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Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Midnight Tag

Emanuel shook the spray paint cans one at a time setting each one down at his feet in front of the respectable establishment run by an old man who never did anything wrong to anyone except that one time when he was a kid, and that other time when he was at war in a distant country, and that one time when he'd had more alcohol and grief than one person should in a day.

As each can was placed on the cement with a metallic ring that echoed through the alleyway Emanuel imagined his creation. He looked up at the blank wall that would soon be filled with colorful meaning written in his own secret language, a message Emanuel had known all his life but had never been comfortable saying except on old bricks in the dark.

The smell of chemicals filled his nostrils as Emanuel pressed the top of the paint can sending red streaks over his secret canvas. Lines that meant nothing to look at unless you were Emanuel who knew where each stroke belonged. Next the blue can, the metal ball bearing clicking inside like a snake ready to shoot poison. Black outlined a part of it, and green filled in a part of it. Emanuel worked quickly not knowing who's paths might accidentally cross his that night, forcing him to abandon his work half way though with an unrealized message. The alley filled with mist further concealing a creator in the dark.

On the other side of the wall was Henry. He'd never been a great business man, nor a lucky one, and had not gotten rich in the boom time and so was not rich now in the recession when he was forced to sleep on a cot alone in the old music shop. Henry did not hear creation in the ally, only the sound of destruction. He heard what seemed to him just a dangerous menace painting runes of discord on the side of his building.

He seethed with anger laying wide eyed on his back as he felt each spray of the can like a knife cutting into his pride. This building, this business, was the only thing Henry had ever created. His arms and legs ached with the longing to choke the life out of this boy, this child who was so ignorant as to what he was doing, who only cared about destroying others' life's work for his own private thrill.

Henry stood up and paced back and forth in his room that was lined with guitars, saxophones and violins. He muttered to himself. He shook out his hands. He picked up the long handle to a mop that had broken off ages ago when the neighborhood turned from friendly to mean and a young man had brought a gun into the store and pointed it at Henry shouting “Give me your money!”

Henry had felt the cool metal of the gun on his cheek for only a brief moment as he rifled through the cash register. The man had grabbed the money and run out the door tripping over the mop handle and smashing his face on the sidewalk where he lay unconscious for five minutes in a puddle of blood before the cops came and took him away. Henry had kept the mop handle behind the counter from that day forward. Not because he was superstitious, and not because he ever expected to use it against anyone, but just because he couldn't imagine throwing something away that had served him so well.

He wasn't sure what he was doing now with the wooden handle. He walked to the side door that opened to the alley way. He closed his eyes and bowed his head. It seemed his body was taking him towards something he wasn't even sure he'd decided to do yet. Even as an old man his arms and legs were coursing with adrenaline, but his heart was pounding with fear. Confronting unknown chaos in the dark wasn't something he'd ever grown comfortable with, even back then.

Henry placed his hand against the door softly feeling it's own cold metal. He took one deep breath realizing the decision had been made long ago and it was now simply his duty to follow through. He pushed into the alley.

Instantly he took in Emanuel's location and charged along the old brick wall. Emanuel dropped his can, turned to run, and felt the wooden mop handle crack his skull. He fell dazed to the ground, tried to get up, feeling another blow to his head. He tried to stand again but this time couldn't figure out which way was up.

Henry raised his weapon above his head and clubbed Emanuel hard again, and harder the next time, his head, his face, his body. Henry struck with utter terror at someone he knew was bigger, stronger. He hit till his arms grew week and he could hardly lift them anymore.

Emanuel lay on the ground, blood and teeth scattered. Bones were broken, his chest was heaving.

“This... Is... Mine...” Henry gasped pointing up at the brick wall behind him now half covered in giant block letters. He leaned against the wall then fell to the ground hard. He leaned his shoulder against the brick watching the boy struggle for breath.

Emanuel's shirt had been twisted and now exposed his abdomen. It shuttered in pain with every shallow breath. Henry watched the boy try to move, watched his eyes roll around in his head looking for anything he could fix his attention on. Henry wondered if Emanuel had been beaten before, if he'd ever felt so much pain before. Henry thought of the last time he'd hurt someone that bad. He thought of the last time he'd been hurt that bad.

