What was it that became today?
“Today shows us the silhouette of the future,” professor Cliffnut says as though he were starting a classroom lecture. I try hard to listen but I lack the ability to focus. My mood is tired, worn out from anxiety attacks. I am thinking about how transitory death traverses every moment, a breath that teases my lips but never touches them.
The Cliffnuts are kind landlords. I am usually a few days late with the rent but never has it been mentioned. Professor Cliffnut likes to hear himself talk and I guess if I was as interesting as he is I would like to hear myself talk too. My compulsion to talk is not entirely a source of contentment when in the company of others. And I don’t like to talk with most people; those engaged in the doing of life and not the meaning. Without a meaning, I can have no goal; and I do not wish to have community or group dictate my goals or personal desires with their incidental existence.
I am a selfish American; a pragmatic individualist filled with straw holes. I wear the the clothes of a bumpkin served as a refreshment at the thrice daily spit roast we each attend to on behalf of the caged snake. The snake wants to play with himself when he sees my brown sugar skin, blue runny eggs eyes, two slices of rye bread for lips with a little peach fuzz. But the story isn’t about me, it’s about that of a character named Bill trying to figure out Thoreau by just reading and forgetting about things like “figuring things out.” There is no point, only a drifting towards a being that was always in motion, pulled by the friction of time. Emerson and Thoreau, Sinclair Lewis, Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson and Robert Frost are his progenitors for self reflection. Whitman, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson for his fictive persona, not the real person. My real persona is more Existentialist, like Sartre’s Nausea narrator.
“Luther was just the central figure,” Professor is saying. “He is where modern Christianity begins in historical context.” Professor Cliffnut’s intonations are honed; phrases and paraphrases infinitely described. I smoked a couple bowls before coming over and I am weaving through the throes of hypnotic but soft whoa’s watching Mrs. Cliffnut watching me from over her magnificently chiseled shoulder. She is filling in a cement hole in the concrete across the street in the sidewalk leading to my front door. I was awakened at 7AM by the cement mixer churning sand, gravel and stone. So I got up to make coffee, feeling a little ornery with my Meyer’s parrot for shrieking in my ear as I walked past his cage. I smoked the buds and watched Mrs. Cliffnut, who was aware I was watching, giving my window a stern, but not altogether unfriendly glance.
Her jeans hang heavily over her curves like a strong, soft legged, effeminate man. Her lips are chapsticked and lifted at the lateral commisures which, along with the lifted tips of the cupid’s bow give the hint of mild annoyance. Facial phrasing and paraphrasing. The face divines the deep structures while the guy at the top sorting out the impulses – and getting doused with mood, emotion and anxiety – tries to air traffic control the network into coherent meaning by applying intent to the surface structures he is creating. Sometimes the face is out of control, much to the annoyance of the controller when he realizes it. In my case, my face is seemingly under the control of a lifeless sneer, much to the annoyance of the controller.
Mrs. Cliffnut is supervising four Latinos; two cousins on a sort of semi-permanent guest status with two other men occupying the three other rooms on my ground floor. The men seem to be related to the ladies on the second floor. There is a shared kitchen on the second floor where the ladies can be found from very early in the morning until very late in the evening. The women do all of the grocery shopping, food preparation and laundry. The men all look to be in their late 20s, with two of the women about 20, one maybe 30, and the other about 40. I am thinking of anything significant to add about the Latinos but give it up. Professor Cliffnut is saying something about Isaac Newton but Connie Cliffnut is walking toward me with her purse under her arm. She is wearing a mauve tank top with pink highlights at the sleeves and throat. I purr like a kitten between the downy peaks of her triceps and rub my cheeks and lips on her hypnotic forearms.
Edwin lived in a kitchenette in the back and on the other side of me. After he was gone the contents of his room were quickly picked of value and left for the garbage man. His life was too insignificant for further contemplation. None of the Cliffnuts seemed the least bit interested in talking about him.
“Skip didn’t have anything to do with it,” Connie told me while texting. Clearly, she was disinterested in the shapes being whipped by the wind outside her window. She was annoyed by the sun in her eyes, but even more annoyed that the visor on her side was missing. Her face gave me 10 lashes on my naked ass for the offense and the tone of her voice assigned penance of 10 Hail Mary’s and five Our Father’s. “Wtf? No visor for the window; what’s up with that?”
I just shake my head and shrug.
She levels her stare at me for a few long moments as I watch her out of the corner of my eye. She lowers her chin, pulling her lower lip in over her bottom teeth to the tip of her tongue, her face paraphrasing a spoiled child.
“He ain’t even living there no more,” Connie continues, speaking about Skip in a diction that makes me question that she is the product of two university instructors. He moved out a couple months ago. You haven’t seen him on the street anywhere, have you?”
“There you go. Turn here.”
