I'm not from there but it's where I was born

April 9th, 2021

The little apartment was set in the village of Giroc; a tiny, dusty, and thoroughly alien enclave possessing, at the end of a long poplar-lined road that connected it to the city, a single, pell-mell grocery store, and a rusted bus stop. The trees were uniformly coated with whitewash to two feet of their trunks. Their branches were uniformly pruned back with a severe hand, leaving little, it seemed, for the poor plants to work with. Heavy dust from the fields nearby joined with the constant autumnal chimney smoke to make the atmosphere thick and fragrant, and the sun in the afternoons was a ruddy blanket filtering redly over the rooftops.

On my first day I was taken to the house of the landlords, on the large property that sat behind the little cluster of efficiency apartments. The woman of the house ran it: kitchen, children, expenses, renters, conversation. Her husband receeded into the background like an overstuffed piece of furniture, while his parents, superlatively wrinkled, superlatively silver and white, tried with gummy smiles and incomprehensible interjections to goad me to speech. I could understand neither them nor the landlady, of course, nor my master, who spoke to them loudly, and apparently with great hilarity. They laughed often, and I tried to match my face to theirs --why, I do not know. Later I was scolded for not talking. I was told that people would think there was something wrong with me if I didn't "join in". I wondered how I was expected to join in a conversation in a language I didn't speak. It was not the first of what would grow to be many guilty confusions, but it was, perhaps, the first time I had felt it so personally, publically. I was quiet and ashamed.

Inside the apartment was a small folding bed, an antique wooden desk with great drawers capable of organizing much more than I had, a stand-alone closet, and two small chairs with a table. A window over the desk looked out onto a desolate strip of dirt and retaining wall, and the view reached over and into the street if one stood up while approaching it. Two identical doors at the far end of the room led to either a tiny bathroom or a tiny kitchen, each with tiny appliances. The shower consisted of a quarter-circle marked off in one corner with a faucet above it; the kitchen held a two-burner camping stove connected to a compressed gas can, and a miniature refrigerator.

After introducing me to the main house and walking with me to the small disorganized market --where he bought farmer's cheese, sour cream, bell peppers, and bread--, master spent a few moments with me in my new home, which primarily consisted of showing me how to make sandwiches out of the bought ingredients. I found them strange, randomly composed, but palatable. He left, taking a set of keys with him, and I wrapped myself into my oversized velvet trenchcoat, and willed myself to sleep.

I slept, over the next four days, in strange fits of time unbounded to the light outside, or lack thereof. Near-total silence entombed the place, such that the odd, distant echo of some other tenant's phone call, or the passing of a lonely car down the dead-end road in front of me was eventful. I popped up like a prairie-dog to see if such cars were maybe a taxi, bearing Him. I squinted against the foreign sounds of speech, as though by listening harder I would understand more. There was no internet connection; I had no outlet adapters for my laptop anyway. Disconnected from the world I had left, and with nothing to mindlessly entertain me in a familiar and thus comfortable way, I wandered airy halls of thought that eclipsed the small room I was in. I wondered what would happen, and how long it would take to occur; just-so, wonder without speculation, unspecific. I wondered why I was alone. I wondered what the people I'd left were doing, thinking.

Eventually, somewhere in the marginless soup of days I took out a paper bag-wrapped book my Dad had given me when I graduated high school. It was his journal from the first years of my life, written for and dedicated to me, and after a later childhood pockmarked by his near-total departures from my life, I coveted it. I pored over stories of his arguments with my mother, of his descent into drinking himself sick, of his many attempts to climb out of it. That I could read, in his own hand, his own thoughts, usually so inaccessible behind a wall of appearing well, and that so often, too, his thoughts had been about me --at least for the purposes of the book-- was the most indulgent, gratiating catharsis I could've imagined, then. I read through it several times.

It was almost a week before I saw my master again. He'd wanted to let me catch up on sleep, he said. It felt like a sort of abandonment-by-caring, a strange thing, but then I didn't have all that much time to dwell on it. As the visits came, my ventures out into the alien landscape really began, and intensified. I quickly discovered the scrawled, highly abbreviated schedule written, crossed out, and written over again endless times at the bus station was something I had to memorize. At seemingly random times of the day, my master would command me to meet him in the big town of which Giroc was a tiny satellite, and I'd have to tell him when I'd be taking the bus to get there. The first time he asked, and I didn't know, he had me walk the couple of miles to the station to look. In the time it took me to get there and back I missed the relevant bus trip. I was punished.

At first I took a picture of the schedule. But when he'd ask me when the bus going back was arriving in town as we were walking, my fumbling for the camera and sorting through pictures to find it proved unacceptable. So I wrote it all down on paper, though I transposed some numbers a time or two and finding the folded-up bit in my purse wasn't particularly better than spelunking for the camera. I committed the thing to memory. The departure and arrival times were wildly different from one day to the next for no apparent reason. I struggled, but after days of treating the schedule as the most important thing in my life, I got it down. A week or so later the man announced in town that he was going to come "back home with me", a rare and highly prized event. I told him when the bus would be there to pick us up; ten minutes late, the bus still hadn't come. Another five after that, he told me how disappointing it was that I couldn't handle such a simple thing. He took the pound of cookies we'd bought and turned on his heels, walking away without a goodbye, the typical foreboding cloud of deep trouble to come later on. I rebelled furiously but silently, hot tears immediately washing over my face. But like a miracle, the bus appeared rounding the corner, and I shouted for him, eventually daring to use his name as I waved my arms and pointed to the big yellow savior.

