A Song For David Bowie


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I was deeply affected by David Bowie’s passing today. I called my friend Rob to talk about it. We met up later and listened to some of the hits, and then bought a six pack and watched labyrinth. I’d never seen it before. It’s magical.

I tried to find a copy of Bowie’s new record in town, but every store was sold out, and that’s saying something when you live in LA.

Rob urged me not to go buy something. It’s not right, he said. For David Bowie, we need to make something.

So I did.

It’s called Quicksand:

 

*****

 

I was adrift, stumbling around London in a haze. I could tell you I wasn’t drunk, but that would be a lie. I could tell you I had better things to do, but that’d be a lie too.

I came across an out-of-the-way tavern down the east end. It was a tall old building. It looked like it could have been something many years ago, a rich merchant’s house or a church or maybe even a school. It was crumbling now. The top floors looked barely habitable. The dark front door had a worn, hexagonal brass doorknob in the center of it. Above the door, a large, black star that was back lit somehow. I didn’t care how.

I went inside. My buzz was fading and I needed a drink. Plus, I was trying not to go home.

It was a dive. I pushed past the purple curtains that shielded the interior from the cold and found a rotten palace of beer-stained hardwood. Crumpled cigarettes twisted in overfilled ashtrays. Pool balls sunk into deep grooves on the pool tables. The smoke was thick. It made my eyes wet. I was pretty sure it was illegal to smoke indoors, but I wasn’t about to tell anyone to stop.

I just needed a drink.

I stumbled to the bar and found a stool next to a garbage can, which was just perfect for me. It felt like a rock.

“Pint,” I grunted, and an arm slid a glass of something dark and bitter toward me. I downed it. It tasted like mud. Good mud. The kind of mud you could grow something in. It tasted like… like fate. I’m not really sure how, or even what, but that’s just how it was.

“Thirsty?” A voice asked me. I turned to my right and say that the voice belonged to a man. A woman. No… he was a man. He wore a bedazzled, leather 18th-century outfit that would have been right at home at a fancy dress party in West Hollywood, and he smoked a cigarette out of a long holder. You know the kind. Cruella DeVille had one.

Very Femme Fatale.

“What are you,” I asked him, “some kind of clown?” He smiled at me as he picked up a cigarette packet. He offered me one and I took it. I don’t really smoke. I just sort of suck on the things. If I haven’t been drinking, a get a little head buzz from holding something that can kill me in my mouth. I had been drinking, though, so it was all rather pointless.

“I’m the entertainment,” he told me. I glanced at him, and he jerked his head back at a dingy stage. There was an old, upright piano there with an orange and blue lighting bolt painted on it. I smirked.

“Classy,” I said.

“Hey, man,” he said, “just relax.”

I took a drag and signaled the bartender. He brought me something else. “Fair enough,” I said.

He watched me as I drained the glass, and then took his cigarette out of the holder and snubbed it on the counter. He crossed his legs and stared at me.

“What’s wrong, then?”

I swirled the backwash in the bottom of my glass. Then I drank it.

“I don’t have any problems,” I told him.

“Everyone has problems,” He told me.

“Yeah? What are yours?”

“One of my eyes is permanently dilated.” He showed me. It was.

“Huh. I never heard of that.”

“It’s called anisocoria. Got it when a bloke hit me in school.” He lit another cigarette. It couldn’t be healthy. “We were fighting over a girl.”

“Who got the girl?” I asked. He just shrugged. I laughed. It was short lived.

“So what is it?”

I looked at my empty glass, and signaled for another. “A friend of mine… well, not really a friend. This guy I looked up to. He passed away.”

“And you’re sad about it?”

I didn’t say anything. The man took a long drag.

“So what did you make him?”

“What?”

“What did you make him?”

“He’s dead, he’s not having a birthday party.”

“No, no. People die, so you make them something. It’s how you remember them, right?”

“I remember people by crying a lot and buying things.”

“Does it make you feel better?”

I didn’t say anything.

He shook his head. “No, no. Make him something.”

“Like… what, like a tribute?”

“It’s not for them, love. It’s for you.” He stabbed the cigarette on the counter and leaned forward. “You feel something, right? You admired this guy?”

“He was unique. He was brave. He was kind.”

