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The skies here are gray forever. The last dandelion of summer is gone from my walking trail. The season is on the edge, it is on the edge, we are all on the edge forever.

Somewhere in my father’s house there is a box of VHS tapes covered in the dust of a decade. My cartoon friends live there, abandoned on strips of film – baby happiness, streams of joy, dancing smiles, tea parties with friends and balloons.

The things that we love and cherish become vintage collectibles to be sold and then given to museums if they survive long enough to deserve a little placard with the date stamped on the face. Those are real things. We are real things.

We cannot say how the past should have been lived. I cannot tell you about my long-gone family. We have too many stories to share with our children. They forget most of them, passing down shorter and shorter sentences until there are no words left.

My grandfather standing at the top of the stairs. He brings us Kit-Kats and grapes. Cinnamon gum. My grandmother’s house. The smell of the basement laundry room. The yellow eyes of a black cat staring at me from the shadows. Black Cherry ice cream. A napkin holder with a picture of Jesus. A swinging chair. Purple was her favorite color.

If you start enough adventures, they never end. One after another becomes a single journey. A place on a game board briefly visited. Gum Drop Mountains. Molasses Swamp. Lollipop Woods.

I don’t know what the past was like. I can barely remember my own. I wonder if it has ever been like this before. Is this the most terrible? Are we? Is this the worst it could be? This could be the worst it could be. What a thought. What a thought to be capable of having.

We are all of the past and the present. We are all of the cycle of the universe. Gray skies and blue and black and red and pink and cotton candy summer’s end and bright orange leaves on the ground in piles we raked together and our old dog jumping in them and gobbling snow and sawing down pine trees and vacuuming up tinsel. Cycles and cycles and adventures and hoping we’re all going the right way and that no one will hate our old photographs but wonder who we were instead.

 

 

 

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“The trees are too tall, they block the moon,” says my bosses’ son from the backseat as I drive him home from school. It is a short and poignant thing to say.  “They are pretty though, aren’t they?” I ask, and he agrees. It was a simple observation, one that led to a conversation about the moon and space and sunlight and how trees wouldn’t be very good to eat. It was a short and quiet moment in the busy, loud life of a three year old.

In some writing class in college, my professor told us about how his brother had been a forester in the pacific northwest, and how he had fallen from a tree and shattered all of the bones in his legs. I wonder if that guy thought trees were too tall or if they were beautiful or if he only did it for the money.

It is raining here in Los Angeles. It must be good for the trees. There are puddles on my balcony. The streets shine. I sit and listen to the rain and wonder if it all comes from the ocean, and how long it will take to get back there.

My job is terrible and dull and it makes the people who stay there for years terrible and dull. Sometimes we sit around a table and talk about other people’s money. Last time this happened I remembered sitting at a table in Seoul, staring at a tiny Korean girl refusing to eat her lunch. Those two situations were very different but very much the same. It is all some kind of strange humanity.

Someday there might be someone who loves me more than someone else’s money. Someday there might be someone who loves the trees because they are beautiful and not because they can be cut down and sold for lumber. We will grow tall and strong together in the rain.

I am almost in tears standing in the cereal aisle staring at the price tags on the granola bars. Three dollars. Three fucking dollars. I grab a box in tuck it into my basket, because everyone needs snacks. Even me, even for three dollars.

Wandering around the store, and out of it, I wonder what everyone does for a living. I want to ask them, I want to walk up to them and say, ‘excuse me, I see you’re looking very well put together, how do you manage to make money in this city?’

I don’t do it, but I keep thinking it, keep wondering. On my walk home I pass a cardboard sign that someone has taped to a streetlight. It is large and written with black marker. It says, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Some homeless man took the time, and the ink from his marker, to write this and post it up for all of us people walking by to see. 

Walking home with my granola bars stuffed into my backpack, I nervously spin my phone in circles in my hand. I need a job. I need a job. I need a job. There are so many stories of people who went to a city almost penniless and made it. But how did they make it? How do I make it? There are so many people here. There are so many people walking with me, crossing streets, running, biking, rolling along on their skateboards. Driving. They all have a place. There must be a place for me. I have to be able to contribute to this. It’s been a week of looking. A week. I can’t tell if a week is forever or no time at all. It feels like both. My phone spins in my hand as I turn the corner.

The street I’m staying on is nice. Somehow there is always parking, even in the middle of Los Angeles, and there are trees and plants along the sidewalk. A lovely place to walk, and a lovely place to be. There’s this huge, leafy palm plant that catches my eye as I walk toward it. It’s very green and calming somehow, just sitting there, growing. The trees are pushing up the sidewalks as we walk on them, going wherever it is we’re going.