There were other actors in the bizarre stageplay my daily existence had become --at least, on those days when my master came, or called me out, and took me out of the tiny apartment in the hazy orange fields. He had hired a lawyer, for reasons I didn't at all understand, who likewise was responsible for so many tasks that our visits to his office were done multiple times each week. In later years we would become friendly, but during that hard initiation to life, he didn't look at me when we entered his office. He didn't speak to me --in fact, nobody in the office did. I sat off to the side and tried to pick Romanian words out edgewise from the ensuing storm of their conversations. Once in a while I managed to hear an "and", or the polite form of "you" (a blessing of five syllables, making it hard to miss). Or I tied myself in knots attempting to remember the lecture I'd just received on the walk over --these were always expected to be remembered verbatim, and just as often they seemed orders of magnitude beyond my ability to recall for both length and complexity. What I knew best was that I knew nearly nothing, but here were explanations of air insulation, microprocessor fabrication, comparative ethnography, the cellular level of kidney functioning, metaphysical notions of the self. I was spellbound but helpless. Climbing the crumbling, ricketty stairs to the lawyer's office, my eyes would frantically wander over the penciled graffiti and penknife-carved lettering covering the handrails and the walls of each floor's landing, as though somewhere in there I'd find a helpful note, a clue to unlock the mystery, or at least, to lock my memory to it.

Often the lawyer visits were accompanied by trips to the bank. The banks employed women only, from tellers to managers, and they were uniformly overdressed, overperfumed, and unsmiling. One male was allowed --a silver-haired security guard, who looked utterly incapable of confronting a conflict either with deed or word. Here too was a place where none of the staff either talked to or looked at me. Though I was glad of it, the bank being an interminable waiting room in which everything that was done required multiple stacks of paperwork and at least three different kinds of stamps --sometimes from my master himself, which was especially perplexing. At one point, after spending nearly an hour at the bank despite there having been no other customers, I remarked that he sure did seem to buy a lot of boats --for I couldn't imagine what other transaction could possibly require so much paperwork.

More inaccessible and mysterious still than any of these actors was the woman I knew my master was living with. After the tumultuous failed meeting six months before and half a world away, I still did not meet her, or hear much of anything about her. I was ravenously curious, but I kept myself from prying in the hopes that by being civil --a thing I equated mostly with being quiet--, I could encourage an eventual resolution, and maybe even friendship.

Slowly I began venturing outside on my own when the man wasn't taking me out, though I stayed squarely within the confines of Giroc.

I walked the dusty grid of homes that made up the village. A few seemed lived in lovingly; a couple or a few decades old, inaugural painted motif still visible above the garret window, grape vines covering little trellises outside with the early, fresh sort of maturity that only such vines can evoke. The rest of the houses were either so old their patched roofs sagged and caved faster than repairs could be made, piles of bricks, shingles, wooden shutters, and peeled paint gathering at the corners and doorframes, long-established garrisons of weeds daring the trespass of maintenance. Or they were new and awkward, betraying strange geometries that broke the eye and especially the spirit of the village. Their roofs were oddly slanted, their windows narrow and long or round and convex. Everything about them was purposefully mismatched, as though blindly chosen from some catalogue of parts --which is precisely how they were built.

Dotting this admixture of the ancient, the infantile, and the lonely in-betweens were the hobbiest erections, the houses-to-be. Great slabs of gray concrete festooned with rusting rebar jutting angrily in all directions, these buildings were always the most visibly occupied, for there were groups of men climbing them or huddling around the screaming concrete-mixers sitting in their yards. Now and then a bare bulb from such a property sliced through the gloom of my walk's dusk, sharpening the universally creased and consternated faces of the workers and casting inky shadows across the vague dreams of happiness being built there.

The penetrating scent of burning wood pervaded all. The garrish, new homes --like mine-- were fitted with gas heaters, but the rest were warmed by ceramic fireplaces. These churned through massive piles of freshly cut wood stacked on the sides of older houses, and the thick heady smoke threw all of Giroc into a more distant century, in a place further still from civilization.

It was on one such walk that I was first accosted by a local male. Frustrated, perhaps, or maybe merely acting out the social imperative dictated to him by the rest of the place. He was a short man, bald, but not apparently old enough to be so. His shiny, dark brown skin stretched tautly over his face in a permanent collection of smiles. He dressed up by Giroc's standards; his black shoes always glistened, his pants were pressed and bore a razor-sharp crease. I ran into him several times in the village's infinitessimal convenience store, a closet in a small corner house which opened up to the street, where you could buy a piece of candy or cigarettes, or use the much-loved instant coffee machine. Sometimes while on a walk and wishing to warm my hands, or growing bored at the bus stop waiting on a late trip to town, I would duck in for a completely objectionable, chemical cappucino --and often, the man was there, chatting up the unresponsive clerk, or standing just outside and smoking, waiting for someone to show up so he could launch interminable volleys of smalltalk at them.

For me, the smalltalk was useful. It taught me new words without being so advanced as to instantly kill communication. I was embarrassed of myself, of my poor grasp of the language. I blushed and laughed and was interested enough in his banal offerings that I hardly wonder at all whether I gave the wrong impression. One night, walking home from the bus stop, the man asked me over to his house. It was the largest, newest atrocity in the village, a shining, slanted modernist wreck that commanded the awe of the villagers. I declined. He insisted, for coffee, just like at the convenience closet; he had the same brand of cappucino at home, he told me, with a conspiratorial smile. I told him, as I had several times before, that I had a master, and that I couldn't go to other men's houses. He was quiet a moment, then shook his head emphatically and wrinkled his brow while he pantomimed sex with his hands --with one fist he made a hole, and with a clump of stubbly fingers pierced it with the other again and again. "No, no, no," he said as he gesticulated, and then his face brightened again. "Cafea." And his hands flattened and flew to the sides, dismissing their puppet play. When I declined again, he made a gruff little noise somewhere in his throat, and after a moment threw his arm out and grabbed my breast in his hand. He squeezed it frantically for just a second, then turned on his heel and wordlessly walked away towards his home. He never spoke to me again.

My first months in Giroc --almost entirely out of touch with the world I'd grown up in, with a new latitude, a new language, a new relationship, a new purpose-- found their focus not as much in acclimation as in backtracking. Twenty-two years of an American life had persuaded me into a certain slowness of thought and movement, a certain mindless adoption of mores and taboos that I wasn't especially well-equipped to investigate, much less defend. I was embarassed of myself, shy, and yet pretentious; the sort of life that depends on the implicit agreement of the surrounding society to not ask prying questions, and to never suggest unwholesome motivations.