“Onto the highway?”
“Got someplace you gotta be?”
“No. Just was gonna…”
“Stay home. I know. That’s why you got time to take me into town.” She meant to the large black hole 45 miles to the south.
The night is filled with liquid humor
bearing thorny blossoms
the morning quickens, coagulating,
and at 5pm crusts over.
I wonder what the apostle Bill would’ve become if it were given him to say. I conjure him with my mumbo jumbo, stir the cauldron for sinew and strings that lack motion of their own to Become. I who am limb bearing and second hand clothed, crying to an ethereal heaven that existed before the fall; a time when word and the thing were both It; now split into a man whose idea is Becoming. I am becoming an It that has already become. [sort of hand the scene in mind from Monty Python’s Holy Grail where the sacred book is read for the ceremony of the holy hand grenade. This led to a popping into my mind some scenes of John Hapflik in Viet Nam, an advisor for the troop buildup; maybe 1960-61.]
Zen Buddhism sounds silly to me for its serious side. I could describe Berkeley’s Idealism, Joyce’s epiphany, or de Chardin’s evolutionary charlatanism; all would be Buddhism to an extent. In a letter dated June 6, 1962, John Hapflik tells his mother of a woman in Laos, or Thailand, kicking a little buddha statue down the street and cursing it. It doesn’t matter what she was saying; the action is the wording. It is not a profound thing in the least; simply millions of Buddhists in families, for generations living by slogans and assertive deductions that are either in tune, or not with their environment. They are worried about the mercury content of karma, some, so they are Pure Land Buddhists who want to add statistics to the karma question, make it a fairer equation. A prayer wheel in the wind is more profitable on a stormy day.
Cut the language out of action in order to maintain the trinity of thing, word and it. The idea of non superimposed awareness. I can imagine Kerouac as a sad, depressed person to have written Some of the Dharma. The thing about zen is that long periods of loneliness are not so much self imposed as they are an outcome of compulsive anxiety. Maybe he enjoyed his youth like everyone else and had a flair, an original flair, which he used to tell the story of his youth in a paraphrase, once or twice; like Salinger, but Kerouac fizzled into Buddhism and softly imploded, like a turd that teases by retreating, and returning after releasing a little gas. It makes his persona rigid. He is an impostor to the reader who swallows with relativism, who engages in a psychological decoding of Kerouac the writer, who, like Chogyam Trungpa died in his late forties of alcoholism because, apparently, enlightenment involves the consumption of large amounts of alcohol.
The 90 foot Buddha will take 45 more years to be sculpted. A dozen monks have spent a decade on his genitalia, hammering and beating stones into the water below. In 45 years it will be ready to bless passing boaters and to receive the occasional tossed stone.
“You can’t go fishing near the Buddha.”
“My body needs protein.”
“But only the most needy get to fish near the Buddha.”
“It’s a fucking statue! Besides, I respect the quirks of the community but there is a school of fish right over there, right at the left pinky toe of the Buddha.”
“There has to be a school of fish available so the needy are never hungry.”
“There you go. What, you think I’m gonna take more than I need? Where am I going to put it?”
“I don’t know but you are a depraved human being who will be tempted to take more than he needs. You will see all of those fish available and you will get greedy.”
“Fuck you. Who isn’t pursuing their own needs? I just want to put enough food in my belly to last until the next hunger pain.”
“I don’t like your attitude. And you smell funny.”
“Would you like to find out what causes that?”
Two hours later I was picked up by a tall, mean looking Chinese cop, and over the course of six months repeatedly interrogated and talked to in Chinese, which I cannot understand. But after seeing me paraded into his room once a week and sitting their like I was listening he came to the conclusion that I was deaf and jail was no place for him to be watching over a deaf American. He gave the provincial leader whom I offended his word that I was rehabilitated and could be expected to show proper respect for tribal custom.
John Hapflik stalks the humus night, crouched low in the tangles of a gully. He approaches with slow, measured steps. There is a shhk shhk sound, then a slow, thunderously muting percussion, followed by an enraged wind. Compressed into a cave, shadows flee into his skull.
“Ye eater of broken meats, oh finical, lily-livered rogue!”
I think I shall see thee among the commons; common men of the Germanic languages speaking in tongues. Men of common cause and common effect. For all the world, Richard to Anne, shows the other for We. We be acceptable as showing our subjection to one another in a harmonious If Not For We. And if one doesn’t ascend a straw Other it degrades the We.
