Archive for the ‘Dystopia’ Category

Goodnight, sweet Master

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

The greatest man who ever lived died this morning doing one of the things he loved best: playing in the ocean. It was the Pacific, that endless expanse that taught him how to love the sea, where he jumped the waves with his newest slavegirl and retired to epicurean picnics. A gliding threesome of pelicans crested the breaking waves in that spot where he defiantly breathed his last, skimming the water in a final winged salute.

Mircea Popescu did what he loved, did what he knew to be right; these were, almost without exception, the same. Unhesitatingly he gave all of himself to whatever work was at hand, whether it was comfortable or not, whether it came naturally or not, whether he knew it could be done or not. The result is that in the history of this earth, an earth not quite enough to serve a man so true, there has never been a greater example of any of the things that he was. A writer, a master, a tactitian; a manager, a cook, even a puppeteer. The work he has left behind is a remarkably vast and inequitably brilliant heritage, even if those left to attempt to appreciate it fall immeasurably short of its worth.

This was the man who took the head of the Romanian Academy to task, who exposed the broken Romanian baccalaureate and actually broke wikileaks, the man who identified countless scams in Bitcoin's nascent turmoil and the creator of its first and only true exchange; the man who forged a republic and when it proved impotent, had the strength to burn it down, the creator of Eulora, the author of more and better books, short stories, prose and poetry than any other who took up the pen. He touched essence and distilled it, and often in multiple languages. He did not merely gleam, he was resplenduminous, and at every point where his indomitable mind sparked against the medium of life, he left eternal fires in word and deed.

The world, indeed, was not enough, though he had it. Few and far between were the ones devoted and stalwart enough to let the man shape them with his many hammers. So very many tried, yet fell, and did not get to meet the unabashed glory of his love. For his love was the purest of miracles, capable of bringing beautiful things into being just as it was capable of razing them to utter destruction. It was only a force of nature itself that could have claimed him, and the rip tide that did was a furious exemplar in a place famous for dangerous waters. Dangerous, but fantastic; how he could possibly have found more suitable a place and a means to die is utter mystery.

But this most poetic death, mimicing the butterflies' final flight over the ocean of which he was so fond, came so soon on the line of his life as to render it the worst of all thefts. His life was robbed by the water, and the world entirely robbed of its light.

I do not need to record for you all that Mircea Popescu did and was, lists and rooms and great halls full of works that span subject and style and yet never fail to be excellent, because by his very nature he proclaimed it; loudly, freely, amply. That nature will ring out for all time.

From his work, 'Stop all the clocks (again)'

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent each dog from barking with your own hip bone.
Break all the strings, drill out the tuba and with muffled drums
Bring out the coffin, set ablaze the slums.

Let halves of aeroplanes turn overhead
Their smoking, broken cockpits dripping "He Is Dead",
Put dark crepe bows through every single feather of each single dove,
Gift each policeman one black velvet glove.

No further want for stars, go put them out ;
No roundness left for Moon, the Sun we'll do without.
Go pour the ocean in a cup and let it be misunderstood
After today, nothing can come to any good.

There can no further be such thing as song
I thought that love would last for ever. I was wrong.
It's time to swallow caltrops and wash them down with bleach
There's scarcely any further point to speech.

The sea you see was gloomly cried in place,
There used to be much sweeter water in that space.
The eagle's flight is broken and all geometric figures shattered
There's nothing left in place of all that ever mattered.

And so goodbye, there's nothing left except the time to die.

0 - 10 Km/H in 4.6 Seconds

Thursday, June 17th, 2021

My dad was ranting1 about the tedious impracticality of cobbling stories together for the purpose of sharing --this, over email, about what he used to do, on various websites, back when his main distraction divertation dilletantism was short-term overland motorcycle adventuring. He was known in those circles, as those circles go, for reliably posting detailed, well-shot travelogues; say a day trip to New Idria where he'd capture the beige-and-blue desolation of desert roads and roam through condemned wooden miners' hostels in his candy pink gas mask, posing next to government posters warning about the hanta virus. Or a week spent meandering through some nearby nowhere, cataloguing the Venus of Nevada, the Cadillac Ranch, or the newest additions to old Leonard's methodical (or maniacal?) sand painting at Salvation Mountain.

