Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Final scene of my accursed novel

In late August, Clark didn't show up for the departmental meeting. Or the first day of class. Harry scrambled to fill a couple of Clark's classes temporarily, but had to cancel his senior seminar. The telephone offered only the knowledge that Clark had either moved or not paid his bill. The post office was no help either. Finding Clark became almost an obsesson. He tried to contact the local U-Haul company, but they had only Clark's old address. If Clark had a new phone, it was unlisted, if he was still in town at all.

The utility company claimed their records were confidential. Harry ran ads in the newspaper personals urging Clark to contact them. He contacted all of Clark's next-of-kin listed in his file. They had received postcards reassuring them that Clark was ok, but no information about where he was or what he was doing. His mother and father knew only that he'd had the summer off and was working on a book.

One of Clark's former teaching assistants spotted him getting on a bus one day. She called after him, but Clark didn't respond. Knowing how much Harry wanted to find Clark, she began riding that bus for several days until she finally spotted Clark coming out of his apartment building. She pulled the cord and jumped of the bus as wuickly as possible, but once again, lost track of Clark before she could catch up to him. She wrote down the address and took it back to Harry's office.

Harry stopped by the building several times, but it was a security building with a locked front door. He wasn't able to get in to knock on Clark's door directly, and Clark never answered the doorbell. Harry spent a half an hour to an hour each day parked in Clark's block, but never managed to find him. He varied the times of day he drove by, but it never seemed to matter. Finally, Harry saw someone entering the building with several small boxes in either hand and under her arms. He got out of his car and ran in the front door before it had shut behind her.

Maureen stood at the public phone in the McDonald's outside of Milwaukee. She pulled out her phone card and began punching in the access code that was probably more elaborate than the one needed to detonate an atomic bomb. She tapped her foot while the phone rang. There was on off-key beep and the automated operator came on. I'm sorry, the number you have reached is no longer in service. Please hang up and dial again, or call your operator for assistance. Maureen checked the number and tried again, muttering one more time about having to punch in 27 digits to make a phone call. When she heard the same beep, she did not wait around for the operator's instructions. She picked up her bag and got back on the bus.

The woman turned out to be Clark's landlady, and she informed Harry that Clark had called her last night. He said that he was out of town and wouldn't be coming back.

The landlady invited Harry to come in and look around, as she was going to have to clean the apartment and pack up Clark's things.

When they walked in, the found the bed made with a few empty hangers lying on top of it. On the kitchen table was a shoe box with Clark's manuscript and next to that was a letter from Maureen. Harry scanned it, trying to focus only on information about where Clark had gone. He found no concrete information, only vague references and congratulations on Clark's new resolve and new life. Maureen was proud of Clark for finally putting his convictions into practice, whatever that meant. Maybe they'd run into each other along the way, the card said..

The most cluttered part of the apartment was the refrigerator door. It was covered with brochures and clippings from leftist tabloids and newspapers. The People. Love and Rage. In These Times. Pamphlets from the Peace corps. Native American support project. Many of them had portions that had been cut out, apparently signing up for something or requesting more information. There was one small clipping--a classified ad that still carried a red ink semi-circle along its torn edges.

Tired of trying to change the system from within?
Don't leave it to the politicians and the U.N. Be a
part of people's revolutions around the world.
Really 'be all that you can be' in South or Central
America, Eastern Europe, etc. 736-9414.

There was another circled ad for a Kibbutz in Israel. And a postcard from Maureen of a commune in Oregon she had spent a weekend at. Harry began removing items from the refrigerator and putting them in his suitcoat pocket.

Harry sighed. "The sonofabitch. What the hell is he thinking . . . ?" The landlady shrugged and continued folding clothes into boxes. Harry thanked her and walked down the stairs and out to his car muttering "I guess I'll be doing more teaching than I thought this semester."

Harry looked up from his book and started when he saw Maureen standing in front of him. Her t-shirt was grungy, not having been changed in several days, and she had with her the backpack which had all of her belonging in it.

"Maureen, I thought you'd left."

"Well, now I'm back."

"I see that." Harry paused nervously and leaned forward. "What can I do for you, Maureen?"

"Where's Clark?"

"What's the matter? Are you . . . in trouble? Is that why you came back?"

"What the hell are you talking about, Harry?"

"I'm sorry. Have a seat, Maureen." Harry gestured to the chair in front of his desk, usually reserved for prospective new students or advisees coming in to discuss scheduling or changes to their major. Maureen set her bag down on the floor and dropped into the chair."

