So long!

Land of to have and have not, mostly have not, like most lands where guns come before butter and both wind up on the black market, where compulsory works for some but not necessarily for others, where chance is every character’s antagonist, where you’re on your own but rarely left alone, until it’s obvious you’ve played out every option, then you are let to go, and you can’t go on, but go on you must. Also paradisiacal home to amateur myth, where you mighta had class, were it not that, in every failure’s telling, everything is thrown, from bronze, silver, and golden rings to bad apples, rotten tomatoes, and remaindered books. Where one is born into simplicity but immediately starts to complicate matters, thickening the plot by making decisions great and small. But it’s never too late to start singing, as long as what you sing is instrumental, no lyrics. So we come to this, not an end, but a new beginning, a fresh start, an unheard song, not of diminishing returns, like the musical chairs game, but of growth born of compassion and humility, where you give up your seat to someone else, happy to be standing, happier still to be moving, happiest when ignoring the bored gods, those gods of pencil tails, gods of implanted teeth. Gods of the chaste and gods of the meek, gods of the shy and gods of the bold. Gods of yes, maybe, and no. Gods of marrow and morrow, of deep pockets and short-sheets. Gods of horror and jubilee. Gods of theft, and gods of trash. Gods abroad and gods stayed home. Gods blowing in the wind and contained within. Gods of youth and muscle and gods of old and wrinkled. Gods of hello and gods of so long. And god of gods, who never grows old, oldest of all, god of lead and god of gold.

The End

~~~

“So long!” is episode 81, the last episode of Inventories, a novel written in serial format at The Coming of the Toads, with daily installments from 27 July 2020 through 15 Oct 2020.

Play Ball

By Workshop 5 I was workshop weary, having just come out of Workshop 4 more uncertain than ever about Sylvie’s 5 W’s of writing, not to mention the H: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. How to write. And why. And all the rest. I liked the folks in Workshop, but I wasn’t sure they had the 5 W’s or the H down anymore than I did, nor did Soto seem to, in spite of his credentials. From a young age he had wanted not simply to write but to be a writer, not necessarily a published writer, for just about anybody brought up on phonics could accomplish that, but a published writer of significance. He didn’t just want to play baseball (sandlot, or city softball league); he wanted to play shortstop for the LA Dodgers, or pitch closer for the New York Yankees, or announce play by play for the Yomiuri Giants (the first two being poetry, the other prose). Early success had not spoiled him, and he was lucky to escape injury, and he believed in himself and made it to the big leagues, if not at short or closer, the bullpen bench, success enough to sign his autograph to baseballs for kids before the game for a few years. And now he was calling play by play on the radio in writing workshops. But the workshop itself wasn’t writing, it was talking about writing – not at all the same thing; eating a hotdog with a beer in the outfield stands isn’t playing baseball. But it wasn’t that the talking of writing wasn’t helpful. It was. But it didn’t alter the fundamentals of confusion, of mistaking desire for touch. And then it came to me. Put down the pen, close the laptop, save the paper for the birdcage, the little notebook for grocery lists, things to do, reminders. I didn’t want to be a writer. What I really wanted to do was play baseball.

“Play Ball” is episode 80 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Organ Tics

Universe alive meaning what, Joyce talking again, a twitch of his head my way as I came in late to Workshop 3, the others already seated, each now having found their preferred place, on the couch, or in one of the overstuffed chairs, the easier to remember names, Soto said, the personality of the chair, the seat revealing the person. Joyce seemed to prefer the straight hardback chair in the corner by the bookcase. From there he could look out the window down the street or pay attention to the circle of writers working on their craft, honing their craft. Honing, to hone, was a word I noticed came up frequently in Workshop, like robust, another one of Workshop’s key words. And craft. I hadn’t realized what a craft writing could be. A robust honing of craft, I thought. A honing of robust craft. A craft of robust honing. Words have meaning, Joyce, excited now, head tics my way impatient I’ve not sat down yet, but where had I put my pocket notebook. Don’t tell me I forgot it. Words have meaning, Joyce said, stretching the long e as far as it could go. You people don’t seem to feel that, and a deep quiet settled, writers staring at the floor, backs rigid. To be part of a people, even if mistaken, surely something to that, I thought, stopped fumbling around looking for my notebook and sat down, now part of the silence. Then someone’s stomach gurgled, a rumbling burble audible around the room. Oh, my, Penelope said, patting her hand on her tummy, organics, and everyone laughed. I have some apple, Virginia said, did you not eat before class? I haven’t eaten all day, Penelope said. I’m on a roll. Quiet again, as we seemed to contemplate the meaning of Penelope’s fast. Then Matilda with a suppressed burp, and she begged Workshop’s pardon. Then came a big bang. It wasn’t me. Was it a mistake? Excuse me, Sam said, be right back, and he got up and left the room, Joyce staring out the window at a shout in the street. The minutes ticked quietly and reliably by, the room now a vacuum, the writers floating out of their chairs, weightless, bumping into one another, like pool balls, bouncing off the cushions, changing trajectory. Nothing dead, Sam said, reclaiming his seat. Inert, perhaps, but the organ, so persistent, shells another life. Inaction impossible, Sam continued, something in his voice a simple invitation to listen. The whole, Sam said, this thing, this idea, near and far, all organ, all organic, sprawling sleeping energy here and there, nothing inorganic possible, all alive, on the move, on the make, daresay, and of dark matter, we have sleep, as one life spills into another.