“This is all I have in the world,” Henry called out across the divide. “It's everything to me!” his voice cracking from the exhaustion of a man who had been fighting for a lifetime. “You stand on the other side of the wall from me and leave your mark on something that you don't understand!” Emanuel tried to turn his head toward Henry but couldn't manage it and instead settled for looking at the fire escape three stories up.

“I've lived 83 years, I've survived that long! And I faced more dangerous people than you!”

Henry breathed heavily still trying to catch his breath.

“Have you ever been shot? Kid, I'm talking to you have you ever been shot? Cause I have, I've been shot and I survived it, and I shot back you better believe me, I shot back with everything I had and saw my bullet hit it's mark right between the eyes and that's something you couldn't ever understand!”

Emanuel coughed and red blood sprayed into the air like the paint from his can.

“Yeah I've been hurt before, Been hurt worse than you!” Henry continued. “The love of my life walked out on me one day. I punch the wall so hard it broke my hand cause I hit the damn stud. She never came back either, never again. I did everything to win her back till one day she told me to stay away cause otherwise she'd call the police and besides, she was with some new guy I'd never heard of. That hurt worse, way worse than your bruises!”

Emanuel tried to move but couldn't stand the pain and so just groaned trying to get his lips to speak. Finally working his swollen jaw enough to get out the word “yeash...”

“what!? What was that? Speak up!” Henry was angry that the boy spoke, angry that the boy couldn't speak, angry that it was because of him.

“yeash... bin shot...” Emanuel was able now to turn his head enough to look over at Henry, to look him in the eye. Neither man said anything.

“You little shit,” Henry whispered after a moment, looking up at the wall now with paint dripping slowly down. “My whole life, I got nothing, got no wife got no kids. But I got this place, I got this thing that you just covered with your mark like some dog come to piss all over everything I have. Back when I was young like you I played the Sax, spent all my time in the clubs and didn't care about anything, just wanted to do my thing, just play with my band in those smoky joints, but then you all, you moved into my neighborhood. The jazz clubs closed. The liquor stores and drug dealers moved in. You took away everything I ever loved and it's too late now, I can't move, I can't change, I'm just here till I die watching you take away the very last thing I have left, this shop that reminds me of everything that I never had. But how can I let go of the only thing I own? It's all I am!”

Henry propped himself up onto his knees and worked his way slowly to his feet. He stood looking at the painting in front of him. The colors were bright and shone even in the dark but the letters were nothing Henry could make out, just a mishmash of shapes.

“I hate this stuff,” he said. “It's just nothing, just a bunch of nothing. No one can read it so what's the point?” He looked down at Emanuel. “What were you trying to write here, what's this supposed to mean? You write something here on on the only thing that has ever meant that I matter and you can't even write so I can read it?” He stared down at the boy and his blood. He hung his head, holding his face in his hands for a moment before turning away and going back inside.

Emanuel saw the light pour from the doorway as Henry picked up the phone and dialed 911.

Henry walked back into the alley a moment later. “they'll be here to pick you up soon kid.”

10 minutes later when the ambulance arrived and Emanuel was strapped onto the head board Henry went out to meet them. He walked up to Emanuel brushing past the strong arms of the paramedics to look Emanuel in the eye from 3 inches away.

“I want to know!” He said with authority. “I want to know what it says!”

Emanuel tried to open his mouth but his jaw was held shut by the head board. Henry pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and a pen and handed them to the kid.

Emanuel scribbled something with his shaking hands in the flashing red tail lights of the ambulance and handed it back as the paramedics lifted him into the truck. The sirens blazed and they took off down the street. Henry took the paper inside his shop, and flipped on the light. He scrounged around for his glasses under the counter and read out loud in a soft voice.
“I Exist.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

touching the sacred

“I was standing there wearing a gun on my hand and wearing the room like a fuckin' glove, I mean like I could control everything with a single finger. She was there just in front of me all high and mighty like some blond angle, like gods gift to money, like purity incarnate or whatever. Like she expected her life to always be so simple. And I tell you I felt like a priest right then. Like a man about to anoint some virgin for a sacrifice in front of a crowd of people laying face down prostrate on the marble bowing to something they had heard about but couldn't ever understand and never thought they'd witness. And I was wearing that black mask which I suddenly realized was my sacred cloak and I wondered if I were to inscribed scripture on the bullet before I stuck it in her brain if that'd be any different than the way people usually try to teach truth.”