Time has passed; bikes have been totaled or sold; age has petitioned for its inevitable toll and has been, in some measure not entirely clear to me for the distance between us, paid; but my dad still heeds the call of wanderlust (or abhors the antsy homogeneity of "just sitting around"), and the wind on his face still thrills him, so he's gotten himself an e-bike and I'm back to having the pleasure of the occasional ride report from him. In seeming pace with the change from an internal combustion engine to an electric hub motor, he's moved from crafting the reports himself to using a phone app. We disagree pretty strongly on the whole phone/app/content ownership/device access issue2, but the knowledge of this doesn't keep us from regular attempts at persuasion in either direction. And so following his latest two-wheeled buzz around the Willamette River came the bird-chirrups:

...[the app] is 1000x easier than the old way of stopping, getting camera out, take a few photos, then when a ride is over, download photos from camera to computer, fix them all up in some program, save those to a file, then open another program and make a map route of some sort, go to a website, upload the map and all the photos, then spend time adding text and locations for the photos, finally getting it to post on a website somewhere...phew! But I used to do that a lot!

The nice thing about this is all you need is phone, click start, take as many photos as you like, click finish, that's it! It then does it all and sends you a link to the finished product!

We are livin' in the future! AutoMagicalRobots Rule!

Which I've got to admit made my blood boil a little for the elision of the their in "finished product", but nevertheless I'm happy he's enjoying himself.

Meanwhile my uncle Dave, who shall receive no introduction, offered a rebuttal:

ain't got time for that! too busy mixing up a batch of Tang!

Meanwhile, fucking around online I was served the following ad:

byd tang

Mae, un BYD Tang es lo contrario de lo que estoy buscando.

On the first pass it seemed inconsequential, but then my head demanded the lived experience, like when you're watching some film with a character that's making an underwater escape and you hold your breath with them to see if you could do it, too. One...two...three...four...littleextra...okay, you're at ten kilometers per hour now. Tennnn. Driveway speed for folks with arthritic ankles. Honestly, if this were the true state of affairs I'd no longer wonder what the fuck is with the local inability to merge etc. But it has to be a typo. It just has to be.

...doesn't it?

  1. In his cheerful, bird-like manner of ranting, which has more to do with excited emphasis than the anger or hostility typically associated with ranting. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen my dad angry. This might have some undesirable corollaries in the sense that you can't teach kids how to deal well with something that you have ~no experience with (or entirely subsumed/transferred experience, I guess). On the other hand though, I'm aware of the rare blessing of a childhood not having to be spent on reacting somehow to an angry father, and for that I'm very grateful. []
  2. I could point out that for all his lengthy history of beautifully-done reports, for instance, the vast majority were on "community" forum sites, where someone else owns all that work --or he could point out that for all my stolid insistence on doing things myself he's the one with lots of travelogues posted, and I'm behind on the post count despite a much higher kilometrage. []

You suck because that's all there is to do: an online shopping report.

Monday, June 14th, 2021

I'm typing this in a file named overstockhell.txt, but the name can't begin to encompass the pure and unadulterated idiocy I've been grappling with for my sins of attempting to buy some items online1. Had I but known how many hours I'd have to sink into the adventure at the outset, I'd've clocked myself, but in my optimistic naivite I imagined someone else would be doing most of the work, given as the payment was coming from my side. So I'll hazard a guess at six or seven hours of wrangling: idiots in online chat, sympathetic if powerless customer service over the phone, and a mountain of outright insanity on the website that calls itself Overstock, despite having no way to handle orders with multiple items. But I'm getting ahead of myself; structuring the chaos that ensued once I chose this outlet2 is the way I get to put some (hopefully final) hours in, so let's start at the beginning, where all good intentions go to die.