“Organ Tics” is episode 79 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

The Fall

Clouds crept over the north beaches and the vintners celebrated the annual crush in fog and rain and wind blowing inland across the coastal ranges and into the interior valleys and bunching up against the big mountains and emptying and running into streams and rivers and lakes as fall developed into a long and wet run-on sentence. Sylvie returned to Central America with her baseball team for fall and winter practice and play. No hard feelings, she said, she had just suddenly come down with an allergic reaction to my company, and when she ran into Pinch who offered her a flight out of Dodge she jumped. That was understandable, my company often giving off toxic pollins venom and dander, and Sylvie loved the sunny outdoors and adventure and felt the fog and fall in the offing, and I left Pinch to his medicine and made my way farther north up the coast and then over into Portland, increasingly hard on the road to maintain any kind of outdoor living or working in the deteriorating weather conditions. I had traded Pinch the yellow Hummer for a more practical and economic wagon I could sleep in and he threw in a bicycle and surfboard and camping and fishing gear to balance out the exchange. The surfboard wasn’t much use in Portland where I took a room in a hostel in the Hawthorne District, but the bicycle was keen and I traded the camping and fishing gear to a couple on their way south for a used Gypsy jazz guitar. And I thought I might kick back and do some writing in the little pocket notebook Sylvie had given me. I joined a workshop at a local writing school, but I wasn’t much interested in plausibility, page turning plots, credibility, memoir type stuff. Still I felt the urge to write, pencil to paper, inky fingers, daily exercise. I was interested in the rules and ways and means of writing only to the extent I could experiment with syntax and grammar and style and, in a word, language. I didn’t have any particular reader in mind, though I hoped Sylvie might be interested in getting her notebook back full of words. And around the same time I started thinking about fate, how Sylvie had said fate is the decisions you make, and about the gods, the old gods, the ones that make mistakes, as humans do too, toys of the gods, lives so full of mistakes and griefs and all the seven deadly sins oozing and piling up like oily rags until spontaneous combustion and rages erupted all around, but it was time to relax, to take it easy, to consider not just the deadly sins but the works of mercy and grace. Easy to say of course for a guy living on an annuity funded by the temporary borrowing of someone else’s capital such that he no longer needs to work, even as work is what, he’s learned in passing, most fulfills him. But the gods these days, one to ten percent of the population, it is estimated, continuing on much as the gods of yesterday, co-mingling with and catching their standard human wannabe-gods unawares in the snares of their own cravings, for attention, for respect, for a nice big piece of the plutocratic prosperous concentric pie, for publication, for a post, for stage time, minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years of fame, terms of fame, concentric circles, and round and round and round we go, and where we stop, nobody knows, amateurs as we all are, for the wages for being human are nil on the open market.

“The Fall” is episode 76 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Pick up and Delivery

Quickly but gently Pinch said and the three of us downloaded a dozen boxes from the plane into the yellow Hummer. The work done Pinch and I stood between the Hummer and the helicopter and watched the airplane take off and swoop west and over the hills. I was to drive back to the schoolhouse where we would unload the boxes. Pinch would follow me from the air in the helicopter. What about Sylvie, I asked. What about her? She said you’d be a good delivery man. The boxes were all the same, the size of a case of wine, and weighed something like six bottles of wine each, I guessed, but they must have been packed exceptionally well because I didn’t hear any glass as we shifted them from the plane to the Hummer. Unmarked, tightly taped, thick cardboard boxes. Was there a black market for wine? I asked myself. I was on a country road, the helicopter visible, crisscrossing above me, but when the road narrowed and curved and passed under a canopy of trees growing near the river I pulled over and cleanly cut open one of the boxes. Bottles, labels taped to each with handwritten numbers and letters and dates, not commercial labels, but coding that might have been winery production information. I removed one bottle and stuck it under my seat and pulled back onto the road and saw the helicopter again above and ahead of me. At Pinch’s place I pulled into the backyard and he was waiting and we carried the boxes into the covered back porch and he told me to put the bottle I’d taken back in its box. It’s not wine, he said. It’s medicine. You don’t want to drink it. Or talk about it.

“Pick up and Delivery” is episode 75 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

In a Pinch? Call Pinch!