“So make something unique. Be brave. Be kind. He made you feel something, so use that feeling and make someone else feel something. You know how people say if you remember someone they never really die?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s bullshit, love. Bullshit. They’re dead, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget. Use what you feel and make something that he would have said ‘yeah, I like this’ about.”

I reached into my jacket and pulled out my manuscript. “I think I did. It’s why I started drinking. I’m just… I’m not sure how it turned out.”

“So you’ve been carrying it around London?”

“Yes.”

“All night long?”

“That’s right.” I laughed. It’s the sort of laugh that you laugh when you’re really just begging for affirmation. “I was thinking about throwing it away. That’s why I took the stool by the garbage.”

He shook his head. “What are we going to do with you?”

“I just need to know.”

The lights dimmed. He smiled again. “There’s only one way to find out.”

He set down a clear, glass orb on the counter and snapped his fingers. The arm brought him two shots of something amber. He downed them both. I smiled.

“I never took you for much of a drinker.”

“Baby, I’m not even really here.”

He walked over to the stage and pressed some keys. I stared down at my manuscript. It was hard to focus. 

“Alright, ladies. We’ve got time for one last song.” He started gently pounding out some chords and singing. “Oh I ain’t got the power anymore, no I ain’t got the power anymore.” He dove into the verse, and I dove into my manuscript.

I read it. He played.

He was better. He was way better. It wasn’t even close, but then again, I didn’t want to compete, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t either. He played, and I read, and the music swirled around me, and I felt the power. My mind lit up like a solar flare with the sort of electricity you only get when you’re around someone who cares so deeply about what they’re doing that you end up caring, too.

“I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thoughts, and I ain’t got the power anymore.”

I looked at the garbage. You know how sometimes, in really dim light, you look into something that has volume to it, like a trash can, and it just yawns at you, and it seems like it doesn’t have a bottom, and it won’t ever, ever end?

Yeah, it wasn’t doing that anymore. The trash can, I mean. I could see a condom at the bottom of the liner.

I finished my drink and managed somehow to stand up. The room tilted and whirled so hard it made my brain hurt, but I found a path and made it to the door.

“Don’t believe in yourself, don’t deceive with belief. Knowledge comes with death’s release”

It didn’t really make much sense, but it worked, in a weird sort of way. We made eye contact, and he nodded at me.

I just nodded back.

Then I left.

I suppose I made it back to Bloomsbury at some point because I woke up the next morning in my own bed, wishing I would have died.

I looked at the clock.

Morning. That was being generous.

My roommates would be back from Wales soon, and I…

Had it really been four days?

I rolled over. There was a manuscript on my bedside table. It had a touch of glitter on it. Next to the manuscript was a clear glass orb.

I never did find that bar again. It’s gone now.

I went looking for it my last night in London. The weather was warm, and we took Barclay’s bikes and rode them around the whole fucking town. We didn’t wear helmets, so our hair streamed behind us, and we laughed at the sheer folly of it all, kicked our legs out and screamed like kids, and the blood raced through our veins and our hair was blowing behind us and we could feel the life throbbing through our temples and I never did find the bar again.

I never found it again, but…

Now that I come to think of it,

I’m not sure I ever did.

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The Procession Of Death


   
I can see it now.

Geniuses, wearing their ceremonial garb of grey and blue, march out of the apple store. They hold the symbols of their order: A squat woman in the front holds an apple on a stick. She waves it high, announcing to the world this is a religious matter. Behind her comes the bearer of the iPhone and iPad, one held in each arm, ceremonially checking them every ten seconds for snapchats and tender updates.
After that, the elders arrive, the old MacBooks from the ancient times wheeled in on AV carts. Some say they can’t even process more that sixty-four bits. It’s just a legend, though. Surely, it is but folklore to scare the children. I must consult the geniuses later.

Behind them comes the effigy of Steve Jobs, rolling on a cart made of pure titanium and gold. Black turtlenecks burn in his honor. The effigy stands looking forwards to the future. Behind him comes the past.

My MacBook.

It is carried on a purple satin pillow. A black shroud hangs over it. Two geniuses in dark black robes carry the pillow. Their faces are concealed, but tears can clearly be seen staining their robes. In front of them, two similarly attired geniuses swing thuribles filled with the finest electronic components from the orient. They burn, releasing their toxic smoke so that the whole mall can smell it.