Mortification was an essential ingredient, then, of my delayed coming-of-age. The first party I was taken to --the party's party, some thinly-veiled excuse to drink publically thrown on a docked boat by the local national liberals-- was an introduction to the kind of shedding that would be required to survive, over and over again. I dressed up; it was a thrift-store find I'd gotten somewhere in Ohio, black with red trim stitching, its halter strap and bias-draped skirt vainly hoping towards flamenco. My master came to pick me up. At the threshold of the apartment gate he cut a deep red rose from the vine and put it in my hair. I felt more beautiful and bashful than I could ever recall having felt. We walked, we caught a taxi, we arrived at a haphazard collection of stairs and terraces by the river that lead down to the softly lolling boat. Inside it looked much like any other bar there: a long rectangular room, some smattering of mismatched furniture pressed up against one length, with a tiny desk at one end where beer taps sat poised for duty and real alcohol presumably hid somewhere on an inner-shelf, well-obscured.

There were very few people yet there. My master sat himself on an overstuffed couch near the door, easily the best seat available. I sat next to him; he ordered variously; I asked for rum and cokes throughout the night, against the straight vodka and cognac that constantly replenished on the table. It was October, not quite cold enough for excuses, and yet everyone smoked inside. I happily joined the frenzy, keeping my hands occupied with glass or cigarette, or both.

People came and sat next to us, struck up what seemed like smalltalk. I practiced the few sentences I was learning. I apologized for not being able to understand much. After an hour or more I was sent on another trip to the bar to order drinks. When I returned the question was why I'd just gone to the bar --why wasn't I dancing? In truth, I'd done my best to avoid noticing the handful of people awkwardly foot-shuffling to the stultifying ecclectic mix of old pop duds wafting through the room. It was the least interesting thing going on, and I'd assumed my Master thought the same thing. Not so; he admonished me harshly for not having started dancing as soon as we'd arrived, and told me how disappointed he was that he'd finally had to say something at all. Humiliated, dripping with shame, I stood near our table and willed myself to dance.

It was the empty-hearted, self-aware sort of dancing that betrays deep disenjoyment, and I couldn't fake it better. After a few songs, the man grabbed me by the wrist, pulled me down to him, and pointed out a verbally obnoxious woman I'd thought he didn't like --he told me to watch her, and to dance like her. My humiliation deepened. But I watched, and wondered what it was that made her something to emulate. Nothing was particularly striking, except the sense that she was genuinely enjoying herself, something I knew I couldn't make myself do. I tried. I drank more, I tried to dance with the woman herself, who refused to look at me and eventually walked away. I asked for a break and was denied. I complained that this was the strangest, most awkward social situation I'd ever been in, and to please have mercy on me. I was sent back to dance. Eventually, thoroughly mentally exhausted and not too physically fresh either, I was called in, and made to sit in silence while my master fumed next to me, too disgusted, it seemed, to speak.

We left and he walked me to the taxi station a few miles away, towards Giroc. He wanted to know why I hadn't told him I was so terrible at dancing. He told me I was the worst he'd ever seen. I protested that I'd grown up in dance classes, and had never had a problem before --but that I didn't really listen to that sort of music, nor did I ever try to dance to it, nor did I much enjoy normal people --the sorts of people who went to political party parties in jeans and t-shirts, the sort that made smalltalk. What's more, I didn't understand them and they didn't understand me. Surely these gaps were the problem.

Not so. He insisted the problem was how completely incapable I was of dancing. I protested that I could bellydance; he ordered me to on the spot, in the street. I protested that I had no music --he didn't care, and I couldn't produce anything past my enduring shame and embarrassment. We arrived at the taxi stand and he sent me off with the sort of soul-crushing sendoff that had no embrace, no gentle look, no smile or sweetness or allusion to the future in it. I got home and realized he still had my keys, since I'd given them to him to pocket while I danced, and hadn't asked for them back. It was three o-clock on the morning. I had to wake up my landlady and her family to let me in.

The next morning, the horrors of the night were found far from faded. If anything, they'd put down roots and were now working on foliage and flowers. Over online conversation, my master demanded I make sense of the rift between my terrible performance and my notions of competence. I eventually arrived at the unpleasant realization that I must've been lying to myself, and thus to him, one way or another. The unavoidable truth was that when given the opportunities, I couldn't dance. It didn't matter that I thought I could do better, or ought to have been able to, or that I thought I did at some other time, before. What mattered was that when the time had come to show it, I had nothing to show, and the only possible explanation was something like deception.

The conversation abruptly ended and I knew the man was going to appear. I prostrated myself, naked, on the floor, pointed towards the door, waiting. I was terrified of my realization, confounded by what it might mean. How had I managed to lie when it was the last thing I wanted to do? Why did my intention to be pleasant company and to have fun end up buried in humiliation and failure? Was he going to forgive me? Was I forgivable?

I heard the keys thrust faultlessly into the lock in the plastic door, and then he was in. Tall and swift, like an electric wire in his winter coat, bringing the sweet blue crispness of the autumn cold into the room, he wordlessly whizzed past me and into the kitchen. He retrieved the old plastic soda bottle full of tuica, the local bootleg brandy, from on top of the mini refrigerator, and walked over to my desk and chair, unscrewing the cap. I smelled it. I thought, "He's going to cover me with that stuff and then light a match. He's going to set me on fire, he's going to kill me." Waiting, I don't know how long, kneeling with my wrists and forehead on the floor, my mantra had been "I can get through anything. Any form it takes is fine." And yet...would it be fine if I was drenched in brandy and set on fire? I thought about how I'd look with no hair or eyebrows if he did it and I survived.

"Ahh." He'd taken a drink. He re-capped the bottle. I wasn't going to die. "What the fuck am I going to do with you," he began, and a series of pointed questions and fumbling, unsatisfying replies followed. These exhausted, he stood and tied my ankles together, then my wrists, and knocked me onto my back. He retrieved the long white extension cord I'd been using to keep my computer facing away from the room's window, on the desk. He wound it a few times round, making a bundle of two or three loops. He beat me hard, and yet somehow summarily, on the legs, and on the back when I reeled over as though to escape the hits. He spent what seemed like a long time beating the soles of my feet, screaming at me to shut up when I screamed myself, in pain.

