I wrote the beginning of the story below while lying on the guest bed at my in-laws' house is Oklahoma City, Okla., which may have something to due with the cemetery theme (I am kidding, of course -- but if there is a setting any more sexless than that, it's a grave yard). The kids were sleeping at the time and my wife was finishing a conversation downstairs, so I only had a moment to do some free-writing. I mention my time constraints on this piece for two reasons. First, so you understand why the story stops abruptly. And second, in case you have any suggestions for where you FELT this piece was going ... so I know where to take it. This vision is actually one that has haunted me since childhood more so because of the blatant pollution of the environment, not the profound insensitivity of tossing out grave-side ornaments the day after a national grieving. Without further ado, here it is:

The flowers were woven into a heap of lawn clippings and broken branches. Blooms of salient color lay atop the tangled brush: lustrous purple lilies, roses as pink as sun-dried skin, soft-salmon carnations, and gentle but bright yellow blossoms of no particular denomination that looked as if a child made them by pinching and folding little finger-fulls of tracing paper. This bastion of color ranges -- an alternative sort of rainbow -- and the long, leafy bodies that supported them were gnarled together in a gully at the furthest edge of the cemetery. It was an absurd pile. By the autumn, the grass would have decomposed with a sour rotting smell, the greens gradually turning black and fading naturally into the soil. But the petals on these flowers, manufactured to perfection and shipped to mortuaries by the thousands, would neither wither nor fade, littering the jagged tear in the ground for who knows how many lifetimes.

Each petal was synthetic, made with definite intent and purpose, but this place was made florid by surprising accident. The artist was a broken down, nameless old man who, as far as the neighborhood children could tell, was the only person left alive who remembered about the grave yard. He tended to it once a year – more out of nagging responsibility than love – on the day after Memorial Day. That’s the busy season for cemeteries. It’s like Christmas for department stores. And every summer, the very next morning after the crowds had cleared, he’d come and cut the grass, emptying out all of the vases and clearing off the headstones and grass patches, and throw all of the decorations over into a big pile. So there against a canvas of green or brown (if the spring had been dry and the sun especially warm for the season) would be this phony flowerbed with these vivid colors and, every so often, a grave decoration turned on its side with worlds written across like it the lettering on some unfortunate beauty pageant ribbon – if it was a soldier, it says, “Courage, respect, love.” Or if it was an infant, “We’ll never forget you.” Those lacy strips that lay still like slithering snakes, of course, bring a somber mood to this collection. That’s exactly what it was to some of its viewers: a collection of art; of odd artifacts. To be measured as a piece of art, it was an oddity -- made with materials both long-standing and temporary or fleeting. Maybe an art critic could interpret it differently, but to us kids who ran these hills behind the graveyard, most of whom had never stepped foot into a museum at any part of their lives – at least not at that point – it was beautiful.

Only a few were aware of this place. The biggest frequenters were, of course, young lovers. Most would come here for privacy, but also to fulfill a sense of exploration. I always imagined that they had tired of the backseats of cars and wanted to find someplace where kisses could be sneaked without the risk of parents opening the door on them or coming down the stairs. So, inevitably, there would be a couple that would break away from the back – if they were hanging with a larger group – and they’d head off holding hands up the hillside, waist deep in weeds that were the same color and shape as summer wheat.

The treeptops acted as a roof here and a filter of sunlight. In the midafternoon, the ground there could be mistaken to move as the branches swayed in the breeze, the cracks of light dancing on the rocks and dirt. And, the lovers would lie there, on this shifting ocean of dirt, as the waves of sunshine would rock them through from gentle kissing to something much riskier.

Nov. 17th, 2006

kckuzma

Lessons from Quadrophenia

I am a big fan of Pete Townshend and the Who. In college, I developed quite an affinity for their second rock opera, Quadrophenia, the follow-up to Tommy. The story follows the Mod movement in 1960s England and a young boy who struggles to find his place in the high fashion, drug-crazed under-society of British street culture. The main character is a schizophrenic teen-aged boy, whose personalities are split into four parts, each representing qualities of the Who band members. I, of course, felt in touch mostly with Townshend's shyness and only fleetingly hoped to one day live up to Daltrey's pretty boy.

I remember lying on my bed -- I had no box springs, just a mattress laid out on the floor -- and listening to the songs about this hood who wanted to be loved by his parents and a "bird" on the same scene. One night, I decided to flip through the liner notes of the CD and found this brilliant story written by Pete Townshend, who has dabbled in writing short-form literature. It's more of a character sketch, really, than a story with a beginning and end. My favorite line is the opening: "I had to go to this psychiatrist every week." Those words and the lost feeling of the piece stayed with me as I struggled with finding a way to connect with this girl -- my neighbor -- who I thought was what I wanted out of life. So, the story stuck with me, and the other night a story of my own - based on the underground rail lines and pill-popping street life of the Mod era and present day New York (somehow) came to me, but just the beginning. Nothing more. Here it is:

UNDER SOHO GLARING WHITE

The subway walls in the Soho district are tiled like a shower stall. In the holes where the trains slide day and night, an occasional flash of sparks give shape to the rail lines. Out of the black, they slip into a synthetic daybreak where the platforms are lit with white UV lights. A white glare pushes through the tempered glass on the side nearest the station, overtaking the false interior lighting in the cars.

The glare has varying affects on the riders. Tourists and the poor blokes who can afford to ride only a couple times a year press up to the windows to see if the train is gonna derail or if, by accident, it was rerouted to the after life. Pushing their heads far out on the ends of their necks, they stare through into the glowing, straining with their eyes to see something rather than closing them. It's fun to imagine that some of think are confused and are thinking their lives have ended. Maybe a bomb went off and blew them to bits without them realizing it. If they looked back, they would realize they were outside of their bodies, watching themselves or what was left of themselves. Tiny pieces lying on the grooved rubber flooring where blood runs through the rivulets. Not until the doors pull open and they step out onto the pavement do they realize they have arrived.

For those who ride occasionally, the white light is an annoyance. Their frustration is accentuated by faces that pinch into squints, hands that fly from their laps to their foreheads as if they are driving right into the sun on stream on a morning in late January.

The ones who ride the trains all the time expect the shock, anticipate it in hopes that it will be over soon. White tiles reflect UV lights that expose my brain that’s soaked up all the alcohol that I can still taste in my mouth.

I get these headaches. I took pills for them. I had surgery. Nothing’s worked. The surgery worked for awhile. The docs hollowed out my nasal passages, essentially, taking all the polyps and growths beneath my eyes. My once deviated septum was corrected and is no longer deviated, though according to the doc, no one’s is perfectly straight. All that work seemed to ease the pressure, but I get the headaches. They come on unannounced and stay for three days. About all that helps is sleep, but the old man thinks I’m lazy. Kicks me out of the loft.

Sep. 27th, 2006

ex_callmebe

(no subject)

Everyone's headless - like horsemen. Just their shoulders and below. They're mysteries, and so am I. I'm invisible, which is wickedly delightful. If I just stay quiet...then I'm a spy, a pirate hiding, waiting to steal a map, a key. I'm a knight in a fort - no. Something more secretive, less noble. I'm naughty, and responsibility is forgotten, a thing only for the poor schmucks without heads. They must be so lost, but I'm not. I hold all of their secrets in my cave, a treasure more precious than gold or jewels. The trafficking of secrets. How much would they pay these feet, these shoulders, these headless mutants? I smile in my secret cave, my sanctuary.