Mourners line the walkway to the exterior exit. They wail and gnash their teeth. They beat their chests and prostrate themselves on the ground. Why? They ask. What sort of god would do this?

What sort of god would ruin someone’s perfectly good MacBook with water damage?

No god of mine.

I take up the rear of the procession, dressed in all black, wearing a veil. I have already gone through one box of cleanex and, poor as I am, I hope my weeping will cease lest more money be put toward the tissue fund.

I am supported by my friends Stacy and Stephanie, as I can barely walk from the grief. They are sad too, though they could never hope of fathoming my pain.

To lose a MacBook…

It crushes your soul like a vice. It is an owner’s greatest fear to have to bury his MacBook. In an ideal world, my MacBook would have lived to a ripe old age while I am comfortably dead, but this is not an ideal world.

It is a dark one, full of terrors, full of things that go bump in the night and spill liquid on your MacBook when your not even there.
Damn whoever did this. Damn them to hell.

I weep as the procession finally reaches the dumpster. There are no dumpster women there today, and the only smell is the stench of death; the rot and decay of components; plastic wrap, burning.

The geniuses recant the five pillars of Agammom, and utter the sacred rhyme of Ulgoch, before they toss my MacBook in the dumpster. They reach for the compact button.

NO! I scream, breaking free of Stephanie and Stacy. My baby! My baby no! don’t put him down there! You can’t! You can’t!

I stroke its lid, running my hand over the humorous bumper stickers I stuck on it years ago. I can feel the air bubbles underneath the plastic. It’s comforting.

The geniuses try to pull me away.

I just need to say goodbye.

I wipe my eyes. My MacBook stares back at me, lifeless.

Remember London? I ask it. Belgium? France? Florida, remember that? The dorm room I brought you too after I picked you up from the student center? Remember the film school sets? The nights we drank together and spun dark tapestries? The rain on the windows of the old apartment? The rattle the air conditioner would make? Remember? Remember?

It remembers nothing, though. It’s hard drive is wiped. It’s dead.

I remember, though, and what is anything, if not a future memory?

I let the geniuses lead me away. I hear the compactor start, and they carry me to my car.

Stephanie drives. I’m in no state.

I write this to you know, gentle reader, on my old, old MacBook from 2008. The future is uncertain. 

What sort of computer will I procure? Will it even be a Mac? What will I do?

One thing is for certain, though.

My MacBook would have wanted me to go on.

So go on I shall.

 

The Light of Polaris


Office Buildings at Night --- Image by © Richard Schultz/Corbis

I like to write in the dark. I get home after ten more often than not, and the first thing I do is grab a beer from my fridge and head upstairs. Nighttime is when I write my blog posts and other non-fiction stories. The night is magic, it’s full of possibilities, and ripe for reflection. Night time is when you’re vulnerable.

I find music appropriate for the mood of whatever I’m working on, and then I write about myself.

I have really shitty blinds in my apartment. Honestly, they’re terrible: long plastic strips that hang down all the way to the floor. They break and fall off if a spider breathes on them wrong. I always have the blinds shut in my room, but over the year that I’ve lived here, three or four strips have fallen, leaving great gashes in my privacy. It used to make me uncomfortable, but I’ve long since stopped caring. If someone wants to spy on me, so be it. I hope they’re prepared for boredom.

I live behind an office building. Every time I get home, there’s one light on in the building, directly across the alley from my room, on the same floor. It’s almost always the only light on.

The cleaning people travel throughout the building during the night, normally up until twelve or one AM. I’ve watched them, sitting on my ratty couch I bought from Salvation Army for twenty dollars, a glass of Jim Beam in hand, David Bowie on the stereo. They’re very efficient.

Sure, I have a TV. There’s actually two in the house, but when the mood strikes me, there’s nothing as good as watching other people. Maybe it’s the danger in it. This is wrong. You know it’s wrong. That’s what makes it so much fun. It’s like spying. It is spying. It’s Rear Window.