"I'm very tired and I came a long way to see Clark. Do you know where he is? He's not on any of the class schedules and none of your secretary toadies out there will tell me anything. Who's that living in the house? Did you fire Clark? Was he killed by right-wing terrorists? What do you know about this, Harry?" Exhausted,

Maureen started to cry. She sat straight up in front of Harry as tears ran impassively down her cheeks. There was no great love loss between these two, but Harry felt bad for the young woman.

"Did Clark leave you . . . in trouble? Is there anything you need, Maureen?" Harry started to get up and come around the desk. Maureen stuck her hand up like a traffic cop and motioned for him to stay where he was.

"Why won't you just tell me straight, Harry? Everything's fine. I just want to come home."

Harry grimmaced. "Then I think you should go home. Go back to your parents, and get on with your life."

“This IS my life, Harry. I know you never liked the idea, but Clark and I have been together for four years. There is no other life to “get on with.” Is he avoiding me? Did he tell you . . ." Maureen started to cry a little harder. Harry passed her a tissue over the desk.

"No. Maybe. Maureen, Clark is avoiding everyone. He's gone."

"What do you mean?"

"He just left. He took a sabbatical and that's the last I ever saw of him." Harry paused, remembering the stake-outs from his car window. "Here. That's the last I ever saw of him here."

"Do you know where he is?" Maureen sniffled and wiped her nose with the folded up tissue.

"No, but I know where he was."

Maureen nodded. She picked up her bag and stood up. "Show me."

Harry called one of the other professors and asked him to cover his afternoon classes, classes that were originally Clark's. He explained that an emergency had come up and escorted Maureen to his car in the faculty lot. There was an awkward silence on the way, and during the trip to Clark's small apartment, Maureen leaned silently against the car window. She watched the landscape of the university turn to dorms and apartments, and then through the nicer neighborhoods, where the professors lived, big old houses with porches and siding, some with manicured looking lawns. Past campustown, they got into what Maureen considered the funkier neighborhood, where the radicals and artists lived. She sighed. She wanted to go home. Mo and Harry drove past the street she and Clark had lived on and she was momentarily disoriented not to be turning the corner. They had driven this exact route together so many times over the past three years. Maureen picked her head up from the window and turned toward the block their house was on, looking for signs or clues.

"He finished his book," Harry interrupted.

"Really." Maureen shifted her body and turned toward Harry. "Is it any good?"

"I only read parts of it."

"Where is it?'

"I left it there. In the apartment."

"Apartment?" Maureen repeated. Then she became annoyed. "How could you do that? Just leave his manuscript behind like it was nothing. Do you know hard he worked on that? Do you think his landlady is going to save that?"

She turned back toward the window, picturing Clark in a dingy little apartment, with his PC at the kitchen table, up writing all night. She remembered how he used to pace the floor while he was working on an article and would run back to the desk whenever something struck him. Then he would write for a few minutes or an hour, as long as it took to exhaust that thought. He then stood up and paced, reading outloud what he had just written and making notes.

"Well, he obviously wasn't too concerned about it. Why should I be? Besides, his rent is paid up through this month, she told me. I just stopped in myself last week. I was trying to think of who to call. To come get everything."

"Then it's a good thing I showed up, isn't it?"

Maureen and Harry were silent on the rest of the drive. Gradually, the neighborhoods became a little more run down. The buildings were older and the streets were in greater disrepair. Still, Maureen liked the building that Harry stopped in front of. There was a large old elm tree in the front yard that gave a lot of shade. The buidling was square, almost modular looking. Maureen smiled thinking that in its day, probably the late 60s or early 70s, it was probably considered quite hip. She and Harry walked down three or four steps, to a sub-ground floor apartment whose windows appeared just at the level of the lawn, which was green, but not lush like the professors' homes.

Maureen peeked in the small square window of the front door and Harry took out his keys. Mo looked at him surprised. "The landlady gave me these. So I could clean everything out."

"I'll take it." Maureen held out her hand. "You can go. I'll take it from here."
Harry looked at Maureen, hesitating to give her the key. "I don't know, Maureen. Is that . . ."

But Maureen's face was determined looking. She continued to hold her hand out as she held Harry's gaze. "Just give me the key, Harry, and go back to class."

Harry was frozen. Maureen became more adamant. "HARRY! Give . . . me . . . the . . . key." Startled, he began to fumble with his keychain and Maureen softened her tone. "Let me say goodbye. By myself. Ok?"

Harry nodded and took the key off the chain. "I promised the landlady . . . do you . . . ? Do you know his family very well?"

"Harry," Maureen took the key and touched him on the shoulder, "I'll take care of it."