Overstock is one of the few online vendors that claim to actually accept bitcoin; others like Amazon predictably rope the shopper in only to require some shit-flavored bitcoin alternative a la coinbase. The guts of their system nevertheless eschew the beautifully simple, direct method of payment bitcoin offers in favor of a processing middleman; they use coinpayments.net. I've used this processor a few times for server bills and such and so didn't suspect any shenanigans. But somewhere in the strained relationship between them and overstock, the first ring of shopping hell was revealed to me. Here's what it looks like, for the morbidly curious:

1. Bitcoin transaction propagates and confirms on the blockchain.
2. Coinpayments sends an email confirmation of payment received.
3. Overstock sends an email confirmation of order completed.
4. Coinpayments sends an email that payment timed out.
5. Overstock sends an email cancelling the order.

overstockhell

At which point I used overstock's online customer service chat feature (which is where all attempts at finding help on their site funnel to) to try and untangle the mess. Whether they employ humans to sit at the other end or rely entirely on a shoddy Eliza emulator is still up in the air; any mention of bitcoin results in an appeal to "check your coinbase account", notwithstanding coinbase isn't used at any point in their purchasing process. The script, whether deployed in bipedal or binary, circles a drain of apology and helplessness, persisting even through my escalation to a "supervisor". They don't know anything, they can't do anything, but they're very sorry and how about you check your coinbase account. Coinpayments had nothing to say about its second email, but merely confirmed that the transaction had gone through, and refused to have any other part in the matter, such as for instance telling Overstock that they'd indeed been paid.

overstockhell

So I waited for Overstock's business hours and talked to Esther on the phone, who blessedly seemed to possess both a pulse and a clue. She spent a while trying to decipher the spaghetti on her screen, and finally came up with the notion that "Our bitcoin payments require two confirmations from the payment processor; the first one came back fine, but the second didn't, so the order was automatically cancelled". The funds being nevertheless transferred, she offered to reinstate my order, but this came with a hitch. In the time since the order was originally placed, some of my items (out of a total of forty one) had gone out of stock3. She could issue me a refund, but only for the whole amount of the order; if I wanted what remained of the items, I'd have to take store credit for the difference. So I did, accompanied by updating my shopping file with a row of asterisks and a new note for every item, indicating whether it was still in the order or had meanwhile become unavailable. In a perfect world where information was presented as just that, this wouldn't even be a problem, but of course the "client area" is designed for phones and the idiots who depend on them, making this process a lengthy ordeal of comparing several dozen descriptions of things like yes, socks, against what I'd pasted in my list. Is this the gentleman's cotton dress sock black/gray mix pack of 12 or the cotton dress socks --men's black and gray 12 that's out of stock, now? But wait! There's pictures! Before you ask, yes they use item numbers (I assume only because they haven't yet found a way to get out of having to populate their databases with them), which...well, they appear after about eight kilometers of url keyword stuffing, so highlighting an item on the site to see the url (which is the only place the item number appears) does...not so much.

At any rate, hot laptop sweat and cold coffee eventually brought me through another illusion of settledness, wherein I imagined that "order received and confirmed" meant something like order received and confirmed. I floated adrift in this hard-won state for two days, after which a new email arrived from overstock confirming my cancellation. You know, the one I didn't make. No other information, no explanation, just-so, thanks for canceling your order, would you like to spend more money with us?

overstockhell

I got back on the phone and waited ten minutes for the Esther-like, if differently-named, operator to "inquire with the team that knows what to do about this". She came back with a phone number for their loss prevention department, which had entirely different hours, being in an entirely different timezone, and so was then unreachable. She personally couldn't offer any further information. Imagine this state of affairs wherein you're tasked with triaging customer service calls, but your company's inter-departmental communication is so poor that you have no idea why an order was cancelled and have no recourse but to try, and fail, to reach out manually. I say "imagine this", but I know you don't have to --you work there, and live there, and try to keep the wool over your eyes there, on your own, and communally, as a foundation for all your activity and so-called drive. You accept this, and thus perpetuate it, reveling in your "safety in numbers" and telling yourself that everyone does it, it's just how things go, and that I and anyone else who dares to press against it are sociopaths.