I feel a little bad for being afraid or being worried, because I’m fine, really. I have friends to help me, and a family who cares about me, even if they are across the country. I have plenty of access to cardboard and markers. I have a roof to sleep under. I have time. I have some kind of place already. I have granola bars. But I no longer have that three dollars.

 

“He has kind eyes.”

“He’s high. He has high eyes.”

His eyes are so blue and so pink as you look at him standing there looking at you with his head tilted to the side. He’s wearing some weird hat and you assume he’s gay because he’s slim and neat and showed up with some other man who is slim and neat.

It is dark and the people are cold; the group closes in without noticing, huddles together unconsciously, forms small packs of humans, tiny false families.

“I’m a filmmaker.”

“I’m a writer.”

“What do you write?”

“I write about you. And I write about nothing. And I make things up that never happened. But it sounds better later, if I edit it, if I add in things. If I knew at the time what to say.”

The little families are not all false. These people love each other, I just don’t know them. I don’t know them as a family, who loves who, or who hates who occasionally, or what happened that one time on the beach last weekend.

Time goes by, it gets lighter and warmer, and different people sit on the same benches and form similar friendships. The man, who is not a boy, as he’s an eighties baby, and not a child, might have worn that hat again. The woman with curly fairy hair has sobered up but kept the light in her eyes. The little families separate and draw in again, accidentally and on purpose.

Every Friday my neighbors, on the other side of the fence, whom I have never seen, have a barbecue. They are loud and the air smells like smoke and they play good music. They are young, or so I imagine, and they clink their beer bottles, or so I imagine, and they grin into the fire and the light glints off of their eyes and off of their bottles, and they talk loudly about their jobs and their girlfriends and their rent, or so I imagine. It is dry and dusty here, and quiet, but at night you can hear more somehow, maybe because there is more noise. People have time to gather together and speak and make noises and drive their cars past my house and roar their engines and love each other.

Every night the woman comes home from her job. She works hard five days a week, for too many hours each day. At home is her dog, who watches her leave every morning, lays on the rug in the afternoon, and plays fetch with her at night until they go to sleep after watching a few hours of television. Sometimes this little family gets larger, when the woman’s son comes to visit, and brings with him his son and his wife. But they leave again, and the woman and the dog stay.

The girl with curly fairy hair was humming to herself as she walked next to me. I listened but ignored her, in a way, as I didn’t turn my head to smile, or to acknowledge I had heard her. Eventually she stopped, and laughed, and she said to me, “I’m bored!” It was some attempt at friendship or fun. When I had just met her, before I even knew her name, I had told her her hair was beautiful, in a sort of blunt, honest way that happened too early on in the meeting-someone process. But it had worked out somehow, and so there she was, humming next to me, making something, at least for the length of a walk.

 

 

 

He is sitting at the table raking his bonsai tree. I am standing in front of him, watching. This is what he does now. It is all that he does. He grooms this little tree. He sits at this table, small, white, boring. It’s fun, he says. He does not look up at me.

Sometimes music blares in the room. It’s good music. It makes him happy, as he sits very still and stares at the bonsai tree. I listen to his music. I search for some kind of meaning in it, because he is silent. Slowly the music is becoming more interesting than he is. I watch him; he does not look up at me.

The tree is alive but he is dying. I want to dump the thing on the floor, pull him away, throw a clock at him, kiss his face, make him stare into a sunset. Wake up. Stop this. It is such a little thing, it is not as big as you think it is. He stops listening to me.

It is getting worse and worse. The music is still playing, it still sounds nice, but it’s starting to make my head hurt. Too much of a good thing. Too much of this one thing. Not enough of the man behind the tree. He is lost in it. Somehow he is gone.

Finally, finally, finally, I am tired. I sing softly along with his song as I leave the room. He does not look at me, he does not look for me. Somehow he has died. The door shuts. Maybe I will see him again in the sunshine.