Mo waited until Harry's car had pulled completely out of sight before unlocking the door. It reminded her of her first student apartment. The kitchen table had thin brass legs and a cover like a plastic picnic table cloth, with faded yellow flowers, and three chairs that matched exactly. The oven was white with black knobs, the clunky round knobs that told her that the stove was probably brand new when the apartment was built. The refrigerator seemed somewhat newer, maybe only ten years old rather than twenty-five. When Maureen opened it to find it completely empty and spotlessly clean, she smiled, hoping that Clark had given any leftover food to a shelter or street person rather than throwing it out.

She sat down at the table and looked at the box that held the culmination of Clark's work since before she had known him. Down at the other end of the room there was a sofa bed folded out and neatly made up. She took the manuscript over to the bed and lay down on her stomach, flipping the pages over in front of her. Reading Clark's prose, the way his mind worked, making connections that other people might not notice, she was transported back to his classroom, back to the chalkboard dream in the bus station. She could hear his voice as she read every sentence. Tears fell onto the pages and she set them down carefully so that they would dry without ruining the ink and causing his words to be lost. Six months of assumptions rolled up into a heavy ball in her stomach. How could he not be there, tenure-seeker that he was, building a career and life she could come home to. She closed her eyes tight, trying to bring his face into her memory, but each time as she thought she had it, he faded again, leaving only the sound of scratching chalk, as she drifted to sleep, her arms around the thick stack of papers.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another scene from my accursed novel

By 3:30, Clark decided to give in to his insomnia. He stumbled down to the kitchen to make some coffee. Then he sat down in the dark, mesmerized by the light of the stereo. There was a lot to be seen in darkness. He could see past lives that were more easily forgotten in the business of the day.

Not all of his memories were bad, either. Maybe they should be. People should be consistent. They shouldn't play with your feelings and leave you with ambivalence. They should be good or bad. Period. That would make it easier to love or hate them without any remorse or concern about their feelings or motives.

Clark threw the mug against the wall, embarrassed by the triteness of the gesture, but the movement felt good.

"Why do you always blame everything on me? You know, that's the problem . . . "

"No, that's the problem. The problem is that whenever I bring anything up, I'm blaming you, or I'm nagging, or, whatever. The problem as I see it isn't that everything's your fault. It's that nothing is your fault." She poked her head out the bathroom door and looked at Clark. "Let me put it this way, then, I know us."

"Don't you think we've both changed?"

"Not enough. Look, sit down, let's talk about it this time, ok? Not fight, not get defensive, just let me tell you how I feel." They sat caddy-corner from one another in the oversized red chairs. "I know that I'll want to start leaning on you, and you'll get scared and pull back and you'll get that trapped animal attitude. Then I'll get angry with you and we'll be right back where we were before."

"No we won't."

"Ok, you're right. This time it happens, I'll completely hate you. As it stands now, I'm starting to like both of us. Let's keep it that way." She picked up her purse and started out the door.

"Where are you going?"

It was 2 a.m. when Clark got home. He thought they'd never get the papers done.
He walked into the bedroom without noticing that Maureen was sitting quietly in the dark living room. She didn't say anything to him, either. She looked out the window. Her eyesight and adjusted to the darkness now, and she looked around the room.

Around noon, she shuffled out of the bedroom in a shaggy blue robe and elephant slippers. She yawned and looked blankly at Clark.

"Good morning." It took effort.

"You look terrible."

"Thanks. Love ya. I'll bet you say that to all the girls."

"Where were you last night?"

"Just sitting out here thinking. How'd it go yesterday?'

"You know," Clark said, moving towards Maureen and putting his arms around her, "after this semester I could probably get away for a while--take a sabbatical."

We both know,€ that despite all of your best intentions,€ you're not going to keep any promises you make about spending time with me. So this whole conversation seems pointless."

"So that's what this is about? You're pissed off because I haven't been spending enough time with you, so you're going to get back at me. 'No, that's ok, dear. I don't want you to give up your career for me.'

Bullshit!€ You know, most women would love for their boyfriends or husbands to drop everything for them."

"Look, it's early and I'm not awake enough for a fight right now."

"Well start chugging some coffee, because I am."

Mo woke up early the next morning with squinty eyes and a pained expression, as if there were oil drilling inside her head.

She laughed a little, but it only hurt her head worse. Wouldn't everyone be surprised to see her right now? wouldn't she be surprised to see them, since she was just getting out of bed? Ow. No humor. It was well-known that Maureen never drank and didn't even like the taste of alcohol.

But she had made an exception this weekend. "I just felt so shitty, you know?" she explained to Alice later on the phone. "Every little thing becomes a catastrophe. I decided if I was going to feel so bad, at least I should have a good reason."