So being the psychotic, irrational maniac that I am, I waited for this new department's business hours and called them, only to encounter another flavor of Esther who told me some "agent" of theirs had gotten confused as to why I had first paid in bitcoin and then used the store credit that was refunded to me the first time the order was cancelled --essentially, they'd fucked things up so badly that now even they couldn't tell what exactly was going on with this order, so they "flagged" it, which is how you say "sweep under the rug" in bureaucratic peonnese. She apologized profusely and offered to reinstate the order yet again, though all she could do was add the items back to my cart. I'd have to go through it with another comb and confirm that everything that was supposed to be there was there indeed, and click all the required buttons to get the order "made" again.

Poor shopping file had to puff out its chest, suck in its brisket and take another pass of asterisks and notes, after which the order was supposedly re-confirmed (that's the third time, if you've lost count). Lo and behold, a few days later I started receiving some a barrage of emails from overstock reporting that certain items were shipping, or scheduled to be shipped, or that their delivery dates had been "updated", or that they were scheduled to arrive, or that they had actually arrived. Of the thirty-two items still left in my order after the multiple passes of delays-for-ensuring-shit-goes-out-of-stock, it looks like I'll be getting five or six emails for each. How long would you expect it to take to read and catalogue 160 - 192 emails?

overstockhell

And how much would you charge for your time? The damage in total comes to something like a coupla thousand dollars, give or take a cancelled item, but that's in terms of what's been exchanged on paper. The aggravation cost is through the roof, especially now that, weeks after placing the order the first time, in the long long ago, I've logged into my account in search of a receipt in some format apt for my shipping forwarder4, only to discover nearly every item listed has been updated with a "cancelled" status indicator. No explanation, no details, no email revoking the other five or six that promised x or y or z. I walked livid figure-eights around the house awhile, inquiring "Seriously?!" to no one in particular, until exhausted enough to sit down and attempt to make a list of all the newly-cancelled stuff. Halfway through, though, I noticed that most items have more than one entry in the endless phone-optimized scroller: one for "cancelled", and one for "delivered"5.

overstockhell

I don't know whether I'll bother calling back, whether I'll see if suing is an option, whether I'll wait and see if anything actually gets shipped or not, or whether I'll ever be able to try ordering something online again. What I do know is that the modern lie of convenience is an evil deeper and more insidious than nearly everyone else will admit. Far from being limited to suggestive advertising, product placement, or peer pressure, the current systems coax and groom consumers into whatever serves the systems best through outright mendacity, through discarding the genuine for the cheap, and through failing to deliver in any scenario that strays from the most common. You buy one pair of plastic socks at a time with your credit card, feeding the kind of life that keeps you limited to buying one pair of plastic socks at a time with your credit card, and the systems give back by turning a blind eye to the notion that anything else could be possible. You suck because that's all there is to do.

Until you stop letting it be so.

  1. Why buy online, then? Well, that'd be a last-ditch effort following month after month trying to source things locally. Really esoteric and exacting items like cotton fucking socks. Everything's got to be "improved" these days, a slapdash excuse of a label covering such a poverty of craftsmanship that it's questionable whether pure cotton socks even exist anymore. Shopkeepers are happy to perpetuate the lie, of course; if you conveniently don't read labels and so don't notice that their "of course we have cotton socks" translates to 100% bamboo or 60% cotton 40% plastic, or if you buy them with a label actually proclaiming 100% cotton despite a tangible plastic feel and then don't take a lit match to one of the threads once bought, confirming the curled, flash-burn of burnt lycra or whatever, then sure, you can "have" what you asked for. If you actually want the genuine item, though, all that's available is frustration and wasted time. Bonus:

    overstockhell

    . []