He untied me, and forced my fists into a pair of votive candle holders, binding them to my wrists with several layers of duct tape, rendering them closer to hooves than hands. He put down a dog dish on the floor and filled it with kibbles. He ordered me to eat. I half-chewed, half-gagged the acrid, metallic chunks of dog food, unable to use anything but my mouth to scoop them up. The bowl seemed endless. The more I ate the more I seemed incapable of producing the saliva needed to get it down. He sat at the desk, doing something on the computer, occasionally scolding me to eat faster, reminding me that he didn't have all the time in the world. Nearly done but with a few kibbles still left in the bowl, I began choking on a hair of mine that'd gotten into my mouth. I thrashed and spat and tried to expel it but couldn't, not without hands. I begged for help. My master stood before me, took out his cock, and told me he needed to pee, and ordered me to drink it. I took it into my mouth and tried to swallow the stream fast enough to keep my mouth from overflowing. The strong taste of the urine and the twinging of the still-present hair down my throat repeatedly made me gag, and I asked for a bowl so I could throw up. The man just looked at me. I begged for a bowl. Finally, unable to keep it down, I vomited on the floor, gagging and gasping.

"Eat it," he said, and I both believed him and couldn't believe him at the same time. I was disgusted, and yet somehow the sheer disgustingness of it all soothed over the edge, as though there were nothing capable of making me afraid, or doing me any harm, past this. It took me nearly an hour, but I lapped it up and ate it all, while he watched with a face full of what looked like crystalized disdain. I hadn't noticed, but he had put down a camera when he took his drink of tuica, and had recorded the ordeal in its entirety. When I was done eating my own vomit he replayed the video for me while he fucked me over the chair.

Acultural shirting adventure

April 7th, 2021

He walks a sad parabola around the arc of a hospital outcrop, holding a hand whose whole commitment breaks the look of half-defeat playing across his face. His t-shirt --new, blue-- emblazoned with the names of some pharmaceutical concern, says "science will win". Were it not for the logo, were it not for the context of place, how would one decipher the message? Science will win --at what, exactly? The war with Eastasia, at which we've (whoever that is) been struggling, always? Is there some alien invasion afoot, requiring great wunderwaffen just beyond our grasp, the freedom, nay, the very possibility of continuation of the earth itself dependent on some breakthrough just barely out of reach?

Moreover, what is this "science", that apparently has metamorphosized or rather metasticized (oops) from a mere category of disciplines into a party, a team, a task-force, without practitioner or point beyond fighting nameless battles and moonlighting on the off-broadway battlefield of the t-shirt? If this science could be said to have a proper enemy, would that enemy not be faith, and would not the t-shirt's motto be exactly the expression of faith without reason --here expanded to not even require specificity?

Whatever, the man didn't make the shirt, and even though I'm aware that it might make me irresponsible, I won't hold him responsible for it. Not personally, not this time, not really my interest or my purview or, frankly, my business, much as the shirt would seem to want to make it so. I mourn, however, the loss of communication or at least communicative ability that the total gap between message and meaning signifies. There goes a man either directly or from some vanishingly near valence grappling with something much larger than himself. A good thing, too, in most circumstances, but here, at the hospital, as ominous as it is large. But it's expressed in a clownsuit, an ersatz rally-cry, identification without agency, belief without understanding. It's sadder, to me, than the cold objective fact of disease. Sadder by far.

The rift is wide, and "science" won't bridge it. Time and patience might, but I'm not giving mine to this man and I know it, so I just walk away.

A Season or Three

March 11th, 2021

Time and trouble pass like water over the parts of life that matter still, that which cannot move, or, going towards the oblivion of the sea so slowly, never move too far or fast to leave a given moment untouched by their familiar presence. What's taken through the dells and valleys of the days and weeks and hence away from me, the flotsam of experience, traces with its margins the negative space in which all that really matters, is.

That which itself is not matter, but feeling.

seasoning

seasoning

Not things that are broken, but toil of mending.

seasoning

seasoning

I am a unit of a legion, a cog in a machine, and yet, alone.

seasoning

seasoning

The possibility of life, undeniably beautiful, carves into the living the closing doors of chances lost.

seasoning

seasoning

And so my landscape flourishes. The water flows as it should. The joy and longing thrive, so that I lack for nothing.

The cup runs over; the table's laid so plentifully it can hardly stand.

seasoning

seasoning

The carnage's daily made into another form, that I might keep the soul but shed the sinews.

seasoning

seasoning

I wander day and night finding something of my riverbed in unexpected, sidelong glances, in the sudden opening of eyes.

seasoning

seasoning

And, always, I know where I am ultimately going: to the sea. To the sea.

seasoning

seasoning

Where I will ever drown in those I love.

seasoning

And float back, bidden by memory.

* * *

It's been a tumultuous stretch of time since I last posted, but something in that tumult's taught me how to love the chaos better. People sometimes ask me what a normal day of mine is like, and I never seem to be able to answer. Perhaps it's because I don't have normal days; perhaps because I don't spend much time looking at the shape of what goes by on a minutious basis. Or I could be full of shit.

Besides, speech is a rolling-mill that always thins out the sentiment. Sometimes it's better to just do spoons.

seasoning

Vert-ical

October 14th, 2020

A gaze outside the window: eighty thousand shades of green. I haven't, cannot, count them; the number neatly suggests itself for the sake of its roundness, the ouroboros of an eight, the open conduit of zero, the way the mouth mimics the shape in the speaking of the thousand. Whole, unyielding, immense. It's a rampage out there, an annihilation by green. Tinges teeter now together, now at odds at every angle vying for the light to lend them further recourse to greenness. What seems at first a single organism is in fact a twist, helices long since untraceable divulging tree, vine, moss, bromeliad --and as leaf-cutter ants march down these chimeras bearing banners emerald, peridot, and tourmaline, still other species shuttle up, or out, or circle round, inching verdant abdomens and fluttering seafoam wings.