The hangover started to wear off, though, as she moved around a little and got dressed. At least she was alone and didn't have anyone harrassing her about her weekend's activities.

She realized that weekend that she was, in fact, a workaholic. Work was all that she really enjoyed anymore. If she was drawing or meeting with someone or staying in an office from sunrise until sunset, it was o.k. with her. In fact, she was known everywhere as one of the most agreeable, hardworking people to be found. That reputation had been a large part of her success.

She had begun to think more and more about her "addiction." Would she end up alone for the rest of her life? Would she end up with eight or nine different husbands, each with a successful life of their own, but resenting a workaholic life? Neither proposition looked very eppealing. Well, ok. She probably wouldn't be Zsa Zsa Gabor or anything, but the prospects of one, healthy relationship didn't look too good, either.She liked the idea of independence, and certainly loved her work, but she knew that there had to be more in your life than just work to keep you from eventually feeling bored and restless with yourself.

Clark spotted Maureen across the plaza. He felt disoriented and couldn't quite place where he was. The plaza, or maybe even a piazza, was like something he had envisioned from a Greek myth. There was a small gazebo, round with white columns, slanting at the foot of a small, but respectable hill. The grass was more lush and green than he had ever seen before, and there were people standing around talking, leaning on tables. He shook his head as miniskirts appeared almost as togas. And yet this place was very familiar, too. He spotted Maureen and walked to her in slow motion and real time. When he approached her, she simply ended the conversation she was having with someone and fell into step beside Clark. Neither said where they were going, the just walked.

Suddenly Clark and Maureen found themselves inside a room. He lay her back on a table or an elevated bed of some sort and began to kiss her neck while tugging her shirt out of its tuck inside her pants. He felt a great melancholy as he did this, as his lips came into contact with her skin. She kissed him back, pulling his face to hers, twirling light the small hairs from his beard into curls. Distracted and without a word, silent as she had been throughout, Maureen stood up and walked out of the room and into the crowd. Clark tried to pull himself together and chased her out into the plaza. Without running or trying to avoid him, Maureen managed to always stay a few steps away from him. She never appeared to hear him--in fact no one heard him call out after her--and eventually, she disappeared into the crowd completely.

Clark continued to look for her, certain that once he was outside of the crowd, he would be able to spot her walking across a park or a field, but it was as if she had evaporated completely, decrystalized in front of him. He suddenly remembered where he was--this was the hill where the Washington Monument stood, the very hill where they had met up after being separated in the middle of the March on Washington for affordable housing. This was the place they always agreed to meet when they got lost from one another. Clark sat down on the side of the hill, scanning the crowd for some sign of what the people were rallying for today.

Over the next three nights, this dream repeated itself in various milieus--on campus, at a faculty party, and in the middle of a Greyhound station. Despite the change of venue, the dream was always the same. A rendez-vous, a tryst that was leading toward sex, but not just sex. It was very emotional for Clark. And then just as they were about to come together, just as clothes were starting to shed, Maureen would become distracted and wander off, as if he had never been there.

This much he knew--that Maureen was probably on a Greyhound right now, "finding herself" in middle America, or maybe dancing on the beach in San Francisco, trying to live a life that she had never lived but always wanted to. He knew it was irrational--what his flaky sister-in-law in all her 12-step self improvement lingo would call "co-dependent", but it hurt him to think that there was so much longing in her that Maureen that couldn't be satisfied in the world they had built up together. And now, no matter how much he tried to reach her, Maureen was now out of reach altogether.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Protest: Scene from my Accursed Novel

When Clark walked into the house, he heard yelling come from the living room. He set his backpack down by the door and ran in to see what was wrong. Maureen was sitting on the floor stuffing envelopes and screaming at the television.

"You fucking lying bastard! How can you sit there and say that shit?!"


Maureen looked up at Clark. "Oh, Hi. Can you believe these guys?"

Clark leaned over and kissed Maureen on the top of the head. "I thought you were being raped or something."

"You're so melodramatic sometimes."

"I'm melodramatic? You're having a premature stroke watching Crossfire and I'm melodramatic? Mo, maybe you shouldn't watch so many of these things. This can't be healthy, even at your age."

"At my age? What should I be watching at my age? Bozo's Cartoon Circus?"

"I'm just saying, that you don't have to watch every news show just because it's there."

Maureen looked at Clark blankly, as if he were speaking Swahili. "That's what they want, Clark."

"There is such a thing as too much information."