  2. Really, I've no reason to believe any of the bullshit is particular to Overstock itself, especially as they were chosen for matching a few baseline criteria and otherwise at random. I'm always tempted to confine negative experiences to the specific actors involved, but sometimes that's not warranted, and after years of unneccessary, byzantine difficulty with procurement, I know things wouldn't be much different if the name was swapped with some other. To wit, out of the voluminous grab bag: back in Argentina I convinced MP to try ordering some sushi from a local restaurant that'd previously been vetted in person, to have it delivered. I don't remember why, perhaps it was the sort of unforgivingly hot day that place occasionally cooks up, or maybe someone was sick. You've no way to access the depths of what I mean when I say "I convinced MP", and even looking at it now I wonder what miraculous event actually occurred --it could'nt have been convincing, but must have been some sort of logical or maybe pity-inducing gymnastics the likes of which oughta make me apt for courtroom work. Anyway, estimated delivery time was something like forty minutes, and after an hour I called them, pretty pissed. They assured me the order was on the way and would arrive any minute. Fifteen minutes later I hacked lunch together myself and swore to never take restaurant delivery seriously again. Another two hours later some derp on a motorbike started raising the alarm downstairs, sushi's here, etc. Why anyone would want three-something hours' old sushi is utterly beyond me, and should be beyond you, too, except that when I told this story to friends what I heard was "Oh, I hate it when that happens." Like it's a thing, like it's regrettable but necessary, familiar, oh well, whatchagonnado. The whole fruit is rotten; by now it's on providers to prove how they're different, not on consumers to supply good faith and confidence upfront. []
  3. Out of stock, at overstock, which apparently keeps one or two units around at a time. This is a mere international sourcing "solution", not some hoity-toity neighborhood fruit cart, to stock something more like dozens or hundreds per item. What do you think this is, the 21st century?! Pssh. []
  4. Why I have to use a forwarder, and why such a service wants a receipt, are just extra aggravational dipping sauces on the side of this platter of fail. []
  5. Most, not all. If it were the case with everything at least it could be discerned whether the order failed or not. But why pass up another chance for screwing things up tighter and more frustratingly than a fifty year old tangle of christmas tree lights? []

How do you know if what you think matters?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

Broadly, it doesn't. I grew up in an environment replete with the backlash of WWII parenting; those kids weren't told that what they thought mattered, they were just supposed to do well with the victory their parents had secured for them, all tangible assets and corporate ladders. They rebelled in large part by telling their children in turn that hard cash and corner offices weren't nearly as important as that universal flaky abstract, their thoughts. Or I don't know, maybe that's just a California thing. In any case, people have been telling me that what I think is important ever since I was old enough to listen. I knew it was poppycock then, and I know it now, but somehow as an adult it's much harder to resist that knee-jerk, first pass notion that I should, that I have to, say what's on my mind. Worse still, when that should gets rejected, often enough I double down rather than step back on the importance, as though being principled can be supplanted by being defiant. I propose a review of when one's thoughts matter.

1. The person you're speaking with tells you so. It's a blessing, when it comes, though its rarity is also to be savored, for imagine if you had to hear the words spoken for every instance in which the other party gave a shit about what you thought --you'd probably spend more time exchanging expressions of interest than actually talking about anything. Especially dangerous here is the fact that that familiarity easily breeds contempt. Just because someone has expressed interest in what you think in the past doesn't mean they're interested perpetually, or in all matters great and small. Likewise, love is not some sort of seal of interest to be placed over all the comings and goings of a beloved's thoughts (though that may be a reasonable description of infatuation); it is unwise to take for granted the evenly distributed interest of someone who loves you --at least, if you love them back. Enjoy those rare occurrences when someone tells you they'd like to know what you think, and don't abuse it1.