The sunlight fades and sets the sky a soup of grayness against which all the green seems only louder, sharper, more assertive of its space. Come the night, however long, or through whatever storms dare churn the land to opaque ruin, the green offers its patience. From nearly nothing, it will fill all crevices, arch over those not yet overwhelmed, it will cover your shame; it will reclaim the fruits of your failure. Green is the substrate. The inhale, the exhale, the respiration, the expiration. It will fuel your desire, deepen your gall. It will spread over your grave.

On ye naegl

October 12th, 2020

I scour the polish off my nails and see what's underneath for the first time in a couple of weeks, though it feels like ages. In fact, I'm shocked, somehow, at what they look like under the even, opaque paint in which they've been so regularly covered. They're normal yet alien; their obvious anatomy and the form belying function are jarring somehow, like a persian cat seen just-washed, a fifth of its former glorious girth, or an actress staged always in the myriad trappings of Elizabethan costume suddenly naked. The pink nailplates are as shiftingly unhomogenous as August sunset, morphing with time and movement. Once escaped from the finger, the nails are white as chalk, infinitesimally banded, telling some story about the state of my health, or the woes of my mind. The instinct imposes itself: repaint them. But I decide to let them be, to take a break, to sit with the reality of their plain unornamented humanness awhile. And I drift to an examination of their tireless protection, and the shelter similar biological structures serve to other forms of life.

The keratin responsible for most of the nail's composition is by no means a resource exclusive to humanity. Along with chitin, which evolved earlier and so finds itself more readily employed among the insects and arthropods, keratin is one of the toughest biological materials in existence, and other genii of life have made ample use of its potential for resistance and defense. Most vertebrates, in fact, make use of some sort of keratinous compound, expressed variously as hair or fur, hooves, and the outermost layer of the skin. Then come the claws, the horns, the feathers, the stuff of which fight or flight is literally made. From turtle shells to fish scales, eagles' beaks to sheep's wool, what keeps the tips of my fingers and toes safe from the thousands of things I touch every day so serves the rest of the animal kingdom tirelessly, silently. Even spiders' silk, if somewhat further from the amalgamation of keratin in my nails, carries with it some measure of this precious stuff. Indisputably useful; capable of countless manifestations of shape, color, size; easily replaced --one can't help but suspect that keratin is a sort of plastic put together by the fates of the earth, which I suppose is fairly ironic when considering nylon wigs and acrylic nails.

The nail may be natural, but like the majority of things that may ever live, it's dead. At least, the nail plate itself. When keratin fills a cell, hardening it, readying it for utility, it swallows up all else: organelles, nucleus, all. The nail matrix, the source of cells, lives on, but what it produces is a sort of ghastly conveyor belt, wherein life uses death to shield itself from the same. As with any keratinized object, the human nail can tell a tale of the bearer's recent battle performance. Obvious problems --poor hygiene, blunt damage, are borne easily on those parts put forth in a fight. But the nails will tattle further. Vitamin deficiencies, genetic defects, lack of sleep, dehydration, overexercise, neurosis, even the innocent fact of age are laid out in the manuscripts of toe- and finger-tips, ready for the reading by anyone who can.

Honest and strong, ancient, morbid, my nails look a little less strange in their examined state. Still, I think I'll paint them purple.

On Accounting and Accountability

October 5th, 2020

Here's a shot of what my desk looks like on Sunday evenings, more or less.

accounting

Sometimes there's also a baby duck, or a shot of vodka-cum-creme-de-casis, and of course there's two, sometimes three other monitors for other systems churning god knows what trials and tribulations tied to the time, but all that aside: for an hour or so, this is the meat and potatoes ((I don't think the duck would appreciate this joke....)). But what is it? It's a stack of lists, basically, getting re-listed as other lists. Which is boring as fuck, it's true, but inasmuch as this is weekly household accounting, and given I've been doing this shit week in, week out for over a decade, it's also a font of information with high potential. For...?

Say I want to track gas usage car-over-car, or country-over-country, or year-over-year? What's milk price inflation like recently (trick question, nobody's fucking with the price of milk, look at fringe convenience shit like canned vegetables to see it)? What's more expensive, beef or bison, and how much does it matter whether you're in Argentina? I can tell you how many eggs my household ate in June of 2015. Or whether a general effort to consume more produce over time actually came to pass, and how.

Combined with a few other key trackers, such as the calorie count, weight, and total price of canonical dishes typically made in the house, and daily-weekly schedules that plan and mark progress for any number of work projects and personal endeavors, this pile of data lets me put a real statement behind the kind of feeling-statements that do not much more than gnaw at people and cause arguments. I'm not doing as well as I'd like to with Egyptian Arabic probably because in the past three months I've only spent 14 hours with it, despite having apparently wanted to reach something more like 40. Meanwhile I feel great about the gym and it's likely a result of planning for 3, 2-hour sessions a week lately and managing on average 3.5.

There's nothing novel about household accounting, naturally, nor is what's contemplated here anywhere near as tight, expressive, or demanding as the an0 standard. Aside from the obvious benefits of answering the kinds of questions thrown about above, all this helps address a few common problem areas. For one thing, contrary to what you'd be tempted to think, it helps me be a little less anal. Yes, I want my grocery receipts, and I'ma be miffed for a few minutes if one gets thrown out, but because I know I can fall back on this moderate hillock of data if any interesting problems crop up or I'm being taken to task over whatever, I can let go of a lot of stupid shit I'd probably be carrying around otherwise. Worry has this bizarre relationship with assholerly wherein chronic worriers (who pretty much universally would never characterize themselves as being assholes and on the contrary would be shocked and hurt to be given such an assessment) end up choking on a kind of bolus of inferences, suspicions, and undesired potentialities, which in turn spurns them into periods of extremely anal behavior, as though to atone for the previous period of inattentive worrying.

