Sunday, April 13, 2014

L.A.



For a place with so much history, Los Angeles appears to have been built yesterday. I wasn't in a city so much as a spilled box of Lego bricks. The links were sloppy, but a connection is a connection. I walked four miles to lunch. The sun turned my neck and nose pink. I never felt the burn. In a similar way, I stared out at the ocean, and for the first time in my life, I didn't feel the water beckon me. I felt it push me away.

Everyone out there has a solid reason to be out there. Otherwise, they'd be somewhere else. My reason was my friend, xTx. She read Thursday night. Two of my other friends came along. None of the three had ever met each other. We stood in a timeline. Abbi was high school. Chelsea, college. xTx, now. And of course that's too simple. Let me explain.

I met Abbi on a choir trip. We shared a moment of recognition. Friends forever. Friday night, I dreamed we were on a bus looking out opposite windows. I saw a haunted high school and began to tell Abbi the story of its most tragic ghost. Abbi didn't turn to acknowledge the school. She said she knew the story, and she was looking at the very place where it all happened. I turned and looked out her window. There was another haunted high school across the street from my haunted high school. What are the odds? We are the odds. A teacher once told us friends made in high school don't last. As if to spite him, we happily endure.

In college, Chelsea and I drove south to the place where three states meet and legend has it the Devil takes moonlit walks on an old bridge. Each night a spectral orb floats over the road. We witnessed the orb and were fascinated. That wasn't so long ago, but it gets longer ago every day. I miss Chelsea. She's good weather. She never stays anywhere long.

xTx. The hours we're together are the best hours. Thursday night we locked arms and joined hands and hugged like we were dying. I was sent to surprise her. She was surprised. I held her drink while she clapped for other readers. She whispered something in my ear, and I laughed at the same time someone told a joke that wasn't funny.

Stars aligned. Mars appeared brighter than usual. Fog rolled in, and the pastries were incomparable. On the way home, my flight dug through a thunderstorm. I was in the clouds with lightning, and I was aware I wasn't electric. 

These people jolt me.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Re: A Letter to a Friend

Her name's xTx, but no, it's not.

We met on the Internet first. We met in person when I saw her hair across a bar in Chicago and knew it was her. Her hair is the only part she allows in photographs. She says if I saw her in a grocery store it wouldn't even cross my mind we should be friends. The truth is I look for her everywhere now, and sometimes I think I see her for a second in other people. I've told her about every pie I've made, even the ones that didn't work. There was the one with corn and another with cantaloupe. 

She lives in L.A., and I live in Kansas City. We talk on the phone maybe twice a year. The times we hug are in cities neither of us call home. When I tell people about her, I don't say she's my friend from L.A.; I say she's my friend from the Internet.

She wrote me a letter on Saturday. I respond:

Dear _____,

Today is Thursday. You'll see Roxane. I'll see the weather change. Earlier, it was raining and thundering. Now, the sun is out and the wind is slamming screen doors. Later, tornadoes possible.

Upstairs, a dog barks, and a woman barks back at the dog.

Last night was the first meeting of our book club with our friends and neighbors. We read JENNY AND THE JAWS OF LIFE by Jincy Willett. Everyone liked the book, with one guy going so far as to say he didn't dislike any of it. The meeting was held at our house. I took great pains to make a good impression. The bathroom was scrubbed clean, but no one used it.

I'm glad your mother got to visit. My mother hasn't been out here in several years. The last in-person conversation we had regarded our burial preferences. "Cremation," she said. I nodded. "Me too." She sent me some yarn in the mail a couple weeks ago. I'm going to make her a scarf. Maybe two. The season for scarves is ending, but then again, maybe not. We got snow in May last year.

The tour of our place ends with us showing guests the spare bedroom and saying, "Shhh. A snake is listening." I bought her when Josh was at work one day. She was small and jeweled as a candy bracelet. Mostly pink then. Now, mostly white. I've seen her tie herself into knots.

You worry too much. Take your guilt and shove it!

Good luck at your reading. I want to be there.