“Charlie, please just answer the questions.” The room was small, empty, and powerful because there were no details. There was just the whole dominating room all together like a man is all together except for the mirror that reflects everything it wants to. The two detectives looking at charlie across the metal table were tired of waiting to take the criminals statement and just wanted to go home. Charlie responded though in protest.

“No sir! now I don't know why you asked the question you did, it seems a bit strange to me cause you could have asked me how I did it, when I did it, what I did. But you didn't ask that you asked why, and if you're asking why you're asking for a story. There ain't no sin in the world that doesn't have a lengthy story to back it up.”

“We don't want a story Charlie, we want the truth! How does someone with no criminal record just wake up one day and go robbing the biggest most protected bank in the city?”

“Didn't you hear what I just told you about truth? You can't just go begin' for truth! Not everyone's ready to pull that trigger, not like I was...

"That shell was gonna go off any minute, and she knew it. She could see it in my eyes I figure, since they were the only pieces of me she could see. I wanted to rip off the mask, let her see the face of everything that was hurting her right then, but I didn't and honestly right now I'm not sure why I didn't. She was scrambling around trying to get all the money into the bag and I was just watching, holding my gun at my side now looking back at everyone on the ground who were praying for their own souls as if somehow they thought their souls were in any danger from bullets. It's amazing how little people understand what they're made of.”

The detectives sat back, feeling themselves being sucked head long into a black hole. They felt like they couldn't resist it if they tried, and right now, they weren't sure if they wanted to.

“So the little woman gets the bag back to me and I open it up looking in to see all the cash you know. I know if I walk out that door just then I'm good, that with all that money I'm made for life and it means I'm somebody. It doesn't matter how I got it, as long as I got it it means the whole world thinks I'm a better person. Self improvement is for the poor or the week these days. Now all you have to do to be a better person is to have a better bank account.

"But I wasn't there for money I was there for the deed. Maybe this is getting closer to your answer. See, when I saw she'd made no attempt to alert the police, or stop me or do anything but give me the money and send me on my way I was starting to get disappointed. I wasn't there to succeed in some difficult task, I was there to face something impossible. So I reached out and grabbed that woman's hand and leaned forward. With her shaking fingers in my grip, together we slid them under the counter, going by feel slipping back and forth till I felt the alarm button like a smooth pearl pulsing with electricity.

“suddenly everything was unleashed at once. The alarm went off just like it should, like anyone would scream if the whole basis of who they were was being destroyed, cause it was! Everything the whole fucking city stood for was under attack by me right then. That's when I shot her, once in the leg. It aint my place to go scarring someone half way. Aint no point in being damaged in your mind if you aint got damage to your body as well. All I was doing was making her whole again.

“that doesn't answer why!” one of the detectives piped up. “none of that tells us a damn thing about why you did any of that!”

Charlie thought for a moment in silence, then spoke again. “A long time ago I heard of a guy in Japan, a samurai. See, he went off to avenge the death of his master who'd been poisoned by some no honor, no skill, weaselly bandit. He chased the bandit across the countryside for ages till finally he got him cornered in a canyon. Now this guy, this samurai, he wasn't someone to tumble with, he was like some serious bad warrior I tell you.

"'Course this bandit, he knew there was no escape and he started to panic. Now in his panic he did the only thing he could muster, which was to spit right in that samurai's face! Now can you imagine what that samurai did in response?”

The detectives breathed in the story.

"That samurai sheathed his sword and walked away. You see sirs, that spit got that warrior all pissed off, got him really angry. But he hadn't come to conduct an act of anger, he'd gone to conduct an act of justice, and killin' that man out'a anger would not have been a sacred act.