Discipline is also fairly well built out of making and following the commitment to keeping track of things thusly. And no, my record isn't perfect; there've certainly been low periods where I've thought I knew better than to stick to this, or where I thought feeling bad meant it was a good idea to slack --and of course keeping track gets a lot more complicated, and becomes more of a pain in the ass, when traveling, which is a fairly common challenge for me. But more often than not, I've kept good track, I've been consistent, and even though it's ultimately just lists, it's nevertheless something, it's a record, it's a concrete and lasting effort, size and meaning notwithstanding. Knowing it's possible helps plan and motivate other things, larger, or more meaningful, that require long-term focus.

I also credit the regularity and familiarity of this weekly ritual with a better, hygiene, I guess, concerning arithmetic. It's a fine opportunity for a digestible portion of adding in the head, a practice far too often neglected, which is likely responsible for giving most people I meet hives when asked to perform basic operations like this. Like its parent task, this is a small thing that yields happily over long periods of time; I don't use a calculator for this like I don't use an "app" to figure out how to drive somewhere, and just as I'll probably be one of the only folks able to get anywhere if landsat croaks, I don't shake and try to change the subject when I need to do some arithmetic on the fly ((Anymore, yes yes. Like most things, I only know how to describe the problem because I've had it.)).

And that's it, now I've got a cash discrepancy this week to go and chase, and meanwhile I was scheduled to write something on nature today, which this most certainly ain't, and besides that berry vodka line talked me into it, I'm two in and I've got all manner of nonquantitative thoughts to nurse.

Hummer

September 27th, 2020

Rain, drops bigger than his head, made on all sides to beat the wings that beat themselves against the wind, and his domain as every day, but briefly, was not his. A warlike warble followed the colibri to his shelter, some secret emerald cove where in his stillness he could not be seen. Rain rolled off leaves --more massive than his life, but smaller still than his daily will to flight, to fight against the largeness of the world in which he was a brilliant jewel, and almost imperceptible. Who knows how long a quarter-hour's shower stretches on inside the minute cogs of a colibri's mind?

Close Encounters of the Costa Rican Kind

August 9th, 2020

Lately it's not too likely to run into anyone you know --or anyone you think you'd like to-- out in the streets of paradise. Folks roam doggedly towards one-track destinations, lacking something of the ruminant charm characteristic of this place. They've been spooked into complaisance, it'd seem. I couldn't tell you by what. In any case, the space they've left is happily occupied by other organisms in this teemingly biodiverse traproom of a country into which everything nature crazed up seems to fall. Allow me to recount a few new friends and neighbors, those dear hearts and tender non-people getting their best impressions in while homo sapiens sleeps.

* * *

The Kiskadees ((Possibly not an exact identification, though if they're not Kiskadees they're most certainly professional Kiskadee impersonators. Part of living in the crossroads of so many species is ready confusion and Everestian discernment. At least for the lazy amateur.))

It all started when I attempted to plant some poppies. Not those kinds of poppies, don't get excited. A few pots on the balcony, and some pumpkins aside, because I've never had a balcony pumpkin before, and anyway the seeds were there. A couple of weeks later, I couldn't help but notice the pumpkins seemed to be doing fine, sprouted as expected, following some normal course of plantitude. But the poppy pots had nothing. Not even the loneliest suggestion of a tendril of green pushing up from the dirt, which --well, it seemed somehow re-done. A somnambulous sprouticide, in which the perpetrator attempted to sleepily cover their tracks? Whatever, I planted more seeds. I very carefully patted the topsoil just-so.

And a few days later noticed the dirt all tousled again, no sprouts. No seeds, in fact, either. The pumpkin plants gazed on, shrugging in the wind with what was now several inches of proof I hadn't hallucinated my attempt at gardening. A few days later still, as I was holed up in some dark corner of the house trying to separate уже and ещё, someone in a different corner excitedly exclaimed there was a kiskadee hopping around the hallway floor. However softly I tried to tread over there, of course, it was still a trundling horror to the tiny bird, which flew off to the balcony, where his lookout-friend was waiting. I stood unseen awhile and watched them take turns jumping into my erstwhile poppy pots. They hopped, they scratched through the contents, they took little fancy-pantsy premium topsoil dirtbaths and ate the occasional ant off the side. And the occasional seed, though by then not many were left.

I've been told I ought to keep supplies fresh. After all, a kiskadee attractor is something just as much to be observed and admired as a pot of poppies, even if it's quite a lot louder.

* * *

The Crocodile ((Or Alligator, what the fuck intractable animal identification persnickettiness has come to sit down all over my story!))

A pleasant morning at the beach. Miles of powdery sand still unscorched by the day's sun, moderate waves neither too tame to challenge nor seemingly orchestrated for getting as much up the nostrils as possible. A fresh breeze, a string of pelicans skimming the water like an unhooked pearl bracelet being brandished gracefully over an enormous bowl of soup...well, maybe not so much. Em.

But it was a nice day, and I stretched under the benevolent sky, watching the hermit crabs wander to and fro. Everyone else was in the water, naturally, but between a freshly broken toe and a monstrous case of ennui, I was intent on saving fun for later, whatever that means. I watched a line of surfers decline to attempt any surfing. I stretched on the sand and drifted into serene nothingness. Eventually I had enough of nothing and got up to join the more animated world, at which point I spotted MP jolting hard, intentfully, towards the shore, whereat he collapsed on the slick sand and sat panting, shaking his head at the sea.

"I saw a fucking crocodile."

"What?! No you didn't."

"I did, a juvenile, I saw the eyes in his head. He fucking looked at me."

"How big was it?"

The man put his arms out wide enough to freak me the fuck out.

"I was just about to go in. You sure it wasn't a log or something?"

"Not a chance. I'm not going back in there, what the fuck."

"Wow. You know, I might've had trouble believing you if we hadn't seen one here before."

It's true, we'd seen a baby, possibly a caiman rather than a crocodile, years ago, in roughly the same spot, parked on the line where the sea meets the sand and utterly refusing to move except to lunge at anything it deemed sufficiently impudent.

We all went for a wave-hop and a swim a good half-hour later, and no further sign of the beast was found, even if a few initial jolts were had at the sighting of a suspicious stick.