2. You're an expert on the matter at hand. Honestly I shudder to include this for knowing how often, and how profoundly, the notion of an expert is misused. It's tossed around as a weak justification for all manner of agendas and shoddy efforts --in fact, it's a major reason why knowing whether what you think matters has gotten so difficult in the first place, because everyone's gotta be an expert in something (or know someone who is, which is practically the same thing, right? Fuck.). Let's set some basic rules in an attempt to recover a little ground from the chaos:
2.a Having experience does not make you an expert2. It makes you someone with some experience, which is not at all the same thing, and is not at all relevant when attempting to understand if what you think about something matters.
2.b Familiarity is not expertise. So you've read something about a topic, or you've heard about it before, or you took a related class in college. Good for you, you're not an expert.
2.c Feeling very strongly about something has nothing to do with being an expert. Even if that something is having very strong feelings. Confusing emotion for thought, and strength of emotion for relevance, is the hallmark of immaturity. It's over-tolerated amongst the general population, but it'll mark you as an exemplary idiot if you pull it out with cultivated people, and that's a very hard mark to wash off.
2.d Your certifications of expertise are meaningless. You probably paid a lot for them, and you probably put a fair amount of time and sweat into them, too. Sadly the current global delusion of self-importance has led to an abundance of fraudulent certification not seen since the dark ages, and there's no institution or authority capable of stamping you into expertise --not anymore. Cheer up though; if you honestly are an expert in a field, you don't need to rely on a certificate, and if you've been using one as a crutch, letting it go to hear more of others' thoughts instead of bludgeoning the world with your own will only make you better.

These in mind, for the very few who do possess expertise all that remains is to be aware of its boundaries. It's easy to imagine that mastery of one domain implies mastery of others. Or that an entire domain, rather than a small sliver, has been mastered. Part of knowing what you excel at is knowing where you suck, and making no concessions in either direction. Excel responsibly.

3. Sike. There is no three. Seriously, it's very unlikely that what you think about a given topic matters. This doesn't mean you can't express yourself, it merely points out that beyond these two rare and precious circumstances, you're taking chances: that nobody cares, that you're making an ass of yourself, that you're flooding the channel with all noise and no signal. These aren't even such terrible chances to take, context-dependent3. But it's a good idea to be aware you're taking them, and especially to consider whether to keep pushing with your thoughts past any number of refutations or signs of disinterest. After all, there's nothing inherently wrong with thinking; it's insisting inappropriately that robs people of the possibility of productive communication.

  1. This goes both ways, too. Expressing interest in someone's thoughts disingenuously isn't "polite". It doesn't promote inclusion or fight famine or stop crime or achieve any other ridiculous collective goods. All it does is engender misplaced notions of self-importance, which actually does achieve ridiculous collective evils. []
  2. Sometimes formulated as "Just because it happened to you doesn't make it interesting," though that's probably just as hard a pill to swallow for the first time as what I've put above the fold. []
  3. Consider that this very article takes all of these chances. []

Butterflies in gauze

Sunday, May 23rd, 2021

The net caught naught but all the life most beautiful that passed its flit. Those things that beat with broidered wings the wind that then betrayed them, translating a soaring spirit into worlds so subtly less: vibrant, focused, and receiving.

A gust picked up, as though regret had marked the breeze's billowing heart, and wished to set its faithful free.

And for a moment, while I perched and heard the rolling weight of storms push menacingly for the sea, I thought I saw the net blow, barren. But the rain, as promised, fell, and laid o'er all another veil, obscuring in its dithering gray some portion of that day's true glory.

There, in the contrast, I made out the panicked movements of the creatures still captive. Silent, and utterly without effect; insistent to exhaustion. Did they curse the decoration of their wings? Did they resent the bosom of blessing, their wind?

They rested awhile, while I wrestled with mine: more menial things, borne of selfish, mad dreams, for not all branded freedom's thereby the same thing. So I freed them.

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

Friday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Thursday, 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

Close Encounters of the Costa Rican Kind

Sunday, 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 Kiskadees1

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 Crocodile2

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 fridge3, 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.

  1. 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. []
  2. Or Alligator, what the fuck intractable animal identification persnickettiness has come to sit down all over my story! []
  3. 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. []

Cold Knocks

Monday, 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....