Carry on,

Casey

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wow

If I saw you in Seattle, I saw you in Seattle. We hugged and you heard my stomach boil. I didn't stop eating up there. The power to climb all those hills came from meals on top of meals. No crumbs were wasted entertaining sea gulls. Please don't feed those birds anything. They're already the size of helicopters. One of them got close to my face on a pier railing, and I offered it my wallet. Empty calories!

I read some stories to people in a lounge. A pipe above me dripped on my jeans. It even rains indoors in Seattle. The wet weather got into my coat and made the button a dog chewed on last year start stinking again.

I wore my new scarf. I appeared to be wearing a neck brace. People weren't having it. They didn't say anything, but the looks! At least on the test run in Kansas City, someone on the street was helpful and said, "Are you fucking kidding me?!"



You must remember, though, that in college I knit a Superman sweater complete with cape and wore the thing out shopping. I was hopeful on the size. My roommate used to call it "chub-n-tight" when men wore a size too small. We were amorous of such men. I tried to be one myself. I see pictures now, and I don't know who I'm looking at. In the middle of that phase, Josh found me.

Two weeks ago, we took a ferry to an island near Seattle to watch rich people in their nature preserve of mansions and beaches. On one of the beaches there was a sign warning about toxic mollusks. There were illustrations of the shells to beware. I saw a million crab claws sticking out of the sand. The only whole crabs I saw where on ice in the market. I made Josh consider the water out the market windows. He said, "I wish we had windows like this at home." Water is water everywhere, I guess. Call me easy to please, but I couldn't get enough of that dark blue water. All I could say was, "Wow."

Another surprise. I've discovered the truth about my upstairs neighbors and all the noise they make. Turns out the second floor is a forest. The trees harbor wolves. When the boyfriend leaves for work every morning, the girlfriend goes about her own work cutting down each tree and burning the wood to draw out the wolves. Next comes the fighting and the canine crying. The scratching. The screaming. Folk music masks the murder. The girlfriend kills all the wolves. The boyfriend arrives home and is pleased. He and the girlfriend celebrate all night by linking arms and legs. They chew on bones and laugh. I look out the window to see if anyone has fallen on the ice. Nothing. The forest regenerates in the night.

Down here, I write. My myth about it shrinks. It's not a conversation if I know I'm talking to myself, so I pretend I'm talking to you.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Men with Broken Banjos

This February I'm not empty, but I might be an aquarium with just water left in it. A painter friend had a show last week. She said she occupies the same hollow. She's alone all day, too, painting tiny jeweled bricks and hair nests and feathers. All her conversation is used up talking to herself.

A different friend was over, and I opened my mouth. I wasn't sure what I was going to say. I thought I must say something. Now I don't remember if I said anything. During the day I listen to music but don't sing along. I whistle. A whistle isn't words. Where are my words. That's not a question. I'll find them. I'm finding them. I found some of them today.

The music I listen to could best be described as "men with broken banjos." The men have gaps in their front teeth. The men are slim as blades of grass. The wind whistles sharp against the flatness of these men. Sometimes the men are women. The heads of their banjos are busted, and the faces of cats peer out. Don't ask me for names.

I know I'm almost finished writing what I'm writing. (A small book.) Short as it is, it took long enough. I'll hand it over when I'm certain. I keyboard the limp parts. They harden.

I thought I saw a ghost today. I've seen ghosts, and I've pretended to see ghosts. Today I didn't see a ghost. I thought I did. A thunderstorm stretched black outside. I wore the mood like a thin condom. Someone slammed a car door, and I convinced myself I felt the slam in my balls. I hung up the laundry. From the corner of my eye something quick and white and large enough to touch the floor and the ceiling all at once stepped out the closest window. A passing vehicle reflection, maybe. My glasses are cheap and susceptible to glare. I remove them when posing for photographs. The (no) ghost stirred my nerves. Good for that ghost. I knitted some rows on a scarf. I wrote and rewrote and unwrote. To unknit a piece of knitting is called "frogging." Like the yarn after frogging, the words I had on hand were kinked. The texture from their reuse was good to read.