"Sure. I can pretend it's not there and sit around watching sit-coms or docudramas and wait for them to show up at my door and drag me off for thought crimes. Or better still, they could find me so innocuous that they would ignore me completely because my brain is so addled and placated . . . "

"That's not going to happen."

"Tell it to a campesina or a Bosnian Moslem."

Maureen to continued to stuff and label envelopes without missing a beat. "I'm just saying," Clark continued, "that one day without being in a snit might actually be good for you. You push yourself so hard sometimes." Clark sat down on the sofa behind maureen and began rubbing her shoulders as she sat on the floor, back to the sofa, with a pile of flyers, a roll of printed mailing labels, and a sheet of stampls on the coffee table in front of her. She leaned her head back against his legs and sighed. Clark leaned forward and kissed her. "Tyranny will still be there tomorrow for you to battle."

Maureen snapped forward and began folding flyers again. "Don't patronize me, Clark. Just because you and your friends got tired and sold out . . . "

"Don't start on this again. If what I do is so shitty, why do you put up with me? Not everyone can throw themselves in front of traffic or chain themselves to the Armenian Embassy."

No. Some of us have to prop up capitalism while me make the pretense we're bringing it to its knees by writing positions papers and textbooks and putting on red face and doing our little Marxist minstrel show for the department heads."

Clark stood up and snatched a paper from Maureen's stack. "And how is this dead tree pulp going to bring fascism to its knees? Political assassinations through paper cuts?" Clark balled up the flyer and through it across the room. "I really want to know, Mo. WHY DO YOU STAY WITH ME? I'm so clearly inadequate. Am I your practice? If you can improve me, you can improve the world? Or is it just that you can't hang onto your rich Mommy and Daddy forever while you live in your fake poverty, so I'm the least onerous way for you to get a hot meal and a roof over your head and get fucked every once in a while?"

"Fuck you."

"Is that it? Does it make your clit hard when I recite Das Kapital? Or is it just the sexy way I draw out Hegel's dialectic?"

"Maybe I just wanted an A in poli sci."

Clark kicked the table away from Maureen. Stamps and papers went flying and the stapler landed with a thud inside the upended table.

"Why do you do this? You know we never dated while you were in my class. Why do you have to be such a bitch when you're mad?" Maureen cringed against the couch with her hands in front of her face as Clark stood over her screaming. "Why are you crying?"
Clarked stormed upstairs and slammed the bedroom door. Maureen could hear the deadbolt turn and Clark was slamming things down on his dresser. She started when she heard something smash against the wall overhead.

Maureen sobbed loudly, gasping for breath, as she got up and set the coffee table upright. Her hands shook while she gathered up the flyers and supplies. She fished around in the couch for the remote control and turned the channel over to a cartoon. Mechanically, she folded, stapled, stamped and labelled a few more flyers before finally giving up. She crawled onto the sofa and lay down, cradling a pillow in front of her. She stared blankly at the television, sobbing quietly.

At 4:10, Clark came downstairs and looked at Maureen, who had falled asleep curled around the throw pillow. He touched her gently on the arm and she jumped up, startled and scared. Clark sat down beside her, putting his arm on her shoulder.

Maureen snuggled against his torso, trying to go back to sleep. Clark lifted her to her feet. "Let's go to bed. You'll be more comfortable there. I'll help you with your mailing in the morning."

"What time is it?"

"After four. C'mon." He led her upstairs to their room, leaving the lights and television on.

In his small apartment, Clark woke up in the middle of the night, briefly disoriented. He lay on his side in the dark, trying to orient himself, to remember where he was. Once he finally remembered, and realizing he now needed to go to the bathroom, he rolled over in bed, fully awake now. He saw a very small man, no more than 3 1/2 feet tall, the same size as the divider between his kitchen and dining room. The little man had a wrinkly face. He was hunched over, wearing a dirty little trench coat. His face looked like a caricature, like a drawing of Jimmy Durante, with the big nose and big eyes. He put up a stubby, swollen wrinkled hand and waved at Clark, then before Clark’s eyes, disintegrated, decrystallized. Clark immediately jumped out of bed and began sorting socks and underwear. It was 5 a.m. Within 10 minutes, he was dressed and out the door, headed for the fluorescent lights of an all-night laundromat.

The next day, Maureen loaded up a few signs and began to drive around town, collecting her friends. The five of them had planned to drive to the nuclear power plant outside of town. No big deal, just issue a few manifestos, stand across the street with some signs, show that not everybody wanted to go inside the plant for a sanitized "tour" promoting nuclear power. As an older plant, this one could potentially have some real problems, and Maureen and her friends wanted to open the debate--a debate that had seemed absent in this community.