There’s a new apartment complex further down the street. It’s sleek and modern, and the top floor suites have huge, multistory windows that provide a wonderful portal through which to view the occupants. The huge windows don’t have any blinds. I’m sure the owners assumed that since there aren’t any apartments close, no one would be watching the people living there.

They thought wrong. I have binoculars.

The penthouses are occupied by a couple twenty somethings who either hit it big or have very rich parents. They throw lavish parties and have people over all the time.

I watch it all. You’re fights, the slow dances with your girl when it’s one AM and everyone left, the different girl your bring over the next night. The shame. It’s all a show to me. You’re my amusement.

I see it all.

It gets boring after a while, though. Too much like TV. It’s too simple. I can turn on Hulu and watch the real world without having to hold binoculars to my face.

The light in the office building, though. That’s a mystery.

It stays on until two or three in the morning, every morning. I can never see anyone in the room, no matter how hard I look. It’s the angle, I think. There’s probably more to the room that I just can’t see.

Surely there’s someone in there, but why? What are they doing?

I wonder.

A workaholic is a safe bet, sure. I can picture him now, slaving away at the keyboard, crunching numbers, making a list of who to call tomorrow. There are movie posters on the wall. I can see that from my room at least. Maybe he’s a movie producer. He could be staying up late reading scripts, getting ready to call writers and give them notes. Maybe he’s researching other productions, trying to pull some deals together. Maybe he needs to find a tank for a shoot tomorrow.

Whoever he is, he’s a workaholic. I get workaholics.

I’ve always assumed you become a workaholic when you have nothing else. It’s you and your job. You’re a workaholic because you’re scared to go home, your scared to sit by yourself in your mansion or apartment or car or whatever because no matter how late you stay up, how long you watch TV, how high you blast the music, or how much alcohol you drink, you can’t escape that moment at three AM when you’re staring at the ceiling and all you can think is what else is there?

This is it.

I’m going to die.

It’s in those existential moments that we find out who we are. Your soul screams why?

Whatever you’re answer is you.

Stay at work though, he says to himself. Burn the midnight oil. To you, it must be a distraction. Keep working, keeping thinking about deals and packages and actors and scripts. Think about location deals, and music rights, and sponsors.

Avoid it.

I understand. I get the guy across the alley. He and I are a lot alike.

To him, his single lighted window is a distraction. He burns the light to keep away the dark.

I wonder what he thinks about when he looks at me. When he looks across the alley and sees an almost pitch-black room. What demons assail him, then?

I wonder if he can hear the keys clacking away. I wonder what they sound like to him.

I hope to see him one day. I think he’ll be standing in his window, tie hanging loosely, a cup of coffee in hand. There will be circles under his eyes, and the wisps of hair that he combs over his ever increasing bald-spot while be sticking out at crazy angles. He’ll have a white shirt, khaki pants, and a gold watch

I’ll be in my IKEA computer chair, sipping on a PBR and listening to death metal music. I’ll still be dressed in all black, like I always am when I come home form Starbucks.

Our eyes will meet, and what then?

Will he shiver?

Will he blink?

Will he nod?

No.

I think he won’t do anything at all.

Just stare, and then go back to work like nothing ever happened.

To him, his light is his escape. To me, his light is a beacon. A warning. An egg timer, counting down.

A calling.

It’s the north star, Polaris, and it leads me in new and exciting directions. It pulls at me, and my soul is compelled to follow.

You’re days are numbered, it whispers as I traipse over mountains, and sail over wine dark seas, and if your life flashes before your eyes, how much of it do you want to be in an office?

Not much.

Not much.

So I click away, and I dream.

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The Road To La Crescenta


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“So I gave my two weeks”

Bri said it quickly, like she wanted to get it out of the way.  I was grinding some coffee.  When I turned to her, she was looking at me.  I couldn’t read her face.  If had I had to pick a word to describe it, though, it would be anxious.

Anxiousness is expected when your starting something new, but this was something different.  Bri had worked at Starbucks for around two years.  She had even been a shift lead.  Now, she’s letting that go, abandoning comfort.  This was a big change.

“I know,” I said, “Mike told me.”  Neither of us really knew what to say next.  Customers swept in, like a tsunami, before we could figure it out.  It wasn’t too long before they were climbing over each other, fighting to be the one in their group to pay.  I saw a daughter swat her mom with a twenty dollar bill.