Flying high over grape vineyards, hills of oaks, and country roads, Neder Pinch handed me his joint, which I declined to a shrug of his shoulders, and he took another toke himself. We reached the private airfield where Pinch had found the yellow Hummer, parked in the field near the short runway. Neder Pinch works out of a two room office scabbed into a defunct one room schoolhouse in a small town in wine country. In the front room Pinch’s receptionist and secretary mind the store. In the back room Pinch spends most of his day on the phone or in discreet meetings with individuals at large. Pinch provides, according to the sandwich board in the school front yard, for financial and other services requiring license or expertise in the field, including high risk insurance, bail bonds, notary public, realty (rents and sales), payday loans, civil marriage, used car sales, air-taxi, private investigations & missing persons, copies faxes and photographs, post office, city and county utility payments, and plumbing repair. His helicopter pad was in the back school yard. We landed unceremoniously in the private airfield, disembarked, and walked over to the Hummer, which was unlocked, empty, cleaned out, keys in the ignition. We climbed into the Hummer and Pinch advised we now wait patiently for the plane to land. It usually came in around what he called his sit-out time, and he often watched the plane’s landing pattern coming in over the town and school house office as he and his staff sat out in the school yard with a beer or wine drink, chomping on fried carrots and mushrooms, cheeses and bread chunks dipped in oil and vinegar, while chatting up the day’s business and the plans for the morrow. In a Pinch? Call Pinch! his ad in the local paper read, and I had called him, pursuant to what appeared to be Sylvie’s direction. We rolled down the windows in the Hummer and waited for the airplane to come in, Pinch falling asleep sprawled out in the back seat, his feet sticking out a side window.

“In a Pinch? Call Pinch!” is episode 74 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Call Pinch

Of course I had tried Sylvie’s cell, but the signal was dead, or least very ill. I was staying now in a rooming house in a small town on the outskirts of a bigger town, up north, in vineland, a couple of hours out of San Francisco, friendly place, if you didn’t ask too many questions, like where people came from or where they lived or what they did for a living or where they might be on their way to, if you didn’t ask any questions at all. I took a job washing dishes in a local tavern, three hours a day, an hour after the breakfast rush, an hour after the lunch rush, and an hour after the dinner rush, not that any of the rushes was much to write about, short of a filler in the local weekly (Lots of dishes to wash yesterday at Taberna’s Tavern said local dish washer Glaucus, hired to handle the meal rushes during the annual month-long Taberna Jazz-Grass Fest), and one night, after the dinner dishes, sitting out on Taberna’s western style wooden sidewalk, raised a couple of feet above street level, drinking a beer and watching the passersby, tourists mostly, and flipping or flicking through the pages of the little pocket notebook Sylvie had given me for my writing but in which I’d yet to write a single word, a habit I’d picked up, the flipping of the empty pages, I espied something written, a scribble that passed by in a flash, and I had to thumb slowly through the pages again to find it. Call Pinch, it said, in Sylvie’s handwriting. How had I missed it? When did she write it? What did it mean? Who or what or where was Pinch?

“Call Pinch” is episode 73 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Missing Persons

Going north a sign indicated the last thing I remembered before awakened by Sylvie groggy from road sleep parked in a poorly lit motel space outside Room 3. Dark out and Sylvie said let’s just go in and sleep and sort our stuff out in morning, but she handed me my cowboy kit and she grabbed her backpack so we might complete our nightly personal ablutions before entering the torpor of little brown bats. Late morning I awoke and went in search of coffee. I was away about an hour, wandering up the road until I found a coffee hutch, and when I got back to Room 3 Sylvie was missing, her backpack too, the yellow Hummer also, the parking space in front of the door empty. No note. I waited, finished my coffee then finished Sylvie’s coffee. Check out time neared. The housekeeper knocked. At the desk in the lobby I was informed the bill for one night had been settled, and that’s all they knew. I started walking back up the road, retracing my coffee search steps, passed the little coffee hutch, and kept walking. Then I went back to the coffee hutch and asked the baristas if they’d noticed a yellow Hummer that morning, described what Sylvie looked like to them, her blue eyes, round cheeks dotted with a few freckles, straight hair, thinking maybe she’d stopped for coffee. No. Sorry. Maybe I was headed in the wrong direction. I wasn’t even sure where I was, what city we had wound up in. I kept walking, surrounded by local business minding its own business as usual as far as I could see, the main street a typical two way affair, one side leading out of town, the other into town, ending in a turnaround, and the other way around. I walked around the town twice, once stopping for breakfast at a small cafe, the big yellow Hummer noticeably absent from anyone’s morning as I asked around, in the cafe, at the two gas stations, the old grocery in the middle of town, the newer stop and go at the end opposite the motel. Down a side street I passed a church and a small graveyard. On another street a grade school, the yard empty. Little houses with big porches and big yards, a vegetable garden gone to seed, garages with no doors, bicycles and toys strewn about, a swing set, a tire swing hanging from a giant maple branch, two women talking over a fence, an old man in a pickup truck making deliveries, a feed and supply store. A building with a tall flag pole out front, not exactly the county seat, but I might have considered a missing person report. A single police car in the driveway. But who was missing, Sylvie, or me.