Great. Wow. The luxury of this kind of work. No one depends on it, and yet I know some people who might tell me otherwise, so I continue. One of them asked me for a story. That story is at Squalorly. What a good name. You could give a baby that name, but only when it's crying.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Sugar People

Josh's sister turned 30. It happens. In a little over a year, it will happen to me. For Josh's sister, it had to happen in New Orleans. She wanted us all down there with her, so we all went down there with her. We stayed in a purple house. The ceilings were unreachable. The French Quarter was a mile away. Josh and I walked everywhere we could walk.

Each morning we went out for a juice breakfast with Josh's sister. The first morning we hiked to a place called The Green Fork. Actress Jennifer Coolidge stood in line behind us. We waited for our juice. Jennifer Coolidge sampled a muffin. Josh suggested she try the vegan blondie. Jennifer Coolidge tried the vegan blondie. "Oh my God," she said.

The walk back to the French Quarter had us passing a day-drunk man preparing to pee on the courthouse. He told us not to worry because he was wearing triple-thick pants. Two stone eagles flanked the man. We were witness to a freedom we'd all exercised before but never with a daylight audience. We kept walking.

But we didn't walk everywhere. Some group trips we took a taxi. One of our drivers was a doctor. He gave us his business card. He signed the A in his name with a cartoon penis. A woman in our group asked the doctor for details on his doctorate. The doctor had never been asked specifics. "Communications," he said. "Well, journalism, really." We all agreed there was no money in that. As if we had to vocalize it. The doctor drove us to the nicest restaurant in town.

Another driver asked if we'd heard of the Sugar People. Silence. "Sure you have," he said. "You've heard of gay people. They're the Sugar People." It's true that once every year in New Orleans there's a festival for the Sugar People, and they come dressed to kill. The same driver warned us of swamp dangers. He made sure we were clear on alligators. Like how an alligator drags its prey to the river bottom and waits for the flesh to soften enough for consumption. Death is all over that town. I saw bones on the sidewalk. The cemeteries are above ground. Even the donuts, the beignets, are little pillows on which heart attacks slumber. Yes, it felt like home.

A friend asked if I might want to move to New Orleans one day, and I said I felt like I'd already lived there before. There are places that fit you. Kansas City fits me. Kansas City fits other writers, too. My friend and poet crush, Jordan Stempleman, was asked to guest-edit an issue of NOÖ Weekly by Mike Young. Jordan chose writers with a stake in Kansas City. I'm one, and then there's Anne Boyer, Dan Magers, Ryan MacDonald, Lesley Ann Wheeler, Bridget Lowe, Teal Wilson, and James Tate. That James Tate. My story is dark and cold. It's in a fitting place. We all suffer January.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Crush Thousand and Thirteen

The year is running dry, but I still have crushes. Let me guide you through the sweetest drops I know.

1. "Pizza Boyfriend." He works at the pizza place down the street. He holds a cigarette like it's a strand of hair. He passes the house four times a day. I don't know his name. Scratch that. "Pizza Boyfriend" is his name.

2. Actresses. Josh and I saw a production of The Glass Menagerie in Boston back in March (since moved to Broadway). One scene has Amanda and Laura setting a table in silence. No actual silverware. Just the way those women move their hands in unison as if dinner is a spell they cast together every night.

3. Photography. Josh took a class. I took a class through Josh. Taking a picture is like anything else. Pretend you can do it until you really can do it.

4. Eve Englezos. Long-time friend and neighbor. Ceramicist and jelly witch. She rescued a bird from a parking lot five years ago. That bird is now a human boy.

5. Reading aloud. Josh and I took turns reading a novel to each other in bed. Stages don't scare me anymore. I read a story to a crowded auditorium in October. The audience was mine. I caught those fish, but in the end I let them all go.

6. Jordan Stempleman. The man-teacher-poet responsible for A Common Sense Reading Series. His tattoos have muscles. He taught my book in a summer class at KCAI and had me come in to read his students to sleep. We went out for beer after. Jordan offered to share one of his cigarettes with me. I declined. What was I thinking?