* * *

The Gecko

I've heard that Costa Ricans generally dislike limpiacasas, the little house-dwelling geckos that abound in Central America and distinguish themselves from nearly every other creature so found by emitting a loud sound rather reminiscent of a boisterous cackle. Something about a superstition involving dermal contact negatively impacting one's soul. I exempt them from all charges of pestilence on account of their not having any obnoxious behaviors whatsoever, and moreover being adorably evocative of a tiny reptillian squirrel on just about every count. A tiny reptillian squirrel that laughs.

We've long had unknown generations of geckos making camp in and around the house, and now and then will spot one rushing off to some important meeting. But the relationship is generally a distant one; they have their business, we have ours, and any hanging out to watch a film or whatnot is done at least at a few arms' lengths.

Which is why Nikki was so particularly exceptionalized by the sight of one swimming in the carrot juice rapidly approaching her mouth, recently. In the hubub of attempting to unpack a farmer's market's run worth of produce into an already-overstuffed fridge ((I had just made moussaka and tiramisu, and there was a big pot of minestrone in there also, which asides a full cheese drawer and like seven kinds of chilera and a handarm of plantains and eight jars of cold brew in various stages of completion...oh and of course the refrigerator has an alarm, like all self-important appliances these days, and for some unknown reason I sit around writing shit like this instead of taking a sledgehammer to the back panel and hitting until the beeping stops...when I say hubub I mean it.)), the poor girl took it upon herself to pour an innocent glass of juice, which glass she'd gotten from the usual perch for drying dishes, by the sink. And so she poured, and in a heroic organizational fete attended to the screaming refrigerator door, re-capped the juice jug, exhaled, and drank --and immediately let out a screeching whine, something between a surprised water buffalo and someone whose card was just eaten by the ATM. She dashed the few paces back to the sink, pouring out all the contents of her glass, from which emerged a rather vitaminized gecko.

Following his near-fatal engulfment by girl --not to mention by carrot juice--, he scurried behind the dish soap bottle (sudsy and probably toxic), and was eventually coaxed out towards the whetstone (you know, where the knives are sharpened), and afterwards, the far hinge of a cabinet door (the metal hinge, not all that forgiving against tender gecko flesh). Whether his poor choice of refuge will continue to place him in the path of danger I don't know, but I have my suspicions.

* * *

That's all for now, 'til the next critter dares, or the masked men come to their senses.

Cold Knocks

May 4th, 2020

I told him once that I'd always wanted to walk through a city like I owned it; no one on the street, no cars or noise or closed doors.
"I've done that," he said,
"It's easy when you're in a war zone."

The snow that day had no trace of warm tones in it. The sun was smuggling light and heat to and fro somewhere far above the clouds, which reflected the same uncaring blue and gray that were all the banks and blankets of snow had to offer. My legs were already hard and numbing under their thin nylon veil by the time I'd walked the three kilometers to the meeting place, an ugly intersection whose several bus and tram stops marked "The Hammer". I was fifteen minutes early, as was my habit. The time was usually spent preparing my mind for the meeting; sweep off complaints, tidy a few topics, put something interesting to rise in the oven. But there was no oven that day, and the rest of the work was thought through quickly, so I walked a while through the frozen paths that wound around The Hammer's blue-gray concrete apartment blocks.

The meeting time came and went without event. I paced the building's fronts now, eager for a sighting of him. "Any moment now," I told my legs, which insisted on taking more steps, no matter how small, so long as something in them kept moving. "We'll be off in just a moment," I told the rows of pigeons huddling together above the doorways. An hour passed, an absurdity made undeniable in ten minute increments by forlorn references to my phone (which neither rang). Though each minute taxed me, it delighted me all the same with the promise that it couldn't be much longer.

Another hour turned my hope to endurance. I ducked into the decrepit magazin on the corner and pushed myself slowly down each aisle, pretending to consider the junk on offer. It was all TO-CE-HD goods; to be torn open, contents enjoyed, husk discarded, like me. I didn't have what with to pay for any of it, not that I would've wanted it anyway --nor that I'd've been allowed to. I could feel the clerks staring down my suspicious perusal. I made elaborate scripts of finding some (nonexistent) text on my phone, rushing out to meet the sender, not finding them, and going back into the store. But this only worked, inasmuch as it did, a couple of times. Eventually the hostile atmosphere was worse than the biting cold outside.

I traced the snow-capped tramlines two blocks, always circling the focal intersection. My parabolas were punctuated in the landing alcoves of half-crumbled hruschebas, where I turned down several offers from old women sweeping the steps and wiping down the trash cans to let me into the buildings --for the view'd be too narrow, and I'd miss him, and it would only really be two or three degrees warmer in the stairwells anyway.

Finally, like the sun through the mountains, like a first kiss, I saw him, his familiar shell, the outline of a hat and coat, the brisk and even movement that's always identified him past any particulars of shape or size. Had the delay been my fault? It wasn't my fault, but some broken piece of equipment, which was now all settled, and being done, the first point of the agenda was to go to the lawyers'. Except my frozen legs and feet would not cooperate with his speed over the ice, unaccustomed as they were to the slick frost. I grew up on the beach, and to this day don't really know how to walk on snow and ice --especially at anything approaching a normal human pace. So I slipped. I slipped and slipped again, I slid around like an idiot only occasionally catching up with him to hear an admonition or three and then fall behind, panting and barely not wiping out on the sidewalk.

He had enough, and told me to lead him to the nearest cab station. Hadn't I mapped out and memorized the locations of all the (informal, unmarked, a quintessential Romanian strategic delight) cab stations? I hadn't. I had no idea. I had panic, and the complete abandonment of feet from reality --nothing useful. I had nothing useful to give.

He told me to walk to the north train station, another four kilometers or so across town. The rush of my remorse, huge and all-enveloping, was still not fast enough, and he was gone, turned on his heels, before I could say anything more than "okay" (not that anything more would've mattered, as I knew, as I know). I let myself fall into a slow and mournful gait in the right direction. The blue and gray world congealed with brown as I neared the city's center and the traffic sent mud mixing into everything. "He'll meet me there," I said to myself between bitter oaths against the local cabbies. Bitter oaths against myself. Wild but silent protestations against my intentions being so terribly, utterly divorced from what I actually did.

