Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yard work

You see the kid wearing his helmet? He's only allowed to ride to the end of the block. Then he's got to turn around and head back home. Might as well tie a string around his wrist and command him to "stay" like a dog. It isn't right, for a kid like that, full of animal energy, to have his mother holding him in check.

The day is warm, so you sit out in the yard and read your manuscripts. Trying to find something new under the sun, it's like panning for gold in a tapped-out stream. Most of what you read is dull -- writing that reads like "writing," words, straight out of a thesaurus, strung together to no good effect, achieving only a lame verisimilitude, a verbal trompe l'oeil. It's as though making a shopping list were the same thing as going out and buying real goods in a real store. You feel for these buggers who scribble away, trying to buy some time. Nobody's told them that you can't buy time, no matter how striking your language.

The sun gets in your eyes and your consciousness stumbles down the path to annihilation. Look around you -- it ain't the world that's gotten smaller, it's your goddamned brain that's shrinking. Look around. Rickety buildings made out of tinker toys. Little lego villages nestled in prefab bucolic valleys. Miniature cars and trucks circling their oval track while teeny people make little faces at each other. This mundanity of yours -- half-literary, half-lived -- is fencing you in as surely as a prison wall. Do a three-sixty and reckon the boundaries of your world. Hell, get on an airplane and fly to Timbuktu and you're still not gonna leave this shit behind. It clings to you and measures you. It's inside you.

Nellie sits there on the front stoop watching her son like a hawk, tallying up the ways fate can wreck a life. Back and forth he goes, testing the extent of the invisible string. He's too young to disobey her now but he'll grow up soon enough. She sits there in her housecoat and lights another cigarette. Soon enough he'll be gone. Between drags, she talks to the dog -- a large goofy mutt -- and occasionally waves at the neighbors. The dog barks at anything -- squirrels, birds, Sweet Lou shuffling about in his adjacent yard, even a sudden gust of wind that knocks over a plastic flower pot. It's annoying. Nellie calls out, "He's all bark. Don't mind him."

Maybe she's right to be overly cautious. A lot of the men around here are lazy and violent and they don't give a good goddamn what they do to women. They rustle around in the woods looking for a simple answer to existence and raise hell when they can't find it. You see 'em drive up and down the old farm roads in their trucks shooting at street signs. If they score a little loot, they buy drugs and get high. They ain't looking to live long. Any woman in her right mind would want to defend herself against their recklessness, and their neediness.

You throw some more paper in the garbage and think to yourself, maybe the highest art that we humans can achieve is Ben Webster playing "Makin Whoopee" or Hank Crawford playing "Misty." Take that sentimental shite and improvise it into art. Go ahead and mug at the system while succumbing to it if it makes you feel big. Go ahead and scribble away and try to capture a moment for posterity. Listen. You hear that train coming? That train's coming for you. It's coming to take you away and you ain't never coming back.

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