Skip Tavage is gone and again is seen Mrs. Rounds, in whose basement he’d resided, discussing varicose veins with an audience of flies spread out among the leaves around her. She is Ivy, ivy among the May queens, seductive like a hayseed swimming after butterflies. She is far less manly than Mrs. Cliffnut, whose muscularity is always a mesmerizing action of femdom. Mrs. Rounds puffs and flutters, jingles and shakes. Mrs. Cliffnut is linear. Angular. Staunch, sturdy. Masculine if woman, feminine if man. Mrs. Rounds subdues by fluttering and sputtering in exquisite softness, Mrs. Cliffnut by iron, cold indomitability. Connie tells me no more about Skip Tavage. He is forgotten and insignificant.
Fight! Fight! You’re an old man, dead man, twig man; breathe for all of us, the We! We are the youth that informed you, gave you all the symbols you need. Speak to us. Give us back through the things we believe. You are among us always, in the closet, in your memories.
Old men, singing of whores, once held high as the fruit of boys, now the fruit that hangs low. Deep veined and cobalt blue, like a tongue, the penis, if given a mouth, sings.
The feet that once shuffled, skipped, strutted and slid, now slip, falter, crumble and shake. Fruit pits of unravaged flowering quiver through cold, clammy tunnels toward the goal of structures of sturdy indestruction; Mrs. Cliffnut and Skip Tavage on one hand, Mrs. Rounds and Connie Cliffnut on another.
It is 1AM, on a Wednesday morning in mid-August of the Great Lakes. Half moon, owls, tangled vines and gravel. I’m on Barnett Rd. walking south of old Main street where the old Hapflik salvage yard was. There is a pile of rotted sticks and wire that was a fence long, long ago. The rotted sticks fall apart in my hand. I quicken my stride as headlights approach along Main St. toward Barnett Rd. A police patrol.
I manage to get over a crest in the road before a spotlight leaps at me from the car. There is no wind, no noise at all in my ears and I can hear a mechanical sounding squawk talk that mimics human language, as if the cop has turned the dispatcher’s voice on the loudspeaker of his car. The big dog flashing his badge, making me know he’s there. I can only return the same way. He will stop me then.
Virgie Dinklpfuss’s property has a steep driveway leading to a tiny cabin. Past the cabin I cannot see. The property in back of it is obstructed by foliage but there is, I am told, a bible retreat camp for a christian youth association. There is a soccer field, archery range, basketball and tennis courts, a large pavilion with a kitchen and bench seating for two hundred. There are daily services and bible instruction during the six weeks the center is open, mid-June to the first of August.
Mrs. Van Innern at the historical society doesn’t remember seeing Virginia Haskins for many, many years. When I informed her that Virgie was the registered owner of the property until her recent death, Mrs. Van Innern seemed shocked. She’d figured that the christian youth center had bought the property ten years ago when they built the church building in the back.
“She died recently, you say; did your source say where she lived at the time?”
“No. The article only mentioned Littlefield as a place where she was “from.”
“Very strange woman. Quite a spunky devil. All the old folks disliked her deeply. They called her a communist, lesbian, prostitute. Oh, believe me, she wore the scarlet letter in her day.”
I get the feeling that Mrs. Van Innern wants to look over the contents of my suitcases.
“Perhaps I can give you the suitcases when I am done with them?” I uptalk.
“Oh, that would be so very kind. It would mean so much to the historical narrative of Littlefield to have them in our time vault.
Somehow, I can’t like what she said, “historical narrative of Littlefield.”
I walk over crests of rising and falling foliage bathed in a sort of round glow that I swear is following me wherever I go. It is like a spotlight following an actor on a stage. I cross the river and find that I have walked round a circle and I am at a T in the road below and a few hundred yards from the back corner of what was once Virgie Haskins’ property. Bill Dinklpfuss describes the spot in one of his notes.
When he was in school in the 1950’s it was a place where the kids came to party, gangs came to fight. He writes of watching from the corner of the property above me, smoking a marijuana or tobacco cigarette and watching the action below. He is always alone. He rarely speaks of any activity involving others, except being a house servant for his mother’s friends. I think about how I talk to Mr. Cliffnut because he is interesting and I am reasonably comfortable that he knows what he is talking about. Professors and artists, criminals and sociopaths all visited Virgie, and they are the people with whom Bill would’ve conversed with. He is like a sponge, this Bill Dinklpfuss. He is the homosexual in the novel Nausea, by Sartre, the guy that is reading all the books in the library alphabetically. No. Wait. That guy reminds me of Edwin Umbrian, maniacally focusing on sentences and letters; goals, plans, resolutions, commitment; with an insane, staunch, 100% focus on order and discipline because it is the right thing to do.
He who commands the language creates the new context, a derivative become slogan and cause. By word I am child of the man and by language I appropriate him. I am also he that sees the higher I. I am he who can be thought of as having become I Am. I am he that is Being. It is me and I am It. We are together personifying, yet hopelessly obstructing the vision of the I. Zen man says stop looking in the mirror. I say, shaddup, Zen man, we both see the same fucking thing. Your language to you, my language to me.