7. James Piechura. One of my most recent friends. He moved back to the desert a couple of weeks ago to take care of his sick mother. The last thing I said to him was, "I guess that's it," and that was it. I have cried about it twice. Our final topic of conversation was scorpions. It comes back to that most days. What animals and where? Not much I've seen in Kansas City compares to the thoroughbred I saw running down the street in Kentucky when I was a kid. In my current neighborhood I've seen a stray cat with a Hitler mustache, and once near Joplin my headlights bounced off a miniature horse I mistook for a lioness. But James is a real lion, an astrological Leo, and I miss his feline restlessness.

8. Champurrado. A Mexican chocolate drink. I prepare it every Tuesday evening. I've never seen Josh so happy as when he's drinking it. We've offered it to other friends. The rapture isn't shared. Champurrado is thickened with masa. Corn and chocolate. Our friends just aren't ready, and that's fine.

9. Houseplants. Our friend, Mac, gifted us with three houseplants. They're all impossible-to-kill varieties native to jungle floors. I have nearly killed each of them. When Mac is over, he asks when the plants were last watered. The answer is the same every time. I don't know. And that's how it is with crushes. Don't give them too much attention.

10. "Thor." A man with long, golden hair worn in a ponytail who eats alone at the Indian restaurant down the street one Sunday each month. His only company is a book. Maybe he isn't the real Thor, but I can't say for sure. I haven't seen his hammer.

11. Gay literature. The novel Nebraska by George Whitmore. Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story. Tennessee Williams' Memoirs. Anything by Dennis Cooper. SHY by Kevin Killian. Start anywhere.

12. xTx. The hand on the other side of the glass. She got a new job this year. Most of our communication since has been quiet staring across the country. Simple. Elegant. She sent me a gold journal. Inside, she'd written all she needed to write. I'll make her a pie one day. She'll hate it.

13. Josh. Duh. The crush who crushes back.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

One Sword Fight Away from Total Annihilation



What's the news? The news is I'm not nearly as good a garment knitter as I thought. The news is I've never been better at pies. The news is I've had three orgasms this year that escalated into laughter and broke into crying. The news is I continue to get the occasional beard hair that is really ten beard hairs fused into one. The news is I'm afraid of the stories I'm writing, but I'm still writing.

For a long time I had pain in me. I'm a picker, so I picked the pain out but couldn't throw it away. Josh doesn't like to waste food, and I don't like to waste a word. I found a place to put my pain. Small stories. Well, those stories are in the world. Mother Ghost was the book I needed to write, but now I can write about anything. Three soldiers in love? A weird war? Yes, fine. That's the current story. I don't know these men I'm writing and yet they came from me. I don't know anything about battle. I do know gay people can serve freely now, and I do know I'd never fight another person if I couldn't use a sword. Too bad. This is no world for fighting with swords. The only person I know who owns a sword keeps it in an umbrella stand by the door.

If I were still a kid I might like drones, if only for aesthetic reasons. Drones are penile and menacing, like a blind bird missing all its feathers. Scrawny dragons. I bet there is a Transformer toy that is a drone. But I have a heart, it seems. A human heart. The only machine I've fallen in love with is an old medium format camera. The shutter fires loud as a gun. There is chrome involved. To wear the thing around my neck is to make a statement about my spine. It is intact.

I've been taking a lot of pictures. Mostly of myself. Some people call them "selfies." The term I knew for so long was "self-portraits." Whatever. For the first time in my life, I want pictures of myself. My hair alone is going places.

And my pies. I have started a small business of sorts. It's called Pie King. You may call me Pie King if you'd like, but I won't answer to it. There was a time I worked in a museum, and when I first started there I asked my coworkers to call me by my first name, Charles. That didn't last. I never heard it. My name has always been Casey. It's my middle name. I live in Kansas City, or KC, which is the only place I've lived where people ask if I spell Casey with a K and a C. I do not.

I do wish I could see you. It's been so long. My house is how I like it. Please visit.