“No, It’s my treat!  No!  Here, take.  Take!”

When someone treats me, I’m grateful.  When these women treat each other at Starbucks, though, it’s like an insult.

My heart wasn’t in it.  I just let them fight it out and took the money from whoever had the longest arms.

Leaving.

Bri, Wayne, Joe and Maya.  They were all leaving.  It was a good chunk of my group of friends.  I’d only have a few left.

Bri had told me she was thinking about leaving a while ago.  She told me that, among the three jobs she had, she worked with a company that found musicians for filmmakers looking to score their movies.  They wanted her to work full time.  They also paid double what Starbucks does.

Bri was only staying at Starbucks to finish undergrad.  Starbucks has a program where, if you work a certain amount of hours a week, you can get your undergraduate degree from Arizona state for free.  It’s a surprisingly good deal but, as Bri told me, what’s the point in going to school if you’re so tired you’re not learning anything?

As much as it pained me, I told her she should go.  Chase the money.  Live the dream, man, live the dream.

And now she was.

I had already gotten over the others leaving.  That had been coming for a long time.  In fact, my buddy John, who left to go to San Diego two or three weeks ago, was hired specifically to help us with a staffing shortage.  We all had full knowledge that he would be going.  I’d known Maya would be leaving for over three months now.

Bri was a surprise though.  I don’t know what I would have said if Mike hadn’t already told me over the weekend.

I can sort of imagine what it’s like to live in a nursing home.  You’d have a specter looming over you.  Every touch, every laugh, every conversation, every interaction would be shadowed with the thought that this person could die very soon, and there is nothing you can do about it.

How horrible it must be.

Starbucks is kind of the same way.  They’re not dying, but from my perspective they might as well be.  I only hang out with two people from work, and even that is irregular, though i think that’s mostly because we are all very, very poor. There’s a good likelihood I’ll never see Joe or Wayne or Maya or Bri again.  I’ll say bye on their last dayand that’s it.

“Don’t worry,” Bri told me later, “You’ll be next.  How’d the Disney thing pan out?”  Poorly, at least so far.  Like everything related to the industry, promises get you about as far as you can throw them.  Words are wind.

It sucks when people you like go, but I guess it comes with the territory.  Part time, minimum wage work doesn’t lend itself to keeping people around.  Im sure the management has hardened their hearts to it, as have all the lifers.  For me, though, it still hurt.

Four hours later I was in my car, on the way to La Crescenta to a pool party in honor of my friend Ben, who was heading back to Wisconsin to start a family.

It was around five, my favorite time of day.  The sun was dipping, the shadows were long, and everything started to look orange.  There was no traffic, and the road was gorgeous.  The thirty minute drive wasn’t bad at all.

I’ve been listening to an album on repeat for the past week.  It’s The Mantle by Aggaloch, a sort of darkly beautiful metal/rock piece about life.  I didn’t realize it until that drive, but, as I wove in and out of the mountains, I remembered that it was the same album I listened to almost on repeat on my epic five-day trip out here, almost exactly a year ago.

To me, it’s an album of change.  As the opener starts, I can feel a door close, and another open.  I can taste the wind blow across my face.  I see the mountains of Tennessee, and the plains of Oklahoma.  I see Texas long-grass and the mesas of Arizona.  I see the Nevada desert, the grand canyon, the Mojave, and the rain.  I see great empty spaces, the sun setting behind them, painting all the nothing red and orange, the sky afire with pinks and the promises of the West.

I walked into the party, and everyone was there, including a bunch of kids that had just graduated film school, and a few who graduated the year before us.

The juxtaposition wasn’t lost on me.

Saying goodbye to Ben was easier than saying goodbye to Bri, because I know I’ll see him again.  Ben’s the kind of guy that would show up one day and say “hey, I’m making a feature film, want to help?”  I would say yes.

Then it’d be my turn to quit my job at Starbucks, and chase that setting sun, heading for the horizon, following something new.

“You’re next,” I could hear Bri saying, “I can feel it.”

Left Mitten Butte, Monument Valley Monument Valley, Utah, USA

Left Mitten Butte, Monument Valley Monument Valley, Utah, USA

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