There is a boy. He is seventeen. He is young. He sits in his mother’s house. Don’t we all? His world is small. He is looking out the window at it. He is slowly driving onto the expressway of it. He calls it a freeway, I tell him it’s not called that where I’m from, he still calls it a freeway. He is a little bit afraid. He is excited. He is brave. He is me when I was seventeen. We are sitting in my mother’s house. We are all here together, talking. At night, when no one else is with us, he tell me stories of him. His cat is laying on the rug in his room. His cat looks like my cat. He likes pizza. Of course he does. He likes pizza with meat, like most Americans, I tell him he’s got it all wrong, that he needs more veggies. When the pizza is gone, he tells me more. He lives with his mother in a small city in a small apartment. His world is small. He goes to school online, somehow, isn’t it amazing how children use to go to school in tiny rooms holding chalkboards, that’s what the books all say, but he goes to school online. In my almost old age I can almost understand it. His parents are divorced, and that seems to matter. My parents never divorced, but that doesn’t mean they were together. He sits with his cat and his dog and he tells me. Some clock goes off again and again at the start of every hour. It sounds like the grandfather clock that lived in my grandmother’s house, but his runs on batteries, not the swing of the pendulum. The story isn’t straightforward. He is his own narrator. There are questions I have that are not asked or answered. Listening, it is a mystery that never plans to reveal the answer, that never knows where it is trying to go. He might be getting a job soon. He’s so excited, he tells everyone. He is kind. He is silly. I notice we all start to sound the same, make the same jokes, our accents merge into one, we all say freeway when we mean expressway, we all turn a little southern though we were born elsewhere. His mother is not kind to him. We only hear the story that he tells. He might not be kind to his mother. She might be ruining his life. She might be saving it. There might not be anything to save. What damage will we do to other people? We are all laughing together at midnight. My jaw is sore from grinning. It was not like this before. There was no happiness in sitting alone, not this much. We sit together. We tell our story so far. There are questions we do not answer, things we don’t include. There is a expressway that runs from me to you. It might become a freeway before it gets there, or something else. The police came to his mother’s house one night, weeks ago. They put handcuffs on him, or so I imagine, it was one of those unasked questions. When he sat there in his mother’s house, he was still the boy who loved pizza, who was afraid of driving on the freeway, who took silly pictures of his cat that looks like mine. I imagine the clock chiming in the background, the cat winding around the officers’ legs, his mother sitting sternly, trying to teach her son some lesson of life. It is some story I don’t know. I am looking through the window at it, wondering. We might hear about it, someday, but the story is not straightforward. There are many blank pages that will never be written, that might be left alone, that might be filled in later. Imagine an empty pizza box. There is a circle of grease on the bottom of it, where some restaurant worker put the steaming, cheesy, meaty thing. They closed the lid, pressing down on the cardboard. He might be that person someday. His mother might have been. The policeman might have been. You might never know.

“I don’t care if you’re happy,” he says, wringing his hands in the air. “You shouldn’t be.”

He’s standing in the middle of the busy sidewalk preaching to his date and anyone else who’s listening. I’ve known he exists for less than three minutes and already I’m mesmerized by this weird boy with weird hair who’s wearing a purple polka dot shirt and leather pants.

Fucking art kids, I think, and he continues.

“You’re sitting there on your couch, fat and happy, watching television. You’re with another human who you tolerate enough to spend the rest of your life with. You both have well-paying middle-class jobs that pay your rent bill and your cable. You’re a great, contributing member of society. A well-oiled cog in the machine. You have your purpose. You have your paycheck. You have most of your life mapped out.”

He stops talking and later I find myself in a large room filled completely with fog. There are bright lights in the corners of the room, and everything is white and thick and the room doesn’t feel like a room, and I don’t feel like a person — only a floating, dizzy set of eyes in a world of white and black and flashes of color. And there is no purpose in that room, no ultimate goal; no deep thoughts, and no shallow ones. There is the smell of the fake fog, and the sensation of floating, and two dozen people watching the lights strobe on and off and on. It is simple and beautiful and more compelling than anything I’ve ever seen on T.V. It is strange and wonderful and someone dreamt it up and made it real.

The art kid appears beside me in the white fog in my mind, later. He’s several years older and still stacking things on top of each other, hanging weird things from ceilings, banging things onto and into walls, building robots and talking machines that fly when you whistle “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” in their direction. He struggles to find jobs for himself and doesn’t own a couch or a cat but he’s happy in his own way. People look at him and wonder how he’s done it, wish they could too, whatever it is. They snap pictures with their new iphones and wander back out of the fog to make babies and nest eggs.

“I want you to be happy,” he says, waving the fog out of his face. “You should be.”

It’s different now, a year later, at least for him. He’s taken up watercolor painting and poetry, mixed them together like two paint colors and formed some type of art that’s popular with all people. He’s selling his work online and making enough money to buy extra pairs of weird shoes. He’s thinking about going back to school but he doesn’t know what for yet, doesn’t feel the time has come yet, not yet, not yet. He’s still wearing that same old polka dot shirt, hasn’t found another like it or better. He doesn’t consider himself to be like those people he talked about. He thinks he’s different, he tries to be, although he’s still fighting the pull of “normality” everyday like gravity. It’s hard. But the more he builds and paints and rhymes, the more times he shaves his own hair, the more people who call him “interesting”, the further away from that life he gets. The more foggy it all is. He can’t see those other people anymore, they don’t really exist to him. He lives in another place, another world. No more sidewalk preaching, only painting in cement with colored chalk to make people smile. He wants them to be happy, he says. You should be.