“Missing Persons” is episode 72 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Morning Motel Coffee

Every day now followed a similar pattern, beginning with a walk for a cup of coffee I would bring back to our motel room for Sylvie, who slept on, from a nearby cafe or coffee shop, where I might sit drinking my first cup at the counter or a small outdoor table, my little pocket notebook for company, giving every man Jack the impression I was productively occupied, not that any Jack would care, but some mornings I had to settle for the coffee brewed in the motel lobby, or, last resort, made from a rickety electric drip coffee maker in the motel room, using the premeasured packets of coffee and water from the bathroom sink, the coffee poured from the carafe into plastic or foam cups, the foil wrapped mints left by the housekeeper intended it was my guess to smooth the bitter oily watery edge of a coffee made with dirty equipment, water heated only lukewarm, with beans ground to dust. But when I got back to the room with Sylvie’s coffee from abroad, she might still be sleeping, or the television would be on, and she would catch me up on the local news, weather, and road conditions. Check out time was usually 11, though most motel guests were out and back on the road by then, as we often were, too, the noise of a neighbor’s flushing toilet, pipe gurgling shower, slamming doors, the awakening road rush of 18 wheelers, motorcycles, family vans loading up, delivery trucks coming and going, or a squealing housekeeping cart preventing further sleep in any case.

“Morning Motel Coffee” is episode 71 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

The Foreboding Bed

We drove through a tunnel of noise, adding our own tiny tinnitus to the cacophony of tinkling horns, ringing roads, buzzing bells, babbling motorways, looking for egress to ingress in some small motor motel to recess and relax and redress for a new beginning, a new morning, an internal spring, a fresh start. These motels are not hard to find, cities big and small all designed for the convenience of the motorist: the traveller, the travelling salesman on a limited per diem, the tourist on a budget, the trucker desiring a shower nap and cup of coffee, the rodeo rider on tour, the four piece garageband on a trip booked of small venue gigs, the soldier sailor or airman on leave on weekend pass or perhaps just Absent Without Official Leave, the family of four on vacation, the adulterous couple, the relocator, the lost, the looking, the hiding. The first place we pulled into because Sylvie liked the name: Motel In Vino Veritas. But the beds had coin operated boxes on the nightstands – for 50 cents you could make the bed vibrate for a couple of minutes – and Sylvie refused to stay in such a place, said such a bed forebode bad dreams.

“The Foreboding Bed” is episode 70 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Of Sanity and Sanitary

Little significance I found in riding in a yellow vehicle called a Hummer in a yellow land called California, mile after mile after mile after mile of streets filled with lookalike cultural paraphernalia: quick stop and go snack needs shops; gas filling stations; forests of telephone poles with crisscrossing wired canopies (but on select boulevards the wires now buried in tunnels, electronic catacombs, poles sticking up through the cement, independent flag poles topped with lights such that no bird got a good night’s sleep); strip malls, movie theatres, bowling alleys; cafes, diners, coffee boutiques; bars, taverns, pubs, breweries; car lots, parking lots, big box stores; churches, schools, parks, amusement arcades, golf links; clinics, hospitals, fire and police stations; refineries, manufacturing enclaves, buildings so tall one could no longer imagine leaping one in a single bound, nor imagine what went on in those buildings; hotels, motels, mattress and furniture stores; underpasses of concrete massive waves, railroad crossings, onramps, offramps, turnabouts; banks, auto repair shops, storage units; alleys full of graffiti covered dumpsters, fences, walls, two and three story buildings with only a ground floor; concertina wire and barred windows and doors. But up and down the side streets modest early or mid century dwellings built as single family homes, with well kept yards, only the cars in drives and lining the streets testifying to the current date. Maybe we should just go home, Sylvie said, leave the rambling to ramblers, but where was home, what was home, and of what value. Join a church, she said. Go to the spaghetti dinners, the crab feeds, the social dances, the concerts and one act plays and bingo nights, the little festivals, visit the sick and elderly, help the poor, volunteer to sweep the floor, whatever needs to be handled. We passed under another overpass where a tribe of homeless had gathered their tents and tarps and carts together, where a laissez faire system no doubt prevailed, and a true democracy existed, no one represented by another, but each deciding how they would live, under what conditions, and what beliefs, but still connected to other individuals, each with different wants and needs, even if under the state’s non exhaustive unavoidable uncaring umbrella, free, even if that freedom came at the cost of sanity and the sanitary.

“Of Sanity and Sanitary” is episode 69 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.