Not too far from her hometown, maybe 150 miles or so, the power company had put up a nuclear plant, promising the residents that the lake, built to cool the plant, would provide recreational opportunities. There were images right out of the Simpons of people boating, fishing and swimming right next to the twin towers of the plant. The thought of swimming in a lake that was created for and fed into by a nuclear power plant made Maureen's skin crawl. Not surprisingly, once the plant was open, the residents were unable to use the lake, due to the proliferation of unsafe microorganisms in the overheated water.

All over the country, unsophisticated small towns had been talked into nuclear plants. This one was on the river. Maureen loved living in river towns, and in fact, had vowed never to live anywhere that didn't have a significant lake or river. And she couldn't stand the thought that this plant was pouring unsafe substances into her river, just like all of the other manufacturers that dotted the shores.
Maureen had sent out a press release a few days before indicating that the local "Greens" chapter would make an appearance at the plant. In reality, the Greens chapter thus far amounted to her issuing position statements and having her friends stuff envelopes. That she had a full carload of people gathered for this event was a major coup, she felt.

Once gathered, the local Greens chapter as now configured, decked out in jeans and tie-dye, knee to knee with their signs and posters in their laps, cranked up the radio and sped off along two-lane highways out to the plant. As they got there, they saw both sides of the road full of police cars--county sherrifs, local cops, state patrol. There were more police cars than there were people in her car. At the same time, she saw no media vans or reporters and this was, primarily, a photo opp. It wasn't like they had any plans at all to shut down the plant or anything. Maureen felt at once terrified and proud of her public relations abilities.

"Shit. Look at all the cops. They must have been expecting a lot of people. Maybe I overdid it with the royal 'we'." Maureen slowed down, but did not stop. One of the police cars, perhaps noticing the proliferation of bumper stickers such as "US out of North America" and "Lobotomies For Republicans--It's the Law" began to follow them in a slow-speed OJ Simpson type pursuit.

"What should we do? I wasn't prepared for this. I just thought we'd come out, read a statement, nobody would notice us, like usual, and then we'd go have pizza."
Everyone in the car murmured "I don't knows" and "what do you think." After a few miles, the police car turned around and headed back, confident no doubt that he had defended the power plant from left-wing nuclear terrorists.

They pulled over and turned the car off. Maureen turned around to talk to her backseat activists. "Ok, let's do this. We go back, and if we see any media, we get out and talk to them. Otherwise, we just keep going."

So the white Maverick turned back and rode back and forth in front of the plant a few times but they were unable to identify any photo opportunities. They headed back into town and stopped off at a diner for debriefing and chocolate shakes. The headline in the next day's paper read "Greens Turn Yellow."

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

What chapter is this now in my accursed novel?


The phone call made Maureen homesick. She knew if she went home now, though, she'd never get back out. Twenty-five or not, they would find a way to keep her there, either through guilt or tears, or some kind of de facto imprisonment. She couldn't go home without money, that was certain. Maureen wasn't even sure if home was the right expression anymore. Seven years was a long time. She felt very detached from the whole experience. Who still lived in their small hometown at 25? Someone who was never going to leave. People who had married their high school sweethearts and had a few children by now. Most of Maureen's friends were gone, and the ones that had stayed had very different lives than Mo did. She felt a chasm. But she also need a touchstone right now. She walked to a bus stop with her back pack and headed back to the bus terminal, where she charted her path home.

Maureen sat in a booth inside the daytime empiness of a nightclub reading the newspaper and absent-mindedly reaching for french fries or a bite of her reuben. She glanced u at the row of clocks on the wall. Greenwich, Dublin, and local time: 3:30.
That it was 10:30 in Dublin suddenly made her anxious. Children were already well asleep, their parents preparing themselves for bed, making mental shifts, contemplating tomorrow's work, while they grapsed for the last waking minutes of their own.

Since it was Friday, no doubt many of them were at the movies or out dancing. Others were sitting in pubs just as she was now, bitching about their spouses, the boss, the lousy interminable week at work. Seven hours and a continent away, the day was ending and her own day was now slipping away even faster.