"I went to the bank that day to touch something sacred, to see damned creation in the face of destruction. That's my reason, and that's all you'll get from me on the subject.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

looking at the sun

Each night at the same time, long after the dogs had all been walked, the people had all gone to sleep, and before the newspaper boys would start tossing their bundles from a moving white van, the old man made his way through down the street. Each night walking the same exact path he had walked his entire life.

In the winter he would walk slowly, feeling the biting of the cold air on his cheek.

In the spring he would walk slowly and smell the blooming trees over his head.

In the fall he would walk slowly hearing every crunching leaf or squishing mud puddle.

But now it was summer.

He stopped at each dried out garden to run his hands through the soil. He was looking for old fruit that had fallen from the vine and dried in the mid day sun so he could collect, one at a time, the seeds that hibernated now waiting for the seasons to turn around again. He would take these seeds and at the beginning of the spring scatter them freely in his yard so that they might have the chance of new life.

The stars above him were glimmering, the new moon was shyly hiding. The old man's pockets nearly empty with only a dozen or so seeds . Suddenly in the utterly still dark a small object struck the old man in the back of the head. He turned around. At first he saw nothing, so he reached down into a deep shadows and felt the small body of a still warm bird. As he lifted it to his face he saw it's feathers were as black as the night. The bird was not moving.

The old man closed his hands around the body of the animal. There was stillness as the the warmth from his hands went to work. The old man stood and waited. The wind blew past. There was no sound. The bird began moving slightly, twitching then struggling to stand. The old man opened his hand.

The bird hopped softly around for a moment in the open palm then jumped in a confused manner to the index finger, and spoke.

“Sir, thank you for warming me, for offering me a safe place to heal. You did not try to study me, or know me. You did not measure my beak or try to count my talons. I have a favor to ask of your kindness in this, my final night.

“All my life I have flow from tree to tree, and in all this time I have felt every day the sun warm my back. Even on days when the clouds were thick I could still feel it's warmth there making everything visible, making me alive. Yesterday, as the sun was high in the sky I decided I must look upon it myself. I flew from the tree I sat in and turned my beak upwards. I could feel the heat bathe me, my face baking in the rays. Finally I forced my eyes open and took in that indescribable disk entirely.

"I tell you it was the most beautiful and most painful thing I had ever experienced. I am happy I did it because I know nothing in life could ever have been as beautiful as the center of the sun. But now I am blind, and in the world as a bird with out my eye sight I will die very soon because I cannot find food and birds must eat.

“My request of you sir, if you have food for me, please give me that gift, so that I can live just one day longer and feel the sun warm my heart one last time before I depart.”

With his free hand the old man reached into his pocket. He retrieved the few seeds he'd collected that night and dropped them into his hand where the bird was perched.

Instantly the little black creature jumped on them, pecking madly in every corner so that he found seeds as often as he missed and they soon were each coated in blood that had sprung from the old man's palm.

When the seeds were gone and the bird had pecked a few more times to be sure, he flew off into the sky. The old man looked up to where the bird had flown and took in the stars emblazoning the heavens. He looked down at his dirty feet, and the shadow that had birthed the curious little animal. He looked forward at where he was headed, he looked back at where he had been. Then he turned, and walked slowly in a new direction.

My first post!

While riding my bike the other day I saw a little girl with her dad. The little girl was crushing fallen leaves while her dad was walking ahead. As the girl, who couldn't have been more than 4, continued watching the ground I could tell the dad had not been expecting to be distracted. He wasn't angry just clearly hadn't thought of the possibility that one might stop to interact with anything between whatever shop they had just left, and where ever they were going next. In the brief moment as I rode by I imagined this is what they were thinking.

Dad: I have over 40 years of experience in the world and the social norms I have acquired tell me that it is appropriate to walk directly to the car after exiting a shop. Lets not slow down now dear, trust me, I know what's right.

little girl: I don't understand social norms and go through my day generally confused about what I'm supposed to do and how I'm supposed to do it. You are probably right dad and we should hurry to the car to get on our way home, but I've begun to notice lately that the social norms you adhere to are not always in my best interest. They often lead to a lack of candy, and sleeping before it is necessary. Therefor, Dad, I distrust your judgment in this instance, because the most amazing thing I see in the world right now are these leaves that make a wonderful sound when you step on them.