On the right street but still considerably off my target, my phone rang. "Where are you?" A clumsy report, insubstantial on the second pass and finally clear about my insufficiency on the third. "It's been half a fucking hour, how slow are you?!" I should have actually calculated it, but such obvious things weren't obvious to me then. What was obvious to me then was that I was sorry, which is what I said. "Walk to the cathedral downtown". "Which one?" No answer came back. I had heard a gentle music in the background over the call, and drifted into wondering if he was at home, that home that I had never been to, some set of walls that existed somewhere unknown in this city, a nirvana entirely closed off to me, secret and of course tantalizing. What color were its walls and were there plants? Which way would the windows face and how would the light fall in his room, did he have pajamas? I searched after useless, unknowable details, ignoring the very real ones in front of me. I lost my way.

The phone rang again, the adrenaline cutting through my daydream and dividing the warmth of fabricated reverie from my frigid path. I knew where I was; it wasn't right, and it wasn't far, but it wasn't enough. "Jesus Christ, so go to Badea Cartan, and hope you get there before nightfall." Was it almost nightfall? Almost. The crows were beginning their chorus of vespers; the traffic was peaking. Badea Cartan, the market, was far, and I wasn't at all sure I knew how to get there --not from where I was, anyway. Through the stiffness of cold I forced myself to map out how I'd get there from somewhere else, and how I'd get to that somewhere else from here, and how I could trim off excess streets, because by then, at least, I'd understood that if I didn't get to that market before the next phone call I was going to be walking the streets forever.

I tried to shut out the impending sense of doom and focus on walking faster as I moved through less familiar routes. The sky was turning pathetic shades of winter's sunset, and sent along a steady sheet of frozen sleet, soaking my hair and running down into the collar of my coat. The air thickened to stew, the world outside a meter's bubble incomprehensible. I had long since stopped being able to feel much of my legs, or my face, and my fingers hardly knew how to hit the right button when the phone rang a third time. "Well, so are you there?" "No!" was all I could muster, over and over again. The line was dead before I had them all out, before I offered up my fear of being well and truly lost, this time.

But I was only a block away; as I pressed on the market revealed itself through the slurred atmosphere. Really I had been across the street and some short paces away from that open-air sailboat of a building, whose peaks were now obscured in the storm. I wanted to call back but knew I couldn't. I wanted to claim victory, and I hung onto the tiny almost-fact of it as everything else in me slumped towards defeat. I sat down at the bus stop on the corner and took off my fingerless gloves, laying them on my face, trying to feel the softness of their wool against my cheek, and to hide the tears that I'd been fighting back for five hours.

It grew earnestly dark. The sleet crystalized, hardening everything that was wet, clawing deep into my bones, rattling my teeth. The odd car stopped at the intersection next to the bus stop, and people stared at me from inside their warm sedans. I stared back. I didn't want to be in their position, but I didn't want to be in mine --I wanted my living room heater, and a bath, and I wanted to be fast, and intelligent enough to never have to do this again. I wanted not to die at the bus stop by Badea Cartan. A drunk man in winter rags --which is not at all to demean them, they were far more adequate than mine-- approached me and told me I could be his, I was for him. I asked him to leave me alone and after a few circlings-back he did, disappeared to someplace better than my frozen stoop. I waited. And waited.

The phone rang. He asked me if I was going to get better. I said yes. I wasn't worried; I had no doubts. It was too cold. He told me to go home. "You don't have to go fast," he said. I raced back, completing the circle around the city, to my apartment, touching my gloves against the rusted railings of the traintrack overpasses, blessing the cold objects of the place with their promise of impending relief. "I'm going home." It was the sweetest mantra I could imagine, and after I desperately closed the front door behind me, I ran to my living room heater, and spent an hour pressing against it gratefully.

The next morning at six I was sent out to list, map, and memorize every cab station in the city....

The Froth of Our Days: September 13th, 2014

May 2nd, 2020

I pressed the top of the pen a few times just to hear it predictably click. "Next time you have to get the program started the moment I say we're doing something with it." Yes, sir. He might as well be saying "You should anticipate what I'm going to do at any given moment so as to have available any and every function I might require regardless of the cost or the degree to which it fucks you up elsewhere, though I'll still be just as angry if you fuck up elsewhere and apply this lecture to that happenstance instead." He might as well be saying "Fuck you."

I pushed the top of the pen in a few times just to hear it predictably click. A tiny series of victories at having anticipated something correctly. The pleasure of touching something that works was my almost silent rebellion against the tide of broken shit. It worked now, anyway, it would, until one day the ink would run out and the man would want it from me to sign something and he'd inklessly scratch paper. Then the look would come. The look that preceded a different kind of world full of shit. I could anticipate what would come after the look, but there wouldn't be any joy in it. Maybe he'd throw the pen at my head. I clicked a few more times and imagined the man shoving the future inkless pen into my chest. Maybe he'd pull it out and push it in again, maybe he'd fuck my heart a tiny series of holes and kick me in the stomach when I fell, spit in my face and leave me to die on the floor of the post office. Or the lobby at the lawyer's. Or by a bench at the park. The pigeons would move away a few inches but keep on pecking at the dirt. They'd look at me sideways, wary of a broken thing but hopeful I might have had a cracker in my pocket or something.

I made myself dress and went out to preemptively buy water and milk and coffee. It was more than was needed but the security of having it would feel nice, a few more things I wouldn't run out of for a few more days. I liked it outside, for the most part; despite feeling like I was out of my element (what would that be, concrete? I wondered), it was good to see the disinterested faces of uninteresting people, old edifices uncaring about the passage of time, shitty kiosks stuffed with shitty cheap things no one could possibly want but which stuffed the eyes and the mind with low-cost information. It was a world of tchotchkes, some living, some not, some somewhere in between, men going into or coming out of alcoholic stupor slumped up against the doors of theatres paneled with blown-up photographs of tits and ass.