She sat back and looked around at this bar, where she had spent so many Friday and Saturday nights during summers and breaks, listening to music, stalking young men she had become fascinated with, sitting just as she was now, her back to the brick wall, legs stretched out over the brown paded seat, with one foot crossed over the other.
Here at home--The Land That Time Forgot--she had already run into some old acquaintances who offered no threat of exposing this clandestine visit. Across the bar, she noticed a hippie boy, with straight dark hair, thick eyebrows, and purple tie-dye who danced loosely with fluidity that few men ever managed. Her best friend, Karen, had been fascinated with him for several years before, herself, becoming a stepford girlfriend whose boyfriend had sickening pet names for her. Before she had cultivated three cases full of cosmetics, was on a first-name basis with the staff of the Body Shoppe, Mo remembered them standing together in below-zero ice storms protesting military interventions and wondering why no one ever started wars in June. Mo had nicknamed her Habib, Peace Bandit, because she would jump out of the passenger seat of Maureen's car with a small desk stapler, tacking peace signs to telephone poles in suburban neighborhoods.

Karen had moved back in with her parents, into the familiar house of her childhood. Mo had visited her once since then. In her mid-twenties, Karen lived in the same bedroom she had grown up in. Not even a move so far as the basement or the attic, with the same stuffed animals, the same posters of her teen idols on the wall. Like everything else in her hometown, stasis was the basis for Karen's life.

Sitting in the bar, Maureen watched the door, wondering if anyone she knew would come in. Stasis felt ok today. Unlike some of her old friends, Maureen felt she had been allowed to grow up but to come back and visit her old life. It was like growing older without outgrowing your first grade desk and chair, just slipping right into your smock and diving into the fingerpaints. Things should feel a little smaller, even if the smell of the chalk and crayons and the acid-based paper decomposing the phoenetics out the books all transport you to your first kiss under the monkey bars. The room makes you remember, until you sit down and realize that it's the teacher's chair that fits you now. But this afternoon, at 10:30 p.m. in Dublin, Maureen had assimilated comfortably back into that small school room.

Mo tried to remind herself that this was not just a routine visit home for Spring Break. No one knew she was here. Not Karen or her parents or her high school history teacher. She was on her way somewhere else. The grey-blue tables bolted to the brick facade had not changed in ten years. There were television as either end of the bar, with the sound off, showing baseball and soccer games. The tvs gave you something to look at besides the alarming front pages of newspapers or pink highlight-stained textbooks, less threatening than a lunch or dinner companion whose eyes force you to ask questions--or answer them. Eyes that force you to be present when you'd really rather not. Alone now, Maureen realized it was the luxury of absense she was enjoying so much about her excursion. There was no mother or father or Karen or Clark to be present for. Only herself.

Reggae music plays in the background, causing Maureen to smile. She remembered Clark's impression of Ebeneezer Scrooge being visited by Bob Marley instead of his old business partner Jacob. Get dee spirit, Mon.

It's this place--the grey tables and the ghosts of gathered friends where we don't worry about what will become of us nor do we lament what we've become, just giggle over absurd notions and stare at field goals, wondering what people are doing at Midnight in Dublin.

Maureen hopped on a city bus around town, one of only two routes, which would take her around most of the town. She wanted to soak up some more remnants of home before her bus shipped out later that night. As she passed her house, it felt strange not to get off and run into the front door, declaring herself home to Mom and Dad. She felt guilty as she saw the bricked in front porch. She could see her mother making dinner through the front picture window. Her father was leaned back in the recliner reading the paper. She slid down in the seat and sighed, hoping not to be noticed. The dog was chained up in the front yard, kicking up dirt and barking to a fellow traveler trapped on a leash jogging down a side street. It would be too easy to get off the bus and the next corner and trudge home, returning to her room which had been preserved as a shrine to her childhood. She and Karen could pick up as if the last seven years of their lives never happened. No Clark. No college degree. No domestic violence shelters or videos of detainees in China to block out in the middle of the night. Innocent and snug in her adolescent room, with a job her father would help her get, dreaming of other lives that she had gotten a glimpse of and never got around to living.

Maureen shivered, trying to slough off this vision. The bus continued on past the junior high and high school complexes, down was passed for the town's sorry mainstreet. It couldn't compare to the bookstores and used clothing shops of campus town. The new mall had a Gap and a Sam Goody and seven movie theatres, bringing them up to the 1980s.

Once when Maureen had been home for Spring Break, she had called up the local YWCA to find out what was going on in the area. The YW on campus ran the rape crisis center, and Maureen had been one of the first volunteers involved in setting up a women's resource center there. At home, the YWCA ran fitness programs for children and seniors. The history of the YW was that it was not always socially accepted for women to exercise and participate in sports, and so even the most seemingly innocuous events or course offerings could be traced to its feminist roots.

The hometown Y saw it somewhat differently. When Maureen called to asked about Women's History Month events, she started to wonder if she had forgotten how to speak intelligible English.

"Do we have what?"

"Women's History Month Events."

"Women's what?"

Was this swahili? Had she gone into an ecstatic trance, suddenly speaking a new tongue? The women on the other end sounded too young to have a serious hearing problem. Maureen tried one more time, more slowly. "Women's History Month. March. Do you have any events?"

"No, I'm afraid not" the woman finally said, gingerly.

Maureen hung up and went into the bathroom. Her mother was at the grocery store, her father still at work. Was it even possible for Maureen to have come from this place? Had she been dropped here by aliens? She fished around in the drawer for a pair of scissors. She pulled out strands of hair, cutting as close to her head as possible. I am not from here. I don't want to look like anyone from here, she recited as she cut. She heard the front door open as the last strand fell into the sink. Maureen locked the door and took out her father's electric razor, shaving down the stubble to matching lengths. She swept all of the hair out of the sink, rinsed it out, and stepped, bald, to face her unsuspecting mother.

Maureen pulled a Twinkie out her backpack surreptitiously, trying not to be noticed eating, which was in clear violation of city ordinances according to several signs along the top of the bus. As Maureen ate the Twinkie, pushing it up quietly out of its wrapper, Maureen's thighs started to burst the puny screws and slats of her kindergartern chairs, her paint colored smock burst open revealing grown up clothes and she started to float up out of the city bus seat. She hoped no one would notice, and vowed to step carefully, not crushing cars or small children, as she, the fifty-foot woman, tried to tiptoe quietly out of town.

The city bus turned the corner and Maureen saw her next Greyhound waiting in front of the terminal. She got off and went inside for her ticket and rushed quickly into normal sized seats that fit her grown up body. She looked out the window and waved goodbye as she looked at her home town one more time.

Maureen rolled over and looked at the clock. She was groggy from the pain of her cramps. Meanwhile, Clark blithely got ready for work, gathering papers together and humming something Maureen couldn’t make out. As she tried to soothe her sore abdomen, she wished Clark would feel his own testicles expand and contract, feeling every single sperm as it was forced out, the way her left ovary released its egg in a red wash. She wanted him to feel blood run from his groin drop by drop like the Chinese water torture coming from between her own legs.

Aspirin did no good on the first day. She was exhausted and woozy. There was no way she would be able to go door to door and ask for money for a cause today. She had several hours yet before she would have to call in. Tuesday was Clark’s early day. She was thankful that he would at least be out of the house by 8:30.

Clark came by and brushed his hand over her head. “What are you doing awake so early? Get up to see me off this morning?”

Maureen glared at him, but when her gaze failed to ignite his zipper to flames, she shuffled out of bed and into the bathroom with a grunt. A tiny spot on the sheet clued Clark in to the situation. He said a quick goodbye and muttered something to Maureen about behaving herself and not picking a fight with any cops today. She grunted at him from the other room as the bedroom door closed behind him.

Maureen walked down the sidewalk quickly. She passed a small storefront with a pink neon light: Psychic. A woman called out to her from inside the doorway. "Would you like a tarot reading young woman? Where you going?"

Maureen turned around and walked back to the doorway to see her mystical barker. A tall woman, Maureen guessed in her late 30s, with dark hair and a simple long, red skirt and white blouse. Maureen smiled at her. "How much?"

"Twenty-five dollars."

Maureen turned around to leave The woman stepped forward. "One card. Five dollars."
Maureen hesitated. "Nah."

"Come here. I'll give you one card anyway. You look like a nice girl."
The woman sat down at a small table and shuffled a round deck of cards. She set them down and asked Maureen to select a card. She set down a card.

"Ten of wands. Reversed. You're running away from people. From the ecstasy that comes from losing yourself and being part of a group."

For three nights. the tarot card floated in front of her closed eyes. Ten of wands. Dancing unafraid. Wild celebration and childhood. What we lose when we become adults, when we become aware of ourselves as clumsy and naked and awkward. The knowledge of apples and fig leaves. This is what we lose when we become aware of convention and standing out, not realizing that if we are all free, then we don't stand out for being free. Then we stand out for being stiff, for being frozen like monuments. We forget how to giggle and how to dance and how to move our hips and sway, until our hips beomce stiff and rigid and frozen into place and the slightest movement hurts. We forget how to speak outloud. We open our mouths and nothing comes out, the squeak of a rusted wheel or a baby bird (re)learning how to chirp for the first time. Squeaky hips and squeaky lips and dances and words unable to come out and be free. Dance and celebrate and remember your body and remember your dreams ad remember yourselves. Feel the sun turn orange on your back and dance into the night and into the dawn and just dance and dance and dance. Beath the drum and wave your arms and sway. Forget yourself naked and wild and forget the dark. Get your tan in the moonlight.